Thursday, January 23, 2014

Vintage Handknit and Classic Pattern Sweaters: The spotlight comes round again.

My love affair for vintage clothing started when I was in high school in the early 1970s. My grandmother was thinning out her closet and she let me pick what I wanted from the discards... I went off with an armload...sheer nylon blouses with rhinestone buttons, cropped orlon cardigans, pleated plaid skirts, her beautiful war time floral rayon dress and two fitted suits.  I loved my Grandmothers classic vintage style and wore everything until it was threadbare. Looking to expand my wardrobe I made my very first vintage purchase at a little shop called Shaky Jakes which specialized in cool "old" clothes (the term vintage was not coined until years later) I picked out a 1940s star patterned ski sweater which precipitated what became a life long obsession.

Over the years I have amassed a rather large collection of classic vintage wool sweaters. They are a staple of my cold weather wardrobe. Living in New England means long frosty winters and having a large stash of festive sweaters helps to brighten things up. Aside from their fetching designs, I love their fine quality. The wonderful worsted and mercerized wools of yesteryear that do not pill and have such a lovely sheen. After all these years I am still finding new additions for my closet because there are so many styles to choose from, many of them with long histories. From Norway there is the Setesdal Sweater with its intricate designs and hand embroidered collar and cuffs as well as the Selbu Star (like my first sweater). Iceland gave us the Lopi sweater with it's bold yoke pattern and from Sweden the more subtle Bohus Stickning patterns. These traditional styles are timeless and beautiful but I'm also fond of novelty sweaters, especially the Mary Maxim styles.

For decades, classic knit designs have made their way into the fashions of the day. Interest has ebbed and flowed but it never goes away. Over the past year popularity has risen again and both designers and retail customers are snapping them up. It will be interesting to see how they inspire the coming trends and collections.

 Lopi Sweater circa 1970s

 Hand knit mittens from the 1940s with the Selbu Star pattern

 Norwegian hand knit cardigan with pewter buttons

 Mary Maxim "football" cardigan, early 1960s

 
 Ad from a vintage knitting magazine for worsted wool

1950s ad for knitting pattern, novel interpretation of a Scandinavian classic

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Very Vintage Christmas to you!

It's a winter wonderland here in New England with more snow on the way, a good time to focus on indoor tasks, like holiday decorating. In my home Christmas is all about going over the top. Lots of lights and tinsely glitz and most important, quirky vintage ornamentation. I've been collecting vintage decor since the 1970s. My Mom was just starting in the antiques business and I caught her yard sale fever. Early on I began an obsessive hunt for old Christmas decorations. The find that hooked me was a box of unused holiday cards from the 1940s-50s. The pictures were utterly charming AND the cards doubled as tree ornaments. They have graced my Christmas tree ever since.

I've slowed down my search over the years, but occasionally a new piece will make it's way into the collection. This past weekend I found a little celluloid and chenille elf riding in a golden sleigh. Without a doubt, he needed to come home with me.

So without further ado, I would like to say Seasons Greetings! by sharing pictures of a few of my vintage holiday treasures.

 Ornamental molded candles from the 1960s
 This is one of my few reproduction pieces. There is a rotating multi colored light inside, very retro. You can see my little 1950s porcelain choir boy caroling away on the right. 
 Dainty and demure, this 1960s, alabaster porcelain deer makes a beautiful table piece.
 Here he is! My latest acquisition. A celluloid and chenille elf with his golden sleigh. 
 Darling 1950s porcelain angel with wired gauze dress perched on a cut crystal globe
 Home crafted stuffed felt elf doll from the 1930s.
 Felt girl-elf tree ornament, circa early 1960s.
 I love old blown mercury glass bulbs, especially with baby or childrens  themes. 1940s blue mercury glass ornament with ducky (top right)
From my box of card ornaments, this jolly snowman. I can never decide which of the cards I like best, they are all so sweet. To his right a 1960s spun cotton Santa.
 A 1940s porcelain snowman bell.
 A 1950s Florida souvenir ornament, cute little orange person. Behind that, another one of my card ornaments.
 This one is from the 1980s, wall plaque, reproduction of a Victorian Christmas card.
And last but not least, a  sleigh full of 1960s Made in Japan, cloth elves and the big man himself, Santa!

Happiest Holidays to you all.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The New England Shake Up! Three days of Rockabilly heaven!

What a weekend!! We did the New England Shake Up and it was amazing!! Where to begin... The crowd was dressed to the nines, both guys and dolls. It was like a three day retro fashion show and I was over the moon. I want to live in that world!

I was not able to escape my booth much but I did manage to make it to the ball room a couple of times to hear some of the bands. The music was crazy good!! There was a vintage car show on Saturday and a Tiki inspired pool party on Sunday. A mini Viva Las Vegas right here in New England!

Everyone was as nice as could be. The vendors room was great fun. We had old school hairdressers and a barber plying their trades which was fascinating to watch. They even had a complete barbershop set up. There was a full retro make up counter, authentic vintage and repro clothing, custom guitars, vintage vinyl, a whole booth filled with luscious Bakelite ... a perfect mix.

I did my best to get photos with my phone but they are just the tip of the iceberg. They show is scheduled again for next year and I know that's a whole year away but it's well worth checking their website and marking your calendar now.

www.newenglandshakeup.com 

Resting at the make up counter.

                            The "Beauty Salon"                             

 My Friend Jeanette with her new hairdo.

 
   Johnny, selling vinyl! 

 Yummy white mink!

    My booth.

 Novelty print circle skirts.

 
    LOVE her look!

 Plenty of beaded and fur trimmed cardigans.

                                                              
   Rockin' ties!!

Marianne from Montreal in a dress she purchased from me.

Retro cuties!


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Man behind the Fashion History Museum


As a trade member of the Vintage Fashion Guild I am part of a large community of vintage fashion professionals. All our members are passionate about vintage and work hard to maintain integrity in our businesses.  We are constantly fact checking the history of our merchandise to make sure our goods are properly represented. Whenever we are stumped about something we turn to each other for answers and 99% of the time someone is able to help. Jonathan Walford is a long time VFG member and one of our most knowledgeable. He is always generous with information and never ceases to amaze me. He has written a number of books (which I highly recommend) on vintage fashion and recently opened the Fashion History Museum in Ontario, Canada. I asked Jonathan if he would agree to an interview for my blog so you could all meet the man behind the museum and hear his story.
 
-When did your passion for the history of fashion and textiles begin? Did you begin as a collector or a historian?
 
My fascination with historical dress began when I was a kid. My favourite movies were historically set films like: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Great Race, and Thoroughly Modern Millie. I remember crying myself to sleep because my parents wouldn’t let me stay up to watch the Six Wives of Henry VIII on TV, I must have been ten at the time. I began collecting soon after I started working at a museum called Heritage Village in Burnaby, B.C. in the summer of 1977. I was given a collarless shirt to wear as my costume and I figured I could do better than that and began combing the vintage clothing stores of Gastown (the old heritage district of Vancouver) for starched collars, knitted ties, and straw boaters. By the end of the year I was receiving gifts from friends and family members and putting most of my paycheque into buying the oldest pieces of antique clothing I could find. My first dress purchase was a black net dress from the mid 1890s.
 
-Tell us a little about your journey in the field and how it evolved over time.
 
When I began collecting, vintage clothing stores were still being run by Hippies who had started their shops in the late 1960s. By 1980 the Punks and New Wavers were buying old clothes and the stock in vintage shops shifted from Edwardian underwear and 30s chiffons to 1950s prom dresses, stiletto-heeled shoes, and leather motorcycle jackets.
I used my collection for producing lectures and fashion shows in the 80s and 90s as a sideline to my museum career. In 1987 I landed the curatorial job for the Bata Shoe Museum collection in Toronto. The museum was not yet open to the public and its collection was held in the basement of the Bata shoe company headquarters. With the help of a healthy acquisitions budget, I was able to transform that collection into the internationally important institution the Bata Shoe Museum has become today. In 1999 I had done all I could at Bata and it was time to move on. As a freelance curator I phased out my fashion shows and instead began creating travelling exhibitions for museums. My first exhibition of 1960s paper dresses debuted in Montreal in the summer of 2001. In 2004 my partner Kenn was taking a leadership course and took the idea of creating a fashion museum as a project for his course. By the end of that year we had founded the Fashion History Museum. Five years later, in 2009, the museum received its charitable status, which qualified us to offer tax receipts for donations and brought us to the next hurdle – finding a home for the museum.
 
-Your books are beautiful and contain a wellspring of knowledge. They must represent countless hours of painstaking research and appear to be a true labor of love. Could you talk a bit about this?
 
Even though I had written numerous exhibition texts and museum catalogues, I didn’t consider myself a writer. I have no patience for reading fiction and most academic treatises are mind numbingly dull. I love ‘I was there’ memoirs. I want to read what people thought at the time about what they wore and why they thought it was beautiful or ugly. That information comes to us mostly from period accounts, ranging from private diaries to magazine articles. While I was writing the text for the 1960s paper dress exhibition I came across an archive of period news clippings on the topic. The public reaction about paper clothing in the 1960s ran the gamut from ‘innovative wave of the future’ to ‘the stupidest fashion ever invented.’ I turned this research into the book ‘Ready to Tear’, which doubled as a catalogue to accompany the same-named exhibition. While looking for a publisher for the catalogue, Thames and Hudson rejected the paper dress book for being intended for too specific a market, but asked if I could write a shoe book instead – something I had wanted to do when I was still at Bata. That turned into a three-book contract: The Seductive Shoe, Forties Fashion, and Shoes A-Z. and I am now on my fourth book: Sixties Fashion, which is coming out this October.
The Internet has made researching these books possible. It would have taken years and endless trips to libraries and archives to find what I can get now in the comfort of my own home. With every passing year the access to obscure publications increases, which makes the books feasible.
 
-The whole concept of creating a museum from scratch simply boggles my mind, yet you and Ken did just that. I am intrigued to learn about your journey from idea to reality in this venture.
 
We originally moved to Cambridge, Ontario in 2007 because a potential site for our museum was available. That plan didn’t pan out but we liked the town and stayed. Three months ago we were given the opportunity of a space to set up the museum that we grabbed because we had to take a leap of faith and show everyone what we can do and how fascinating a fashion history museum can be. Although we had a shoestring budget, we had some devoted volunteers who really put their backs and time into helping us.
There is about 2,500 square feet of exhibition space in three galleries. The building is an old limestone foundry from the mid-late 19th century and is a beautiful piece of Victorian industrial architecture. There are large Eiffel tower-like columns and thick limestone walls that provide the background for the fashions -- it feels grand. The challenge for us was to turn this space, which had been used most recently as a retail store, into a gallery. We hid existing shelving units with large canvas panels, and the landlord allowed us to reuse lumber we scavenged from taking down changing room walls. We transformed the space on less than $5,000, including electrician bills and professional signage. 
 
-Every dream come true has its memorable stories along the way. Unusual encounters…humorous happenings…moments of inspiration or encouragement… perhaps you could share a memory or two with us?
 
Tough question to answer because every day there is something that amazes me – some visitor who has something they want to give us or a story about their fashionable past that is amazing or humorous. I honestly can’t think of any specific story at the moment…
 
-I know absolutely zero about running and managing a museum. What proportion of the collection is generally on display? How often do displays rotate and change. Will you feature “visiting” collections?
 
