Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Historical Plausibility of Fray-Check

If you've read my last post, then you've skimmed some of the wacky, practical, and ingenious household tips and tricks for taking care of fabric, among other things, from the 1909 edition of The American System of Dressmaking.

There was one "Helpful Hint" in particular that caught my eye, that I felt merited it's own post.

"To Keep Goods From Fraying--Keep a piece of undissolved glue with your sewing things. When making buttonholes on wiry goods, mark them with a thread. Moisten one edge of the glue. Rub over the place for buttonholes on both sides before cutting, and when dry the glue will hold goods firm so they will not fray while working."

Is this...a period recipe for Fray-Check?

At it's surface value, this is a very clever way to tackle buttonhole-making on persnickety fabrics. But does this mean that "undissolved glue" could have easily been used on other sewing projects of the time, to secure other easily frayed edges on garments? And with that, for those of you who sew with super historical accuracy ( can count me out of that, this opens up the realm of plausibility for using Fray-Check in your garments from this period...or maybe even earlier!

This is the first I have ever heard from a historical source for using a substance similar to Fray-Check, but I would like to know more about this...when I finally get around to sewing all of the deliciously frilly Edwardian garments I have desired for so long, it's nice to know that I can rely on Fray-Check for delicate and fraying fabrics!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The American System of Dressmaking

Recently, I had to do some vigorous research on 1906 women's fashions and construction (very specific, but I'll explain why in a later post (; ) and, much to my pleasure, I discovered the online pdf's of The American System of Dressmaking from The Library of Congress Internet Archive.

via Google
I read this 1909 version which seemed the closest in copyright dates to the dates that I was researching. Upon further search, I also found a 1907 issue, much closer to the dates I was researching. Besides construction notes, I stumbled upon some very interesting "Household Recipes" and "Helpful Hints." Among the most bizarre, clever, and surprising are:
"Another way of cleaning lace is to roll it tightly around a glass bottle and fasten it securely. Make a suds of warm water and pearline and allow the lace-covered bottle to soak for several hours. Repeat the process in another suds, patting the lace often with the fingers. Rinse in several waters and and then dry the lace on the bottle with a soft towel."
"To clean grease from wool or silk, apply a fluid made by dissolving two ounces of white soap and one-half ounce of borax in a quart of warm, soft water. Pour a small quantity into a bowl, add the same amount of water, and sponge the goods with it. After it is clean sponge with clean water and hang up to dry."
"Spots of paint, grease, pitch or oil may be removed from linen or silk by rubbing with purified benzine applied with a cloth or sponge. To destroy the odor of benzine add a little oil of lemon."
"SCORCHED LINEN: Peel and slice two onions, extract the juice by pounding and squeezing; add add to the juice half an ounce of fine white soap, two ounces of fullers earth, and half pint of vinegar; boil all together. When cool, spread it over the scorched linen and let it dry on; then wash and boil out the linen, and the spots will disappear."
"TO PREVENT CALICO FROM FADING: To render the colors of cotton fabric permanent, dissolve three gills of salt in four quarts of water; put the calico in while hot and leave it till cold; it will not fade by any subsequent washing."
"To tell the right side of goods in making up dresses of wool serge, it is well to remember that in serge weaves twill always runs to the right on the right side of the goods."
"One may sharpen dull shears by taking a smooth-necked glass bottle and cutting the neck as if cutting cloth."
While doing the spring house cleaning, slip on a pair of bloomers, made from four widths of heavy, dark skirting, making a divided skirt. Gather in a band to button about the ankles and waist. These bloomers are valuable protectors for the skirts and facilitate climbing step ladders, scrubbing floors, etc.
via Wikipedia
These last two chapters of the book also include ways to curl and clean feathers, to determine the quality of silk, to clean gloves, to clean furs, to renew the pile in velvets, to wash merinos and cashmeres, to remove rust from linen, to restore the finish to woolen goods, to remove mildew, to dye furs.

At the very end of the book is a helpful glossary of sewing terms that I'm sure will help some of us when we look at fashion plates, advertisements, or patterns with vague, confusing, or outdated terms and descriptions.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Vintage Pattern Stash: Part 3

You can find the other installments of this post here and here.

I think most of the batch of 80's patterns I was given were designed for home-ec students, or sewists introducing themselves to sewing. The cuts and styles are a basic, blank canvas for all sorts of modifications and embellishments: embroidery, pintucks, lace collars, trim, appliques, and all sort of accessories.

Fairly basic, boxy shape--I suspect this one has just too much ease built into the pattern already.

Actually not a bad style, but a very poor photograph. Sorry!
See? Isn't that surplice bodice cute? I think they've just got the styling all wrong on the pattern envelope.
There Simplicity goes again with the dowdy, shapeless cuts, though I imagine this was used in sewing classes for beginners. I REALLY like the sleeve options in this pattern, especially for views 1 and 2!

And my FAVORITE one of this bunch!! That dress just screams 1940's to me, what a treasure! What an example of those rare moments in which the model looks better than the garment illustration. In fact, I'm not sure if this one is 70's or 80's...

This last pattern is really stumping me. The pants and those bell sleeves indicate a 70's styling, but I'm really not sure about that stunning 1940's dress. I'm really in love with the dress, from the cutesy sleeves, to the gathering at the shoulder. I've been keeping my eyes open for fabric to make this dress with!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vintage Pattern Stash: Part 2

I left off showing you some of my favorite 60's and 70's sewing patterns that I was gifted by my grandma. The sewing patterns I'll be showing in this post are mostly from the 1970s, but surprisingly they lack that gaudy and auspicious hippy vibe I was expecting them to have. Maybe that's my fault for falling into stereotypes, but I've seen sooo many Gunne Sax patterns on the interwebs I was almost convinced the 70's didn't produce anything but.

What a great base for a button down shirt. I'd make the collar less exaggerated, and maybe I'd play with pintucks or embroidery on these plainer styles. But still a great wardrobe basic!
Also includes a pattern for that exaggeratedly large tie!
This pattern is missing its sleeve and its collar, but frankly the collar isn't a major selling point on the dress and is a detail that dates this look.

Another great wardrobe staple, that doesn't look too outdated.

I've never seen a neckline like this, but I imagine it would look fantastic on a peplum top--an unusual touch on a trendy garment.
It says "Misses Short Dress"--I hope they don't mean "Short" as in those tragic Forever 21 dresses that make even my 5'3" frame look morally questionable.
A mail-order pattern from STAR magazine. Love the belt!
UPDATE: While going through Vintage Martini's collection of vintage patterns for sale, I came across this pattern that is from the same distributor as my mail order pattern! They are both from the same year (1979), but what is even more exhilarating is how similar they are in design--there are only slight differences with the collar, and the Vintage Martini pattern has sleeves. But how spectacular! And here I thought, my pattern was just floating in the wind, with no family hahaa.

The next and final installment in this series will conclude with the 80's patterns a was given: a rather sad bunch, but they are appreciated nonetheless--and with this new wave of trendy hipsterdom, I can imagine how some of those 80's shapes can be interpreted with a modern view and still look fresh.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Vintage Pattern Stash: Part 1

My grandma and aunt used to sew in their time, working with purpose and need. However, neither of them have the time/will/dexterity/eyesight for sewing anymore, and so my grandma recently gave me all of her vintage pattern stash.

The numerous patterns span from the 60s-80s, and most of the earlier ones are so darn cute! I've never been too crazy about 60's fashion, but just one look at those pattern envelope illustrations and I'm mentally salivating over those cutesy, girlishly adorable ensembles.

This super-CUTE tennis outfit even includes little frilled booty shorts! Gahhhh!

I could just imagine that center illustration turned into a smart Spring coat, just as easily as it could be an easy, classy Summer garment!

What a suit! Both feminine and strong, I could see this as a fashionable ensemble even in today's workplace. If I made this, I would just remove some of the gathering and ease from the sleeve cap.

I think this one might be 70s, but I can picture any of these three on my slight frame.

I feel as if any time I scour Etsy and Ebay for older patterns, everything I find is frumpy and terribly outdated. These patterns are such a dream, especially since several of them seem to transcend the temporal boundaries of fashion and look as if they wouldn't be out of place today.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Portugal 2012: Part 7

And to finish up my Portugal 2012 series (, some photographs of the medieval walled town of Obidos. Obidos is set among green hills, an almost central location on the Western coast of Portugal. According to Wikipedia, the name "Obidos" probably derives from the Latin word oppidum, meaning citadel or fortified city. And fortified city it is! Roman city ruins were found in the area where the city and castle were built. In 713, after the Romans left, the Moors took over the settlement. The reconquest of this city in 1148 by the first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, was the final stage of the conquest of that region.

After going through the arch, a cool portico leading to the city. In here were these elaborate, traditional Portuguese tile murals. Maybe this is where that door leads to?
One of the beautiful, rustic cobblestone streets of the enclosed city.
The city's church

We couldn't go inside the castle--today it is used as a sort of fancy hotel. This is the view from the back courtyard of the castle.
In July, the courtyards are transformed into a Medieval Market.

Looking down on the back courtyard.
I tried to climb as far up as I could--it was so windy and I was so high up, I couldn't even make it to the tower! How did knights climb up these things, without even a safety rail on one side?? Eeep!
Obidos, apart from its history, is also known for a particularly unique dark cherry liquor, called Ginja. And the best way to enjoy Ginja? Why, in little chocolate cups of course! This may be the most delicious thing I ever drank. My dad is enjoying an espresso in a cookie wafer cup lined in chocolate...yum!!

Chocolate and dark cherry liquor? Yes, please!

Portugal 2012: Part 6

I am so woefully late with this series of posts! It's been almost a year since my summer vacation in Portugal, and I am still posting up photos from it...leave it to me to have this post saved as a draft and forget to publish it for months! Anywho, if you wouldn't mind a bit more photo spam...

On the same day that we departed from Evora, we were taken much by surprise by what appeared to be a walled fortress, rising up on the only hill visible in the area. After circling up the narrow mountain road we arrived at the archway marking the entrance to the the village. The village itself was surprisingly small. Some houses had bits of old stone walls or archways, possibly from the time of the castle, worked into their architecture. This was definitely the road less traveled!

The walls surrounding the little village and Evoramonte Castle.
Image via Wikipedia--the itty bitty village and the castle.
This narrow little passageway is what we had to navigate our rental car through to get to the village!
Evoramonte, distinguished by its historic castle, was founded in 1160 after the banishment of Moors from the area. The castle itself was constructed in 1306, under the instruction of King Denis to fortify the area. The castle, of three stories with large circular chambers at each corner, wasn't a place of residence--the castle served as a kind of hunting lodge and party locale.  Each of the three floors have terribly thick, squat pillars of Moorish design holding up the low ceiling. The four corners are massive circular structures, each with their own enormous, Hogwarts-worthy fireplace...I could only imagine the succulent roasts enchanting each room with their decadent, hearty smells!

Dad sneezing in front of Evoramonte castle.
Inside Evoramonte Castle--low ceilings, thick pillars, terracotta tile floors and MASSIVE fireplaces.
Evoramonte literally means "Evora Mountain," a fitting name as it lies atop the only hill for many miles, err, kilometers. Unfortunately, our camera battery was already running low, so we didn't get many photographs.

The terrain is already greener here...Evoramonte is really elevated!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A New Version of the Sheer Button Down Shirt

The Sheer Button Down Shirt I made more than a year ago continues to be one of the most popular (and worn!) things I've sewn here, but alas all plastic-y stash fabric busters must come to an end.

In the Fall of 2012 I got a lot of wear out of this shirt (one of my favorite pairings was wearing it under a navy sweater--who knew pale pink and navy would look so cute together?), but one day, as I went to put it on, I noticed something awful...this cheap, mystery stash fabric, which had given me so much trouble when I was sewing it because of how slippery and prone to fraying it was, had begun to fray through the seam!!

And once I noticed this large spot of miserable fraying at the should seam, I found two more spots--where the neckband of the collar met the front of the shirt, and inside where the yoke met the neckband (this was the biggest one).

The offensive fabric of the yoke unraveling. And please, please ignore the sweat stains.

Under the neckband.

Come on!! Both pieces of fabric are fraying--curse you synthetic material monster!

Good thing the shirt was made of such God-awful, fussy, filmy fabric, so I didn't feel too sad for too long. The shirt sat at the bottom of my closet in a pile of UFO's until a few weeks ago, when at the local Wal-Mart my mother found the most lovely pale pink, perfectly drapey fabric--for only $1 a yard! Naturally, I bought the whole bolt of 8 yards. Sadly, this beautiful find also falls into the mystery material category--the bolt classifies it as (get this) "Remnants of Undetermined Fiber Content, Hand Wash Cold"...gee, thanks! I think it might be viscose...At least it's legions nicer than the first pink mystery fabric.

Look at that soft, drapey $1 a yard goodness! Thank you, fabric gods!

What I'm working on now is deconstructing the first shirt and using it as my pattern for this newer, better version. This time, I will be eliminating the pleats at the front--I just don't think this fabric has enough body to handle it. I might also make the button placket a smidgen narrower. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making a Retro-Style Cotton Bullet Bra

My Grandma, who lives in Portugal, recently came over for a month-long stay with her children here--my mom, my aunt, and my uncle. She is one of the primary moving forces in my sewing: when I was a little girl, she gave me scraps of fabric that I used to dress my dolls; for one birthday she gave me a small toy sewing machine; she was even there a few years ago to witness the madness of me handsewing my Alice in Wonderland costume.

To further foster my sewing *ahem* skills, she brought along an old brassiere of hers, so that I could sew a new one for her. Many many decades ago, when she was a teenager, she was an apprentice to a seamstress, I believe. This seamstress taught her how to sew this kind of brassiere, and my Grandma continues wearing them in this style. In fact, I don't think she's ever bought a real bra?

I'm referring to this bra as "retro-style" because it's so unusual and so different from any bra I've seen...I'm sensing bits of 1950's bullet bra in its construction, but I'm not entirely sure. She instructed me to cut the back and front as rectangles, with the bottom edge on the fold. Two large darts in front and in back help add shape to the brassiere. Topstitching nearly everywhere gives the garment structure and does double-duty as a girdle. The brassiere is made of cotton broadcloth I believe, and sewn with poly-cotton white thread.

Careful, numerous rows of topstitching all along the the front of the brassiere, to give it support--no underwire or boning in this one!

13 neat little button loops, and a twice-topstitched seam.

Inside of the cup--the blue stuff is just the tailor's chalk markings that I didn't wash out.

Exterior of the cup and a view of one of the darts that helped shape the bra.

Very carefully topstitched peak, and a lot of tailor's chalk dust.