Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You're welcome to browse. During the month of November, 2005, instead of jumping into NaNoWrMo, I just wrote 75 blog entries until I was finished with the topic--sewing memories, linking my patterns to photographs and sometimes fabric or the actual item. Along the way I discovered lots of vintage pattern and sewing sites, which I've linked to and will add as I find more. Several times I've suppressed the impulse to uncover my sewing machine and bring it up from the basement. It's been lots of fun going over the photographs and spotting things I thought I'd forgotten.

Update: September 2006. The statistics at this blog are running about 8-10 visits a day. I'm glad people are finding and enjoying it.

Update: January 2008: The stats are still about the same. Lots of people wanting old apron patterns it seems. Enjoy!

Coming to an end

Although I'd planned to finish this memory blog in a month, I hadn't really thought about arranging the entires--and indeed, they aren't topical or chronological.

This photo isn't the last outfit I ever made, but it is close. I recall a few outfits in the 80s probably when I was between jobs. I started taking contract appointments in 1978 until I got a tenure track position in 1986 at Ohio State University Libraries. This photo was taken in 1979 at our church after I'd gone back to work, and my daughter was tall enough to borrow my clothes (she's wearing my skirt). I made the wool plaid skirt I'm wearing in the photo from the maxi-pattern I showed earlier. We were transitioning--shopping with friends would become a social event in my daughter's life; I would be too busy or too distracted to sew; the children's school demands would create a lot of conflict; and my husband was unhappy at work.

Sewing, which I never did particularly well, sort of fell by the way side until it disappeared from my life all together. When we bought our summer cottage in 1988 I had great plans to learn to slip-cover--even kept the sewing machine up there for a few years, but it never happened. Mother continued making things, moving more to crafts, and home furnishing and helped some of her grandchildren learn to sew.

Last week on a church bulletin board I saw a large display of photos of Sunday dresses for children of the Hilltop area where many of our members volunteer at Highland School. They were lovely--velvet and satin and ribbons and lace. Everything that a little girl could want in a fantasy dress. Thinking it might be a group sewing activity, I called for information--might even be an excuse to dust off the sewing machine. I was told they were all made by one woman.

Oh my.

Update: I called the woman who made the dresses--she'd made 24 dresses in sizes 4, 6 and 8 from her "stash" (she has a sewing businesses). A friend found little canvas bags at a sewing store and painted a design on the bag to match each dress, and her husband found hats to match. Now she is making pajamas--she's making 40 for the children. Update 2: Saw her this week and now she's made 61 dresses.

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Heading off for college

During the summer after high school I boarded a Greyhound Bus and took off for Fresno, California for Brethren Volunteer Service, summer unit. Meanwhile, Mom was back at the house on Hannah getting me ready for college (I had a knack for getting out of the work being busy doing other things). I don't have any patterns, and no photos taken at college, but I do have the actual blazer and jacket and some photos taken today. Both are still with me, although I don't wear them. Mom made Carol and me lined corduroy blazers, hers was brown and yellow stripe and mine was coral, black and gray. The photo I'd planned to post showed me in 1965 showing off my new piano, and I was going to include that story about buying the piano with my grad student stipend, but it won't load. So here it is hanging on the closet door, today. I think I may have worn this blazer a few times in in the 1980s, especially because it is sort of close to the Ohio State scarlet and gray theme.

I could wear this unconstructed jacket with a pleat at the shoulder on game days here in Columbus, Ohio where everyone wears scarlet and gray. It's 100% wool and just a bit scratchy, and over the years a few tiny moth holes have appeared, but other than that, it's like new. I think the idea was it would look like a "Pendleton shirt" which of course, I couldn't afford, but they were very popular then.

That summer Mother also made JoElla and me (friends since grade school) matching gray quilted bedspreads, reversable to pink with pink bed skirts for our dorm room twin beds (pink and gray were hot, hot, hot 1957 colors--even for the cars, kitchen appliances, typewriters, etc.). JoElla and I were terribly disappointed in our tiny room in Oakwood Hall at Manchester College, but we managed, using the window sill as a refrigerator. For second semester we were moved to something larger. I believe Mother had also made Carol and her roommate bedspreads and bedskirts, but I don't remember what they looked like.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Making a baby layette

There's a word I haven't heard for awhile--layette. So I googled it: "A layette is a collection of clothes and bedding for a new baby. In the past, women would have hand-sewn everything the baby would need during pregnancy. Now we can buy everything." If you want to make something for a baby, learn to crochet or knit. Using a sewing machine is a lot of work for something outgrown in a few weeks and which is worn 5 minutes before all your hard work is covered in spit up or poop and thrown in the laundry.

