Canadian Fashion Connection – Lewiscraft Make-a-Moc kits

An article in yesterday’s Toronto Star by Paul Woods recapped the history of Lewiscraft, from the recent publication Lewiscraft Beads and Sequins: The Lewiscraft Story. I am  condensing that article here:

LI-WOODS-LEWISCRAFT A full-page ad for moccasin kits from Lewiscraft’s 1963 mail-order catalogue.  Uploaded by: Vallis, Mary

Moccasin kits from Lewiscraft’s 1963 mail-order catalogue

Lewiscraft was founded by Ed Lewis in 1913 as a leather wholesale business in Brampton, Ontario. By the 1940s, Gerry Lewis Ltd. (Ed’s son) was offering bull-hides soles under the trademark Durabull soles. The largest buyer of Durabull soles was the Savage Shoe Co. Ltd. of Galt, Ontario, that used the bull-hide soles for children’s footwear.

In the early 1950s, a couple operating out of Winnipeg purchased the Canadian rights to selling Make-a-Moc moccasin kits from a California company. Their kits used cowhide from Gerry Lewis Ltd., but added an additional rubber sole. Customers would purchase the kit and stitch together the moccasins for use as slippers. When the Winnipeg couple realized they couldn’t handle the volume of business for the Make-a-Moc kits they offered the rights to Lewiscraft who bought them out.

A year or so later, with excess bull-hides pilling up at the Lewis tannery, Gerry Lewis had the idea of using bull-hide instead of cowhide for the moccasins. That ended the need for an added rubber sole, and the natural bull-hide grain that showed imperfections, such as indentations from barbed wire (something that didn’t appeal to shoe manufacturers) enhanced the Native look of the moccasins.

The 1954 Lewiscraft catalogue described the provenance of the leather:

“Each skin comes from Western Canada and Texas bulls. Once a raw bull-hide is received at the Brampton tannery, a great deal of care goes into preserving the rugged natural top grain and the soft firmness of this fine leather. If you look closely at each moccasin, you will find right before your eyes actual tell-tale marks that meant big events in the life of one animal. Not even barbed wire scratches, nor bite scars, are removed. In some cases, you might even see the sear marks left by man’s branding iron … all as natural as natural can be!”

These new kits were sold through the company’s retail stores in Toronto, Winnipeg and Saint John, N.B., and in 1955 the kits were offered to Boy Scouts at a World Jamboree in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Sales for the moccasin kits steadily grew, and became a feature of Lewiscraft’s mail-order offerings to Canadian crafters. Expanding internationally in 1959, the moccasin kits were sold in the U.K., Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and France, pushing sales from 40,000 kits per year in 1959 to 20,000 kits per month in 1960.

In 1969 Lewiscraft stores, which carried a wide array of craft materials, began opening retail outlets in shopping centres across Canada, beginning with Toronto’s Agincourt Mall, but under the pressure of big box retailers, like Michael’s, Lewiscraft slowly shrunk, closing its last store in 2007.

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The newest Canadian Fashion Museum – Musée de la Mode

I shouldn’t say newest, because the Musée de la Mode has existed since 1979, but under different names with different mandates.

mctq_mai2015_062-755x1024Located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, in the community of Saint-Lambert, the museum was originally located in a typical seigneury style mid 18th century stone house. The house was designated as an historical property by the Quebec Government in 1974, and was renovated into a museum in 1979. It was known as the Musée de Marcil, after the Marcil family who had originally built the home.

In 1993 the mandate of the museum was redefined to concentrate on costume (fashion and ethnographic) and textiles. In 2001 we created our first travelling exhibition on the history of paper dresses (before the Fashion History Museum officially existed) that debuted at the Musée de Marcil. In 2006, the museum’s name was changed to reflect the new focus to Musée du costume et du textile du Québec, and in 2013 the museum crossed the river to locate in a new building known as the Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal.

In 2016, the museum’s mandate was honed to focus just on fashion – the only museum in Quebec devoted exclusively to that topic, although the McCord museum in Montreal has  either the best or second best collection of historical fashions in Canada (the other being Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum).

I am delighted to see another institution devoted to my favourite topic!


The museum’s newest exhibition, opening this month

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The problem with museum acquisitions…

In my experience, fashion museums have three problems to deal with when it comes to acquiring artifacts:

  • The museum is the last to know

unknown Museums are often the last place to be contacted. After grandma dies, every female in the family ransacks the closet for mementos, wearables, or items of value that can be resold on Etsy. The next person called is usually a local dealer or auctioneer, and by the time the museum is called what is left consists of unexciting pieces like autumn haze mink stoles, pairs of white kid gloves, and yellowing acetate wedding dresses.

imagesWe were once contacted by a woman about a massive collection of clothing from the 40s and 50s that her recently deceased mother had made. The daughter’s voice quivered when she spoke of wanting a couple of her mom’s pieces preserved for posterity in a museum. We came to see what she had, and after going through ten boxes of pretty standard children’s clothing I had pulled a boy’s suit from the early 1950s, and a girl’s dress from the late 1950s. The daughter refused to tell me when the dress was made because it had been hers and giving the date would reveal her age… And then she let it slip that a dealer had gone through everything the previous day and taken what were probably the best pieces…

Sometimes we get an offer of an exciting piece – like a couture dress from the 1920s, but when it is brought in, it turns out the owner had worn it to a party and torn out the underarms and ripped the hem in the process. This has happened more than once.

  • But is it fashion?

iris-van-herpen-20100b94d66cfe63de8596af9f79a460a3a0If money allows, it’s too easy for museums to purchase crazy items. The FHM doesn’t have this problem due to a lack of funds, however, many museums buy garments that are irrelevant examples of real fashion. In my opinion, the unique quality of  true fashion is that it balances art and commerce – a dress that nobody wears is not fashion, it’s wearable art.

  • Fakes

The market for vintage fashion has soared the past thirty years, especially for designer clothing, and this has made forgeries profitable. I have seen ready-to wear labels recut to imitate couture labels, designer tie labels used as dress labels (Lanvin, Dior, Schiaparelli, Cardin all had lines of men’s ties), photocopied labels, as well as labels moved from lesser garments that are real, into flashier dresses that are not.

fb104381-1stephen-lewis-dior-souvenir-tourSometimes the attempts are amateurish and obvious. I once purchased a Chanel suit from a blurry picture on eBay. Although it was pink wool tweed and early 1960s, upon receiving the suit it was obviously American ready-to-wear workmanship, and the label, which had been sewn in with the wrong coloured thread, probably had been taken from a 1980s blouse. I had paid $75.00 for it, and when I returned it to the dealer she refunded my money without a fuss.

However, there are far more clever deceptions being done. A recent acquisition of 130 dresses by an Australian gallery from a French couturier has a suspicious looking dress in its midst that I seriously question. The dress is purported to be by Dior – an example of his Palmyre evening gown from 1952. It looks impressive at first glance (see above left), but the embroidery is more spare than a verifiably real gown (see above right), and in the close-up, the work (bottom left) looks clumsily sequinned with standard-looking artlessly-arranged couched thread work that looks like lurex. The acetate fabric (identified by the gallery in their description) was probably embroidered in Hong Kong and then exported to the U.S. where it was made up by a company like Nanty in New York – a company known for knocking off Dior evening wear in the 1950s. A real dress (bottom right) shows a far more finessed version of embroidery on silk with better placed sequins and beads, and chain-stitched silver gilt thread. The knock-off cost the Australian museum more than $10,000, and that means this is a serious forgery, not a misidentification.


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Myth Information – Quant and the Miniskirt

An oft-told tale is that Mary Quant ‘invented’ the miniskirt – a myth she didn’t readily deny, but when pressed she admitted she did not invent it anymore than Courreges or anyone else, and I agree with her. The mini was an ‘air du temp’ development that was already around in little girl’s dresses, performance and sportswear. Many designers picked up on the knee-baring hemline for town wear around the same time in 1964 – but it was really the teenaged girls, especially in Britain who also bought a lot of Quant clothing, that hiked the hemlines up higher, exposing the inner thigh.

