Completing the Pink Coat Ensemble

Although I hope to wear my pink wool coat (completed Spring of 2019) with various dresses and skirts, I particularly wanted to make a skirt which would coordinate with it.  That way I would have a “planned” ensemble.  I envisioned a petite pink-and-gray houndstooth wool, or a mini-checked pink-and-gray wool.  After a wide search and coming up empty-handed, I was just about convinced I was not going to find either of those two fabrics, at least not in the time frame I planned.  And then I found a lightweight wool and silk blend on the website of Farmhouse Fabrics.  It was a variegated gray and oyster-white plaid with a pink pinstripe running through it on the cross-grain.  Although it looked lovely on my computer screen, I wasn’t sure it would fit my needs, so I ordered a swatch.  From the swatch I could see its beautiful quality – and its perfect colors – so my search was over.

I am so accustomed to using silk organza as my underlining, but the incredible softness and delicacy of this fabric made me think twice.  I thought silk organza would undermine the fluidity of the wool/silk blend, so I decided to use a very lightweight cotton batiste instead. Using the Susan Khalje pattern for which I already had a toile (yay!), I made a very simple straight skirt.  Just for fun I decided to line it in pink silk charmeuse.  I had some in stock as I had used it for the pocket linings in my pink coat.  I also lined the waistband, which I like to do when sewing with wool.

The pink charmeuse lining is my unseen homage to this color which I love so much.

I inserted a lapped zipper by hand in the center back seam.

I angled the center back vent toward the center back seam so that it will hang evenly when I am wearing the skirt.

It is easy to see the angle on the vent with this particular fabric.

One side of the vent folded back.

When I cut out the lining for the coat, I maneuvered the pattern pieces to give me a long narrow length of the silk, which I made into a scarf.

Paired with a V-neck gray sweater, it proves to be the perfect accessory.  As Christian Dior said in The Little Dictionary of Fashion, “In many cases, a scarf gives a final touch to a dress.”

It’s a nice combination of colors!

The scarf is a pretty addition to the coat, I think.

It is rewarding to see my vision become reality!

So, now the big question, one which I have been asking myself frequently as of late, “When and where will I be wearing this lovely ensemble?”  It seems life is just so despairingly casual now, affording few opportunities to wear pretty dresses and skirts and specialty coats.  I try to buck the trend when I have the place and time to do so – and I have yet to feel like I have been overdressed.  Of course, Christian Dior had something to say about this, too. “Generally it is very bad to be overdressed, but I think that in certain circumstances it is very impolite and wrong to be underdressed.” I could not agree more and personally prefer to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.  How about you?  I do hope my pink coat, paired with this gray skirt, will prove to be the perfect dressing for many occasions.  I am certain I will enjoy wearing them.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Scarves, Straight skirts, Uncategorized, underlinings

Fashion and Friendship

There is no dearth of books about fashion available for reading or just perusing.  Most of those, however, are books intended for an adult audience, so I am always delighted to find a “fashion book” written and illustrated for children.  I have always found that these books written for children are of equal delight for adults, and especially so when said adult can share them with an interested child or grandchild.

For Audrey with love:  Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, by Philip Hopman is just such a book.

Copyright text and illustrations 2016; English translation copyright 2018 by NorthSouth Books, Inc., New York. Available in bookstores and on Amazon.

Written originally in Dutch and published in the Netherlands in 2016, this book was translated into English and published in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in 2018.  Philip Hopman is not only the author, he is also the illustrator. His whimsical drawings are captivating both for their fashion sense and for their charming renditions of Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy.

This is truly a story of friendship, but of friendship born out of a shared appreciation of beautiful clothing, Givenchy being, of course, the designer of those stunning clothes, and Audrey Hepburn being the client.  She was the one who could wear his designs like no other!

By the time they met, Givenchy was already a sought after designer, with an impressive roster of clients.  Among those clients were Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Wallis Simpson, and many others.

(Should you purchase this book for a child in your life, I recommend reading it through once or twice by yourself. Some of the text needs to be read across from the left to the right page, top to bottom, for the story line to be most meaningful, especially for a non-reader. This is a minor detail, but an important one for the enjoyment of its storyline.)

He initially claimed that he had no time to design for the rising movie star, but once she tried on a few of his clothes, he realized she was the perfect fit for his designs, both in style and in essence.   They became best friends, with a lasting connection and concern for each other that transcended the clothes.   Audrey was known to have said “When I wear his [Givenchy’s] clothes, I feel safe.  I’m not afraid of anything.”

