Wednesday, July 20, 2011

20 July 1957 “She Sews For The Whole Family”

sewingfamily1 Today I thought I would shared this article in my McCall’s Magazine about a lovely homemaker who sews.sewingfamily2

“This pretty, young California housewife taught herself to sew “very Badly” she says, in her teens, because she couldn’t afford to buy the clothes she wanted. Now she’s an accomplished seamstress who thinks nothing of turning out a dress in a day and a half. Sewing has become a creative outlet for Mrs. Witter. She not only made the clothes she models here, but runs up sports shirts for her husband, Jere, an editor on the San Francisco Chronicle, and coats and dresses for four year old Ann. She often tackles slip covers and curtains too.

While she was working as a receptionist for a California couturier, before her marriage, Mrs. Witter began to understand the importance of attention to detail and fine finishing in making good clothes. Mrs. Witter, a size 9, ways fitted suits are hardest for her to make, dresses easiest. She works so fast she can make clothes as needed instead of planning ahead.

Know what she does for relaxation? She knits-Dresses.”

Here are some more of Mrs. Witter’s triumphs:

sewingfamily3 First off, I adore matching children to mother. I think it is so darling and not sure why it isn’t done anymore. I also really appreciate the simplicity of a 1950’s day dress. Simple fabric with some ric rac. It has an almost more modern simplicity than the complicated various pieces worn by modern people. And I can’t imagine tight knit yoga pants are more comfortable than a cool breezy full skirted cotton dress.

I don’t know when and why it began, but the modern idea is not to go ‘matchy-matchy’. Having ones shoes and bag match your outfit or to have your headband coordinate is seen as un-fashionable. I almost began to wonder if this was to create a sense of not knowing what goes with what else which actually leads to having to buy and own more. If you had say 7 outfits with matching accessories in a similar color story, you could literaly mix and match these outfits to create endless looks. This type of lesson was even once taught with the old Barbie doll. You purchased a doll and then clothes separately and learned to mix and match. Today Barbie Dolls are just an endless supply of the doll with whatever outfit they are wearing. So, even at play level, we are not learning how to really dress and how easily one can have less clothes but look nicer, easier, and without much thought.

sewingfamily4 This is such a darling suit. And again, we see shoes and bag match and hat is in the same color family as the bag. It looks clean and smart and effortless to me. Now compare this with a current trend Boho Chic bohochic Long, almost dangerously so, skirt very low with skin showing. Huge bag weighing down the shoulder. Loose blouse which could not even look crisp if it were ironed. Hair unkempt and rather ‘witchy’ looking when compared with the smart Mrs. Witter above. Yet, both were as easy to slip into, though Mrs. Witter hasn’t any worry of tripping, her midriff showing or, honestly, rather or not she is receiving a text about someone’s day: “I just drank a double mocha” (stop the presses!).

I know fashion and style is each one’s own, but I also think the basic simple rules of matching and coordinating are actually a God send to many people as not all young ladies or gentleman for that matter, really want to care or think about fashion. Yet, with simple rules could look always put together without any effort. But, I fear the days of t-shirst and jeans and sweats are to never end.

Back to Mrs. Witter.sewingfamily5

sewingfamily6 sewingfamily7 What a darling little girl’s dress this is. And, as it states, would look wonderful belted but offers a great range of play motion when simply left unbelted. This is true for Mrs. Witters dress with the blue scarf at the waist. I actually was able to find this type of vintage pattern, where the dress is a simple long tube shape. It gets it’s waist from a belt but is a wonderful cleaning or working round the house dress when left free.

sewingfamily8 This polished cotton looks a dream to wear and yet is really inexpensive. One could easily look as glamorous while just working round the house.sewingfamily9

As some of you may like to source these vintage patterns, you will see the number with each photo, that coincides with the number for the McCall’s pattern. To help with this search I have included this image which shows the basic dress style and the pattern which you buy to make it. Using ebay or other online sources you can often find the original vintage pattern.


 flowerdress1 In my own sewing, this is the latest dress on my dress form. You may recall the navy and pink dress on here last time. That dress has been finished. I will try to remember to get a picture of me in it to share. This fabric is a wonderful floral dotted swiss I found and fell in love with. I felt it was very summery and also very vintage. I wanted to break up the pattern so there will be a band of the turquoise fabric in the center. This is also a good trick for we fuller figured gals, as a solid color emphasizing our smallest area helps to slim the figure. I also think it shows of the floral a bit better as it gives the eye a break before returning to the pattern at the top.

floralfabric  Here is a closer shot of the fabric. I just love that Robin’s egg blue, as many of you know. It is a recurring theme in my clothing and this helps to coordinate various outfits for me. Here, in this close up, you can see the lovely little raised bits in the dotted swiss fabric.floralfabricupclose Here it is up close and you can see the raised bits. In many cases a dotted swiss is sheer and used as an overlay over dresses. I would like to make this but have had trouble finding a sheer dotted swiss and when I do it is always too dear for my pocketbook. This is sheer enough that I shall line the skirt with white muslin.

