Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dream Girl

I've been sorely in need of a dress form. Not a mannequin–which is meant to display finished clothing–but a dress form, which is used to check and adjust the fit of clothing in progress. It's a design tool that's hard to do without if you're trying to create professional work. A dress form, unlike most mannequins and most models, doesn't mind if you stick pins into it.

I could have put a crowbar in my wallet and bought a new one. They're readily available, and may be had in two varieties:
  1. fairly expensive and staggeringly ugly;
  2. staggeringly expensive and fairly ugly.
Staggeringly expensive is, alas, out of the question. And since I'd spend a lot of time looking at this thing, I hesitated to dent my finances for a budget dummy that would induce aesthetic dry heaves.

I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted a vintage dress form, made with care in the pre-plastic era. I did not something that had been made indifferently in China with toxic waste and strip-mined panda carcasses. My dream girl was a statuesque, attractively worn dame made from the time-tested combination of linen over jersey over papier-maché over wire, with a brass-plated skirt frame and a rolling, cast iron base.

I have friends who work with clothes for a living, so I made inquiries. "Where does one go," I asked, "to purchase a reasonably-priced vintage dress form?"

An hour and a half later, when the laughter died down, the replies were discouraging.

All of my friends outside New York City suggested a regimen of Craigslist, eBay, patience and prayer. The most knowledgeable of the bunch told me that old forms are the first thing snapped up any time a shop or workroom goes under (which is happening all the time–see "made in China," above) and when you do find them, they cost serious gelt. This fellow should know, since he has a small stable of them in his own workroom.

I asked if I could buy one of his. I offered cash, lifelong friendship, a kidney, and high-quality free sex. More laughter.

Then there were the friends in New York City. They gave the sort of reply friends in New York City always give to this kind of question:
Yeah, I know a place. You have to go out to Queens, and they're only open on the third Tuesday of every month from 10:47 am–noon. Unless it's November, then it's the second Tuesday and the hours are shorter. They don't have a phone, a Web site or email and they don't ship. Anyway, you just go out there and it's this warehouse and there's no street number and the entrance is unmarked, so you look for the boarded-up door with the PREZ BUSH SUK MY DIK graffitti on it and knock; and when they yell at you to get lost, ask for Sol. Unless it's November, then ask for Miguel. They have ten thousand of them and they're all $1.92, but if you try to take them across state lines they spontaneously combust.
I took to half-heartedly searching for "dress form" on Craigslist now and again. This mostly turned up mannequins, which are not dress forms; and form-fitting prom dresses, which are not dress forms; and rants about forms of address, which are not dress forms.

Last week, the search yielded an estate sale ad. There, in a color photograph, was a beautiful vintage dress form. The sale–which for once was actually in Chicago, and not in a suburb seven hours away pretending to be in Chicago–was by appointment only and had ended two days earlier. I called anyway and left a message. I had as much hope of the form still being unsold as I do of the Republicans and the Democrats doing the Virginia Reel down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The lady who had placed the ad called me back the next day. "Yes," she said, "the dress form is available. Would you like to come and see it? How about this afternoon?"

I figured it was 50/50 that voice on the phone was bait in a Very Special Episode of Punk'd featuring on gay male knitters. I could live with those odds.

That evening, thanks to Tom Terrific and His Magic Volvo Station Wagon, I came home with Mildred.

middy-01

She's a classic Wolf Adjustable, Model 1959, made (as far as I can tell from checking her patent numbers) some time in the 1940s.* And still being made, which tells you something about the quality.

middy-06

The lady who sold her to me (for a very fair price) is an artist who just liked the look of her. She had spent the recent past as a decoration, but her little steel casters told an older story. When I bought her she was completely hobbled, and no wonder. Look at this.

middy-03

Those are threads picked up over the years from the floor of a workroom–apparently a very busy workroom. This is the thread I pulled out of one side of one 1" diameter wheel.

middy-05

Mildred is battle-scarred. I don't mind–it's honorable.


middy-04

After a damp cloth, sandpapering to take the rust off her base and wheels, and a lick of brass polish, she has a patina you can't fabricate. For practical purposes, she's good as new.

middy-02

The artist told me she'd had other several calls about the form, but something in my voice suggested I'd give her the best home–so I got her.

I'm grateful for the chance to put the old gal back to work. And it's been awfully difficult, until now, trying to do fittings on Dolores.

