July 21, 2015 § 5 Comments
Rhythmic gymnastics. This early 1930s gym and dance costume was available in misses’ and juniors’ sizes. The costume includes a long-sleeved or sleeveless blouse with elasticized lower edge and two styles of tap pant:
Like other sportswear patterns, McCall 6498 stayed in print for several years: Allison Marchant/carbonated’s copy is copyright 1934.
July 20, 2015 § 6 Comments
This week the Pan Am Games continue in Toronto. In honour of the Games, here’s a look at vintage patterns and illustrations showing women’s sports.
First up: Pan Am sports that have already concluded for 2015.
Archery. From a 1933 issue of McCall’s magazine, this archery scene was illustrated by Jean des Vignes:
Golf. Ben-Hur Baz (later known for his pin-ups) illustrated this golf scene for McCall’s magazine, circa 1930:
Donna Karan designed these mid-1970s golf separates, hat included, when she was at Anne Klein. You can buy it for your own golfing needs from the PatternVault shop.
Roller skating. Simplicity 3890, a World War 2-era skating pattern, includes this roller skating illustration:
Sailing. This 1930s sailor dress has a contrast collar and big buttons at the side-front closure:
The swimsuit was photographed by Richard Rutledge for Vogue Pattern Book:
Tennis. The cover of the McCall Quarterly for Spring 1932 has this tennis-themed illustration featuring two dresses by Bruyère:
(For more tennis patterns see my Tennis, Anyone? post.)
Stay tuned for more vintage sports wear… I’ll be looking at a different Pan Am sport and related vintage pattern every day this week.
July 11, 2015 § 8 Comments
The new book by the curator of the Commercial Pattern Archive is the first comprehensive study of the sewing pattern industry. Published through Bloomsbury’s academic imprint, Joy Spanabel Emery’s A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution traces the history of commercial patterns from their beginnings in early modern tailors’ drafting systems to the 21st century.
Emery is Professor Emerita of Theater at the University of Rhode Island, where she also taught in the fashion department. In addition to her articles on commercial sewing patterns, she is the author of Stage Costume Techniques (Prentice-Hall, 1981).
The materials found in the University of Rhode Island’s Commercial Pattern Archive (CoPA) and the personal archive of CoPA founder Betty Williams are the main sources for the book, which focuses on the pattern industry and its role in the production of everyday clothing. Emery presents her research in short, textbook-style chapters, ending each chapter with a brief summary. In the back, readers will find an index, endnotes for each chapter, and a detailed bibliography with sections for primary sources, secondary sources, and archival collections.
As a special inducement to those who sew, the book also includes an appendix with nine patterns, each laid out on a grid by Susan Hannel, the chair of the University of Rhode Island’s fashion department. The gridded patterns range from an 1850s Demorest basque [bodice], originally published as a pattern sheet supplement in a ladies’ fashion gazette, to a 1960s men’s Nehru jacket from Spadea.
Recent academic books on sewing have used the framework of gender studies to examine sewing as a cultural practice. Barbara Burman’s collection, The Culture of Sewing: Gender, Consumption and Home Dressmaking (Berg, 1999, to which Emery contributed a chapter, “Dreams on Paper: A Story of the Commercial Pattern Industry”), and Sarah A. Gordon’s “Make It Yourself”: Home Sewing, Gender, and Culture 1890-1930 (Columbia University Press, 2007) both present social histories of sewing that take into account changing understandings of femininity and women’s work.
Emery’s book takes a more conservative approach to the material culture of sewing patterns, aiming to lay the groundwork for further study by focusing on the historical timeline of commercial production and technical development. Each chapter traces the industry’s new technologies and companies, mergers and closures as the pattern business landscape shifted from early diversity to today’s conglomerates.
CoPA’s holdings are so extensive that they show not only the industry’s response to dramatic developments in fashion, like the New Look or youthquake, but also to historical events like the First and Second World Wars. A 1918 issue of Butterick’s magazine, The Delineator, shows two women in naval uniform (Butterick pattern no. 1101), while a 1943 McCall’s pattern for Victory aprons is printed with patriotic verse:
(For more on Butterick 1101 see Michelle Lee’s blog post.)
Industry players competed to improve the sewing customer’s experience. We have McCall’s to thank for the printed pattern. Other pattern companies couldn’t duplicate the technique until McCall’s patent expired—although Pictorial Review found a creative workaround with patterns that were both printed and perforated.
It was during the economic boom of the 1920s that the industry produced the first fully conceived designer patterns. As Betty Williams found in her research, McCall’s interwar couture patterns were based on garments purchased from Parisian couture houses for copying purposes. When Williams shared an early McCall Patou pattern with staff at the house of Patou, they agreed that the design looked like the couturier’s work, but were unable to find documentation of a McCall-Patou relationship (Williams 1995).* Intriguingly, Emery mentions a business agreement model along the lines of today’s licensing, but does not go into further detail.
Infelicities of layout and organization occasionally disrupt the flow. Including the discussion of interwar couture patterns in the 1920s chapter means that we read about the 1933 closure of the Paris Pattern Company, and see a 1930s example of a Paris Pattern, before reaching the 1930s chapter. Paris Patterns in fact survived beyond 1933: by the following year, the company seems to have merged with Style and was still releasing patterns for June, 1934.
The text is sometimes marred by typographical errors, as well as errors traceable to data entry errors in the pattern archive. Schiaparelli’s first Vogue Paris Original (no. 1051) is included in the chapter devoted to World War 2 rather than the postwar chapter, and its date is given as 1947 when it should be 1949—the year Vogue Patterns, still owned by Condé Nast, launched its Paris Originals with great fanfare. (See my postwar Schiaparelli post here.)
Countering the assertion that commercial pattern designs are already out of fashion, Emery argues that patterns historically allowed their customers to keep abreast of trends, giving some interesting before and after examples of patterns adapted to reflect the new proportions of the postwar New Look.
The question of the relationship between high fashion and the commercial pattern industry is an interesting one. Contemporary high fashion adaptations in pattern form are relatively current. Roland Mouret’s Fall 2005 blockbuster, the Galaxy dress, was adapted in 2006 as Vogue 8280, and Carven’s dress for Spring 2013 was adapted for that season as Vogue 8900 (see As I Said…). Current adaptations can be seen in McCall’s #sewthelook series on Instagram.
But licensed designer patterns are a different story. While trend-setting styles such as those from Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian and Ballets Russes collections could count on expedited production, more often there seems to have been a seasonal lag. A 1950s Laroche pattern discussed as typical in a contemporary report, Vogue 1450, is a design from the Spring 1959 couture that was released a season later, in late 1959.
Today, when the production time for a commercial pattern has been cut to as little as four weeks,** it’s still unusual for a new designer pattern to represent the current season. To take some recent examples: of Simplicity’s Cynthia Rowley patterns from the Summer 2015 release, Simplicity 1105 is unusual for being from the current season, Spring/Summer 2015:
In Vogue Patterns’ Fall 2014 release, the Donna Karan, Guy Laroche, and Rachel Comey selections are from the Fall 2013 collections, while the Ralph Rucci coat, Vogue 1419, is from the Pre-Fall 2013 collection:
The fashion industry has changed, and fewer designers are willing to enter into licensing agreements for commercial patterns, let alone license current-season designs. Historical analysis of the pattern industry shows how it has adapted in response not only to economic and social trends, but also to home sewers’ changing relationship with fashion. Emery has taken a much-needed look to the archives in this essential resource.
(Press release and interview here.)
Joy Spanabel Emery, A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
ISBN (cloth): 9780857858306
ISBN (paper): 9780857858313
* Betty Williams, “1920s Couturier Patterns and the Home Sewer,” Cutters’ Research Journal 6.4 (Spring 1995).
** According to a Forbes article cited on p. 201.
For review purposes I received a complimentary copy from the publisher.
July 1, 2015 § 5 Comments
In celebration of Canada Day, this post is devoted to Canadian fashion designer Lida Baday.
Lida Baday (b. 1957) was born to a dressmaker mother in Hamilton, Ontario. A graduate of Ryerson’s fashion design program, she worked for different companies in Toronto’s garment district before founding her own label in 1987. (Read bios here and here; see tear sheets here.) Baday soon won international success with her sophisticated, minimalist designs in luxurious fabrics such as wool jersey. Although her company closed its doors last year, The Fabric Room, which sells its surplus textiles, is still open to the public.
In the 1990s, Lida Baday designs were available through McCall’s patterns, beginning with two patterns in the November 1992 catalogue. McCall’s 6255 and 6257 are patterns for a skirt suit and separates including a flared, hooded coat:
McCall’s 6855 is a pattern for a bolero and sleeveless sheath dress in two lengths. The longer version has a high slit with underlay:
McCall’s 8256 includes a long, double-breasted jacket, a short, cap-sleeved top, and wide-legged pants:
This 1997 design for an oversized shirt, pants, and cropped leggings for stretch knits could be new today:
McCall’s 8823 is ’90s-minimalist perfection with its fitted tunic with narrow straps, slim pants, and low-backed, sleeveless dress with mock back wrap:
McCall’s 9371 includes a sleek halter top for stretch knits and a short, wrap skort:
The long, stretch-knit dresses in McCall’s 9379 are both ’90s and classic:
Just for fun, here are some more Fashion magazine covers featuring designs by Lida Baday:
Happy Canada Day, everyone!
May 4, 2015 § 7 Comments
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Liberty London is celebrating with an Alice-inspired Spring/Summer 2015 fabric collection. At the V&A Museum of Childhood, an exhibition on Alice’s influence on fashion, The Alice Look, runs to November 1, 2015, and on Saturday the museum is also hosting a conference, Alice & Fashion. (Read the press release.) The exhibition and conference are part of curator Kiera Vaclavik’s larger research project, Addressing Alice: The Emergence of a Style Icon.
To celebrate Alice’s 150th, here’s a look at some rarely seen vintage Alice in Wonderland patterns.
This Alice in Wonderland doll pattern with flamingo, McCall 145, dates to 1933:
The costume of the McCall Alice doll seems to refer to Charlotte Henry’s Alice in Paramount’s Alice in Wonderland (1933). According to Vaclavik, the film appears to have “prompted the adoption of the Alice band as hair accessory of choice at hunt balls and wedding processions across Britain” (see her article in the Independent):
Nearly two decades later, Walt Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland (1951) set the image of Alice as we picture her today. Disney licensed two Alice patterns with McCall’s: McCall’s 8626, a girls’ Alice ensemble, and McCall’s 1643, unisex children’s costumes for the Mad Hatter and March Hare. McCall’s 8626 includes a puff-sleeved dress, apron, coverall, and jacket with rabbit-shaped pocket:
You can see the back of the pattern envelope here.
The Alice pattern was promoted in the August 1951 issue of McCall’s Style News with additional sketches of the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. It’s worth quoting the original description: “Alice-in-Wonderland dress, inspired by Walt Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ motion picture. Not a fancy-dress costume, but a 4-part ensemble to wear any day of the week. Straight-from-Wonderland ruffled apron that can accompany the little puff-sleeved, full-skirted dress everywhere—to school, to church, to parties. For helping Mother around the house, a jumper-like coverall. And to complete the ensemble, a reversible jacket with the ‘White Rabbit’ in pocket form”:
This photo from McCall’s Pattern Book shows the March Hare costume and Alice outfit made up:
It’s interesting that the 1950s Alice pattern isn’t a costume pattern, but a set of pieces for everyday wear. The pattern adds ruffles to the pinafore, but is otherwise close to Disney’s animated Alice, whose style was based on Mary Blair’s concept art:
Happy anniversary, Alice!
April 17, 2015 § 1 Comment
The Museum at FIT’s exhibit, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s, closes this Saturday. (See Bridget Foley, “That Real Seventies Show.”) If you can’t make it to New York to see it, a catalogue is available from Yale University Press.
The MFIT exhibit organizes the two designers’ 1970s work in three thematic sections: menswear influence, exoticism, and historicism. Since both Yves Saint Laurent and Halston had licensed sewing patterns in the ’70s, I thought it would be fun to present three pairs of patterns in the exhibition’s format.
From Yves Saint Laurent, Vogue 1143 is a ’70s version of the famous Le smoking. Helmut Newton photographed Charlotte Rampling in a similar, Prince of Wales check pantsuit for Vogue (with original text here):
According to the curators, Halston’s most famous garment is the Ultrasuede shirtdress. McCall’s 4391 is a zip-front shirtdress that includes special instructions for working with synthetic suede:
Yves Saint Laurent’s interest in “exotic,” non-Western dress is perhaps best remembered from his Russian collection (Fall 1976 haute couture). From Vogue’s Ballets Russes patterns, Vogue 1558 is a Russian ensemble consisting of blouse, vest, bias skirt, and braid-trimmed jacket—hat and babushka scarf not included (see more at Paco’s blog):
During the 1970s, both Saint Laurent and Halston showed non-Western influence in their caftans and pajama ensembles. Halston pattern McCall’s 3590 combines both:
Inspired by the 1940s, Yves Saint Laurent’s Spring 1971 haute couture collection, Libération, launched the decade’s vogue for vintage. Although the 1971 collection was poorly received, Saint Laurent’s subsequent vintage-inspired efforts were very influential. From 1973, Vogue 2930 is a Forties-inspired dress-and-coat ensemble:
Halston’s historicism focused on the interwar couture of the 1930s, especially the work of Grès and Vionnet. McCall’s 4046 is a slinky dress for stretchable knits. It has only one main pattern piece and is shaped by gathers and side darts:
As the curators note, Halston and Yves Saint Laurent have been seen as embodying two separate styles: minimalist ready-to-wear vs. fantasy couture. Yet comparison of their work shows how their stylistic experimentation led them to common ground, particularly in the earlier ’70s. Interestingly, some Saint Laurent and Halston garments can be hard to tell apart until you examine the construction—something home sewers can certainly appreciate.
February 21, 2015 § 11 Comments
Caftans, long, loose-fitting tunics with origins in ancient Persia, have been gaining momentum as an alternative to more structured formal dress. With any luck, there will be some caftans among the goddess gowns at tomorrow’s Academy Awards ceremony.
They say Tsarina Alexandra was the first westerner to make a fashion statement in a caftan, when she dressed as a seventeenth-century Tsarina for a costume ball in 1903. Paul Poiret also advanced the caftan cause, but it was not until the 1950s that the garment really began to influence western fashion. Here’s a look at caftan patterns from the 1950s to now.
In the mid-1950s, Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga’s experiments with silhouette were partly inspired by eastern traditional dress. Dior’s Fall 1955 couture collection (Y line) included caftan-inspired ensembles—coats with high, side-front slits that reveal a slim dress underneath:
You can see echoes of the Dior caftan look in contemporary sewing patterns like McCall’s 3525 and 3532, both from late 1955:
McCall’s 3532, called a “slim caftan-and-dress ensemble,” was featured on the cover of McCall’s news leaflet and in the company’s “Make the Clothes that Make the Woman” advertising campaign. According to the ad, the design is ideal for the season’s “Oriental” fabrics, such as silk twill and raw silk tussah:
Caftans became popular in the 1960s in tandem with the increasing interest in eastern cultures. The Madame Grès version at the top of this post is cut on the bias, producing geometric seaming detail. The caption reads, “Coup of bias-work by Grès—because this piecing-together of bias angles is sinuous, stark, ravishingly Moroccan.”
This dress from Jean Patou by Michel Goma, Vogue 1699, has what the envelope calls a “caftan neckline.” The model is Beate Schulz:
This circa 1968 Vogue caftan pattern has optional flexible trim:
Other patterns from the late 1960s and early 1970s also reference eastern dress. From 1967, McCall’s 9026 is labelled as an abba in two lengths. Abba is an alternate spelling of aba, commonly abaya: a traditional Arab garment, long, loose-fitting, sleeveless, and made from a single rectangle of fabric. (Today, caftans often function as abayat.) The model is Veronica Hamel:
Burnoose patterns were marketed as resort wear. A pompom-trimmed version of McCall’s 2377 was photographed for the cover of McCall’s Summer 1970 catalogue:
Marola Witt models Simplicity’s burnoose in the July 1967 issue of Simplicity Fashion News (thanks to Mary of PatternGate for the reference). The text promotes the design’s ‘Arabian’ exoticism: “be exotic in a JIFFY: … the burnoose, born in Arabia, brought up to date here”:
This Halston caftan pattern from McCall’s also includes a top and pants (you can buy yourself a copy from the shop):
This flowing Dior caftan, modelled by Billie Blair, has lots of neckline detail, full-length sleeve openings, and pockets:
Vogue 1515 by Nina Ricci is a caftan that’s open in front and attached at the neckline to a handkerchief-hemmed underdress:
It’s harder to find post-1970s designer caftan patterns. This wide-sleeved, Oscar de la Renta caftan is trimmed with contrast bands. When worn, the side seams swing forward to raise the hemline in front:
From Issey Miyake, Vogue 2315 is a caftan-inspired summer dress:
Caftan patterns started making a comeback (of sorts) in 2009. Simplicity 2584, a caftan-inspired tunic by Cynthia Rowley, is out of print but still in demand:
Ralph Rucci’s floor-length caftan, Vogue 1181 (now out of print), has an abaya silhouette and interesting construction details—overarm darts, shaped lower sections, and a hook and eye above the low neckline:
The design is from Chado Ralph Rucci Resort 2009:
Matthew Williamson’s short caftan, available as a free pattern from the Guardian, is also a 2009 design:
Would you sew a caftan?