14657311_10154032252626270_7300984314602835059_nRegardless of the facts, the myth continues, but thanks to Daniel Milford-Cottam, a friend of mine who works at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the myth can now be unravelled from the facts. I think one of the biggest culprits for the miniskirt myth is the illustration to the left that first appeared in a 1973 retrospective exhibition catalogue at the Museum of London entitled ‘Mary Quant’s London’ but has also appeared in several other fashion histories. The three dresses pictured are of popular early Mary Quant designs dating from (left to right) 1958, 1960, and 1963.  The image was supplied by Mary Quant for the exhibition catalogue, who, I have been told, also supplied some of the dresses in the 1973 exhibition – many recreated by Quant specifically for the exhibition in shorter lengths than originally designed,  emphasizing the mini myth. These dresses are now residing in the Museum of London or the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The original designs can be seen in these three images, showing their more modest, and accurate ‘just below the knee’ hemlines. The first dress shows the knees, but that’s because Mary Quant, who is wearing the dress, is sitting down:

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Pussycat bow

Melania Trump wearing a Gucci blouse with pussycat bow

Melania Trump wearing a Gucci blouse with pussycat bow

It took me a while to figure out what all the recent hubbub was regarding pussycat bows. Suffice it to say that Donald Trump was caught on film years ago referring to grabbing a woman by an anatomical synonym that also refers to a feline. The day after this old film surfaced his current imported wife wore a bright pink blouse with a pussycat bow, providing fodder for the fashion blogosphere to explode.

Norel, 1951. Norell popularized large pussycat bows in the early 1950s .

Norman Norell, 1951. Norell popularized large pussycat bows in the early 1950s .

I am usually easily regaled by  smutty double entendres and potty humour, but I really don’t think there was anything intentionally ironic about Melania’s fashion choice. What I do find peculiar is that suddenly pussycat bows are being called pussy bows.

Vogue magazine found the earliest reference to the style from 1934: “a cunning bow that ties high under the chin and looks for all the world like those we put on a Pussy Cat when company’s coming.” The bows are made from an extension of the collar that I have seen range from small toggled cords to flamboyant scarf necklines – most often on a blouse worn under a chicly tailored suit.

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Straw Hat Songs – 1938 and 1949

There are two songs about straw hats. An Old Straw Hat was first performed by Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1938:

An Old Straw Hat – 1938 – Lyrics/Music Mack Gordon and Harry Revel

What is all this dizzy busy hustling for
People running helter-skelter on their way
What is all this hazy crazy bustling for
No time to notice it’s a sunny day

Why don’t you take a vacation
Looks like you’ve got to have relaxation
Aw, come on, forget your troubles for a while
Why don’t you try to feel like I do?

If I had one wish to make
This is the wish I would choose
I’d want an old straw hat
A suit of overalls
And a worn out pair of shoes

Just let me roam around
Laughing at big city blues
With an old straw hat
A suit of overalls
And a worn out pair of shoes

Howdy Mister Brown!
Goin’ fishin’? Hope you get a bite!
Howdy Mister Jones!
How’s about a hay ride Saturday night?

Sing hi-ho the merri-o!
What’ve you got, what’ve you got to lose
Get an old straw hat
A suit of overalls
And a worn out pair of shoes

The other Straw hat song was by Desi Arnaz, and was first performed in the 1949 film Holiday in Havanna. Arnaz later performed the song on I Love Lucy in 1951 (see below), as well as in 1955 in the film Forever Darling, and in 1967 on the Mothers-in-Law, with his son Desi Arnaz Jr. playing the drums:

Straw Hat Song – 1949

Whenever Old Man Trouble makes trouble arise
Just put a big straw hat over your eyes
You’ll never see the circumstance making you frown
If you just push your eyes under the crown

Life can be a simple thing
A simple thing
To laugh and sing
Get yourself a hat of straw
And put it on
Don’t take it off

And when the landlord tells you the rent’s in arrears
A big straw hat over your ears
You’ll never hear the dialog tragically grim
If you just push your ears under the brim

So life can be a simple thing
A simple thing to laugh and sing
Get yourself a hat of straw
Put it on
Don’t take it off
And pretty soon your troubles will come to an end
Because you will not see or hear it my friend
To visualize permanent sun in the skies
(Just put) a big straw hat, big straw hat over your eyes

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Double Elevens label, June 1946 – March 1952

imgp2051There has been confusion about this label that shows up in English clothing from the late 1940s. A discussion about it came up on an eBay chatboard 15 years ago. I said it looked like a place setting, with a dinner-plate in the middle. eBay users began calling it the ‘dinner-plate’ mark and the mis-interpretation took off — my bad. It was also felt that because it appeared in better quality garments but resembled the CC41 label that it was a part of the British wartime utility scheme for ‘posh’ pieces of utility clothing.

unknownBritain had a very complicated wartime clothing scheme that limited the amount of clothing anyone could buy, limited the amount of fabric and details used in clothing, and limited the cost and sale prices of cloth and finished clothing, as well as the amount of labour required to make any garment while ensuring a high quality of materials and construction used in all forms of dress. Utility measures, defined by the CC41 ‘Controlled Commodity 1941’ ordnance, covered manufacturing requirements and production costs and rewarded purchasers with lower taxes when acquiring new clothes. Garments made under these rules were marked with a CC41 label but somewhere around the end of the war the ‘dinner-plate’ label showed up. While I was researching my book on 1940s fashion, I was fortunate to talk with someone who had remembered discussions at the Board of Trade about this  label, and he remembered it was commonly referred to as ‘Double Elevens’, but that was all he could remember.

I knew there would be something written somewhere about the label and sure enough Liz Treganza found a reference and blogged about it on her Advantage in Vintage website.  She found several articles in Fashion Trade Weekly that explain the label:

Fashion Trade Weekly, April 11th 1946 – A Hieroglyphic

A mark has now been designed by the B.o.T. (Board of Trade) for use on women’s and maids’ ready-made non-Utility outerwear sold above the lower set of ceiling prices, and on the cloths from which they are made.

After June 1, no such garments may be sold by manufacturers unless the price-control mark has been applied. A new order will give effect to the arrangements.

The mark of ‘higher grade’ is a ‘hieroglyphic’- imagine — a large dot in the centre, an 11 either side and a horizontal rule top and bottom!


Brown wool tweed coat, c. 1946 – 1947, with ‘Double Elevens’ label

Fashion Trade Weekly, April 18th 1946 – That top-price mark – Who may and who must use it

Current widespread trade cynicism is largely attributable to THAT MARK which is to identify the top categories of non-utility.

Call it, by the way, as people do, eleven-o-eleven; not double-one-o-double one.

Introduction of this strange device has been beset by certain legitimate difficulties; hence the not-at-all-clear manner in which the B.o.T. describes the procedure and requirements of its use.

It applies, of course, to garments subject to the higher set of maximum prices fixed by the Womens’ and Maids’ Outerwear (Manufacturers’ Maximum Prices) Order 1945 (S.R. & O 1945 NO. 1530), and to the cloths not less than the appropriate prices shown in the second schedule to that Order and which are used for the manufacture of such garments.

The maker-up may begin to apply the label right away to garments made from either cloth which is already marked or with cloth bought at above the schedule prices. From June 1 onwards he must apply the mark to garments so made.

The cloth manufacturer is not directly legislated for. He had the option of applying it as he wishes (except in the case of Harris tweed for which a marking scheme is already in operation). The reason for this option is that similar cloths are used for garments (e.g. men’s wear) other than those covered by the Order.

At a later date it is understood that the maker-up will only be able to apply the mark to garments made from cloths which actually bear the mark (and not also to cloths above the schedule price which have not been marked). So in the result cloth manufacturers will mark such materials as they are instructed to do so by their making up customers.

From June 1 no garment may be sold by the maker-up at the higher price range unless it has been marked.

Another requirement is that manufacturers and wholesalers selling cloth or garments which bear the mark must indicate them on their invoices by the use of the code ‘11011”.

Cloth wholesalers who sell a length of cloth cut from a piece to which the mark was applied by the manufacturer are permitted to apply the mark to that length if it does not already appear on it.

As the B.o.T point out, retailers will find that at present it makes no difference to them whether garments are marked or unmarked, although eventually the present ceiling will be applied only to garments which have been marked and a lower set of retail ceilings will be fixed for unmarked goods.

Certain cloth which has been marked may find its way into retail shops, but the make will in this case have no significance whatever.

Number of the Order relating to the mark is S.R. & O 1946 No. 536.

As for the mark itself, there is no restriction on the colour in which it is woven or printed, but it must be placed in the garment where it is “easily seen.” The prescribed measurements are 1 ½ x 1in.

The design is the product of Percy Metcalfe who was commissioned by the Council of Industrial Design, It is understood he was given no sort of direction, except that it must be easily recognizable and easy to apply; the figures 11011 were not, for instance, in mind, but came afterwards when the Price Committee people saw it.

Mr Metcalfe was responsible for the Coronation, Jubilee and George Cross medals. It seems that the trade are not disposed to award him any medal for his latest product.

Opposition to the label appeared in comments in Fashion Trade Weekly:

Ad expert Sir William Crawford, highly critical, asked, ‘What’s it mean?’

‘It’s complicated it’s dispersed; it will cost thousands to educate the public to know it. Even if it was good visually it, it is no good as a mark unless you can put your tongue to it. The Utility mark has become CC41. That is easily said and everyone recognizes it. But you can’t describe this thing. It needs a name. But even then it is too much of a hieroglyphic and too dispersed.’

He calls to one of his principal advisers Mrs. Havinden.

She wanted to know whether it would be in colours and what it would look like in the garment.

‘It has no target in it,’ she said. ‘The circle by itself would have been neater. You need something you recognise out of the corner of your eye.’

Richard Porter, Vivian Porter & Co. Ltd. ‘ I would not mind it on a bath towel- if I had a bath towel!’

H Mitchell, Matita Ltd. : ‘ Much too near the Utility mark. It is a mistake to have something for better class merchandise in the same family. It should have been a mark which could not possibly be confused.’

Henry Scott: ‘It rather reminds me of the brand-marks on the backs of the prisoners-of-war I employ on my farm.’

E.G.Young (Headley and Young Ltd.) ‘I think it is a pity they did not chose a mark which has some meaning.’

E. Seton-Cotterill, chairman of B.F.T.A coat and suit section: ‘Well I suppose it is clear, although it lacks any artistic merit. It is so obviously a government mark that a discriminating public may react to it in the same way as they did to the Utility mark.’

B.M.M. A have raised strong protest against the mark. They were not shown it until they asked to see it, and then immediately protested it was unsuitable- not at all the sort of thing a woman would want to see in a high-price garment. The B.o.T took up the point, but eventually replied that as it was imperative to rush the Order through there was no time for alteration.

cc41Although the purpose of the mark was to denote that it was not a part of the CC41 Utility scheme the  government’s decision to mark items as such confused the British public. A government press release in July 1946 tried to succinctly clarify the mark’s purpose:

Press Notice: Some of the women’s costs, suits and dresses now reaching the shops bear the following label (11011).  This mark does not mean that the garment is a Utility one. On the contrary, it means that it is in the most expensive range of that manufacturers non utility production, for a manufacturer may use it only if he is using clothing which is not utility and for which he has paid more than a given price. The mark should not be confused with the (CC41) Utility mark.

Presumably, the Double Elevens label was discontinued when the Utility scheme was dropped in March 1952 as there was no longer any need to identify under what guidelines any garment was made.

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Disturbing food beds…

What can be said…

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You’ve Come a Long Way Baby…

Found these interesting plates that had been removed from a book that shows how much had changed for women in the 19th century from the early years to the 1880s.

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Fashion in Song – Devil With the Blue Dress On – 1966

“Devil with a Blue Dress On” written by Shorty Long and William “Mickey” Stevenson, was first performed by Long and released as a single in 1964. However, a later version recorded by Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels in 1966 is the more famous version. The version in this video was performed by the Villagers on TV in the fall of 1966.


Fee, fee, fi, fi, fo-fo, fum
Look at Molly now, here she comes
Wearin’ her wig hat and shades to match
She’s got high-heel shoes and an alligator hat
Wearin’ her pearls and her diamond rings
She’s got bracelets on her fingers, now, and everything

Devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress
Devil with the blue dress on
Devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress
Devil with the blue dress on

Wearin’ her perfume, Chanel No. 5
Got to be the finest girl alive
She walks real cool, catches everybody’s eye
They got to be nervous, they can’t say Hi
Not too skinny, she’s not too fat
She’s a real humdinger and I like ’em like that

Devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress
Devil with the blue dress on
Devil with the blue dress, blue dress, blue dress
Devil with the blue dress on

Good golly, Miss Molly
You sure like to ball
Good golly, Miss Molly
You sure like to ball
It’s late in the evenin’
Don’t you hear your mama call

From the early, early mornin’ ’til the early, early nights
See Miss Molly rockin’ at the House of Blue Lights
Good golly, Miss Molly
You sure like to ball
While you’re rocking and you’re rolling
Can’t you hear your mama call

Posted in Fashion in song | 2 Comments