*Correction! Made in 1959, per her model number - a tip o' the hat to commenter Marcia in Austin!

101 comments:

Molly Bee said...

Congratulations Franklin! I know you two will be very happy together! (I just hope Delores doesn't get too jealous! Beware an ovine scorned and all that!)

MerryBrown said...

Yes, she is beautiful. I can only imagine how hard it would be to do fittings on Dolores. She has way too many bosoms for a decent fit.

Kathleen said...

She's beautiful, and makes my Mildred look like a dumpy step-sister. You will give her a very, very good home. :)

Christine Olea said...

I don't want to judge, not being even myself, but is Mildred a bit lopsided or is it the photo? Props to the manufacturer for making her lopsided if that is the case, as most women are.

kmkat said...

Congratulations! Mildred is the perfect name for her.

Do my eyes deceive me or are her bosoms uneven? And do they have NIPPLES? Sorry to shout, but I thought those were considered verboten in the 1950s, sort of like *limbs* in Victorian times.

margene said...

She's lovely, just lovely!!

YogaNan knits, too... said...

She is absolutely splendid! I know you'll give her a good home. How does Dolores feel about another lady in the house?

laura gayle said...

Christine and kmkat, I thought the same thing! Looks like Mildred needs a notch tighter adjustment on her invisible right bra strap!

But seriously, what a wonderful story! CONGRATS! And keep Delores away. Somehow, I see trouble and jealousy brewing.

kingshearte said...

It's so awesome when you meet someone who's in tune enough to care more about a good home for something than about a good price for something. Sometimes the universe does provide what we want it to.

knit one, knit two said...

You lucky dog - congrats!

Marcia in Austin said...

(I'm hoping this doesn't show up twice...)

With dress forms, the model number is the year it was made, so Miss Middy was manufactured in 1959.

As with ready-to-wear, the dimensions for sizes have changed over the years. I'd guess Mildred is closer to a size 10, nowadays. The "ideal" body silhouette also changes through time and you'll see this subtly reflected in dress forms.
She's a beauty!

margaret in manhattan said...

um - maybe my eyes are going, but it looks to me like the number is 1939, which would fit the patent pending numbers as well; even more nostalgic if that's when it was manufactured, since wartime had us thinking about other things fairly soon after.

meezermeowmy said...

Congratulations, Franklin! I think you will provide the best home for Mildred, too. Huzzah!

Rabbitch said...

She's quite splendid; congratulations

Rabbitch said...

Great, I had to log in three times and then "create an account" on Blogger to comment. I'm going to go have a little hissy fit, as I seem to recall I've had a blog for six years now ...

(formerly) no-blog-rachel said...

I'm was manufactured in 1959 too - so I can speak from experience when I say we may be a little shop-worn but we're tough and will last a while. :)

WonderMike said...

She's your dream girl, boy, she'll make you happy... yeah......

Mildred is stunning and I can't imagine a more perfect home for her. I hope to have one some day but for now, I'll enjoy your lovely, lovely photographs of her.

Mazeltov!!

obsessmuch? said...

lovely! what a great home she has found, indeed.

KnitNana said...

Oh my, she's lovely! Congrats...and don't mind me as I drool, okay?
(((hugs)))

Cat Bordhi said...

She's beautiful, Franklin, just beautiful. For some reason I think she'd love to take up residence in your library, have you bring her a proper cup of tea in delicate teacup and saucer, and sit beneath the amber light of a lamp reading.
I have a friend who is a professional draper and teaches in Seattle, and at work they have an entire collection of vintage half-size and full size dress models, and she's explained that as the public conception of what women should look like changes, so do the dress forms. Perhaps someday they will concentrate on making one that actually represents an ordinary woman...at any rate, Mildred's former owner is a wise woman to have discerned that you will indeed give her the most reverent of homes. If Mildred allows it, please pat her on the shoulder for me.

JelliDonut said...

Congratulations! I am horribly, horribly jealous, but happy for you. I've been searching for my own Mildred, to no avail. This gives me hope.

jen said...

Love means caring enuf to pick the threads and lint from between your casters! What god has put together, let no sheep put assunder!

goldwman said...

Milred is beautiful!

Merry Karma said...

Franklin - congratulations on scoring Mildred!!!

As (formerly)no-blog-rachel and Mildred - I was manufactured in 1959 too. It was a very good year for quality items!

Cheers!

Spinneret said...

Size 14 from 1959 translates to roughly an 8 today. Congrats. You got a good one. She'll be very servicable.

Jennifer said...

New to your blog and enjoy it. I gave one of these away 2 summers ago when i down sized my house. A young sewing designer was super excited. I seriously didn't think i could actually get money for it. I am in Kingston, Ontario so it would have been a little out of your way.

scifiknitter said...

Congratulations, Franklin! I think it's very cool that the seller used her personal assessment of character to decide who to sell to, and I'm quite sure that she made the right choice.

Sarah said...

Congrats, Mildred is wonderful. I am glad the fates brought you together.

The Yarn Poet said...

Yay!! What a beautiful find :)
I was thrilled to find my vintage push button adjustable "Sally Stitch" form...my name is also Sally but I'm not sure which one of us changes sizes more!

Paul said...

Awww... She's stunning!

Lester's Mama said...

I am sooooooo jealous.

I have been searching for my own Judy for 5 years without luck. (theatre costumers call a dress form a Judy - no idea why)

All my pals who go to garage sales and auctions are on strict instructions to grab any Judy they might come across.

You've got a real find there. Congrats. Make sure you put her in your will for the next deserving custodian.

ldfsings said...

Mazeltov! She's a beaut!
I thought the same thing as margaret in manhattan - that the 1959 looked to me like 1939. There doesn't seem to be the little vertical bar on the left side of the number like all the other fives in the patent numbers. But, with no three to compare it to, and considering we are viewing a photo taken from an angle, it's just a shot in the dark for us. Miss Middy looks to be in pretty good shape to be another twenty years older, but, who knows? Under the right conditions...
And as for the irregular boobage, I'm thinking, a little trick of the light, maybe?
I'd love to find out what information a call to the Wolf Form Company might uncover. Please keep us informed, okay, Franklin?

marsha said...

Mildred is lovely. I'm so glad she is appreciated for her "experience".

Kristen said...

Color me seriously jealous! I've been coveting one for a long time myself. Enjoy her!

mbcrui knitting olympics said...

WOW! You certainly scored! I've been looking for one for many years. I sew wedding dresses and costumes and SCA dresses.
I had a new one for a few years. Then she went with my partner to North Carolina and I'm back to live models. Let me tell you, 15 year old boys object to trying on wedding dresses (altho probably not as colorfully as Delores) (my son is my other 'dress form) not to mention the whole pin thing.
Congrats!

Anonymous said...

I have an image of the two of you twirling around the apartment. Maybe some Strauss?

Knitting the Camino said...

Mildred - that, my friend, is my sister's name - and a perfectly good name it is. My sister is also a knitter. She's about two years older than me and just recently told me that she has had to have tests done for breast cancer. (I am not intending to be macabre here, just saying that it's a good name, and if your readers want to celebrate it, they might make a donation, however small, to breast cancer research, to honour all the Mildred's in the world).

Hugs
Nigel

Eileen said...

Gorgeous. (She's my dream girl, too...I've been on the lookout for one for a while, too.)

Congratulations--I'm sure you'll both be very happy!

anne marie in philly said...

WOW! she even has "headlights"!

at least milly will stand still; I cannot imagine dolores or harry staying still for more than 5 seconds. and then there is always the alcohol and cigarette breaks with dolores...

Lynne said...

A splendid find - congratulations.

Gail said...

A Wolf form! You lucky lucky man.

And yes, I the number refers to the year of the form -- they vary. Some of them enable you to "squeeze" the shoulders in so that you can put something narrow over them.

I had 2 vintage 1936s in a classroom I taught in once -- gave them to a historical society (they weren't actually mine to keep, and this department was getting rid of all things textile. Including me. The clothing went to the same place). If you get to compare different dates, you see how the "model" silhouette changes over time.

I do have 2 mini (scale) ones, though.

I am green with envy!

Alwen said...

Oh my god, she's gorgeous.

You're a lucky guy.

And I swear I tell the truth, my verification word is beawbity!

Teresa said...

Congrats, Franklin, on the new lady in your life. Although, for the life of me I can't imagine why someone would turn down your offer of high-quality free sex.....

Marilyn said...

Welcome Mildred!

Do you Twitter?

Meghan said...

What a lovely story. Can't wait to see what Mildred dresses in first.

carys said...

mildred's lovely! (and reminds me of my grandmother's matilda *g*)

congrats!

dianelaces said...

She is gorgeous!

Karen said...

Great story. Mildred is gorgeous-I'm jealous. I'm a sewer as well as a knitter and I'd LOVE to have a vintage dress form. Congrats! She's going to enjoy her new home.

Rachelle said...

You lucky guy Franklin! I'd love one of those, but never even seen them here in New Zealand. Had to settle for a freakishly bright red Singer one a couple of years back. She does the job, but she's too light and tends to wobble when I knock her by accident. She's not even been named as she's too generic to bother.

Mary said...

Wow, she beautiful, Franklin - congrats on the prize! Can't wait to see what you and Ms. Mildred get up to!

Marie Richardson, Teen Services Librarian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie said...

Do her shoulders collapse? Ah, I'm feeling nostalgic for the stable of dress forms we had in school when I got my degree in apparel design.
What was amazing to me was how the shape of the forms changes over time - the dress forms from the 1980s had shoulders out to THERE!

Sally said...

She's beautiful! But her model number looks like 1939 to me!

otter said...

She's beautiful, and I can't believe I'm the first one to ask:"Mildred, as in Pierce?"

Hazy said...

Welcome Mildred!

Tini said...

She's beautiful! There was an article in Threads magazine about the company, that produces these dressforms and I so want to go there one day!

Rosemary said...

I used to work in a Fashion School in Toronto and spent many summers cutting and prying the thread out of wheels, cleaning and repairing our "Judies". There was something so soothing and right about caring for such a wonder piece of craftsmanship. A little TLC and she will be a good and faithful companion.

Shannon Okey (knitgrrl) said...

Wow, Franklin! That's quite a score. (And I agreed -- the modern forms are hideous. Nicely covered in linen, but hideous).

Gerri said...

Good show! I was going to ask if you had her name right, she seems like a Vonnette. Then I saw her nickname and it all seemed OK. I guess this means Tom's not the jealous type.

Seanna Lea said...

That is awesome. I've wanted a dress form for some time, but just for making my own clothing (and hems) more easily. Yours is quite a classy looking dame (and yes, I completely understand ugly and staggeringly expensive).

seashells said...

Wonderful!

JoAnn said...

Yup. I'd go with 1939. Look at those slim hips. Good for you to clean her up so nicely. I'm sure she appreciates the detailing and will reward you nicely. I really hope she gets to "model" a beautifully draped shawl when she's not working.

Deborah C. said...

Congratulations, Mildred is lovely!

I have an Acme Adjustable (I'm not sure how old, I just know she's definitely vintage) that was dubbed Fanny Dumster because she (a) was adjusted to have an enormous backside, and (b) was left in my mother's apartment house dumpster to be (horrors!) discarded. We rescued her, and she's in my basement apartment, to be adjusted to my current measurements and used to drape garments.

Anonymous said...

She's a beauty!

Let us know how Mildred is getting along with Dolores and Harry.

By the way - will Harry be live tweeting from Westminster Abby on Friday? I don't know any one who will be attending the royal wedding, so I'm counting on him.

Dragons Knitting Lace said...

She is simply stunning! I am so jealous...

I'd watch Dolores...she isn't to keen on competition...

Winterhart said...

Congratulations! I'm on this very same hunt myself (mostly for garment display photos), and wow... what a find!! She's beautiful.

dee said...

The Virginia Reel! You're a doll! Congratulations on your dream girl.

Marji said...

Oh, Franklin. She's perfect!

Miss Sandra said...

you're Mildred is much classier than my Gladys with her cheesy adjustable plates.

badmommy said...

I certainly hope that your acquisition of Mildred means that we will soon be seeing our elected "leaders" doing the Virginia Reel down Pennsylvania Avenue...

Patti said...

She's lovely. and I'm sure she's thrilled with her new home.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations. She is lovely.

SusieQ100 said...

Congratulations! And what a little cracker! Hope you will be very happy together for many many years!

Meg said...

Careful who you're calling an "old gal" when you're around Mildred, fella! She's GORgeous. JEALOUS.

Jack said...

Beautiful, simply beautiful.

Restlessmoon said...

That's SO funny, I call my dress form Mildred also, she has her own wardrobe when not in service. Remember her modesty there, Franklin!

International Knitter of Mystery said...

She has so much more character than the "Just My Size" languishing in my basement. Congrats on having the most sincere voice!

Anonymous, too said...

Mildred is a beaut! And I think I saw something on the news wire about Barack and Newt doing the Watusi on Dupont Circle. . .

Anyway, a practical tip: Give the parts that were rusty a rub-down with a rag on which you've sprayed some WD-40. It helps prevent further rust, and doesn't collect dust the way some oils do. It's worked well on some vintage hand tools I inherited from my grandfather. Just don't let Dolores smoke nearby while you're doing it.

Beth said...

She's a pretty little thing, isn't she? I have Gertrude in my basement. Think 'big German farm girl' and you'll get the general picture of what she and I look like.

Kathleen said...

Envy! She is a beauty - congratulations. And could you give me the name/number of that place in Queens? I do live on the island and would promised not to take her up to Maine for the summer, if I could get my own Judy/Mildred ;)

Bonnie said...

Congratulations! The universe must have known how you would care for a proper dress form. I'm happy you found her!

SallyT said...

Good karma rewarded.

Saz said...

Man, but you can write a story. She's beautiful. I am extremely jealous! I'm glad the girl went to you.

Nancy said...

Congrats on big Mildred! I live in NYC, in Manhattan, and looked assiduously forEVER for one, then sort of gave up. I found mine, a mint-condition 1979 size 10 (a today's size 6, my size, yippee!) on the sidewalk while walking my dog. Young 8-mos pregnant F.I.T. graduate moving and willing to part with it: $100! including transportation of me, dog, and form to my apt. Classic NY story, which makes me smile every time I look at it. Still removing thread from wheels, though: what did you use?

AnnDS said...

Congratulations, Franklin! At this point I'm ready to make one out of duct tape (sigh). AnnDS

Dr. Cynthia said...

I have been searching for just the same thing to no avail on the sources you mentioned. Mildred is great. Lucky find. Hope she is all you envisioned and I can't wait to see what you design for her to wear.

JitterKnitter said...

Swoon!!! Takes me back to my years in the design workrooms at college.

Anonymous said...

All-around excellence! Good persevering, good find, good former owner! Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Oh, and excellent story telling as well! Thank you!

Laura

Sharon said...

She is gorgeous. She's a Wolf and even has collapsable shoulders. Do they still work? I hope they do, they should, she isn't that old. I'm sure Mildred will be very happy. You got a good one.

Flora said...

You lead a charmed life, my sir. Truly. Congratulations on finding Middy. She's one lucky doll too.

noricum said...

Drool.

Now that you've posted about the construction, I have a renewed interest in making a form of myself... but much better than the "duct tape" suggestions from the internet! Wire and paper mache, here I come! :) (Well, when I get my kitchen tidied enough to make that kind of mess with a hope of getting it mopped up properly afterwards...

Kelle said...

If she is anything like my mom who shares the same name, she would prefer to be called, "Millie".

Anonymous said...

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How to Get Into Acting
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Picking Lottery Numbers
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Acne Conglobata
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Pengurusan Masa

Agen 338a said...

Hello.This post was really motivating, particularly since I was investigating for thoughts on this subject last Wednesday.

elaineviba said...

wow, i love this story!!! how is your dress form doing now adays?

onur said...

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meanderer said...

You were right about 1940: I think it is 'Model 1939'. The stencil for the number 5 has a downward line l(ike an inverted L), as seen in the numbers in the upper part of the photo.
I love your blog! Discovered it on Twist Collective and have been reading all your posts in reverse. Great work!

Jimmie said...

Mildred is beautiful!! I just bought a Wolf 1939 model - I named her Stella. I searched for YEARS and YEARS for one and stumbled upon her Saturday. I seat belted that girl into my convertible and brought her home. I am a quilter and she will go into my sewing room to keep me company as I design, piece and quilt my projects. I also have a half man - I call him the half naked guy. Guess they will be quite the pair when I get them situated. I'll have to put them on my blog - jimmies quilting adventures. Enjoyed your blog!!

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Jimmie said...

Mildred is beatiful. I too was fortunate enough to stumble across a fabulous Wolf dressform - it is dated 1939 - size 10 - a little rough but all in all considering her age - she is beyond beautiful. No rust, all wheels are perfect. I searched for years and years for one of these - stole her for $95. II received double looks as we made our way home - she was strapped safely in my convertible - only thing missing were sunglasses and a scarf!

I named her Stella and my mom's 70's clothes (today's size 8) fit her perfectly.

Right now she is wearing the outfit for my next race - a tutu, a running tank and Tinker Bell wings and of course, a strand of pearls.