Sewing, Silence, and Solitude

It was exactly two years ago I first started this post.   It must have been a cold, snowy day – the sort when it is best to stay in and settle down with a sewing project – for me to be prompted to write about this subject.   Then I must have gotten distracted – or maybe I just ran out of things to say – but I never finished writing it.  Now seems like a good time to do so…

A dear friend of mine who spends her sewing hours making beautiful quilts once lamented to me, “It’s a shame sewing is such a solitary activity.”  She certainly has a point.  There is just no way around the fact that most of us spend hours and hours alone with our sewing; it is just the nature of the enterprise, being for the most part not a collaborative effort, but one in which each of us is the main decision-maker and craftswoman.

Sewing takes space, preferably a separate space, removed from the hustle and bustle of a normal household, where that inevitable sewing mess can be tolerated.  Being removed, despite its inherent joys, usually means being alone (except for pet visits – what is it about sewing that is so inviting to pets?)

Despite the hours and hours of time I spend by myself in my sewing room, I never really feel lonely.  Granted, I do listen to the radio or music most of the time, so that the silence is muffled by other voices or melodies.  But I am still definitely alone – with only my thoughts for dialogue.

That self-dialogue can be demanding – solving problems, perpetual decision-making, irritation with oneself when things go awry, and continued re-dedication towards a specific, often time-consuming goal.

I feel so fortunate to have this collection of French Milliner’s Heads, assembled over many years, to keep vigilance over me in my sewing room. What tales they could tell if only they could talk…

Then, of course, it is not just the active process of sewing to consider; hours of thought, effort, and planning often go into your project long before the first stitch is taken.  And did I mention daydreaming?  What dedicated dressmaker does not devote lots of her personal daydreaming thoughts to this outfit, including what shoes will work with it, what handbag to carry, what jewelry will complement it?

And now – here we are in March of 2020.   Strangely, this solitude that is self-imposed, this solitude that we, who choose to be alone and sew, are accustomed to – is suddenly almost universal and mandated.  It is a strange phenomenon.  And also now, in such a visceral way, I do feel lonely – but so grateful to have this exceptional interest and passion which helps me while away the hours.  I am so grateful for the expansive global sewing community which connects with one another across so many online platforms.  But most of all, I am so grateful to have this blog and you, my lovely readers – many of you have become my dear friends, confidantes, advisers, and sewing soulmates.  Many a silent hour in my life is devoted to thinking of you as I plan what to share and write here at Fifty Dresses, always hoping it will be interesting and worthwhile to you.  Thank you, thank you for adding so much focus, joy, fun and friendship to my solitary and silent sewing life, and especially now when the world is so topsy-turvy.

This little lady has the most endearing expression on her well-worn face. Her tiny secret smile seems to be one of gentle reassurance.

I fervently wish you all good health and perseverance at this difficult time as we stitch our way through our shared loneliness to better times, filled with optimism – and lots of places to wear our newly-made pretty frocks.

 

 

34 Comments

Filed under Love of sewing, Uncategorized

What Do You Think of Sewing Contests?

And – what do you know about them?  One of the more venerable sewing contests is the annual Make It With Wool.  Founded in 1947, it is still going strong and features winners in various categories/age groups.  Prizes for winners and runners’-up include scholarships, sewing machines and fabrics, and of course, national recognition in the field.  Pattern Review sponsors several sewing competitions throughout each year, in addition to a “sewing bee.”   Its followers are legion at this point, and it is always a coup to be a winner, selected by readers’ votes.

But what would you say if I told you that in 1956 the Singer Sewing Machine Company introduced a national sewing contest with prize money totaling $125,000?   The 1st Grand Prize carried the unbelievable reward of $25,000.  In current 2020 American dollars, that is almost $240,000!  Not only that, the 33 regional first prize winners also received a free trip to New York.  Take a look at the following two-page ad which appeared in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, announcing the second year of the competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vogue Pattern Book Magazine of August/September 1957 included this page “as we go to press…”

Vogue Pattern Company was rightly proud of their representation in this contest and in others.

And then here is the feature article on those winners in the following issue (October/November, 1957):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging was based on “fashion points of appearance, fit and selection of design, colour and fabric, plus construction points of quality and accuracy of cutting, sewing and finishing.”  Isn’t this what most of us strive to attain in our own sewing?

By the next year, 1958, the contest included a new category, called the Young Homemaker Division, for young women between the ages of 18 – 25.  $9,000 of prize money was awarded to the top four winners.  What beautiful dresses and ensembles they created!

I suspect these young women continued to sew throughout their lives.

