Ways To Display Monochromatic Collections In Your Home

Spotted this at Country Living:

Here’s how we recommend keeping the arrangement interesting:

• Group similarly shaped items (fluted vases, trophy-like urns) together, but stagger heights and mix various creamy shades.

• A few wild-card components, such as shells, architectural remnants, and tarnished silver vessels, prevent a monochromatic collection from becoming monotonous. Just keep them all muted, so they don’t hog the spotlight.

Photo by Bjorn Wallander.

Repairing Broken Or Missing Hangers On Vintage Chalkware Plaques Or Plaster Wall Art

When most people hear “chalkware” or “plaster” they think of those funny animal pieces and rip-offs of comic characters — the cheap prizes hawked by carnival barkers. Even at the circus and those old country fairs there were more delicate home decor pieces to be found. Some, like my harlequin Great Dane dog statue are really lovely. But there’s more than statues in the world of plaster & chalkware. Among the most popular chalkware collecting areas are the pieces by Miller Studios, like white poodle heads plaques. There are so many styles, you can literally plaster the walls!

miller-studios-vintage-plaster-poodles

Since chalkware and plaster of Paris items are fragile, no matter what their age, many pieces were damaged and thrown away. Surviving items may have chips and/or paint problems. Some collectors will make repairs, especially quick touch ups with paint, but I prefer the charm of a ‘flawed’ piece.

vintage-chalkware-plaques-pink-and-black-dancers

However, if the old wire hangers or staples on their backs have been broken (or completely lost), what do you do? You can’t just hammer in a replacement — you’ll shatter the chalk!

Once upon a time, there were these little picture hanger things with squares of rectangles or cloth on them… Do you remember those? The cloth was moistened, activating a glue-type adhesive. They looked rather like these on the back of these Wanda Irwin pieces. Only the ones I was thinking of had metal grommets securing the holes.

hangers-on-Wanda-Irwin-pieces

I went searching for them; but after three different stores, they must have gone the way of window shades: Practical things of the past one could only find online. You can find them online; but I was working on setting up the new antique booths and needed to fix the vintage poodle plaques now!

We have handfuls of the metal “toothed” picture hangers, but I needed a safe way to attach them to the plaster. Safe enough not to break the plaster when attached — and strong enough to make sure the plaques wouldn’t fall off the walls when hung.

First, I placed the sawtooth picture hanger on the back of the plaster plaque, where I wanted to attach it. Using a pencil, I traced the holes in the hangers. Once the hanger was taken away, I applied a rather generous dot of Liquid Nails over each of the penciled markings. Then, gently, but firmly, I pressed the metal hangers in place. Some of the adhesive oozed through the holes in the hangers — which is what I wanted. This is about securing the hangers, and therefore the future of the vintage plaster plaques; not about how neat it looks on the back.

I let the glue set over night. The next morning, I used a glue gun and applied a good layer of hot glue over the ends of the metal hangers, covering the Liquid Nails as well. I let that set for the day, and then, when I went to set up the new shop space, I carefully hung the vintage chalk plaques in place. Again, the backs may not look super (Did they ever, with those rusting staples?!), but the pieces are safely secured.

vintage-plaster-chalk-plaques-back

PS The kitschy plaster poodle plaques (from Miller Studio) and the pair of vintage plaster dancer plaques (in pink and black!) are available for purchase in our space at the new Fargo-Moorhead antique mall. If interested, feel free to contact me.

fixing-plaster-chalkware-hangers

Marilyn Monroe Still Alluring At 90

marilyn monroe blowing out candle on cakeI continually swear that I’m not going to write, again, about Marilyn; but here I am again

I may have been able to to get away with a wistful smile & a re-Tweet or two in the honor of her 90th birthday. But then I discovered of the photo show in honor of the icon’s birthday — and from there, a very important fact that I had missed for low these X years.

In 2010, a collection of Marilyn’s personal journals, poems, letters, and the like was published in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe, edited by Stanley Buchthal and Bernard Comment. (Can you even imagine having access to such intimate ephemera?!)

monroe notebook

As Lucy Bolton notes at the BBC, “This shows how the process of writing was integral to Monroe’s self care and well being. She could also be honest here, perhaps in a way that she couldn’t be elsewhere.” Including both the cruel and the kind. It’s the self-talk that fascinates me the most. Again from Bolton:

In her so-called Record notebook from around 1955 she writes that her “first desire was to be an actress” and that she is striving to work fully and sensitively, “without being ashamed of it”. Her drive to work on herself and her craft was merciless: “I can and will help myself and work on things analytically no matter how painful”, and she notes in her notebook a single line, “having a sense of myself” – as if the words ground her in some way and remind her of what she needs to keep in mind.

This is not just to be coveted for the personal diary of a celebrity aspect. This is the self-reflective artist at work.

remember there is nothing you lack – nothing to be self conscious about yourself – you have everything but the discipline and technique which you are learning and seeking on your own

And it’s the documentation of a woman’s life, which I find supremely interesting, most poignant, relateable. How many of us, sadly, can relate to these words of Monroe?

