Category Archives: Exhibitions & Museums

Pattern Pieces for Side Drapes (“Cascades”) circa 1922

The side panels of this skirt were called “cascades.” Butterick 3601 from March, 1922; Delineator.

Cascades were created in several different ways in the Nineteen Twenties. Using the pattern archive at CoPA to better understand the options, I found a considerable variety of pattern shapes. Some cascades were basically rectangles, others were shaped, and sometimes the solution was really simple: essentially a piece of fabric wrapped around the body, with one side seam sewn several inches inside the edge of the cascade, which jutted out. (See Pattern 1408, below….)

In 1980, a Twenties’ dress with two cascades like that green one was one of my early experiments in draping.  Think of the skirt as a very big pillowslip with an opening in the top seam a few inches from each side seam. That opening is gathered and attached to the bodice at the waist.  I used a fairly light silk, so the bulk of the seam at each side wasn’t a problem. It looked fine, but this week I learned that it probably was not the way cascades were done in the early 1920s.

If I had had CoPA for research, I would have noticed that there was usually only one layer of fabric in the cascade.

Butterick 3545 has a cascade at each side.

Pattern envelope scanned from CoPA. . “LADIES’ SLIP-OVER DRESS, closed at left underarm, with Detachable Cape, Two-Piece Skirt Attached at Low Waistline, with or without long body lining.”

Detachable Cape on Butterick 3545.

Butterick 3545 pattern layout from CoPA.

The skirt pattern pieces for Butterick 3545, 1922. Notches show where the cascades would be inserted into the side seams. This construction is very simple and logical to a 21st century stitcher.

A closer view of the skirt; Butterick 3545, 1922.

In that case, the cascade was a separate pattern piece. It was also separate in this LHJ pattern, but this cascade was shaped to taper at the bottom. And it was NOT inserted in a side seam.

The full image from CoPA of LHJ pattern 3616. A triangle of dots usually means “place on fold,” but in this case it’s hard to interpret.  Notch K in the bodice front matches notch K in the skirt. The separate side panel (did it hang free?) adds to the confusion. The dress drawing does not show a center back seam.

In Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3616, the cascade is shaped, and it has a pleat (“plait”) at the point where it is attached to the skirt waist. But the cascade does not appear to be inserted into a seam.

The right-angled point of the cascade (I called it A) hangs free, but the other side is apparently sewn to the side front of the skirt. LHJ pattern 3616.

I don’t know how the straight, raw edge of the cascade would be handled, since it doesn’t appear to be inserted in a seam, but …. (I may be misreading this one! Perhaps those five dots on the skirt are a cutting line?)

Butterick 3417, from 1921, can teach us many things.

Butterick 3417 from 1921.

Bodice, cape, and lining of Butterick 3417.

The blouson shape can be held in place by the bodice lining and the waist stay, in addition to the built-in belt we see. The cape is not just a square; the little jag at the point of attachment will affect the way the cape falls. The cascade is cut in one with the skirt front.

Skirt pieces for Butterick 3417.

This cascade is cut in one with the skirt front; the jog at the bottom allows about three inches for the skirt hem to be turned up. (The cascades apparently have a narrow hem.) The pale lavender line is my guess at the seam placement.

Butterick 3417 (1921) makes sense once you realize that the three-dot triangle means “place on fold of fabric.” I circled the small dots which mark the place where the side seams need to go. The “tube” part of the dress has a hem allowance of about 3 inches. The cascade would be narrow-hemmed, or picot hemmed, if chiffon. Yes, the back side of the fabric would be seen — no problem with georgette or reversible satin….

This Syndicate pattern, No. 1789 from 1923 has just five pieces. A seamstress would have to know about facing for the belt, which apparently buttons at one or both sides. How are the sleeves and cascades finished? How about a neck facing? Is the bodice fully lined? All up to the seamstress.

Syndicate dress 1789 from 1923.

The aerial view of this dress as it would look before the sides were sewn is very informative!

The cascades apparently hang free, outside the side seams, which probably fall vertically from the side waist And that bodice is quite intriguing. what happens when you raise your arms? Definitely wear with a slip!