Also that year, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored their own sewing contest.  The theme of the contest was “the ideal costume for a clubwoman’s wardrobe.”  Points of consideration in the judging were: “fashion-rightness,” “versatility and appropriateness for club occasions,” “becomingness to the wearer,” “over-all fashion effect,” and “workmanship.”  24 of the state finalists submitted entries consisting of a dress with its own jacket or coat.  That is still to this day a winning combination, classic and chic.

The prize money was certainly less impressive in this contest, at $250, $150 and $100 for the first-, second-, and third-place winners, but imagine the prestige of winning for “your” club, at a time when there were 1,485 clubs represented in the contest!

By 1963, Singer Sewing Company had started the Young Stylemaker Contest for girls aged 10 – 21.  The caption on the following article tells it all:

Included in the trip to Paris for the two winners was a tour of the famous Parisian couture houses.  Can you imagine having such an opportunity at that point in your life?

This contest had expanded its scope by 1965, ferrying fifteen finalists to Rome via a chartered jet for a 5-day stay before the final judging of the Stylemaker Contest.  Notes by the contestants included the charming observation “how very chic the Italian women are.”

By 1969, this contest had drawn more than 93,000 participants!  As part of their prize, the three winners each were given an all-expense paid, one-week trip for two to London, Paris or Rome.  The purpose of the Stylemaker Contest was to “encourage young and creative talents in Fashion sewing.”

By 1971, it appears that changes were in the air for the Stylemaker Contest.  Whittled down to two winning divisions, only the overall winner received a trip to London, Paris or Rome for two, although both final winners also received cash prizes of $800 and $600 respectively.  The “heyday” period of home fashion sewing was sadly beginning to draw to a close.

Needless to say, fashion sewing contests no longer command such notable and generous prize money or trips.  Those were heady times in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, likely never to be experienced again.  However, I would like to think a new sewing heyday is upon us – or perhaps we are it.  What place do contests have in our current global community of sewing?

I rarely enter sewing contests, not for any reason other than the fact that I have so many projects in my queue that the last thing I need to put my attention on is something that is not top priority for me.  But that doesn’t mean I will never enter a contest.  I actually think I probably should at some point. So – again, what do you think of them?   Sewing is creative, so obviously contests today still value and encourage creativity.  Surely emphasis is still placed on fashion appropriateness, workmanship, style, a flattering assessment, fabric and color selection. It is precisely these goals which make fashion sewing so exciting, at least for me, and I suspect for most of us.

Let’s learn a little from the past and make it new again.

 

29 Comments

Filed under Fashion history, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Sewing Contests, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

The Horsey Set

How long must a fabric be in one’s possession before it can be considered “not new”? This is an important consideration to fashion sewing if you are, like me, always trying to use one of my “collected” fabrics, as opposed to purchasing new.  I tend to think if I have owned a fabric for at least three or four months, then it is no longer new (maybe newer, but not new.)  So, please indulge me as I congratulate myself on using this fabric, purchased last September from Farmhouse Fabrics.

This fabric is a 100% wool challis.

As soon as I spied it on their website, I knew I wanted to make a shirtwaist dress.  When it arrived, its fate was sealed, as its weight (very light), its drape (very fluid), and its allover meandering print made it perfect for such a dress with a bit of fullness in the skirt.  And I just happened to have the perfect pattern, too, purchased several years ago from an Etsy store.

I used View A for this project, with the self sash.

Making the muslin (toile) for this dress identified several areas which needed adjustment, specifically the back of the bodice, the shoulders/upper sleeve, and the waist.  I added shoulder darts to the back of the bodice and was able to minimize a saggy back by making a horizontal dead dart across the lower back of the muslin .

Shoulder darts are a great addition to this pattern.

In addition, I elongated the top of the sleeve by about 3/8” and replaced the normal easing in the sleeve cap with a dart.

The dart in the top of the sleeve is visible on the right.

The waist?  Well, unfortunately I just needed to make it larger, taking a bit from each skirt pleat to accommodate the extra girth of the bodice.

I thought long and hard about how to underline/line this fabric in order to preserve and enhance its qualities.  I felt a silk organza underlining would add too much body to this soft and fluid wool challis.  On the other hand, an underlining provides that wonderful surface on which to secure interior stitches (such as the hem, the facings, the seam allowances) invisibly.  I finally decided to underline the body of the dress with a very fine black cotton batiste and forego a separate lining.  I also used the cotton batiste as the interfacing in the collar, the cuffs and the front facings.  The sleeves I left un-underlined.

Knowing the seam allowances would be exposed inside the dress led me to finish off those raw edges with Hug Snug rayon seam binding.

Because I was working with wool, I decided to make bound buttonholes.  This decision probably added at least ten hours onto the making of this dress.  Memo to self – if the buttonholes are small, and the fabric frays easily, and the fabric is dark, it’s probably best to avoid bound buttonholes.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.

But the silver lining – or should I say gold lining – to the whole buttoning aspect of this dress is what I found for those little fasteners which can make or break a project.  And here is where my  predilection for much-loved vintage elements sneaks in oh-so-gently.  Because this fabric is dark and rich in appearance, I felt a contrast button would be best.  But the button would have to be equally rich in appearance, preferably enhancing a design element in the print.  Here are the buttons I used:

And here were three other choices:

The cross-hatching in my chosen buttons picks up the woven rope design in this equestrian print, and I think adds just a tiny bit of sparkle to what is otherwise a tailored dress.  Because they are tiny, they are not overpowering.

It is really difficult to get an actual true color for this fabric…. It is more maroon than it appears here.

And where, you may ask, did I find these four sets of buttons from which to choose?  Vintage they are, all four, all purchased bulk by my mother in the 1950s from a manufacturer of quality dresses for little girls.  The store was Ruth Originals in Asheville, North Carolina (USA).  Over the last 30 to 40 years, I have often searched in this magic box of buttons given to me by my mother, sometimes finding exactly what I need, other times not.  My quest this time was for a “horse of a different color” and that is what I found.

I also like this dress with a black belt rather than the sash.

I am very excited to make this pattern again – and again – and again, hopefully using long-stockpiled fabrics – and buttons with a similar rich history.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ready To Wear, Ready To Copy

It is no secret that those of us who sew often get inspiration from Ready To Wear.  When select catalogs come in the mail, I love to look at them just to see what ideas I can find which may apply to one of my planned projects.  The same goes for online ads which pop up in all kinds of situations.  The sources of inspiration are practically endless, but every once in a while, I find a bonanza of ideas all bunched together.

Such was the case with the Gorsuch catalog which recently arrived.

 Getaway 2020 should be renamed Stay at Home and Sew, Sew, Sew!  Shirtwaist dresses are much on my mind right now as I am currently working on a wool challis rendition of that classic style.  I have plans for more versions of this timeless dress in silk and cotton.  So imagine my delight when I turned the page in the catalog and saw this stunner:

My gingham shirtwaist dress is going to be in pink silk.

I found this pink silk gingham at Farmhouse Fabrics.

And although it will be a few months until I get to it, I had already been pondering what to do for a belt/sash.  I didn’t really want one to match the dress.  Well . . . the wide grosgrain belt in white pictured in the catalog is just the look I know I want.  Would I have thought of this myself?  Probably not.  So hooray for RTW ideas.

I didn’t have to turn more than a few pages in the same catalog, and I came across this dress:

The all-over floral design reminded me of a piece of cotton I purchased from Mendel Goldberg a couple of years ago.

This fabric is partially translucent, so the body of the dress will be underlined in batiste.

I bought this fabric thinking I would make a shirtwaist dress, but I couldn’t quite make it work in my mind.  I thought I would like to emphasize the purple/deep lavender in it, although other colors are more dominant.  I even found lavender buttons, but then thought they may be washed out by the other colors.  But – seeing this dress being so effective with a grosgrain belt (again!) in a very non-dominant color, has given me all the confidence I need to take this future dress in the original direction I envisioned.

Among my many clippings from catalogs and magazines are some I keep in a separate “pile” in my sewing room.  They are separate because I love the ideas in them so much, I want them to be ever present in my presence!  This blouse featured in a J. McLaughlin catalog last year is just such an idea.

And while I could wear gingham checks forever and ever, I plan to make a copy of this blouse in a grass green windowpane check cotton I found at Farmhouse Fabrics.  I may even make a pair of linen pants to wear with it, but we’ll see.  (Pants are my least favorite item to make.)

 

And then there is this inspiration from the online presence of Halsbrook:

Remember this dress.  It is going to be copied….

16 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Dressmaking in 2020 and Beyond

Every January when I sit down to do some planning for the new year at hand, I usually start by doing three things:

  • Looking at what I accomplished on my list from the past year, and moving those unfinished items onto my new list,
  • Going through my fabrics and deciding what looks inspiring – or in desperate need of action – and
  • Assessing what my wardrobe needs will be for the year.

This year, I am adding #4 to that list:  What patterns do I want to try for the first time, and which ones do I want to make again.

Number 1 looks like this:

This is my list for 2019, perhaps the third iteration of it. Things and priorities change during the year. My list for 2020 is still being planned!

Number 2 is shocking to me.  I have so many beautiful fabrics.  I could easily just concentrate on what I have stored away and be totally occupied with those for not just this year, but for several years to come.  However, I know from experience that I will buy new fabrics (and already have since January 1!), and I will be glad I did.  So there.  I am admitting I am a hopeless case when it comes to fabric.  There are too many dreams tied up in some fabrics for me to resist their purchase.  I always just hope that the fabrics used from my existing collection slightly outnumber the new ones I buy.  Usually this is the case.  Hopefully it will be this year.

Number 3 is not always apparent.  I do know I will need some dressier things for Springtime events.  I do know my summer will be very casual.  And usually Fall and early Winter require some dressier apparel.  I have a big birthday (gulp!) coming up this year, and I think it deserves something special, but I’m not sure what that is yet.  But I would be willing to bet it will demand a new dress, at the least.

And my new Number 4 – now here is a category that really inspires me.  I have so many amazing vintage patterns to try, but I also have so many I have made once (or more) and love so much that I never tire of making them.   I believe my patterns will guide my sewing this year to a large degree.

Here are a few I have never used, but have hopes for in 2020:

This pattern is out of print, but I don’t really consider it vintage. However, it looks like a great shirtwaist dress pattern. I especially like Views A and D. My hope/plan is to make at least two, and perhaps three, shirtwaist dresses this year. In fact, View A is my current project.

I love everything about the design of this dress: it has a two-piece look, but the skirt is attached to a camisole under the over-bodice. I love the buttoned back and the front seaming detail. I particularly like the long-sleeved version.

Here are the back views of this dress.

Here is another take on a princess-lined dress, with jacket. It is not suitable for striped, plaid or diagonal fabrics, which eliminates quite a few of my choices, but I would love to try it. Even better would be to make a dress and jacket…

The line drawings on the envelope back show the seaming details and dart placement. It looks really, really lovely.

I came across a piece of deep pink cashmere last year, and if I decide to make a coat I think it will be View B of this classic coat pattern.

And here a few patterns I have used and want to use again.  Most have been fitted correctly (although I always seem to tweak one or two little things) – and most are versatile and classic and have simple, but elegant, lines to them.

I will definitely be making this pattern again this year at least once.

I know for certain I will be making the short version of this dress again. I have a dress planned for Spring using it.  My first use of this pattern resulted in the dress below,  selected for inclusion in the Gallery of A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing, by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr.

I would love to make another bow blouse this year. This classic look from 1957 is about as lovely a bow blouse as one can find.

A bow blouse would be the perfect pairing with another Parisian Jacket.  A silk blouse with a Parisian Jacket made from vintage Moygashel linen?

Finally, ever since I used this pattern years ago, I have wanted to make it again, in a short-sleeved version.  I am hoping this will be the year!

I think I could make either view of this dress over and over and not get tired of it.

Much has been said this year about the start of a new decade.  It does seem prescient, doesn’t it?  Full of hope and anticipation, the new decade will, nevertheless, do what it will.  Dressmaking will be just a part of the new  continuum, but my days and months and years will be measured in no small part by what I put on my list, and then the placement of those happy checkmarks when I have accomplished that which I set out to do.

Welcome 2020!  No doubt you will be gone in a flash, so may we all make the most of your wondrous days, the dressmaking ones and all the others, too.

19 Comments

Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Coats, Day dresses, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

The Last Dress of the Year Past

Little did I know when I found this “end-cut” earlier in the year at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics that “classic blue” would be chosen as Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2020.  But so it was, which makes my last dress of 2019 the perfect transition into the new year and the new decade.

This an Italian silk charmeuse, in a dotted and printed jacquard.

I am one of those people who rarely goes looking for a particular fabric.  I think fabrics find me and when this fabric found me, I really had no plan for what I would make out of it.  But as soon as it arrived, I knew immediately I wanted a sheath dress with three-quarter length sleeves and a V-neck.  I tucked it away, happy with the thought of making this dress, and knowing I had the perfect pattern to make it a reality.

View C, of course! And look at those lovely shaping darts.

This Vogue pattern is from the early 1960s, a little tattered and worn, but very versatile and beautifully engineered.

After finishing my granddaughters’ December dresses, and then my pink Parisian Jacket, and then some cute little flannel blouses for gifts for my little girls, I envisioned finishing this dress to wear to holiday parties.  What was I thinking?  First of all, after tweaking the pattern one last time (I had had the pattern fitted a couple of years ago while in a class with Susan Khalje), it took two full days – yes, TWO – to figure out how in the world to lay out my pattern pieces.  Truth be told, I really did not have enough fabric.  I should have reconsidered, but I am stubborn and tenacious when it comes to my sewing “visions.”  I finally decided that I could exactly match the print on the back center seam and make it sleeveless – OR I could have sleeves and not match the back.  I really, really wanted sleeves.  It had to have sleeves.  So I did the best I could with making the back seam look okay, and I got my sleeves.

Fortunately the all-over placement of the floral motifs lent itself to imprecise matching better than many fabrics would.

And what lovely sleeves they are!  When Susan fitted the pattern, she elongated the top curve of the sleeve to accommodate my prominent shoulders.  She also added a dart at the shoulder of the sleeve (actually slightly forward from the marked shoulder of the pattern to accommodate the roll of my shoulders).  I added a slight amount to the width of the sleeve, about 3/8”.  I have found these vintage patterns are often narrow in the sleeves.

The purple lines are the changes to the muslin.

The double elbow darts in the sleeves make a lovely fit and are placed precisely where they should be.

It’s a little difficult to see the double darts, but they are there!

When it came to the V-neck, I knew I would need to use a facing of some sort, but I did not have enough fabric to cut a full facing.  So – I cut a partial facing instead, just enough to be able to turn the V and have it stable.  (The first thing I did when I started sewing the dress, was to reinforce that neckline with a strip of silk organza selvedge.)  Well, this worked like a charm, much to my delight.

The partial facing extends up from the bottom of the V about 2.5 inches, and then the turned- back seam allowance takes over.

Then I brought the lining fabric right to the edge of the neckline and understitched it to secure it in place, just as you would expect a couture dress to be finished.

I chose a “mushroom” colored crepe de chine for my lining. Blues are very difficult to match as you know, so I decided a contrast color would be best. The lining fabric is from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

I used blue thread for the under stitching.

I used a lapped application for the hand-picked zipper.  The more I use the lapped insertion for zippers, the more I like it.  And I especially like it in a center back seam.

I’m feeling quite pleased with this dress!

There is not much more to say about this blue floral dress, except that it was not finished in time to wear to any holiday event.  Which was fine!  Once I realized this would be the case, I was able to really enjoy the process of making it.  It was a delightful way to end the year – and the decade, which has had such a profound effect on my sewing.

 

37 Comments

Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Mid-Century style, Pantone Color of the Year, Polka dots, sewing in silk, Sheath dresses, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

December Dresses and Delights

Before December bids us farewell (which is very, very soon), it seems only proper to share the “December Dresses” I made for my two little granddaughters.  Actually, I finished them in November, but the intent every year is to have them delivered either by hand or by post to their home in Massachusetts (USA) in time for them to wear them to various December events.

Every year I try to vary the look of the dresses.  While I like to surprise my daughter in addition to my granddaughters with what I make, this year I asked my daughter what she thought the girls would like.  Her response was immediate, telling me that they love the birthday sundresses I made for them last Spring so much, and could I perhaps get the same look in a winter dress?  So I went from this:

To this:

I did it by sizing up the patterns I used for last year’s December dress and substituting the ruffled collar which I adapted from the pattern for the birthday dresses.  Still with me at this point?  I had pattern pieces all over the place!

I found the lovely plaid cotton at Farmhouse Fabrics, as well as the lace and the buttons.  It took a full five yards of 58” wide fabric for the two dresses.  Once again, the dresses sort of evolved as I made them.  I originally was going to use picot edging for the collars, but it did not look right.  That’s when I switched to the lace, and just as a precaution, I ordered enough to edge the hems should I decide to do that.  As it turned out, the lace rimming the hem was the perfect finishing touch.  I had all of two inches of the lace remaining when the dresses were complete.  Whew!  That was cutting it close!

Thank goodness for the quick delivery of the lace from Farmhouse Fabrics!

I put the cuffs on the bias just to add some interest and to pick up on the bias binding at the neckline.

I lined the bodices with soft cotton batiste.

There is something magical about sashes and bows and a buttoned back on little girls’ dresses.

All the time I put into these dresses was well worth it when the girls were so excited to wear them to The Nutcracker, performed by The Pennsylvania Ballet at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA), on December 24th at noon.

Aida posing with one of the Sugarplum Fairies.

Carolina, Aida and Susanna during Intermission. We were all spellbound by the performance!

Thanks to my daughter, Susanna, for taking this cute picture!

What a wonderful day that was.  Here’s hoping your December was also filled with magical moments and ruffles and sashes.

And next up – my last make of the year – and of the decade…

17 Comments

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