A Rosy Sewing Year

It seems that every new sewing year – at least for me – does not start right on time, as I am always finishing up a project from the month of December. Such is the case in this early January of 2018. However, that does not keep me from planning and dreaming about the coats and jackets, dresses and blouses to come. I can’t help but think of the new year at hand as a “rosy sewing year,” because the fabrics that are in my queue right now share a common theme – so many are predominantly red or pink or peach or floral, a bouquet of colors and textures.

First up is this red and black “hounds tooth” boucle which I found at Mendel Goldberg. Yes, it will be a Classic French jacket, with a sheath dress to match.

I am planning some variations in detail and trim for this jacket and dress, about which I am excited. It is a big project, so I hope January gives me lots of sewing time! No doubt this will spill over into February…

As I mentioned in one of my December posts, I hope to make a coat from this vintage purple boucle I am so fortunate to own.

A few years ago I found this silk charmeuse (also at Mendel Goldberg) which I intend to use for a coordinating dress with the coat.

Other silks I would love to concentrate on this year are purchases made several years ago from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco:

This is a French crepe de chine.

This silk helps satisfy my penchant for polka dots.

Then there are two linens I never got to in 2017, one a geometric red and the other a ecru and black floral. I assume they are waiting patiently for me. Add to all this my determination to sew for my two little granddaughters and – there’s the year! (And can I possibly finish another classic French jacket next Fall?  We will see.)

But let me complete 2017 first. Whatever made me think I should start (and could possibly finish) another dress for myself in December I will never know. But that’s exactly what went through my head. I had plans to make taffeta “Cinderella” dresses for my granddaughters for Christmas presents, but thought I would sneak in some personal sewing time before I started on that project. Perhaps it was the pattern that made me do it? Or was it the fabric?

When I purchased this pattern at the end of last summer, I really had no idea when I would be using it; I just did not want to miss the opportunity to own it, knowing that I would surely use it someday. Little did I know that someday would be just a couple of months later.

Now it just so happened that I had draped this fabric, below, over my dress form so I could admire it while I worked on other things. I purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg fabrics in 2016 as an end cut, three yards in length.

I knew with three yards I would be able to use a dress pattern which called for more than normal yardage, and I had found a pattern in my collection which I thought I would use:

My idea was to lengthen the sleeves to three-quarter length.

But something just did not seem right. I could not get excited about that pattern in that fabric, even with three-quarter sleeves. Well, I had one of those proverbial light bulb moments when it occurred to me to use the Guy Larouche pattern for the champagne-colored, floral silk. It seems to be a perfect match. The bodice of the pattern is cut on the diagonal, and the meandering flower and vine motif in the fabric lends itself to both straight of grain and diagonal placement. I made my muslin (with quite a few alterations) and was really quite excited about the draped back, shown here in muslin:

And here is the front, minus one sleeve. The front neckline is a bit unusual and I think it will be flattering.

I got as far as transferring the markings onto the silk organza underlining, cutting out the fashion fabric, and basting the two layers together, all ready to start sewing. Then reality hit like a sledgehammer! I had to get those dresses for my granddaughters finished in time for Christmas (which I did, after some frantic sewing – and they love them, which made it all worthwhile!)

Just in case anyone would like to see these dresses, here they are. Big bows in back, and the sleeves are adorned with little bows. Very girly!

So that’s how I am now at this point, finishing up 2017, with the hope of starting the new sewing year one of these days – with my Guy Laroche dress perched in my closet, awaiting its debut. May the New Year be rosy and kind to all of us, and may it end with many sewing dreams fulfilled!

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Linen, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, Sewing for children, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“Blazing Fashions”

Every once in a while, something unexpected and totally charming arrives in the mail. Such was the case when a Christmas card we received had something extra inside, besides a lovely greeting. The envelope was rather lumpy so I could not imagine what might be enclosed. The dear friend who sent the card has a generosity of spirit which is an inspiration to me. She is so thoughtful and ever mindful of the passions and interests of her friends. So when I opened the card and a very large size matchbook fell out, I knew she had once again given me something very special and very apropos.   (Thank you, Nancy C.!)

This was no ordinary matchbook!

This matchbook measures 4″ x 6″ so it definitely makes a statement!

“Blazing fashions” –“Larry’s world famous dresses! 10,000 dresses to tell your friends about…at cut prices.” If I had to assign a particular year to this little gem, I would say 1957, based on the styles, hem lengths, and hairdos on display in the drawing. Certainly it is from the final half of the decade of the 1950s.

The back of the matchbook gives a nostalgic glimpse into the constraints of shopping hours during that time in history. “Get here by 2:30 P. M. to be waited on” and “Closed Sunday.”

I can just imagine some of the dresses, coats and suits available for purchase. This is especially enticing when you look at the list of brands carried by Larry’s:

(Click on the image to see the partial list of designers and fashion houses.)

Many of these fashion houses/designers I recognize, others I do not. Some of the notable brands are: Nini Ricci, Adele Simpson, Donald Brooks, Nettie Rosenstein, McMullen, Davidow, Mr. Mort, Herbert Sondheim, Nantucket Naturals, Kasper, Norman Norel, Christian Dior (New York), Oleg Cassini’s, Teal Traina, H. B. Wragge, Ann Fogerty. Some of the names are hidden beneath the match sticks (which are a good 3“ in length). Also hidden is a coupon to cut out and mail in and request the following: “Please Notify Me When Your Private Sale Begins.” Also mentioned is the fact that Larry’s is “Air Conditioned for Comfort” and “All Sales Are Final.”

A number of the fashion houses/designers listed also designed for Vogue Patterns during that time period, such as Nini Ricci, Christian Dior, and Teal Traina. And I would suspect that many of Larry’s customers were also women who sewed for themselves, as so many fashionable ladies did. I also suspect that Larry’s did a booming business during the holiday season – Christmas and New Year’s – when dressing up was de rigueur. So many stories reside in this little vintage piece, to remind us all that, although much has changed, fashion and dressing well is timeless.

Also timeless is this beautiful and sacred Christmas season. It is a magical time, filled with wonder and awe, a time when the generosity of spirit is abundant and enhanced by kindness and love. May your holiday be filled with such beauties and with the love and companionship of dear friends and family. All the best to you from me!

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

December Surprises

While a life in sewing can never be humdrum, a few good surprises are always welcome. What better month for surprises than December? While my focus right now is almost entirely on getting ready for our family Christmas celebration, four unexpected occurrences have recently added fun and focus to my life in sewing. I will tell you about two of them . . .

Of course – when it comes to sewing, finding a special fabric is always a welcome surprise. Those of you who follow Fifty Dresses regularly will know that I am always on the lookout for exceptional vintage fabric. After feeling so fortunate to find one gorgeous piece of French Lesur wool earlier in the year, I thought my chances of running across another piece of Lesur were next to nothing. So – imagine my surprise when a length of midnight black Lesur came to my attention. Although this piece did not have a selvedge marking, its tags were still attached. In addition I was able to match its weave to another example which I have found in my research on this storied French manufacturer. The weave is a minute basket weave, with almost a stretchy component to it, although the weave is quite tight and the fabric is fluid.

I am always excited when I can date a fabric. From what I can tell, the real heyday of availability for Lesur wool in the USA was the early to mid 1960s. The tag on this wool clearly supports that timeframe.

The date of this fabric is in pencil on the right margin of the tag, 1/14/64.

The tags also indicate the purity of the wool, and they show the process it went through during importation from France to this country.

The lovely person who sold me this piece told me it came “from the collection of an amazing professional dressmaker who definitely splurged on her fabrics.” I have had it in the back of my mind to put a “little black dress” in my sewing queue, so this purchase now makes that inevitable.

Surprise number two is also fabric-oriented. Like many of you, I always look forward to hearing what the Pantone Color of the Year will be. I am often surprised and sometimes delighted with the choice. For the year 2018, I was both. Color 18-3838 Ultra Violet is “a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level.” According to Pantone’s description, “Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now.”

Although I do not wear a lot of purple, I love the color. I think it can be distinctive, flattering, and creative, if handled correctly. It was for that reason that when I had the chance, a few years ago, to purchase a length of vintage, purple, wool boucle, I felt very fortunate.

This is a coat weight boucle, with a distinctive windowpane weave.

What made this purchase even more exciting for me is that this is a piece of Einiger wool, from a distinguished American manufacturer of fine woolens (now no longer in business). It is not often an opportunity to own such a piece of wool comes along, especially one whose origin is clearly marked.

“Luxury Inspired by Einiger” sounds good to me!

From the early 1960s, this wool embodies not only the “intrigue of what lies ahead,” but also the intrigue of what was in the past.