Pictorial Review pattern 1408 also makes the cascade part of the skirt front:

Pictorial Review pattern 1408 from 1922. The cascade is cut in one with the skirt front.

The skirt front is seamed to the skirt back at one side (see double notches.)

There appears to be a seam line where the left side of the skirt back wraps around to the front and tucks under the cascade.

Once you match the skirt front to skirt back at one side, the entire skirt wraps around and is stitched to the front, allowing the cascade to hang free.

This beautiful 1922 dress, Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3701, has only four pattern pieces:

LHJ pattern 3701, from 1922. (The “whole skirt” length does not seem to be to scale, since the skirt is one piece, wrapping around the body and and folding up in horizontal tucks (“plaits”) at the waist.)

I said “only four pattern pieces;” the seamstress would have to make her own bias bindings and figure out how to face the long sleeves and neckline…. (I would line the entire bodice with contrasting Chinese silk.)

Butterick 4025 makes the cascade part of its one-piece skirt.

Center, Butterick 4025, Delineator, December 1922.

Butterick 4025 pattern envelope from CoPA.

The cascade is part of the one-piece skirt. (How could the black cascade have a white reverse side, as illustrated? More dressmaker ingenuity needed….)

More often, the cascade was a separate pattern piece. In this 1923 pattern (Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3961) the cascade on this side-closing surplice dress is cut with one curved side, for a more graceful “fall.” (“Fall, waterfall, cascade….”)

A surplice closing creates this wrap dress. Ladies’ Home Journal pattern 3961, from 1923.

Skirt pattern pieces for LHJ 3961. One-piece skirt, possibly cut on the fold at center back. (See the Three dot triangle.)

Complete pattern pieces from LHJ 3961, scanned from CoPA.

Obviously, there’s more than one way to cut a cascade. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at old paintings and photographs and illustrations, trying to figure out how those those garments were constructed (and what the backs looked like.)  One rule of the costume shop is: “Never assume.” Knowing how modern clothes are made — what “makes sense” to us — isn’t always the key to an authentic replica. CoPA, the Commercial Pattern Archive — started by theatrical costumers — is an absolute treasure. Spread the word!

Personal experience: Around 1985, I was designer and cutter for a production of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. One of my stitchers had been trained as a tailor in Germany. She was so unhappy with the way my men’s sleeves (patterned from Norah Waugh’s Cut of Men’s Clothes : 1600-1900) needed gathering at the back of the sleeve head that I revised my patterns for them several times. Two years later I visited the Costume Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where some 18th c. men’s clothing was displayed in a case that I could walk around. Finally, I could see the back seams of the coats I had been drafting! Guess what? There were visible gathers at the back of the sleeve heads. And I had gone without sleep to get rid of them in my patterns!  (P.S. That’s also why I always want to see the backs at museum exhibits! Maybe a photo? Or a mirror behind the mannequin?)

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Filed under 1920s, Capes, Exhibitions & Museums, Musings, Resources for Costumers, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage patterns

Balenciaga at the V & A : Museum Exhibitions Online

Design by Cristobal Balenciaga, 1965. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

The Vintage Traveler recently shared an FIT symposium on museum exhibitions of fashion.
That reminded me of some extraordinary videos that were part of “Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition closed in February, 2018, but the V&A has generously posted the videos made for the exhibit online, so we can all enjoy them. [Note to other museums: Go, thou, and do likewise! Once the exhibition closes, put the videos online!] Unfortunately, the still photos from the exhibition are under copyright, as are most other museum pictures of Balenciagas — so please click on the links.

I didn’t see the exhibition in London, but it appears to have used technology to very good purpose. I’ve whiled away hours watching the V&A’s exemplary videos.
This link will take you to the V&A website, where you can read about Balenciaga and watch three marvelous videos illustrating exactly how his minimalist but extraordinary patterns come together into “Balenciagas.” Click here for Secrets of Balenciaga’s Construction

The museum took X-Ray photos of some of the Balenciagas on exhibit. This link includes another fascinating video. You can see hidden weights controlling the drape, and, occasionally, a straight pin!

A V&A video about the custom beading on a glittering evening coat is found here.

