Monday, April 20, 2015

Digital Fashion and Costume Libraries: The Casey Fashion Plates, Los Angeles Public Library



Researching the history of fashion and costume online has taken grand leaps recently. In part to sort out the best from the rest, I have a short series of posts here on digital costume and fashion image collections now available to the public online. I thought I'd start with the Los Angeles public library, because a girl has to have some loyalty to her home base.

The Casey Collection of Fashion Plates consists of original fashion plates, spanning the years from 1780 to 1880. This huge collection has over 6,200 images, and that's alot to sort through, but the search engine is easy to use when looking for a specific year's costume plates. The images come from both American and British publications.

Overall review: I found this huge site to be well organized and easy to search. The images are easy to enlarge using a touch screen and the quality of those enlargements is excellent. I would recommend this to anyone needing a large body of images for research on a specific year or era between 1780 and 1880.

Improvements: I would have liked each image to be dated in the general search pages, as they are not in chronological order. The search is by year only, terms and other details cannot be searched. I would like to be able to search by decade, rather than having to enter 10 searches in order to see a decade of plates.

How it works:

Images per page: setting from 10 to 50 are available

Text per image on the search page: none

Text per image on the detail page: date, title, collection and item I.D. This does not include notes on apparel or other details in the image

Enlargement: (+) icon on upper right of page brings up the image in large scale on page. This can be further enlarged by using a touch screen, or the ctrl/+ keyboard

Search: "search collection for" box will bring up images by YEAR only. Does not search by decade or garment type.

Return: "return to search browser" brings user back to first page to start a new search

Speed: I found this to search and load quickly.

Copy: no, images cannot be reproduced

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Karawo: Bali Cut Work Embroidery of Indonesia in Modern Vintage


The tradition of cut work or open work eyelet embroidery is a long one in Indonesia. I realized that I knew very little about this wonderful regional textile craft and after some research on it, thought that you too might be interested to know a bit more about Indonesian or Bali cut work and embroidery.

Known as Karawo, or Karawang, 20th century versions are popular in the tourist destination of Bali. The embroidery technique is termed makarawo, and was first introduced to Indonesia in the 1700's. This handcraft is produced in villages all over Indonesia, but especially around Gorontalo. The term originally comes from "terawang" that means "can see through".

A style that includes cut edges as well as open textured and filled areas, cut work or Embroidery Anglaise (or eyelet) can be created on a wide variety of textiles. In fashion apparel, modern vintage tops, dresses and skirts made from rayon textiles are often found.  Rayon is popular for its soft and drapey hand.  Vintage cotton, silk and linen fashions are also available.


In cutwork embroidery, the fabric is fit into a hoop to stretch it tight. A design sketch is transferred to the fabric, followed by a process where the 'holes' are carefully cut away, leaving the space where embroidery will bind off those edges.




This is a process that can take up to month to complete when working on a heavily embellished textile by hand. The Kebaya, originally a very sheer white cotton top with white embroidery native to Indonesia and worn over the long wrapped skirts is an early example of this work. The drawings above date from the late 1800's French needlework book by Therese de Dillmont

Machine made cutwork from Indonesia that imitates this difficult hand work has also been available for a century, when embroidery machines began to be popular in manufacturing. It is interesting to note that even though a machine can be used to create embroidery stitches, it remains an intensive process worked by individual operators.  Usually handwork must be used to transfer the design and cut out the shapes, making it still a labor intensive process.


When worn today, modern vintage embroidery from Indonesia is the perfect look when detail and feminine patterns can be worn in contrast with jeans and other casual styles.


Originally, many garments were adapted from European linens in styles that resembled nightgowns, corset covers, tea gowns and other lingerie worn by Western culture around 1900.


This vest shape is traditional in it's cut and silhouette, but fully textured with rich embroidery.


In the same silhouette as a Victorian nightgown, this vintage top is an adaption that includes elastic ruching around the waistline for a 20th century update.



Vintage embroidered fashions from Indonesia are one of the current bargains you can find. Look for lavish cut work and hem details and you know you have found a great piece to wear.

The examples of modern vintage Bali / Indonesian tops shown here are currently listed for sale on my Silverthorne-Nye shop on Etsy, where I curate a collection of ethnic textiles, linens and heritage garments.

Read more about Indonesian Textiles, HERE.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

7 Best Sheath Dress Patterns with Vintage Style: Easy to Sew

Butterick 4386
Ever wanted to make your own Little Black Dress? This article will review fitted sheath dress patterns that are easy to sew.  This is a second post on easy to sew dress patterns with vintage style, following "9 Best Dress Patterns for Beginners: Easy to Sew". After mastering the super easy shift style dress, it's time to sew a classic sheath dress. This article is edited from a very popular article from three years ago, so the patterns shown are current and available

What makes the sheath dresses shown here easy to sew?

1) no waistline seam, and they look great if belted

2) dress skims the body, but isn't super tight or super loose (like a shift dress)

3) no set in sleeve (but this pattern does have sleeves if you want them)

4) most are still 2 main pattern pieces: front and back

This is Butterick 4386, a dress with a classic darted torso. It can be sewn into so many great styles, from a "little black dress" to a tropical summer dress, the fit will be slender. There is a back zip and hem vent.




Now that you know what pattern style to look for when you want a smooth fit, here are more sheath style patterns that will create that silhouette. The patterns include New Look: 6261, Butterick, See and Sew: 5235, and two from McCalls: 2401, 7085. All of these patterns have vertical darts to shape the waistline and back views, and most have sleeves as well.

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Curvey fit? A princess seam line pattern is the best for creating a good fit. Those long seam lines provide an opportunity to fit the bust line, torso and hips more carefully. There are six seam lines to work with, and each one can be let in or out only a little bit to affect the fit. Butterick "Fast and Easy" 5554 and Simplicity "Amazing Fit" 1586 both have armhole princess seams, so a good fit can be achieved with fuller bustlines.  Both include sleeves, if that is something you want to include in your dress.


This style of shaping is a vintage feature, having both the angular French dart and the side bust dart. This will create a smooth 'fit and flare' silhouette.  A French dart is sewn at an angle, and trims away the waistline without having the usual vertical dart showing in front.  This is a good choice for bold patterns that shouldn't be cut up with vertical arts.

Once a good sheath pattern is selected, there will be a few things to consider.

Question: What fabrics are best for sheath dresses?

Answer: In addition to the simple cottons mentioned in the previous dress article for shift dresses (quilting cottons, cotton gingham, woven cotton plaids and stripes), we can add stretch wovens to our list. Keep your stretch manageable, don't select anything too 'wiggley' and out of control. When using a stretch, lay out the fabric so the stretch goes around the body (not 'up and down' or it will bag at the rear!).

If the fabric is soft or thin (like a brocade, lace or satin) I would suggest using a cotton or taffeta to 'back' that fashion fabric using a 'flat lining' or 'interlining' method shown in an earlier blog post HERE.

Obviously, the classic sheath dress is a vintage look that an experienced sewist can whip up in almost any fabric, from wool flannel to brocade.

Question: How can I make the sheath pattern fit me?

Answer: Make a fitting sample before cutting out the fashion fabric. This process is more essential with the semi-fitted sheath style. Plan to do a trial fit sample dress in a 'muslin' or similar cotton test fabric before cutting out your dress pattern.

If you feel you are an easy fit and don't need a fitting muslin, then when you cut your fashion fabric, I suggest using 1" wide seam allowances down the side and back seams lines. This will give room to alter for fit in case you need 'more room'. Math: get a 1" wide seam allowance by adding 3/8" to your cutting line if you are using standard US pattern's 5/8" wide seam allowances. Yes, you will have to draft that line onto your pattern tissue first, before you cut.

Slender fit: For a figure with small curves, look for slender darts. Don't take up extra width in the darts. Do your fitting from the side seams.

Curvey fit: For a figure with larger curves, the darts will be wider and may be shaped towards the dart point. This fit may also need side and back seam line adjustments. Traditionally, the back seam was cut 'on grain' or very straight, but now it is common to use that seam line to fit the back view more closely.

Princess seam lines make curvey fittings easier. Just distribute any alterations through the several seams, and you will notice that the fitting process is actually easy to achieve.

Question: How can I make the zipper easier to sew?

Answer: Add 1" wide seam allowances down the seamline where your zipper will be sewn. You will be soooo happy you have the extra fabric when you put in the zipper. It helps to have the extra width when trying to fold the fabric under. Before your start, be sure to clean finish the fabric edges. Doing that will make sure that the edge won't unravel and snag into the zipper. I use an overlock seam or I zig-zag over the fabric edge to bind that over and prevent it from unraveling.

Once you perfect sewing a sheath to fit, it could become your favorite: fast, great fit, and easy to sew.

(This article was first published Feb. 21, 2012)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Fashion Bookshelf: Therese de Deillmont and the Encyclopedia of Needlework


Therese de Dillmont is the mother of all needlework crafts, having begun her instructional book during the 1880's: The Encyclopedia of Needlework. This book is still available, a tiny volume crammed with illustrations and 'how to' on many techniques that seem lost and forgotten today. My own volume shown here dates back at least a century, a gift that was found in Europe.

Alabama Channin has profiled Mme. De Dillmont in an article with just enough information to get you started on a search for your own copy. For me, this was one of the first books on my sewing self, and it is still a stand out today, black and while illustrations included.



Friday, March 6, 2015

Navy Blue Vintage Dresses


Back in the old days, the wearing of Navy blue signaled the start of Spring. Here are some darling vintage Navy Blue dresses listed on Etsy to start your venture out into the warmer days ahead. Stop by the shops shown here and you'll find more goodies for spring. My own two dresses shown here are only part of what I have added this week. Enjoy a bit of shopping for Spring!

From UPPER RIGHT through LOWER RIGHT, counter clockwise:

1) Blue Lace Dress, HERE, shop: Chronically Vintage

2) Blue Cotton Swirl dress, HERE, shop: Le Mew Vintage

3) Blue Cotton Print 50's dress, HERE, shop: PintuckStyle

4) Blue Stripe Shirt dress, HERE, shop: PintuckStyle

5) Blue Sheath Ruffle Collar dress, HERE, shop: The Dress Form


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