Monday, 10 November 2014

The hidden world of haberdashery packaging

After a recent (and long overdue!) tidy-up of our living room, I unearthed various pieces of sewing paraphernalia. Like most makers I have a huge amount of sewing-related things. Some of these have been bought for projects and are leftovers; some have been bought with good intentions and were never used; and still more have merely been accumulated - picked up from friends and family, by people clearing out and thinking of you.

Whatever way it entered my life (and my living room), I found two packets of dressmaker's carbon paper. I think that one pack was from my grandmother, and another I got in a charity shop. This is vintage haberdashery, and as always, the packaging is really interesting. What intrigues me especially is the product photography. It's not just all the episodes of Mad Men that I've been watching - the way in which an innocuous item like carbon paper has been sold speaks volumes about how and by whom the product was assumed to be used.  This in terms says a lot about the era, and how sewing was viewed.

On the first packet, we see a pair of hands confidently tracing out marking from a commercial dress pattern. The image is a printed engraving, reminiscent of textbooks and formal learning. What I found most interesting was the wedding ring and long painted nails. These seem to be a mature pair of hands, a married woman making clothes; a home dressmaker or hobbyist. Though I'm not one of them, I have met professional seamstresses who manage to keep long nails. But it's pretty hard not to scratch or chip your nail polish. She is tracing out the placement for a pocket, the breast pocket for a blouse.

The second packet features a very similar design. The colours are again the same as the carbon paper within, but the image this time is a photograph. This packet is dated with a copyright for 1971. The image is quite flat, and the hands look slender and youthful. It's definitely a woman's hand, again with long fingernails, but no nail polish. And no wedding band. What's more, the hands are much smaller in proportion to the pattern piece that's displayed, which makes it much more obvious what she's doing in the picture: tracing the dart of a bodice. And we can see that it's a bodice, so she's making something for herself.

A pack of carbon paper that I recently bought is extremely boring. Just four sheets wrapped in cellphone, no pictures, no colours. And no hint of who's to use it.

Has anything intrigued you about packaging recently?

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