This is a sweet book, but the success of such a children’s book is how it is received by this younger audience.  Does it engage them? Does it tell a story that is meaningful to them?  Does it start a conversation?  Does it spark imagination?  Is it a book that can be read over and over and still be enjoyed?

I purchased this book specifically for my two granddaughters’ visit with us this summer.  These are two little girls (currently six and four years of age) who like clothes and like dresses, so I felt fairly certain they would like this book.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how well it captured their imagination.  Before we even got to the title page, they were immersed in the lining pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They looked at the silhouette of each dress, loved the wide-brimmed hat with the white streamers, and decided the red dress was the one they liked the best.

Each page brought new delights for them, and they picked out their favorite designs as we read through the text.  We talked about how sometimes dreams don’t come true (when young, Audrey wanted to be a ballet dancer, but was told she was too tall, and her feet were too big!)  But we decided when one dream is crushed, there are other ones to pursue.  We talked about friendship, and we talked about how important it is to care for other people, no matter how busy and famous one might be.

But mostly, we talked about the clothes!  And that red dress?  Little four-year-old Carolina asked me if I will make that dress for her some day.  How can I refuse such a request?  Of course, I said YES.

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Filed under Book reviews, Fashion history, Uncategorized

Odds and Ends and One Thing You Mustn’t Miss

Sewing has been, well, challenging this summer.  In reality, I think I have been able to accomplish just about all I could have hoped for – so far, at least – but it certainly doesn’t seem like very much.

When I packed fabric to bring along to our new vacation home in Wyoming, I tried to think ahead and determine exactly what I would need.  For instance, I brought two decorator fabrics which I had picked out for two of our “new” bedrooms, with plans for making decorative pillows and at least one bed skirt.  I also brought two fabrics with which to make dresses for our two little granddaughters who were arriving, along with the rest of our immediate family, in late July.  I also brought some vintage Moygashel linen, many pieces of shirting and dress cottons, skirt fabric, and a piece of Viyella cotton/wool blend.  What was I thinking?!!  Certainly no one could accuse me of being under-ambitious!

I totally misjudged how much of my time would be taken up with organizing and setting up a new household.  So – what have I been able to sew?  A number of decorative pillows, for one thing. I find them – and all that self-bias tape I had to construct – utterly boring to make, but satisfying once they are completed.    The bed skirts have been moved to the “still to do” list.

was able to make dresses for my granddaughters.  My original intent was to make each dress out of a different fabric, but when I stretched out my ladybug embroidered, striped fabric from Emma One Sock, I realized I had more than I needed for one dress.  With one minor compromise, I knew I could get two dresses from my existing yardage.  So I changed plans and made matching dresses.

I made white piping for the pockets and collars out of kitchen string and white batiste.  The ladybug embroidered fabric is really so cute!

The compromise I had to make involved the sashes, as I did not have enough fabric to cut sashes for two dresses. Fortunately I had enough of the coordinating red fabric to make the sashes. Now I’m glad it worked out that way, as I think it makes the dresses cuter.

I had pre-purchased red decorative buttons, thinking I would need them for just one dress. Normally I would put three in a row centered beneath the collar, but with four buttons, and two dresses … Well, you do the math!  Two on each dress it is!

Having spent many summer days and nights in Wyoming before this year, I knew  from experience how chilly the mornings – and nights – can be throughout the summer.  (The days are warm and glorious, however.)  Warm cozy slippers and a winter-weight bathrobe are necessities. And that is why I brought along the afore-mentioned Viyella fabric.  Although I packed a winter-weight robe which I made a few years ago, I wanted to make a new robe which I can leave here, therefore eliminating one bulky item from future suitcases.

How lovely to have the opportunity to use this vintage Vogue pattern once again.

This robe takes a lot of fabric, and it was a tight squeeze fitting all the pattern pieces on it and matching the plaid as well.  I had to make the sash out of two pieces of fabric, seaming it in the back. Additionally, I had enough fabric for only one pocket (I prefer two.) But, I am happy with the outcome, and very pleased to have used one more piece of fabric from my sizeable collection!

Viyella is the perfect fabric for a lightweight, but warm bathrobe. It is machine washable, and gets softer with age.

While the bathrobe, and the little dresses, were enjoyable to make, neither were challenging in the “couture” sense.  So I did my  “couture” dreaming vicariously through the Susan Khalje  Couture Sewing Club, where inspiration abounds in many forms.  Earlier in the month, Susan was interviewed for the “Love to Sew” podcast.  Treat yourself and spend a lovely hour-plus listening to it, if you haven’t already done so.  The interview, Episode 106, dated August 12th, can be found here:

www.lovetosewpodcast.com.

Among Susan’s new pattern offerings is this jacket:

When I arrive back home in Pennsylvania, I will be searching through my fabric closet for the perfect pairing for this pattern.  I am just itching to challenge myself with such a project.  No more pillows, at least for now!

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Filed under Bathrobes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Fashion commentary, Sewing for children, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

CocoLand

When one writes a blog such as Fifty Dresses, it can be a dilemma deciding how many personal details to include in one’s narrative.  Because this is a fashion sewing blog, I try to limit going too far afield into other subjects or areas of my life.  But sometimes, it is unavoidable.  Because fashion/couture sewing is so time intensive, my projects and my sewing intentions will necessarily be sidetracked when my time is taken up with other things or family needs.  And then, in order to make sense of my absence or my wandering attention, I feel the need to tell you, my readers, what is going on in my day to day.

Oh, the sewing plans I had in early January!  I was cranking right along with my projects, and I was so excited to think about starting my pink coat.  I mentioned in an earlier post that the start on that coat was delayed because of unexpected, but fortuitous, circumstances.  Well, those circumstances continue to wreak havoc with my sewing, although I can feel a shift back to normalcy somewhat close at hand.

In early March, my husband and I finally, after looking for 4 years, found and purchased a “perfect for us” vacation house in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  It had been a dream for quite a while, but we had certain requirements regarding the size house we needed (not too big, not too small); the location of the house in relation to the town of Jackson, Wyoming; the property (a view of the Grand Teton mountains was a necessity); and of course, the asking price of the house and land.  Because this all happened very fast and very unexpectedly, life was topsy-turvy as we booked last minute flights, negotiated, signed papers and more papers, and then took on all the preparations for establishing a new “vacation/Summer” household.

We drove 2100 miles from our home in Pennsylvania to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, our car completely filled to its top. Our two cats were our traveling companions. It was very exciting when we crossed over into Wyoming!

Oh, yes, I forgot a very important detail.  The house has a sewing room.  Described in the listing as a “study,” I quickly set the record straight, declaring it perfect for my sewing room away from home, and fortunately, Mr. Fifty Dresses agreed!  With built-in cupboards, bright light and a knockout view of the mountains, it is a wonderful and inspiring place to sew.

This is the view out my sewing room window.

I am indebted to a former neighbor who very kindly gave me her mother’s 1951 Singer Featherweight Sewing Machine, the exact same model I use at my home in Pennsylvania. It is so wonderful to have a machine I can leave here in Wyoming.

Built-in cupboards are the perfect place to store fabrics and supplies I brought with me.

Although I have no dress form for my new sewing room, which could prove challenging, I have been gathering supplies and duplicates of many tools, to minimize the challenge of sewing “away from home.”   Which brings me to CocoLand.

At my home in Pennsylvania on the East Coast of the United States, I have a very spacious and beautiful second floor sewing room.  I keep an ironing board up all the time in it, as 1) it’s a necessity for sewing, and 2) being on the second floor, it is not in a highly visible part of the house (I like things to look tidy!).  My new sewing room is right off of our “great room,” making it much more visible.  I knew I needed an ironing surface handy, but I was not keen on having an ironing board set up all the time.  Somehow, I found out about TNT Quilt Boards, and I ordered a  “Studio Table.”  This padded and covered table measures 32” x 21.5” and is absolutely multi-functional, providing both a pressing surface and a working surface in its compact size. It can also be folded up and stored. The icing on the cake was that I had my pick of a wide variety of covers for the board.

And here is where another bit of personal information needs to be shared….  My granddaughters call me ‘Coco,” a name chosen by my daughter, which has proven to be one of the great pleasures of my life.  To hear them call me that cute name and tell others that I am their “Coco” (as if every grandchild has a grandmother named Coco!) is pure happiness to me.  So, when one of the fabric choices for the Studio Table was a cat print, with the description “CoCoLand” running through it – well – of course, that was what I chose.

Two of the cat figures look like sketches of our two wonderful, silly cats….

So here I am in CocoLand. I’ll be doing quite a bit of home decorator sewing (not my favorite thing to do) for our new house, but it seems only fitting that my first sewing accomplishment since we have arrived here is – a dress for each of my granddaughters.  They arrive soon and then I will share these cute confections.  Until then, thank you for reading about my topsy-turvy life.  I promise more fashion sewing to come – and for me it cannot come quickly enough!

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Update on The Pink Coat

When is a sewing project really, really, finally finished?  That was the question I was asking myself after I thought I had finished my Pink Coat, but then decided I had more to do.  Or, more precisely, I had things to undo and then redo.

After seeing the photos I posted on this blog, my eye went right to that crinkled hem.

I had not noticed how crinkled the hem appeared until I saw these photos.

I had purposely steamed the hem lightly, not wanting to make it a knife edge, but after seeing these crinkles, I went back and steamed it again.  I still had crinkles. My expectation at this point was that I would probably have to take the hem out and redo it.  This suspicion was confirmed when I sought advice from Susan Khalje.  She oh-so-gently agreed with me!  First she suggested  removing the silk organza from the bottom of the coat up to the fold line of the hem, and lightly catch-stitching it along the fold, which would not show.  I did this after taking out all the stitching along the lining, the facings, and the seam allowances, in order to undo the hem.

The pins mark the fold line of the hem; as you can see, the silk organza underlining extends to the bottom edge of the coat.

I then pinned about a half inch above the hem line, so I was able to remove the silk organza right at the hem fold.  I then used a catch-stitch to secure the silk organza right along the fold line.

Doing this helped, but the hem was still not as soft as I thought it should be. Susan’s next suggestion was to add a bias strip of flannel to the interior of the hem, which I suspected was what I had needed to do from the start.  I went to my trusty Vogue Sewing Book from 1970 to get guidance and found this:

From: The Vogue Sewing Book, edited by Patricia Perry, Vogue Patterns, New York, New York, c1970, page 324.

I used all cotton white flannel, cut 2½ inches wide, the width of the hem.  I positioned it so that ⅝“ was below the fold line, with the remaining above.  I used a catch-stitch on the wider section of flannel, securing it to the silk organza.  Then I did a loose running stitch right on the fold line. After every step, I gently steamed the area.

Obviously I had to take out the catch-stitching along the lower portion of the center back seam, and then I was able to slip the flannel under the seam allowance.

Then I was ready to put the hem back in, and reattach the facings and lining.

None of this was difficult, but it was time-consuming. However, I am much happier with the appearance of the hem now.  It is soft and hangs with more grace.

A much smoother, softer hem!

Susan also suggested that I make an adjustment to the front edges of the collar.  Although I had under-stitiched it, I apparently did not coax the front-edge seams back away from the edge enough, allowing them to show more than they should.  So I took out a majority of the understitching and re–did it, too.

The collar lays flatter now, and I am really happy with it.

Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged that I was facing so much work to correct these problem areas, but I knew it needed to be done.  I considered waiting until next Fall to tackle these fixes, but I decided I would feel less like doing it then than now, so I dug in.  It became a good learning experience, and a good reminder that different fabrics behave in different ways. It is up to the dressmaker to seek out the best solution for a problem area and then do it, or in this case, re-do it.  Hooray, the Pink Coat is finally – really – finished.

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Filed under Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Hem facings, Hems, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

A Stripe is a Stripe is a Stripe

Or, is it? Fashion terminology tends to be very precise and descriptive, so I was not surprised when I discovered all the various stripes that can be described in specific terms.  What prompted my interest in stripes was my most recent addition to my casual blouse wardrobe.

There is something just so classic about navy blue and white, and a navy and white striped shirt is almost a necessity.   When I saw this Italian cotton shirt fabric on the website of Farmhouse Fabrics, I wasted no time in ordering it.

Farmhouse Fabrics has the most amazing selection of fine shirting cottons, and their service is superb!

I place stripes in the same category as checks and polka dots – timeless, varied and versatile. When I did a little exploring into the nomenclature of stripes, to confirm my thought that this was a “pencil stripe” on which I was working, I not only found this to be correct, I also was introduced to a whole descriptive world of stripes.  There are awning stripes, bayadere stripes, candy stripes, chalk stripes, hickory (or Liberty) stripes, ombre stripes, pinstripes, regimental stripes, ticking stripes, and the list goes on and on.  What designates a pencil stripe is that the background color (for example, white) between the stripes is wider than the stripes in the foreground color (navy blue), which can be as narrow as a pencil line, or bolder.

This is the fifth blouse I have made in the last year, using this simple pattern from 1972, and I would not be surprised to find myself making five more of this style.

The many alterations and refinements I have made to this pattern include 1) a shoulder adjustment to give more ease at the top of the sleeve, 2) an inverted pleat in the center back, mimicking a detail on a RTW which I particularly like, 3) fisheye darts in the back of the bodice to tame some of its fullness, 4) lengthening of the sleeve placket, making it easier to roll up the sleeves, and 5) re-cutting of the collar from pointed ends to a spread collar.

I particularly like the way this collar looks.

Every one of these blouses needs buttons, of course, and as long as I keep finding vintage buttons like these, I will keep using them.

