How do you Know all that (Military) Stuff?

Even though I tend to specialize in fashion and fashion related items – both on the handmade side and the vintage side, research becomes a big part of the job. Yep, it really does. I admit to being a bit of a nerd in this respect, have a tendency to note details, and have a pretty good size library on fashion and design history. But then comes the pieces I had no real clue about so it meant starting down a whole new path! Today’s blog is going to focus on vintage military pieces. As a woman I’m a bit of an anomaly in this sphere as most collectors of military items are men. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked how I know this stuff, ask if I’m selling it for my husband, and when selling at various in person venues had potential customers go straight to my husband or son assuming they were the seller!

I admit I wasn’t an expert, and would still not claim to be an expert. But I can do research. The piece above is one of the early ones I ran across during my work with the local theatre company with which I’m associated. But as that work continued it became clear that stock we were working on had a LOT of pieces that had been donated over the years (because a theatre can always use them for costumes right?) we would never use and which had definite value. So I started studying and learning. I purchased books. I looked for and bookmarked dozens of websites on uniforms and insignia. When I could find a name or service number I dug into sites like Fold3.com and Ancestry.com. I learned to look for clues.

Which brings us back to the khaki and blue piece above. Note I said piece – one of the first things I learned is that jackets are not necessarily jackets when it comes to uniforms. Some are jackets although that is more properly associated with additional outerwear. The top, buttoned front portion of a uniform is more properly called a blouse or tunic. This one is a US Army Infantry tunic from the Spanish American War. Considering it dates back to the late 1800s it is in pretty good shape. So how did I figure this out. Well that ribbon on the left side was a good clue to start with. It is from the 51st National Encampment of United Spanish War Veterans that was held in 1949 and has the name of the delegate. An interesting point is that this group was not just from the Spanish American War of 1898 but also included members of units that served in the Philippines Insurrection. If interested you can find more about the organization here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Spanish_War_Veterans . While a good start it didn’t tell me which of these conflicts it came from. Once again clues came into play. See that blue trim? That was the key. By the time of the Philippines Insurrection that blue trim was gone and the uniforms were all khaki.

But what about a more “recent” situation? Can color be the key? No, it can not. The 3 Ike jackets below are all made to the same specification order and the colors vary quite a bit. The one in the center (with the ruptured duck discharge insignia) is probably closest to what we expect of the WWII “greens”. The left is almost brown or deep khaki, while the one on the right falls in between. So if you’ve ever wondered why those uniforms in the movies seems to vary in color they really did!

It wasn’t a quality control issue. It was plain logistics. The United States went from a relatively small “standing” military to a massive organization in an extremely short period of time. Clothing manufacturers went into military mode and while there were the written specifications, all with numbers and dates, sent out the ability to control color to tight windows was not as advanced as it is today for one thing. But on a more practical level the need to get uniforms made and on the backs of service personnel was a greater priority. So if it was close, it passed quality control! In some cases, particularly for officers, independent tailors or small businesses were pressed into the war effort and constructed uniforms for individual clients. Those specification orders were put on labels that are often sewn into the pocket of a uniform piece though so those are great clues as to when it was manufactured. There is always some overlap though. The photo on the right has a WWII era spec number, but the small corporal stripe on the sleeves was used during the Korean Conflict. The overall structure of the military, especially the Army, changed over the course of WWII as well. As the organization grew so did the distinct groups within the Army. Some of those divisions grew into their own branches of the military such as the Army Air Corps becoming the Army Air Force and then becoming the US Air Force in September 1947.

Then there are uniforms that have not changed much over time. The Marine Corps and US Navy in particular can be tricky. Below are 2 USMC overcoats. Can you tell the difference? Yes, the one on the right is missing a row of buttons. It should be double breasted. Color varies slightly but overall these are nearly identical. The biggest clue is indeed the buttons though! The older one is on the right and is probably late to post WWII to Korean Conflict – it has metal buttons and twill lining. The coat on the left is Vietnam era and has satin lining and plastic buttons.

Other clues are things like service number format (when present), tags and label format, presence of cleaning instructions, and fiber content. Post Korea tends to be polyester/wool blends rather than 100% wool. For US Army the green color changed as well in the early 1960s to a less drab green. Of course now that they have announced they are going back to the “green and pinks” of WWII that will muddy the waters a bit. I have a year more or less to get the vintage pieces listed before those are out. And as noted before no one thing is used to date an item. Fortunately most insignia is out there on official sites so those are a bit easier, although can be time consuming, to identify. So there you have it – the next time you wonder how someone “knows this stuff”, the answer is simple – RESEARCH!

Dressing in Vintage Clothing

Why do people want these “old clothes”? That is a question I’ve heard a LOT over the last six years as I have actively been acquiring and dealing in Vintage Fashion – clothing, accessories, and patterns as well as some home fashions particularly table linens. While I can’t say I have the total answer, what I can say is the answers are varied. To be clear – in this blog I’m referring to vintage items primarily those from the 1940s – 1980s. There is another whole trend to dressing in historic garments. Perhaps a topic for another day. To be considered “vintage” an item generally has to be 20 years old or older. Think about that a minute….that means as of today anything that dates back to 1999, over prior to 2000, is vintage. I can guarantee you I have pieces that old in my drawers and closet right now! But I digress….let’s get back to those “old clothes”.

The items in the photos above represent some of the wide range of items that are out in the world with new owners. Most of these have gone to individuals. However, at least one has gone to an entertainment entity. The entertainment entity is one of the reasons there is a demand for vintage fashion. Think about how many “costume dramas” are out there. From the time travel tv shows like Timeless to period shows like Father Brown or Traitors. Add to that movies and live theater. Yes, sometimes these organizations will reproduce items but at other times they will source if they can find what they want. One of the challenges with true vintage, especially getting back to the 40s, 50s and early 60s, is that people were smaller and the undergarments worn by women resulted in garments that are a good deal smaller than people are today. Professional actresses tend to be smaller, although height can still be an issue, so that whole garments can be worn.

But what about all of those individuals? Yes there are many many who are able to wear them. The orange maxi dress was destined to be worn to a summer wedding for instance. There are also those who want to just pop up modern clothing with a vintage touch – a retro feel dress for instance with a pair of fun gloves. The person who prefers clip and screw back earrings to pierced or has pierced ears but that pair of 1950s rhinestones are just too killer to pass. So it isn’t always an all or nothing.

Vintage gives you something that isn’t “everywhere” and you are far less likely to run into someone else wearing the same piece than if you went to the store everyone else is shopping. That is a big part of the draw of vintage in my opinion – the search for the unique, the different. This is when someone tends to mix vintage into their everyday wear. But there are also all sorts of subcultures that want to go all out.

By subculture I don’t mean something nefarious or dark but a group that enjoys shared activities such as car clubs or military re-enactment for example. The car clubs often seem to be pretty heavily male dominated and some (not all) will dress along the lines of their car (ie rolled up jeans, Converse tennis shoes, and a white tshirt for a 1950s vehicle for instance). Women into the cars themselves might as well but what about the wives and significant others that travel to the car shows, cruise ins, etc? They are dressing up too! Let’s face it – adults need to play and this is a great way to play. Take on a different persona. The Pin Up Girls are another group – they go all out from under garments to hair and will do photo shoots in garb. This isn’t always high glamour! Sometimes it is a more everyday look. Below is an example of that.

That unique and different look, the desire to play a bit, period entertainment, and many more reasons as varied as the individual making the purchase contribute to the answer of “who wants these old clothes?” So next time you hit the big box store and see the same same things why not try shopping a bit of vintage. You don’t have to go full on period garb but why not add a pop of unique to an outfit?

Being Your Own Boss is Great! Right?

I’ve had a fair number of people comment or ask about being my own boss with an increase lately so I thought I’d take that topic on in today’s blog post! So keep reading for some insight into the daily (and I do mean daily as in 7 days a week!) approach to running a microbusiness. There are plusses but it is not all rainbows and unicorns. One of the plusses is that I rarely set an alarm and trust me that IS a big benefit for me. But I’m usually up and making my commute to the kitchen between 7-7:30. Once the coffee is started the next thing that happens is starting up my laptop. So while the day starts within minutes of getting out of bed, there is no need to shower, dress, and put makeup on before making that very short commute down the stairs.

The day always starts with coffee and paperwork!

I have a specific set of online rounds as we refer to them while I drink my coffee, eventually eat some breakfast, etc. Sometimes this is a relatively quick process and other days it takes a good deal longer. It all depends on what has come in overnight in terms of emails and messages. While the ability to keep the business open around the clock and interact with global clients is a plus, it also has a downside in this digital age with an expectation of instant response. This means even on vacation or a day away I need to be in contact. Often I am able to answer with I’m out of the studio and will get back to you with more detail and when that will be. The vast majority of customers do seem to get that when they are shopping there is ONE person on the other end doing it all. But that also means I have to remember to get back to them so when I do travel or am away for other reasons I make lists and frankly tend towards old school paper and pen. At some point I either take a break or finish the morning’s administrative tasks and get dressed.

Not going to lie this is one of the plusses of “working from home” – I get to choose what I wear. Usually jeans and a tshirt, sweatshirt, sweater, etc as the season dictates. I freely admit that if I’m not heading out hair and makeup tend towards more functional than fashionable. In part because if I am spending the day sewing I don’t want to risk transferring makeup on to fabric. But I’m also “working from home” and that is interpreted far too often as being available and that is one of the minuses. Yes I have flexibility and can take time to do other things but when I do it means making up for it some other time. Of late this has been a significant issue but I’ll work through it.

The rest of the day is spent doing a variety of tasks depending on what needs to be done, the time of year, etc. These tasks include:
purchasing – no purchasing department to send it to! If I don’t stay ahead of what I need whether it is packaging materials, fabrics, whatever at some point everything shuts down. A lot can be done online but occasionally I have to actually walk into suppliers brick and mortar locations.

quotations and processing new orders – when doing custom work a fair amount of back and forth goes on between me and the potential client to determine the details and cost. New orders have to be recorded in the financial records (no accountant sitting in an office to send these to) and then either put into WIP (Work in Progress) or RTS (ready to ship) piles. Yes I do use a bit of pile management.

pull and prep or pack – some times fabrics have to be ordered and for other products I have it on hand but it requires prep. Flannels have to be washed to remove shrinkage before cutting. If something is ready to ship either as it is already made or is vintage, then it gets pulled from inventory storage along with the appropriate packaging and set on the shipping table.

Cut and sew, photograph, edit photos, write listings, manage inventory, promotional activites…and so much more. It is a none stop juggling act.

At the end of the day – and that varies between 5-6:30 depending on the day I pack orders that are ready to ship, generate shipping labels and set up a pickup.

I am lucky to be able to have my mail carrier pick up and deliver packages right to my door as this saves a ton of time. I also have 2 people that do take on some tasks. My spouse is my “shipping department” and puts the labels on packages. If he is here he will also often meet the carrier at the door and handle that. My daughter in law also helps. If I am going to be away for several days I can forward RTS orders to her and she will pull, pack, and ship those. She also does a good chunk of the vintage photography.

Over time I’ve developed systems and processes that allow me to organize my days. When things are a little less busy I do take a bit more down time. It is easy to let it take control but when last plus is that if my boss (aka me) gets a little too pushy I can tell her to take a hike and don’t get disciplined or fired! Thinking about starting your own mircobusiness? If so I hope this has given you a little insight into how that works. And if you were just curious why that person down the road seems to be home all the time but never has time to “do” anything well now you know! Have a great day!

Happy Birthday America!

For those of us in the United States it is a day of celebration. It is the 243rd anniversary of the day we became a nation, the day our first Congress came together and stood up to King George. But I’m not going political with this post, I’m going to reflect a bit on change and how we’ve celebrated over the years.

Let’s face it, this happens in the summer here in the United States and summer is a time for us to enjoy getting outdoors. Up here in Michigan we’re at the peak of summer and we do go all out to make sure that we have soaked up plenty of sun before we have to face another winter! So how have Americans celebrated this day over the last 243 years? Picnics and Barbeques have ALWAYS been a favorite way to gather and celebrate summer happenings. But those picnics have changed over time. Not the least of which was how people dressed. You knew I’d connect this to my favorite topic of fashion didn’t you? In the late 1700s men were still wearing knee breeches, wasitcoats, and cutaway style coats. Ladies, would have shown up with skirts to the ground, overskirts, and rather closely fitted bodices – or redingote. Hats and parasols were a must as well. I’ve included a photo of a fairly typical look of the time for summer below. The practicality of serving “picnic” food reflected that. Chairs would have been scattered about under available trees or any other available shade. Long tables and benches would have been used for large gatherings but these benches were NOT attached to the table.

As we moved through the 1800s towards our 100th birthday fashion changed but in reality did not change that much. Americans still wore many layers. Women wore long skirts and men waistcoats and jackets but there trousers now extended to the knee. Ladies strove to protect their complexions from the sun – so there were those hats, parasols, and looking for shade again.

This is a reproduction 1840s gown I wore for my son’s August wedding. I “only” had a corset and 2 petticoats on under it. However, as would have been typical of the time period, it was made of very lightweight cotton and had elbow length sleeves.

It wasn’t until after WWI that fashions began to relax a bit more and women became less concerned about sun exposure. But a summer picnic would still have seen women in dresses and men in layers. Below are typical “casual” summer wear images from the 1930s. What do you think? Want to head out today in any of those looks?

So let’s fast forward…when did fashions go more casual? It was after WWII and reflected social change in the country. Women had done men’s work during the War Years and got used to wearing “slacks”, hosiery wasn’t readily available so they started to get used to going bare legged, and the idea of having a tanned complexion was no longer seen as a social faux pax. I remember heading out for breakfast gatherings at the beach every summer holiday as a kid. Yes BREAKFAST! My paternal grandfather and his siblings began this tradition somewhere in the late 1940s or early 1950s when their children (my dad and his siblings and cousins) were little. I suspect it also meant they could get the “good” spots and tables at the beach parks, have a fun day, and still be home for evening chores (at least one farmed) and be ready for work the next day! By the time i was part of the festivities it was the early 1960s. Imagine 5 or 6 picnic tables placed end to end covered in a variety of red and white checked tablecloths. The “aunts” as we called them would be laying out so many kinds of baked goods it was mind boggling. All the moms would be unpacking the picnic hampers and stacking the plates near one end of the tables where a couple of the “uncles” were manning camp stoves where bacon and scrambled eggs were being cooked. They were experts at placing them so the wind was not blowing sand into the pans! Meanwhile, the kids and dads were playing in the sand and down by the water. When the call went out everyone ran to the tables, slid onto the benches, and eagerly dug in. Oh right….what sort of looks were we all wearing? While I don’t have any family photos of these outings on hand below are images that would have been typical. Bathing suits with terry coverups, shorts, tshirts and button front shirts, pedal pushers that would be very much in style today (think capri lenth skinny pants!), and I’m sure some of the aunts were still wearing lightweight casual summer dresses.

So there you have it! Picnic attire throughout the years. You know how modern clothing works – sundresses, shorts, skorts, tshirts, etc. Whatever you are wearing, wherever you are gathering I wish you all a safe and fun day. Oh, and for those working be safe out there! Final note – this is the first 4th of July in nearly 40 years that my husband is not working! We thought there might have been one other somewhere about 20 years ago but are not sure – the party we were remembering may have happened on another day NEAR the 4th!

Vintage here, Vintage there, Vintage everywhere

What exactly IS vintage? Generally a vintage item is anything that is at least 20 years old. Yep, 20 years old . How many of you are now saying to yourself but I have stuff in my closet that is “only” 20 years old? Raising my hand here as I definitely do! Not only do I have it but I wear much of it. Especially some of my sweatshirts. Interest in vintage clothing, home decor, collectibles, and so forth tends to ebb and flow but for the last decade or so it has generally been on the rise. Not just to possess and showcase but to wear, to use. Sometimes it is as simple as a piece of jewelry to perk up a lapel that is different from what everyone else is wearing.

An example of an “apprentice piece” – it was common for jeweler’s apprentices to make up approval pieces for high end clients in silver and stones other than gem stones before the custom piece was made in platinum, white gold, or another metal and diamonds or other gems. These pieces allowed the apprentice to perfect techniques and provided higher end costume jewelry for the jeweler to sell.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who want the look head to toe. One of these groups are women attending classic car shows and want to rock the era of the cars. Sometimes called Pin Up Girls, although these ladies are very focused on the looks of the 1940s and often do photo shoots in full kit including hair and makeup. Others just like the look and find it fun!

One of my clients in Europe in full vintage for a night out.

Most of the time I find that my clients are picking up a piece here and there to work into their wardrobe to add a pop of something unique. Yesterday I was photographing a group of “new” pieces and had a friend stop by, ask about one of the pieces and claimed it! Love when I don’t have to go through the process of writing up a listing. To that end….we are starting to use Instagram a bit more to highlight pieces as they are photographed. Interested? You can follow Patten’s Attic Treasures at pattensattictreasures on Instagram.

So you might be asking….how does one get into the world of SELLING vintage items? In my case it started with a friend that had closed her business and was moving. One day I received a phone call from her letting me know and saying sooooo if you can come over in the next couple days you can have what you want. Three days later and several van loads later we had gone through the space front to back, top to bottom, and it was ready to move. We packed a few things for her to move, sent a LOT to several charitable organizations, put a fair bit out for the trash collection, and yes I brought tonnage home! Much of that collection was fashion accessories such as sewing patterns, trims, jewelry, and plenty of linens. I started researching and that is when I started the branch of the company that sells under Patten’s Attic Treasures via Etsy http://www.etsy.com/shop/PattensAtticTreasure Several years later we began the process of sorted through the massive costume collection of Muskegon Civic Theatre. That process is now complete 6 years later! Well the sort and clean is done. But we have thousands of pieces yet to list! So if you’re looking for anything in the line of fashion and fashion accessory you’re looking for just ask! Who knows I may have it.

Well I’m on a bit of a time crunch today so that’s it for now. Have a great week!

What’s Old is New Again

This morning I made a quick run to my local “sewing & craft” store for a couple of small things. Generally I am not over in the jewelry making and paper crafting area but I needed some small cardboard gift boxes to ship a jewelry order. I’d run out and really didn’t feel like ordering another gross! While there I stumbled across this interesting item – with a sign about how it is the “latest innovative tool” for a variety of paper crafting hobbies.

Description from the website ” The Typecast Retro Typewriter by We R Memory Keepers is the perfect retro typewriter for the modern maker. Quickly add journaling to layouts, cards, and other crafting projects. This typewriter is built to last as it is made with top quality internal metal mechanics. When not in use, it serves as an attractive and unique home décor piece. A large selection of colored inks and coordinating typecast paper accessories are available (sold separately). “

In taking a look online (don’t you love Google?) I not only found the description in the caption above but a couple of videos. From those videos I see that it is essentially a manual typewriter and those “colors sold separately” are good old style reel to reel ribbons impregnated with ink. The one in the video had black on the top and red on the bottom. Now who remembers those? And manual? Even my typewriter from college was electric! Just saw it in a storage cupboard the other day and was wondering why I was still hanging on to it. Guess this could be a reason.

I’m not bashing or making fun of those who might use this product. However, as it retails for nearly $170 if I were in the market I might haunt a few garage sales or thrift stores first! But it did start me thinking. Thinking about all of the things that at one time were considered essentially obsolete.

Like the corset for example. The arrival of the bra and girdle signaled the end of the corset industry, or so many thought. A few artisans remained to craft pieces for period piece movies and tv shows but other than that who wanted to wear a corset? Fast forward to today. While corset manufacturing may not be the widespread industry it once was, there is plenty of demand for corsets. To the extent that there are several sites online that sell a wide variety of styles at quite reasonable prices. Then there are the artisans. Redthreaded (@redthreaded) is one that I’ve followed for many years now, collaborated with, and who made a specialty piece for my daughter in law to wear with her late 1800s style wedding dress. You can find more about Redthreaded at redthreaded.com.

1880s era style gown made in candlelight Duchess satin and beaded Alencon laces has a paneled skirt, bustle drape, and off the shoulder bodice that closes in the back. Underpinnings include a corset by Redthreaded, lobster tail collapsible bustle, and lace edged petticoat. As part of the techniques used the interior of the hem was edged in a wide velvet ribbon to make cleaning easier. (@snowleopardcreations)

If you are a fan of Project Runway then you know one of the final 3 is a skilled corset maker who incorporated some form of corset into practically everything he made – sometimes as interior pieces to a garment’s structure and at other times as accessory pieces or accents. Yes, women are wearing corsets again. Not every day but for a special occasion, cosplay, as re-enactors at various historical locations, and so forth. In fact some people just find it fun to create and wear historic garments while visiting places around the world. One of these that I follow online is Dames a la Mode (@damesalamode). While a jewelry maker specializing in 18th & 19th century reproduction pieces, she is also a devotee of historic fashion and often posts photos of her and like minded friends in full period regalia at various places around the world. Recent postings have included a trip to Europe including Venice and an event at Colonial Williamsburg. All of which points to a resurgence of the “obsolete” corset. By the way you can find her work online at http://www.etsy.com/shop/damesalamode.

However, those corsets are being worn UNDER something and that something is historic garments. Which is one of my specialties. In addition to the wedding gown pictured above I created my own gown for the wedding. I’m also creating and shipping historic reproduction items for clients and theatrical productions on a regular basis. One of the big differences in making these pieces today compared to 100 years ago or more is the way we are making them. Yes, for those who want (and are willing to pay for) totally hand sewn bespoke pieces that can be done. But more usually a combination of machine and handwork is used incorporating historic approaches such as backing a hem with velvet ribbon. One of the more ingenious and practical “tricks” I’ve uncovered in my research is a “housewives tuck” in the back bodice of a mid 1800s gown. Skirts were extremely full while the bodice of gowns tended to be more fitted. When thinking of this era we often visualize the very fitted ballgown. But this technique was used in the more every day dress. The tuck was placed at the center back just at the waistline seam. It allowed the dress to be let out or taken in as needed while simply adjusting the fullness at the skirt back as sizing changed due to any variety of reasons. Below is a photo from a client in a dress of this type.

And that brings us back to my initial thought of the day – how much that was old and obsolete is being seen and used again. Another time we might explore the resurgence of fashion and home decor from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. But for now…take a look around and see what you’re enjoying from “days of old”!

Redesigned and Ready to Go!

Today I’m launching my newly redesigned website and blog. I hope you will take a moment to bookmark my site to visit often and follow the blog. My passion in my professional life is to create unique and personalized fashion for people and their homes. Along the way I am able to work with traditional techniques, often blending those with more modern methods. But never short cutting quality. There is the distinct pleasure of taking a client’s vision for a special item and turning into reality. To take a stash of t-shirts, baby clothes, or a loved one’s garments and turn them into a special quilt. To bring buried treasures from “the attic” to a new home. Travel with me on this journey! There are stories to tell, questions to answer, and pictures to share. If you have always wondered about something in this world drop me your question via the contact link and I’ll try to answer it in a blog post!

This is the detail for a 18th century reproduction gown. The embroidery was done by machine in collaboration with Snow Leopard Creations. Then darker metallic thread was used to highlight the veins. Finally the caps on the acorns were beaded using clear thread and seed beads in shades of silver and purple.
Today is also the day that this custom quilt created for Muskegon Civic Theatre to celebrate their 2018-2019 season will be raffled off at their annual volunteer picnic. It was so fun to create! #muskegoncivictheatre