I did make a few things during my first pregnancy, and still have two patterns, and one little nightgown. I may have made more, but apparently only kept one. My machine didn't overcast or zigzag which means seams had to be hand finished and the tiny sleeves hand hemmed, etc. I think I made some of these just to keep busy the summer of 1961. Even then, ready-mades (as we called them) were inexpensive and more practical.

When I opened this I found only the iron on embroidery patterns. I found one little smock, yellow flannel, in the baby clothes with embroidered flowers. It didn't look like it had ever been used.

From this pattern I found one white flannel nightie trimmed with a green and white seam binding and then I'd embroidered a little green design at the neck in a matching color.

We were living on the third floor of an apartment building on Third Street in Champaign. Most of the people I knew had graduated and left campus, but I did meet two women in the building, one who was also pregnant and the other, who was only 16, had a year old baby. There was a wringer washer in the basement that would run for 30 minutes for a quarter. Fortunately, I remembered watching my mother use one, and soon got pretty good at it.

The lime green pants suit

This almost screams "the seventies," except from the size of my baby son, it was 1969. I can't find any photos where I'm wearing the complete outfit, but those lime green slacks really show up in a lot of pictures. This is the pattern.

And here we are in the spring of 1969 in front of that awful flowering quince. I was wearing this outfit in a February '69 photo, so I must have made it during the winter. The fabric was sort of a linen weave, heavy cotton, very nice texture which held its shape well.

Our high school age babysitter, Kristy Mellum, lived in the stucco house behind us. When my husband built a fence to help me with corraling the children, he included a gate so she (and later the neighborhood kids) could get into our yard.

Christmas 1971

My sister came through big time for us this year--1971. She made my daughter and me matching long housecoats out of a purple and pink print cotton quilted fabric, mandarin collar with pink buttons, and then she also knitted us matching pink slippers. I wore my robe almost 20 years before I completely wore through the fabric, and I think I have photos of Christmas 1973 where the cuffs are almost up to my daughter's elbows. Of course, I don't have the pattern for this, but I've searched the internet, and I think this is it.

It's not like she didn't have anything else to do but sew for my family! She had four children, a big house, volunteered, taught piano and enjoyed a very busy life. I don't think I ever even hemmed a hanky for her. All she got was this blog.

The last prom dress

Except for the cummerbund, I think Mother just pieced this one together from two other patterns--a full skirt and a v-neck top. I seem to remember we went shopping for the material--the top was a dark forest green linen and the full skirt was a flocked nylon with little pink flowers and greenery. I wore the same pink shoes I'd worn for my sister's wedding. Mother made this for my senior prom, and then I wore it two years later for the I.F. Ball at the University of Illinois, and I don't remember what happened to it. Nor do I remember what I.F. stands for. Something . . . fraternity.

The theme of the prom that year was "Mexican Promenade. The decorations were always provided by the junior class, and it was preceded by a banquet to which all juniors and seniors were invited. The "Mello-Tones," a group of 16 girls, provided the music (according to my high school annual). Looking at the annual photos, I see fewer strapless gowns, and also a number of the boys are in rented tuxedos--which I don't think was the case even 2 years earlier.

This photo must have been taken in a friend's room at McKinley Hall because I don't recognize the walls, but most of the furniture was certainly Spartan or possibly prison-issue style even for those days. We had no doors on the closets, only hanging curtains. But we did have a nice big window and a sink. I loved it there and made many wonderful friends.

Easter 1969

All decked out in our Easter outfits, although I'm not sure we'd been to church. We are visiting friends, the Boyds, in this photo. I have on a print dress in brilliant colors printed on sort of a homespun weave cotton I'd made from this pattern. It was a polaroid and has faded over the 37 years since this was taken.

I remember telling Sandy that now we were four, and it felt like a "real family." She was also a librarian and had two little girls each just a few months older than my two. I think she later became an Episcopal priest, but I lost track of her years ago. So, Sandra Boyd, if you're out there, call home.

Time to climb back into the box

Sue and Sammy prepare for the time capsule wearing clean clothes.

Cousin Amy's Big Girl Dresses

Amy is 2.5 years older than my daughter and her mother is a fine seamstress who still makes craft items like purses, so we benefitted in the 1970s from her hand-me-down "big girl dresses." One of my all time favorites is the red dress with the print yoke and sleeves. We used this one on a Christmas card.

This dress was sort of a gray blue with a silver pattern. It had a straight body with a flaring ballerina type, below the waist skirt.

The children are doing one of their art projects, almost a constant activity in our home. We also took them to art shows, which was no fun for them, and neither have ever shown any interest in art as adults. Our son went through the airplanes, fantasy figures and cartoon phase in junior high, but that was about the last time I saw any art from his fingers. This shows our kitchen eating area before we replaced the metal casement windows, an "improvement" added in the post-war 1940s by previous owners.

This was the first day of kindergarten at Tremont School with Amy's little skirt, blouse and scarf, and we almost waited too long--another month and it would have been too short! I think it was a disappointing day for my daughter because it was just sort of an introduction and then everyone went home.

When I unpacked the baby clothes last week-end and didn't find these three dresses I decided I must have returned them, either for Amy's daughters, or for her sister Heather, who is three years younger than my daughter.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Packing up for another 30 years

It's been fun looking through the dresses and dollies, but everything is washed and ironed now and it is time to go back into the bin and into the storage space. I don't know what the occasion would be to get these out again. I don't seem to have all the patterns, but do have some. The long sleeve yellow and the green dress with the collar have already appeared in photos here and here.

This outfit had matching shorts and slacks, and when it was too short to wear as a dress, it was a top. I made the square neck with the contrasting cap sleeves in the shorter dress length.

The ugliest tie

Sewing men's ties was very popular in the 1970s--I don't know if it is still done, but it is very easy. The problem with this tie, as I mentioned earlier is that I made it from left over bedspread fabic. It must have been a bargain, because it was a king size bed, I made my daughter a dress and head scarf and my husband a tie.

Visiting Luther College in Iowa

My high school boyfriend attended Luther College for one year, and invited me to Homecoming--can't remember if there was a dance--but Mother made me a new outfit. To get to Decorah, Iowa from my home town I had to take the train from Oregon, IL to Prairie du Chien Wisconsin, and then he had to borrow a car to pick me up there, about 100 miles round trip. Even by the late 1950s train travel was becoming less convenient, and that may have been my first trip on a train.

I don't have the pattern, and I'm not sure she used one, but it looked like this (copied from the internet). The top, which I wore without a blouse, was a navy and sky blue plaid with a silver thread and the skirt a plain darker blue in the same fabric which appears to be an orlon or acrylic:

When I unpacked the bin of baby clothes I found the doll clothes my mother made for my daughter, and this little hooded cape was the fabric of the vest. I probably only wore this outfit for a year or so because I put on weight in college. But what a pleasant surprise to find the fabric.

Sewing with knits

Once I got the hang of it, sewing with knits was easy. I could do up a t-shirt for the kids in about 90 minutes. I remember making them matching t-shirts with the Pepsi logo and they wore them when we went to amusement parks so I could spot them quickly if we got separated. I don't seem to have a photo of them both wearing the shirt.

My daughter's wearing the Pepsi shirt, but my son had one too. They're sitting on their outgrown, but favorite toys, a big wheel and a hippity hop. My parents were probably visiting for Easter, because the horrid flowering quince (it will take over your yard and then the neighborhood) is blooming behind them. I can see a new stockade fence in the back, put up by the neighbors who had no children and assured us it was for a backdrop for their new landscaping. It just happened to keep all the neighborhood kids from cutting through. They only lived there about 18 months.

I also see two of the scruffiest cedar trees you've ever seen (about 30 years old) back there. We had to get permission from the city and the neighbors to cut one down so we could put a garage there where you can see the swing set.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Unpacking baby clothes

Some of us are fortunate--we know that when we save the physical objects, we will also save the soul and spirit of the time, place and people that are associated with them. Then there are a very select few who know that if those physical objects are clothing or made of cloth, they should be freshly laundered before packing them away for 30 years and then rechecked when repacked for moving. I was of the former group, but not the latter. So, before I can repack them, everything needs to be laundered.

Even so, the breath was knocked out of me this morning when I unpacked my children's clothing from two tall plastic tubs, dropped off here by my son-in-law. There were some items I was specifically anticipating, like the two baby quilts I blogged about here and here. And I found them. I was pretty sure I'd find the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my friend Lynne brought with her on a visit when the kids were about 3 and 4, and I did. I had planned to give back to my niece two little dresses her mother had made for her which were later passed along to my daughter, but they weren't there, so I think I'd returned them when her own daughters were little.

In the intervening years, I'd forgotten how precious baby feet are! I not only found the little brown and white suit my son wore on his baptismal day, but the tiny shoes--probably not big enough to contain his big toe now. And the little white, lace up high tops my oldest son was wearing the day he died, as well as the pants and shirt and snow suit.

And the dollies! I didn't remember all those dolls, hair askew, and heads falling off, and eyeballs caved in. And surprise--some of them were not wearing the clothing they came with, but instead had outfits that my mother had made. Because of the zig-zag stitches and fabrics, I knew they were made specifically for my daughter's dolls and not mine. I had planned to write about a wonderful two piece outfit Mother had made for me in 1956, but had neither a pattern, a photograph or a scrap of material. And there was the blue fitted vest fabric with the silver thread, in a dolly cape with a hood. I almost cried remembering a Mother who could sew like that.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Aunt Martha's Quilts, pt. 2

Here are two of Aunt Martha's finished quilts, now about 120 years old. It is almost beyond my comprehension that a woman who was probably making all the family's clothes, growing the produce they ate and preserving it, baking bread and churning butter, raising and slaughtering poultry, doing laundry on a washboard, bathing the family in water heated on a stove using corn cobs, watching two little boys, Nathan and Clarence, would still have time to sit by kerosene lamp and piece tiny bits of fabric together and then quilt them into something warm, practical and beautiful.

Feminists love to sing the praises of our pioneer farm women--their independence, interdependence and creativity. However, the work was so overwhelming, back breaking and never ending, I'm sure most of the them were thrilled to leave the farm for factory and office when the time came--just as the men did.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Aunt Martha's Quilts

My grandmother's sister, Martha Sanders, was old enough to be her mother, and died in childbirth in 1889. Grandma inherited a number of Martha's quilts, some of which she used until they were worn out, some she put back and gave her daughters, and two of which were passed on to me. I also have a box of the unused quilt blocks. I've looked at them over the years trying to decide what to do with them, but have decided they were not used for a reason. After piecing a number of blocks, I'm sure the housewife/artist selected the best for her finished quilt, and I can see from comparing the box of blocks with the quilts I have, that there is usually something wrong with the block--an angle not quite right, or a fabric pattern going the wrong way, or a mismatched color.

My own grandmother clipped many quilt patterns from newspapers and magazines, but I have no evidence that she ever quilted except the little learner's dolly quilt I blogged about. I used her quilt patterns (the verso) to track down her magazine subscriptions and used that information in an article about farm magazines. The patterns were traced onto cardboard, the pieces cut, and then neatly sewn together with tiny stitches and small seams. But I'm not sure how Martha got her patterns--perhaps by trading with other farm women in Lee County, Illinois, or perhaps she used some that her mother brought with her from Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Here are some pattern blocks from those saved by my grandmother.

Looking for the Chemise

"[At the Main Library of Ohio State University, Deck 11] I found Mademoiselle, AP2.M18 v. 46 and carried it to a comfortable chair. I looked everywhere for the picture I'd referred my mother to in April 1958, and it just wasn't there. But it was a blast looking through the volume, and just as I suspected and commented on in my sewing blog, the late fifties were harbingers of style and shape changes--blousy and bouffant that would become more popular after 1960. So I decided to look at some other titles to see what they showed about that era--I love researching by class number (reading the shelves rather than the catalog) because of the thrill of discovery. But when I went back into the stacks, I discovered that AP2.M is the class and cutter scheme for literary journals that start with "M." I looked all over the section and couldn't find another fashion magazine. Not exactly the thrill I had in mind." Collecting My Thoughts

But I did look through it and photographed some pages I thought might be the chemise I had in mind. I certainly found nothing on p. 102 of April.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wrap-and-Go Skirt

This easy wrap skirt I made for my daughter probably after I made my wrap jumper. She looks about 11 years old in the photograph, and the garage was built in 1978. There is no copyright date on the pattern.

My son and I were talking the other day and I mentioned I'd never seen him and his sister in a physical fight (I used to watch the neighbor boy pound on his sister), but looking at this photo, I realize she was bigger than him until they entered high school. Cuts down on a lot of fighting.

Wrap-and-Go Jumper

This was a very easy jumper to make and I loved it. I think I made it in 1975 or 1976, but I can't find a copyright date on the Butterick envelope. It was semi-fitted and flared, with a buttoned bib front, and attached straps that crossed in the back. I think I lengthened it a bit so it was just below the knee. I made it in a blue denim and I think I top stitched it in red.

The photo of this jumper shows me in California in 1976 sitting with my husband's brother who was being a gracious host and had taken our whole family to Disney Land. My husband's parents were divorced when he was about 2 years old so he had two families, one of which we rarely saw. This brother had visited us in 1961 in Champaign when he was about 12 years old, but we hadn't seen him again until this trip. The two brothers have spent more time together in recent years, and their father died this past Spring. Not only are they now close friends, but they share many traits. Whereas the brother my husband grew up with lives near by, but they have no common interests and very different lifestyles.
We lived in three different states, and you always think, "someday," but here are the four brothers and sisters together in 2003, the first time since 1952. But they are as bonded as any siblings I've ever met, and I love them all, especially the guy on the left. Maybe the parents couldn't get along, but their children do.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sewing for Sisters, pt. 5

Dropping back to about 1944, here's a photo which I think shows my sisters in matching dresses. At that age, Mom was making them coats and dresses the same, and then later made Carol and me dresses that were the same, but different colors and fabrics. As you can see, these little dresses were more plain and required less fabric than the little puff sleeve, gathered waist dresses I remember from the 40s. There were shortages of everything and certain items were rationed.

This photo is the all time family favorite and Mother snapped it to send to my father who was in the Marines. He was not drafted--but virtually every man under 40 in our little town had gone off to war, and so he volunteered. His brothers, brothers-in-law and cousins were already gone--Europe, Alaska, Korea, South Pacific. In those days, people had "victory gardens," and so there we are, pretending to be gardeners, standing beside our 1939 Ford. Later Mom would pack us all up in the car and drive the Lincoln Highway from northern Illinois to California, and our lives changed completely as we became suburbanites in Alameda.

In 2002 I used this photograph to paint an image of Dad in his uniform looking down over us and our house.

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Sewing for Sisters, pt. 4

It was a busy Spring 1955 for Mother. My sister and I (front) are both wearing outfits she made for us; mine was a polished (shiny) navy blue cotton with a detachable linen pilgrim collar, white lacy buttons, fitted at the waist with a big flared skirt, and my sister's was a light-weight wool, lined navy suit with a short jacket, mandarin collar and bound button holes. I've looked through the vintage pattern sites, but can't find anything that resembles either her suit or my dress.

This is the only copy of this Olan Mills photo, the one the promotion promised for the low, low price in hopes you'd buy more to send to the relatives. It was taken in the old Kable Inn in Mt. Morris which even 50 years ago, had fallen on hard times (is now an apartment building). Apparently, our parents thought we didn't look very good, but after 50 years, I think it is adorable. It was an important milestone year. Carol was graduating from high school and going into Brethren Volunteer Service, Stan was graduating from grade school, my oldest sister would be getting married and leaving the nest in June, and I, well, I ended up with this picture because everyone else was busy.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Sewing for Sisters, pt. 3

Here are the photos of the attendants' dresses for the wedding of the previous entry. A third attendant made her own dress identical to mine. Carol's dress was yellow (on the left) and mine was pink (on the right) Krystalline. Pastel colored shoes were popular then, so our shoes matched the dresses. Mother also made our little hats which were pleated across a form. My dress went on to the prom the next year, and I assume Carol's went to college.

When standing between two other hoop skirts, you had to hold down the front

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sewing for Sisters, pt. 2

When Mother decided to sew the wedding dress, the maid of honor dress and a bridesmaid dress for my oldest sister's wedding in 1955, it was probably the biggest sewing project of her life, at least until she decided to make all the drapes for the new three story Brethren church in 1956. As I mentioned earlier, she wasn't a terribly confident seamstress. In 1952 she had made my sister's formal (homecoming queen), and in 1954 she had made Carol and me prom dresses. So she was working up to a really big project.

She usually shopped in Dixon or Freeport for fabric, but went to Chicago for the lovely white satin and embroidered tulle net. For Carol's and my dresses, she selected a shimmery new fabric called, I think, Krystalline, also called crystal organza or crystalline. I was a dishwater blonde, pretty average looking, but Carol was dark with exotic features. My dress was a peppermint pink and Carol's was daffodil yellow, perfect for her complexion.

Many new synthetic fabrics were being developed in the 1950s, and I think it must have been an exciting time to be a home seamstress. Krystalline is used today in crinolines, but I don't think I've seen it in dresses in nearly 50 years. Probably because feminine elegance isn't very popular. (We had the Jackie O 60s; the funky 70s; the dress for success 80s; and the anything goes 90s.) Krystalline came in a wide range of colors, held it's shape and didn't wrinkle. I felt terribly glamorous (I was 15) wearing this dress which I later wore to the prom, and especially felt glamorous walking down the aisle with a 22 year old groomsmen.

Here is a pattern from the internet that I've shown my sister and she thinks it is THE dress, although the bodice was completely lined.

Below is my sister on the left, and then me on the right with the dress slightly altered and shortened 5 years later.

Update: Since writing this I've learned that the dress is safe and in perfect condition at my niece's home in Virginia. If she gets it out and looks at the careful stitches and tiny hand sewn pearls, I hope she remembers happy times with her grandmother.

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