Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chunky Yarn - Repurposing Waste Yarn by Plying

My mother dabbled at weaving for a brief period of time, as many often do. The term "Handwoven" conjures images of a quieter, more peaceful time when quality ruled the day. That imagery is not a fiction. Hand weaving is an art and hand woven textiles are precious. But weaving is a slow art and one that takes a good deal of planning and a lot of tedious work before you ever sit at your loom to actually weave. My mother skipped most of those early steps and because of her back problems I was called upon to warp her loom, a process that I found much more enjoyable than weaving. 

My mother has been gone for almost 9 years and hadn't done any weaving since 1995, when my father died and she moved into an apartment. So imagine my surprise and delight when I opened this tub of yarn and found hanks of wool right off the warping board but never woven. Why, I wondered. Well, like I said, weaving takes a lot of planning and my mother was not very good at envisioning the process from raw material to finished product. She chose yarn that was simply not strong enough to use as a warp. So there it sat.

The yarn she purchased is wool and the colors are beautiful. Such a shame it was never used. I have been a spinner for about 25 years, a process that to my mind is as meditative as it is productive. I decided to join the 16 yard lengths and then ply them into a chunky yarn for my sister who is just starting on her knitting journey (and loving it!). 

I began by separating the strands and tying them together and winding them into balls. There were warm and cools in the tub. I began with the cools - the blues and greys because I just like blue and grey more than pink and orange.

This process took a couple of days, working when my little grey tiger Saskia was sleeping to avoid excessive tangles from her irrepressible need to play. 

Then to dust off my Schacht wheel. I honestly had not spun anything since I spun paper for the collaborative paper wearable project with Julie McLaughlin that I mentioned HERE

I packed the balls of wound yarn into a small enough box to keep the tension tight as I pulled the strands. In hindsight I might have been wiser to have wound the strands directly onto spools but I was going to be plying 2 each of the blue and 3 of the grey and only have one spool holder with tension adjustment for 3 spools. So this box would have to do.

After the plying was complete I wound the yarn onto a niddy noddy, an amazing little tool that winds your yarn into a hank in one yard lengths. 

The hanks are secured with string woven between the strands and removed from the niddy noddy. The hanks are washed and hung to dry with weights to straighten out the crimping, a result of the twisting while plying.

The result was 10 full pull skeins of my mothers yarn being used to make Christmas hats and scarves for her grandchildren. I think she would be pleased.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tests of Time - Sustainability and the Vintage Sewing Pattern

In an era when "Green" is the new consumer mantra, sustainability takes on a broader definition. What does it mean to be "Green"? Organic cotton, imported from halfway across the world, has a carbon footprint that surely negates any benefit its "Green" label boasts. Is Ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, a greener product than petroleum if the chemicals applied or engineered into the plant destroy the Monarch population? Do lower carbon emissions justify the vast amounts of propane used to dry the prematurely harvested corn, depleting a fuel supply that rural and remote homes depend on for heat? Is it ethical that Ethanol diverts a major human food source to fuel our vehicles? What defines something as "Green" or sustainable? 

Sustainability is not a new concept, just a forgotten one. There was a time when all you could buy or barter was local or seasonal, and when something needed mending you didn't throw it away and buy a new one... you repaired it. In our global economy, "Buy Local" seems like an antiquated notion and one that is difficult to implement. So how do we assess a thing as sustainable? There are entire institutions that dedicate their energies to this topic, but to my mind, sustainability is about something that endures.

Why does something endure? In Tests of Time by William H. Gass, he asserts that the "Test of Time" is not a test at all. Enduring is a result of the conscious effort to preserve something that is valued. That is not to say that all beautiful or wonderful things escape oblivion. It also does not imply that all that endure are worthy of their longevity. A thing may have been tucked away and forgotten. Perhaps a thing is preserved for it's sentimental value or because it is still useful. Or perhaps because it is beautiful. These attributions of value are not set by the marketplace.

As a collector and seller of vintage sewing patterns, I have witnessed time and again, a 100 year old paper sewing pattern, the most fragile and ephemeral material on the planet, used once, twice or many times, carefully folded and placed back into the envelope and saved. These patterns continue to be collected and used and saved. They have withstood the test of time through a kind of stewardship. For a thing to require nothing, be non-polluting and yet be useful for 100 years or more is the most sustainable of things.

When the consumer computer revolution began the thought was that it would lead to a paperless society and thus eliminate, or at least minimize the rampant deforestation occurring throughout the world to feed the need for paper. Computers = Green. It was a good theory but that really didn't happen judging by the sales of personal ink-jet and laser printers not to mention cartons of paper. Fortunately paper is one of the easier materials to recycle. Unfortunately, it doesn't account for the vast resources it requires to process, like water. 

The computer and the internet have made the exchange of information fast and fairly effortless. The Portable Data File, or PDF, is a file that compresses data to allow for easy travel through cyberspace. Medical records and legal documents can be sent and received quickly. They are read on tablets and computers and not necessarily printed onto paper. This is not true of the PDF sewing pattern industry. Independent designers and vintage reproduction companies, as well as the major pattern manufacturers now offer "instant download" patterns. They are instant only inasmuch as the download will appear on your desktop within minutes. The delivery imposes almost zero carbon footprint. But now the task of printing out several to sometimes hundreds of sheets of 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper (that come from trees), laying them out, taping them together and cutting them out... the "instant" factor and the sustainability quotient has dropped significantly. If they are used once, discarded and printed again...

The vintage sewing pattern, that has endured the test of time will usually be my first choice when I set my sights on a sewing project. But I also see so many wonderful designs from fabulous up and coming independent designers that I would love to try but won't because they only offer them as PDF's. A printed pattern, in a beautifully designed package is a pattern worth using once, twice or many times, keeping and treasuring. A Colette Pattern is a perfect example of a pattern that will endure. Her thoughtful attention to detail and the sturdy spiral bound instructions are attributes that will contribute to it's longevity and the legacy of Colette Patterns.

Albion by Colette


No doubt there are many contemporary independent designers with equally useful and beautiful = sustainable pattern designs and packaging. I encourage all sewists to choose vintage or contemporary printed patterns... real patterns. My CynicalGirl shops on Etsy, Goodsmiths, Zibbet and Bonanza carry a huge variety of vintage and contemporary patterns - all of them real, physical patterns that have endured. They remain both useful and beautiful.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Simplicity Pattern Catalog - October 1964

Simplicity Fall Pattern Catalog October 1964

The time is 50 years ago and I am only 7 but I remember my mother wearing some of these fall fashions. Just on the brink of the new Mod era, the fashions in this fall catalog emphasize necklines and capes. 50 years past and we are embracing some of these same designs once again. Shop vintage patterns for an authentic retro look. Visit my Cynical Girl shops on Etsy, Goodsmiths, Bonanza and Zibbet to find fabulous 1960's dress and accessories sewing patterns.

Find this 1960's catalog and others to download HERE.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Monarch Migration - A Species Under Siege

I am sure most of the farmers in my area would call our acreage unkempt and overgrown. Compared to the tidy rows of corn and soybeans that dominate the landscape, our property probably is a bit out of control. But I like it that way. By keeping it a bit wild and almost entirely organic, it has become an oasis for many wild creatures venturing north or south, depending on the season. The Monarch migration being one of them.

Migrating monarchs have little to do with sewing or sewing patterns, but this marvelous creature and this amazing feat of nature is close to being extinct so I thought I would share these images for those who have never witnessed this phenomenon. 

I don't usually think to run for my camera when I see something beautiful or awe inspiring. I just pause and look and drink in the beauty of the moment. This time was different. 

Our property has many trees with areas of grass in between, the perfect resting area for monarchs because it is sheltered from the winds. We have been observing the migration since we moved here almost 25 years ago.

Even 10 years ago, the migration was so grand that the branches of the trees would be completely covered with Monarchs. When you walked out into the grove where they were resting they would alight and the sky would transform into a massive cloud of fluttering orange and black wings. This year I could probably count the butterflies that hang on the trees. 

I wish them well on their journey and hope against hope their species will survive and once again thrive. Banning DDT has saved the Bald Eagles. Is it unreasonable to ban the genetically modified crops that are killing the Monarchs? Could these delicate winged creatures be the canary in the coal mine? Could they be warning us about the dangers of GMO's?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Return to Elegance - McCall's 1954 Fashion Feature

After the austerity of 1940's War Era fashions, designers, with ready access to fabulous new materials, found delight once again in elegance. This November 1954 feature from McCall's magazine showcases creations from the top designers of the era. These names are still familiar and have endured the rigorous test of time that the fickle world of fashion imposes. A bit of eye candy for vintage enthusiasts but many of these or simimlar styles are readily available as vintage patterns allowing the seamstress to recreate with artistic license. 

McCall's 4868                Vogue 4884                        Vogue 4941                      Vogue 4513             Anne Adams 4662

A sampling of elegant selections from my CynicalGirl shop on Etsy.

Vogue 4270                  McCall's 5200                   Simplicity 4584                     Vogue 7512                   McCall's 9662

Elegant samplings from my CynicalGirl shop on Bonanza.

Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, lanvin-Castillo, Jacques Heim, Maggy Rouff, Madeline de Rauch and Patou. 

Less formal but every bit as elegant are these lovely dresses for day or evening cocktail attire.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dickey Birds - Easy to Make Dickies from the Spool Cotton Company

Dickey Birds From The Spool Cotton Company 1948

Dickies were originally worn by men as a tuxedo front or false bosom. Though "Dickey" refers to either men or women's attire, the original ladies dickey was the chemisette, or a sleeveless type of blouse. The fronts were often elaborately pin-tucked or trimmed with lace and pretty buttons and bows.

Even in the 1960's and 1970's I remember having turtleneck dickies to wear under shirts or sweaters. Though they have fallen out of fashion I often think of how practical the dickey is for presenting a more formal appearance without the added layers and bulk.

In the 1940's, when supplies were scarce, the dickey would have been an easy accessory to make with small amounts of fabric. Worn under a jumper with a V or scoop neckline, the dickey could be easily removed for an evening appearance. Or switch out the turtleneck dickey for a frou-frou lace collar for another day to evening effect. Whatever way you wear them they are practical and versatile.

The educational bureau of The Spool Cotton Company (later acquired by J & P Coats) published Stitch in Time as a bi-monthly pamphlet from the 1920's through the 1950's. Each issue had helpful hints for some aspect of sewing and needlework and budget stretching ideas. This September - October, 1948 edition of Stitch in Time featured patterns for 6 dickies with neckline and trim variations. Download Stitch in Time and make some of these lovely dickies for yourself or for gifts. You don't even have to guess the size. Prints on 8.5" x 11" paper.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Emilio Pucci - January 1957 McCall's Featured Patterns

McCall's January 1957
Emilio Pucci, Italian born designer for whom "Capri" pants are attributed, was a designer with fantastic flair.

Pucci was born into a wealthy and influential Italian family. He attended the University of Milan but received most of his education at American Universities and Colleges such as Athens, Georgia and Reed College in Oregon. He was a Facist and when World War II began he joined the Italian Air Force and rose to the rank of Captain as a torpedo bomber. In an attempt to help his friend, the daughter of Mussolini, he was captured by the Germans and tortured by the Gestapo. He would remain in Switzerland until the end of the war designing skiwear.

After the war ended he set up a haute couture salon on the Isle of Capri. From there he established salons in Rome and New York. His use of stretch fabrics and bold designs would be worn by Jacqueline Kennedy and Sophia Loren. Marilyn Monroe was buried in one of his creations.

When Pucci died in 1992 his daughter took over and expanded the business. Today the Pucci label remains a highly respected forward fashion design house.

These festive designs by Pucci for the McCall Pattern Company in 1957 reflect a playful use of color and shape. The bold designs are a glimpse into where Pucci would take pattern with the development of stretch fabrics in the 1960's. One wonders if his wartime experience as a pilot influenced his sense of pattern. Surely he encountered Dazzle painted ships in his air runs. The patterned landscape of farms in the countryside may have also attributed to his sensibilities. However they came to be, we are lucky to have these amazing designs to enjoy today.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gifts to Make for Those Who Sew

It may seem too early to be thinking about Christmas, but lo and behold, Christmas is but 4 months away. For those of us who have always preferred to make something special to give rather than something store-bought, the time is nigh to get cracking on some of these DIY presents.

The October 1954 issue of Woman's Day Magazine featured the perfect DIY gifts to make for those who sew. And, if the growing number of sewing blogs is any indication, you may very well have quite a few on your list.

Whether your friends are seamstresses, quilters or needlework sewists, there are patterns for thoughtful gifts to make and give. You could even make one for yourself!

For those who do counted cross stitch or crewel work, this handy floss caddy keeps all the floss strands separate and free from tangling. 

Find more sewing aids to make and give this Holiday Season. Download instructions HERE.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Western Shirt - The Iconic Symbol of American Individualism

               McCall's 2118 Men's Western Shirt                           McCall's 2119 Boy's Western Shirt

The "Western" shirt is often attributed to the cowboy; that rugged individualist who forged the path across America at a time of great discovery. That early "Western" shirt was an incarnation of what we now recognize as the "Cowboy" shirt. The embellished, yoked shirt really began as a costume for the singing cowboys of the 1940's and 50's like Gene Autry.

Gene Autry - Singing Cowboy

My father was a singing cowboy of sorts too. He was a square dance caller in Milwaukee from the 1950's until his death in 1995. He wore "Cowboy" shirts with pearl snaps and a "Bolo" or string tie. Of course my mother wore the full skirt dresses with the layered crinoline underneath. It was quite a spectacle to watch from the bleachers when their club would perform their routines .... all the twirling and swirling skirts ... a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.

The Western shirt has never fallen out of favor. It is the mainstay in many a man's (and boy's) wardrobe. No doubt Hollywood has romanticized the whole "Western" culture with cowboy movies, and TV shows that we all grew up with like Bonanza, Branded and The Lone Ranger. John Travolta gave the Western shirt a bit of a giddyup in Urban Cowboy and fashion followed with Western wear everywhere. 

             McCall's 2367 Kid's Western Shirts                                               McCall's 2366 Men's Western Shirts 

But a personalized shirt, in your choice of fabrics and trim, is the ultimate statement of individualism. And wouldn't it make the most cherished gift for that special boy or girl in your life? Original patterns from the 1950's give you the authentic look while offering total artistic license. Do Western shirts really have to be plaid or gingham? Mix your Rockabilly with a bit of calico or China silk. Irish linen with an Ultrasuede yoke? The sky is the limit. 

These father and son or daughter shirts are classic Western styles with wonderful flourishes that would be great beginnings for adding your personal touch.

These 70's Western shirts have the basic elements of the classic 50's Cowboy shirt updated for a more homogenous look. Whatever the look you are comfortable with, the cowboy shirt has a place in everyone's wardrobe.

Find these and more at my CynicalGirl shop on eCrater.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Mid - Century Japanese Kimono — Easy To Make Pattern from Woman's Day

From Woman's Day May 1956

Several years ago I met a woman who had served as a WAVE in occupied Japan after the bombing of Hiroshima. She was a seamstress in Evansdale, Iowa, and due to her failing vision was purging her pattern collection and she called me. During our visit she made a trip to the spare bedroom and emerged with kimonos. A few were those she purchased while stationed in Japan in the 1940's. The rest were those that she had made herself. They were all beautiful and her fascination with the culture was evident in more than the kimonos. Her entire 1960's ranch style house was furnished in the spare, Zen-like manner and her sense of peace and presence reflected that philosophy.

The fascination with Japanese culture dates back to the 1850's when Commodore Perry ordered Japan, under threat, to open its harbors to trade with the West. The cultural tsunami that ensued has influenced generations of artists, writers and designers to this day. 

So it is no surprise that in 1956 Woman's Day Magazine published this easy to sew Kimono pattern for the whole family. I have reproduced it HERE for you to download and recreate for your family.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

1930's French Paper Dolls

Mid-1930's French Paper Dolls from

Paper dolls have always seemed more interesting to me than dimensional dolls. There is so much more imagination that needs to be applied when playing with the flat form. And perhaps my fascination with paper dolls has been a contributing factor in my love of vintage pattern illustration. These 1935 - 1936 paper dolls were spotted in an online archive by my husband. Aren't these garments fabulous?!! They are available as a public domain free download HERE. Introduce your child or grandchild to the wonderful world of paper dolls with Les Robes De Suzy.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Make It With Towels - Cannon Towels Pattern For 1950's Playsuit

The Educational Department of Cannon Mills produced booklets with sewing patterns and decorating ideas using Cannon linens such as towels and sheets from the mid 1940's to the mid 1970's. This late 1940's booklet features clothing and accessories for women as well as toys, baby items and this fabulous playsuit pattern for a stole, shorts from a 1948 Simplicity pattern and a tutorial for making a washcloth bra top. 

Download the entire booklet for slippers, apron, drawstring bag and more made with towels HERE!

Visit my CynicalGirl shops on Goodsmiths and Etsy for more vintage and newer patterns.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Maternity Tops - 1950's Style

Being pregnant in the 50's and 60's was probably not too different from being pregnant today. Perhaps the language was a bit more subtle. I remember my parents saying she was "fragrant" rather than pregnant. And the baby bump that is so frequently mentioned today was simply "showing". 
One thing that does seem to be different is the mode of dress. It's not uncommon to see a young mom-to-be with her baby bump exposed in public. Definitely something you would not have seen half a century ago.

I remember black and white photos of my mom and her sister, both pregnant at the same time, wearing skirts and sleeveless maternity tops, white socks and saddle shoes. Seems like the saddle shoes were her favorite because they appeared in a lot of those photos from the 1950's.

This maternity top is much like the one I remember from that photo. With only three pattern pieces, this pullover top is easy to sew and an expecting mom could probably whip one up in an hour. 


This free download prints out on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper. Download HERE.

Find more of these easy to sew maternity patterns at my CynicalGirl shop on Goodsmiths.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Working Pretty - Working Versatile

I don't usually wear a dress when I clean house. It's the usual uniform ... jeans and a t-shirt. But in an era in the not so distant past, women wore dresses - not pants - every day - to scrub floors or do laundry - it was in a dress or skirt.

The February 1955 issue of Woman's Day Magazine features Woman's Day pattern 5086 - Work Togs. Skirts and tops, jumpers and aprons - to wear while cleaning your house. 

Woman's Day February 1955 - Woman's Day Pattern Number 5086

Woman's Day Pattern 5086 February 1955

Trimmed with colorful rick rack, these togs will brighten even the dullest wash day. Find this fun multi-purpose pattern for dress, jumper, skirt, top and apron at my CynicalGirl Shop on Etsy.

Find more fun apron patterns at my CynicalGirl shop on Etsy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

1940's Peplum Skirt - An Easy To Make Pattern

Easy to make Evening Peplum Skirt
The skirt for evening wear is much overlooked in favor of dresses. Though a dress is certainly a complete presentation, the skirt and blouse with or without a jacket, is every bit as sophisticated and so much more versatile than a dress. Consider this peplum skirt from the 1947 Golden Treasury of Needlecraft. The charted pattern is easy to draft and even easier to sew. This striped taffeta is certainly a head turner, but made in a plaid taffeta or even crisp linen or luxurious velveteen would be more than worth the return in investment in envy alone. Download this skirt pattern HERE.

For more evening skirt and dress patterns visit my CynicalGirl shops on Etsy and Goodsmiths.