Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Mystery Corset: 1820’s ?

NOTE: I thought this post was published on Sept. 16, 2017; I even received helpful  comments and updated it — but it’s not listed as published on my dashboard — so, forgive  if you received two notifications on it. Mysterious, indeed.

This corset is stiffened by many rows of parallel channels. A busk can be inserted in the center. Parallel rows of diagonal cording flatten the midriff, which, to me,  suggests a date after the 1810s.

When I first saw this corset in a collection that was being readied for sale, I was fascinated by its beauty and its fine state of preservation. At first, I couldn’t believe it was not a reproduction.

Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fit a child, but no child would have a bust like this.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I took a few quick photos and sought advice, but the collection was sold before I realized that I needed more pictures. I can’t even find detailed notes — just the letter I wrote asking for advice — so apparently I never had a chance to return to this garment, or to photograph several other intriguing corsets.

Back detail of the corset near shoulder.

I believe it was completely hand stitched with shiny brown thread. The stitching is so regular that it looks, at first, like it was done by a machine; however, I believe it is perfectly spaced back-stitching, with visible starts, stops, and knots on the inside of the corset. [Update: it is not back-stitched; Cynthia Baxter suggested that is was stitched with a running stitch, and then stitched on the opposite side with running stitches using the same holes. I have seen this technique used by shoemakers and leather workers, so it makes sense for a corset.]

Inside of the corset. An occasional thread knot implies hand stitching.

The state of the fabric, except for a few spots, was remarkable — if it is as old as I think it is (before 1840.)  It could have been collected anywhere.

Channel stitching, detail of right midriff front. The busk channel is at right of photo.

Detail of front of corset.  The midriff area is stitched from below the bust to just below the natural waist. I think the channels hold cording.  I do wish I’d had time  to photograph the inside!

The corset has a dropped shoulder in the back, tiny close-fitting bound armholes, and an extended shoulder line.

In general, the collection did not include many items of this rarity and quality. However, the collection did include a fine 18th century man’s vest, as well as this dress, from early in the 1800’s.

An early 19th century dress from the same collection as the mystery corset. The chemise under it is unrelated.

Empire dress, early 1800’s, with wool embroidery at hem in three shades of brown.

The corset worn under a dress like this created a very high bust, but a woman’s waist and hips didn’t need to be re-shaped.

Back to the mystery corset: I only took one photo of the back, with a gigantic, modern black lace obscuring the eyelets.

Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed.

Were the holes hand worked or were they metal grommets?  In my ignorance, grommets would have been a red flag to me; if there were metal grommets, I would have assumed that the corset was a reproduction or had been altered to be worn in modern times. But — I would have been mistaken. This English corset from the Museum at FIT is dated 1815. It has metal grommets down the back.

I looked online for Regency Era reproduction patterns; I didn’t find any pattern for this corset. A yahoo search turns up several images of Regency Era corsets. Click here.

There’s a nice overview of early 19th century corsets at Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion. Click here.

A Regency style corset made by has similarities to our mystery corset.

A corset (1830 to 1840) in the Los Angeles County Museum has a similar high waisted (but not Empire) silhouette.

This corded corset, with a channel for a front busk, is at the Metropolitan Museum: it is described as 1820’s. The waist is i little above the wearer’s natural waist. The front straps are spaced as far apart as possible.

Corset from the 1820’s in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

corset met 1815 to 1825

I was going to leave it at that, but couldn’t resist trying to relate the shape of the corset to the clothing that would have been worn over it.

All the following fashion plates are from the online Casey Collection of Fashion Plates at the Los Angeles County Museum.

1800 fashion plate from Ladies’ Museum, in the Casey Collection. The early 1800’s corset pushes the breasts up to a rather unnatural position, high on the chest.

The neckline of our corset is too high for these fashions — and it does not push the breasts up this high.

Detail of front of corset. It was so small it looked like it would fot a child, but no child would have a bust like this.

Early in the 1800’s, the Empire waist was very high and the dress was often gathered in the front. The fullness moved to the back a few years later, which would call for a smoother midriff area. By 1811, the waist was moving lower:

April 1811, fashion plate from La Belle Assemblee, Casey Collection. A ball dress.

However, not every woman immediately adopted the lower waist, as this mourning evening dress from 1818 shows:

Evening dress for a woman in mourning, 1818. From British Ladies’ Magazine, December 1818. in Casey Collection.

