Tag Archives: linen

Dinner Suit for Summer or Cruise, late 1930s

A dinner suit, linen or rayon, late 1930s. From a private collection.

A dinner suit, linen or rayon, late 1930s. From a private collection.

After writing about 1936 swimsuits and dresses for a cruise to Cuba or Bermuda, I remembered this vintage suit which was collected by a friend. It was white linen (or linen-look rayon) with a medium-large navy floral print. It has a low, square-cut back, like the evening dresses for a 1936 cruise. It’s fresh and young-looking, but the cut is quite conservative (you could easily wear a low-backed corset under it, whereas more dramatic 30s evening gowns require the wearer to go bra-less.)

A dinner suit and evening dress to wear on a tropic cruise. Ladies' Home Journal, Feb. 1936.

A dinner suit and evening dress to wear on a tropic cruise. Ladies’ Home Journal, Feb. 1936.

Here are front and back views of the linen-look dinner dress:dress front and backThe bodice has a triangular insert that creates a squarish neckline. There is fullness in the front rather than darts, so it may have had a slight blouson when worn. Like this black and white gown from the cruise article, there is more fullness in the skirt back than in the front:

Ladies' Home Journal, Feb. 1936.

Ladies’ Home Journal, Feb. 1936.

The jacket is longer in the back than in the front, which looks graceful in profile, and its short, loose sleeves are very comfortable for an evening in a warm climate.suit jacket front side backThe puffy sleeves probably date this to the late thirties; here are some sleeves (1937) with a similar silhouette, but different construction:

Butterick-Companion patterns from Woman's Home Companion, January 1937.

Butterick-Companion patterns from Woman’s Home Companion, January 1937.

This suit did not have a manufacturer’s label; the jacket and bodice were lined, but the skirt was not. The dress closed with snaps at the side, plus a hook at the waist — always a good idea!

Side underarm bodice closing. Some female snaps are missing. The skirt (right) is unlined.

Side underarm bodice closing. The female snaps are not visible. The skirt (right) is unlined.

Here’s a closer look at the princess-line jacket:lg V173 jacket frontThe buttons are self-covered and the buttonholes were hand-bound: lg V173 jacket buttons

Karen at Fifty Dresses has been writing marvelous posts about Moygashel linen (she even found a 1955 advertisement picturing one of her vintage fabric purchases!) Click here to read her post and see the clever dress she made from a very small remnant.)

I think this dinner suit was made by the wearer — or her dressmaker — and I wouldn’t be surprised to come across the pattern someday!

 

6 Comments

Filed under 1930s, Companion-Butterick Patterns, Dresses, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

World War I Creates Fabric Shortages, Remade Dresses; 1918

“It is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of cotton.”

The Green Peace of Summer:  “It is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of cotton.” Garden Smock, 1918

Many people are aware that, during World War II, such products as silk, leather, rubber, and nylon were needed for the war effort. In the 1940s, the silk was needed for parachutes. 1943 wartime ad for synthetic fabrics

Wool and Linen Needed for the War Effort, 1918

World War I apparently caused different shortages – of linen and wool. Vast numbers of silk parachutes were not yet needed; war planes were still a new idea. During the First World War, the wool was needed for uniforms, and the linen was needed for airplanes.

Two Soldiers, World War I. Wool was needed for their uniforms.

Two American Soldiers, World War I. Wool was needed for millions of uniforms.

An editorial article, “The Green Peace of Summer,” which appeared in Delineator magazine in July of 1918, contrasted the way the war was experienced in the United States with its much greater impact in Europe. It also refers to the substitution of silk dresses for wool and linen, which may explain why silk dresses for daytime were so popular in the late teens and early twenties.

M. La Rue in a beaded satin day dress, circa 1921.

M. La Rue in a beaded satin day dress, circa 1921.

Young Woman, circa 1918

Young Woman, in silk taffeta (?) dress circa 1917

The War in Europe, Seen from America

“To-day [July, 1918] the green peace of our summer… fills us with… amazement, viewing it, as we all must do, against the somber background of the war. Over there gardens and fields and meadows are torn and gutted by giant shells…. Our world still goes about its business little changed outwardly for all the tragedy of the battle-fields abroad.

“There are many reasons why the war has not made as great and immediate a change in our lives as it has done abroad. So many of our men are left, so many even of draft age have been excused because of dependents and because of war industries, that no revolution of work and life has taken place here comparable to what has happened in England and France. Of course, we have our women street-car conductors. In every country this has been the profession that women have turned to first.

Women Tram Conductors in Scotland, 1915, from E. Ewing’s History of Twentieth Century Fashion

Women Tram Conductors in Scotland, 1915, from E. Ewing’s History of Twentieth Century Fashion

“… In these serious times, clothes have become a serious subject…. We study clothes as we have never studied them before…. We jump at the chance to save a bit of material by following the vogue of the sleeveless blouse and the sleeveless coat…. We [gladly] wear gingham and calico. We wear them in place of linen, knowing that there is little linen left in the world and that it is being used for new wings for our avions.” — Delineator editorial, July 1918

Biplanes at Varney Field, California, about 1919

Biplanes at Varney Field, California, about 1919

Before aluminum was widely used, airplane wings were a framework covered with stiffened cloth canvas. You can see a bit of cloth-covered wing in the upper right of this photograph, taken in the early 1920s:

Young Woman at Flying School, about 1921

Young Woman at Flying School, about 1921. Used with permission of RememberedSummers.

“But it is part of the spirit of the times that we see, not that we are deprived of linen, but that we have gained something gay and charming in the revival of gingham, that the difference in price between cotton and linen means many thrift stamps and comforts for the Red Cross.

“Salvation Army Lassies Start to Carry Doughnuts and Coffee to Soldiers at the Front,” Delineator, 1918

Dresses Made of Silk Instead of Wool Serge

Silk Dresses from an Article About Remaking Clothes, Nov. 1918.

Silk Dresses from an Article About Remaking Clothes, Nov. 1918.

“We are enchanted with the substitution of silk and satin for our old friend serge, and the disappearance of fine woolens from the shops becomes not a hardship but an endowment policy, for whereas old clothes used to give us rather an abused feeling, we now find ourselves quite rich with an out-of-date French serge or fine gabardine that can be remodeled.”

Silk Soutache Braid and Glass Beading on a Brown Wool Dress, 1910s to early 1920s

Silk Soutache Braid and Glass Beading on a Brown Wool Dress, 1910s to early 1920s

A Remade Dress, First World War Era

Three views of a brown wool dress, remade. 1910s to 1920s

Three views of a brown wool dress, remade. Note the depth of the hem, which showed signs of soil at a previous hemline.  1910s to 1920s

This beaded dress in cinnamon brown wool is hard to date precisely, because it shows signs of having been remodeled as well as shortened. The hem was turned up several inches, which suggests that it was originally from the early 1910s.

Front Detail. One tassel is missing.

Front Detail. One tassel is missing. Note the way the extended lapels are looped under, and the odd, wrinkled strip that fills in the top of the neckline. Of course, this mannequin does not have a period bustline to fill it out.

Some of the fabric (perhaps formerly a belt?) was used — rather crudely — to fill in the neckline, but it was hand-stitched in place with rotting thread and had to be removed.

A bulky piece of wool, folded to fit in the neckline, and closed with snaps, was hand-stitched to the top of the neckline.

A bulky piece of wool, folded to fit in the neckline, and closed with snaps, was hand-stitched to the top of the neckline. Here it is partly removed.

The quality of the wool, the overall condition, and the lovely soutache and beading trim made it a prime candidate for remaking during the war years. If anyone can supply more detective work, please share! [I no longer know the whereabouts of the dress.]

Fringe at the bottom of the long panel which ends the peplum.

Fringe at the bottom of the long panel which ends the peplum. See side view.

6 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Dresses, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing, vintage photographs, World War I

A Costumer’s Bookshelf: Woman’s Work: the First 20,000 Years

Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, 1994. ISBN 0-393-03506-0

My definition of a classic book is that the book seems to grow with you. Every time you read it, you notice things that seemed unimportant on your previous readings. Of course, the book doesn’t change; a classic is just so rich in ideas that, as you, the reader, learn and grow, more of what’s there becomes relevant to your new experiences.

I’ve just read Women’s Work for the fourth time. I had to use a library copy, because, although I’ve bought the paperback several times, I always end up giving it to another costumer, or a textile artist, or someone who’s interested in women’s studies or archeology or mythology or ethnic embroidery or…. This book covers a lot of ground.

Elizabeth Wayland Barber is a woman archeologist. She realized that the work women have done since pre-historic times usually involves textiles, but, because cloth is perishable, and looms made of wood are perishable, as are wooden distaffs and spindles, the huge contribution that textiles made to ancient economies has been overlooked by [mostly male] archeologists.

Vase, 560 BC, showing vertical loom & loom weights in use. Illustration from Women's Work of a vase in the Metropolitan Museum.

Vase, 560 BC, showing vertical loom & loom weights in use. Illustration from Women’s Work of a vase in the Metropolitan Museum.

Thousands and thousands of loom weights have been found at Troy and other ancient sites where vertical looms were used. (Loom weights are made of non-perishable clay or stone.) But when Troy  or Knossos or Kültepe burned, so did the looms and the textiles that were part of their treasures.

I am simplifying here, but Barber’s point is that half of the products, and at least half of the objects that determined the ancient world’s trade and economy, have disappeared from the historical record – the half that was women’s work.

Textiles: Traditionally Women’s Work

Barber explains that spinning and weaving were tasks compatible with child-minding, while hunting and herding large animals were not.

“Among the thousands of archeologists who have written about pottery or architecture, how many have actually tried to make a pot or build a building? Precious few….” she writes on page 24.

But Barber taught herself to spin and weave so that she could analyze ancient textiles – even reproducing some – to get insight into the differences in societies that lead to different kinds of looms and spindles, etc. A nomadic society, for instance, can’t use a loom that hangs on the wall and uses loom weights for tension on the warp, so archeological evidence of their textile work rarely survives. We know about horizontal Egyptian looms primarily because of wall paintings and models left in tombs; archeologists didn’t need to find piles of loom weights to know that the Egyptians produced vast amounts of cloth.

Things I never really thought about until I read this book:

1. Thread. Fiber. String.

"Needle netted linen bag with stone button. thought to be a ceremonial hat and thus the oldest preserved clothing." From Israel, 6500 BC. (drawing from Women's Work by Tamar Schick.)

“Needle netted linen bag with stone button. thought to be a ceremonial hat and thus the oldest preserved clothing.” From Israel, 6500 BC. (drawing from Women’s Work by Tamar Schick.) Click to enlarge.

On vacation years ago, I was hiking along the Welsh border. Small clumps of white stuff drifted across the road and were caught in the hedges. I stopped to read a map, alone – I thought – and a voice on the other side of the tall hedge cried, “Maa!”  There was a flock of sheep on the other side of the hawthorn bushes, and that white stuff caught on the branches was wool. I was in the position of some paleolithic woman or man who, more clever that I am, gathered some of the animal hair or plant fibers she found, twisted them in her fingers, added more, twisted them together, and invented string or thread.

Drawing from Women's Work by Barber, after Glory

Drawing from Women’s Work by Barber, after Glory

2. Textiles were necessary for trade.

Archeologists find non-perishable items like obsidian, pottery, tin, gold, ax-heads and knives, beads, beakers, and statuettes – trade items that show us how far pre-historic people traveled and how wide-spread and interlinked ancient societies were. But a pack animal can carry only so much metal or stone. Textiles are lighter; they can be used to wrap the precious metals and objects and then sold or traded at the end of the journey.  “The records tell us that one particular donkey [that left Assyria] carried twenty-six cloths of two sorts, sixty-five units of sealed tin, and nine units of loose tin [used to pay for expenses on the way.]”  An ancient letter written from a trader to his wife says, “If you don’t manage to make fine textiles [in time for the caravan], … Buy [them] for me and send [them] to me.” (pp. 170 -171)

3. The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the ancient Greek plays confirm the economic importance of women’s textile work.

A Spinster. "Woman spinning with a drop spindle, depicted on a Greek vase of ca. 490 B.C." From Women's Work, by E. W. Barber

A Spinster. From Women’s Work, by E. W. Barber

At the end of a war, the losers were killed or enslaved.  Numerous female slaves were needed because it takes much longer to spin the thread for a garment than it does to weave the cloth – “as much as seven to ten times as long, using a hand spindle.” (P. 87) “Spinsters” were especially valuable prizes of war.

4. Textiles are part of our language and proverbs. “Spinster.” “On the Distaff side.” “Cut your coat to suit your cloth.” “Man must work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.” That was literally true. A woman can spin thread while walking, while ‘resting,’ and even in the near-darkness of a fire-lit hut or cave. A woman would spin day and night for most of the year in order to have enough thread to weave cloth for her family: that was woman’s work.

You don’t have to know anything about textiles or archeology before reading Women’s Work. Barber’s writing is scholarly, but never stuffy or condescending. There are plenty of illustrations from Egyptian, early European, and Middle Eastern cultures, and a wealth of odd facts about everything from Egyptian eye makeup to “dragon’s blood” dye.

Every time I read Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, I enjoy it. I learn from it. It’s a classic.

4 Comments

Filed under A Costumers' Bookshelf