Monday, January 10, 2011

Vintage Treasure where you least expect it

Sometimes on Saturday mornings if I am in the mood I scroll through the listings for estate sales in my area.  Every once in a while there is one that lists sewing supplies among all the other household items.  Even the lovely words "retired seamstress"  "patterns, fabric, notions . . . too much to mention"  occasionally crop up.  That is when I gulp the last of my coffee and hit the road.  So in early December I saw a listing just a few minutes away and drove over in the mist and fog to see what was on offer.  I find these sales can be a little sad, to see the contents of a life spread across tables and driveways.  There are gems to be found looking past the cut glass and china plates, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and a stash of vintage silk thread spools in a rainbow assortment is beautiful to me.

At this particular sale there were boxes of linens, vintage embroidered napkins and other nifty items that I have to refrain from purchasing, but among these were boxes of fabric.  Sometimes the fabric is weird 70's polyester but I have found gorgeous Pendleton wools or silk dupioni hiding among the oddities.    I decided to take two whole boxes of fabric, as it was starting to rain and everything was getting soggy.  Total price tag $ 10.  At home I tipped the boxes onto the wood floor and examined my purchase.  A charcoal Harris wool tweed, corduroy in kelly green and a snowflake print, lots of cottons and other stuff I have yet to identify, with plenty of turquoise - my favorite color.  There was a wrinkled paper bag with some cotton fabric, and as I opened it seemed I was opening a window into the past.  Here is what I found.

Vintage find dress pieces

It is a completely cut out dress, the pattern is Simplicity 4228, dated 1953.  Every piece is there, including all the leftover fabric.   For some reason this really touched me, to pick up a project that someone had begun, and for whatever reason folded it up, put it away and never worked on.  You can see there are two buttons, they were the only ones in the bag so I guess the sewer was making her selection.   I have decided to name this seamstress Margaret, as she needs a name.   I will never find out who cut out this dress or any other part of her sewing story, just gleaning what I can from the box of fabric, but I want to give her an identity.

Here is a closeup of the pattern envelope. I like those double darts on the bodice, and the shaped collar and sleeve on the red version.  

Vintage find pattern S4228

The fabric is a really nice weight cotton, unbelievable lucky that even though it is white, the color is perfect, no spots or stains.   Here you can see how Margaret cut the very full skirt piece on the fold - something I do all the time, cheat a little bit on the seam allowance and let it hang off the fold line if it wider than the fabric.  Cut out with pinking shears, no serger needed for Margaret.

Vintage skirt piece

My only criticism is of this project is the fact that the small dressmaking pins left here for many, many years have rusted a bit, so in some places I really had to tug to get them out.  Thankfully most were pinned in the seam allowances, and those that were not for the most part didn't leave spots.  The only two really unacceptable spots were in the facings, right where they would show with an open collar, but Margaret helpfully included the fabric remnant so I could cut out new facings.  
Vintage dress old pins

I just finished putting in my tailor's tacks, and then noticed that she had drawn all the markings, dots, notches and dart lines, on the wrong side of the fabric with light pencil.  I am not sure I approve of the method, but I appreciate that she was a pattern marker - just like me.
Very nice, Margaret.

I spent part of yesterday afternoon sewing up this dress, it is a lot of fun to just pick up a dress and sew it together as is, with no adjustments for fit, which is something I rarely do.  
Later this week I will post the finished dress  - and then what?  Margaret's dress needs to find a good home, so I will have to think about that.   
Until then, my first vintage pattern (despite the fact that I have purchased several on Etsy, as yet untouched).    

For new readers, here is a link to the next post,  Vintage Treasure where you least expect it, Part 2,  for photos and details of the finished dress.

5/19/11  If you are arriving here from The Sew Weekly, welcome and thanks for reading.
Here is a new post about another vintage project I just completed.  Officially a Fan of Vintage

Camelia jan 2011Finally a garden photo - something blooming around here, but it will be few and far between for a while.  Cherry red camellia flowers to match Margaret's red butterfly print.

Happy sewing, Beth


  1. Oh I love this post. What a treasure to find. It makes me think of all the unfinished projects I have around here...what will happen to them down the line if I never finish them? Hopefully someone, like you, will find them and bring them to life. I know the good answer would be for me to finish my own projects but I am an honest woman and know that some things just do not keep my interest. I can not wait to see the dress.

  2. This is such a lovely story. I'm going to link to it at our Vintage Sewalong.

  3. What a lucky find and pattern. I hadn't seen this one before. Like you, it always makes me a little sad to see an estate sale like this.

  4. Wonderful story! I must say Margaret had lovely taste - that collar and sleeve is adorable, and so is the fabric!

  5. Ohhh, Hi! I've just "met" you. Thanks for the story of your lovely "find". I look forward to reading more of your posts :)

  6. That's so touching, and the finished dress will be so pretty. I sometimes feel linked to previous seamstresses by noticing the way they handled their patterns, but never something as special as that.

    You aren't keeping the dress?

  7. oh what a cool find!! Is it in the right size for you?

  8. Oh how lovely. I am so looking forward to seeing the dressa sewn up!

  9. Hello Beth, finding a wonderful but a little sad is not it? I wonder where this is a seamstress and made her leave a beautiful fabric and pattern as well. Can not wait to see the dress ready.


    Eilan - Brazil

    Ps - Sorry if you are not very clear, do not speak your language and I am using a google translator.

  10. What an exciting find! I believe I will begin shopping at estate sales again. If I were to have found the dress, I think I'd sew it up and hang it in my sewing room with the pattern envelope framed next to it. Let us know what size it is in today's sizes. Thanks! Carrie

  11. What an incredible find! I think it was meant to be that this dress landed in your lap. Someone else may not have given it the life you are sure to release by making it!

  12. What a wonderful post. I think it is fantastic that someone such as yourself --- one who could appreciate a dress-in-progress --- found that wrinkled bag. I'm looking forward to seeing the completed dress!

  13. (whoops, sorry, hit post before I was ready there)

    I can't wait to see how it turns out! I have found 4 of these so far.

    Ages ago I found an apron, completely cut out and stuffed inside the pattern envelope. That one I finished and gave to a friend.

    Since then I've found a pair of girl's shorts and two women's dresses that I haven't tackled yet. The shorts are damaged from the paper and pins so I may never finish them up...but the dresses seem fine. I should really try and get to them!

  14. Your vintage treasure findings are great! Love the fabric. By the way i start my blog in English :) Welcome!