Théâtre de la Mode

 

The third week of our vacation led us to the Columbia River Gorge, about an hour east of Portland, Oregon, but on the Washington state side of the River. When we made our travel plans, the Théâtre de la Mode was the last thing I expected to see. But knowing that this famous exhibit resides in a museum in “a remote, out-of-the–way” part of Washington state, I looked it up a few weeks before our departure. To my great surprise, I realized we were going to be only about an hour west of the Maryhill Museum, home to this Exhibit since 1952. I never expected to see any part of this Exhibit in person, so I was elated to know I was going to have the opportunity to view it.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this collection of post-WWII fashion, here’s a brief history. At the end of WWII, France was left economically bereft, the population experiencing severe shortages of every kind. The fashion industry in Paris had been decimated by the German occupation, but it was still alive and anxious to make a comeback. The idea for a miniature traveling “theatre of fashion” was conceived by Robert Ricci, the son of the couturier, Nina Ricci. It’s intent was two-fold: to provide a platform for the well-known fashion houses to showcase their designs, with the intent of re-establishing French domination of high fashion, and as a fund-raiser for the French survivors of the war. It was decided to use mannequins of approximately 1/3 the scale of humans (27.5 inches tall), in order to conserve precious materials. It was also decided to construct the mannequins out of wire, making them distinct from actual dolls, and to maximize the effect of the clothing, which they would model.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a "naked" mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and "petit mains" were working with while dressing them.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a “naked” mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and “petit mains” were working with while dressing them.

Joining the fashion houses in this endeavor were milliners, hairstylists, jewelers, handbag makers and shoemakers. Fifteen sets, within which to show the dressed mannequins, were created by noted artists and showcased Parisian street scenes, as well as Parisian interiors.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

And here is another view of it.

And here is another view of it.

When the Théâtre de la Mode was ready to tour, almost 200 mannequins had been dressed. Its first opening was at The Louvre on March 28th, 1945. In its first month of exhibition, 100,000 visitors went to see it, raising one million francs for the efforts of war relief. From Paris, it went to London, Leeds, Barcelona, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Vienna, eventually traveling to the United States. Its final showing was in San Francisco, where the collection was mysteriously stored, post-exhibition, in the basement of a local department store. An interested patron of the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington (USA), Alma de Bretteville Spreckles, spearheaded its acquisition by the Museum in 1952. Although the jewelry worn by the mannequins had already been returned to France, and the sets were lost, the majority of the fashions and models were intact.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.  The drawing is by Jean Cocteau.

Currently, the Maryhill Museum exhibits one-third of the entirety of the Théâtre at a time, on a three-year cycle. This meant, of course, that I would only see one-third of the mannequins during my visit, but I could live with that! My only regret is that none of the designs by Balenciaga were currently on display. (I might have to figure out a way to go back in future years??) But there were plenty of other notable fashion houses represented, as well as some I had not previously known about. Here are some of my favorites (taken with an I-phone, and no flash, making the quality less than desired in some instances):

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Not all the fashions were ball gowns, however,  Here is a sports ensemble by Hermes:

Hermes copy

Honey suede jacket with black wool crepe skirt. The shoes are honey suede platform oxfords!

Day dresses and suits were in abundance:

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Now this certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it feaur=tres a navy wol cat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

Now this is certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it features a navy wool coat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

One of my favorite dresses is shown in one of the street scenes above.  Here it is shown in the catalogue:

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with a white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

And although not among my favorite fashions, this evening dress by Schiaparelli is not to be missed:

Mode Schiaparelli copy

The catalogue was for sale in the Museum Store (and it is also available on Amazon.) It not only gives a complete and extensive history of the Exhibit, it also includes a Catalogue Raisonne and many detailed images. Definitely worth your while if you are interested in finding out more about this amazing chapter in the history of Haute Couture, of which I have here barely scratched the surface.

There was much of other interest to see in the Maryhill Museum as well, including an extensive collection of early Native American art and artifacts, and some beautiful early blankets which complemented our earlier visit to the Pendleton store:

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

And who is this?

It's never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens' Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I Exhibit=gazed!

It’s never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens’ Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I exhibit-gazed!

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Two of Three

Three weeks of vacation has meant three weeks away from sewing. However, I was ready for a break (“absence makes the heart grow fonder” is not only appropriate for spouses, pets, and other loved ones!) and I was delighted that my vacation included, among other activities, opportunities for fabric-buying, fabric/blanket-gazing, and fashion/fashion history.

Three weeks of vacation took us to three of the western States: California, Oregon and Washington. I have already written about my fond return to Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, CA. Britex is wonderfully predictable in its offerings and ability to inspire. I was less ready – and surprised – to be equally inspired by what I found on display at the Pendleton Woolen Mills store.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this sign in the store and sewing machines lined up for class.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this sign in the store and sewing machines lined up for class.

In a nondescript area of Portland, Oregon, this store looks like a warehouse on the outside; the cavernous inside is set with displays of many of their home furnishing products – and with huge bolts and bolts of their American-made woolens. There are blanket weight wools, thick and lush, and in some of the most iconic and recognizable designs.

Pendleton - blanket on bolt copy

More blanket fabric!

More blanket fabric!

And more ...

And more … Also available for sale is Pendleton’s signature woven trim, with which to bind your custom blanket.

One of Pendleton's newest designs - for a throw-sized blanket - is this one adorned with the American Bison.

One of Pendleton’s newest designs – for a throw-sized blanket – is this one adorned with the American Bison.

There are also lighter weight dress fabrics, encompassing plaids, solids, stripes, tweeds, and checks.

Pendleton dress fabrics copy

Pendleton dress fabrics 2 copy

There is something almost magical about the palette and design influences which shape the repertoire of Pendleton blankets. Largely based on Native American culture and on the early exploration of the American West, the designs of classic Pendleton blankets evoke strength, beauty, story-telling, and timelessness. I believe they speak to the pioneer spirit in so many Americans, the mountain girl and the cowgirl (and cowboy!), the adventurer – or the would-be adventurer. One gets the feeling that sleeping under one of these blankets is akin to being transported to another time and place, empowered by their history, quality, and aesthetic pleasure. If that could happen, what would wearing one of them do?

Kits to make this "blanket coat" surround the display in the store.

Kits to make this “blanket coat” surround the display in the store.

Or you could buy a hooded shawl from the catalogue.

Or you could buy a hooded shawl from the catalogue.

. . . or a simple fringed shawl really makes a statement.

. . . or a simple fringed shawl really makes a statement.

And don't forget to pamper your pet with the same Western style!

And don’t forget to pamper your pet with the same Western style!

I have often thought about the coat I saw last Summer in a Pendleton retail store in Jackson, Wyoming. Some day, some year, if I am ever fortunate to be spending more time in the American West, including some of the colder months, I will make myself a coat out of a Pendleton blanket. And I know exactly which one I would choose; now I know I could even just buy the fabric by the yard:

I see this blanket fabric in a hip-length, hooded jacket.

I see this blanket fabric in a hip-length, hooded jacket.

Pendleton is truly a great American company. I am so glad I had the opportunity to see their fabrics “on the bolt” – and be inspired.  And yes, we did buy a blanket (to sleep under!)

Fortunately, there was fashion inspiration still to come on our trip. Next up … Three of Three.

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Britex or Bust

No trip to the West Coast of the United States is complete for me without a stop at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. This time I had a specific goal in mind: finding silk lining fabric for the next “Classic French Jacket” I have planned. I was so fortunate to receive this lovely boucle as a Christmas gift from my (grown) children, and am so anxious to start work on this jacket, hopefully in the late Fall.

2 full yards of this glorious boucle! What a wonderful gift!

2 full yards of this glorious boucle! What a wonderful gift! (Purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City.)

However, I knew I could not start work on it until I had the lining, the trim and the buttons. Britex seemed like the perfect spot to find the perfect lining (and trim), so off I went with my husband and son for a marathon session at this wonderful purveyor of beautiful fabrics and all things sewing. Walking in to Britex from their entrance on Geary Street always gives me a thrill. One is met with tables wide enough for entire bolts of silk twills, charmeuses, chiffons, etc., to be spread out for easy viewing.

Britex interior view copy

Like so many stores in San Francisco, Britex Fabrics extends through the width of the building, from its main entrance on Geary Street through to its back entrance on Maiden Lane.

Opposite from the silks are bolts and bolts of boucles lined up.

Britex boucles 1 copy

More boucles!

More boucles!

Above the silks are more bolts and bolts  – of woolens.

Britex interior view 2 copy

As usual, the Sales Associates at Britex are knowledgeable and always helpful. With my boucle sample swatch in hand, I started looking. My search was helped immensely by a lovely young woman who knew the silks, and started uncovering several which held promise. One, however, was the absolute winner. I was thrilled to find this blue silk lightweight twill, which had all the colors I wanted in a stunning floral print:

The photo does not give this silk its due. The colors are deep and clean.

The photo does not give this silk its due. The colors are deep and clean.

I had several more stops to make on the upper floors of Britex – for lightweight separating zippers (which I find impossible to find), for trim for my jacket (which I forgot to photograph before having it sent home with my other purchases), for Petersham ribbon, for this and that!

Returning to the first floor, I found my husband eyeing a piece of wool – not for me, but for him! Our tailor at home may find himself making a sport jacket out of a piece of Britex woolen:

Britex wool

With so much fabric already in my queue at home, I was trying to avoid being smitten by too much else. But I could not resist taking photos of some of the silks available:

I loved this geometric print.

I loved this geometric print.

Bold and beautiful.

Bold and beautiful.

I am always drawn to pink and green.

I am always drawn to pink and green.

A real conversation starter!

A real conversation starter!

An unbelievable print!

An unbelievable print!

A watercolor print, reminiscent of Matisse.

A watercolor print, painterly and shimmery.

I love the pop of pink in this blue floral silk charmeuse.

I love the pop of pink in this blue floral silk charmeuse.

With more to do and see in San Francisco, we were (too) soon on our way, and I bid a fond farewell to Britex. But only ‘til next time and next year and my next project needing something perfect…

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, silk, Uncategorized

At The Met

Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.

The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:

“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.”   These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!

But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:

This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”

Met - Chanel cape copy

Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”

Met - rooster dress

The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”

Met Givenchy Dress

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:

Met - Dior ensemble copy

I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!

Met Chanel suit

After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.

The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!

There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”   But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.

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Filed under Capes, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

From Flora to Flop

 

In sewing there are various degrees of success. At one end of the spectrum is something which not only fits well, but is flattering, a perfect combination of pattern and fabric, a piece destined to become a staple in one’s wardrobe. At the other end is – a complete flop. Flops are painful, aren’t they? I didn’t realize this project was going to be a flop until I was almost finished with it, although I was beginning to have my doubts about halfway through it.

I started out with this really lovely linen blend from Mood Fabrics, which I’ve had for a few years. Here it is draped on my dress form:

Flowered Flora

The fabric looks like - and is - a somewhat loosely woven linen, but it is surprisingly stable.

The fabric looks like – and is – a somewhat loosely woven linen, but it is surprisingly stable.

I had purchased the By Hand London “Flora” pattern (a departure for me to buy a “new” pattern!), as it reminded me of a Cristobal Balenciaga dress which I have long admired.

Flowered Flora

Flowered Flora

Evening dress in flocked shantung in blue and black, 1957

Both images are from: Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa; Fundazion Cristobal Balenciaga Fundazioa, Editorial NEREA; English Edition 2011; distributed in the USA by Thames & Hudson Inc., NY, NY, page 260.

Both images are from: Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa; Fundazion Cristobal Balenciaga Fundazioa, Editorial NEREA; English Edition 2011; distributed in the USA by Thames & Hudson Inc., NY, NY, page 260.

I had not intended to use the Flora pattern for this fabric, but somehow I got the notion that it would be really pretty. In addition the fabric was 60” wide, a requirement for the Flora dress, and for once, I had enough yardage. I made a muslin, and liked the way it looked – and I did a fairly good job of perfecting the fit of the bodice. The pattern lends itself to using couture construction techniques, as there are no facings, so that fit right in with how I like to sew. I underlined it all with silk organza. I catch-stitched all the seams. I used a silk crepe de chine lining, and hand sewed it into the bodice. I backstitched all the edges to secure the lining.

The silk organza added additional stability.

The silk organza added additional stability.

Flowered flora

I chose a pretty orange crepe de chine for the lining.

I chose a pretty orange crepe de chine for the lining.

The skirt is voluminous and that is where my problems began. It seemed okay made up in muslin, but once I had it constructed in the fashion fabric, I looked like I was a dumpling wearing a flowered parachute. The funny thing was that when I had it on my dress form, I thought it was rather attractive. I was fooled into thinking that if I just got it all put together, I’d be happy with it.

Looks pretty, doesn't it?

Looks pretty, doesn’t it?

I thought the orange lining would be lovely peeking out from the dipped back hem...

I thought the orange lining would be lovely peeking out from the dipped back hem…

I have been trying to figure out what went wrong. I think perhaps the pattern is just too “youthful” looking for me. I think it is such a pretty dress, but perhaps my days of wearing voluminous skirts are over (… although the skirt on my silk dress from last summer looks fine. It is, however, simply a gored skirt with no additional pleats or fullness.)

Allure of silk final

The skirt is full, but hangs with no bulk.

Now I am left with trying to salvage something from this project. I like the fabric too much to just abandon it, and I have too much time and effort and money invested in it all, as well.   Right now, however, I am very sick of the whole thing, so it might be a while until I come back to it. But when I do, I am going to separate the bodice from the skirt first.

Now I wish i had left the bodice just as you see it here!

Now I wish I had left the bodice just as you see it here!

Then I think I may cut a new slim skirt (no pleats, no gathers, just a nice, slim, matronly skirt!) to attach to the bodice, and perhaps make a self-belt with a tailored bow for the closure.

How does that sound?

 

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Blame It on the Buttons

It can be a little overwhelming to look at my (growing) collection of beautiful summer linens, and then try to make a decision on which piece to select for my next project.

Fortunately, a random purchase of buttons helped me make up my mind this time around. I found these buttons at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco last year, and purchased them on a whim, not knowing when or how I would use them. I also don’t know what possessed me to purchase 6 of them, but that’s what I did.

Yes, those are interlocking "a la Chanel" Cs.

Yes, those are interlocking “a la Chanel” Cs.

When I got them home, I realized they were a perfect match with a length of vintage, pale yellow, Moygashel linen in my possession. I tucked the fabric and the buttons away together, confident that the perfect pattern would also be found amongst my many vintage Vogue patterns.

It was a bit of a trick finding a pattern that needed 6 (or fewer) ¾” buttons. This one kept surfacing as the most ideal candidate:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

Ideal, except for the yardage needed, that is. Many of you know by now that being a “little shy” of the prescribed fabric usually does not keep me from my desired goal! After making a fitting muslin and making the necessary adjustments, I cut out my underlining (light weight linen/cotton blend) and used that as my pattern. It was immediately evident that I did not have enough of that 35” width linen.

Or did I? I figured if I eliminated the center back box pleat and replaced it with just a slit in the back center seam, I’d save a bit of yardage requirements. I could make the sleeve hem facings out of the underlining, saving a bit more. And if I cut the collar on the horizontal straight of grain rather then the vertical, I could just fit the pattern pieces onto my yardage. It was a good thing I had already decided to eliminate the chest pockets (a little too 1950s.) And a self-belt?   Out of the question!

A belt turned out to be a perplexing question. I had been fortunate enough for a few years to have my belts and covered buttons custom made by Pat Mahoney, but since her retirement last year, I have found no replacement for her services. I was dreading the prospect of making my own belt. The only good thing was I knew I had a piece of vintage Moygashel linen in a medium navy blue (see the button photo above) which would be a good contrasting color for the yellow dress. I decided I would think about actually making the belt after I had the dress itself finished.

For a simple shirtwaist dress, there were a number of time-consuming details, like the gussets I covered in my last post. There were also six bound buttonholes to work.

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

Blame it on the buttons

 

There were separate front bodice facings, and a front skirt placket with separate facings. There were sleeve hem facings (as mentioned above), and lots of trimming, clipping, and grading of seams! And then the dress was done.  Except for the belt, of course.

After giving myself a pep talk, I took out one of Pat’s belts and studied it, vowing to duplicate as closely as possible her techniques and precision. Fortunately I had a belt buckle from long ago, which I had saved. It was for a 1.25” width belt, which is exactly what I wanted.  I plunged ahead and this what I made, working the eyelets by hand (which fortunately don’t show much on the dark linen!):

Blame it on the buttons

The underside, just in case you are curious!

Although not my favorite dress of all time, I think I’ll get good use out of it, and I do love its pairing with “summer” blue.

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

The clutch is a perfect match with the belt – how lucky is that?

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Best of all, the buttons add just the right, somewhat mysterious, touch.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Day dresses, kimono sleeves, Linen, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Gazing at Gussets and Fashion Exhibits

We are almost halfway through the sewing year! Time for me to just keep plugging along, being grateful for any hours I can spend sewing – or dreaming about sewing. Lately it seems I have spent more time dreaming about it than actually accomplishing anything. But that’s not quite true. I have actually done a lot of sewing (I call it necessary sewing) – just not anything worth sharing. But that is about to change.

I am working on a yellow linen shirtdress, using this pattern:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

I am making the short sleeve version – but a little shorter!

I am really getting to be a fan of kimono sleeves. They were incredibly popular in the 1950s (and early ‘60s), and their construction varies according to the type of gusset used. The dress in this pattern has a gusset that forms part of the sleeve, itself.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

The instructions for inserting the gusset are quite explicit and interesting, I think. The first step is to work a “bar” across the point on the bodice where the matching point of the gusset is placed. I have actually never seen this done, but it makes sense as it reinforces that stress point.

Gazing at Gussets 1st diagran

I also like the double stitching on the interior seams of the gusset as shown in this section:

Gazing at Gussets 2nd diagram

Here is how the finished short sleeve is diagrammed:

Gazing at Gussets 3rd diagram

And here are some photos of the finished gussets on my dress:

Gazing at Gussets

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the underpart of the sleeve.

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the under-section of the sleeve.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

I managed to tear myself away from my sewing room for a few hours this week to go to see an exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (USA). Entitled Philadelphia In Style, the exhibit featured fashions either made, worn or purchased in Philadelphia, PA over the course of about 100 years (1880-1980).

Duskin - Exhibit title

All are part of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a veritable treasure trove of designer, haute couture and ready-to-wear dresses, coats, ensembles, shoes, handbags, and accessories of all types. The Exhibit has special meaning for those of us with Philadelphia ties, but universal meaning for lovers of fine fashion anywhere.

Although the clothing on display was fascinating and, for the most part, lovely, it was the numerous fashion illustrations, framed and lined up one after the other, which really caught my attention. They had all been done in 1954 for a specialty ladies’ shop in Philadelphia, called Nan Duskin. The most amazing thing is that each one had a swatch of the intended fabric taped in the corner of each drawing. Here is a sampling:

Duskin sketch - purple dress

The buttons were still in question for this dress – note the line in the upper right side “buttons?”

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

I love the saucy pose in this sketch - and the posy perched on the shoulder!

I love the saucy pose in this sketch – and the posy perched on the shoulder!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

Here are a couple of the fashions represented in the Exhibit:

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table "Irene for Nan Duskin." This was Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA.

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table “Irene for Nan Duskin.” (Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA)

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. the fabric is s ilk and wool brocade.

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. The fabric is silk and wool brocade.

The Exhibit did manage to include one of the most unattractive Chanel suits I think I have ever seen.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

But it was still fascinating to look at the cuff detail:

Duskin Chanel suit detail

One of the most charming displays in the Exhibit was a collection of hat boxes from the stores in Philadelphia which were the purveyors of so many fine fashions over the decades.

Duskin - hat box display

As a lover of pretty boxes and bags, I found this vignette not only delightful, but also evocative of the thought and care inherent in buying and wearing beautiful fashions. They reminded me of the same little thrill I get when a piece of beautiful fabric which I have purchased shows up in the mail, elegantly presented in crisp tissue and tied with silky ribbons.   It makes it oh-so-easy to fall in love immediately!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Coco Chanel, Day dresses, Dressmaker suits, Fashion Exhibits, Gussets, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s