Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fabric of the week: Corduroy

Vintage corduroy: The beloved 1968 children's book about a teddy bear in corduroy overalls

Parlez-vous fran├žais? If so, you probably believe that the word corduroy means something like “cord of the king,” with some sort of royal lineage. When preparing the VFG Fabric Resource I saw that there is not a consensus on this in references.


There is argument about the derivation of the name corduroy, with many claiming it got its name from the French corde du roi, or King’s cord, and that it was used for the clothing of servants in French royal households in the 17th and 18th centuries. It may have been a form of marketing (wear a fabric worn in the presence of French nobility!) by an English entrepreneur. Whatever the origin of its name, corduroy is a rugged and sturdy fabric, most often made of cotton, although today cotton blends are common. More rarely, and expensively, it is made of silk. 
The wales (ridges) of corduroy are formed by having extra filling yarns woven into a background. The filling yarns float over several or more warp yarns, then under one or two. The yarns floating over the surface are then cut, leaving tufts of yarn that are brushed up into soft vertical ridges. The wales are rounded as the float threads are longer at the centers of the ridges. Corduroy’s ground is plain or twill weave, and these are called tabby back and Genoa back, respectively. 
There are many weights of corduroy, defined by the number of wales per inch. The lighter, finer corduroys have tiny wales and as many as 25 wales per inch in the case of featherwale, while widewale (also called jumbo and elephant cord) can have as few as two wales to the inch. Corduroy can be made with alternating wider and narrower wales—called thick and thin corduroy. 
Uncut corduroy is a fabric that has a corded appearance, but without the velvety ridges of the cut floats. Very sturdy, it is used for sportswear. 
Uses: Depending on the weight, everything from dresses and shirts to upholstery, with suits, coats, slacks, children’s clothing, workwear and accessories in between. 
See also:
Featherwale corduroy, 
 Midwale corduroy, 
Pinwale corduroy, 
Widewale corduroy
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter
I would be thrilled to see and touch a silk corduroy someday! For now, I have a couple fine cotton corduroy items in my Etsy shop:
50s pinwale cotton corduroy coat
A flaring skirt dress, also from the 1950s, in pinwale corduroy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fabric of the week: Surah

Did you ever wonder what to call that silk fabric used for so many scarves? You know, the elegant light fabric with a diagonal twill weave? 

From the VFG Fabric Resource:

Surah is usually made of silk, or sometimes with silky manufactured fibers. It is found in a right-hand twill weave with the diagonal pattern of the twill visible on both sides. It is soft, smooth and fine and can be printed or solid. The French name surah comes from Surat, India, where the fabric was either first made, or dealt in, depending on the source of information. 
Uses: Neckties (it is sometimes called tie silk), scarves, blouses, dresses, and lingerie 
See also:
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

Although scarves are certainly more common than dresses made of surah, it makes a beautiful dress fabric—as Claire McCardell must have thought in designing this dress (from my web store).


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Extraordinary ca.1940 dress & jacket

I have just added this outfit to my web store, and I think it really deserves special mention.

The two labels are great indicators of the quality and style of this outfit. One is from Los Angeles’ late-great Bullock’s Wilshire store, the other reads An original design Registered by a member of Fashion Originators Guild. This organization existed from 1932 to 1941, with members pledging to only deal in original designs.

Two distinguished labels
Circa 1936 view of the Bullocks Wilshire department store. Photo by Richard Stagg, courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries. (from
The gown and jacket appear to date from the end of the 1930s to 1941 (and what I wouldn’t give to walk into that great Art Deco department store to choose this when it was new!). The dress is a timeless creation of black chantilly lace layered over tulle, over taffeta, over crinoline. The jacket is satin, lined in lightweight faille. 

The fitted jacket has nine tailored buttonholes and covered buttons. The shoulders are padded, with darts at the tops of the sleeves for shape. There are also darts at the elbows. 

The dress has pairs of crossed straps made of lace, and there are tiny bra strap holders. With lace pleated over the bust, the top of the bodice is ruffled. The wide black satin band goes up to a point in front. The satin band is held smooth by boning (two bones in front, one at each side seam). The dress has a side covered metal zipper.

The boning keeps the dress's satin band smooth
There are four tiny bra strap holders 
The chantilly lace was pieced where needed along the lines of its flower patterns
The outfit is really breathtaking, both in being so beautifully constructed, and in being so timelessly chic—worthy of Old (or New!) Hollywood.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fabric term of the week: Wool

I talked about rayon last, week, and with temperatures about wool? This is from the VFG Fabric Resource.

Wool is a natural fiber from sheep coats. It can be spun into a yarn with qualities that have never been entirely reproduced with manufactured fibers. It is strong and flexible, an excellent insulator, flame resistant, naturally water repellent and also able to absorb up to 50% of its weight in water. The fibers are naturally crimped and springy. The crimping makes the spinning of wool much easier with the fibers naturally binding together. In addition, the microscopic sections or scales along wool fibers allow them to stretch and bend as well as to lock together—giving wool its felting property. 
Not all sheep hair is the same—with variations on one animal, from animal to animal, and between breeds. Kemp is the more hair-like portion of a sheep coat, with little or no crimp and of larger diameter and coarser feel. The highest grade of wool is one with the narrowest diameter and with the highest number of crimps in its fiber. Ultra-fine merino wool can have up to 100 crimps per inch. 
The domestication of wild sheep took place sometime before 6,000 B.C.E., and the earliest wool fleece and fibers positively identified date from about 4,000 B.C.E. We get the name wool from Old English wull, and many other languages base their name for the fiber on the Latin lana
Also, note that various wools may come from other animals, primarily angora goats (from which we get mohair), cashmere goats (cashmere), angora rabbit (angora), alpaca, camel, and vicuna.

See wool and wool-like fabrics collected in the VFG Fabric Resource.

©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain

Like most vintage clothing sellers, I have plenty of wool items in stock. Here are just a few in my Etsy shop:

100% angora sweater dating from the 1980s
Italian-made 60s wool knit suit
50s black duvetyn jacket of 85% wool/15% fur fiber

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fabric term of the week: Rayon, viscose

Before I present my definition of rayon from the VFG Fabric Resource let me say this: I am no chemist. Understanding the processes used in creating manufactured fibers such as rayon, nylon and polyester was an interesting challenge for me. Having read, then read again (and again) about the invention and creation of these fibers, they finally stuck with me and I was able to present them in what I hope is understandable detail. I hope it is even a little interesting!

Rayon is a fiber that many vintage clothing aficionados love dearly. Its ability to take and hold dyes, its versatility and its long history, have made it a favorite of vintage wardrobes.