So, what does lie ahead for my treasured Color of the Year fabric? Since its purchase, I have collected a flowered silk charmeuse to coordinate with it, I have picked a coat and dress pattern from the early 1960s, and I have thought much about this project. Obviously, 2018  will be – should be –  the year to make this coat.

Now, if only the “mysteries of the cosmos” could promise more sewing time in the year to come!

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Filed under Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens

Two Holiday Dresses

Sewing for my granddaughters, ages 4½ and 2½, generally means I am sewing two of everything. As they get older, I suspect this will not always be the case, but right now, it seems safe to go with identical sister dresses. They live in a part of the country which can get very cold winters, and the specific part of their state where they live tends towards a casual lifestyle. Keeping those parameters in mind, I decided to look for warm flannel when planning for dresses which could see them through the holidays and into the winter months. I wanted the dresses to be festive but not too fussy. When I found this red brushed flannel check, I bought five yards – the details for adding “festive” to the dresses would come to me, of that I was sure!

I went back to a pattern I have been using over and over, adjusting the sizing as the girls have grown, and adding my own varying design aspects to make the dresses look new and different from one season to another. The contrasting collars and cuffs add interest to the dresses, through the use of various trims.

I have used View C of this pattern for birthday dresses, including the Strawberry-print dresses from last Spring.

Finally I did not want these dresses to look so Christmas-y that the girls would not be able to use them beyond the holiday season. I knew that if I made solid holly green the sole accent color, it would limit their versatility. That’s when I got the idea to look for some multi-color wide ribbon, preferably vintage, which could be used not only for sashes, but also for piping for the collars and cuffs. I found some of the most gorgeous plaid ribbons online, especially at Promenade Fine Fabrics. They have a bricks-and-mortar store in New Orleans and a website, but they also have an Etsy Store, and that is where I found this ribbon:

The ribbon is vintage French, of course (!) – 3 1/2″ wide.

Somehow I knew instinctively that the orderly flannel gingham check and the more random plaid of the ribbon would work together. (I have since found the term for this phenomenon, as clearly stated on page 84 of the wonderful little book, 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School by Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick: “Combining visual patterns – The most effective tool for the harmonious mixing of visual patterns is counterpoint. Scale counterpoint means grouping patterns of dissimilar scales, i.e. a larger pattern with a smaller pattern… If similar patterns are used together [in this case, two plaids], their scales need to be very different. …”) I also knew that making piping out of the ribbon to accent the collars and cuffs would tie the entire look together.

Normally with piping, I try to avoid too many seams, but the ribbon is lightweight and such lovely quality that I was able to piece together bias strips of it easily, and the seams are really imperceptible on the finished dresses.

This gives you an idea of how much piecing I had to do to make the bias strips for piping!

However, the plaid gave me very specific sewing lines when joining the bias pieces.

I made the collars and cuffs out of a creamy white linen and cotton blend, which matched the “white” in the flannel well. I also lined the bodices with that same fabric.

I couldn’t help myself – I put the zippers in by hand.

The buttons are vintage ones that I have had in my button box for decades, just waiting for the right application.

I originally thought I would place each button within a square of the gingham plaid, but it looks so much better to have the buttons straddle the squares.

I added sash carriers to the side seams, and the ribbon just gets tied in a big bow.

The longer sleeves will help keep the girls warm.

And here are Aida and Carolina, after visiting Santa, candy cane included!

This is very satisfying sewing, made especially so by two little girls who seem to love dresses! My daughter tells me they will be wearing them when they go to see a special performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. They may just steal the show!

 

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Sewing for children, Uncategorized

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays, Part 3: The Sash

The sash started it all. After finishing this silk taffeta coat last year, I was left with about 1 and ½ yards of that luscious coral fabric.

I just could not stand the thought of having that yardage sitting in my fabric closet, unused, as I found it so delightful to sew and to wear. That is when I got the idea to combine this fabric with the Guipure lace, also sharing space in that closet of wonders. However, my first thought was to make a blouse from the fabric and also use it as the fashion fabric for a lace skirt, knowing I would need at least one more yard to accomplish this plan. I contacted Britex Fabrics, from whence the fabric came, and to my dismay, they were sold out, with no more available to special order. Undeterred, I then came up with the idea of coordinating fabrics for the blouse and skirt, and using the coral silk to tie it all together. After receiving swatches of several silks from Britex, I settled on the bronzy brown and the apricot colored fabrics for the skirt and blouse, respectively.