The mourning dress and the Parisian evening dress below might have been seen at the same ball, although one has a much lower waist.

A high bust and a descending waist line, from La Belle Assemblee, January 1820.

These dresses from 1822 show a high bust with a lower, fitted waist, which is still above the natural waistline.

1822: a plate from the Ladies’ Monthly Museum, October 1822. Casey Collection. The shape of the midriff is becoming important, no longer concealed by fullness in the dress.

Bodices from La Belle Assemblee, December 1822. Casey Collection. The trend for wider shoulders and a narrow below-the-bust area is beginning. Belts accent the waist, which is still higher than nature designed.

Fashion plates from 1825 show higher necklines and lower waists, with a widening (and highly decorated) hem.

January 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames. Casey Collection.

February 1825, Petit Courrier des Dames, Casey Collection. The silhouette is wider at top and hem, emphasizing a tiny waist.

November 1825, Ladies’ Magazine. Casey Collection.

By 1829, a tiny waist, rather than a high, full bust, is the focus of fashion:

September 1829, La Belle Assemblee. Casey Collection.

April 1830, La Mode. Sleeves are enormous, the shoulder is widened and extended over the upper arm; a woman is wider everywhere — except her waist. Casey Collection.

So:  where does our mystery corset belong?

High neckline, relatively natural bust, flat midriff, slightly dropped shoulders.

Back of corset, with a modern black shoelace holding it closed. Notice the line of the shoulders.

I can imagine it being worn under this dress — but that’s only my guess.

Dress from the late 1820’s; Metropolitan Museum.






Regency Era?

high qual repro pattern;_ylt=AwrSbDs78rZZzHAAarpXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyM3ZwYmZuBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ0NjBfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=corset+1820s&fr=mcafee



Filed under Uncategorized

Formal Styles for October, 1926

Afternoon dresses for formal day-time occasions; Butterick 1016 (for “the social butterfly”) came in very large sizes;  7079 is for formal afternoon events, dinners, theater, etc. From Delineator, October 1926.

“1016 — Paris meets the formal demands of Autumn and Winter with frocks suitable for weddings and receptions, for luncheons, tea and bridge. The cut rather than the fabric makes the difference in this mode, for satin crepe, crepe de Chine and crepe meteor are used for simple dresses as well as for the social butterfly shown at the left.  Satin crepe is used for the body and straight skirt and its reverse side for the collar and one-piece slip. The other materials area smart in two shades of the same color or in two harmonizing colors. Georgette and silk voile make charming frocks over matching slips of taffeta or satin…. The collar makes it becoming for women from 36 to 52 bust.” — Delineator, Oct. 1926,  p. 43.

The matte side of the double-sided crepe satin is shown as a lighter color; the shiny side on the lapel, slip and sleeves is shown as a darker color.

Butterick 1016, on the left, was available for women in sizes up to 52 inch bust measure. Pattern no. 7079 came in the standard range of sizes:  32 to 44 inch bust measure. Hems — even for older women — are at the bottom of the knee.

“7079 — One for every wardrobe should be the ruling for the type of one-piece frock illustrated at the right. Its circular frills and smart sleeve make it what the French dressmaker calls a dinner frock. It leads a double life of great usefulness, for it takes care of all afternoon engagements and answers for small, informal dinners, the theater, and nightlife on an ocean  liner. Chanel red — a dark peony color — in Georgette with the flower of ribbon in the same color, silk voile in string beige with the flowers of lemon and silver ribbon, fern-green moire, black Georgette with jade, with almond, with royal blue or flesh are excellent day and night colors. The lower edge measures about 44 inches…. The style is extremely becoming to women from 32 to 44 bust.” — Delineator, Oct. 1926,  p. 43.

This dress is for “informal dinners” or afternoon wear because it has sleeves. Evening gowns had deeper necklines, no sleeves, and deeper-cut armholes than formal day dresses. The ribbon pom-pom at the shoulder is apparently an important part of the dress. A very long necklace creates a flattering vertical line, although this dress does not have a hip band.

Beaded evening gowns were appropriate for very formal wear, and a truly determined woman could make her own:

Butterick frock pattern 1048 could be made to resemble this illustration if you also used Butterick embroidery and beading transfer 10481. Delineator, Oct. 1926. An alternate view shows it with sleeves and a higher neckline.

There is a copy of this pattern in the Commercial Pattern Archive, which shows the neck and sleeve differences. Some readers have commented that Butterick patterns from the 1920’s and 1930’s often seem much too difficult for a woman to make herself. In fact, since they were aimed at upper-middle-class women, many Butterick patterns must have been made by a professional seamstress, “the little dressmaker” who existed in almost every town. In the case of Butterick 1048, with all that hand beading, the customer was asking a lot!

This lace frock, Butterick 1043, is less formal than a beaded frock, but still very elegant, and more versatile. Delineator, Oct. 1926. It has a trailing “wing cascade” and is ornamented with a fake-flower pom-pom, probably of feathers, velvet, or silk chenille. Notice the bangle worn on her upper arm.

Butterick’s dolman evening coat 7084, in metallic brocade, is shown with Butterick evening dress 1041. Delineator, October 1926. In the twenties, bits of dress were often seen peeking out from the coat’s hem.

Right,Butterick evening frock 1041, October 1926, Delineator. The dress seems to be made of metallic moire, with sheer chiffon panels which have picot edges.

Alternate views of coat 7084 and frocks 1041, 1048, and 1043. Butterick patterns from October 1926. Here, 1041 is shown in an afternoon version, with sleeves and higher neckline.

A picot hem can be faked with a ziz-zag stitch. Sew Historically wrote about how picot hems were done in the 1920’s and also provides a tutorial on faking them with a modern sewing machine. [Note: Always allow your reproduction chiffon dress to hang for several days before finalizing its hem. Chiffon on the bias will stretch … a lot! Gee, I wonder if all those irregular, drooping-hem fashions of the twenties were making a virtue out of necessity….]

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Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, evening and afternoon clothes, Uncategorized, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

Companion-Butterick Pattern for Short Misses, May 1937

Three very different dresses “for Short Misses” from one “Triad” pattern, Companion-Butterick 7361. Woman’s Home Companion, May 1937. [These women do not look short….]

The Woman’s Home Companion often featured “Triad” patterns, which promised three styles from one Butterick pattern. This one, Companion-Butterick 7361, is unusual in that the styles are so very different from each other. The flattering center-pleat skirt is shown with and without top stitching, in crisp or soft fabric, but it’s recognizably the same pattern piece. The bodices, however, have very little in common.

Left, Companion-Butterick 7361 in a sleeveless version with tied shoulders and a sharply angled front.

The armhole seems to echo the pointed front. Bows at the shoulders are repeated in the belt. There is a small, angled bust dart at the side, but most of the bust fullness is supplied by fabric gathered at the shoulders. The “sunback” opening is square.

Back and alternate views of Butterick 7361, a “Triad dress for Misses 5 feet 4 inches or under.” WHC, May 1937. Sizes 12 to 20; 30 to 40 inch bust measure.”

A zip-front version of Butterick 7361 has top stitched pleats and a crisp white collar to match its white zipper and belt buckle. WHC, May 1937. The editors called this a shirtwaist, but suggested “you can twist pearls over the shirt collar of the print.”

In 1937, zippers on relatively dressy dresses were a new idea. (And zippers were not always available in a wide range of colors.) This dress is not active sportswear, nor is it a housedress or work uniform. The small white clutch purse hints that this could be worn shopping, or out to lunch. In this version of Butterick 7361, the bust fullness is controlled by two parallel tucks at each shoulder. Tiny (false?) pockets with tabs have white buttons to match the buttons on the puffy sleeves.

The third version of this dress is definitely the most formal.

A formal afternoon dress version of 7361 is illustrated with a sheer over-layer, which could have long sleeves. WHC, May 1937.

In this version, the bodice has a shaped waist with the fullness softly gathered to it. The shoulder area is shirred. The modestly V-necked collar is trimmed with artificial flowers, and the belt has become a sheer sash tied in a big bow.

Text explaining Companion-Butterick 7361, Womans’ Home Companion, May 1937, p. 83.

Sometimes WHC illustrators drew shoes supplied by their advertisers, but I can’t find an exact match from this issue.

Air Step shoes ad, with prices, WHC, May 1937. The high heeled sandal on the right is very similar to the black shoes shown with the afternoon dress version of 7361.

From an ad for “Cabana” shoes by Walk-Over, WHC, May 1937.

Cabana shoes from Walk-Over, from an ad in WHC, May 1937. Perforated shoes for summer. The “Ardwyn” style was patented.

I tend to think of white, perforated shoes as “old lady” shoes, probably because my grandmother still wore them in the 1950’s. But the two-tone “Caribee,” above right, right does not have wide, low, “old lady” heels.