1940s “date for the ballet” novelty print rayon

Rayon is a generic name for a group of fabrics made from cellulose. Cellulose is a structural component of plants. For the purpose of textile production, wood pulp from trees is the main source of cellulose.  There are several different manufacturing processes, which yield rayon types called viscose, cuprammonium, high wet modulus (modal) and lyocell. 
Rayon was the first man-made fiber. One part of the process, the extraction of cellulose from the inner bark of a tree, was achieved by the Swiss chemist Georges Audemars in 1855. In 1884, Frenchman Hilaire de Chardonnet developed a nitrocellulose process for creating the fiber—a process which involved exposing cellulose to nitric acid. Nitrocellulose could then be extruded, through a tiny hole, as a filament fiber. The fiber was expensive and dangerous to make—as evidenced by the number of early factories that blew up processing the highly flammable nitrocellulose. This earliest incarnation of rayon was called Chardonnet silk. 
The much safer cuprammonium process was developed by the Bemberg Company of Germany in 1890. In this process, cellulose from purified wood pulp is exposed to a solution of copper and ammonia (cuprammonium), converting the cellulose to a liquid form. After spinning and washing, the cellulose is regenerated into a filament form. This process yields a smooth, fine filament fiber. Bemberg Italy still makes this fiber, under the trademark name Bemberg. Cupro is the generic name often used for rayon produced by the cuprammonium method. 
In 1892, the viscose process was patented in Britain by Charles Frederick Cross and his partners. Unlike cuprammonium, viscose rayon does not require lignin-free (purified wood pulp) cellulose, making it cheaper and more practical to produce. This process, which takes place in many stages, allows for more modifications to the fiber. Soon after its patent—and to this day—the viscose method has been the principal method used for making rayon. 
The viscose rayon fiber, first known as artificial silk, was in commercial production by 1905 in Britain. In 1909, because of high import tariffs, the British company Samuel Courtauld and Co. Ltd. obtained the rights to produce rayon using the viscose process in the United States. The first U.S. rayon plant, in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, was in business by 1910. Courtauld called this new venture the American Viscose Company. 
The multistage viscose process follows a progression that changes wood pulp into a viscose substance, then into a filament fiber. It is a very versatile process. Viscose rayon can be blended with any other fiber, and the finished textile can be soft and silky or sturdy and strong. It can have a dull or bright finish, and can be silken, linen-like or even wool-like. It takes dye well. Its clothing uses range from delicate lingerie to heavy coats. The 1930s saw the first use of staple fiber rayon, allowing rayon to not only emulate the silk that inspired it, but also cotton. 
The name rayon (“beam of light” in French) was first used in 1924 in the U.S., whereas viscose was used as the name of the process and the cellulosic liquid from which the rayon was made. In Europe, viscose was adopted as the name of the fabric itself (with the name rayon disappearing after the 1970s). The U.S. Federal Trade Commission now considers viscose an alternative name for rayon. 
Viscose rayon’s biggest practical weakness is its lack of strength when wet. High Wet Modulus (HWM) or modal rayon was developed in the 1950s; it is a variation of viscose rayon which makes for a stronger fiber. 
Lyocell was developed starting in the late 1970s by Courtaulds Fibres UK, and first manufactured in 1987. It differs in production from viscose rayon in that the solvent is reused, reducing its environmental impact (a major problem with older rayon processes). Tencel was the first trade name used for the staple fiber lyocell in North America, dating from 1992. Lyocell is also spun into filament fibers for silk-like textiles.
©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photo by Hoyt Carter

I've just added this dress made of rayon faille to my web store

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Think pink vintage for Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and, as in the past, I am devoting a portion of my sales this week to the highly respected Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

Here's the deal: Find any item that is pink, or has pink in the print, purchase it before October 15, and I will donate 25% of the sale price to LBBC.

Visit my web store

and my Etsy shop (page five is mostly pink!)

Wonder if you're seeing pink or not? Just ask!

Thank you for helping with this important cause that effects so many.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Vintage convergence time again

I love when I stumble across a vintage photo or artwork showing an item of clothing I have found...I call these vintage convergences. The latest is a 1944-45 Jacket Frost Handbags pattern, and a bag that was obviously made from the pattern. The bag is currently for sale in my Etsy shop.

Find all my blogged vintage convergences here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fortune telling

For this month’s theme—I see your future...

{click to view, sound up}

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fabric of the week: Dotted swiss

One of the first fabrics I could call by name was dotted swiss (also called swiss dot). It is often used for girl’s clothing so I may have had a dress made of it early on. I remember asking for it by name when my mother was sewing something for me. I loved it, and still do.

In researching for the VFG Fabric Resource, I found out that there are a number of ways to achieve dotted swiss’s tiny regular dots. Read on...

Dotted swiss 

Traditionally made of a fine plain weave cotton—now sometimes a blend with manufactured fiber—dotted swiss always is covered in small dots placed at regular intervals. These can be woven in, flocked or printed. Colors may be introduced, although the most common is all white. The original and finest was first made in Switzerland on a swivel loom. Other woven varieties are clip-spot (spot-dot, clip-dot or American dotted swiss) and lappet woven
Flocked dots are made by applying tiny fibers with glue. Neither the flocked nor the printed versions of dotted swiss are as durable as the woven varieties, although they are less expensive to produce. 
Uses: Blouses, dresses, wedding gowns and curtains 
See also:
 Flocked fabric
Dotted swiss, clip spot, face

Dotted swiss, clip spot, reverse

Dotted swiss, flocked
 ©Vintage Fashion Guild - Text by Margaret Wilds/denisebrain,  photos by Hoyt Carter

This week I’ve listed a 1950s formal with the charm of sheer red dotted swiss, the tiny white dots achieved by the clip-spot method.