Saturday, September 7, 2019

Weldons 120313 - Betsy Trotwood

Late 1930s or early 1940s.

David Copperfield is the first of Dickens's books that I listened to rather than read, and I found that 33 hours of the audiobook was a great distraction from the endless dark days of winter.

Betsy Trotwood is one of my favorite of all of Dickens' characters, so I was intrigued to find this pattern for Betsy Trotwood (but Dickens spells it Betsey.)

My provisional date of late 1930s is based in part on the design of the envelope and the illustration,  but I also wonder if the 1935 film adaptation by George Cukor (starring Freddy Bartholomew as David and W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber) spawned an interest in David Copperfield-themed fancy dress in the years following the release.  I haven't been able to find evidence of a stage adaptation that might also have triggered Copperfield-mania.

Serial publication of David Copperfield started in 1849, but when does take place?  If you assume that it's partially auto-biographical, that sets the novel in the 1820s through the 1830s.  I think that this is an awkward period for women's clothing, with the long sloping shoulder line leading to enormous sleeves - a difficult look for even a very well-proportioned woman to wear successfully.

Edna May Oliver played Aunt Betsey in the 1935 film, and Dolly Tree, the costume designer, seems to borrow from the 1830s for the exuberant cap.
Image from
The Weldons designer provides a basic gray or brown front buttoning, long-sleeved dress of no particular period and uses the white collar and cuffs, and the black sateen apron to evoke the 1830s.    It's a little hard to tell from the illustration, but the pattern includes both a cap and a bonnet, although confusingly, the illustration seems to show the basic mob cap worn over the rather sketchy bonnet.

Weldon's Betsy Trotwood carries a garden hod and trowel, a visual cue that this vaguely 19th century lady is the Aunt Betsy that David Copperfield surprised as she was working in her garden.

This unprinted pattern does not appear to have been used, though it is water stained.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Vogue 1468 - Bicentennial Dresses


There is a little bit to unpack here, starting with how I did, then didn't, then finally did acquire my copy of this pattern.

I'd been watching for this pattern for several years before a copy finally came up for auction on eBay at a price I felt was reasonable.  I placed my bid and won.  And then I waited.  After about a week, the seller contacted me and apologized.  She'd gotten her wires crossed and sent my pattern to the winning bidder of a different pattern.  This person was so enchanted with this pattern that she hadn't bid on that she refused to return it.  So, the seller returned my money and I was back to watching, watching, watching.

The irony is that in my personal opinion this is by far the ugliest of the Bicentennial costume patterns out there.  Even the patterns sold in the newspapers tried a little harder than the Vogue design team responsible for this one.

Back in 1976, the pattern companies really didn't have historical patterns of the caliber of the best patterns that are available today.  They offered costume patterns with varying levels of historical accuracy.  Typically designed for use in local pageants, parades, or theater productions, the designers had to meet the needs of people with limited time and budget, and possibly only basic sewing skills. 

In a sort of perfect storm of awfulness, 1976 was period when 100% cotton or linen fabrics were hard to find, with local fabric stores selling mostly polyester blends.  If you think this was deadly for the ladies' costumes, talk to gentlemen who marched in the stifling heat of July 4th parades in bright red 100% polyester broadcloth coats.  (A few years earlier, in 1961, some of these same gentlemen probably sweated through dark blue or grey polyester broadcloth as they commemorated the Civil War.  It's my belief that these experiences helped spur the research into greater historical accuracy that continues to this day.)

But in 1976, every town was going to celebrate the Bicentennial and by gum, we were going to dress the part, whatever vaguely historical part that was.

The Vogue design team seems to have checked boxes for "mob cap" and "fichu" and "square neck" and then gone out for a long lunch.   On the way back to the office they must have seen a Laura Ashley dress and decided that was that.  Even one of the interior illustrations evokes the Edwardian sensibility so central to Ashley's designs.
This printed pattern is unused.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Superior 39P1105 - Ladies Maternity Apron Dress

Latter part of the nineteen-teens.  It's a little unusual at this early date to see a pattern described explicitly as maternity wear.  One suspects, though, that many patterns blandly described as wrappers, Mother Hubbards, smocks,  and bungalow aprons did service as maternity clothes.  Superior is the house brand of sewing patterns for Sears and Roebuck, and bless them for being very clear about the purpose of this garment, as well as offering it in larger sizes - up to 42" bust, in this case.

At about the same time, the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences cautions against making maternity wear that "serves to emphasize this condition because of the special, and perhaps unusual features it embodies."  The author goes on to recommend developing maternity wear "almost entirely from one kind of material, the contrast being provided merely by a collar..."  Lengthwise lines from shoulder to hem are recommended to help draw attention away from the widening mid section.

The Superior designer seems to have had much of this advice in mind.  This is a thoughtful, practical design that isn't too much different from other apron dresses of the period. The box pleats front and back add needed girth.  The elbow length sleeves are ideal for a working garment, and the square neck and contrast trim are an economical, stylish touch.

Although the envelope is rough, the unprinted pattern pieces are in very good condition.

Happy Mothers' Day.