Ultra Kraft made quality buttons. I feel so fortunate to have access to so many of their beautiful buttons on eBay and Etsy.

I tend to wear my sleeves rolled up, more often than down.

A very windy day, but the sun is shining!

How much summer sewing do I see on the horizon???

There is not much more which can be said about this blouse.  I expect to wear it casually all summer long, which is a lovely thought indeed.

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

The Pink Coat Odyssey, The Finish!

Is it possible to fall in love with a coat?  If so, then that is what has happened with my pink coat.  It was a relationship which grew over several years.

First, I found the pattern, this Vogue Paris Original Designer Pattern from 1965.  It was an eBay purchase made several years ago, with a promise to myself that one day, when I found the right fabric, I would make it.

Next I found this silk charmeuse couture fabric on the website of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics. It was an end cut, 2.25 yards, and when I purchased it, I envisioned another wrap dress, not the lining of a coat.  Luckily I had no urgent plans to use it, and thus it eventually found its way inside the pink coat.

I am showing the lining silk here along with the pink wool to show how well they complement each other.

And then – I found the pink wool.  Also an eBay purchase, this wool was not inexpensively priced, but I recognized its rarity and its “presence” in the posted pictures.  Then I hoped it would live up to its promise once I received it and saw it in person.  Over the years I have found some amazing things on eBay, but this wool is one of the real treasures.

Because I have already posted quite a bit about the coat’s muslin/toile and certain salient details, I will not go into too much more description about the coat’s construction.  But I do want to point out some of this pattern’s engineering charms.

1) On the photo on the pattern envelope, I believe the soft shoulder of the coat is evident.  I used a “cigarette-type” sleeve heading in each shoulder to enhance the smooth transition from the shoulder to the top of the sleeve.  Not so evident on the pattern illustration is the drape of the back of the coat from the shoulder line.  I realized this drape works so well because of the two neckline darts.  They are in the neckline, not the shoulder seam; they add necessary shaping without disturbing the drape.

Can you see how the dart comes off from the neckline, not the shoulder seam?

2) The collar is an engineering marvel in my mind.  The under-collar  is constructed from four pieces, two main sections cut on the bias, and a 2-piece collar band, seamed at the center back.  The band helps the collar to turn beautifully.

This photo clearly shows the components of the under-collar. You can also see the under-stitching I did in silk buttonhole twist.

3) When I made the toile, I was concerned about the fullness of the back of the coat.  It seemed a bit much, and I have already written about my intention to add a half belt to draw in the fullness, if needed. Nope!   I am so happy with the finished look – it has that 1960s’ vibe without being overwhelming.  I did move the vertical back seam line up 1.25” to rest at my natural waistline, rather than below it.  For me, this was the correct alteration.  It may not be on someone else who has more height than I do.  Another consideration was that a half belt would have concealed the seam detailing which is so lovely on the back of the coat.

An inside look at the back of the coat, showing its drape from the shoulder seams.

The other significant alteration I made was to remove 1.5″ of width from each sleeve.  I possibly could have taken out even more, but I will be wearing this coat over sweaters and perhaps even a jacket, so the sleeves as I cut them will still accommodate that bulk.  But I would not want them any fuller!

Although the pattern did not call for it, I added flat piping to the edge of the lining.  I chose white silk crepe de chine for this contrast detail.  I felt any other color would have been too demonstrative.

The coat kind of looks like a sack of potatoes in this photo of its front edge!

The finished look of the lining edge.

I had some difficulty finding pink buttons.  I ended up with two varieties found in two Etsy shops.  I used a larger pink-swirly one for the looped closure, and smaller pink pearl-y ones for the concealed opening.  If I ever find ones I like better, that’s a easy switch.  But the more I see these, the more I like this combination.

Basting threads are still evident in this photo.

Alas, it is much too warm for wearing wool coats now, but it is ready for next Fall’s cooler days.  By then I hope to have a  windowpane checked skirt, in delicate gray, white and pink wool, specially made to wear with this coat.

It is always interesting what photos reveal. I am thinking I may need to redo the hem to get a softer look to it. It looks like it has crinkles in it!

I will take any excuse to show the inside of this coat!

I cut a piece of the selvedge with the Lesur name on it and attached it to the right front facing of the coat right below the placket.  I think this is an important part of the story of this project.

There is a very slight bow to the back of the coat, again reminiscent of the ’60s.

This coat is almost making me anxious for next Fall!

As I worked on this coat, I came to realize how perfectly suited the pattern and the wool were for each other.   It was such a privilege to spend so many hours with such quality.  No wonder I fell in love!

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Christian Dior, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Linings, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens