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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Smockin' It Old School: Vintage Transfers, part 1

This week I presented "How to Smock by Transfer" to my Smocking Guild. It was part of a program we planned about Alternative Ways to Smock. Another member taught us how to do Counterchange Smocking. I am posting the informational hand-out I gave them here. This is the first part: History.

Most companies produced hot-iron transfers that were single-use -- the unused pattern had raised ink that transferred to the fabric. If the design is composed of small dots, it's a Numo style pattern. Designs often were offered in a choice of blue ink (for white or light fabrics) or yellow (to show up on dark fabrics). Many companies eventually switched to a lighter or electric blue that would show up on light and dark fabrics. A few companies used green ink or the silver-tex process (raised silver ink).


McCall Pattern with Perforated Dot Transfer, c. 1920
History: The first commercially available iron on transfers were produced in the late 1800s. The very early transfers used perforated tissue paper. Black powder was sifted through the holes to mark the design. Another early method was to rub or moisten the transfer against the fabric, but iron-ons quickly became the norm.
Early Butterick Smocking Transfer, c1928

Butterick, founded in 1863, is the oldest surviving pattern company. Well into the 1920s, Butterick transfers came in the same brown kraft envelopes used for its sewing patterns. Sometime in the 1920s the envelopes became glossy white and the transfers became Silvertex (raised silver ink). 


Butterick Girls' Dress Pattern, "a Delineator Style"
Their patterns and transfers were advertised in the “Delineator” magazine. Butterick apparently stopped producing transfers in the early to mid-1930s.

McCall's Smocked Rompers, c1950
McCall patterns started in 1870 and its wide variety of transfer patterns have been favorites for well over 100 years.
 Their transfers were called Kaumagraph until around 1950, but they also had sewing patterns that came with transfers. For example, smocked dresses or rompers with smocking transfers included.
Simplicity Round Yoke Dress, c1935
Simplicity started in 1927 as a low-cost alternative to the other established pattern companies and quickly became a popular brand. They did not have the variety and quantity of transfers that McCall did. 
Vogart Smocking Borders for Dress-up Frocks, c1950
Vogart started in the early 40s and they were carried by major five-and-dime stores like Kresge's (now K-Mart) and Woolworth -AQ along with Vogart's line of stamped linens. Their selection of over 200 transfers was popular for decades and included smocking and combination embroidery and smocking transfers. Other mail order and independent pattern companies also made transfers, like Anne Adams, Marion Martin, or Pictorial Review. 

Transfers for Curved Sleeve Smocking
Transfers were printed on tissue, like patterns, and usually contained an instruction sheet with diagrams.
Sample Direction Sheet
The major pattern companies still offer a few patterns with smocking transfers in them and some nice ones from the 80s and 90s can be found very cheap.

McCall's Martha's Sewing Room Pattern
They were often in collaboration with independent pattern makers of the time, like: Kitty Benton, Oliver Goodin, Ann Hallay, and Martha Pullen.
In Case You Are on Jeopardy: My most interesting fact about vintage transfers is that the ones from pre-1950 may advise you “after stitching, wash with gasoline or benzine (sic) to remove transfer ink.” In the 19th and early-20th centuries, benzene was used as an after-shave lotion because of its pleasant smell. Prior to the 1920s, benzene was frequently used as an industrial solvent, especially for degreasing metal. In 1903, benzene was used to decaffeinate coffee! Benzene was historically used as a significant component in many consumer products such as Liquid Wrench, several paint strippers, rubber cements, and spot removers.
Back of Transfer Pattern, c1930
 Benzene is a very strong carcinogen and today the only safe exposure level is considered zero. Imagine washing baby clothes in it!

Tomorrow I will post Part 2: How to Smock by Transfer!

1 comment:

Kathy Dykstra said...

What a great and informative post about the history of smocking! I know your guild appreciated your efforts, not to mention all of your vintage patterns. :)

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