In “Learning from the Master: Deconstructing Balenciaga,” the Museum invited a group of advanced design students from the London College of Fashion to create patterns and toiles from Balenciaga gowns in the museum’s collection. If you sew or drape, this is for you! ( I’m thinking of you, Fifty Dresses….)

“Shaping Fashion: Balenciaga” is another well-done video from the V&A. You can watch designs by Balenciaga morph into designs by other famous couturiers. (I just wish all the V&A’s videos were together in one place online!)

A preview of the entire exhibit can be found in the AP Archives: click here.

Until I started searching museum collections for Balenciaga designs, I hadn’t appreciated how much he influenced my wardrobe in the late 1950s/60s. Not that I ever wore couture (ha!) but because the inexpensive clothes I did wear and saw worn everywhere were inspired by his work. My first wool suit (home-made) was a distant echo of this one. Party and prom dresses worn by my friends owed a debt to this simple & elegant flowered dress. (Note the shape of the skirt.) The shape of this coat was everywhere, and I bought a long formal in green brocade with soft pleats at the waist (circa 1964,) reminiscent of the dress under it.

More Online About this Exhibition

Many who visited the exhibition posted images or videos on YouTube; here are a few blogs or videos about it.

At 12 minutes long, this video from Stitchless TV gives a good idea of how well-thought-out this exhibition apparently was. Click here for a “walk through” that includes much besides the videos posted more clearly at the V&A site. It shows the “upstairs” part of the exhibit, which features designers who trained with or were inspired by “The Master.”

This video by Natalie (at Time with Natalie) gives a good “walk through” (starting at one minute in.)

Betty Raen at The London List captures some photos that show more of the exhibit.

For a quick taste, try Fashion Expedition’s report.

The Arcadia online blog previews the exhibit (with illustrations, of course.) Many designs by students of “the Master” are shown.

This link includes a photo of the pink “Tulip Dress” which is magically reconstructed in a V&A video.

As the late Anthony Bourdain said, “I’m still hungry for more.”

More Balenciaga exhibitions:

“Balenciaga and His Legacy:” was presented at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas on February 3, 2007 by the Texas Fashion Collection. Click here. This video is not too dark, unlike others; but it’s not really in focus, either…. However — you won’t see the same creations featured elsewhere. Worth a taste.

When you have had your fill of evening gowns, this video from the Museo Cristobal Balenciaga shows superb construction on wool suits and other daytime clothing. Some of the images are too dark, but other close-ups are superb.

If you still want more Balenciaga, this 2011 exhibition, “Balenciaga and Spain,” from The DeYoung museum in San Francisco is 17 minutes long and traces Balenciaga’s development and early influences  …. sadly, the lighting and photo quality are not good. Films of his showroom are good.

This short video of “Balenciaga: Spanish Master” exhibition from New York is different and definitely worth watching.

Also creative and interesting: this video from ICONIC.

When you have time to relax, pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, put your feet up, and enjoy these videos and blogs.

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Filed under 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Capes, Coats, Exhibitions & Museums, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

Patterns of Fashion Book Series Continues!

Cover image from Barnes & Noble website.

Very welcome news to costumers is that the great Patterns of Fashion book series begun by Janet Arnold, who died in 1998,  is being continued. Arnold wrote three gridded pattern books, (Patterns of Fashion 1660 to 1860, Patterns of Fashion 1860 to 1940, and Patterns of Fashion 1560 to 1620, and I just received information from the Costumers’ Alliance about a British source that is continuing her work.

Jenny Tiramani, principal of the School of Historical Dress in London said:

“Please tell people that we have decided not to use a distributor or to put the book for sale on Amazon. They take too much money and we need the funds to keep the school going and to publish Patterns of Fashion 6 & 7 which are both already in the pipeline!

We will be selling the book ourselves from our School of Historical Dress webshop and will try to give a good price for those people buying the book in countries far flung from the UK.

[Patterns of Fashion] 5 is in China being printed next week and published 31st October. …We need all the publicity we can get as the publisher of all future volumes of the series!”
Please support this incredibly rare and precious resource, the School of Historical Dress!! Here is where you can find their web site.

Click here to find out about current and upcoming volumes of Patterns of Fashion, plus other relevant publications.

Mantua, Late 17th century, Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Other books include Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns (Vols. 1 & 2), and Waistcoats from the Hopkins Collection c. 1720-1950 “The waistcoats are shown with close-up details of its shape, construction and decoration, alongside images of people wearing similar styles from the same time period.” Janet Arnold’s other books are also available.

(One virtue of the Patterns of Fashion Series — aside from the meticulous research — is their large format: printed on extra wide paper, the scaled patterns are easy to refer to while you are working.)

Patterns of Fashion 4 covers body linens 1540 to 1660 — “the linen clothes that covered the body from the skin outwards. It contains 420 full colour portraits and photographs of details of garments in the explanatory section as well as scale patterns for linen clothing ranging from men’s shirts and women’s smocks, ruffs and bands to boot-hose and children’s stomachers.

 

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Exhibit of Brian Stonehouse Fashion Illustrations for Vogue

I’d never heard of illustrator and artist Brian Stonehouse until I saw this image in an ad for the exhibit, but if you are lucky enough to be in London between October 19 and December 22, 2017, you might want to visit the Abbott and Holder Gallery at 30 Museum Street for “the final group of works from the Artist’s Estate painted during his New York, American Vogue years.” Click here for a view of many fashion illustrations from the fifties and sixties, thanks to the Guardian newspaper’s Fashion section.
An eye-catching ad in the London Review of Books encapsulates the life of Brian Stonehouse, M.B.E. (1918 – 1998) this way:

“WW II SOE Agent, Concentration Camp Survivor and American Vogue Illustrator 1952-1963.”

As a British spy working with the French Resistance during WW II, Stonehouse was captured and sent to a concentration camp. After he was liberated, he moved to New York and did a series of lovely illustrations for Vogue.

If you can’t make a visit in person, you can page through the gallery’s full color exhibition catalog by clicking here.

 

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Remembering Costume Designer Willa Kim

Years ago, I was lucky to be a “fly on the wall” when Willa Kim was in town, designing dance costumes. I didn’t deal with her directly, but I watched her interacting with the costume shop, and I heard stories….

Willa Kim was so completely focused on her work that her age (80-ish) seemed irrelevant — except when you remembered that she won her first Tony award for Costume Design when she was in her sixties and her second, for Will Rogers Follies, in 1991 — ten years later. She was completely professional, she was funny, she loved dance and theatre and the people who worked there, and she really knew her stuff. (I heard that, when a lighting designer tried putting intense red light on dance costumes that were white, red and green, the metaphorical fur flew. Red light makes green appear black, and white appear red, which would have destroyed her designs; although petite, Willa could be very assertive when necessary!)

In fact, although I knew how famous she was, and had looked her up in Pecktal’s Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters, I learned a lot from reading her obituaries, because Willa Kim lived in the present — being much more interested in her current projects than in past glories. In 2003, Willa did a half-hour interview for the Women in Theater Project — in which she explains how she came to be the first costumer to make dance costumes out of Lycra stretch fabric, among other things. Click here to watch the interview, via Playbill magazine online. (And watch her reaction when asked about lighting design….)

Click here for her full obituary, as printed in The Seattle Times. She said her costume designs for the opera Turandot, at Santa Fe Opera (2005,) were the most interesting of her career. You can see a slide show of those, plus her deliciously witty design sketches for other projects, by clicking here, where there is a slide show from a curated exhibit honoring her work.

The book Designs of Willa Kim is available through Amazon.

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Fashion Plates (for Men and Women) from the Met Costume Institute

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

1921 fashion plate from the Metropolitan Museum collection. Click here to see it in larger versions.

The Metropolitan Museum continues its generous policy of sharing images online; “Fashion plates from the collections of the Costume Institute and the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art” are now available (and searchable) at http://libmma.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15324coll12

Click here, and scroll down for a lengthy list of sub-collections of fashion plates: menswear, children, wedding, women, headgear, etc., organized by date or range of dates.

