Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vintage Beaded Bags without the Frame

Beautiful as the vintage beaded knit purses are, let's face it - a good frame is hard to find. vintage frames are out there, but often damaged or too worn and new frames can be just as pricey as the antiques!

I've found just two websites that sell decent frames at reasonable prices and I'd highly recommend both of them if you just have to have a frame for your beaded masterpiece.

The first is that American bastion of antique needlework patterns and supplies:


Click on the image of the purse frames at the top of the page and scroll through the wonderful selection. The measurements given are for the overall size of the frame, not the inside dimensions from hinge to hinge.

The second is less well known, but no less wonderful:

Both sites have a pretty good selection and the best pricing I've been able to find. I've ordered from each. Again, both have quick shipping times and great customer service. If you just have to have a metal snap frame I'd go with one from either of these two merchants.

Another recent discovery is on Etsy. Not as many vintage looking frames, but several of the modern ones will look almost as good. Check out ThaiSupplies.etsy.com

But what if you just don't want a frame or can't afford one? Well, there are alternatives.

The drawstring method is an old standby. Actually there were quite a few vintage patterns that have little beaded tabs across the top to thread a cord through. Or a "header" can be crocheted at the top of the bag. Basically a decorative border done in crochet, a header has little holes in the pattern called "beading". Cords are threaded through the beading and often twisted out of the leftover silk thread used for the body of the bag.

Zippers are pretty easy to install in the lining before sewing into the purse. It makes a kind of floppy top, but a bit of boning or buckram between the lining and the purse can solve that problem.

Speaking of buckram, it can be shaped into all sorts of tops and is often the inner layer on those little white Japanese beaded purses from the 1950s and 1940s. The edges of cut buckram are sharp and will wear away your threads and lining so enclose them in seam binding if you choose this method.

As you can see, there are a few alternatives out there. Look at purses in thrift and antique shops to see how the problem was solved in the past. You'll be amazed at the variety of methods used!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Super Easy Zippered Pouch

This is a seriously easy zippered pouch which can be used as a makeup case or as a club purse by adding a wrist strap. Really, really simple zipper application and you don't even need a zipper foot! Using both interfacing and some low loft quilt batting gives it some structure while still being soft and friendly. It doesn't take a whole lot of material and sews up pretty fast. It also makes a great and inexpensive Chistmas gift - and what woman doesn't need another little bag for odds and ends? Make a bunch and wow your friends!

You will need:
1/4 yard of fabric for the outside
1/4 yard of fabric for the lining
1/4 yard of fusible interfacing
1/4 yard of low loft quilt batting
9" zipper to match outside fabric
Sewing thread to match

Cut two 8.5"x4.5" rectangles from each of the fabrics and the batting, cut four rectangles from the fusible interfacing.

Fuse the interfacing to the wrong sides of each of the lining and outside fabrics following the manufacturer's instructions.

Lay the zipper on the outside fabric right sides together and with the edge of the zipper on the edge of the fabric. Lay the lining fabric right side down on top of the zipper and then the batting on top of that. Make sure all the edges are even and pin if necessary.

You should have a kind of sandwich with the zipper in the middle.

Sew along the long edge as close to the zipper teeth as possible, or if you are using a zipper foot, about a 1/4" in from the edge. Fold the fabric back from the zipper and press.

Do the same for the other side.
With the zipper closed, fold the bag right sides together and sew down each edge. You want to just miss the metal stops on the zipper. Sew the side with the bottom edge of the zipper first. Then with the zipper still closed, pin the other side, open the zipper a few inches and sew. Trim the seams and finish with a zigzzg stitch or serge.

Sew the bottom seam, leaving a 3" opening in the center. Trim and finish as before.

Turn the bag right side out through the opening in the bottom seam. Sew that opening closed either by hand with a slip stitch, or by machine with an edge stitch.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

So what IS purse twist anyway?

The ball on the left is regular DMC size 8 perle cotton. The red spool on the left is Corticelli's silk purse twist, and on the right is Collingbourne's "silk finish" purse twist (some sort of mercerized cotton). Although the two spools are roughly the same size, Corticelli's has 150 yards while Collingbourne's has 100 yards.

So what is purse twist? Five years ago I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out. The vintage purse patterns I was reading made it obvious that it was something close to perle cotton or silk beading thread, but trying to determine the exact equivalent to what is available today was confusing. The bead knitting patterns either don't state a specific size, or simply refer to "coarse", "fine" or "very fine". Same with the beads by the way; few references to exact sizes.

I did finally manage to get my hands on a couple spools of original purse twist and they're pictured up above. The red one is a serious case of over spending on ebay, but the green one kind of makes up for it since it was in with a bag of old thread spools in a junk shop. I figure it balances out to about $20.00 apiece. They're not easy to find and if you have any you're willing to part with I'm definitely interested!

By comparing the vintage threads with the modern DMC perle cotton I managed to figure out a few things. While all three threads pictured above are about the same diameter, both purse twists are spun much tighter. The perle cotton is made up of 2 plies, or strands, and each ply is clearly visible in the completed thread. The purse twists are each made up of three plies and spun tightly enough so that the individual strands are not as visible in the completed thread. The triple strands and tighter twist would make a stronger thread than the perle cotton, which is something to bear in mind. It's possible to re-spin the perle cotton and get a thread closer to true purse twist. I have a spinning wheel so it's a pretty easy project, but not one I'd have the patience for without the wheel:)

As far as sizing goes, even today there is little consistency between manufacturers. At least we have a set method of assigning sizes and don't have to depend on "fine" or "coarse". From studying the antique beaded purses I determined that most of the bead crochet and bead knitting was done with thread about equal to size 8 DMC perle cotton. Although many of the vintage beaded purse patterns specify silk thread most of the ones I have seen are done with cotton thread. The beads used in the 1920s are much larger than the ones used in earlier bead knitted bags; about the size of a modern size 10 seed bead.

Basically, the finer the thread and the smaller the hook or needles, the less the thread will show on the completed bag. Sometimes I have to play around with beads, hooks or needles, and threads to get the right proportions. In the case of bead patterns which depend on the un- beaded background stitches (as in bead crochet purses) to form the pattern it can be a little frustrating to coordinate the thread, bead and hook sizes so that the beads lie close together but the unbeaded spaces are also well defined.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Needlecraft Magazine

© April Carter 2008

Beginning Publication in September, 1909, Needlecraft remained in circulation until WWII. The monthly magazine was published in the, at the time, mecca of women’s periodicals, Augusta, Maine. Over it’s life span of approximately four decades Needlecraft saw several changes, eventually dying in the 1940s, possibly due to a combination of WWII rationing and a general decline in interest for hand done needlework.

Needlecraft magazine is generally accepted to have been published by The Needlecraft Publishing Co., 11 Chaple Street, Augusta Maine. However, the first issues show the publisher as The Vickery & Hill Publishing Co. The change to The Needlecraft Publishing Co. happened somewhere between September 1913 and October 1914. Although unconfirmed, it appears that Needlecraft was started as a way to market the publisher’s clothing patterns. The early issues (1909-??) have several pages of patterns which could be ordered separately from the publisher, The Needlecraft Publishing Company. Lovely line drawings are shown for the various patterns, sometimes including a schematic of the actual pattern.

Interestingly enough, the earlier issues of Needlecraft contained short stories, despite editor Margaret Barton Manning being quoted in 1920 as saying “This publication is devoted exclusively to practical needlecraft for personal and household use, No fiction is published. Reproductions of original pieces of work are used for illustrations.” (From Where and How to Sell Manuscripts, a directory for writers compiled and arranged by William B. McCourtie, publisher The Home Correspondence School, Springfield Mass., copyright 1917, 1920.) Of course, by then The Women’s Institute was running full page ads for their dressmaking course. The ads took the form of short stories illustrating the money which could be saved and the pride gained by making one’s own clothes and are actually quite entertaining themselves.

In addition to to the Needlecraft dress pattern, instructions and patterns for all sorts of needlework are given. There are instructions for crochet, knitting, embroidery, tatting, baby clothes, purses, garments and house linens galore. There is column of tips from other subscribers and one for questions to the editor. The editor’s replies to some of the questions can be quite snippy and I often wonder if Ms Manning got tired of repeatedly answering the same questions. I’ve become fond of her but I suspect that one didn’t want to try her patience!

On top of the abundance of needlework instruction and inspiration there are the ads. From about November 1916 on the cover and selected pages were in color and covers frequently had artwork by well known artists of the period. Herrschner’s first appeared as an advertiser in the inaugural issue, way back on page 22 with a tiny little ad on the bottom of the page. Originally the Frederick Herrschner Co., the company was started in 1899 and is still in business today. Cream of Wheat was an early advertiser even in the black and white issues, but once color was added to the magazine the charming work of Leslie Wallace could be seen in its full glory. Needlecraft magazine is actually almost worth collecting just for the Cream of Wheat ads alone, although they are most definitely not politically correct by today’s standards!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Plastic Bag Crochet

So yesterday I was taking a break from writing and stumbled across the whole plastic bag crochet thing. You know, where you use your plastic grocery bags to crochet stuff. Of course I immediately cut up a bag and made a little pot scrubber.

As a useful tool for cleaning dishes I'll stick to my scotchbrite sponge, but boy did it make some durable fabric in single crochet! Plus I really like the idea of a shopping bag made of shopping bags. Have you noticed the grocery stores now have canvas bags at the checkout for you to buy? Over priced and all with some reference to going green boldly printed upon them. Not to be too cynical, but I sure wish I had that sewing contract...

I'm old enough to miss the way the old paper bags let you pack things in there in some sort of logical order, unlike the jumbled mess in a plastic sack. One of my first jobs was a bagger in a supermarket. It was like working a jigsaw puzzle with a time limit. Plus the paper bags pretty much stayed put in the back of the car instead of letting things roll about.

I'm designing a pattern for a small tote and will publish the pattern on my Etsy site. Maybe we can get rid of a bunch of the plastic bags cluttering up the world:)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vintage Needlework Patterns

Welcome to the Patterns Ala Carte blog. I'm April and I've been collecting vintage and antique needlework patterns for a few years now. I sell restored patterns on my Etsy site (patternsalacarte.etsy.com) as well as things I make from the old patterns.

I've been a seamstress and crafter since birth pretty much. This particular zoo started when I saw a beaded purse in an antique shop. Loved the purse, HATED the price. Plus it wasn't in useable shape. I really love old things, but I want to use them, not display them or pack them away. So I was off to learn how to make a beaded purse myself.

That was a few years ago and there's a lot more information out there now than there was then. I spent countless hours tracking down the patterns and then figuring out what the heck "purse twist" was. I'm the proud owner of 2 spools of it now - spent way too much on ebay that day!

During my search, and the on going wait for the NYC Clerk to get back to me (he keeps promising to dig stuff out of archives; it's been 4 years now...) I ran across an absolute TON of patterns for needlework of all kinds.

Considering how much trouble I initially had finding the patterns and instruction I wanted, I figured I'd gather up all the info and start re-writing it. I make samples of the things I really like, mostly purses of course, but other items as well. Since I knit, crochet, tat, weave, spin and sew I can pretty much follow any pattern so I also proof everything and sometimes add some editor's notes to ensure clarity.

The materials called for in the old patterns are either no longer made or called something else. One of my favorite books is a textile dictionary which identifies things like "crash", "albatross", and "surah". Great names but not very descriptive of the fabrics. Knitting needle sizes have also changed over the years. Plus the age old sizing discrepancy between different manufacturers. I have a metric gauge and do A LOT of test swatches!

So I pretty much try to find the modern equivalent for yarns, fabrics, tools and list them in with the patterns. Even the color names have changed! Absolutely hate it when I see those framed Godey's prints in the antique store. They're now separated from the original text and who knows what the heck they were calling pale pink in 1895?

So, as you can see, I keep pretty busy. Not so much that I don't want to hear from all of you. Especially if there's someone out there with information on The Hiawatha Bead Company. I found out that they were a trade name of the Home Needlework Guild, in turn a subsidiary of Dritz-Traum, but then the research dead-ended. Found Hiawatha ads as late as the fifties, but I'd love to fill out the info. Which is why I keep bugging the NYC Clerk....