I guess I have always been deeply terrified to really be someone’s wife since I know from life one cannot love another, ever, really… starting tomorrow I will take care of myself for that’s all I really have and as I see it now have ever had

This is the stuff you miss when you swear off your collecting, your obsession. Oh, but how easy it is to be pulled back in! Another book on the wishlist. No; scratch that. I think I’ll buy myself a birthday gift early. I’m convinced it’s what Marilyn would want me to do.

Things That Go To Make Up A Life

In What Is Left Behind, photographer Norm Diamond takes a look at what most collectors see at estate sales: the cycle of life. And then he photographs the objects. Among the artfully preserved poignant moments, a bride’s wedding dress and photo (as well as her wedding night lingerie), and a burial receipt for a young mother and her baby who had died in an automobile accident…

norm diamond brides dress and photo

vintage wedding night lingerie by norm diamond

burial receipt photograph norm diamond

Diamond is now retired, but he previously worked with very ill people as an interventional radiologist. In an interview at Slate, Diamond admits his career likely affected him and this series:

I didn’t realize it until I had retired, but I think when you deal with people who are sick and dying all the time, your outlook on life is different than people who aren’t subjected to that. You don’t tend to be a glass-is-half-full person; you see some of the poignancy of life and some of the sad, tragic things that occur and that maybe part of where I’m coming from.

Diamond photographs some of the objects there at the estate sales; others he purchases and takes home to photograph. Either way, it’s a very moving series which reminds me yet again of that perfect line in Genesis’s Home By The Sea:

Images of sorrow, pictures of delight
things that go to make up a life

You can purchase copies of Diamond’s photographs here.

The Joy and Tribulation of The Antique Dealer

No Egrets Antiques
No Egrets Antiques

No Egrets Antiques has just completed our third antique show of this new year. Our first was held in West Bend, WI in January. Cold, but the snow kept away and turn-out was very high! As always, the N. L. Promotions’ events are well attended and offer top-quality vendors.

The second was in Wausau, WI on a very cold winter weekend. At this time of year Wausau is snow ski country and the sport is for the hardy outdoor types.  But we were set up inside the D.C. Everett High School and the droves of customers provided our booth with constant action for two full days. They came to buy! This show and our St. Norbert’s Show were put on by AR Promotions and Audre’ and Ray really do things right.

This last endeavor was a flip of what we had expected. Weather was kind to us, but buyers were not. The venue was at St. Norbert Collage in DePere, WI, and the gym was filled with many of the same dealers that were in Wausau.  We were very pleased to see the crowds pour thru on both Saturday and Sunday. But!!  After talking with many of our friendly competing dealers, the consensus was that the visitors left their purses and wallets at home. Still a good show, but not up to our expectations.

And so goes the life of an antique dealer. Wait until our next show. We’ll bring better antiques or maybe lower end items.  Better glass, or depression glass? Probably not, it is not selling up to its potential.  Victorian period? No, we need to bring more Mid Century Modern. Sports items? Always hot. Jewelry always sells so do post cards. Yippee! Post cards and jewelry. And probably some delightful prints and paintings for home decorating This is also a great show for outdoor items for your yard decor and also heavy-metal for your man-cave. That’s what we will bring to our next event.

Our next show will be in Elkhorn, WI, (another N.L. event) and it’s always a super show for both collectors and decorators and sellers, with Inherited Values and No Egrets in booths next to each other – Row two # 216.

See you soon.

 

Wes Cowan’s Personal Antique Stereoview Collection Up For Auction

When hubby & I met Wes Cowan, one of the things we learned about him was that he was an avid collector of antique photographs. He began collecting them as a child and within 15 years, he’d amassed what was, at the time, the best collection of Frank Jay Haynes photographs & stereoviews. (Stereoviews are those cards with side-by-side photographs on them which, when placed in a viewer, appear three-dimensional; see stereoscopy.) Cowan, somewhat painfully, sold many of them to start his auction business, Cowan’s Auctions. But he didn’t quite stop collecting them either…

However, now Cowan has announced that his entire stereoview collection is going up for auction — including some by Frank Jay Haynes.

antique f jay haynes stereoviews cowans auctions

Frank J. Haynes, aka F. Jay Haynes or the Professor, was the Michigan native who started his photographic business in Moorhead, Minnesota, and is likely known by most for his work with Northern Pacific Railway and his photographs of Yellowstone.

The Cowan collection, a total of 249 lots, features many other antique images of historical value.

civil war death stereoview

antique african american slave black americana stereoviews

Along with one of the earliest known images of Buffalo Bill (holding a Creedmoor long range rifle), there are numerous Civil War era images, antique photographs of Native Americans, Black Americana slavery photos, and many other historical images.

American Indians antique photos Chief Jacob, Nez Perce, with Missionary Henry H. Spalding, Fort Lapwai, Idaho Territory

early antique buffalo bill photographs

The bidding began March 13, 2015, and closes at noon EST on Monday, March 30, 2015. You can view lots as well as bid online here.

Vintage Photo Of A Great Man In The Great War

When it comes to collecting photographs, images of men are typically far less popular than those of women. However, there are two primary categories where there is some rather high interest: Images which gay men and images from the military. This photo features a young male soldier holding his rifle with a bayonet. While there’s no date (or other information on the photo), we had a few militaria collectors agree that it’s likely from WWI.

vintage wwi solider with gun photo

Tintypes & Seashells

Since we went to that museum auction and got that fabulous antique folk art piece made of tintypes and seashells, I’ve been looking for more…

I found this antique frame of nine photos decorated in seashells…

Antique Sea Shell Display Frame Wall Sailors Valentine Folk 9 Ambrotypes 1860s

And this antique folk art or tramp art “Memory Bottle” has seashells mixed in with all the other buttons and bobs.

Antique Folk Tramp Art Memory Bottle

Image Credits: Drive Back In Time & The Antique Poole.

Portraits By The Pound

In this week’s Dakota Death Trip update, I posted a photo of a girl who looks much too sad to be wearing satin.   When I flipped the photo over, the back has a big rubber stamp mark from the photo studio that produced the image:

pixy-pinups-logo-back

A penny a pound?   A pound of what?!?

I got excited when I found a Flickr photo from a guy who reports the same Charlotte, N.C., studio as the source of his photo — hey, somebody else sat on the same spot as the girl in my photo!   Unfortunately, after a little research, I found that it wasn’t such a coincidence.

Dating a photo takes a whole lot of research:  what year is that car?  When was that toy under the Christmas Tree first made?  What movie is on that marquee in the back?  When was that brand name used?  There’s a whole bunch of history bundled up in every photo, even if it is just a brand of shoes or a style of eyeglasses.   So, this stamp on the back of a photo is enough for me to narrow down the origin of the photo to a timespan of a couple years.

Department stores used to be far more than the acres of products they are today.  Your mom could take you down to Woolworth’s, buy you lunch, get your hems lowered (you’ve grown, you know) by the in-house tailor, take you for a haircut, and get your photo taken, all without leaving the building.   This hasn’t entirely gone away: the J.C. Penney out at the mall — an expatriate from Downtown during the seventies — lost its restaurant in the early eighties, but it has brought along its hair salon and photo studio into the 21st Century.
pixy-pin-ups-logo-jcpenny-photo-studio

Stanley Hoke and Needham Holden were the proprietors of Dunbar-Stanley Studios, and in the 1940s or early 1950s, according to an interview in the Victoria (TX) Advocate in 1960, the two men were driving between appointments and saw a sign that offered watermelon at the amazing deal of 1/2-cent…until they read the small type below the price: “per pound”.  Holden thought that marketing ploy would work in their line of business, and began advertising baby photos priced like chuck roast: they’ll photograph your kid, at the cost of one penny per pound of the child’s weight.

Dunbar-Stanley Studios had the advantage of being the exclusive photography studio of the J.C. Penney department store franchise.  Although some stores may have been large enough to support a full-time photo studio, the smaller stores made appointments with Dunbar-Stanley to send out a photographer for a few days at a time, several times a year.

penny-a-pound-ad-january-1952

Their photography studio business first was just called “Penny-a-Pound Portraits”, as the stamp on the Flickr-user’s photo showed, but changed its name to Pixy Pin-Ups sometime around 1953.    In the 1960 article, however, they say the business outgrew the penny-a-pound model and, rather than increasing their per-pound rate, just charged a cheap flat rate.

Charging per pound of chubby baby didn’t die out, though:  Pixy Pin-Ups — later shortened to just “Pixy” — used the penny-a-pound gimmick until the late 1970s.

combined-1953-and-1979-pixy ads

Hoke and Holden didn’t just come up with a funny pricing model: their entire business was tightly controlled to make baby photogaphy as effective as possible.  The 1960 article says  they only employ “…young and unmarried women, many of whom are recruited from airline hostess schools”, and their training went beyond just clicking a shutter.  Training included child psychology, and by the end of their training, whether literally or figuratively, the employees are “required to dismantle and reassemble the camera with her eyes closed.”    A 1966 “Help Wanted: Female” listing from Eugene, Oregon, listed requirements as “Single and over 18; High school graduate; Have good character references.”   The ad outlines the benefits as well:  salary during training, a company car with all expenses paid, and after 3 years a free trip to Europe to employees with ‘satisfactory service’.  This army of young ladies, high-tech camera in hand, cruised the backroads of America from J.C. Penney to J.C. Penney, trying to get kids to smile.

dunbar-stanley-jc-penney-want-ad-1966

The penny-a-pound was their loss-leader:  for that price, mom got one 5×7 portrait.  The rest came as part of a higher-priced package, which is probably why I only have a 5×7 in this pile of photos.  Fifty cents in the 1950s would be almost $5 today, a reasonable price for a photo sitting, but the young ladies pulled away from service with the airlines were also trained to upsell to the higher-priced sets, in hopes of getting a $10 sale out of each kid’s parents.   J.C. Penney actually made the sale, sharing a portion of the profit with Dunbar-Stanley Studios, and all the film was shipped off to North Carolina for processing.   That’s why there’s people out there confused that their baby photo is stamped with a studio a thousand miles away from where they were raised.   The ‘Pixy’ name remained well into the 1990s, but the current J.C. Penney portrait studios aren’t run by Dunbar-Stanley anymore: the current business is based out of Eden Prairie, MN, and goes by the name “JCPenney Portraits” — although at least one still goes by the Pixy name.

So, after a morning of scouring old newspapers,  I can date my photo of the unhappy satin girl to somewhere around 1953 to 1958. Based on where I got these photos, mine was probably taken either in the old J.C. Penney’s in downtown Fargo, or the Wahpeton store, one of the oldest locations.

In 1913, She Told Him They Couldn’t Be Together. 100 Years Later, THIS Was Just Discovered.

While searching through the attic of his father’s house, a son came across boxes of old items. The most interesting were piles of love letters sent from a man named Max. From 1913-1978, Max and Pearle wrote each other. All his letters begin with “My Sweet Pearle” and end with “Forever yours, Max”. These letters were supposed to have been burned when Pearle passed away in 1980, but the family didn’t honor those wishes, and one of the greatest love stories began to unfold.

In 1911, a woman named Pearle Schwarz met a man named Maxwell Savelle at the Country Club. They fell madly in love. Unfortunately, Maxwell would not convert to Judaism (his parents were Southern Baptists) and so they could not be together. They went their separate ways – Maxwell went into the Navy and Pearle continued to pine for him until she died. She never let go.

See on www.viralnova.com

Program teaches history via beloved quilter, ‘Pioneer Girl’ Grace Snyder

Grace Snyder’s lively eyes gaze out of her 1903 wedding photograph. There’s an astonishing hat atop her head and a tiny, cat-got-the-cream smile on her lips. She perches just behind her cowboy husband, her clasped hands resting near his left shoulder.

            Her story, in many respects, mirrors Nebraska’s history in the late 19thcentury and much of the 20th century.

            Born in 1882, reared in a sod house on a Custer County homestead and married to a Sandhills cowboy and rancher, she recounted her pioneer life in the 1963 book “No Time on My Hands,” as told to her daughter, author Nellie Snyder Yost.

            Along the way, she became nationally known for her quilting expertise. Two of her quilts were designated as among the 100 best 20th-century quilts by Quilters Newsletter Magazine in 1999. She was named to the National Quilters Hall of Fame in 1980, two years before her death at 100.

            Now Grace Snyder is the focal point of an innovative new history curriculum developed jointly by NET Learning Services, the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska State Historical Society.

            Called “Tiny Stitches, Big Life,” the online multimedia project uses Snyder’s quilts and her life experiences to bring pioneer history to life for Nebraska elementary school students. It is the first module of a larger project, “Stories of Nebraska Quilters,” with plans to develop additional material about other Nebraskans who are remembered through their quilts.

See on newsroom.unl.edu

Casual Vintage Holiday Table Centerpiece Using An Old Wooden Drawer

As I’ve said before, I like useful collectibles — and, because I don’t like anything to go to waste, I like to find new ways to make use of old things. Just because something is “old and just laying around,” doesn’t mean it can’t be salvaged or re-purposed. Like the vintage refrigerator crisper drawers, I knew these old wooden desk drawers I’d found could do something new and fabulous… Worn, paint-chippy wood is so charming!

Immediately, I thought of the holidays and the need for low centerpieces which wouldn’t get in the way of seeing family and friends.

vintage fall thanksgiving table

I lined the drawer with this seasons’ hottest decorating fabric is burlap (probably because it is both rustic and natural looking for Fall), but you can use any fabric that goes best with your table settings. Inside, I placed some nested vintage brown glazed stoneware bowls, a vintage brown milk bottle, some little glass bottles with colorful rocks and shells, and then, for some extra seasonal flair, I tucked in some pheasant feathers. Pretty enough for a Thanksgiving table, don’t you think?

old wooden drawer used as table centerpiece

You can certainly fill the bowls with pine cones or something else decorative, or use the bowls to help with serving at  the holiday table. And you sure can go crazy with red and green for Christmas; or change the colors and decorative combinations to match your china, your every day decor, whatever you’d like!

I may just keep this vintage wood drawer on the table top all the time. It can be awfully practical, serving to store the family’s usual table needs, such as napkins, salt and pepper shakers, the morning’s cereal bowls — whatever you find you need to leave on the table. And since it’s all in one drawer, you can pick it up as easily as any tray (maybe even more so, as the deeper sides mean less things will topple out and over!) to wipe the table clean, change the tablecloth, etc.

(See also Sit Down to Handmade Table Settings.)

Fashion & Sewing Pattern History, Part Four

(You might want to catch up: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.)

By the start of the 1900s, home sewing and clothing patterns were big business. One of the last to enter the fray at the turn of this century, would become another one of the big names in sewing pattern collecting. According to Zuelia Ann Hurt in Craft Tools — Then and Now (Decorating & Craft Ideas, October 1980 issue):

Soon after 1900 a prominent fashion magazine called Vogue published a coupon for a pattern. For fifty cents, the reader received a pattern hand-cut by the designer Mrs. Payne on her dining-room table.