A sash should really be straightforward, right? Well, yes; however, I thought it would be good if the sash had a slight curve to it to follow the curvature over the upper hip. That’s when I went to my closet and pulled out a silk sash that I purchased from J. Crew years ago. I had remembered correctly that it had a slight curve to it:

I often think of the tip in the book 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School, page 86: “When in doubt, look in your closet.” Looking at something that is “Ready to Wear” will often help you with construction methods or design ideas.

The J. Crew sash is 72 inches long. A trial tying of the bow proved to me that I needed to add more length to the sash if I wanted to tie a full bow at the waist, which was my intent. I determined that adding 12 inches would do the trick. Then I used that sash as a template to make a pattern, not quite knowing how sewing that long, slow curve was going to work (the sash has one long seam on the concave side of the curve, meaning that some give would need to be worked into that seam.) As it turned out, ironing was the trick to get it to behave correctly, as is so often the case!

84″ proved to be the perfect length to tie a complete bow.

I had to piece the sash in the center back, but I knew that ahead of time and it really does not bother me.

After trying on this completed outfit for the photos, I know that I need to somehow tighten up the interior waist of the skirt (you many recall from my last post, that I added what turned out to be unnecessary width to the circumference of the waist.) My blouse is not going to stay tucked in if I don’t, and the skirt feels like it is drooping on me. I am going to try adding interior waist elastic to straddle the side seams and see if that might do the trick. I am not about to take the skirt apart and remake it! And the sash should help conceal any bobbles in the waistline.

The “concealed zipper.”

It was cold and blustery when I took these photos! I could not wait to get back inside for a cup of hot tea!

Sewing for the holidays is such an anticipatory activity, and one that I love to do. There is already a festive feeling in the air here in late November, and so much more to sew…

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Filed under Blouses, Bows as design feature, Fashion commentary, Lace, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part 2, the Skirt

If I had known how lengthy a process it is to make a couture Guipure lace skirt, I would have chosen to make it before the blouse. Here I thought I was getting the more complicated part finished first. Well, I could not have been more mistaken! However, it certainly feels good to have both finished, although I may be in “skirt recovery” for a while!

The Guipure lace I used was some that I had purchased a couple of years ago. I liked the fact that the color from my fashion fabric – that coppery brown silk – would be a good contrast to the white lace. However, I did not consider if it was really the best choice for a Guipure skirt, due to the fact that part of the allure of these skirts is camouflaging the seams and darts. The light weight nature of this Guipure – and its very regular pattern – made it somewhat difficult to use for this purpose.

One of the first things I did was determine what selvedge edge of the lace I wanted to use for the hem. Once I had settled that, I had to decide how much of the fashion fabric to leave showing on the hem edge.

This selvedge edge is marked by some of the small daisy-like flowers in a horizontal line with the larger motifs.

And here the larger motifs are more prominent.I preferred this one, but I moved it up a bit to show more of the fashion fabric, in order to “ground” the lower edge.

From then on, I followed the Craftsy Class presented by Threads Magazine, with Susan Khalje teaching. Here are some pictures taken along the way:

Pinned in place, ready to stitch part of the lace covering the back seam.

In trying to camouflage the zipper, I chose to have a fairly substantial flap of lace on the left, to be snapped in place on the right. It would have been better to have smaller overlays across the zipper, which are much easier to handle.

The back of the skirt with all the lace attached and snapped in place.

All in all, the back of the skirt looks okay, I think.

And the shaping over the darts is almost imperceptible on this view of the skirt front.

I have one tip to add: when I was ready to insert the silk lining, there were many fuzzies and threads clinging onto the cotton underlining. I really did not want them encased in my skirt forever, so I quickly removed them all with a lint roller. Then the lining went in just as intended, followed by the Petersham ribbon inner waist band.

Here is the lining with its built-in drop pleat for ease of wearing.

View of the interior Petersham ribbon waist “facing.”

All in all, I am fairly pleased with how this skirt turned out. I learned so much from taking this course and making this skirt, and it probably isn’t surprising that I have a list of things to do differently the next time.

1) choose a heavier weight – or more substantial – Guipure, with a more intricate pattern. This should make it easier to hide the snaps and manipiulate the motifs in the lace to conceal all which must be concealed!

2) use a lighter weight cotton for my underlining. I felt the one I used was just a little heavier than needed. (It was some I found in my stack of quilting cottons.)

The underlining cotton. A little lighter in weight would be preferable.

3) leave 1/2” distance from the top of the zipper to the line for the Petersham ribbon. I left about 3/8” and I think the zipper is a little squashed at the waistline.

4) when I tried on the skirt midway through to doublecheck on the fit, I thought the waist was a little snug, so I added 3/8”. But once the skirt was finished, I found I really did not need the extra fullness. So next time, I’ll keep my original measurement! Hopefully I won’t need suspenders to keep the skirt from falling down.

5) next time I will definitely use a more exciting lining. I think this one is dull.

Now I have one more small thing to make for this outfit (with full pictures to come.)  But I have small on the brain right now as I need to do some sewing for my little granddaughters, making for a fierce competiton in my sewing room. I believe multi-tasking will be on the agenda.

 

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Filed under couture construction, Lace, Linings, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

C is for Couture . . .

. . . And Courage. I guess “C” could also be for Craftsy, come to think of it. Although I thought I would be writing only one post solely devoted to my guipure lace skirt (when finished!), I really feel the need to address my progress and the Craftsy course which is leading the way for me.

When, just a few months ago, Craftsy announced a new class by Susan Khalje, The Couture Lace Skirt, presented by Threads Magazine where Susan is a Contributing Editor, I jumped at it. Susan has not only written about these skirts in Threads Magazine (November 2014, number 175), she has also developed her own skirt pattern – with one view expressly intended for a guipure lace skirt – and, of course, she teaches the construction of these skirts in her own classes, too. Now with this class on Craftsy, there is ample reason to feel confident in plunging ahead with the construction of one of these elegant skirts.

View C is the version intended for use with Guipure lace. Although this looks like a simple straight skirt, there are subtle details which make it a step above ordinary. For example, the side seams are set slightly back from the front. There is slight fullness built in at the hip; not enough to be noticeable, but enough to make it more comfortable for wearing. This pattern is available on Susan’s website.

I knew I could not go wrong with this course, but it is even better than I imagined. To look at one of these skirts, one could never imagine the amount of work in something with such a simple silhouette. About halfway through the lessons, it dawned on me that there are quite a few similarities between making one of these skirts and making a classic French jacket. Both have very specific, and unusual, construction techniques. Both defy many of the normal sewing rules. Both have a tremendous amount of handwork involved. And both garments go through a really messy stage – almost chaotic! – before emerging in their final manifestation.

Here is one of the skirts illustrated in the Threads article from November 2014.

The course has ten parts, and although it is a couture sewing course, Susan’s directions can be implemented by someone with no couture construction experience. However, patience is a must. She walks you through the making and fitting of a toile, followed by preparation of the underlining and fashion fabric (the fabric which peeks through the lace, usually silk charmeuse), then the sewing of the side seams (only) and hem. I had never worked on a skirt where the back seam is not sewn until so far into the construction process, but such is necessary to provide a flat surface on which to shape and attach the lace overlay.

Another example of one of these skirts, from the Threads article.

This is where Courage comes in. Shaping the lace to lie properly on curves and darts requires a good amount of snipping and clipping and cutting of the lace! This is not for the faint of heart, but once you get into the process, it really is logical and even captivating. Besides, as Susan says, if you make a mistake, you can always patch!

A detail from my skirt, with the lace pinned and ready to attach.

This is also the part that looks somewhat chaotic, with great flaps of lace waiting to be tamed, and a crazy network of tiny stitches emerging on the underlining, but invisible on top.

One section of the underlining cotton showing the maze of stitching required to attach the lace to the top of the skirt. Leaving the basting stitches in helps to orient the lace properly.

I am about ready to insert the hand-picked zipper, which will be hidden when finished.

Ready for inserting the zipper. This is a good example of the flaps of lace which still need to be “tamed.”

What an interesting process this has been so far. Susan has so much sewing wisdom to impart, and she does it in such an engaging way, that it is like having your own personal couture teacher right by your side. If you have ever admired these skirts and thought about making one, you will find this course to be invaluable!  More on my skirt to follow in the next post on Fifty Dresses.

These opinions are my own. I purchased my subscription to the course on Craftsy and have no affiliation with the company.  

 

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Filed under couture construction, Lace, sewing classes, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings