Quilting in my Happy Place (aka my studio)

Over the past 8 months or so we’ve all found the “place” or “thing” that became our Happy Place as the Covid-19 pandemic developed. I’m sure in the next few months we will continue to find those places. In the first couple of months I spent my days making masks – primarily for health care workers when PPE was in short supply. But then I started looking at the stacks of “scrap” I had accumulated and went into quilting mode. To date I’ve made 19 (huh I just counted them up and isn’t that numer appropriate) quilts that were not customer orders (5 of those). I have photos of all but 1 of the non-customer orders which was for a baby gift. One was a project to finish up a room renovation that was finished a year ago. One has already been given away and the rest….well I am hoping I can extend the “happy” to help others. I’d love to sell some and donate the funds to a food pantry.

On a chilly but sunny morning I rounded up the troops in my household, including the 4 legged Snoopervisor, to take some photos of the remaining 16 quilts.

The quilts that were made up during this process ranged from a small crib or doll quilt to a large queen size plus. Some are made in quilting cottons and others in flannel. Backing is all from stashed fabrics. Don’t judge. Two of the tops were pieced by a friend and fellow stitcher – so thanks to Ellen Pallasch for her help. The photo at the very top show the stack. Below are individual photos with some detailed information. Enjoy browsing and if you see one you like and would like to purchase for yourself or to give as a gift while helping good causes you can contact me at pattencreations@comcast.net.

This wee crib or doll size quilt is made from all flannel for the top and back. As with all of my quilts the binding is double layer quiting cotton. Measures 35″ x 36″
Florals are the focus in this darker toned quilting cotton top with a white with purple flowers back. 59″ x 60″
Had some extra fun playing with off set half triangles to form diamond shapes on this bold quilt. Quillting cotton front and gray cotton back 55″ x 55″
Quilting cotton pieced front and back in teal print. 49″ x 66″
Winter holiday theme in all flannel to snugge under – back is a light blue with snow people on a shopping spree. 54.5″ x 58.5″
Lap size quilt in soft flannel top and back (pink, blue & white plaid) 53″ x 59″
This pretty quilt in shades of pink is quitling cotton on the front, backed with a butterflies and flowers print. 58″ x 58.5″
Nautical theme in all cotton front and back combines half triangle blocks set as pinwheels alternating with 4 square blocks. Back is solid navy blue. 54.5″ x 55″
Puppy love! All quillting cotton with plain white back. 46″ x59″
Red and blue quilting cotton on the top and tiny blue and off white checks on the back. 59″ x 59.5″
Lots of fun food themed prints in soft cotton top with a tan and blue plaid flannel back 52″ x 61″
Foodie themed top with pink and white chevron back – all soft flannels. 74.5″ x 76″
Blues and browns in snuggly soft flannel front with blue and white chevron flannel back 74″ x 75″
This Irish themed green and white print quilt is done in a light strike pattern on the inside. Another new pattern I played around with using up scrap and stash while in my studio not listening to the news! Back is a plain white cotton. Measures 100″ x 106″
This one capped off this batch and is a Stars & Irish Chain patter through the center all in Christmas/winter prints. The edge is red and white candy stripe wiht appliqued “bunting”, stars, and bows. I did actually keep track of the time spent on this one. It took the better part of 2 weeks and has 74 hours of time included! Back is plain white cotton. Measures 76″ x 81″ and no piece in the center was larger than 2″ x 2″ to start!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual quilt show! If you’re so inclined to purchase any drop me a message at https://www.facebook.com/PattenCreations or email me at pattencreations@comcast.net Be well and safe everyone!

Sprucing things up!

It has been quite a while since I last posted on this blog! For some reason it just wasn’t something that seemed like the thing to do but as we all adjust to some level of “life in a pandemic” it now is back on the list of things to do. Probably won’t be every week though. Over the last 6 months I’ve done a lot – sewn 850 masks, a dozen quilts, we’ve taken some day driving trips even breaking out our vintage picnic basket! So to the topic of this post…

When your work space is in your home space that means that 1) you’re looking at the home space all the time and 2) clients are also looking at it. We’ve been in our 1960s built home for almost 30 years. Although we’ve done a good deal, well if you have a home you know there are always things that need to be done. Coming in to 2020 our master plan was to finish the plumbing change (galvanized out, pex in) and renovate 2 bathrooms (a full and a 3 piece) but with the uncertainty and desire to hold contacts down we decided to finish up replacing windows by doing the main living area. This includes our living room, dining room, entry hall, staircase to the second floor and the upstairs hallway. The walls just are a consistent run. The entry tile and wood flooring was put in about 20 years ago but there is no reason to replace it. The windows were the first focus. The triple set across the front would no longer open at the bottom. Getting these replaced also means all the windows in the house would match as the rest have all been replaced and the exterior frames wrapped in white trim that doesn’t have to be painted.

Once we had the windows ordered, I spent some time picking out the wall paint color. Knowing I wanted to update from the former rather “traditional” look I had chips taped to a wall for probably 2 weeks, looking at it in different lights, etc before making a decision! At the same time we kept looking at the scope of the job. Although we’ve always done our own painting we decided this time we were going to hire pros. After doing due diligence we selected Todd Rebone & Son’s Painting. They could start the job August 10th so we finished emptying the space for them. They started by skim coating significant sections of wall to get rid of the remaining chair rail shadows and other damage.

Day 2 was a lot of sanding and I’m happy to say they were vacuuming that up as hey went, priming, etc. Probably the most time consuming part of the project were the 3 built ins – 2 on either side of the fireplace and 1 at the entry. They were here when we bought the house and one of my favorite features but the dark brown was feeling just a bit too dated and heavy. Also when you work from home, at least for me, the tv is often on in the background admittedly often with reno shows on HGTV on! But it was time to update these and so I decided to have them painted to match the trim. This turned out to mean 4 coats! A special paint that would allow the transition from (probably) oil stain to paint, primer, and 2 coats of trim paint. The results are amazing! And yes, I put a note on the mantle as a reminder we were NOT painting that. In these photos the shelves are not back in place as it all needs time to cure. There are also no doors as we are replacing the old louvered shutter style doors with raised panel doors which are at the painter’s shop to be sprayed.

The walls were painted a color from Benjamin Moore called First Snowfall. It is a light blue with a little bit of clear gray undertone. In most light it looks blue but blues can be tricky to photograph. Naturally the windows were delayed and the last day the painters were working the window contractor called to come the next day. The front was replaced with a new look. A large center panel with double hungs on either end. If you look at the photos you’ll note the opening for the front is pretty close to the floor which means tempered glass is required in the center picture and lower half of the double hungs by code. Below is the new look (old is in photos earlier in this post). This was the second time we worked with this windows contractor, John Gawlick of Gawlick Construction.

With the contractors essentially done it was time for us to get back to work on the project. Husband painted the remaining trim around the new windows after we cleaned the factory schmutz and hand prints off. We installed new light fixtures in the entry and dining areas and new hardware on the entry closet doors. All of that hardware going from brass to brushed nickle. We also did a thorough cleaning on the wood floor without any furniture in the way, and put a new finish coat on. The product I used is from Rejuvanate and does a great job. I used it at our son and daughter in law’s home a couple years ago on wood floors that needed a ton of work with very nice results. This just needed a bit of spiffing up and a single coat did the job.

It isn’t done yet. Still need to measure for shades to go on the windows, waiting for the doors to come back from the painter, and furniture is on order. However, we can start to bring a few things back in. We will at the very least get the tv hooked back up, a couple of chairs in, a table and at least 1 lamp. The rest will happen over the next few weeks. I’ll post again when it is finished up, probably around the beginning of October. I’ll still be using space in the dining area for work on a day to day basis but overall I’m hoping for a more “decorated grown up” look! We shall see!

Quilts are Story Tellers

Making quilts for clients is always an enjoyable thing to do because they always have a story to tell. Sometimes those stories are told loudly in the unmistakable images on the t-shirts of a t-shirt quilt or sentiments written out for a guestbook quilt. But more often they whisper more softly in the treasured garments entrusted to me for a baby clothes quilt or a quilt to memorialize a lost loved on.

When working on any of these types of quilts I often find myself smiling as I get a sense of someone’s passions, their friends and family, or a love story. Recently I had the honor of making a memorial quilt as a holiday gift for a woman who had lost her husband earlier in the year. I was entrusted with shirts and ties that told the story of a man with a magnificent sense of humor. An intelligent guy that clearly used his wardrobe to ever so subtlety tell those around him that it was better to laugh than take things too seriously. Often these quilts will include a photo with the person’s name and life dates. For this one I made a braided heart block from 2 of his shirts and a phrase that meant a great deal to the couple as the center anchor block. The depth of their love story in that piece was unmistakable. But even with the whispers, the story was there.

But what about all those other quilts out there? The ones that are made in simple patchwork or some other selected block? Do they tell stories or are they simply expressions of necessity or creative outlet? The answer is Yes. Yes they are sometimes expressions of necessity. Yes, even in their simplest they are often a creative outlet. And Yes, they tell stories. And the rest of this post is about one particular quilt of the latter type. Before getting to that though a bit of background is important. Contrary to popular opinion not all women quilted “back in the day” and there was always a segment that did it because it was simply necessary. I have one in my collection that is made of large blocks, not at all carefully cut, and simply sewn together. Someone needed a new bed covering and it was done. I’ve read numerous histories as well that reference master needlewomen and those who didn’t wish to ever touch a needle while there were others who would happily knit their day away. It can be presumed that some hired others to do the work and some who traded the work of one skill for the work of their skills. But many did quilt and we can see remnants of their lives in the quilts they left behind.

This all wool quilt was made primarily from scraps and remnants. Although it does incorporate several family tartans including the full border done in the 5th set of rows from the embroidered center. The style is a take on traditional Welsh quilts. It is still centered with cotton batting and backing.

Most of the quilts we know those are made from cottons. While today quilters either select from their “stash” or go to their fabric fabric store and spend time carefully selecting the perfect collection of prints, it was far more often in days past for a quilter to go to their scrap bag first. That scrap bag often contained the “usable” portions of garments – shirts, dresses, etc – that were no longer serviceable as garments to wear. I recently completed a quilt for a client that was of this sort. She found most of the top at a shop while traveling in upstate NY and asked me to finish it for her. It appeared to date from the 1940s more or less and was clearly made from scrap bag treasures. The photo below is what I received.

This is a grandmother’s garden partially finished quilt top from the 1940s.

As you can see there are gaps that need filling at the corners. There were some centers included with the top to use to create more blocks to fill in those gaps. What isn’t so visible is that the rest of that fabric is clearly from scraps, house dresses, blouses, etc. The off white portions in between are not all the same fabric – some appears to be portions of bed sheets, there is basic muslin, and more. So to finish off the quilt I used the yellow centers and selected solids and prints in similar style and tone. Because of the age of the piece I conferred with the client and we decided to applique the whole thing to a large piece of fabric. This also helped to create the King size she wanted. As I worked on the piece there was a sense of simple joy that crept in. I mean it is a field of flowers so there is that but also you could see the original quilter’s love of floral prints in pretty colors. I chose a green fabric that had variations in the depth of color to create a sense of a flower garden in a field of green grass and bound it in the same bright yellow as the flower centers which just brought the sunshine to it. She stitched all of those blocks by hand suggesting that she enjoyed the process. While it is only imagination, it felt like I could sense her sitting on a porch stitching while children played or napped while enjoying her garden or the breeze of warm summer day. Maybe it was a way to pass the time while a husband was off serving in WWII. I don’t know but there are whispers of the past in the piece. Below are photos of the piece in progress.

Trending – color & retro looks

It was a busy fall and holiday season which led to no blogs for a while. But I’m back and it wasn’t all studio work. I did have the opportunity to head into Chicago in December and spent part of that time checking out designer looks. The top tier designers like Chanel, Dior, de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana, etc are always good indicators of what is to come. Additionally, early January is the time when there are lots of stories on trends for the year. So let’s take a look what is being shown and talked about.

Color, color, color is top of the list. Pantone has announced that the top color for 2020 is “Classic Blue”. While I think this is a great color that can be worn by many people and great for accessories in home decor’, it can go too far. Like the WHOLE room painted in the color shown in this Architectural Digest article on the color https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/pantone-color-of-the-year-2020

Other colors that were prominent in those designer collections were in those same clear, bright tones. Lots of yellow, peach, orange, green, etc. If you look back at those intense, clear colors of the 1960s that is the color palette. The Mr Dino dress below, that can be found in my vintage shop https://www.etsy.com/shop/PattensAtticTreasure, is an example of the type of colors I am referring to done in a print on a white background.

Mr Dino – 1960s dress

These colors were found in everything from handbags & shoes to businesswear to day wear. Keep in mind that these designers tend to be a season ahead so were showing more cruise and spring items than holiday. There was plenty of red as would be expected still to be seen for holiday wear. That was accompanied by deep forest greens as well. Evening wear also showed plenty of black but it wasn’t all black. There was also a good deal of midnight blue, forest green, and pewter or silver gray.

But it wasn’t all color that I noted. There were lots of looks that drew on retro influences ranging from the 1920s & 1930s (primarily in evening wear), lots of 1960s, and hints of 1970s and 1980s. Below are some photos of some of these looks I was able to capture. The top row of evening wear above highlights those bias cuts, lace overlays, etc of the 20s & 30s, and while the black has some of that in the skirt it also has vibes of the 1950s as well. The 2 bottom photos incorporate the blues. The toile type print in the ensemble on the left is very much the classic blue even though it looks darker in the photo. In every case it wasn’t flat out copies of retro looks but often incorporated one bit – for instance the jacket above is done in the blues with some princess seaming but was made of neoprene! The camel suit in the background of the black gown has a very 80s cut to the jacket. Which leads to what the trend reports are talking about – pops or accents of various eras such as
* bell bottoms worn with heels or boots but NOT platforms to pick up on the 70s
* shoulder pads on jackets and “statement” sleeves and necklines on blouses & tops for the 80s. The award show runways are also showing gowns that channel the 80s with big bows, puffy sleeves, and full skirts.
* the vibrant colors of the 60s as well as the “ladylike cuts” of that era – princess cuts, tailored looks – to channel Jackie Kennedy or a more modern example would be Duchess Katherine.
Below are a few pieces currently listed in my vintage shop that highlight these looks. Of course I’m always listing more and if you’re looking for something particular don’t hesitate to ask as there is a LOT waiting in the wings.

The Labor Day Rubicon

Labor Day always seems to be a rubicon, a line that once crossed means a change from the more laid back days of summer to something different. For some it is Back to School, for others it is the start of fall with the associated sweaters, falling leaves, and pumpkin spice everything. For me it is the start of flannel pant season as it is referred to around here. When I started Patten Creations in 2010 I was doing primarily custom items from cosplay to tshirt quilts (and yes I still do a fair bit of that) along with a scattering of ready to ship items I was testing online and at craft shows. Somewhere during the summer of 2011 I was chatting with a friend while working on a set of my flannel pajama pants for my daughter to take back to school with her. My friend said “you should add those to the stuff you sell”. Huh….well I could try it. Long story short I added a few to the shop and they began selling almost immediately. The process went through some adjustments over 2011 and 2012 to where it is today.

Some years are better than others but this was a good home – bringing just shy of 1000 yards home to the studio!

Obviously with that much fabric there needs to be some sort of organization system. It starts by sorting it out into stacks. Usually there are at least a few prints that I’ve had before so those get renewed immediately. The new prints are then photographed and new listings written up. Then I sort the prints by theme – horses, birds, food, travel, camping, whatever seems to make sense. They are stored in bins that are labeled. As orders come in the first thing that happens is to pull the lengths needs from those bins and put them through a prewash and dry process. I decided this was going to be a stage in the process from the beginning, when I was making for family, because of how annoyed I personally get when I buy something and the first time I wash it the garment ends up TOO SHORT! I also used the pattern I created with some tweaks over time for a comfortable fit. Among these are a drawstring rather than elastic so the wearer can decide where they want the “waist” rather than the elastic determining where it would go. Elastic by its nature wants to go to the smallest area of the body which could be higher or lower than you want to wear it! It also means you can adjust how snug it is on the body – so if you put those comfy pants on right after a big dinner you may not want it as snug. I also make each side or leg as a single piece so there are no side seams to dig in while lounging or sleeping. Speaking of seams – I finish them so they don’t ravel and wear longer but I still use full size seams. None of those skinny serged seams.! There are a couple of other tweaks I’ve made but I can’t give away the secrets! You can see a typical pair in the photos below.

They are intended to be unisex in style and loose fitting. Sizes run from XS (women’s 0-2 or men’s waist 26) to 2X (women’s 20 or men’s 44), thinking better brand fit. There is information in my listings on the finished hip measurements for each side to check fit as well. I do have standard inseams for each size but can go longer (usually up to about 37″) or shorter. Sorry, but because these fabrics are not certified to meet federal flammability standards for children’s sleepwear I can not produce children’s sizes. So if you’re looking for a new pair of comfy pants to slip into after work for yourself or something fun and a bit different for a gift (Christmas is not that far away) take a few minutes to browse the offerings in my shop https://www.etsy.com/shop/PattenCreations?ref=seller-platform-mcnav&section_id=10328857 ! Happy fall, back to school, or whatever this cross of the Labor Day rubicon means for you!

It Started with a Coat

and resulted in a journey leading to this blog post. My last blog post was about how working with the military uniforms had me learning about those items. Well the saga continues so to speak. A week ago as I was working through the stock, writing draft listings, researching as usual, and prepping pieces to photograph I came across a piece that was a bit more unusual. It looked like a WWI Swallowtail style overcoat, and there was even a tag stitched to the underside of the back lining that confirmed it was part of the M1917 contracts. But the buttons on the front and belt in back were plain black, definitely not Army buttons of the era and the insignia on the left sleeve are not military. But something rang a bell. So come along with me – but you might want to grab a cup of coffee and sit back to read. This one is long and I hope you’ll find the journey as fascinating and enjoyable as I did!

Somewhere in the corner of mind a bell rang and I began to wonder if this could be a piece from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Little did I know where the moment of hmm was going to lead! The label had a name but the format was the stamp that I’ve found to be more common of the tailor in the company or an inspector. Then I found the map of Michigan in the inside breast pocket that is dated 1932. So off to the internet I went in search of information. Luckily I stumbled across this treasure trove of information https://sites.google.com/view/ccc-uniforms/home . The author, Erik Ledbetter, is a Park Ranger with the Maryland Park Service DNR who spends part of his time as an interpreter as a CCC enrollee. He also was promptly generous with additional information when I was presumptive and sent him an email! From him I learned that the patches are indeed Civilian Conservation Corps insignia. Specifically

* 1671 is the unit number that was part of the first round of enrollees forming in early 1933 and was stationed on Mackinac Island from their start through late 1934 when they moved to Grayling.

* this particular unit was made up of all WWI veterans aka “bonus army men”. The V that is framing the outside of the unit patch likely stands for a Veterans’ unit. Patches varied and were often somewhat discretionary by the unit. They were not officially issued. While many were green and red as was typical of Army insignia of the time period, there are some units that used the gold on black, Can’t tell you why.

* the star above the stripes is a general leader rating. As noted above there was no standard, but one catalog from the time indicates this may denote a Field Leader or senior enrollee with a general supervisory role over other enrollees. There were specific assignments such as clerk, supply, medic, etc but this is not one of them.

* the bars each equal a 6 month period of enrollment, so this individual was in the CCC for 18 months.

Ok, now I knew the basics on this specific coat, but being me I wanted to know more. Back when my son was in college and working on a technical theater degree he took a theater history class and I remember him writing a paper about the theatrical program within the WPA. A quick primer here: the WPA (Works Project Administration) was part of the New Deal implemented by President Roosevelt to get people earning, but also learning. If you want to read more about the program overall you can do so here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration The CCC was specifically aimed at unemployed single young men between 17-28. It also aimed at unemployed WWI vets and there wasn’t an age maximum for those guys and they remained on the hiring lists for many government agencies as well. They were to be paid $30 a week (about $580 in today’s dollars) but of that, $25 had to be sent home to their families. They received clothing, housing, and food as well. There is a lot more out there on the internet and this is a good read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps …..which was all well and good. As far as it went. But what about Michigan? And that is where the road trip comes in. As I was sitting there browsing the web my husband Greg suddenly said “Well you know there is a museum at Higgins Lake right?” Um no dear I did not. He was there often for work but I’d only been there once…in 1987…at a specific function…with a 3 week old baby! So fast forward to yesterday and off we went. It was a gorgeous day and of course we had to find a fun local place for lunch and wander some backroads, but we didn’t lose sight of our primary designation at Higgins Lake State Park. It isn’t a huge museum but what is there is great. Here is what we found.

The vistors’ site is actually composed of 2 components. The area dedicated to the CCC and a second portion relating to the Higgins Lake Seedling Nursery. The rest of this blog is only going to be about the CCC portion. Another day I’ll share what we found about the seedling nursery. Mainly because the reforestation of Michigan began well before the CCC and lasted quite a while after the CCC folded at the start of WWII. The building above is typical of the camp buildings where there were permanent camps. A few camps never progressed beyond tents for a variety of reasons. The buildings were built of wood in long open rooms. The outsides had the black and white design because they had tar paper siding (today it is roofing under layer material to get the look) and it was held on with white painted wood slats. But let’s go inside….

As we entered the building there was a newly updated exhibit that highlighted what I’d read but centered around the Michigan units – planting trees, fighting fires, building infrastructure around the state from a bridge over the Muskegon River near the headwaters at Houghton Lake to buildings at state parks that stand yet today. We went around a divider wall and ahead of us was a display relating to personal effects and living quarters. Those photos are below. There was also a big stove for heat but I apparently forgot to take a photo of that!

There is a second trunk of clothing that kids can try on – a few pieces were of the era but most are modern. Which is fine because…well kids learning through play is always good. I love the comment at the top of that poster about the clothing coming in 2 sizes! Remembering the age of most of these young men I can just see them trying things on and seeing who they can trade with! I was feeling closer to understanding that coat. For instance if you look closely at the back belt it is pulled rather tighter than would have been usual with the new buttons, probably so it didn’t gap so much! And those cut off bits at the hem area of the sleeves SHOULD have been button tabs to adjust the closeness of the sleeve against the cold, but if those sleeves happened to be a bit long you might take the scissors to them so you weren’t catching them on tools or the shift of a truck or something else. I wonder what our CCC enrollee’s reason was? I don’t have his name. I DO have 2 sets of initial written on the inside collar LLP and PLL. Probably first, middle, last and last, middle first or Last, first, middle. Another road trip to the state archives may be in the future as they have more detail we were told by the ranger who stopped in while we were there. But we’re not done here yet. Between the front exhibit and the living arrangements exhibit was the part that really kicked the visit to another level for me.

On a wall was a HUGE map of Michigan with dots all over it. This helped pinpoint where the various camps, or units, started. Note I said started. Camps often were formed in one area but the units then moved to different spots if they were needed to fight a fire or the project they were originally working on was completed for instance. Take a look….

I took the close up photos of the the legend so you could see that there were a total of 126 units, or camps, in Michigan that included 11 African American groups, 8 veterans’ groups, and 1 Native American. The close up of the Mackinac Island area is where unit 1671 was located – the coat’s unit. And Isle Royale because holy cold! There were 3 units that were on that island practically to Canada fighting forest fires by hand in the summer and then 100 of those guys stayed over the winter! Also the name, Camp Windigo, just made me grin.

But then there was the GOLD moment. Along the wall was a series of BIG poster size panels in a frame like a book. Those panels had PHOTOS of the various groups of enrollees. Including Camp Mackinac Island, 1671! The dates on the caption matched what Erik had shared with me earlier and the faces! Suddenly it felt like I was meeting the coat’s owner and his buddies. Not that I know which of those guys had that coat for sure but given that leadership star maybe one of the younger guys in the row with the commander? Oh right an important piece of the puzzle has to do with the fact that the units/camps were run by active military officers. So the balding guy there in the middle of that seated row, second from the bottom is probably the camp commander. It is also one of the reasons it is hard to find information on the people in the units as those records are all held by the Military Personnel Office…and getting those is tricky and can be expensive. But even without that I know one of these guys had that coat.

In addition to this group there were some other groups I had to capture.

Camp Mackinac which was on the mainland near the straights. There was also a Camp Wilderness which is where Wilderness State Park is now located.
Camp Grand Haven – this is an interesting one because the photo is attributed to 1939 and for the most part by 1935 units were segregated. This one is most definitely not! It is also interesting that they are not in the same sorts of uniforms many other units are wearing in photos, but this one looks a bit more casual than most.
Camp Windigo – just because those are tough guys to spend winter on Isle Royale and I was amused by the name. Windigo is part of a Michigan legend.

and finally Camp Muskegon, unit #676, which created Muskegon State Park. Our area owes these guys a debt of thanks for this amazing work!

The curators at Higgins Lake State Park are looking for photos of some units they don’t have as of yet. If you’re reading this and had a relative that served in the CCC in Michigan, please check the list in the photo below to see if you might be able to help fill in those blanks. And that brings us to the end of this post. As I said at the beginning, I know it is long. But it has been an amazing journey over the last week + a few days. Who knows this one may take me further down the rabbit hole. Dealing with all of the wonderful vintage pieces I have the privilege of working with means that sometimes a piece speaks to me and says “learn my story”. So this time I decided to listen, to dig, and to take a trip. I hope you enjoyed this little journey with me!

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!