Vintage Heaven!

Remember the post I recently wrote about the estate sale that I went to in Downieville?  I had scored some quilting supplies and was/am so excited about the purchase. Well, there’s more to tell. I know, I know…. how much can a person handle! Bear with me. This will be a longer post than usual. Lots to say, ok?

While I was at the estate sale, I struck a conversation (as I am wont to do) with the nicest woman. She is probably in her 70’s and lives in Downieville. We started talking about things that we like to find at estate sales. I told her that I usually keep an eye out for unusual fabrics. She became interested and told me her mother enjoyed sewing. She asked me if i would like to have her mother’s fabrics. I almost fell over. Keeping my composure (not really, my smile probably spread happily across my face!) I said indeed, I would. She was almost apologetic, saying that while there were nice pieces in there, it might not be what I am interested in. Oh my, the thought of having a bag of vintage fabrics to poke through was so exciting. We exchanged addresses (me – “I bought Viola’s old house” & her – “oh, I live behind the forest service housing”  Love this small town!!) I told her I would walk over later that afternoon, but an hour later she was at my door with two large plastic bags of fabric.  I thanked her over and over and happily took them home with me that night.

I have spent hours sorting through these bags of joy. The fabric is very old and very dusty. I have been washing and ironing it all week. This seamstress would take the pieces of matching fabric and roll them up, tying them with another scrap of fabric, into bundles. The pieces are gorgeous. This picture shows less than half of what she gave me. Most are cottons but there are also several garments and some satins.

vint fab sorting

I have been trying to figure out how old these pieces truly are. There are a few clues.  One is that the width of the pieces of yardage (those where the selvedges are intact on both sides) varies from 22″ to 36″; only one piece so far measures at 44″ wide. According to an article on, fabrics were made in 22-24″ widths into the early 1930’s. After that, 36″ fabrics were introduced. I know that when I worked in my father’s fabric store in the mid-1970’s we sold mostly 44″ wide cottons but had a few 36″ pieces now and then. For the most part though, 44″ had become the standard. There are no markings at all on any of the selvedges. I don’t know when that became industry practice.

Another clue to the era of this collection is the bundle of patterns that I discovered in one of the bags. The copyrights on these patterns run in the 1950’s. The styles are just wonderful.

vint patterns (2)

In addition to those patterns, there was a promo for JC Penney’s in the bag. It was an apron pattern and the promotion had a Cinderella theme. “It’s magic how much you can do when you sew!”  (Which happens to be true, by the way.) On this ad, they talk about JC Penney’s being ‘almost 50 years old’ and JC Penney’s was started in 1902, so that places the ad in 1951 or so.  The promotion included ads for Percale cotton fabric priced at 39 cents per yard and also for Broadcloth cotton at 49 cents per yard. This pattern is so cute and I hope to find a way to hang part of it in the Downieville sewing room someday.




The history of textiles is really interesting to me. It is hard to explain my love of all things vintage but these fabrics make me so very happy! I have been hunting around for someone who has some expertise in this area. (If you have a resource for me, please leave me a comment. I would be ever grateful.)

Here are a few of the pieces that I have washed so far. I picked out some of my favorites.
vint fab 3


vint fab 5

I think this next piece with the teacups looks to be from the 1950’s or so. The size of this kitschy print is larger and very bold.

vint fab 3 (2)

This piece is a mystery to me. There are several scraps but no uncut piece to measure the width. I love the print. Anyone have any clues on this one?

vint fab 1

I think this is enough vintage fabric joy for now. Just know that this gift has enhanced my stash immeasurably. I don’t think I can even store it with my other fabric. It deserves its own tub!  Next week I will show you the garments that were in the bags.  More vintage treasures!

Linking to Molly Sparkles and Coastal Charms’ Show and Share.

9 thoughts on “Vintage Heaven!

  1. Linda

    I don’t have any info for you, but I’m right there with you in your joy of discovery. 🙂 Fascinating stuff. I started sewing in the 1960s, and I remember 36 inch fabrics very well. The patterns I bought had the same type of elegant women gracing their covers. I still remember the look and feel of many of the dresses I sewed when I was in junior high and high school. Looking forward to your followup posts.

    1. Bernie Post author

      Hi there! Yes, it is fascinating. Just looking at the progression of styles and the quality of fabrics. These cottons certainly take a lot of ironing when they are washed and dried. Yikes! The patterns are great though. I have a ways to go to get these organized and then I need to decide what to actually make with them!

      Keep in touch Linda – hope all is well!

  2. Rosemary B

    Hi there. Lovely discovery of fabrics and patterns. I just watched a movie last night {Three Coins in a Fountain” from 1954. The dresses, and outfits were so much like this. The waists were super tiny. I suppose women did not eat food back then, or….. ouch.
    I love the last piece of fabric. That one speaks to me. I grew up in Europe. This piece looks like France or Italy. My mom had some dresses with this design. She loved to sew and made most of her own skirts and jackets. Dad bought her a Singer 316G in 1955 I believe and off she went. She was like a machinnnnne. All of us were decked out in the cutest matching stuff. Even my little brother had a suit of short pants and a little jacket and matching hat.

    1. Bernie Post author

      Hi Rosemary,
      I love that black and green print also. I do think it looks very European. It reminds me of my aunt. She would have had a blouse or dress out of something like this. All of my grandparents were born in either Italy or Spain so we had a strong European influence growing up. There is a skirt in the bag that both my daughter and I tried on and there was no way we could come close to buttoning it. (My daughter is 13 and could not have worn it.) Such a tiny waist. I think their eating habits were definitely different. Thanks for stopping by!

      Take care,

  3. Tina Iaquinto

    You are really finding some cool stuff. Looks like downieville is the right town for all things vintage. Loved reading about this!

  4. Mari

    Wow, did you get lucky! Those are great fabrics and those vintage patterns are a riot. The only quilty resource person I know of is Barbara Brackman, but she is mostly civil war. She has a book about dating fabrics called “Clues in the Calico” or something like that. You might try contacting Peter Lappin at the Male Pattern Boldness blog. He does a LOT with vintage fabric and patterns, so he may know of a resource. Even if you can’t date them, they are lovely. You do so well at the treasure hunting!

    1. Bernie Post author

      Hey… thanks so much for these leads. I will look into both Barbara and Peter. I appreciate it. Off for a hike with a friend and also to drop off a donation for our quilt guild’s silent auction this weekend. Enjoy your day.


  5. Holly

    *sigh* they are lovely, I am going to scroll back up to the top and look at them again. 🙂

  6. Kay Sorensen

    I just posted some fabrics I used to make clothes in the early 1950s on my Facebook page
    I bought 2 or 3 of them at Penney’s
    Percale 39 broadcloth 49 cent per yard


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