Saturday, December 20, 2014

Butterick 4514 - Shawl or Travelling Case

May, 1892

Are you traveling over the holidays?  Don't forget your shawl case.  What?  You don't have one!  How are you going to keep track of your shawl, raincoat, galoshes, train ticket, drawing tablet and pencils, book, and cheese sandwich?

The wonderful latin word for "stuff we feel compelled to lug along with us" is impedimenta.  The Romans, naturally, used the term mostly to refer to "stuff the army feels compelled to lug along with it,"  and although they didn't have train tickets, I hold out a hope of cheese sandwiches.

Impedimenta has always been with us, and we've always come up with imaginative ways of lugging it, and sometimes we make our luggage at home.

The shawl case is a member of a whole family of soft luggage that could be made at home or at sea, in the case of ditty bags made by sailors.  The Workwoman's Guide of 1840 gives extensive instructions on making travelling dressing cases for both gentlemen and ladies,  glove cases, brush and comb bags, boot bags, housewives ("hussifs,") and watch pockets.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the term "shawl case" had become a generic term for a smallish case, carried by hand by women, not unlike today's ubiquitous tote bag.

The exact form of the shawl case varies.  The shawl case pattern listed in Demorest's Family Magazine for August 1879 is a standard duffel or hold-all shape.  It had to be decorated because the Victorian decorated everything.

The flat form of Butterick 4514 makes it a little easier to make.   Nineteenth century instructions for making shawl cases often recommend making them of "hessian."  Today hessian is usually defined as being equivalent to burlap, so I decided to try making up my shawl case in burlap.  I used a good quality burlap from James Thompson.  But fabric definitions frequently change over time and today's burlap is, I think, a far coarser material than nineteenth century burlap.  The Thompson burlap was too loosely woven to be used on its own, so I decided to use it only as an outer covering, and to make the inside of the case from ticking, my go-to fabric for all kinds of utilitarian sewing.  I decided on a bright red wool binding to liven up the potato brown of the burlap.

Here's the finished case, outside.  The little rectangle is a pocket for your train ticket.

And here's the inside in ticking.  All kinds of nice pockets for tucking away cheese sandwiches and things!

But how does it really perform?  Let's pack it up for a day trip to go to the countryside to watch birds.  This is about enough for a warm day in winter.  No cheese sandwich yet, but the all-important chocolate bar makes its appearance.

Now let's get it all tucked away:
And finally, a rain jacket, just in case:
All buttoned up:
And ready to go.  Hmmm.  There seems to be a design problem somewhere.

Perhaps the design team at Butterick never tried out their shawl case. I think a little retrofitting to allow the bottom edge of the flap to button would fix the problem.

Originally posted August 3, 2008, entirely re-written December 20, 2014.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

McCall 5040 - Man's Pirate Costume

Early 1930s.  Another nice color illustration from McCall, very likely by the same illustrator who did our deadly handsome Spanish Gentleman.

Pirate movies seem to have been popular from the dawn of the film age - D.W. Griffith made one in 1909.  I'm not as knowledgeable about pirate movies of the 1920s and 1930s as I perhaps ought to be, so I can't tell if this gentleman is drawn from anybody specific.  Victor Fleming directed an adaptation of Treasure Island in 1934, about when this pattern was issued.

However, I think that McCall's pirate is close kin to Howard Pyle's elegant pirates in his Book of Pirates.  I suspect many gentlemen of the 1930s (forced by their wives to attend charity costume balls) would have known and loved Pyle's book when they were small boys swinging through the rigging of apple trees in their back yards.  (I highly recommend visiting the Project Gutenberg edition so that you can see all of Pyle's wonderful work.)

This printed pattern does not appear to have been used.  Note that the pattern includes pieces for not only the trousers, shirt, and vest, but also for the sash, kerchief, and splendidly floppy hat.

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day, everybody!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

McCall 1597 - Mr. and Mrs. Aprons hat and Mitts


For your summer barbecue season we have another novelty apron.  The theme is consistent with other McCall novelty aprons we've seen - there is always a dog in there somewhere!  (See also McCall 2062 and McCall 957) This pattern shows up regularly for sale on eBay, so it may have been popular, or it may have been recommended for school or other sewing class use.

This is a perfectly good basic apron with nice deep pockets.  The bias binding while cheery, also strengthens the apron and will give the beginning maker some good experience in working with binding.

The maker cut out all the pattern pieces but decided not to tangle with the little upper pocket and just shoved it back in the envelope.

A close examination of the illustration reveals that this pocket is for your pack of cigarettes.

Although the pattern was used,  the transfers were not. (What? You don't want to spend time embroidering silly dogs on your apron?  Why ever not?)

Friday, June 13, 2014

May Manton 906 - Embroidery for Corset Bag

Best guess is the 19-teens or a little earlier.

This one is in the category of "Who knew?"  Who knew that ladies made bags for their corsets? Who knew that they then embroidered them? (and even spent money on transfer patterns for the designs!)

Interestingly, this pattern for embroidering a long, narrow bag probably dates to a period when corsets had reached a rather extreme length.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art dates this fine example to 1917-1919.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
In 1910 the magazine The Women's Home Companion offered kits for laundry bags, sponge bags, and corset bags, in stamped linen in pink, blue, lavender, or white.  "A most useful set of bags either for the college girl or for the home girl...These bags are especially useful for traveling and they would make a very pretty gift for birthday or Christmas. The stamped linen bag would set you back 40 cents.  Fifteen cents more would get you the thread and the cord.
Womens Home Journal, 1910
Particularly when packing corsets for traveling, the laces, stud-and-loop busks, and the garters all had the potential to snag, so the corset bag protected a lady's frillies from her corset.  But protecting the corset itself is important as well.  Good quality corsets could be quite expensive, and a lady might have several.  As well as an "everyday" corset, a lady might have one suitable for evening clothes, or a flexible, lighter-weight model for summer or sports wear.  I assume that each bag was design to hold only a single corset.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

McCall 1104 - Ladies' and Misses' Apron


If you tell most people to close their eyes and imagine a "vintage apron" this is the apron they'll see in their mind's eye.  This apron goes by many names:  pinafore apron, bib apron, farmhouse apron, kitchen apron, full coverage apron, work apron, church ladies' apron.  The pattern companies have always offered this style of apron for their customers, though in the last 15 years or so the style has been called out more as a vintage or retro offering than work wear.

This particular pattern shows up on eBay pretty regularly.  There may be several reasons for this. It may have been considered a good teaching pattern for Home Economics classes.  For some wartime industrial jobs, this type of apron would have been acceptable work wear.  If the pattern companies reduced their new offerings during World War II, women might have had fewer choices when they went to buy an apron pattern.  I have two copies of this apron pattern.  One is pristine and unused.  And then there is this one, which I thought was much more interesting.

This pattern has had a very productive life.  Both the envelope and the pattern pieces have seen a lot of use.  This was somebody's favorite apron pattern - or perhaps the maker had neither the desire nor the means to replace a perfectly functional pattern.  I suspect she made aprons for her own use.

Observing the way a pattern has been used almost allows us to hear the maker's voice:
"I never cut that little facing piece for the back - too much trouble."
"I don't know why you'd need to a pattern piece for the strings - they're just rectangles, and anyway, I like mine narrower/wider/longer/shorter."
"I don't pay any attention to the grain line for the lower back piece - I just line up the back edge along the selvage - it's faster that way.""
"Why would I want to spend time putting those pepper appliques on a work apron?"
I decided to start the new year by making myself a new apron, and I chose to use this pattern more or less as it was provided, using the pattern pieces for the fiddly facing bits and the strings, but not the pepper appliques - my whimsy goes only so far!  The fabric is a remnant I've had in my stash for years, and regular readers will recognize the lavender gingham bias binding from an enormous quantity I cut a few years ago and use regularly.

Here's that facing piece (on the right; the upper back apron is on the left.)

This pattern specifies one inch binding - eight yards of it, finishing to 1/4 inch.  My current sewing machine doesn't have a binder attachment, and I don't trust myself to sew the binding on in one pass, so I pinned and sewed it first to the back, then folded to the front, pressed and pinned again, and finally sewing down on the front.  This is one of my very least favorite sewing operations, but I do love the look of the end result.

As usual with McCall patterns, this printed pattern was very accurate and went together very well.

Note the horizontal slashed dart in the side fronts to add bust fullness.  You can see on the inside where I've left in my yellow gathering stitches.

Although the instructions didn't call for it, I topstitched this dart for added strength.

Here's the completed apron, just before its maiden voyage to the kitchen.  I'm afraid it'll never look this nice again:

Here it is opened out, showing that it would be relatively easy to iron (if one were so inclined.)

The back is fastened with a single vintage shell button from my stash. 

I've been wearing this apron for kitchen work for about two weeks now, and I find it very comfortable. I think I understand why the pattern was used so much.