The First Buttonhole Machine
The maternal grandfather of the great American soprano, Beverly Sills, emigrated from Russia around the turn of the last century. Her grandfather, Bahn worked for Bliss Engineering in New York City. Bahn owned a couple of patents, of which one was for the automatic buttonhole machine for which the Singer Sewing Machine Company paid him $5,000!
The First Sized Patterns
“Graded,” or sized patterns did not exist before 1863. Women took apart old clothes to use as rough guides for new outfits. The few patterns available then were not precise, and they came in only one size. Sewers had to adjust the same patterns to fit everyone from infants to grown men.
Ellen Butterick was the first to imagine sized patterns. She suggested the idea to her tailor husband, Ebenezer, who experimented by making heavy cardboard patterns in discrete sizes. The original cardboard patterns could not be folded or shipped, so Ebenezer tried using tissue paper. The first tissue patterns, cut and folded by members of the Butterick family, were introduced to the public in 1863. The patterns were an immediate hit, and they changed home sewing forever.
Sharon Nolfi, Northridge, CA
Tailoring our Fashions to the Economy
Have you ever noticed that women’s fashion tends to reflect the state of the economy? During the late 1930s and early 40s (stock market crash and war time), garments were trim, utilitarian, and constructed to conserve material. The fifties brought poodle skirts, Donna Reed-type dresses, crinolines, and a plethora of sweaters. As the economy grows, so do our garments (look at the eighties! big EVERYTHING), and as it recesses our clothing follows. (What were you or some of your family members wearing during the Vietnam War?). Designs have once again become simpler and it looks like we might be moving towards another recession. Makes us wonder if the designers are onto some secret we haven’t figured out yet.
The Fifty Year Rule? A comment from Kathleen
Have you also noticed that certain fashionable trends reappear every fifty years? Remember the mini-skirt of the 70s? Look back 50 years to the roaring twenties and the flapper dresses. Makes me wonder when we will see bustles again!
Cast Iron Singers
The original cast iron Singer sewing machine was one of the finest machines of any kind ever built. It was virtually indestructible and capable of performing smoothly for decades. The only flaw it had was a poorly designed bobbin. By the early part of the 20th Century, the Singer company feared it had built its machines TOO well. They were beginning to be passed down to the children and grandchildren of the original owners, still working fine. The company feared they were in danger of saturating the market. So they designed newer, snazzier, flimsier models with an improved bobbin design and built-in features that were designed to break in a few years. They then instituted a buy-back policy for their original machines. Once the old machines were traded in, they were hauled out to the local dump and smashed with sledgehammers to keep them off the market. That’s what it took to destroy a cast iron Singer. Debbie Shinn, Okolona, MS
Sewer/weaver invented the computer!
In 18th century France, Joseph-Marie Jacquard invented the first automatic loom which used punch cards to create complex, precise patterns in fabric. Many people regard this invention as the first great step toward the development of computer technology. Leah J. Dicker, Arlington Heights, IL
Button button! Which side the button?
To help you remember which side to put the buttonholes, recite this old (and politically incorrect!) phrase: “Women are always right and men are left over!”
Peek a Boo
Another good (alas, also politically incorrect) way to remember men’s and women’s button placket placement is to think of when you are riding in the car with your husband or boyfriend driving. You should be able to see into each others shirts. Lynette Rio
And why are women’s buttons placed opposite to men’s?
One story goes that when garments with buttons were first introduced, only wealthy women could afford to have them. These women did not dress themselves but were aided by servants. The buttons and buttonholes were positioned for the speed of the servant who was doing the buttoning.
The zipper was designed in 1893 by Whitcomb Judson to end the tedium of buttoning shoes and boots. It was soon adapted for skirts and trousers.
Legend has it that buttons on men’s jacket sleeves date back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. He wanted the men’s uniforms to stay clean, and so to keep the men from wiping their noses on their sleeves he ordered buttons sewn over the top of the cuffs. With time the look became fashionable and carried over to civilians’ jackets, with the buttons moved to the side. Mary Moody, New Carlisle, OH
A more civilized theory of jacket buttons!
Buttons on the sleeves of jackets probably date back to at least the 14th Century. Cotehardies (what the main garment style of the day for both men and women were called) often had buttons from the little finger up to the elbow – dozens of them. The 2-4 buttons on a jacket sleeve are probably remnants of these. Another bit of Trivia: When Henry VIII married Ann Boleyn, sleeve ruffles became significantly longer and somewhat fuller. Rumor has it that she had an “extra” little finger and the ruffle covered it.
Pati Cook (currently working on her Master’s degree in Clothing & Textiles in Phoenix, AZ)
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