Sunday, January 22, 2017

Vintage Sewing: Alfred Bach's Basic Pattern and Design by Numbers, a pattern drafting system

While browsing sewing patterns on eBay, I stumbled across a copy of "Design by Numbers," a pattern packet that includes 15 separate neckline designs in 24 different sizes. Feeling skeptical, I zoomed in on the text and found that the pattern itself is an add-on for Alfred Bach's "Basic Pattern" block kit. Intrigued, I hit BUY IT NOW! and zoomed it my way via US Postal Service.

The next item of business was buying the requisite Basic Pattern, which I also found on eBay. Zoom, zoom.

Photo Courtesy of FriskyScissors on Etsy
With the help of Etsy's archives of sold items, I found this listing of an original, unused set of the Basic Pattern. It gave me some insight to how the blocks are intended to be used/graded, and what I might be able to expect in my kit.

Photo Courtesy of FriskyScissors on Easy
Internet information about Alfred Bach is spotty with an initial google search; most of what turns up are sale listings for his booklets for various topics including "Shortcuts to Fitting," "How to Drive a Sewing Machine," "Shortcuts to Professional Tailoring," and "Shortcuts to Professional Dressmaking." I dug a bit deeper using my all-access Ancestry account, which includes a basic membership to Searching keywords "Alfred Bach" + sewing, I found a few articles that gave me more information-- both from newspapers in my home state of Utah!

Salt Lake Tribune, Sun Aug 15, 1976

Salt Lake Tribune, Sun Aug 15, 1976
In addition to Alfred Bach being an industrial engineer, he was a self-made home sewing efficiency guru. His marketing events and sewing seminars sound similar to what Lutterloh offers at conventions and fairs these days. I'm curious if any women in my life remember attending his courses at the historic Salt Palace, or at the Bon Marche department store in Ogden. It looks like he was teaching these workshops for over ten years, so he must have been successful. I'm really surprised that I've never seen his pattern system before, considering that I have been collecting stuff like this for so many years.

Ogden Standard Examiner 29 Dec 1965
It sounds like Alfred Bach most definitely produce a regular radio show, because I found it listed in the broadcast guides in the newspaper. He also had a feature on television, at least occasionally, because I found references to it too. I'm sad that I've been unable to find any audio or television archives, however.

I'm not sure what to expect with the pattern kits I've ordered, but it sounds like a connect the dot system, similar to other pattern drafting tool kits like Lutterloh, the Haslam System, the Dot Pattern System, etc. When they arrive, I'll keep you posted about the new adventures.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Vintage Sewing: Mail Order / Anne Adams 4885, a 1960's tent / shift dress

Note: This pattern is listed in the vintage pattern wiki as Mail Order 4885, perhaps because it was delivered in a workbasket envelope via postal mail-- but my envelope most definitely said Anne Adams on the cover.

I lost my sewing mojo last year, in part because I've been rather lazy and have gained weight. I make all sorts of excuses about it, but honestly, it's hard to find time to exercise when my commute and work (at a desk) keep me away from home and on my bottom for over 12 hours every day. Once I'm home, there's coursework to do and I just don't seem to find the time to be active.

Meanwhile, I dread making new pattern alterations to fit my current body shape and size, so I've chosen to sew rather shapeless dresses that are comfortable and classic (in a sense). They'll have the added benefit of still fitting once I return to my prior shape and size, since they are sewn to fit through the shoulders. I generally sew bust 32 or bust 34 patterns for the best fit through the shoulders, and then alter from there to accommodate my pear shape-- my bottom half has *never* fit within the measurements of a bust 34 pattern. Ha!

Tip: If you're new to sewing with vintage patterns, be sure to buy a size that matches your bust measurement-- not the size number you think you wear. Sizing has changed so much over the decades, and because my clothes are almost exclusively homemade, I don't even know modern sizing. For reference, in the 1930's - 1940's, a size 16 was typically a bust 34. By the late 50's, bust 34 was a size 14. In the late 60's and 70's, a bust 34 was commonly labeled size 12-- where it appears to remain

This means that women changed THREE sizes in just 3 decades, all while maintaining that same measurement! Ha!

Moving on to the details of this dress:

EASY! The pattern is drafted to include pockets, but I omitted these because the fabric has a lot of texture and drape and I was concerned the pockets might not hang well. The fabric is a loose linen weave, rather rustic and still includes bits of semi-processed flax stalk. The highlight of the dress is its bias roll collar, but the interfacing I used wasn't quite stiff enough. Oh well-- I'm pleased with it anyhow.

Changes: Rather than cutting the dress slightly off grain as the pattern calls for, I placed CF (center front) and CB (center back) on the grain line so I could omit the CF seam, by placing it on the fold. I needed to do this in order to fit the dress within the limited yardage I had.

Mid-way through construction, I found myself unreasonably angry at the pattern because it calls for a bias strip to face the collar. Nowhere in the cutting guide does it say it's needed-- only in the assembly instructions. I was very annoyed, because I hadn't planned for this and had to piece scraps together! When all was sad and done, however, it really wasn't a big deal. Someone in Instagram suggested this is why we're taught to read through the instructions before beginning, but to that I say BAH HUMBUG. Reading ahead is spoiling the fun! ;)

The pattern calls for a lapped zipper at the neckline, in the center back of dress. I've only ever sewn a handful of lapped zippers, but I really like them and think with practice I'll be really pleased with my results someday. Until then, I find my work to be rather mediocre (not enough and constituent continuous lap), but since it's on my back I never notice once the dress is done and being worn. Ha!

And here's the finished pretty, in all of it's poorly-lit, office bathroom glory. Our building has been under active construction for 5 months now, and I'm so ready for them to finish installation of all the new fixtures. Just a few weeks ago we sat down in a conference room to find fiberglass slivers stabbing our arms, because the construction crew had installed new light and done a rather shoddy job of cleaning up. On Friday, they had painted half of the walls on our floor right before the office opened for the day, and we all felt rather woozy and annoyed by the heavy fumes. Jokes abounded about being high in the workplace, because really, it was like we were huffing paint or something!

I'm griping, so it's time to go and think about happier things like the portrayal of crime and criminals in the media, or the causes and effects of poverty. School beckons.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Catching up + Vintage Knitting: Bernat No. 758-66 (1958)

Hey! Yo! I've been away from this blog for a verrrry long time, mostly because I haven't had a functioning laptop for ages and I hate sitting at the desk at a computer when I'm not at work. I mean, I sit at a desk 8 hours a day-- I don't want to sit at a desk even MORE when I get home, pounding away at the keyboard and feeling wedded to technology.

Anyway, school is back in session (yeah, still chipping away at that undergraduate degree, with just 22 credits to go after this quarter) and I finally took the plunge on a new laptop so I can do proper homework in the commuter van during all the hours every day I spend just sitting there. 2-3 hours of commute per day justified the purchase, for my sanity-- and for my future free time that I hope to find.

Best part so far? I can multitask and blog while I watch movies! Or procrastinate homework! Or most likely, procrastinate sleep, because there are never enough hours per day to fulfill my dreams AND go to work full time + commute 3 hours per day + go to school full time (online/weekends).


I really did come here to tell you some great news. Remember that 1950' sweater I started knitting wayyyy back in 2012? Yeah, neither did I-- until I found it and decided to finish it! At the point when I stuffed it in a reusable grocery bag and said BYE FELICIA, it had sagging button bands that really angered me, and a collar that had to be sewn on by hand. I hate hand sewing. Let me repeat: I HATE HAND SEWING.

I swallowed my pride and prejudice, ripped out the button bands and re-knitted with significantly fewer stitches-- roughly half, I think. The weight of my contrast yarn (Peace Fleece) was totally wrong for this project, just way too heavy, but for the sake of ever finishing I knew it was too late to change. When I went to my extensive button stash, I ran across those tagua nut (ENDOSPERM!) buttons that I actually bought specifically for this sweater back in Seattle. Rad! I'd forgotten about them too, of course.

It was a quick finish and I'm so glad I did, because I wear it all the time now as my new winter sweater/coat. Details are on Ravelry. I'm trying to get back into posting finished projects online, because it helps me remember personal accomplishments when I look back at the old blog history.

Happy 2017, and hello and goodbye again. Maybe I'll stick around for a while...


Friday, October 21, 2016


This was approximately my eighth long day in this old, southern city that had been devastated by the tornado. It was approximately my tenth visit to a family that had experienced fatalities as a result of the disaster. Up until now, my work had been concentrated inside the clean and sterile hospital where surviving family members clung to their own lives, with bandaged heads and broken bones, and legal drugs to ease their pain. But as we wrapped up with the infirm, we moved into the community and found a vastly different experience.

We traveled by car, where the roads would allow. The destruction from the tornado seemed unreal to me, looking more like photos from a blasted war-zone than any disaster I’d personally seen before. Buildings were in splinters, fallen trees speared through buildings like arrows in a target, and vehicles stacked in precarious positions, crushed and crumbled. As we left the hospital from our morning visit, we marveled at the luck (divine intervention, some said) of the hospital being unaffected, when just a block away it looked as if a massive bulldozer had plowed a large swath straight through the city. As we moved on by the aid of our chirping GPS device, farther away from the city center and away from the path of the tornado, I was surprised to see us turning into a neighborhood with no street signs, no sidewalk, homes with no doors, boarded windows—but not due to damage. This was deep, deep poverty.

There is a silence that accompanies grief, unlike any other silence. It is heavy—like the weight of high summer’s humidity in the Gulf States—and relentless. We approached the home with reverence, knowing that the people we would find inside were mourning the loss of a child, but I was unprepared for the experience.

The home, if it could be called such (though certainly, not in legal terms), had a piece of long, black rubber tacked over the front doorway. We were welcomed inside by our client’s younger sister, whose 2 children climbed and clamored for attention, searching through the bags of hygiene items we brought to every family in our visits. The apartment itself was not damaged, but every extra space was filled with donations collected at community support sites: cases of bottled water, still wrapped in plastic; bags and bags of diapers, stacked up high in the corner; a stockpile of toothbrushes. As I took a slow glance around the small room, willing my eyes to adjust to the low light, I noted how many people were crammed into this small one bedroom apartment—2 adults, 5 children. This may have explained the sour, stale smell, but perhaps that was a side-effect of the crushing heat in a window-less room. I was unsure.

The kids climbed up on the back of the old, worn sofa, perched atop like birds observing the world below. I settled onto the carpeted floor, crunchy with the evidence of discarded and forgotten snacks, stiff with dried spills. There was insufficient seating available, but that didn’t matter in this moment and I introduced myself to the woman of the house. If she could curl up on the floor, I could sit there too.

Grief, the uncontrollable sorrow, has a look. For some, grief contorts their bodies and faces into painful, wracking sobs. For others, like this woman, grief might crush the light out of one’s heart. She sat in complete silence, blank-faced, staring in the distance, and rocked slowly back and forth while tears (silent tears) rolled down her cheeks. She couldn’t speak. She hadn’t spoken since she learned her oldest son had been ripped out of her sister’s truck and into the storm. She hadn’t left the house or showered in over a week. She was utterly consumed by her grief, a darkness that stole her ability to function and crushed all meaning in her present life.

I watched her as her sister relayed the story of the terrible moment—“My nephew, he was so scared of that tornado that he froze and refused to get out of the truck. He was just going to the store with me, but that’s when the tornado came and I was screaming at him, I was hitting him and screaming at him, to get out of the truck and run inside with me and the kids. But he wouldn’t come, and he was too big for me to drag out of that truck so I had to just leave him right there. They found his body a couple’a blocks away.”

Grief, when pairing the hopelessness of poverty with the loss of someone’s life, has a way of giving perspective to listeners. As the story wore on, I felt a pricking sensation across my leg, and hands, and back—and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light in the room, I realized just how far this family was living in the pit of despair. Cockroaches were crawling on me, were moving slowly across the carpet, were climbing on the silent woman and the children, and the walls. In all of my time, I had only seen cockroaches darting quickly about from one hiding spot to another, but without a door to stop them and a family too frozen by grief to care, the cockroaches acted like lazy flies sitting about the room.

I couldn’t say anything. I never mentioned the roaches, and they pretended they didn’t exist, and for a moment we allowed grace to exist in a place where desolation had taken hold. In grief, I found that my limits were boundless and my life given perspective. Cockroaches don’t matter when your son is dead.

Monday, September 12, 2016

30 suddenly feels very old

I've always heard phrases like "time passes so quickly," or "time is slipping by," and I didn't think much of it because I was too busy doing awesome things and having fun. 

Tonight though, rather suddenly, I realized that I understand those phrases-- the past 3 years have rushed by in a way I've never experienced before. The reason, I think, is my mundane existence in the career I'm building that has somehow sucked energy for my vital creative interests and the people I love. What good is life if we spend all of our energy and days working, or thinking about work, with no time for our personal interests?

I'd rather be pulling weeds, growing food, riding bicycles, cuddling babes, laughing, cooking, sewing, and enjoying life than spending 8 hours a day in front of a computer, plus an hour of shit lunch from the cafeteria of my office (a great design if you want people to spend even more time at the computer), plus 3 more hours sitting in a van commuting to/from work. It seemed like a great idea when I moved into this position in May... But the days grow shorter and my personal sense of happiness fades just like the summer sun. Wake up in the dark, sit in the dark all the way to work, and get home in the dark with only a couple of hours to spare before it is time to sleep, wake up, and repeat. 

Alas, the need for money drives all things. Want to have a kid? Work harder, save money, spend nearly an entire adult's salary on childcare so someone else sees your child through their most formative years. Want to live in an urban oasis? Work hard, save money, imagine buying a house but see market prices increase 24% in just 2 short years, effectively pricing you out of the opportunity to buy a house OR have a kid, because suddenly you're spending an entire adult's salary on a two bedroom rental while you dream about the house you never bought and the child you haven't yet been able to afford. Want a vacation? Work harder, save money, and decide whether you think the meager savings you've set aside is better spent on the dream of owning a home, the dream of having a family, or the dream of using your two annual weeks of vacation for a trip... And wondering if you'll recover financially soon enough to do any of the other things-- the supposed American Dream-- that seems so far out of reach. 

Fuck this. Portland sucks. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Vintage sewing for kids: Butterick 2725 #2

I made the kid a second dress out of denim with a woven stripe pattern, seen the same day as that first one. She likes it! I originally sewed it as a basic A-line dress without any details. 

I used red buttons from one my vintage tins, since I felt like it needed *something* but it still seemed pretty MEHHH to me. 

The kid agreed that she'd still wear it with pockets, so I added them + red piping. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Vintage sewing for kids: Butterick 2725

Earlier this year my friend loaned me this fabulous pattern from her stash-- isn't it grand? 

 I intended to sew a version with the fish pocket for my step-daughter (henceforth called the kid) but she wasn't keen on that design. Instead, she chose a great blue/white check fabric from my stash and we started with something very basic. 

Following version B, I bound the neckline and hems with commercial bias tape, which made finishing quite easy EXCEPT (there's always an except with me) that I skipped some steps and had to bind the shoulder seam. This meant I had to miter all the corners, which was super annoying. 

I've been having some trouble with the tension on my Bernina 1008, likely because I've been using poor-ish quality white thread that I got in bulk at the closing sale of a sewing store here in Portland. I'll take the machine in for a tune-up shortly, as I'm only one spool shy of finishing off the entire lot. Anyway, that contributed to wonky buttonholes and also my being out of practice. Good thing the kid won't care!

I used buttons from a tin of old buttons that my husband gave to me for Christmas one year. When sewing the buttons on, I put a crewel needle between button and fabric on the right side, which allows space for wrapping thread afterward for the all-important thread shank. That fabric is gonna lay so flat! 

Because this fabric was quite lightweight, I opted to underline the entire dress with cotton batiste. 

The kid tried on the dress and said it felt kind of stiff-- hopefully it softens up with wearing and washing. The main fabric send to be a linen/cotton blend, and I line dried it when pre-washing. I suspect the linen content because of the resulting stiffness after washing-- but I should do a burn test on a scrap to see what I find. 

I opted out of interfacing the facings, thanks to the underlining. Using the serge to finish edges was the quickest and easiest approach-- but the serger also needs some work with the tension. And final comment on techniques-- the dart stitching method is one I learned in an industry/commercial sewing course. I stitch the dart from clipped/marked edges, to about 1/16 inch past the hole marked with an awl, to the dart tip. Then I keep sewing off the edge for about 5 or 6 stitches to make a chain, then with my needle up, I bring the needle back down into the body of the dart and stitch backward/forward to anchor the dart stitches. I take care to watch the tension of the chain to prevent any pulling on th dart tip. 

And that's that! Dress is done. It was a very quick project, taking only a few hours included cutting time (really-- cutting takes forever without a proper table large enough).