Here is a very thorough definition of Dotted Swiss:

Dotted swiss is a type of fabric first made on hand looms in Switzerland in 1750. While there are many variations of dotted swiss sold, the original look is always the same: a sheer, lightweight fabric with a dotted motif. The fabric, which is usually cotton batiste or a polyblend, provides the background which is usually a muted or pastel shade such as gray, light pink, or cream. The fabric then has dots applied onto its surface in a number of methods. Single colored or multicolored dots can be woven, flocked, printed, or embroidered, resulting in a temporary or permanent pattern on the fabric.

Dotted swiss is a popular material for constructing a variety of clothing for women and children. They have made appearances in summer dresses, blouses, aprons, curtains, bedspreads, wedding apparel, and baby clothes. The fabric appears fresh and youthful on the person, and it is this timeless quality that makes it a wonderful material for heirloom goods as well.

Notably, dotted swiss can be dated by its dots. The size, arrangement, and method of application all demonstrate the original date of fabrication. For example, the authentic, original dotted swiss is created from cotton batiste, which is a sheer, delicate fabric in a plain weave. The dots are also small.

As a fabric, dotted swiss now comes in a variety of color schemes. The background may be a brighter color or be made from other material such as organza. The dots can be larger in size and printed instead of woven. At retailers, dotted swiss is sold by the yard or as a yardage piece.

The dotted swiss pattern has become very popular, and is not just limited to fabrics. The term dotted swiss has been applied to other things including pottery and cake decorating. In both instances, the term refers to the random arrangement of dots that resemble an actual dotted swiss pattern.

I hope all have a lovely day and as always, Happy Homemaking.


  1. Sewing is such a wonderful art.
    I can remember my mom making quite a bit of clothing for herself and for me when I was younger.
    My MIL, who lived on a farm, was a very accomplished seamstress, due to necessity and enjoyment.
    I enjoy sewing as well, but find it takes some determination and persistance in our current society.
    When I was a child, patterns and fabric were reasonably priced (and the fabric was American made).
    It makes me furious to see the prices charged for many of today's patterns. They're tissue paper, for goodness sake.
    I find patterns at Wal-mart priced reasonably in a limited assortment or I find them at garage sales.
    Quilting has gained such a popularity that finding fabrics that aren't 100 percent cotton can be a challenge as well. I think quilting is wonderful, but I am hopeful that sewing will gain popularity again, so cotton/poly blends will become more available.
    Great post!...............Denise

  2. I have to admit, I really envy the wardrobe that Mrs Witter has created! I sew, but have very little time to commit to it these days, so it may take months to do one item.

    I love the farbic you're working on. Dotted swiss just says summer to me, and it always looks so nice and cool. I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

  3. My mom used to make her & I matching dresses when I was young. She also made many of my clothes. I remember going through her pattern boxes and picking out dresses for her to make me for dances, my graduations and such. I always picked her patterns from the 50s.

    I agree with what Rocky Mountain Homemaker says as well. The cost of fabric is becoming outrageous. I scour the clearance areas & use coupons to our local fabric stores. Also, I find that I spend more time going through the fabrics at the thrift stores. Sometimes, I've been known to buy a dress that would never fit or a style that I do not care for just so that I can use the fabric!

    Very nice post!

  4. I agree with your comment about matching one's outfit with all of the other details and accessories. I don't think the current fad for mis-matching is going to be very long lived. It first showed up in magazines like "Lucky" less than 10 years ago. I think it comes from a slight vintage/thrift shop influence ("hey, my clothes don't match because I got them at a thrift store") along with a boho "I'm too cool to match my clothes". So, I think it is perfectly OK that your belt, shoes and purse are the same color. That seems so much less chaotic and distracting, and much more elegant and grown-up (to me anyway!).

  5. I really wish matching shoes and handbags would come back. I don't like the boho/grunge look.

  6. So enjoyed this post, 50's Gal! :o) I consider myself a rather mediocre sewist, but I have actually turned out a few rather nice-looking items, especially for my girls. It's just that I'm not as skilled as I'd like to be (having begun sewing at a comparatively late age, whereas I learned to knit as a child). It seems that lately I've only been able to keep up with the mending, but haven't worked on anything fun or creative for a time. :o/

    I love, love, love the way Mrs. Witter looks in these photos. A very easy elegance, I'd say. It's funny about so many of the women of that time: they didn't look (at least to my eyes) contrived or overdone. Whether in suits, dresses, or slacks, they looked very comfortable & at ease.

    Thanks for a fun post!

  7. Sewing at home is great......

  8. I also knit for relaxation! :) I would love to find time to sew again. In my summer holiday I sewed new curtains and pillow cases and I truly enjoyed it. The result is very beautiful – even my critical son says it looks great. The blue summer dress is lovely, I think you easily could copy it. The dark green formal dress is to die for. I love your comparisons, very eye-opening. Breaking the dress up is a great tip, it looks fabulous, I cannot wait to it finished. :)


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