What really excited me is the large number of men’s fashion plates, many dated very precisely, like these tennis outfits from 1905-06.

Men's tennis outfits, 1905 1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates collection. Plate 029.

Men’s tennis outfits, 1905-1906; Metropolitan Museum Fashion Plates Collection. Plate 029. For full image, click here.

If you need to skim through a year or a decade of men’s fashion, this is a great place! It’s also going to be very helpful to collectors who are trying to date specific items of men’s clothing. Sometimes the date range given is very narrow (e.g., 1905-06) and sometimes it’s rather broad (e.g., 1896 to 1913) but menswear is neglected by many costume collections, so this is a terrific resource.

Vintage vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help to date them from reference materials

Vintage evening vests for men. Undated. Details like the lapels, the shape of the waist, the depth of the opening, the buttons, etc., will help the collector to date them from reference materials.

In addition to full outfits, like these evening clothes …

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

Evening dress for men, 1909-1910. Met Museum Costume Plate.

… individual items like vests can also be found:

Men's vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category "1900-1919 men"

Men’s vests; fashion plate from the Met Museum fashion plate collection category “1900-1919 men.” The vests on the left have five buttons.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons instead of six.

Undated vintage vests. Both have high necklines, but one has seven buttons and one has six. You could probably date them from the Met’s Fashion Plate Collection.

Men's vests 1896 to 1899. The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves.

From “Men 1896 to 1899.” The red one reminds us that vests (aka weskits) sometimes had sleeves. The red one with vertical stripes may be a footman’s or other servant’s vest. This plate is dated February 1898.

Of course, fashion plates that have been separated from their descriptions in text are less useful than a complete magazine or catalog. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the chance to see these rare collections, especially because the men are not forgotten.

This delightful plate reminds me of an Edward Gorey vamp — like the ones dancing through the credits on Mystery on Public Television.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Collection Fashion Plate.

A long evening gown from the House of Worth, 1921. Met Museum Costume Institute Fashion Plate.

I’ll add a link to the collection to my “Sites with Great Information” sidebar. (There are other treasures to explore there….)

 

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More Costume Research Online Resources

You can either read, preview, buy or download over 1500 publications, including museum catalogs, from the Metropolitan Museum! Many can be read for free.

Metropolitan Museum Publication: Haute Couture

Metropolitan Museum Publication: Haute Couture. Read it online.

Seriously! Click here for a preview. (Thank you, Eva at Dressful.com.)

Click here to go to the Met’s Publications website. (1556 results from all departments.) And “Thank You!” to the Met and all the other museums which are generously photographing and digitizing their collections.

American Ingenuity Sportswear online from Metropolitan Publications

American Ingenuity: Sportswear can be read online from Metropolitan Publications.

You can narrow your search at the Met Publications site; for instance, I got 55 results when I limited my search to The Costume Institute (click here), and 47 when I asked for Exhibition Catalogs and The Costume Institute. (Click here.) 25 of those catalogs can be read online.

Christian Dior exhibition catalog, available from MetPublications.

Christian Dior exhibition catalog, can be read online at MetPublications.

You may also want to limit your search by Format:  books that can be read online, or those that can be downloaded, or those that can be printed in pdf format. Some have to be purchased, but often you can read a generous preview.

Chanel, from Metropolitan Museum Publications, is still for sale.

Chanel, from Metropolitan Museum Publications. The Met will give you a link to libraries that have a copy.

When I hear about a great resource, I usually add it to the sidebar on the right under Sites With Great Information. (Scroll down till you see it.) If you hover over the name of a site, you’ll get a description of what you’ll find there. Then, click and go.

Thanks also to Cass from the Costumers’ Alliance for passing on this information. (Check out their links!) You can also find the Costumers’ Alliance on Facebook. That site led me to . . .

Plains Cree shirt, 1876, at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Plains Cree shirt, 1876, at the Royal Ontario Museum.

. . . An extensive listing of museum costume collections that have been digitized, from all over the world! The site is Demode: [with an accent aigu on each ‘e’] Historical Costume Projects and Research Resources, Specializing in the 18th Century. Thank you, Demode, for sharing all this work!

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