Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sewing in the Good Ole Days

         Remember when we sewed? Department stores had bolt after bolt of fabrics and sewing notions of every description: thread, buttons, lace, and a counter of pattern books. These were huge hard backed catalogues filled with  pictures of available patterns, which were filed in large cabinets.
        These catalogues changed with the seasons and if a seamstress was alert she could be the first to place her name on the front cover and when the new one came in the old catalogue was hers to take home.
     Over the years I managed to reserve several and kept them until they were badly outdated before finally selling them and some old patterns at garage sales.
       It appears that I would have been smarter to have kept them somewhere, anywhere, even collecting dust bunnies under the bed, and listed them on today's eBay!  Today I followed a link to eBay’s collectibles RARE VTG 1940s HOLLYWOOD COUNTER Pattern Catalog 1946 and viewed a 1946 Hollywood pattern book that with only four bids had reached $316. Several pages of patterns were shown.  
      I do not remember our stores stocking Hollywood patterns but there were Simplicity, Butterick, McCalls and Vogue, which was the queen of them all. The Vogue instructions were sometimes difficult to follow and I remember once making a suit and coming to a halt when I could see no way to make the limited directions work. I remember going to bed a very frustrated seamstress and after sleeping on the problem decided to quit thinking and start sewing as the instructions stated and the garment turned out perfect.
      My daughters did not have ready-made clothing until they left home and my youngest continued the hand made trend throughout her college days. Several times I made four of five garments (all needed immediately, naturally) and put them in the mail. I expect that today's postage wouId be near the cost of the entire group.
 I enjoyed the sewing and most of all, picking out the fabrics. Occasionally it became a design project with yards of fabric spread across the dining table and pieces of different patterns fitted together in an effort to create a style I had been unable to find in the pattern books. Those were the times I became a wee bit irritable if I were interrupted by rough-housing kids running through the house.
      This prom  formal was a real problem. The shade of fabric we had in mind was not available so by combining two layers of tulle, one apricot and one beige, we were satisified and did the same with the net that was used. The tulle roses were also made of the two combined colors. there were about forty of those with tiny green leaves all thandmade. Yeah, those were the days but somehow, I'm thankful that today all that fabric is not covering my dining table.
      It was fun, fabrics were beautiful and it saved a ton of money. Not so, today.  In the past I often made a garment for a third of what a pattern alone costs today. The remnant table always called me to browse, much to the despair of my daughters. They preferred making their choices from nice fresh bolts of fabric, not a garment made from a pattern adapted to fit on a remnant..  Remnants were a bargain and a challenge I loved to tackle.
      There were occasions when the challenge was greater than I expected and I remember once when working with a Vogue pattern and a remnant of velveteen (one way nap) it took every speck of my patience and every inch of material to make my outfit. Then I discovered it badly needed a self belt and pieced togather the remaining scraps of material  to create strips that then had to be braided to hide the piecing seams. I don’t have any of that remnant left in my scrap box! I do have a cedar chest stuffed with a few favorites including the dress shown.
      As a "fabricaholic" I also have drawers stuffed full of 'bargain fabrics,' their colors and prices were irresistable.
I wonder if I would have the patience to again make a garment. I even have some already cut out, waiting.

Patterns from long ago. Back to the
days we square danced and went

      A few years back fabrics disappeared from our town. Even Walmart discontinued their stock and patterns became nonexistant. Our Gibson's continued to stock cottons but little else. Yesterday I noticed Walmart had created a new area of sewing materials but I didn't investigate the type. Nothing fancy, I expect.
      Did you know that patterns can be viewed and ordered online? I haven't but that sewing machine and those drawers of fabric are whispering to me. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear, Dannie - you have brought back so many memories. Being the daughter of a Fashion Designer it was required that we girls sew - well at least I and my next oldest sister. I recall a little singer hand crank when I was about 5 or 6 to learn on making doll clothes, then a Singer Featherweight for Christmas when I was 7, a Singer Zig-Zag for Christmas at 14. My mother had an industrial Singer in the "Sewing Room" - my sister just moved it into my mother's bedroom in her house [Mom is 90 now and needs 24/7 care] more as a comfort item than for use ...but I go thru an album of old B&W photos with Mom of her wearing her "designs" and darned if she can remember every stitch and fold, describing the color and textures, and even the "nap", as well.

    Mom would design and sew wonderful dresses for me - but when I was 7, 8, 9 or so I was very unappreciative of her avant garde designs and wanted the clothes bought "off the rack" that all the other girls wore. Wasn't until I was about 13 that I began to appreciate her "art" of piecing remnants of fabric and trim together ...one of the dresses was a yellow quilted fabric with colored wooden pieces and colored piping surrounding the neckline and shoulder seam. Had to have my 3rd grade school photo in that dress.

    I did make every thing I wore until I had my first part-time job at Donaldson's Golden Rule and could buy "off the rack" but I still sewed thru college, doing a lot of costume design for theater productions [using what my mother taught me to make my own patterns - her words echoing in my head] right up to sewing my wedding dress which was just about my last sewing project.

    My mother's most sage advice, the first she ever gave me - "Learning to sew is learning to rip!" [Rip out wrong seams, of course!]

    Back then The Golden Rule and Emporium would gather the older stock of patterns, cut out the front graphics removing the pattern company name and # and paste the picture onto a new brown bag that held the pattern pieces and directions and toss them into a huge cardboard barrel and sell them at 10cents each. Many of my patterns as a kid came from those bins.