Category Archives: Vintage Beauties

Picture Parade

Was looking for a little vintage purse to carry for my sister’s wedding and I found some other goodies as well. I came across this arrangement of violins and thought they would be a beautiful hanging together on a wall in someone’s house:


Then I hit the boxes of photographs that I love so much. This one caught my eye immediately:

IMAG2061-1-1From the mother’s hairstyle, I would say this is a 1920’s photo. What I thought was so interesting is that it’s a double exposure (probably accidental). There aren’t twins dressed in the little pilgrim style, it’s the same girl after she’s moved. What’s so cute is that the fainter image of the boy shows him rubbing his eye…was someone crying?

I tend to be drawn to photos of babies and small children, beautiful girls (awesome for historic costume research) and handsome men. But, mostly, it’s the babies and tykes:

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The little boy’s hat with the two pom poms on either side, adorable! The babies in prams, so cute…

And this little one, so serious with the ringlets:


A lot of vintage photos are mounted on these card stock “frames”, usually with the photography studio’s information somewhere on them. They’re often called “cabinet cards“. While they’re not great for the photograph itself (acidity in the card stock), they are helpful in placing the location of the studio (and, thus, the area where the sitter was from) and, with a little research, can narrow down the time period as well. This one is from the E. D. Baily Studio in Tamaqua, PA. From the embossing and card stock, this photo could date as early as 1890. Children’s fashions are a little harder to place, with a general unisex look for much of the Victorian and Edwardian era for babies and toddlers. I do know that this is a little girl as her name, “Lillie”, is written in pencil in a beautiful hand on the back of the card. An advantage of a cabinet card is that it ensures that it’s not a photo reprint. An unscrupulous dealer can create a negative of an original photo by taking a new photo, which would allow unlimited reprints to be sold as “vintage”. On loose images, one should check the paper stock, it should be faded and any creases or damage to the front face should be evident on the back, if you don’t see that, it might be a duplicate. I don’t worry too much about these as I’m only spending 50 cents or a few dollars for them, but I do like to have original prints. Another way to know it’s original is seeing black paper still stuck to the photo, or black tape across the corner(s). This shows it was mounted into a scrapbook at some point. As such, they should be on the surface, you should be able to feel them when you rub your hand over them. This could, of course, be faked, but I don’t know anyone who would bother for such a low cost item. If you were buying a photo of a famous person, one that you’re being asked to spend more money on, you would want to check these things. Celebrities in particular would often have hundreds of prints made, some with a message already scrawled on the front, ostensibly by the star. If the signature is on the surface (move it around in the light, you should see the ink sitting on the surface) then this may well have been done for the star’s convenience. If the whole image, writing and signature included, looks the same under the light, then you know that the whole thing is a copy of an original. It still might have been an original publicity item, but isn’t as special as a signed image, or one dedicated and signed. Then again, some of these celebs hired staff who would sign fan images for them…caveat emptor!

Finally, I came across this tiny treasure. I’m not terribly keen on the image, badly framed snapshot, but the size is great. I have a modern stamp here to show how small it really is:


So, did I find a purse? Yes, yes I did. I’ll post pictures once I get some of me carrying it in the wedding. ūüôā


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Posted by on May 20, 2014 in Vintage Beauties


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Let’s make a dress

Several years ago,when my mother and step-father were getting married, I made matching seersucker dresses for my sisters and step-sister. I ordered the fabric online and ended up with yards and yards of extra fabric (60″ fabric, accidentally ordered quantities for narrower fabric). In any case, as I was re-organizing my sewing supplies and fabrics, I came across the seersucker and decided to make a dress out of it. I was thinking about that stash of vintage patterns I recently bought, and the idea of actually making one of the patterns was too irresistible. Thought I would document the process here so those who’ve never made a dress can see what is involved. A disclaimer before we start, I use the pattern pieces but don’t read or generally follow the instructions. I’ve made so many garments, I find my instinct and logic are enough.

Here’s the pattern I chose:

002Copyright 1955, a classic “New Look” silhouette…nipped waist and full skirt. Though the envelope shows three looks, it’s the same dress, the only difference between 1 &2 is in the decorative bow placement. Look 3 has narrower straps. Unlike modern patterns, this envelope contains only one size. It’s size 14…which has nothing to do with modern women’s sizes. The nipped waist look is awesome, but I knew I’d have to modify the pattern because I’m more of a “ruler” than an “hourglass”.

From Left to Right: Ruler, Inverted Triangle, Triangle, Hourglass

Original Image here.

I thought the pattern pieces would be really delicate and purchased a special fabric material that’s meant for making patterns. Removing the pieces, this is what I found:

003 004 These are the original instructions. They are very yellow (from the natural oxidation of the acids in the paper), but otherwise in good shape. In fact, the pattern pieces were in great shape themselves. I decided they were in no danger from me using them directly, so I proceeded without copying the pattern first.

008I pulled out the pattern pieces and pinned them to my dress form, an adjustable model which is set to my measurements. I have the waist padded with some fleece to match mine, since I don’t “nip in” at the waist. I wanted to make sure the pattern would fit me well. By pinning it to the dress form, I was able to make modifications before cutting the fabric. If you look closely at the photo, there are two things you’ll notice, the pieces are overlapped, that’s the seam allowance, or extra fabric built into the pattern piece to let you sew it together. If I pinned cut edge to cut edge, the pattern would seem too big. The second thing is that, as I am short-waisted, I have pinned up the pattern to make the waist of the pattern sit where my actual waist is. This is an adjustment that is conveniently printed onto the pattern; which is very good with such an emphasis on the waist in this design.

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The pattern calls for a side zipper, which means the center back seam is a great place to add the extra room I’ll need for my body shape. After pinning the pattern piece in place, there was a gap at the bottom between it and the center of my padded dress form. The top was actually overlapping the center line. By using the ribbon to follow the center line and an extra piece of paper, I was able to pin the extra pattern at the top to the center line, and draw the extra needed piece at the bottom. You can see the finished back piece on the right. I suppose I could have cut the extra paper away from the top of the pattern but, it has survived this way for more than half a century, I’m not about to chop into it.

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The next step was to cut the pattern pieces from my fashion fabric. I fold the fabric in half and lay out the pattern pieces, utilizing the best layout to waste the least amount of fabric. I only have to cut around each pattern piece once and will end up with two mirror image pieces cut out of my fashion fabric. Some of the pattern pieces, for example, the center front, I will actually lay the pattern onto the fold. This way, I will end up with one piece of fabric that is mirrored across the fold. I wanted to ensure that all of the markings on the pattern were properly transferred to my fashion fabric. The arrows will help line the pattern pieces together to each other and are clipped as I cut each piece.

The three other photos you see are three methods of transferring the darts which shape the flat fabric into a three-dimensional garment. The first is using transfer paper and a tracing wheel. If you lay out two pieces of transfer paper, one on either side of the fabric, and press hard, the dart can be transferred to both garment pieces at once.  This method can cause damage to the pattern, as it will cause perforations to the tissue paper. I found that this tissue was too delicate to utilize this method.

The second is to simply mark the circles along the dart with a tailor’s pencil. You can then “connect the dots” with a ruler, or just pin dot to dot and sew the dart freehand. This is the method I used for this dress. You do end up having to re-pin the pattern to both pieces of fabric so that the marks can be transferred to each, but that doesn’t take too long.

The final photo shows a tailor’s tack. This a a type of stitch which is kept fairly loose and marks those same circles on the dart. Once the pattern is removed, the tack is cut between the two pieces of fabric, leaving a small thread on each piece. Once again, you can connect the dots as with the pencil.

At this point, I also cut the lining for the front and back of the bodice from plain white lining fabric.

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After years and years of coveting one, I finally bought a serger. This machine, which looks a bit like a sewing machine, uses four spools of thread to create an interlocked stitch on the edge of the fabric. This prevents unraveling, especially when a garment is washed. I used the serger to protect all of the edges of each garment piece individually. There are other ways to prevent unraveling; everything from liquid plastic, to sewing on bias tape (more on bias tape later), or creating a french seam (actually two seams, the first connects the two pieces of fabric, the second seals the edges of the fabric inside a channel…lots of work). After all my pieces went through the serger, I sewed the darts into the pattern pieces that I had marked, then sewed the pieces of the bodice together. This is a four-piece bodice, Center Front, Front Side (Left and Right), and Back.

028Checking the fit of the bodice on my dress form. The serged edges are still exposed along the neckline, armscye, and bottom. I sewed the lining to the “right side” (the front of the garment) on both front and back. Yes, I forgot and had already sewed my shoulder seams together, so I first ripped out that stitching!

032 033.

I used my scissors to carefully cut notches into the seam around the circumference of the armscye and the areas where they neckline curves. I then turned the garment right side out again, machine sewed the fashion fabric at the shoulder seam, then tucked and hand stitched the lining closed at the shoulder seam.

034¬†Normally you will press your seams flat when you’re done sewing them and, often, you will top stitch to keep them perfect. I didn’t want to crush the seersucker, so I didn’t iron my seams. I did want them to look neat so, using a double needle (literally, two needles that sit side by side on one shank and sew at the same time), I top stitched the seams all along the bodice.

036 Another re-check of fit, once the bodice was lined and top-stitched.

037The side zipper will be partially on the bodice, partially on the skirt. To make sure that everything would be neat when I went to sew in the zipper, I basted (long, loose stitches) the seams where the zipper will be placed. While the basting is intended to be removed, I still usually like to use a color that matches the garment. That way, if I miss a stitch, no one will notice. I wanted the basting to stand out for the camera, so I used bright orange thread this time.

042 046 048With the bodice complete, I needed to make the skirt. This is where those yards and yards of fabric get used in a dress of this type. The completed garment, if you measured the bottom hem, measures six yards around (that’s 18 feet). I cut four identical rectangles, ran them through the serger, then sewed them together to make a long tube of fabric. The most important thing…make sure the seams are all going one way. Without a true “right side” to this fabric, I didn’t want to get confused and accidentally end up with a seam on the outside and one on the inside of my tube!

The first photo shows how the pattern calls for the pleating of the skirt. When I’ve shown people pleated pattern pieces before, this has seemed to really confuse them. It’s just a matter of drawing one point of fabric to the next point. I think the words and drawings that are sometimes presented make it seem more complex than it is.

The second photo shows the skirt fabric after I’ve pinned all the pleats. Yes, this took a long time. I could then choose to pin all of the extra fabric in the pleats to one side, or create a box pleat, where the fabric is distributed evenly on either side of the pleat. This is what I chose to do.

The third photo shows the skirt fabric after I had pinned all of the pleats. I hand-basted the pleats down to keep the suckers from accidentally getting picked up in my machine’s sewing needle. Trust me, the extra time spent basting is well worth it! There’s nothing more annoying than having to rip out a bunch of stitching because you accidentally sewed through fabric that got in the way.

049I pinned the skirt to the dress form to check on the length of the skirt. The pattern calls for the skirt to end just below the knee. This is a dangerous length for those of us on the short side! I had already made the rectangles of fabric shorter, measured to hit at my knee. By pinning it in place, I could check that it was where I wanted it. With 5/8″ in the pattern for the seam allowance, I could cheat some in this area to make the skirt hang either a tiny bit lower or a tiny bit higher. My measurements were right, so I was pleased with the length and didn’t have to make any adjustments.

050After I machine sewed the skirt to the bodice, I returned to my zipper. When using a side zipper, you want to always use an “invisible” zipper. This zipper is meant to be installed in such a way that will render it “invisible”. Obviously, that’s not really possible, but it is a very subtle installation that allows the garment to be admired, without being distracted by a zipper. That recent trend of zippers being sewn to the outside of a garment so that all the tape shows? Yeah, no way.

I pinned the zipper in place and removed the basting, then used the machine to permanently attach it. The other side of the fabric is set so that it touches the first side, leaving very little evidence that there’s a zipper.

052A decorative bow. It’s such a cutesy dress, it needed a cutesy bow. It’s made out of bias tape and it is sewn together and then in place. I think this shot should also allow you to see the top stitching a little better.

054Using the same bias tape (bias just means that the cotton fabric that is used is cut on the diagonal, this gives the resulting tape some flexibility to go around curves without puckering), I pinned it to the¬†outside of the skirt and sewed it close to the bottom edge. I then had two options I could use. I could turn the tape all the way to the inside of the skirt to be stitched in place. This would tuck the raw edges between the skirt fabric and the tape, protecting it from unraveling. Because I had already used a serger on the edge of the fabric, I also had the option of flipping the tape down and stitching the seam down, leaving the tape exposed below. The fabric won’t unravel due to the serging, and I end up with a decorative design detail that matches my bow. This is what I chose to do.

055Once that was done, I hand tacked all of the pleats down, making sure the seam allowance was pointing down to the ground (not flipped up to the top of the garment). I didn’t want them to flip up and look messy and bulky. This took some time, but is well worth it for the finished result:

061Viola! My sister is getting married this summer. I’m a bridesmaid, so I need something pretty to wear to the rehearsal. I think I just made it!


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Treasure Trove!

I really needed to clean my apartment, but I didn’t want to clean my apartment…so I went out vintage browsing instead. I was sort of looking for a nightstand, but was open to finding something else…and did I ever! I came across this box:


It was labeled at $10. I knew they were patterns. Old patterns. The box said 40’s and 50’s and the few I pulled fit that time period. In this condition, I usually expect to spend a couple of bucks per pattern. There were obviously more than ten, so the cost was more than reasonable. Normally, I only collect Vogue patterns (because it would be a never-ending hunt if I didn’t narrow it down and I prefer the Vogue illustrations), and the box didn’t have any that I could quickly see but, still, a whole box…what costumer in her sort-of right mind could pass it up? Not this one!

I got home just a bit ago and started gingerly removing the patterns from the box. The envelopes are delicate and can crumble or rip if handled with anything but the utmost of care. I started laying them out and was awestruck by what I found:


40 Patterns! 40! And they span quite a range. There are ballgowns, everyday dresses, skirts, blouses, nightgowns and nighties, a majorette pattern, even one for slippers made from felt! I’m so thrilled. The patterns are tiny (as is bound to happen with items from before McDonald’s was everywhere), and all but a few have been cut, which makes them less valuable, but, to me, the invaluable part are the illustrations. Unlike fashion illustrations, the illustrations from patterns are a pretty reliable way of gauging what women from this time period would be wearing. Popular colors, patterns, shoes, and so forth are easy to see. Also, and this is vital, hair and sometimes hats are illustrated as well. I like having the patterns because they give me a way of accessing the visuals for a period from a primary source. I’m intrigued by several drop-waist dress patterns from the mid-fifties…I’ve not seen any like it before. And, yes, there are some Vogue patterns after all. One is for a pencil skirt, the other for a sleeveless blouse with a really interesting neckline, both are¬†¬©1952.

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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Vintage Beauties


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Vintage Brass Inkwell

InkwellI like to write, and I’m a fan of old fashioned ink fountain pens. I passed on an opportunity to purchase an inkwell a few years ago and never forgave myself. When I saw this one, I knew I had to have it. I love the details of the design and the space to put pens/letter opener, etc. I have used it, but since the lid just closes and does not seal, and since I don’t write with ink regularly, I pour the ink back into its glass jar every time I’m done using it. It wastes a little ink, but hey, it allows me to use this beautiful piece.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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Palmer Method of Handwriting

Running out-into framePalmer Method CursiveThey don’t teach cursive in school anymore. The kids have too much material to cram in their little brains to regurgitate on the standardized tests, no time to waste on archaic skills like penmanship. I think it’s a shame. I know these kids have to know how to type, and most of them do without sitting through the old, odious, typing tests…jjjkjjjkjjjkj¬†Learning cursive, though, is important for improving general handwriting, even if you never use it as an adult (although I do).

The thing is, there’s this idea that we will move to a paperless world by the time these kids are grown, so they have no need to know how to write in cursive, or even legible block printing. The problem with that is that we’ve been promised this “paperless” world for a long time, it won’t happen for many many generations.

Anyway, off my soapbox. This is a photograph I found at my favorite antiques store (Terrace Oaks Antiques). It’s not much in the way of an interesting visual image, until you look at the back. Here, the man in the photograph wrote; “I was running toward the camera to get out of this picture when he took it. Cris”. I found it amusing that he was running¬†toward the camera to get out of the way. What really drew me, though, is the style of cursive he used. It’s called the Palmer Method of Business Writing.

The Palmer Method was developed at the beginning of the last century in order to allow those manually transcribing conversations in a business environment to do so quickly, accurately, and with a minimum of effort. As you can see from the example above, shortcuts such as secondary “t’s” not being crossed, aid the writer to move from word to ¬†word quickly, without pausing or going back for unnecessary details. I think it’s fabulous. It’s beautiful and simple, and must have been a very important development, as there were several different methods designed to accomplish the same thing.

As someone who loves all things antique, who often makes props that are supposed to come from times past, and someone who likes doing historical and¬†genealogical¬†research, it’s really important for me to be able to decipher and replicate these old writing styles. The single greatest resource I have found is the website of the International Association of Master Penmen, Engravers, & Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH). This site is brilliant and sucks me in for hours at a time. I’d love to go to the convention in July, but¬†Albuquerque in July sounds a little hot! Maybe next year’s convention will be easier for us East Coasters to get to!

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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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Be My Valentine

Vintage Photo of a handsome young man. Pine away ladies…isn’t he dashing?

Isn't He Handsome

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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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Vintage Baby Photos

I’m attracted to vintage photographs, especially of babies and children. Here are two that make me smile:

Naked Baby Butt Baby in a Bathtub

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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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A pretty solution to my bad habit

I’m an artist. It’s just who I am. All the things that I do have something to do with my artistic nature. One of the things that I do is paint. Well, I have to confess, I have a very bad habit when it comes to painting…I leave my brushes sitting in the water too long. The problem with that, in case you aren’t a painter, is that it destroys the bristles. They literally get bent out of shape!

I recently spent, ahem, several hundred dollars on new paint brushes (didn’t throw the old ones away ’cause, how could I). I admitted to the manager of the art supply store my shameful secret, and she recommended getting a water dish that is too shallow to let the brushes stand up in. I’ve always known she was brilliant, but that one was quite spectacular.

I guess I could have used an old plastic container, or a glass baby food jar, or…something, but, I can’t do that. I went to one of my favorite antiques stores (Carriage House Antiques, James Island), and bought an antique salt. It’s a silver base and came with a beautiful cobalt glass insert (originally intended to hold the salt) and works perfectly. I can pull the glass out to change out the water, and I can’t stand my brushes up in it. Bad habit, broken!

P.S. I also discovered that soaking the bristles of a brush with paint dried onto it in Murphy’s Oil Soap (overnight) can rescue the brush from total ruin. Good one to keep in my back pocket!

Paint Pot (Salt)


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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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Vintage Vogue

I have a small collection of vintage Vogue patterns, the illustrations are simple, the styles are beautiful. I buy them whenever I come across them. I’ve chosen Vogue because I like the illustration style the best. I’ll probably never use the patterns themselves, but they are great as inspiration when I’m designing costumes.Vintage Vogue Pinafores Vintage Vogue 40's Blouse 2 Vintage Vogue 40's Blouse Vintage Vogue 40's Dress 2 Vintage Vogue 40's Dress 3 Vintage Vogue 40's Dress 4 Vintage Vogue 40's dress Vintage Vogue 40's Skirt Suit


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Posted by on January 7, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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12 Days of Christmas

A lot of people assume that the “12 Days of Christmas” refers to the twelve days leading up to Christmas. It doesn’t, that time is known as Advent. What the song talks about are the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (Three Kings Day) which is January 6th. So, “my true love” is giving successively ostentatious gifts on the way to the celebration of the day that the Wise Men brought gifts to the baby Jesus (traditionally).

I always leave my tree up until Epiphany…well, truth be told, it came down in February last year! I like the tree to look sophisticated and I love vintage elements. I bought a bunch of vintage skeleton keys, tied a red ribbon to them, and those are my primary decoration for my tree. Check it out:

Vintage Keys as Ornaments

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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Vintage Beauties


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