As a bit of a sucker for a bit of vintage Americana, I’ve been buying parkas and jackets from the other side of the water for quite a few years now. I thought I’d had every conceivable combination so far, from vintage Izod Lacoste of all shapes and sizes, to Woolrich 65/35 Mountain Parkas and the better known 60/40 Parkas from Sierra Designs and many others. I’ve had various combinations of nylon, polyester, cotton and a brilliant Goretex Woolrich that was never going to fit me but I bought it anyway. Like I say, a sucker. But I thought I’d had everything there was to offer and my ‘pretend hippy/mountaineer’ phase was over until now.
I came across the Frostline brand about 18 months ago when Glenn Kitson (of The Rig Out fame) brought a huge archive of American outdoor brands to my attention. After doing the natural thing and scouring the well known auction website for hours (mostly at daft o’clock) I came across lots of Frostline Kits.
Frostline was founded in Boulder, Colorado by Dale Johnson, in 1966. He and his wife Julie had previously worked for Gerry Mountaineering, another big name on the burgeoning outerwear scene in Colorado. The first Frostline catalog was produced in 1967, featuring sleeping bags and tents on the cover. Their unique selling point tapped into the do-it-yourself culture that prevailed in the area at the time. Frostline sold unfinished items. They would provide all the necessary components but leave the construction to the person who bought it.
They weren’t the only brand selling kits. EMS, REI and many more would sell their items in kit form. It seems a strange way to retail technical outerwear to us today but while we exist in a fast-culture the mentality back then was completely different. They had the appetite to put together Frostline items, not to mention far fewer distractions. They embraced the whole process. Eventually as the world began to turn a bit quicker, and cheaper ready-made imports began to filter into the US, Frostline and it’s competitors started to suffer. Dale Johnson sold Frostline to Gillette (of ‘best a man can get’ fame) in 1978, stating it was the perfect time to sell, but the company went from having 18 retail outlets to downsizing rapidly by the mid 1980’s.
As of today Frostline appears to have finished trading. Research done by a more investigative character than myself shows they last seemed to exist in 2006 but in any case, is there really any significant demand for jackets and other items which people have to buy unfinished? I wish there was, but sadly I think not.
Well, not from too many people apart from me anyway.
I recently managed to get hold of a Frostline Kit for a navy coloured mountain parka. While it’s possible to get hold of various kits on eBay, none of the actual items ever seem to be the type I’d wear and I’m knackered if I’m going to spend good money – and more importantly loads of time – painstakingly putting together a jacket only a div would wear.
So, here it is. Only a few pictures for now. I’ll post more when I’ve made a start on putting it together. I’m not exactly the most proficient on the old Singer sewing machine, so this may be a long drawn out process. If the jacket ends up looking smart though, I’m sure it’ll be worth it.
Tune in next week, no doubt when my eagerness and lack of sewing skills ruins the whole thing, making me look a right wally in the process. We’ll see.
Two large duffel bags, still in use. Two medium duffels, with a ‘shoe bag’ of sorts accessed by zipper at one end. One set of bicycle pannier thingees—true PIA and you will likely NEVER see a kit for that on eBay, nor meet anyone crazy enough to make a set. Two book type backpacks: one with padded straps, one that dug in the shoulders…Down booties that were too freakin’ warm and made my feet sweat…Two rust-colored parkas in exact same pattern you’ve got; one was Small and the other Medium. The only thing to differentiate gender was typically how one sewed the zipper flap, and perhaps sleeve length. A big down vest for the Hubs that we called ‘The Blue Marshmallow’. One set of Gaitors for boots that didn’t see much action. A Rust colored down vest with vinyl pieces that were supposed to resemble Leather in a Western-y way. A vest made with that same fake leather, and fake sheepskin lining. Truly: it is the SNAPS and snap setting kits of the day that could send a person over the edge…Last of the Frostline kits, I think, was the little zippered bag for toiletries. I was student teaching for a Home Ec class, and the little darlings were making the Kits. Not my idea, to be sure! (Before sewing mine up, I laid the pieces on a copy machine, then later cranked out a bunch of these for nieces and nephews one Christmas.) The supervising teacher was down the hall, in the teacher’s lounge, stitching up a coat kit for her hubby for Christmas. My most expensive kit was bought then, from the Altra kit company, because when ordering, this teacher could get the ‘professional discount’. I chose a full-length down coat in a chocolate brown, w/belt. I think that still fits, and today would be called a ‘puffer coat’. The parkas went the way of being donated to a coat drive for homeless people. They were sewn in the ‘young and skinny’ phase, and most outdoors-y people were that way, so Big items are probably scarce. Vanity Sizing was non-existent. I once had a store-bought wool coat as a newly wed that, when the exterior pilled from years of use, I took it apart and ‘turned it inside out’ to get double the mileage. We were not exactly frugal for the Fun of it; we wanted things to Last. Instruction Books for Frostline kits might not be 100% necessary for an experienced person, but there are weird details one might not think of, such as holding various nylon pieces near a candle to sear the edge to prevent raveling. My best hint for these vintage kits would be: don’t rush. Stop while you still feel good about your progress. Keep all the pieces in a clear bag or box so that nothing gets lost. Piece by piece, the kits are do-able. The instructions are very good. I find it amusing, though, to see those booklets on eBay described as ‘pattern books’, because they are no such thing. Of that long laundry list of Frostline kits that I sewed over the years, the only items still in use (or potential use) are the duffel bags and the toiletry bags. My millenial daughter has borrowed the duffels for air travel. They will likely Never wear out. Can’t say the same about similar modern imported bags.
Good Luck finding and sewing kits; you do get a long-lasting product for the time and the effort.
I was just given a Frostline parka kit, but without any directions. From what I see on this site, the pattern is the same as yours. I know this was posted several years ago, but is there a way I could get a copy of the directions? Thanks.
Any spares? I fancy a go and there’s nothing online sadly.
So how did this Frostline kit project turn out. Or did you give up and sell the kit? I’ve worn out two of the identical coat that you are building and I’m about ready to have a tailor/dressmaker deconstruct one to create a third.
Best regards, and I hope that the article about which this post concerns hasn’t died for being too old.
Got any photos?
I made one of these parkas back about 1975 or so. Frostline was a real resource for us outdoor bound but financially constrained folk back in the day. The parka was great; wore it on many a winter camping trip in New England as well as when just bashing around outside when it was cold. It provided great protection to a down jacket worn underneath. Made a lot of Frostline stuff back in the day: two down sleeping bags, a down jacket, the aforementioned parka, a day pack, coupla pair of down booties, a tent; maybe a couple other things. A great product, with wonderfully clear instruction books. All of ’em banged out on my great aunts black iron Singer sewing machine. Slept out one night, in a Frostline tent, a -10F rated Frostline sleeping bag and a Frostline down jacket when the temperature bottomed out at -27F and lived to tell the tale. They, or I should say, we made good stuff.
Did you ever make the Frostline Parka? If not, would you be willing to sell on your kit?
I found an old Frostline catalog last month while cleaning out a bookshelf and went online to see if they were stilll around, finding that they are not. I’m sure your jacket will turn out fine! I made many of their down jackets back in the 70’s and 80’s as gifts for family and friends.
Best of British!