Thursday, 3 December 2015

1952 Time Capsule

I recently had an appointment with a private seller who told me she had some 1950s nightgowns and gloves she wanted to sell. Great!

I turned up to the address I was given which turned out to be an old block of units in inner Melbourne. The outside was not at all interesting.
Inside, I eventually worked out, was the unit belonging to the lady's mother, who had died a couple of months previous to this. The nightgowns as well as gloves, handbags, handkerchiefs and some shoes were laid out on the couch for me to look at, and they were lovely.

Pink nightgown with lace and applique

Ivory nightgown with lace inserts
Peach nightgown with lace inserts

Ivory nightgown with applique and embroidery

The clothing had all belonged to the lady's mother, who had travelled from New York to be married in Melbourne in 1952. There were six of these gorgeous rayon nightgowns, all different colours and with different sleeves and trims, but all bias cut with the same basic style of bodice. These had been custom made for the trousseau in New York and for whatever reason the lady had never worn any of them. (Maybe she didn't like ironing!!).

There was also this beautiful satin bedjacket:

Pink satin bedjacket with coffee lace

And two green glass jars stuffed full of grey seamed nylon stockings. The lady told me that for some reason, on the journey the customs men made her mother take the stockings out of the packets and throw away the boxes. I later thought this must have been because she had so many, they probably thought she was going to sell them without paying import duties or something.

The unit itself did not appear to have been changed since the newlyweds moved in, in 1952.  The lounge suite was fabulous, and cobalt blue! All of the bedroom furniture was original and built in, custom made for the unit. The cupboards and wardrobes were still full and the lady was happy to show me through the contents of the wardrobes.

We found her mother's bras. This lady had all her bras custom made in Melbourne. They are made of beautiful cotton jacquard with padded silk straps. The lady told me there had also been longline bras but that she had cut them up! ):

Custom made bra

And what a collection of fabulous handbags! These two are snakeskin:

And the little evening bag:
And gloves! The lady had a friend in the industry and must have owned at least 40 pairs.

Unfortunately, my pockets were not deep enough to take away all of the treasures, but the lady's daughter has promised to save them for me until the next time I may be passing! One day soon I will go back for the evening gowns, shoes, knitwear, 60s slips and more amazing handbags! I was thrilled that the lady's daughter shared this with me, thank you.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Snapshot - 1935

I was so excited yesterday when a package of vintage knitting books I had ordered from the US arrived in the mail. They were all wonderful and I will share them with you soon. But there was one book that for me just stood out from the rest.

Design by Elsa Schiaparelli

This book was published in 1935. And yes, that is a design by Elsa Schiaparelli on the front. It uses simple stitches, just plain knitting and purl, to make the textured stripes. It's the way the separate panels and pieces are put together that make it striking. And the contrast collar and belt. If you look really closely you may just be able to make out a pair of dress clips at the corners of the neckline,

On page 3 is a design by Chanel, a two piece dress with a blouse featuring her signature stripes, Note the gauntlet gloves.

Design by Chanel - Paris

Schiaparelli and Chanel, fierce rivals who couldn't stand each other, were at the height of their careers in 1935, How wonderful that women could buy a book including their patterns and as the title says "Picture Yourself" in these handknits. Chanel had pioneered the concept of knitwear as a fashion garment back in the post war period. Until then knitwear had been mostly used for practical items such as  underwear, hosiery and baby garments. Chanel's fashion philosophy emancipated woman from the hated corset and freed her for more active pursuits. Chanel was a keen sportswoman and she often wore more comfortable and practical men's clothes. She was the first designer to use stretch knits such as jersey in her designs.

One of the most fabulous things about this book is the Lily Dache hats which feature in all of the photographs. These women just look so willowy and elegant. Like the famous bias cut dresses of the '30s, these knitted dresses didn't hide any sins. I suppose a girdle helped control stray minor bulges.

And speaking of the bias cut dress, on Page 4 is this design by Vionnet, famous for the gloriously figure hugging bias cut dress in the '30s.

Design by Vionnet - Paris

The lapels and collar on this dress are amazing, with the contrast bow illusion underpinning the neck, And I love the button detail on the front and on the sleeves. But most of all, I love the Lily Dache hat!

