Archives for category: sewing

Are you wondering why our diarist and her Mama are sewing little dresses and gowns when there was no way to tell if the baby was a boy or a girl?  Me too.

The answer is, families dressed little boys in dresses from infancy until 6 or so years old until as late as the 1930s.  And not manly little Carhartt dresses either, we’re talking skirts, and gowns with embroidery:

“Mon. Jan. 23

Mama cut out some skirts nighties & another flannel kimona for Baby & I tried my hand at Emb(roidery).

I called up Ruth & asked her to send down a couple chickens.

In p.m. we sewed a little while in Mrs. Andrews room & then went for a walk down town and looked at the big Sales.

Warm thru the day but nippy in evening.

Had soup & crackers for dinner.”

Here is a little guy in a dress, from around the turn of the century.Image:

Hard to imagine nowadays when expectant mothers factor gender into clothes and nursery furnishings, and friends give gendered gifts.  Back then you laid in a stock of little gowns and that was what Baby wore, boy or girl.

Our diarist and her Mama sewed so much for the coming baby, and themselves, that their eyes ached!  It must have invigorating, to say the least, to leave their stuffy rooms for the cold streets of downtown Missoula in search of food, friends, and after-Christmas sales.

“Sat. Jan. 21.

I emb. most all day for a.m.

Mama cut out a few new garments in p.m.  I went down stairs and looked for emb. patterns part of p.m.  Mama felt so bum & her head ached so much we layed down a little while then went down town for an airing.

Mrs Muckler & Virginia also Mrs. Nelson & Esther called in Evening.

My Dr. came also but late.  I had toast & soft egg for B. a little rice, potator & venison cooked fine together for dinner & Oatmeal for supper.

Alway milk to drink.”

Missoula probably seemed like a big town to her, but it numbered only 12,688 souls in 1920 (two years before).  Even today we haven’t hit the 67,000 mark yet.  Image

This shot facing north along the Higgins Bridge shows the city ran on steam heat–note the smokestacks.  The riverbanks, now Caras Park, were weedy lots that probably flooded every spring–the Corps of Engineers hadn’t built the levees yet.  The beloved Wilma Theatre, where our diarist may have gone to see a silent movie, shows its familiar pale beige side, and telephone line spaghetti is much in evidence.

See the streetcar?  Missoula pioneered the one-man operated trolley (first in the U.S.!)  I could swear that the narrow walkways on either side haven’t changed: there is still only room enough for two (not very chubby) people to squeeze past each other.  But it keeps us Missoulians friendly.

To travel back in time and hear a bit of city life in the 1920s, check out this wonderful audio project featured on  http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/10/22/239870539/the-sounds-of-new-york-city-circa-1920.  Yes, New York was a little bit bigger — but it gives you the feel.

Sexy 1920s Kimono modelled by Louise Brooks

When I was little I wanted to look just like silent screen star Louise Brooks, the “Kansas Cleopatra.” Isn’t she just the ‘bees knees’ in this kimono? I wonder if Mama had this glamor shot in mind when designing her own handmade version.

Photo from a neat blog on antique fashion, check it out: http://www.merchantarchive.com/blog/post/hello-kimono/

As I peruse our mystery diarist’s entries it’s clear that she and her Mama were sewing up a storm.  Sewing is a fine activity for the cold dark days in January up here in the north.  Here are some entries:

“Mon. Jan. 16.

Ray came up in the morning in a car & Mama & I rode back to our apartment then we went downtown.  Got some outing flannel, two little dresses, & a coat for baby. In p.m. we were busy fixing patterns & Mama cutt out a skirt & kimona. I worked on putting the little emb. dress together. We got a little stuff for our hats & in evening I fixed my hat. Opal came after school & stayed all nite.

Terrible windy & snowing cold.

Letters from Home.

Tue. Jan. 17.

Turned hemms & made didies in a.m.”  (Didies?  Our heroine sews her own diapers!)

“P.m. Mama took them downstairs & stitched them & I sewed.

Howard called a few moments. Ruth called up about 4:30.

Got a pkg. of white goods. Opal stayed all night.

Wed. Jan. 18.                                                                        1922

Wrote letters to Corlett and did odd little sewing & Mama made or started an odd little kimona & underskirt. We went down town in p.m. & it was colder than the Dickens, coldest night this winter.

Mrs. McDonnell spent the evening with us & Mrs. Day was up awhile.

Cold.”

Kimona: not a garment I would associate with the American West in the 1920s, much less in a Montana winter.  But this will teach me to respect the power and reach of fashion…  Kimonos, or at least an American version of them, were all the rage in 1922 from coast to coast.  Mama is clearly a devotee of the latest styles!  Image

Maybe she used a pattern like this one…