We manage about 8,000 artifacts and the museum currently has about 200 of them on display. With everything that needed to be done before we opened I had to install some ‘easy’ exhibitions to start with because I didn’t have time for a complicated curatorial text. So we started with our main exhibition looking at paisley and plaid as recurring patterns in fashion. Starting October, this show will be morphed into a timeline history of fashion from 1760 to 2010 that will become a permanent feature of the museum. The clothes within the exhibition will be changed on a regular basis to keep the show fresh and the artifacts in good condition. This guarantees that there will always be something on display that everyone will like as some people like 20th century designer fashions, while others only come to see Victorian clothes. The smallest gallery has a purse anthology and it will be changed to other accessory exhibitions – gloves, hats, shoes etc. because everything in this gallery is in showcases. The middle-sized gallery will be changed on a rotating basis (between 6 and 12 weeks depending upon the sensitivity of the material on display), and feature different topics and approaches to fashion history. We are planning an annual showcase of recent acquisitions called Open Drawers, and have three exhibitions already in the works: Mod Modes – 1960s fashions, for late fall/early winter; ‘To Meet the Queen’, clothes worn to be presented at court or meet royalty, which will open in the new year; and although we haven’t figured out what to do next spring or summer, we have a fall show planned “It Came From Hollywood’, about costume designers who became fashion designers. We will be borrowing from other collections and museums for these three shows but I doubt we will be hiring any travelling exhibitions in the foreseeable future.
 
-Where to from here? Will you continue writing? Are there future plans for the museum?
 
We are in discussion with various people regarding our future and it will take some time before we will know exactly what is happening. In the meantime, it is business as usual and we will continue to travel exhibitions around the world, and I will continue to write books. My next book will be on fashion during the rise of ‘The New Woman 1880-1925 – from tailored suit to the vote’. After that, I would like to work on something more modern. There isn’t a comprehensive book about fashion in the 1970s and 1980s yet… but that will be a few years down the road.
 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 
c. 1885 printed paisley wool dress, American

 
Acquisitions from the past ten years on show in Fashions for the 
Future including examples by Stephen Sprouse for Target, 2002, and 
Vivienne Tam's Mickey Mouse applique dress from 2007


Paisley printed dresses from the 1950s and 1960s in front of a Kashmiri shawl that was a wedding gift to a bride in Boston in 1858
 

For info on the Fashion History Museum click here.

 

To purchase books by Jonathan Walford click here.

 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sewing with Vintage Patterns

A lot of you know that I recently moved my vintage business to a beautiful new studio space. It's been one of my better decisions and I could not be happier, but it's also been a heck of a job. I'm still in the process of transitioning inventory. This week has been dedicated to bringing over my stash of vintage patterns, sewing books and fabric. Last week I spent some time sorting vintage buttons and I still need to process through all my vintage trims. It's all very tedious and a bit overwhelming but I know it will get done and I look forward to finally being organized. I also look forward to expanding my website and Etsy shop to include many of these treasures, but that's a future plan. First things first as they say!

Handling all that lovely fabric made me nostalgic and I started to wonder what might be happening in todays world of dressmaking. It's been a long time since I had my own dressmaker/millinery business and the only sewing I seem to have time for now are repairs and alterations for my customers, but I still love the craft. For a little break I decided to check out the internet and see what's going on out there. I was especially interested in who might be sewing from vintage patterns.   I did the Google and discovered there is a vast and wonderful world of people making their own "vintage" clothing. I found a number of great blogs. Some folks were purists others not so much but they were all really passionate and I had a ball reading what they had to say. I'd like to share a few of my favorites.



Some good practical suggestions for using vintage patterns and a really great blog site!
 
Sew Retro Rose. This blog site is dedicated to sewing vintage fashions from original patterns.  She has some great tips
 
Fairly new to the game this gal is sewing her little heart out and loving every minute of it! Her jump-right-in approach is relaxed and fearless, which might not be for everyone, but her confidence is contagious and inspiring.
 
A wonderful intro article to sewing with vintage patterns.
 
And finally a few pics of my vintage sewing stash that is slowly making it's way to the new studio.
 A few of the many vintage sewing books I've collected over the years.

The most tedious job of all. Sorting buttons a little at a time. Just a few more boxes to go....

An unruly pile of cotton prints waiting to be folded and stacked.
 

One shelf of woolens all done :)

I am NOT a vintage pattern hoarder...really I'm not. OK so maybe a I am a little but I do intend to list them...well most of them...someday...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Heavenly Day at The Roaring Twenties Lawn Party


Most of the time I like my job as a vintage dealer...then there are the days when I just love it! Sunday was one of those days. A few weeks ago I was invited to be one of 8 vendors at a brand new and exciting event, The Roaring Twenties Lawn Party. This Gatsby themed party was planned by Boston Swing Central and the Trustees of the Crane Estate in Ipswich Ma. Spending a summer day on the beautiful Crane Estate was more than enough reason to say yes.

Just close your eyes and imagine winding your way up a private wooded road, until you come to an open manicured hilltop with terraced grounds. There, a gravel drive leads to a magnificent 59 room, Stuart style mansion. The grounds behind the mansion are the most breathtaking of all....like something out of a fairy tale. A half-mile-long corridor of perfect emerald lawn, softly rolling it's way to a distant private ocean beach, flanked on either side by larger than life, Grecian style statues. The surrounding hill is lush with protected forests. Lawn party is an understatement! The vendors were to set up on a lovely side terrace with post card worthy vista as backdrop. Oh yes, this sounded nice :)

If the setting didn't hook me the venue was sure to.  Live jazz music all afternoon and evening, performed by Brooklyn's own, Baby Soda Band. Swing dance lessons were scheduled for afternoon and evening . A huge dance floor to be spread beneath a gorgeous summer sky. Nature would provide a steady flow of ocean breeze to cool the revelers, picnickers AND the vendors.

Advance ticket sales promised a huge crowd. Dressing the period was strongly suggested for all party goers and I was looking forward to enjoying the parade of twenties inspired attire. The vintage community is close and I knew most of the other dealers who were attending, so I was keen to hear all the news.

The fates were with us because the day arrived just after the break of a heat wave. The morning dawned cool and clear. It was hard to focus on setting our booth up with so much beauty around but we managed to be ready when the first guests arrived. Picnickers staked out their spots, some even set up vintage venues complete with linen covered tables and flowers! In time the band began playing and they were amazing. After a brief dance lesson, the floor went into full swing and the party was on!

Things were busy in the vendors area as well, people strolled in and out of booths to peruse the carefully curated merchandise. Shopping may not have been the main event but so many tempting choices made it hard to say no. This was our crowd, people who loved all things beautiful from earlier times. Jason Volk, was the man who coordinated our little market and he did a wonderful job.

By 8:00 pm the festivities were over, content guests made their way to the parking lot and the merchants started to pack up. There were smiles all around.

A few snap shots of our lovely day. Enjoy!

 

                    A Sampling of Party Guests   

                  



Two of my favorite outfits. Laura Kimsey, on the left, is an illustrator and devoted fan of vintage as well as a long time and dear customer.


 
The lush lawn was an irresistible invitation to kick off ones shoes and relax
 
 
The fine art of picnicking.
 
 
Dashing well dressed men...such a pleasure to see!
 
 
The music was intoxicating and the dancing divine!
 
 
Vintage dealer, Adam Irish, from Old as Adam, attended the party with this lovely lady at his side.
 
 

A Few of my Vendor Friends 

 
 Amy and helper Amanda, Artifaktori       
 
    Carrie , Curio Vintage  
                            
 
 
Jen and Vince,
 

 Booth Shots




 


 

 
There was so much more to see, I wish I had more pics. As you can see the merchandise was to die for :)
 
AND my favorite shot....
 
 
... my dear and VERY handsome husband Bob. I could not do any of this without him.