On page 7 we have the Agnes Drecoll dress with the contrast scarf neckline. The BELT! and the BUTTON! Once again, a fabulous hat and gauntlet gloves.

Design by Agnes Drecoll - Paris
Page 8 features the first of two designs by Edward Molyneux. The highlight of this dress is the crocheted buttons, in main and contrast colours. This dress is a chunkier style of knit.

Design by Molyneux - Paris
Molyneux has a second design;

Design by Molyneux - Paris

A checked skirt suit with a blouse. Note the fluted lampshade behind. Here is the blouse:

Design by Molyneux - Paris
How gorgeous is that? Love the lace up neckline.

Design by Maggy Rouf - Paris
Maggy Rouf is a designer I've heard of but know little about.  Here is her contribution, a chunky two piece in ribbing. At first glance the top appears to be a jacket, but this is an illusion. It's a jumper with a long band stitched on the front to make it look like an elegant jacket. So much of '30s designs seems to be about illusion. The HAT! and the BAG!

The last designer to feature is Dilkusha, of whom I have never heard. I didn't feel so bad about that when a quick Google search brought up no hits at all. I assume she's a woman as the name has a feminine ending. Anyway, she contributed this rather sweet number:

Design by Dilkusha - Paris
The collar extends into a ruffle along the front band.

There are quite a few other designs where the designer does not rate a mention, but they're great, so I'll share them with you.

Note the knitted gloves and the cigarette.

Gorgeous, love the neck drapey bit.

I love this "Two-piece vestee suit", once again an example of 1930s illusion. The vest is a false one, the pieces are sewn onto the jacket front as an extension. No getting hot and taking your jacket off in this outfit.

Tweed coat. Note the carved bakelite buttons. HAT!!

 Jiffy knit dress: Did I say HAT!?

Lacy Dress: Note the pocket book, or pochette. (Shhh...HAT!)

Look at the darling scallop shell pockets, the front band extension that buttons and the tie neck.

Nothing to say, except HAT!

Charming and unusual dress with dolman sleeves and twisted belt. (Not saying the H word, but not because I don't want to).

Swagger coat. Separate optional scarf and fabulous buttons.

Crocheted striped dress with interesting neckline and amazing back:

And lastly, because I can't leave anyone out:

The raglan twin set, with twins. Note the props, because this is what you would wear on the golf course. This time the H word is HAIR.

I really don't mind that the cover is loose and in two pieces, and also a tad crumpled. Because I can make any of these designs if I want to. I'm not really likely to want to, but I love knowing that I could.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

1960s Bridal Beauty

Last year I bought this wedding gown from the late 1960s. Judging by the sleeves, I have dated it to 1968-1970. It was really beautiful but oh so badly stained, but I thought it was worth the gamble of being able to restore it.

The marks were a lot worse than have shown in the photo, with dark stains across the base of the bodice as well. But around the hem and train were the worst affected areas.

I would like to know what these mysterious marks are that appear on old clothing. Rust coloured, but not rust. Garments frequently look as though they have been used to wipe down a rusty fence. I can find a lot of information on the internet on how to remove these stains, but no explanation of how they get there in the first place. I guess it must be a chemical reaction between something in the garment and something in the air or environment over time.

Solution no.1 - Laundry soaker. I use Napi-San Oxy Action for whites. There is another formula for coloureds. And while I can hear vintage clothing sellers out there going "tut, tut", about treating old garments this way, what have I got to lose? Nobody would want to wear it in this state. You'll be glad to know that if I'm ever lucky enough to find a 1920s silk sequined dress I won't be soaking it. Many hard core vintage sellers say you mustn't wash vintage garments at all, and while I agree that's true for the flapper dress, lots of other garments are worth the risk of a soak and wash to make them more wearable. I don't like that musty old smell either. Most things are better for a freshening up. I have only had one or two minor tragedies so far.

So, into the bath she went.

Some of you may have read an earlier post where I also washed my daughter's wedding gown in the bath tub "Here she goes again," I hear you say. Never fear, Evie's gown went into the gentle wool washing detergent, not the soaker.

I call this dress the Juliet gown. I called it this the day I bought it, because it reminds me of the dresses worn by Olivia Hussey in Zeffirelli's 1968 version of the play. These dresses had the Empire line and puff top fitted sleeves popular both in Renaissance times and in 1968!

So, the dress came out of the bath a lot whiter than it went in. However, there were still a number of marks around the hem, particularly on the train. Next idea? 

Solution No.2 - The Great Australian Summer.
The dress hung about my office for a few months until we had some hot weather.

Fittingly hanging out with the Norton Anthology of Poetry.

In the summer, it went out onto the clothesline for a couple of weeks. The sun is a great natural bleacher, think animal bones in the desert or a surfie's hair. Back in the days before we had safe laundry soakers housewives got their nappies and sheets whiter than white by boiling them up in the copper and hanging them out in the sunshine. If you rely on your tumble drier, try sunshine for your whites.

All the marks disappeared and the dress is now perfectly white and smelling of sunshine and fresh air. Luckily, the air is clean around here.

The only other attention it needed was a careful iron and a tizzying up for the bows. These all needed to be pressed and had their frayed edges trimmed.
So, now it's beautiful.

My favourite part of this dress is the sleeves. These zip up almost to the elbow.

Hopefully, there is a petite young lady out there who is looking for a different kind of wedding dress. The size on this dress is XSSW (or extra small, small womens, as the 60s sizing went). This is roughly about a modern Australian 6 or a small 8, bust 78 cm (31 inches), and not too tall.
It may take a while to find that perfect girl, but one day she will find it.

See the dress in my Etsy store:

Juliet Wedding Dress

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A Little Stunner

Some of my pieces are really special, and I thought I'd share this one with you.

When I found this, the shop ladies thought it was a marching girl's jacket from the 1950s. How interesting, I thought, and promptly took it to show my Vintage Fashion Consultant (aka, mother). Mum was a marching girl back in the 1950s and she said no, it wasn't. She was quite definite about that. After looking at pictures of marching costumes on the internet, I could see that she was right. She said it certainly wasn't a costume because of the quality in the making of the garment. Both the cuffs and collar of this jacket are elaborately quilted. The pockets are real pockets. The pockets and cuffs are appliqued in an ornate style. 

She also said it reminded her of the little cropped jackets she often saw in one of her favourite TV shows, Poirot. I looked at it again. Could it's unusual ornamentation be 1930s  Art Deco rather than a costume?

The tag on the jacket reads "Walter Huppert - Melbourne". I could not find anything about this brand on the internet, including in Trove, which is the wonderful website of the National Library of Australia. Amongst other things, they have thousands of old newspapers digitised and indexed. References to brand names often come up as advertisements, which is great for locating the time and often the place where the company operated. However, this time I drew a blank. No Walter Huppert.

 It was time to consult the other experts.

The Vintage Fashion Guild has a wonderful website full of resources for identifying the age, make and style of garments. They also have a forum where anyone can register as a guest and join the discussion. One of the threads is a Q & A about any garment you would like others' opinions about. I posted my query. All agreed they had not seen anything quite like this jacket. It was suggested that I look closely at how the garment is constructed for clues.

So I did. The lining is silk and is mostly hand sewn, and hand stitched to the garment. It is also pleated in the back. There is a long strip inserted in the underneath of the sleeve, helping to achieve a rounded rather than a flat sleeve shape. The pockets are real pockets, not just for looks. They are made of the same silk as the lining. The fabric appears to be a good quality wool felt.

In the end, I have to thank the guru of Australian vintage, Nicole Jenkins of Circa Vintage for giving me her decisive opinion that this is a  fine tailor made 1950s jacket, and very cute! It's also in excellent condition. Nicole obviously has superior search skills to me because she also managed to find an advertisement for Walter Huppert, tailor, in a newspaper from the late 1940s. He was in business in Howey Place, Melbourne. I walked through Howey Place a few weeks ago hoping to find an old sign saying "Walter Huppert", or at least "tailor" painted on the brickwork in an obscure corner or side alley, but unfortunately, no. Interestingly, though, there is a tailor's shop still in business that backs onto Howey Place. I wonder?...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Beetle Wings For Lady Macbeth

A while ago in a post about Edwardian  needlework, I mentioned beetle wing embroidery. Today, I was very interested to read this article about the painstaking restoration of Victorian actress Ellen Terry's beetle wing embroidered dress which she wore for her role as Lady Macbeth. She was famously painted in this role by John Singer Sargent.

Where Beauty Transcends Time: The Archaeology of a Dress -- Secret History --

It's comforting for me to know that there are other people out there besides myself who take on crazy time consuming repair projects out of a desire to restore an item to its original beauty. It looks like I missed my calling as a costume conservator.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Do You Have Your Hankie?

Last week I was lucky to find a stash of vintage handkerchiefs.  It seems that they all belonged to one lady and I was instantly reminded of my grandmother, Louisa Amelia Jane, though those who were on first name terms with her called her Lou. Having said that, not many people seemed to be on first name terms with her. In our family, she was Nana or Mum. To the rarely seen cousins she was Aunty Lou, but to most people, she was Mrs Silva. It interested me that Nana called all her friends by their formal titles of Mrs Spencer, Mrs Dubbledan, Mrs Sherman, etc. Sometimes I wonder whether she ever knew their Christian names. But I digress... Back to the hankies.

Nana was the kind of person who, when they received something really nice as a gift, deemed it too nice to use, and put it away in a drawer or cupboard, perhaps to take it out and look at it occasionally when in the mood. Or it was kept "for best", and probably never used. I must confess that when my daughter was small and asked me when we were using the best teapot and cups on the dresser I said "When the Queen comes for afternoon tea." Abbey spent years anticipating this event with curiosity until she eventually gave up.

The lady who owned these hankies was clearly a like minded soul. It seemed that for years family and friends had given her pretty hankies as gifts, and she clearly thought they were all far too good to wipe her nose with as most of them still bore the original sticker saying "Swiss cotton", "Made in England", etc. Unfortunately, I had to remove these to launder the hankies as most had brown age spots. Most tore when being removed.

The hankie stash included lace, embroidered, floral and souvenir hankies and seemed to be from the 1950s and 1960s.  Here is my favourite:

Fine Green Lawn Hankie - 1950s

Here is a curious one. Clearly a souvenir from the Gold Coast and sporting some funky vintage bathing suits, the map has been printed upside down. I was confused about this for a while and had to check, but if you turn it upside down, the map is the right way, but all the text and other pictures are upside down. I hope they got it cheap. Perhaps it's like the misprinted stamp that collector's covet and is worth a mint, but I doubt it.

Upside down Gold Coast souvenir

Call me strange, but I actually enjoyed ironing this pile of handkerchiefs. When I was a child I remember asking my mother whether I could "help" with the ironing, and she let me iron the hankies. I guess it was hard to go wrong there. I do not remember my own children asking to help with the ironing. Just as well because we didn't have hankies. I enjoyed taking the newly clean and dry hankies, flattening them and folding them into little triangles with the prettiest corner showing.

Organdie floral hankies with the original sticker
This pair is my second favourite. The fabric is really beautiful - transparent, gauze like organdie with a restrained floral pattern.

Lace corner with embroidery and lace trim

Then there are the dainty lace hankies, with or without embroidery. Definitely for taking to church on Sunday in one's best handbag. Not for tucking up the sleeve as they may fall out and be lost. 

Pretty lace borders

However, I was delighted to find a pile of floral hankies. I had hankies like this when I was a child, they were the kind I had ironed, which must explain why I was pleased to see them again. After I grew out of babyish hankies with cartoon characters I graduated to florals. I never had a lace number, not even for Sunday School.

These are my favourites of the florals:

Poppy hankie

Crocus hankie

And I have to mention the three very delicate pink ones just because they're pretty.

Three pink pretties

 There are lots of others - embroidered sets, petit point, florals, a thistle souvenir from Scotland.

I have seen quite a few interesting projects for upcycling vintage handkerchiefs. When a customer first told me that she was intending to make doily lanterns with doilies she bought from me I felt sad that this was to be their fate, but I got over it. Doilies and vintage linens have received a new lease of life by being upcycled in creative projects. I have a Pinterest board full of upcycling ideas I have collected. 
Cushion of vintage hankies

Baby dress of vintage hankies

Butterfly quilt of vintage hankies

I have a drawer full of hankies I have collected for myself which I intend to use. Less tissues, save trees, reduce rubbish, you know. However, my problems are firstly, that I rarely seem to have a pocket in which to keep a hankie, and also that I forget to take one. A child's lesson from the past "Have you got your hankie?"