Vogue Spring 1916
Vogue Spring 1916

While Vogue was using its publishing power to spawn a fashion pattern business, the other sewing pattern companies did not slow down. Here are some notable moments — and collectible names — in sewing pattern history.

In 1902, James McCall’s The Queen of Fashion magazine changed its name again and became McCall’s Magazine, widening the contents of the publication to other womanly pursuits and interests.

In 1910, Butterick continued their sewing pattern industry innovation by introducing the “deltor” — the first instructions printed on a sheet included inside the pattern’s envelope.

In 1914, the Vogue pattern department officially left the magazine to become Vogue Pattern Company. (This was in no small part due to the 1909 purchase of Vogue by Condé Nast.) Vogue patterns continued to be sold by mail until 1917, when B. Altman’s department store in New York City became the first store to stock their patterns. In May of 1920, Vogue Patterns launches the Vogue Pattern Book.

McCall's Printed Patterns
McCall’s Printed Patterns

In 1920, there was another major change in the sewing pattern industry. This time it was McCall’s leading the way by moving from the perforated tissue patterns to printed ones. Eventually the others would follow suit. McCall’s would also begin working with designers like Lanvin, Mainbocher, Patou, and Schiaparelli.

An advertising salesman for fashion magazine Fashionable Dress, Joseph M. Shapiro, was shocked to find that something consisting mainly of tissue paper would cost $1. Via his connections, he found the way to produce — and profit from — a pattern which would sell for just 15 cents. The Simplicity Pattern Company was born in 1927 and Joseph’s son, James J. Shapiro, was its first president. With such a low price, Simplicity expanded quickly, including internationally.

In 1931, Vogue starts Couturier Line and introduces new large format envelopes.

In 1931, Simplicity began producing DuBarry patterns exclusively for F. W. Woolworth Company (through 1940).

Betty Grable Hollywood Pattern
Betty Grable Hollywood Pattern

In 1932, Condé Nast starts the Hollywood Pattern Company. Hollywood Patterns featured designs straight of film and usually had photos of Hollywood stars on the packaging as well. The Hollywood Pattern Company ceased pattern production a few years after the end of World War II.

Also in 1932, McCall’s would again push the envelope by, well, pushing the envelope — now full-color illustrations appeared on the covers of McCall’s pattern envelopes.

In 1933, Advance began manufacturing patterns sold exclusively at (and for) the J. C. Penney Company. Because of the J.C. Penny connection, Advance was able to secure a number of designers (including Edith Head and Anne Fogarty) as well as rights from Mattel for authentic Barbie fashion patterns. (The company was sold to Puritan Fashions in 1966.)

In 1946, Simplicity finally fully converts from perforated patterns to printed sewing patterns.

Vintage Vogue Paris Originals Pattern, Nina Ricci
Vintage Vogue Paris Originals Pattern, Nina Ricci

In 1949, Vogue added the Paris Original Models patterns from French Couturiers and was the only company authorized to duplicate these fantastic designs. Such deals with international designers would expand, including millinery designs in 1953 and International Designer Patterns in 1956.

In the 1950s, McCall’s patterns produces another designer line which included French couturier Hubert de Givenchy and Emilio Pucci.

In 1958, Vogue Patterns fully transitions from perforated to printed tissue patterns.

In the 1960s, McCall’s “New York Designers’ Collection Plus” featured designs from Pauline Trigere and Geoffrey Beene, among others.

Starting in 1960s and continuing through 1970s, Butterick produces the “Young Designer” series, featuring designs by Betsey Johnson, John Kloss, and Mary Quant.

In 1961, Butterick licensed the Vogue name and began to produce patterns under the Vogue name.

Images: Vogue Spring, 1916, via hampshire-estate-finds; vintage McCall’s printed pattern via misslacyg; Vintage Hollywood Sewing Pattern # 747 featuring Betty Grable, via ohiochestnutt; and Vogue Paris Original pattern by Nina Ricci via dalejeri.

Fashion & Sewing Pattern History, Part Three

As you may recall from part two, fashion sewing patterns were still rather complicated in the mid-1800s. However, some, like Ellen Louise Demorest and her husband William Jennings Demorest, began to assist those who were interested in sewing at home —  assisting at a profit, of course.

demorests emporium of fashion trade card sewing patterns antique

By 1860, Madame Demorest’s Emporium of Fashion began advertising her patterns in magazines. This was still by-hand work, with the patterns cut to shape in two options for the consumer: purchased “flat”, which was the cut patterns folded and mailed, or, for an additional charge, “made up” which had the pattern pieces tacked into position and mailed. At this time, Madame Demorest’s Emporium of Fashion used fashion shows held in homes, along with trade cards, to promote her patterns — as well Demorest publications. In 1860, the Demorests began publishing Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions, a quarterly which not only featured plates of their own dress patterns but included a pattern stapled to the inside as well. However, patterns were still only available in one size at this time.

The beginning of sewing patterns as most of us know them has its roots in the winter of 1863. According to The Legend, Ellen Buttrick and her complaint were the mother of invention; but it was her husband, Ebenezer Butterick, an inventor and former tailor, who revolutionized sewing patterns and fashion history in the winter of 1863.

Snowflakes drifted silently past the windowpane covering the hamlet of Sterling, Massachusetts in a blanket of white. Ellen Butterick brought out her sewing basket and spread out the contents on the big, round dining room table. From a piece of sky blue gingham, she was fashioning a dress for her baby son Howard. Carefully, she laid out her fabric, and using wax chalk, began drawing her design.

Later that evening, Ellen remarked to her husband, a tailor, how much easier it would be if she had a pattern to go by that was the same size as her son. There were patterns that people could use as a guide, but they came in one size. The sewer had to grade (enlarge or reduce) the pattern to the size that was needed. Ebenezer considered her idea: graded patterns. The idea of patterns coming in sizes was revolutionary.

By spring of the following year, Butterick had produced and graded enough patterns to package them in boxes of 100, selling them to tailors and dressmakers. These early Butterick patterns were created from cardboard. However, as most early patterns were sold by mail, heavy cardboard was not ideal for folding and shipping. Butterick experimented with other papers, including lithographed posters (printed by Currier and Ives). While these were easier to fold and ship than cardboard, they were still not ideal. Ultimately the search lead to less expensive and light-weight tissue paper.

1899 Butterick Pattern - Ladies Double Breasted Coat

For the first three years, Butterick patterns were for clothing for men and boys; in 1866, Butterick began making women’s dress patterns. This is when the sewing pattern business really began to grow. In order to promote the mail order patterns, Butterick began publishing The Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions (1867) and the monthly Metropolitan (1868).

Madame Demorest’s Emporium of Fashion was still going strong, as was their publication. Although the magazine was expanded to include a lot more magazine content as Demorest’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine and Madame Demorests Mirror of Fashions in 1864. In 1865, the name was changed again, this time to Demorest’s Monthly Magazine and Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions — more commonly referred to as Demorest’s Monthly. This monthly was reaching over 100,000 readers.

demorests reliable patterns magazine trade card

The success of sewing patterns could not be ignored and the competition would really begin; by 1869, James McCall started his pattern business.

These early sewing patterns by Butterick, McCall’s, and Demorest were not printed, but rather outlined on the tissue paper by a series of perforated holes. They were typically sent in an envelope which had a sketch of the finished garment and brief instructions  printed on it. These instructions included suitable fabric suggestions, size information, and a description of how the pieces were to be cut from the tissue and pieced together to form the garment (assisted by a code of shapes, such as v-shaped notches, circles, and squares, which were cut into the paper).

perforated holes tissue paper patterns

In 1872, Butterick began publishing The Delineator. As with the earlier publications, The Delineator was originally intended simply to market Butterick patterns. However, it quickly expanded into a general interest magazine for women in the home, offering everything from fashion to fiction from housekeeping to social crusading (including lobbying for women’s suffrage in the early 1900s). As readership skyrocketed, the earlier publications were folded into The Delineator — and the magazine would go on to become one of the “Big Six” ladies magazines in the USA.

The Delineator August 1894

In 1873, McCall’s would start their own publication called The Queen. In 1896, the name was changed to The Queen of Fashion and it would be the first magazine to use photographs on its cover.

In 1875, the first in-store sewing pattern catalogs appeared. These were produced by Butterick.

Madame Demorest was still around. In addition to marketing paper patterns through the magazines, the patterns were sold through a nationwide network of shops called Madame Demorest’s Magasins des Modes. In addition to the paper patterns and drafting systems, the shops sold ready-made fashion items, Demorest’s line of cosmetics and perfumes, and custom dressmaking services to wealthy clients. It was the latter, along with fashion exhibitions in London and Paris, which really boosted the designer and therefore the company’s profile. By the mid-1870s, there were 300 Demorest shops, employing 1,500 sales agents. Her employees were mainly women, including African-American women who received the same treatment as the white women workers.

1870's MME Demorest Hilda Polonaise Pattern

In 1877, business was peaking. The Demorest’s Monthly began circulation in London and, along with the quarterly, the company began publishing Madame Demorest’s What to Wear and How to Make It. Just a few years later, however, Demorest business declined. This was unfortunately do to the Demorests’ failure to patent their patterns, allowing themselves to be bested by competition. In 1887, Demorest sold their pattern business, which went on to live on primarily in name only — including sewing machines.

To Be Continued…

Image of Mme. Demorest Hilda Polonaise Pattern via dakotanyankee; image of 1899 Butterick Pattern Ladies Double Breasted Coat via janyce_hill.

Fashion & Sewing Pattern History, Part Two

As we left things at the end of part one, we were moving into the early 19th century and taking a closer look at how clothing pattern history closely parallels domestic sewing machine history.

In the early 19th century, sewing machines were not only impractical and complicated, but seen as threats. In 1830, for example, another French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, found himself thwarted by another group of French tailors — this time, the tailors were so fearful of unemployment that they burned down Thimonnier’s garment factory. Four years later, American Walter Hunt would build a sewing machine; but he did not follow through on the patenting of his invention because he too feared his invention would cause unemployment. Early 19th century paper patterns, while apparently less economically feared than sewing machines, were so complicated and off-putting as to be considered fearful themselves.

These early 19th century patterns had all the pieces of a garment superimposed on one large sheet of paper. This meant that each piece was coded with specific lines, in different patterns (straight lines, dotted lines, scalloped lines, broken dash-like lines, and even combinations of these; sometimes all in the same color). To make matters worse, multiple garments were often on the same page! To make use of this map of crisscrossed patterned lines, one had to place a plain piece of paper beneath the paper pattern and use a tracing wheel to follow the (hopefully correct!) lines to make a separate pattern for each pattern piece. Even after all of this, the person attempting to make the garment was still not done. As these patterns were sold in a “one size fits all” sort of mentality, it was up to the seamstress or housewife to measure and grade (enlarge or reduce) each piece to fit the individual who would be wearing the garment. Make any mistakes along the way, and you would have wasted the fabric and your time. Perhaps ruined the pattern as well. No wonder these early sewing patterns weren’t wildly popular.

uncut paper patterns from Journal des Demoiselles with illustrations

(Photo of uncut paper patterns above from Journal des Demoiselles, with illustrations, via Whitaker Auction Co. These items are part of the Fall Couture & Textile Auction to be held November 1 – 2, 2013; auction estimate value of $100-$200.)

However, by the 1850s, sewing machines would go into mass production for domestic use. To say that sewing machines became popular for home use is an understatement; between 1854 and 1867 alone, inventor Elias Howe earned close to two million dollars from his sewing machine patent royalties. (Isaac Singer built the first commercially successful sewing machine, but had to pay Howe royalties on his patent starting in 1854.) Like computers and the Internet today, those who purchased sewing machines for use in the home found themselves dedicated to putting them to use. In Victorian London’s Middle-class Housewife: What She Did All Day, Yaffa Draznin writes:

The housewife with free time in the afternoon was far more likely to spend it at the family sewing machine than in making social calls. For the first time, it was possible to make a man’s shirt in just over an hour where before it would have taken 14 1/2 hours by hand; or to make herself a chemise in less than an hour instead of the 10 1/2 hour hand-sewing job. No wonder the middle-class married woman welcomes the domestic sewing machine with such enthusiasm!

…However, considering how complicated fashionable dresses for women were, it is probable that most housewives, even those who had to watch their expenditures, did not have the talent for mastering complex dress construction; they would continue to call in a dressmaker for their more elaborate clothing. Still, sewing on a machine, like the art of cooking, was a learned skill that gave the middle-class matron both pleasure and a feeling of professional competence — job satisfaction in a sphere where a sense of inadequacy was too often the norm.

No doubt this was all equally true of women in America too.

While the upper classes may have frowned upon use of the sewing machine (for everything from the potential decline in the art of hand-stitching to the encroachment upon upper-class fashion looks), and purse-string-controlling husbands may have resisted investing in arguably the the first labor-saving device for the home (why would any self-respecting husband spend money on something his mother had done for free — besides, women were incapable of operating complex machinery!), middle-class women themselves ushered in the era of the sewing machine. With a little help from Isaac Singer.

Singer’s first consumer or domestic sewing machine, the Turtle Back (named for the large container the machine came in), sold for $125 — at a time when the average household income for a year was $500. To overcome objections, Singer introduced America and the rest of the world to installment payments. The marketing combination of “small monthly payments” along with demonstrations offering free instruction with each machine proved irresistible.

Gilt and Mother-of-pearl Floral singer turtleback sewing machine

This, of course, could not go unnoticed by the ladies magazines and household manuals of the day. These publications began to include long and detailed sections on home dressmaking, covering everything from measurement taking to advice on fitting garments. And, of course, on patterns themselves. Soon, these magazines began to print dress patterns inside their pages. Such “free” patterns made for great promotions; it drew women to purchase and subscribe to the magazines and no doubt sold advertising space as well. But still, these were those complicated types of sewing patterns…

To Be Continued.

Fashion & Sewing Pattern History, Part One

While sewing itself dates back thousands of years, to the Paleolithic period, patterns for making clothing are a much more modern invention.

The earliest known fashion patterns, dating to ancient Egypt, were relatively simple guide templates cut from slate. (Similar slate guides, presumed to the products of trade, have also been found in ancient Roman catacombs.) However, for the most part early human history, clothing was primarily constructed from rectangular shaped pieces of uncut woven fabric. The fabric, so labor intensive to produce and therefore costly to purchase, was primarily left intact to minimize waste. At this time, the wearer was almost always the maker of his own clothes. The cloth itself, not the shape or design of the garment, was the distinguishing feature.

13 century fashions

However, by the year 1297 the first reference to the word “tailor” is used in Europe. This would indicate that pattern making must have begun at some point prior, as tailoring involves the acts (or arts) of cutting and sewing cloth — the two basic aspects of constructing clothing from a pattern. Also in the 13th century, a French tailor attempted to make patterns from thin pieces of wood. However, this tailor’s invention was thwarted by the powerful Tailor’s Guild whose members feared such an invention would put them out of business.

early fashions

According to Principles of Flat Pattern Design by Nora MacDonald, the real art of pattern making wouldn’t begin until the 15th century. This is the result of two pivotal historical moments: the Renaissance, and the movement’s desire to dress to accentuate the human form, and Gutenberg’s printing press. The former meant that carefully engineered pieces of fabric were cut to form clothing which would contour to the body. The latter meant that images of clothing designs could be more widely disseminated. So, now when the wealthy had their new form-fitting frocks, the little people could all see images of them — even if they had never been to the big cities, let alone court. As countries grew in power (first Italy, then Spain and France), so they influenced others. And what they were wearing was a large part of that influence. Fashion was truly born.

The fashions of these times continued to be made by tailors. The process was elaborate, with tailors working with each client’s to take their individual measurements to customize and even create patterns. Such highly revered skills meant that the services of tailors were relegated only to the very rich. This continued to be the case through the Industrial Revolution.

Godey's Philadelphia Fashions July-1833

For those who could not afford a tailor of their own, staying fashionable was laborious. While the publications of the day (such as Godey’s Lady’s Book & Magazine, The Young Ladies Journal, and Peterson’s Ladies National Magazine), depicted the latest fashion designs, the accompanying text was more like a flowery description than a set of step-by-step instructions. Your average household, relying upon the lady of the house and her daughter(s) to make the clothing, struggled to make use of the fashion lithographs provided. Rarely were diagrams provided; and no measurements were given. Even when one was talented enough to make the required calculations, all the sewing was done by hand — and the sewing was typically done after more vital and immediate work was performed. By the time your dress was finished, it really could be out of fashion.

The Industrial Revolution brought along a host of advances which greatly increased the standard of living for “the masses”.  This included less expensive textiles and an even greater desire for fashions — naturally spurring advances in the fashion industry. As we reach the early 19th century, clothing pattern history closely parallels domestic sewing machine history.

To Be Continued

Vintage Refrigerator Drawers

I love using old refrigerator drawers and crispers for things. The old metal drawers make great planters. If you’re thinking you’ll be missing fresh herbs from the garden, get yourself one of these old metal fridge drawers and voila! Indoor herb garden!

vintage vegetable drawer planter

I have a pair of blue enamel fridge drawers — with the white plastic “tops” they would slid into inside the appliance — that I use as stack-able organizers on my desk. So much nicer looking that those open in-and-out boxes!

fridge drawers as desk organizers

Profiles Behind Vintage Silhouette Artists Are Shady

I have become completely obsessed. Again. This time, it’s about vintage silhouettes.

vintage silhouette portaits by paul 1934 lady wearing hat

Of course, in general the whole idea of “vintage silhouettes” (from a German village or not) may seem quaint in the 1930s. But remember, by this time it had been roughly a century since the art of silhouettes had been replaced by photographs. Silhouettes were quaint now. And it just goes to show you how we humans have long had a strong nostalgic streak. But there’s more to study here.

While I love the vintage fashionista who was compelled to have not one, but two, portraits of herself done at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair (and I am quite enamored with her hat — which is either amply feathered or sports an actual bird!), it is the silhouette artist himself which mainly concerns me.

The (roughly) 6 by 4 inch cards of this pair of vintage silhouettes contain the following printed information:

Silhouette Portrait
Cut At The
Black Forest
World’s Fair, 1934
By “Paul”

Why would Paul’s name be in quotes?

Despite the fact that all the information is printed on stock cards, perhaps “Paul” was not one person, but rather there were many paper cutters playing the role of Paul. According to excerpts from letters written by Trudel, a young German Jewish woman who arrived in Chicago in May, 1934, various people worked cutting the silhouettes at the fair. (And *gasp* not all the people in the Black Forest attraction at the World’s Fair were German!)

A couple and a friend from Vienna are cutting silhouettes of people.

…My travel companions from Vienna I see every time I go there. The wife and friend work now in an exhibit called “Black Forest”.

It certainly makes sense, from a manpower point of view, to have multiple artists crafting silhouette souvenirs for fair visitors. However, I still don’t know what significance, if any, the name Paul has to do with cutting silhouettes. Do you?

There is evidence that “Paul” was around creating silhouette souvenirs for folks at other World’s Fairs. At least through the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York. However, by that time not only were the boards the paper silhouettes were adhered to blacked-out to give the illusion of a a frame with an oval opening, but Paul’s name was given a scripted look (which looks more like a signature — but isn’t, it’s still printed on the paper) and the quotes around his name had disappeared. Also, I’ve also seen silhouettes from World Fairs which had no names or artist identification at all. So it’s more than a bit confusing — to the point where one doesn’t know if “Paul” and Paul are even referencing the same artist (or conceptual artist, as the case may be).

If anyone knows more about Paul, “Paul”, or these silhouettes, please do share. I cannot save (hoard) all these things, but I really, really, really do want to know the story behind old items like this!