1949 American Fabrics Magazine

I had a meeting over at PNCA, where I’m teaching a few classes this spring, and Josh showed me the library while I was there. He’d recently discovered the most amazing collection of a vintage magazine, American Fabrics. I actually don’t know much about this publication, or even whether it’s directed at the trade or consumers. But it’s fascinating, nonetheless.

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Up on a high shelf, there's something pretty awesome hidden in some inauspicious cardboard magazine holders.

Anyway, the magazine is an extremely cool snapshot of textile–and cultural–trends. I spent a bit of time thumbing through an issue from fall of 1949 (I snagged this one, because I love post-war fashion–the hats were just wonderful during that time). Check it out my mediocre cell phone shots of some of the highlights.

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Sewing Heritage Sunday – Sew for Victory

First things first. Something’s been bugging me. Most of you probably read my last post. What you probably didn’t read was Ben’s post over on BlazersEdge (the most comprehensive and active Trail Blazers blog out there)–because I doubt many of you avidly consume Blazers’ news (despite my best attempts to convert you into fans). In that post, Ben references my story about meeting Channing Frye and linked to my post. Wednesday morning–when I saw that post on BlazersEdge–I stupidly thought that he was mocking me. I would like to publicly apologize to Ben for assuming that he was making fun of me in his post, and accusing him of such. His intentions were quite good–he thought it was a nice story, that BlazersEdge readers would enjoy it and that I would appreciate the extra traffic over here. (BE is a much bigger deal than this here sewing and crafting blog.) Even though we cleared the air, I still feel badly that I rashly accused someone of being a jerk. That was crappy of me.

Alright. On we go to some Sewing Heritage goodness…

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From the Library of Congress Image Collection

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted one of my favorite “Sewing Heritage” items, hasn’t it? At one point, I thought I’d do it every Sunday, but life–and Sunday brunch at Cadillac Cafe–has interfered.

This image from World War II had all the makings of something I wouldn’t like–it’s aggressive, intense and violent-feeling. But, it’s actually one of my favorites related to sewing that I’ve found in my digging. It’s a poster encouraging women to sew, to do their part to help with the war effort in the 1940s. The message of us all doing our part feels particularly timely, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I think this is a good reminder that in these difficult times, where it seems that we’re constantly bombarded by bad news, that Americans have together in difficult times in our past and been victorious over tough challenges.

(By the way, don’t y’all think it’s been way too long since that husband of mine posted anything on here? I sure do.)


Sunday Sewing Heritage: Airplane Wings

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Did you know that airplanes used to be stitched together, and then epoxied? I had heard mention of it in documentaries and such, but the reality of the construction of aircraft literally from cloth didn’t really register with me until I saw these photos of women during World War II sewing together the wings of a plane.

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There’s something quite elegant about it, isn’t there?


Photos from the Library of Congress image collection.

Sewing Heritage: More Stitching Up Old Glory

 Sewing Heritage: More Stitching Up Old Glory

As a follow up to last week’s sewing heritage post, this photo is quite striking. In sharp contrast to the highly-mechanized sewing of the American flag in the factory of the Brooklyn Yard, this woman, in 1917—which is about the same time as last week’s photo, is hand-stitching an American flag. As Josh said, can you imagine the intense work that went into sewing this by hand?

Photo credit: DN-0069332, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society


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Sewing Heritage: Stitching Old Glory

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We all know (or should, at least) the story of the Betsy Ross Flag, none of us know the story of these ladies and how they came to be sewing American flags at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1909. This photo was taken while the U.S. was still engaged in military action in the Philippines (an extension of the Spanish-American War, although it officially ended in 1902). The Yard was winding down from a huge surge in manufacturing employment due to goods needed by the military, with women engaged in the production of garments and textiles, including the sewing of American flags. What struck me about this photo is not just the high-intensity production these women are involved with, but simply the layers and layers of clothing and intricate hairstyles they’re maintaining while they’re doing this tough, physically exhausting work.

It’s interesting to note that when this photo was taken there were only 46 stars on Old Glory—New Mexico and Arizona joined the U.S. as a state three years later, with Alaska and Hawaii not admitted until 1959. The material they are using in this photo is bunting, likely made out of cotton, wool or a blend of the two. (Now flags are often sewn out of synthetics such as nylon, although official flags flown by the military and government still use bunting materials.)

This photo is another one from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Reading Room.


Sewing Heritage: Women, Sewing & the WPA

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Folks, it’s time for a little sewing history lesson…

The Works Progress Administration (rename Work Project Administration in 1939) was created in 1935, and employed millions of people–especially in the rural West and Appalachia and other mountain regions–following the catastrophic downturn of the U.S. economy resulting in the Great Depression. What many people don’t know about the WPA is that a sizable number of people put to work during this time were women, around fifteen to twenty percent of WPA-participants. They were considered unemployed heads of household for a variety of reasons, including abandonment or a husband’s death or disability–and the lack of jobs caused many men to seek jobs far afield, thus allowing women to participate in WPA programs as their only source of family income. Almost every single female WPA participant, with the exception of the very small Professional Division, was involved in a sewing project of some sort. Later in the program, bookbinding was added to the WPA program, and women were engaged in that activity as well. Interestingly, while the WPA made the intentional decision to pay women and men the equally for the same work, sewing–and eventually bookbinding, were the lowest paid positions available. Since most women at that time were still sewing by hand, they received training in using sewing machines. Once they became skilled with the machines, they were put to work making clothing, bedding and supplies for hospitals and orphanages.

The poster above, from the Library of Congress catalog, was used to advertise the positions using sewing skills available to women in Ohio via the WPA. Note that “Power Machine Operator” is highlighted at the top of the poster.


Note: I am likely going to make “Sewing Heritage” a semi-regular series here. I’m personally interested in the subject, and have been for some time—even prior to our post of the same title. I have both a B.A. and an M.A. in Women’s Studies and my focus was on history (at one point, I seriously considering getting a PhD and going into academia)–and for a long time I was very interested in women and the small craft and big-time garment industries, both in the U.S. and abroad, past and present. Anyway, I figure that this is as good of place as any to share both a bit of my knowledge on this topic and some of my finds (the LOC image library is amazing). Let me know what you think!

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