Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Remembrance of Pattern Owners Past

The "full, gathered skirt" pattern (with backless halter dress variation)

I love finding little remnants of the previous owner of a vintage pattern - a receipt, a newspaper clipping, or some handwritten notes. Three of the patterns I own from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing came from the same owner. (They all came from one estate sale, according to the eBayer who sold them to me.) I've started to feel like I know her in a certain sense.

Let's just say her name was Doris.

Here are the things I know about Doris: She lived in Illinois. She owned at least five of the fourteen patterns from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, so I like to think she also owned the book itself. She bought her patterns at a shop called Wieboldt's, where patterns were NOT RETURNABLE, according to a black ink stamp on the envelopes.

According to Wikipedia, Wieboldt's was a chain of department stores in the Chicago area:
Wieboldt Stores, Inc., also known as Wieboldt's, did business as a Chicago general retailer between 1883 and 1986. Wieboldt's was known for their good values, unpretentious merchandise, and multilingual sales staff. The stores were especially popular among ethnic, working-class shoppers who could not afford or did not like to shop at the big downtown department stores. Wieboldt's former slogan was "Where You Buy With Confidence!".
(Yeah, you better be confident, because that pattern is NOT RETURNABLE.)

Doris liked to write fabric suggestions on her pattern envelopes, along with cryptic numbers:

Linen- Red - 4.17 - 22 -1/2 oz.
4.54 White Jersey

She owned the bolero pattern, which had a short-sleeved variation, and she was so bold as to draw in long sleeves in scrawly blue ink right on the illustration. On the back of the envelope, she wrote with a firm hand: Long sleeves.

That Doris knew what she wanted.

Doris, interestingly enough, was a voluptuous lady - for her time. She had 41" hips in an era of 34" hips. When I look at her patterns, I sometimes wonder how she handled that. Did she feel out of place? Was she always on a diet? Or was she proud of her body? (Well, if she was confident enough to buy a non-returnable pattern for a backless halter dress, perhaps there's our answer.)

Anyway, as I'm making the "full, gathered skirt" from VoNBBS, Doris from Illinois has been on my mind often. Next, I'm going to move on to the backless halter dress variation from the same pattern (which is a "bonus" project in VoNBBS). I hope to wear it with the same aplomb that Doris would have.


  1. I love those notes, too. I have one or two with multiple girls' names, and colors: "Faye - yellow; Gail - lavender". Since older patterns came one size in an envelope, I imagine these sisters, not really meant to be the same size, with a mom who insisted one of them constantly diet so mom could sew dresses for each girl from the same pattern! Or one ever wearing baggy clothes. LOL

  2. I love the notes and markings on old patterns, too. To be reminded of a store that is now gone, or you find notes about what fabrics the original owner used, or how they changed it...and sometimes that gives you ideas, too!!!

  3. I was going through my box of vintage patterns yesterday and musing over the same thing about the little tidbits and clues left from the previous owners! :) I always love finding notes: especially ones about alterations or fabrication choices. I make those sorts of notes myself all the time (just usually in my notebook rather than on the pattern), and I think it makes me feel a bit closer to the generations before me of seamstresses.

    I love that backless dress pattern--so chic! It reminds me of Claire McCardell's designs from the period... (Yes, I do babble about Claire a lot. If I had a patron saint of design/sewing, it would be her... lol!)

  4. I remember Wieboldts! Growing up in the Chicago area, my grandma would take me into Wiebolts to buy a little toy. I remember that I didn't like the smell in there--I think they old that horrible carmel corn sitting under those hot lights in the glass case! not a huge fan (lol).
    I love finding out tidbits! I just won 13 patterns on ebay for 20 bucks--they are late 1950 patterns. None have been used,all yellowed, smell of smoke (trying to remedy that...), and they are either sheaths or tie bow blouse dresses!

  5. Oh yes! I love the notations on patterns and most of my vintage patterns have them. Especially names. It's such a treat to find other little things inside the pattern. I particularly love finding pattern tracings. Don't know why but I do!

  6. I love today's article - I almost feel like I can see Doris myself!

  7. I love the history from the notes on patterns, one of mine has a request for changes to the pattern from the wearer to the sewer! I bought a few patterns that were owned by the same person and I now own some of her pins as they were still in the pattern where she'd made her alterations. It just feels really friendly to use patterns that have been used by someone else and I wonder what they original owner would think of someone using the pattern again 30 plus years after they did and what they'd think of my fabric choices!

  8. I love the notes that I find on patterns, but my favourite thing is to find a little treasure folded up with the pattern pieces.

    In one pattern envelope, I found a page torn out of an old magazine. The photo is a candid shot of Marilyn Monroe and some of the members of the Brat Pack.

    Marilyn's dress and the pattern are really similar, so I can only guess that once, somewhere, an ambitious seamstress decided to make herself a dress just like Marilyn Monroe's!

  9. I haven't been so lucky with my vintage patterns so far...it was a pleasure to read about "Doris." Regarding the cryptic numbers, could they be costs and weights? Here in Belgrade, fabric is measured by the meter, but after it's cut, it's sometimes priced by weight.

  10. Ooh, thank you, Kate! I think you're right!

  11. I have a few vintage 80s dresses from Wieboldt's -- they still had the old department store tags on them when I bought them. Some of my older patterns have Wanamaker's tags on them too, an old Philadelphia department store. Love those old hints of where something's been before.

  12. Fitz, I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and we had a Wannamaker's there! It closed at some point in my childhood, I can't remember exactly when.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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