A store-bought, zip-front, print dress similar to Butterick 7361 is worn with stack-heeled white shoes by the model in this ad for Air Step shoes. WHC, May 1937.

For casual shoes, Keds (United States Rubber Co.) made many attractive cloth shoes in the 1930’s.

Ad for Kedettes cloth shoes for summer; WHC, May 1937. They were available in a wide variety of colors and styles. Prices $1.29 to $2.29.

This similar “Kedettes moccasin,” in white and navy, is from 1938:

Bottom of page, Kedettes shoe ad, McCall's, July 1938.

I love those striped soles!


Filed under 1930s, 1930s-1940s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Shoes, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage patterns, Zippers

Summer Color: July 1926

The top of page 28, Delineator, July 1926. These are Butterick patterns for women.

Bright colors were on view in the July issue of Delineator for 1926. The colors are not necessarily what we think of as summery hues, but they’re a nice reminder that the clothes we usually see in black and white photos were not colorless at all.

The colors of the left, Butterick pattern 6883, seem rather autumnal. The brilliant blue dress on the right, Butterick 6914, has a white smocking, a white collar, and a lively necktie which matches her hat. July, 1926.

Detail of Butterick 6883. The bib effect — like the bib on a man’s formal shirt front — is seen in many 1920’s dresses. The fullness at the front of the skirt is controlled with rows of ruching.

Detail of Butterick 6914. White smocking decorates the bodice and keeps the dress snug over the hips.

The necktie is not shaped like a man’s tie.

Left, Butterick 6914; right, Butterick 6906 in a very lively abstract print fabric. 1926.

The sleeves of Butterick 6906 are wide below the elbow and hang open. The tucks at the top of the skirt panels give a slim fit over the hips but allow the skirt panels to flare out. I don’t think I’ve seen this detail before.

Detail, Butterick dress 6906. The collar is not the dress material, but solid white. The print suggests flowers on a trellis.

These dresses appeared on the bottom of page 28:

Dresses featured on the bottom of page 28. (I moved the one on the left to make the image more compact.)

Butterick 6922 is shown made in lavender-blue striped fabric, cleverly turned to use the stripes horizontally in the center front, on the decorative pockets, and inside the skirt pleats.

Butterick 6916, shown in dark yellow material, is another “bib front” dress. Butterick 6922, in red, is accented with white smocking and worn with a gray and black scarf and matching hat. 1926.

Butterick 6916,  in yellow, has a small pocket above the hip belt.

Butterick 6922, in red, has a gathered front skirt panel (like No. 6883 on page 28) and smocking on the bodice and skirt, like No. 6914.

Left, No. 6922; right, No. 6914. Both dresses have white smocking, but in different smocking patterns. Women who didn’t want to do this hand sewing could always substitute machine ruching, but the liveliness of a contrast color would be lost.

Six more dress patterns, in more formal styles,  were illustrated in color on page 29:

Butterick patterns illustrated in Delineator magazine, July 1926, pg. 29. Illustrations were probably by Marie L. Britton, who also illustrated the May issue of Delineator, and many others.

From left, Butterick 6910, in green; 6899, in blue-gray, and 6893, in gold. Top of page 29, Delineator, July 1926.

In 1926, hemlines are rising toward the knee. It might be helpful to imagine these dresses on real women, rather than the oddly lengthened torsos of fashion illustrations.

Two mature women wearing Bien Jolie corsets; both ads are from 1926. [Younger women were rejecting bust flatteners by the mid-twenties.]

Fashion illustration and photo of model, 1926. The real woman is much less elongated: she’s shorter and wider. On the right, I removed a section from the middle of the fashion illustration, just for fun. It’s not perfect — the hip flounce looks too high now — but it’s more credibly human.

Fullness in the lower sleeve — or a funnel sleeve — is a common feature on these afternoon outfits.

Butterick 6910, July 1926. Scallops were a feature on many 1920’s dresses, not always on the hem.

Left, Butterick afternoon dress 6899; right, Butterick 6893. The sheer fabric is probably Georgette chiffon.

Bottom of page 29, Delineator, July 1926.

Dress 6912, in greige/tan, has elaborate embroidery on its full, sheer sleeves, which are controlled by parallel rows of gathers (ruching) at the top.

Left, Butterick 6912, with embroidery pattern 10355; right, Butterick 6920 is very formal afternoon wear.

The lower sleeves of No. 6920 seem to be one long strip of lace, open at the sides. Pale peachy-pink or tan was often used with sheer black. Click here for a vintage dress that uses these colors.

Butterick 6952 is an ensemble of a dotted dress and sheer coat, worn open down the front for a slenderizing line.

Redingote dresses like this — open down the front and often made of sheer fabric — were popular in the 1920’s and after. Next: Colorful 1926 clothing for girls and boys.






Filed under 1920s, Corselettes, Corsets, Foundation Garments, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage patterns

Happy Valentine’s Day 2017

I’ve shown this image before, but a great dress is worth repeating.

Cover of the Ladies' Home Journal, February 1936.

Cover of the Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1936.

Have a happy day!

If you long for more low-backed dresses from the 1930’s, here is a post about them.


Filed under Uncategorized

Summer in January, 1928

Title of a page in Butterick's Delineator magazine, January 1928. P. 33.

Title of a page in Butterick’s Delineator magazine, January 1928. Page 33. [From a black and white illustration.]

It was traditional for fashion magazines to show cruise or resort clothes in the dead of winter. Here are all eight “Summer Modes” and their pattern information.

Butterick 1828, from January 1928.

Butterick 1828, from January 1928. “A typical southern frock.” Available up to size 44 bust. Soft fabric petals accent one shoulder.

Then as now, people who could afford a vacation headed south for a little sunshine during winter months.

Butterick 1821 and 1581, January 1928.

Butterick coat 1821 and frock 1581, January 1928. I love the dress fabric, a pattern of umbrellas and rainbows in falling rain. The sheer coat has a decorative fabric flower on the shoulder.

Butterick 1824, a spectator sports outfit from January 1928..

Butterick 1824, a spectator sports outfit from January 1928. This cardigan costume — with velvet sleeveless cardigan — has two color bands at hip and wrist, the lighter band matching the cardigan vest’s color.

Butterick 181 from January 1928.

Butterick 1818 from January 1928. Sheer georgette chiffon in a floral print worn over a light colored slip, probably the same color as the “plain Georgette” which trims the neck and forms a long bow.

Four outfits featured on the bottom of page 33. Delineator, Jan 1928.

Four outfits featured on the bottom of page 33. Delineator, January 1928.

Buterick 1819, a coat illustrated in a bold patterned stripe.

Butterick 1819, a coat illustrated in a boldly patterned striped shantung silk. It is also shown sleeveless. The dress barely covers the kneecap, and the 7/8 length coat suits it perfectly.

I love this silk coat. I think it is meant to be worn open, and is not for warmth, but I like the deep triangular pockets and that fabric! I hope it really existed and was not the illustrator’s invention.

Jean Patou had popularized monogrammed sports wear (his own monogram on couture) in the early twenties, and many stylized alphabets were available as embroidery patterns.

Butterick 1816, a sports frock from January 1928.

Butterick 1816, a sports frock from January 1928. Stylized monograms were quite popular, so that may be an “M” embroidered in thread to match the striped neckline and belt. The box pleats are applied on top of the belt.

By a happy coincidence, The Midvale Cottage blog just shared illustrated sewing instructions by Ruth Wyeth Spears for sewing exactly this type of pointed 1920’s pleat. Click here.

Butterick 1822, a three piece sport ensemble from January 1928.

Butterick 1822, a three piece sport ensemble from January 1928. It is not a knit fabric, but Shantung. The blouse has a bold sun ray applique.

So, that’s one cardigan made of velveteen and one made from silk Shantung. Without the pattern descriptions, I would have assumed they were jersey knits.

Butterick party frock 1826, from January 1928.

Butterick party frock 1826, from January 1928. It could also be made with long sleeves, and the pattern was available for teens or small women, and for women up to size 44 bust.  Notice the ruching at the shoulder, which creates a little fullness for the bust. The pattern for the slip that goes under the sheer chiffon Georgette was not mentioned.

We think of the twenties as the era of the slim, boyish figure, but all eight of these Butterick patterns were available in sizes up to 44 inches bust measurement, hip 47 inches.


Filed under 1920s, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

How to Do Laundry, 1920’s and Later (Part 1)

"Things to Be Thankful For" in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p 29.

“Things to Be Thankful For” in November of 1933: Washing machines. Delineator magazine, p. 29.

“Things to be thankful for.” That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read this article from July 1927:

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator, JUly 1927, p. 40 (detail)

The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering, Delineator magazine, July 1927, p. 40 (detail)

I will go through that article, step by step, in the next post (Part 2). First, for those too young to remember why women had “Wash Day Blues,” a little background.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950.

Little Lulu day-of-the-week embroidered dish towels. McCall Needlework catalog, May 1950. Little Lulu was a newspaper cartoon character.

Monday was Wash Day — even if you were a doll or a cartoon character. Tuesday was ironing day. On Wednesday, you mended clothes and replaced any buttons broken in the wash.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

Raggedy Ann day-of-the-week dishtowels; McCall embroidery pattern, May 1950 catalog.

As a child in the 1950’s, I saw my mother and my grandmother doing the laundry with washing machines very much like this one:

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

Ad for a Thor washing machine, Delineator, November 1928, p. 78.

That means I recognize many of the steps in “Modern Methods of Laundering” (1927) and may be able to explain a bit. I was a working class kid; my parents married in 1933 — and, as a child in 1950, I didn’t realize that my parents and their friends were still using appliances that were twenty years out of date. That roller thing on top of the machine was the “wringer,” two rolls of wood or hard rubber that squeezed excess water out of your clothes — and squeezed random creases into them.

The wringer was also called “the mangle.” See the pressure adjusting lever/screw handle at the top? If you’ve handled vintage clothing that was washable, you have probably noticed a lot of broken buttons on shirts and blouses. Blame the mangle. The mangle was no friend to glass or mother-of-pearl (shell) buttons. It was also a real danger to fingers, hair, and housewives wearing dresses with long ties, scarves, or ribbons at the neck. This picture explains the origin of the expression “to be put through the wringer.”

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer, June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again.

Woman putting wet clothes into the wringer (which has an electric motor,) June, 1927. Once the soapy water was squeezed out, the clothes were rinsed and put through the wringer again. Standing in a puddle of water on the floor while operating an electric washer? Not recommended.

My father was very careful never to use naughty language around me, which is probably why this moment made such an impression:  One day when he came home from work, my mother told him that a customer had phoned several times, and that she sounded angry.  My father sighed and said, “She’s got her tit in a wringer about something.” Now, every time I get a mammogram, I remember our old washing machine and think, “tit in a wringer….” It always makes me smile. (Thanks, Dad!)

Woman using a clean pine dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Woman using a smooth [pine?] dowel rod or broom handle to pull clothes out of the hot water before inserting them in the mangle. Fels Naptha Soap ad, Delineator, March 1927.

Another digression: Before I could read, I thought that naptha soap was “Nap, the Soap”  — like “Smokey, the Bear.”

So that we can understand the writers’ enthusiasm for “Modern Methods of Laundering” in 1927, let’s take a look at previous washing machine advice:

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

From an article on choosing a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21. Heat the water on the stove, pour it into the washer.

This old-fashioned machine is not electric — to agitate the clothes, I think you rock the tub with that big lever on the side. You heat water on (or in) your stove, carry it to the machine one bucket at a time until the tub is full, rub clothes on the washboard inside the tub to remove stubborn dirt, and drain the dirty water out of the faucet near the bottom into a bucket. Carry bucket to sink or back porch. Dump water. To rinse clothes, repeat the process. Two rinses recommended. (My mother sometimes rinsed the first load, ran it through the wringer, then added soap and my father’s overalls to the still warm rinse water to wash the next load. When you had to fill and drain the tub by hand, this was a time saver.)

Carrying buckets of water and big, heavy baskets full of wet clothing (you took it outside and hung it on a line to dry) was hard work. Notice how muscular this washerwoman looks. (“Laundress” was a more polite job description.)

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

Washerwoman and housewife, ad for Pepperell sheets, Delineator, Feb. 1925.

In fact, this household budget for 1924 assumes that no woman who can afford a laundress will wash anything heavier than lingerie and stockings with her own hands. And doing the laundry took the laundress two days.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924.

Suggested budget, Delineator magazine, July 1924. Right after housing and heating costs is the cost of laundry (almost half the rent!) “Flat work” would be large items, heavy when wet, like blankets, sheets and tablecloths, which took time to iron, too.

A more convenient electric washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

A more convenient washing machine, which you fill with a hose, and which empties into a dedicated drain in the floor of your house. August, 1926.

By 1933, the better quality washers had a water pump, which allowed the dirty water to be expelled through a hose into a sink or drain — as washers do today.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29.

Washing machines add a water pump for emptying the machine. Delineator, Nov. 1933, p. 29. “Half the hard work of washing is in handling the water…. The worker should not have to lift it.”

“The services of the washing-machine have replaced the washerwoman, and electric power is replacing woman power for the washing of clothes.” — Delineator, August 1926. That is not to say you could put a load in the washer, walk away,  and get on with other housework.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

Selecting a washing machine, Delineator, Aug. 1926, p. 21.

There was quite a variety of machine styles. Some of these seem to have wringers that can be cranked by hand, although the article mentioned the importance of a wringer that can be locked in several positions and which has a “safety release that can be quickly and easily operated” — in case your hair or fingers got caught in the mangle. Also, the electric washing machine motor — usually visible under the machine — “must be protected from water.”

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

Maytag washing machine ad, Better Homes and Gardens, April 1930.

The idea of building a box around the machine to conceal the motor was still a new one. I was surprised to see this 1929 ad for a Savage washing machine, which didn’t need a mangle wringer; it had a spin cycle.

The Savage spin washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929.

The Savage Wringerless washer did not use a mangle to extract water from clothes. Ad, Delineator, Feb. 1929. Ten pounds of clothes “from hamper to line in an hour.”

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine.

Detail of ad for Savage spin washer, Feb. 1929. Delineator magazine. “Empties itself” automatically!

Nevertheless, mangle washing machines continued to be sold. This Thor machine used the motor that ran the wringer to also run a mangle iron — the parts were interchangeable.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

Ad for Thor washer with wringer and interchangeable mangle iron. Better Homes and Gardens, Feb. 1930, p. 53.

"From washer to ironer in 10 seconds." Thor washing machine ad, 1930.

“From washer to ironer in 10 seconds.” Thor mangle washing machine ad, 1930. Doesn’t that look easy?

When there were no “permanent press” fabrics, ironing large, flat items like tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases, and dish towels took a long time. In the fifties, my father bought a rotary iron — second hand — and made a point of using it, although we quickly discovered that ironing shirts, dresses, and other clothing on it took more skill than we had time to master.

Using a mangle iron, Delineator, June 1929. 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Using a “mangle” or rotary iron, Delineator, June 1929. Getting a large sheet through it was not this easy.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the mangle iron. Thor ad, 1929.

Sitting beside the washing machine to use the rotary iron, which, like the wringer, pivoted. Thor ad, 1929.

You would certainly have needed to make sure your floor was mopped and dry before putting a sheet through this machine  attached to the washer. At $149.25, the Thor combination would be a sizable investment (some families lived on about $35 per week in 1925). [To read one magazine’s article about the cost of living in 1925, click here.]

On the other hand, a woman (like my mother-in-law) who was willing to take in washing and ironing could supplement the family income.

"Iron on Tuesday" embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

“Iron on Tuesday” embroidery pattern, McCall Needlecraft catalog, Nov. 1950.

If you hired a laundress for two days a week, as recommended, the second day would be devoted to ironing.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The "set" included the iron and a box to store it in.

Sunbeam electric iron, 1924 ad. The “set” included the iron and a box to store it in.

The electric iron was certainly an improvement over the irons my grandmother heated on the stove (she had two or three — one getting warm while another was in use) but you needed to “sprinkle” your clothes to dampen them before ironing — until the steam iron arrived.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman's Home Companion, Sept. 1936.

A sprayer for dampening ironing. Woman’s Home Companion, Sept. 1936. In 1950, my grandmother used a beverage bottle with a purchased cork-and-perforated-metal top — like a big salt shaker, but containing water.

However, by the time this sprayer was featured, a steam iron could also be purchased.

A steam iron, Woman's Home Companion, September 1937.

A “steaming  iron,” as explained by Woman’s Home Companion, September 1937. “You need no wet cloth for pressing woolens and no sprinkling for dry fabrics.”

I will show the entire, step-by-step, illustrated article “The Delineator Institute Presents Modern Methods of Laundering,” from 1927, in the next post.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. She was once part of a set of seven day of the week towels.

I inherited this Sunbonnet Sue dish towel. It was once part of a set of seven day-of-the-week towels. Sue, bent over her wash tub, was appliqued to a bleached flour sack.  I wish I had two dozen!

You can read more about Day of the Week towels and laundry customs at RememberedSummers.



Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, 1930s-1940s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized