Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fabrics of the week: Brocade and Damask

I’ve decided to show two fabrics from the VFG Fabric Resource today, because so often these fabrics are confused with one other. They are indeed similar, both woven on a jacquard loom.
An elaborately-patterned fabric woven on a jacquard loom since the early 19th century, brocade uses color, texture or both to emphasize its figures. The figures and ground may be of contrasting weaves such as satin on plain weave. Brocade is not considered reversible; the reverse is often distinguished by long floating threads.

Brocade was originally made in Asia, of silk with gold or silver threads, and it may still be silk or a manufactured filament fiber with metallic threads. The original looming was done manually.

Uses: Evening wear, accessories, household items

See also:
Damask (below)
 ©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

50s brocade shoes in my Etsy shop


Damask differs from its jacquard relative brocade in that it can be reversed, although the reverse will feature the woven-in pattern in “negative.” Damask is characteristically one color but two different weaves, to set the patterns apart from the ground. If the pattern is satin on the face, it will be dull on the reverse. If two colors are used, these will be reversed on the back of the fabric.

The fabric gets its name from Damascus, Syria, a trade hub where this silk fabric from China was introduced to Europe. Starting in the 15th century, European damasks were made of linen; both staple fiber and filament fiber damasks are made still. Table linens of cotton and blends are often damask.

Uses: Table linens, household decorations, towels, wraps, evening wear, accessories

See also:
Brocade (above)
Jacquard, woven 
 ©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

60s silver damask dress in my Etsy shop

Friday, August 24, 2012

A small milestone

23 purchases away from 1000 from my Etsy shop, and the countdown is on!

I have always given a small gift-with-purchase at 100, 200, 300, etc. A thousand seems pretty grand to me, and deserving of a little more.

In appreciation, the person who makes purchase number 1000 will get a $50 discount code for their next purchase from my store!

And you know how hard it is to be runner-up? Purchases number 999 and 1001 will receive $10 discount codes.

Thank you so much for your support! I ♥ my customers! Yes, you!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fabric of the week: Fleece

This week’s fabric from the new VFG Fabric Resource is fleece. No, not the fleece that takes up a disproportionate amount of space in fabric stores today. (That fleece’s full name is polar fleece, and I will get to writing about it for the fabric resource, but haven’t been in a rush about it...) The fleece I'm talking about is made of woven wool, and you are most apt to see it cut into a good-quality vintage coat.

Fleece is made of wool, mohair (as well as other specialty hairs) and blends. The nap covers the fabric’s construction which is usually right-hand twill or satin weave. With its soft nap all brushed in one direction, woven fleece has a longer, hairier nap than duvetyn. 
Uses: Coats, hats 
See also:
Sweatshirt fleece

©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

This gives me a chance to show off this 1950s Lilli Ann coat, new in my web store. The fleece used for this coat has a luxuriously long nap.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Twice as nice: Vintage reversibles

I just listed this 1950s skirt in my Etsy shop...

...and got to thinking just how much I love something you can reverse. Although never what one would call commonplace, vintage fashion features much more that can be reversed (or in some other way converted) than is currently available. I guess people used to want more from their clothing!

Here's another of those ingenious reversible plaid skirts, the organization of the pleats giving different effects on the two sides. The zipper has a pull on both sides. This one was labeled Pendleton and probably dates from the early to mid 1960s:

Most frequently seen in my experience are reversible vintage coats. How handy to be able to go from a more exciting print to a more practical solid!

Apparently this is not just a phenomenon of the 50s and 60s, if this late 1930s cape is any indication:

I've also seen my share of reversible vintage Asian jackets:

This was probably the most unusual of my finds, a 1960s chartreuse and taupe wool dress and jacket, both reversible:

Then there are the assorted accessories, such as bags...

...and what isn't to appreciate about a dramatic stole that reverses from black to white?

What's the best reversible vintage item you've seen?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fabric of the week: Burlap

In case you hadn’t seen the previous entries, I’m showing off a fabric from the new VFG Fabric Resource each week. This week’s fabric is not commonly associated with vintage fashion but I have seen burlap used for a most chic 1950s swing coat, so I know the irony of a rough fabric used for high fashion is not unheard of.

Burlap is a coarse, plain weave fabric woven from jute fibers. It is often left undyed, but can be dyed or printed. Burlap is called hessian in the UK and Europe. Gunny sack or gunny cloth is course burlap used for bagging. 
Uses: Bags for commodities such as rice; upholstery lining; when printed, used for draperies and wall coverings. Very rarely used for clothing. 
See also:

©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

Burlap-covered Enid Collins style bucket bag with unicorn, in my Etsy store:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hollywood Hed-Topper scarf - ingenious!

I recently acquired several mysterious scarves labeled Hollywood Hed-Topper - Arlis Mfg. Co. Los Angeles. Basically each scarf is a large square with a lined band that extends beyond the square and has a clear ring on one end, snaps on the other. Wrapping it around one’s head and snapping the band together made sense to me, but I just knew there was more to this.  Today I stumbled upon the instructions—what a coup for the manufacturers to have Jayne Mansfield show off their creation! 

From, where a scarf with its original packaging was auctioned
 So I tried some stunts of my own and I am in love with this scarf! Thank goodness I have two more (navy with white polka dots and burgundy) to ease the pain of letting this one go! 

The Hollywood Hed-Topper (also good as a neck-ringer!) available in my Etsy shop
Etsy crafters take note...this design would be fun to make and stock in your store, would it not? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fabric of the week: Sateen

Continuing my series showcasing fabrics and fabric terms from the new VFG Fabric Resource, today is one of my favorites.

I love sateen. Looking for a dressy, elegant fabric, or are you looking for comfort and wearability? Sateen has a foot in both camps. I think I'd prefer to wear a party dress of cotton sateen rather than most any satin.


The name sateen means the diminutive of satin, which is traditionally made of silk, while sateen is made of cotton, sometimes a cotton blend. It is constructed in a tight satin weave with float threads that cross the face diagonally…sort of a satin/twill hybrid. Already lustrous and smooth by virtue of its weave, the best sateen is made of combed cotton and mercerized and can be very glossy. It can be printed, often with flowers, or plain. 
Uses: Dresses, skirts, jackets, household decorations
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

Sateen is one characteristic fabric for Hawaiian-made vintage fashions, combining as it does casual elegance with the coolness of cotton. This 1950s sarong-style long dress by Kahana Manufacturing - Honolulu, is a good example. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Marilyn Monroe: 50 years later

It has been 50 years to the day since the death of Marilyn Monroe.
When I was young I didn’t really care for Marilyn because she didn’t seem the model of the strong woman I wanted to be. Her weakness now seems to me to be her inability to reconcile her working life with her inner life, which only occasionally overlapped. I now love her for the wonderfully talented actress she was along with the golden lady that she became. Her beauty and intensity were so real, yet the look in her eyes often was so vulnerable, it is hard for an onlooker to reconcile. I can only imagine how difficult it was to be behind those eyes. I am so sad for all that brought her down. I’m positive she was so much more than she got to be by the terribly young age of 36.
Marilyn Monroe photographed by Bert Stern, 1962

Marilyn, in a few of her own words:
“No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they’re pretty, even if they aren’t.


“The truth is I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.”

“It’s better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone - so far.”

“To put it bluntly, I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation. But I’m working on the foundation.”

“It’s often just enough to be with someone. I don’t need to touch them. Not even talk. A feeling passes between you both. You’re not alone.”

“Dogs never bite me. Just humans.”

“Men are so willing to respect anything that bores them.”

“I want to grow old without facelifts... I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made. Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You'd never wholly know you.”

“I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.”

“I’ve never dropped anyone I believed in.”

“I restore myself when I’m alone.”

“I am not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

Going up?

{Click image to view, sound up}

For my August monthly theme I was inspired by the old department store elevator—“2nd floor, shoe salon”—and the anticipation I would feel going up. I loved the grand old Frederick & Nelson in Seattle, with each floor a new adventure, from the Paul Bunyan Room of the basement to the Tearoom of the 8th floor.

In honor of my theme, for August I'm changing my usual slogan Top Drawer Wearable Vintage to Top Floor Wearable Vintage! : )

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thanks to you I'm a winner!

Hooray!! Denisebrain is among Lulu’s Vintage Top Ten People’s Choice Award winners again this year! Have a look at the fabulous company I keep.

My sincere appreciation to Lulu for holding this contest—it’s a chance for those of us who sell vintage to get great exposure, and for those of us who buy vintage to see what is out there. If you didn’t yet see the list of vintage sites Lulu compiled, please do. This year she has also made a list of her personal choices for vintage clothing by the decade.

And my ongoing thanks to the readers of my blog, the purchasers of my vintage finds, my supportive and inspiring colleagues and all who make everything I do such a joy.

The champagne’s on me!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fabric of the week: Felt

In case you didn’t see the start of this last week: Each week I’m showcasing a fabric or fabric term from the new VFG Fabric Resource

This week’s fabric is nonwoven felt, a fabric that may surprise some. For instance, did you know that the felt that is widely available in fabric and craft stores is not a real felt, but an imitation? That’s because genuine felt is made of wool fibers (more rarely fur fibers) and is much more expensive to produce. 

Just this weekend I was talking with a vintage fabric store owner (Ethel of The Knittn’ Kitten in Portland, Oregon...a really neat lady and a great little shop!). She told me that she had been finding felt yardage at estate sales, and became aware that it was soft, springy, a little lustrous and of great quality. That’s when she knew she was finding real wool felt. If you haven’t felt it (no pun...) you are in for a treat.

Felt, nonwoven 
Nonwoven felt is a fabric made in a process that involves fibers of wool or fur being subjected to moisture, heat, friction and pressure. The minute natural scales on the fibers cause them to tangle and mat while the heat and moisture shrink and thicken the fibers to form a dense fabric. Felting is the name of this process. Wool felt is probably the oldest fabric known to man, referenced in ancient writings and found in Bronze Age tombs. 
Fine felts may use rabbit fur fibers, while the finest use beaver fur fibers. These fine felts are known for their use in hat making. 
The fabric called felt which is currently widely available for crafting is actually an imitation; usually made of acrylic fibers and adhesives, no natural fibers are present. Other felts available are made of part wool. Half of the fibers must be natural for the fabric to felt. 
Uses: Hats, bags, slippers, padding, crafts, and a wide range of household and industrial applications
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

Crafters know that felt does not ravel, so it can be cut and used without finishing its edges. Iconic 1950s poodle skirts were made of felt. Interestingly, wool and fur fibers are so capable of felting that even only 50% wool/fur fibers will entangle non-wool fibers sufficiently to produce genuine felt. Another interesting point: The soft matted nap surface of many wool fabrics is produced by the same method (heat, friction, moisture, pressure) in a process called fulling.

Dramatic late 30s stylized felt fedora in my web store