One for Winter

And Winter it has been!  BRRRR….  Seriously cold weather calls for some seriously warm fabric, and I had just the right piece waiting for such an occasion.  

When I found and purchased this vintage piece of Viyella several years ago, I thought the plaid was of a larger format.  I’m not quite sure what I thought I might make with it, but I tucked it away for another day.  After making so many casual cotton blouses over the past few years, last Fall I had one of those “Aha” moments, and decided this Winter would be good time to make one for cold weather – and what better fabric to use than this small-scaled plaid Viyella?  

It is always reassuring when there is documentation attached to a piece of vintage fabric. Two of these paper labels were attached to the fabric when I purchased it.

I have had direct experience with the warmth that Viyella provides, having made two bathrobes out of this storied fabric.  And unlike some wool (Viyella is a wool/cotton blend), this fabric does not itch against bare skin.  I made the robes pictured below in 2017 and 2019, respectively. I expected the Viyella which is the subject of this post to be of the same scale as these two plaids. Yes, purchasing vintage fabric online can have its surprises!

I’m not sure any single garment I have made has been worn and appreciated more than this robe.
I made my second Viyella robe to keep in our vacation home in Wyoming.

The background of this current fabric “reads” blue, but it turns out gray thread and gray buttons seemed to be the best complement to it.  

Always on the hunt for vintage pearl buttons, I found these gray ones to use for this blouse.

This is the time-tested and altered Simplicity pattern I have used repeatedly – with its yoked back – and shirttail hem.  

Every time I make this pattern, I have to go to the instruction sheet for the yoke construction details, and EVERY time I get confused!  

This may be the first time I have actually made this pattern without having to take out at least one seam in the process of joining the yoke to the back and fronts. 

How difficult can it be to attach a yoke? Somehow I make it difficult every time!

There is really not too much more to say about this blouse, except perhaps to wonder why it took me so long to decide to make it. 

 

I have a number of Viyella labels in reserve, so I was happy to use one for this blouse.
Staying warm!

Hmmmm.  One for Winter might become Two for Winter… 

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Filed under Bathrobes, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, fabric labels, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, woolens

Diversions – in Print

Works of fiction which feature some aspect of sewing or fashion are often some of my favorite reading experiences.  While I do not necessarily seek them out, if I hear of such a novel, and it’s reviews are positive, then I will add it to my reading queue (similar to my sewing queue!) And sometimes, there is a surprise sewing element in a novel – those are the bonuses.

The last three novels I have read, in quick succession, were all very different, but each one used sewing and/or fashion as foundational premises either for the plot or for character development.  So, here are short reviews of each one, in the order in which I read them.

The first novel, Beneficence, by Meredith Hall, came to my attention by a review in The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition back in the Fall.  The subtle role sewing plays in this novel makes it one of those bonus books. Some of the words used to describe this novel, and rightly so, have been “haunting,” luminous,” and “exquisite.”  It takes place in Maine (USA) and spans the years from the late 1940s to the early ‘60s. The story is about the Senter family, who owns a dairy farm, and the devastating tragedy which befalls the family of five.  Early in the book, one gets the sense of impending doom.  At this point, in no way did I have any inkling of the role sewing would have in the development of one of the main characters, Dodie, the daughter.  The masterful writing – eerily beautiful, and very affecting – is of such quality that it was only after I had finished the book did I realize how her sewing helped to define Dodie. The sewing references even hint at the blessings ahead for her in the reader’s mind at book’s end.  She is a mender, a creator, and a giver of things she has sewn.  She is wise beyond her years.  She is a character I will long remember.  The book is a masterpiece.  

One word of warning, however, is necessary for this book.  Parts of it are very difficult emotionally to read.  I cried a lot reading it, perhaps crying the most at the book’s end when grace and wisdom finally replace anguish for each of the Senters.  If you are feeling in any way fragile right now, then plan to read this book at another, more secure time.  

Feeling emotionally drained (but fulfilled) after reading Beneficence, I wanted something light-hearted and fun.  And like a blessing, this book came to me as a Christmas gift from my daughter, Susanna.  

This novel first appeared in 1993, and it has been recently re-released.

The Women in Black, by Madeline St. John, is set in the early 1950s in Sydney, Australia.  It follows four women (actually 3 women and one 16-year-old girl) who work at Goode’s Department Store in Fine Dresses and Model Dresses (Model Dresses being the most expensive.)  The time of year is December, when cocktail and party dress buying is at a frenzy!  Patty and Fay are in the fine dresses, Magda manages the Model Gowns, and Lisa is a temporary hire who helps out wherever she is needed.  In many ways, however, it is Lisa’s story.  Magda takes a loving interest in her, and when Lisa is exposed to the confectionary frocks in Model Gowns, she comes alive.  She particularly has her eye on one dress, which is called “Lisette.”  And when she finally has the opportunity to try the dress on, this is what transpires: 

“Lisette was, of course, everything which could have been dreamed; like all the great works of the French couture, it was designed to look beautiful not simply as a thing in itself, but as the clothing of a female form.  It took on then the property of vitality and movement, that is, of rhythm:  it became finally incarnate.  Lisa stood, overwhelmed, staring into the great cheval glass.   . . . The frock changed her absolutely; the revelation which had come upon her when she had first been shown the Model gowns was now complete.”  

What a fun book, written by someone (sadly now deceased) who understood the transformative power of dress and dresses.  Treat yourself and read this book!

Just the title of the third book I am sharing is intriquing enough to catch your attention.  

Based loosely on a true story, but definitely a work of fiction, The French Model, by Alexandra Joel,  is the story of a stunningly beautiful young Australian woman who makes her way to Paris and becomes a model in Christian Dior’s House in post-war France.  In leaving Australia, she is escaping not only from an unhappy marriage, but also from revelations about her past which make her question her identity and all those she has ever loved.  This book has it all:  mystery, espionage, love, fashion, friendship, sacrifice, sex, “very important person” sightings, political intrigue, history, and courage – all in a complex story line which will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The writing is lovely and descriptive, the main characters endearing.  Some of the story is a bit contrived – or unbelievable – but I was generally able to overlook those parts to enjoy the larger storyline.  And I loved the emphasis on the workings of the House of Christian Dior. Anyone who loves vintage fashion – or historical fiction set at the end of World War II – should find escaping into this story a happy place to be.  

One final observation about these three books.  The dust jackets are works of art.  Not unlike a perfectly fitted and flattering dress, each one is so perfectly evocative of what lies within, capturing the very essence of the books they adorn.  As I look again and again at each one, it takes me back to those stories, those places and those indelible characters which gave me so much reading pleasure.  

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Filed under Book reviews, Christian Dior, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A Dress That Was Meant to Be – in Vogue

Sometimes the sewing stars align to ensure success (and sometimes they don’t.)  But this story is a success story, although it played out differently than I originally planned.  

I wrote about this vintage Forstmann wool fabric in a previous post.

Having only 1.25 yards of this vintage wool restricted my options to either a simple sheath dress or a skirt.  I opted for the sheath, with all good intentions of using the princess-lined pattern I had recently used for a pink dress in vintage Linton wool.  In fact, one of the reasons I made the pink dress was to see if I would be able to successfully match plaids when I started on the red/green wool.  (The weave of the pink Linton has a plaid woven into it, which I knew would be helpful to me in determining the pattern’s useability for a multi-color plaid.)  Only one problem – when I laid out the pattern pieces on the Forstmann wool, I didn’t have enough fabric.  I should have realized that the 7-panel princess dress would take more fabric than I had – and this time there was no making it work.

SO – I had to find another pattern.  I have, over the years, made several sheath dresses using a newer Butterick pattern, but I really wanted to use a vintage pattern for this wool.  Now, I have a lot of vintage patterns in my collection – and I went through every single one looking for the right sheath dress.  At first I didn’t realize this pattern had the look I wanted.  

I had originally purchased this pattern for that gorgeous shawl collared coat.  But – BINGO – when I took another look, there was the perfect sheath looking right at me.  

Although the pattern was not dated, I knew it was from the early 1960s.  But of course, I thought it would be wonderful to know the year it first appeared.  A lengthy search through old Vogue Pattern Magazines proved to be successful – not only successful, but timely.  This pattern was included in the December 1962/January 1963 issue, and was the featured pattern for a Special Capsule Catalog included in the issue.  Not only that, the caption read: “110 IDEAS TO START THE NEW YEAR IN VOGUE.”  Yes, I thought, that’s what I want to do!  

What a glamorous look!
And here is the entry for this pattern in the capsule catalog.

Of course, starting with a pattern I had not before used meant I had to make a muslin (toile)  and fit it.  That little effort took two days.  But then I got started in earnest, cutting out the silk organza underlining and positioning it right where it needed to be on the fabric.

You will notice that this fabric has a center front, woven to provide a mirror image of the plaid on each side. Really a brilliant way to handle an uneven plaid.

There were two important considerations for placing my silk organza underlining “templates” on the plaid:  1) the orientation of the plaid vertically and 2) the correct placement of the hemline on the grid of the plaid and making this placement work with the position of the waistline and neckline.  

I thought the wider, darker part of each woven “block” on the plaid should be oriented to the bottom of the dress, which I believe is apparent above.  

I find, when working with plaid, it is very important to have the hemline determined before you cut out your fabric.  Visually it is more appealing if the hem does not cut a block of the plaid directly in half or, especially with smaller plaids, end right at the edge of a block.  I think it looks better if there is a bit of a “float” around the bottom of the dress to anchor the bottommost blocks. (Larger plaids have their own considerations. Look at the art on the pattern envelope above to observe this.)

The red “band” at the hemline serves as this “float.”

One of the design features of this dress is the kick pleat, which has its origin in the back seam starting at the bottom of the zipper.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to work the lining around this, but I also thought I could probably figure it out.

The instruction diagram shows the kick pleat quite well.
I angled the raw edges to finish the bottom edge of the seam.
Here is the finished kick pleat.

I loved that fact that this type of kick pleat made the perfect setting for a lapped zipper, shown below.  

The left side is pressed slightly to the middle to accommodate a lapped zipper.

You will notice this dress has two shaping darts on either side of the front panel, in addition to the bust darts.  The back has one shoulder dart and one shaping dart on either side.  

All these darts make for such a lovely fit. In addition, I used a trick I have learned from Susan Khalje. Instead of sewing the bust dart into the side seam, I allowed it to float free, stitching the seam above and below the dart. I did this for both the fashion fabric and the lining. Using this method provides more ease to the bust.

This photo shows what I did with the side seam at the bust dart.

I did lower the neckline by about ½ inch, and I cut the shoulders in by about an inch on either side.  These changes just seemed to look better on me, as determined by my muslin (toile).  

I lined the dress in black silk crepe de chine. (I find almost all my lining silk at Emma One Sock.)  When it came to the kick pleat, I found that a slanted seam below the end of the zipper was necessary to divide the lining between the two sides of the kick pleat. 

Black is so difficult to photograph, but hopefully the angle is apparent.

 I have no idea how to explain what I did to finish the lining in this area.  Just know that whatever I did – worked!  I ended up with no lumps and no restriction on the functionality of the pleat.  

How lovely to have a label for this vintage wool.

This dress was such a fun project.  I loved working with such a beautiful wool and such a beautiful pattern.  There will be more such sheath dresses in my future. 

I now would like to make a black jacket to wear with this dress; I do have a small amount of fabric remaining to use as trim in some way…

So now, how about you?  Have you started the new year in Vogue? I hope so!

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Filed under couture construction, fabric labels, Hems, Linings, Mid-Century style, Pattern Art, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Visionary or Illusionary? Sewing in 2021

Every January I take some time to think about my sewing plans for the year ahead.  I make my “project” list, which usually includes at least one or more items which never made it to the cutting table in the previous 12 months and simply transfer from last year to this year.  My list includes those things which are “traditions” such as Christmas dresses and birthday dresses for my two granddaughters.   It includes any home decorator sewing I’d like to accomplish, and it usually includes at least one project that is “just for the fun of it,” meaning I have no occasion in sight for it or no need for it, but I just want to make it.  The rest of the things on my list are pieces I know I will wear and which will be good additions to my wardrobe.    So, I guess one could call this list my sewing vision for the year.  

What has me tripped up this year is the fact that several of the dresses I made during 2020 sadly have yet to be worn.  When there is no occasion to dress up, it is difficult to justify making more such dresses.  I would like to think 2021 will become a year of parties, and dinner parties and cocktail parties, but this may be illusionary thinking.  Because everything still seems to be in limbo, I have resorted to the tried and true for much on my list.

These include: 

  • At least six blouses!  I know I posted last summer about “too many blouses,” but the fact is that I love to wear blouses, and as long as I keep finding blouse fabric I love, I will keep making blouses, as boring as that may seem.
  • Dresses for my granddaughters.  Although 2020’s Holiday/Christmas dresses were “scrubbed,” as they had no place to wear them, I already have fabric selected for these 2021 dresses.  I did, however, sew Christmas gifts for my girls in 2020, making American Girl doll clothes for one and this dress for the younger one:
I have to say my granddaughter looks adorable in this dress!
I found this finely woven cotton fabric at Britex Fabrics several years ago, and I was saving it for a special reason. The pink rick rack is vintage, all cotton, and the buttons are also vintage. The collar and cuffs are in a linen cotton blend.
  • Linen pants???  I rarely make pants, but I think I will attempt a pair this summer.
  • A skirt out of Liberty Lawn, to wear with a white blouse.
  • Two wool sheath dresses, about as fancy as I dare to get this year, with the hope that I’ll find a reason to wear them.
  • Two … aprons!  Why not?  They are fun to make and certainly useful. And I can use some excess fabric left over from past projects for these.
  • Whatever else strikes my fancy, which leaves a lot of options.  
From left to right: pink cotton for a blouse, Liberty Lawn for a skirt, Liberty Lawn for a blouse
From left to right: Boucle for I’m not sure what yet, Herringbone weave wool cashmere for a sheath dress, vintage Forstmann wool also for a sheath, vintage Viyella for a winter blouse, checked flannel, also for a winter blouse.

As always, I am planning to restrain from purchasing too many new fabrics, hoping instead to use  fabrics from my stored collection. (Wish me luck on that!)  Indeed, my first make, a “Jaron Shirt” made in support of fellow dressmaker, Andrea Birkan, who tragically lost her son last year, is constructed with two fabrics several years in my fabric closet.  Details on this shirt can be found on my Instagram page @fiftydresses.  

I will end this post with a postscript to my last post on a piece of vintage Forstmann wool (which, as noted above, will be one of my two sheath dresses in 2021.)  The story continues, as identical examples of the label accompanying my fabric have surfaced, all with a date from the late 1940s.  When I look at my wool, I have a difficult time envisioning it as being as early as the late ‘40s.  Although I have no reason to believe the label does not belong to the piece of wool I have, this discovery has initiated more questions than answers.  That is not unlike my expectations for 2021 sewing – it is a mystery whose ending has yet to be written. Whoever knew sewing could be so full of intrigue? 

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Filed under Liberty cotton, Sewing for children, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, woolens

A Fabric and Its Label

Find me a beautiful vintage fabric, accompanied by its original label, and I will tell its story. 

 
What started off as a simple eBay purchase evolved into something quite unexpected, with secrets and history to reveal. It is all about this piece of vintage Forstmann wool, purchased within the last two years.  

This wool is 56″ wide and I have 1 1/3 yards, just enough for either a skirt or a simple dress.

I was drawn to its vibrant plaid combination of red and green and black and white.  An extra bonus was its attached label and famous brand name.  I was familiar with Forstmann woolens from the time I was a child in the 1950s, and I was aware of its renowned quality.  But I was quite unprepared for the reality of my purchase.  

Immediately upon opening the package, I was struck with two things:  the saturation of the colors and the buttery softness and easy hand of the wool.  I was thrilled with my purchase, and carefully placed it away in my fabric closet, intending to think about it until I had a plan in place.   I would occasionally get it out to admire it, so I felt I was quite familiar with it.  However, it was not until this past Spring when I suddenly realized it was an uneven plaid.  Having just agonized over a dress made from an uneven Linton tweed plaid, and having by this time determined that I wanted to make a sheath dress from this wool, I had one of those dreaded “uh-oh” moments.  My plan seemed to be self-destructing.  An uneven plaid would not do for such a dress.

And then I did something I had yet to do – I opened out the full expanse of the yardage.  That was when I realized the brilliance of the woolen manufacturer.  The wool was loomed with a right and left side, with a center “panel,“ making it possible to have an even orientation of the plaid. Thus, I would be able to balance the plaid on the front and also on the back of the dress I hoped to make.

In the center of this photo is the center point of the wool, with half the width to one side and half to the outer side. Absolutely brilliant.
Here is a close-up, in which the lovely herringbone weave is also beautifully apparent.

With this exciting discovery, I then wanted to know more about when this fabric was manufactured.  I knew that Forstmann Woolen Company had advertised in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I also knew Forstmann woolens were often the fabrics of choice for fashions displayed in the magazine.  A little bit of perusing and detective work helped me narrow down an approximate span of years for the production of my wool.

This full-page advertisement from the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features the label current at that time.  It is probably a precursor to the label I received with my wool.  

I love this ad for many reasons, but especially for the red coat. Isn’t it just so elegant?

I found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:

This has to be one of my favorite magazine covers of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines I have.

The inside front cover from October/November 1959 is once again a full-page ad for Forstmann.  The label shown is similar to mine, but not exact. 

This label is another variation, without the descriptive phrase “100% Virgin Wool.” Again, this ad has beautiful depictions of wool, with Vogue patterns chosen for each of them.

It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.  

This ad was prominently placed on the inside front cover of the October/November 1960 edition of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Proof of this partnership was quite apparent by the second half of 1962.  The label featured in this ad actually has Stevens Fabrics woven into the logo.  

From the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

My best guess, from the above references, is that my piece of fabric was manufactured in the second half of the decade of the 1950s.  I have always considered that span of years as the golden age of American fashion.  My fortunate purchase reinforces the knowledge for me of the excellence of design, quality and craftsmanship available to the home sewing industry at that time.  Now – it is up to me to do justice to this piece of Forstmann wool. Amazingly, and with good fortune, the story of this fabric continues some 65 years after its manufacture. 

And here’s to a new year – 2021 – with its own secrets and stories to reveal. May they all be happy ones, waiting to be discovered and shared . . .

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Filed under fabric labels, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

A December Tradition

Is there any month more steeped in tradition than December?  I think not.  It is important to remember that traditions, according to Webster, are “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice,” and therefore, they help to define our lives.  Suspending tradition goes contrary to our desires and our goals and our self-expression.  

I suspect most of you are having to suspend some of your December/Holiday/Christmas traditions this year, as am I.  So I was pleased to see that Pantone has once again continued their tradition of introducing the Color of the Year for the year to come, 2021.  In a vote of confidence – and perhaps because we need to be thinking expansively in the year to come – their color of the year is actually two colors, Ultimate Gray (PANTONE 17-5104) and Illuminating (PANTONE 13-0647), a vibrant yellow.  This gray is “emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”  “Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power.”  

Here is a very “illuminating” yellow silk taffeta jacket I made back in 2016.
And an “ultimate” soft gray cashmere coat, also made in 2016.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, talks about this color combination:  “ The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude.  Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives resilience and hope.  We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”  

As one who loves both yellow and gray, and as one who has sewn with both colors over the years, as detailed above, this choice sent me to my pattern collection, where I quickly found examples of gray and yellow pattern art from years past.  Here are two:

I also went to Christian Dior’s Little Dictionary of Fashion to read, once again, his take on gray and yellow.  

Some of the language and expressions in this little book seem a bit old-fashioned, but it contains a wealth of information and advice.

About Gray:  “The most convenient, useful and elegant neutral color.  ….There is nothing more elegant than a wonderful, gray satin evening dress.  For day frocks, suits and coats it is ideal.  I would always advise it.”  Page 50.  That is quite an endorsement for gray.

About Yellow:  “The color of youth and of the sun, and of good weather.  A beautiful color for frocks and also for accessories and right for any time of the year.  …There is a shade of yellow for everyone – but you have to take the trouble to find it.”  Page 124.  

Cheerfulness, elegance, optimism, fortitude – these are worthy goals to set for living in the months to come – and for sewing – whether or not we blend the colors of gray and yellow into them.  Right now, however, with the enduring promise which defines December, I am focused on the colors of the season, red and green, and of keeping what we can of beloved traditions – knowing that, like finding that perfect yellow, we have to take the trouble to make this holiday season glow and sparkle in its own way. 

I wish all of you, my readers, a warm, happy and even MERRY, Christmas and holiday!

From my house to your house, Merry Christmas! (Cavallini & Co. vintage-inspired tag)

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Pantone Color of the Year, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

A Pink Wool Dress

There seems to be a recurring theme in my acquisition of fabric.  I either have more than enough – or – just barely enough.  In the case of this vintage pink Linton wool, I had plenty for its original use.  

Sometimes when I have lots of fabric left over, I just move on and don’t try to put the remaining yardage to any purpose.  But then there are times when I think it would be a travesty not to use it.  And so – this pink princess A-line dress was born. 

I had purchased this vintage Vogue pattern last year. 

 I particularly liked the cut-in armholes, and the princess lines which also incorporate a small Dior dart.  (I have traditionally thought a princess-line dress or coat generally gets it shaping simply from the seam lines, not from darts. Fairchild’s Dictionary gives this description:  “ Fitted dress with flared skirt, frequently made like a coat-dress, styled without a waistline seam and cut in panels fitted from shoulders to hem.” Page 376. No mention of darts, so maybe it doesn’t matter!) I wasn’t so sure about that long center shaping dart in the front of the dress.  However, I knew a muslin/toile would determine its fate as far as I was concerned.  (I also like the jacket included in the pattern.  It has lovely lines and I really need to make it sometime.) 

The line drawings on the back of the envelope show the lovely seaming details on the jacket.

As I suspected, I was able to eliminate the long center dart, which seemed to add more emphasis to the bust than I cared to have.  When I make this pattern again, I think I will make a dead dart where the shaping dart is supposed to be, which should take in a little bit of excess bagginess. Or, if that doesn’t work, then I will take the front side seams in a little bit. I only noticed the bagginess after I had taken a few photos.  Always tweaking – it never seems to end!  

A little baggy….

One of the pleasures of sewing with a plaid – in this case the plaid is strictly in the weave – is the preciseness with which dress parts can be joined.   I underlined all with white silk organza, which gave this loose weave just the body it needed.  Then to make sure I had everything lined up, I hand basted every seam before sewing by machine.  

A close-up of the Dior dart, and the front side seam.

I eliminated the facings and used the couture method of lining to the edge, using back stitching to secure the lining to the underlining around the neck and armholes.  Then I used a hand-sewn lapped application for the zipper.  

I enjoyed making this dress, and I will use this pattern again – I am already envisioning a dress and jacket ensemble, featuring the jacket included with the dress.  And I know just the fabric I will use.  But I am getting ahead of myself – first here a few pictures of this dress and jacket duo.

Dress and jacket together…
I have said this before, but it bears repeating – I love a center-placed lapped zipper.
The weave in this wool is just so pleasing.

And how much of the Linton fabric did I have remaining after making this dress?  Well, enough to make a coat for an American Girl Doll which my oldest granddaughter is getting for Christmas.  Doesn’t every doll need a Linton Tweeds coat?  

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Filed under couture construction, Dior darts, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Red Letter Day-Dress

Red Letter Day:  “A day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.”  (Cambridge Languages)

Day Dress: “The perfect all-in-one outfit, a day dress is a versatile and fashionable way to look chic and stay comfortable at the same time.”  

Any day I finish a lengthy project (successfully) is definitely a “red letter day.”  This dress just happens to be red, adorned with letters, and “back in the day,” as they say, it would have been considered a “day-dress,” although the apt description above is actually from a current website. (DavidJones.com)  

I found this silk at Britex Fabrics in San francisco.
I used this blouse pattern from 1957 as the basis for the dress, opting for long sleeves and the lower bow. I did not have enough buttons to make French cuffs, so I did plain cuffs.

I go into a little bit of how this dress evolved in my last post.  But of course there were many more decisions to be made along the way.  I had to decide: 

  • Do I underline this crepe de chine? 
  • If I underline it, what do I use for my underlining fabric?
  • Do I also line this dress?
  • If I line it, do I also line the sleeves?
  • The blouse pattern has floating, released darts at the waist.  Do I use that technique for this pattern transformed into a dress?
  • What color and type of buttons will most enhance the fabric?
  • Do I make bound buttonholes or machine-stitched ones?

So, let’s start at the beginning.  Because this was a very soft, fluid, lightweight crepe de chine, I thought it best to underline it.  My normal go-to for underlining – silk organza – would have reduced the fluidity of the silk, so I ruled that out.  Cotton batiste just did not seem the way to go.  When I found a silk batiste on the website for Farmhouse Fabrics, I knew I had my solution.

I believe you can, in this photo, see how lightweight and lovely this silk batiste is.

However, even with the ethereal nature of the silk batiste, I decided not to underline (or line) the sleeves.  I wanted them to retain their uninhibited flow.

I clipped the armscye seam carefully and pressed it to the interior of the dress. Then I fell-stitched the lining to the interior edge.

Once I had the underlining basted to the fashion fabric, I weighed whether or not to line the body of the dress.  I went with my gut feeling about this and decided to line it with a soft and lightweight red silk crepe de chine – almost a perfect match in color, as is evident in the above picture – which I purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.  

In doing so, I eliminated the front and neck facings which were replaced with the solid red lining. 

I eliminated the facings and used the red crepe de chine lining fabric to finish the interior of the body of the dress. Here is the right front edge.

I had worked out the floating dart question in my muslin/toile and decided to use them for the dress.  This left above the waist “blousy” and made it more fitted below the waist.  

This shows the released darts on the back of the dress.
Here is a side released dart on the front of the dress.
The released dart on one side of the dress front.

Buttons are always one of my favorite parts of a project.  I simply love looking for buttons – and I really love finding the perfect ones.  In this case, I knew I needed a large quantity – at least 10, depending on the size I found.  I did not think red buttons would do anything to enhance the dress, and I thought white pearl buttons would be too much of a contrast.  But then I found these buttons on eBay:

They are probably from the 1940s, cut glass, made in Czechoslovakia.  The card held 12 buttons, a good quantity for my purpose.  I think of these buttons as “small, but mighty.”  They provide the right contrast, and the faceted surface picks up the shimmer from the slight jacquard weave in the fabric.  I think they are perfect!

I used ten buttons for the front of the dress. These buttons are small so I was able to space them closely together to get the effect I wanted. I always know I have found the right buttons when they look like they “belong” – they do not steal the show nor are they too weak.
The right top neck edge, with a snap to keep things tidy under the tied bow.
The lone button on the sleeve, showing a bit of shimmer to match the shimmer in the fashion fabric.
The importance of the buttons shows off well in this photo, I think.

And finally, bound or machine-made buttonholes?  I did a sample of each.  I have recently started using my automatic buttonholer for my 1951 Singer Featherweight, and I must say, it is an engineering marvel.  It makes such amazing, precise buttonholes.  And although I do love bound buttonholes, I decided in this instance I would be happier with machine-made ones.  

I haven’t even mentioned the belt! I wanted a self belt, so I knew I would have to make it myself. I found a belt-making kit from the 1960s on eBay and used it for the buckle and the belt canvas.

So that about sums it up.  I had just barely enough fabric to eke out this dress (which seems to be a theme with me!), so I think it was meant to be.  Here’s to Red Letter Days – and the dresses which make them happy.  

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Bows as design feature, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Linings, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Fabric Story

Several years ago I found this fabric on the website of Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.  As I have always been intrigued with “alphabet” prints, and I love red, making this purchase was an easy decision.  

At first glance, it appears to be just that – an alphabet print.  But if you look closely, you start to realize that the letters represented are not all the alphabet.  In fact, only 7 letters of the alphabet are represented.  They are indeed only the letters in the surname of the manufacturer, Marcel Guillemin et Cie.  The manufacturer’s name is in the selvedge.  

I decided to buy two yards, thinking I would one day make a blouse.  A couple of years went by and I had occasion to visit Britex while on one of my trips to California.  By this time I had started making Classic French Jackets, and I was always on the lookout for potential lining fabrics for a future jacket.  To my great surprise, the bolt of this exact fabric was on the silk table, which gave me the opportunity to purchase another yard “just in case.”  (I’m not sure why I didn’t buy another two yards.)  This one-yard length joined its sibling in my fabric closet.  I thought about it a lot, and often got it out to admire it, still not committing to its actual use, however.  

Fast forward several years – to 2020, to be exact.  A plan started to form in my mind for this fabric.  And it all had to do with this blouse pattern from 1957.  I envisioned this blouse made into a dress, and that was that.  Decision made!

I used View B for a blouse several years ago, and have always loved it. Why not a dress?

Sitting in my sewing queue over the summer, this fabric kept talking to me.  Although at one time, most fabric manufacturers proudly included their name on the selvedge (and even sometimes provided labels), it is somewhat rare to find this selvedge notation now.  So, I wanted to know “Who is Marcel Guillemin?”  

I was able to find a little bit of information online, but only enough to raise more questions.  The most valuable information came from my personal “library” of fashion/fashion history books, which not only provide me with inspiration but also background information.  Although I still have many blanks to fill in, this is what I discovered – and what a surprise it has been!  

  1. Marcel Guillemin et Cie was a “wholesaler established in Paris in 1930; manufactured silk and synthetic fabrics; still active today.”  I found this entry in Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, by Lesley Ellis Miller, V&A Publishing, London, 2007. 
  2.  The company provided “ribbons, silk and velvet” for Balenciaga (ibid) and silks for Christian Dior.  Each couturier had a list of textile purveyors whom they used for their creations, and it was exciting for me to find Marcel Guillemin among the listed.  Anyone who knows of the post-World War II efforts to revitalize the devastated fashion industry can appreciate what Guillemin and other textile concerns faced at that time. “The French luxury textile industry was a fragile one throughout the postwar period.  To assist manufacturers, the French government gave a subsidy to couture houses if they used 90 percent French textiles in a collection.”  Christian Dior: History and Modernity 1947-1957, by Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2018., p. 69.
This well-known dress from the House of Christian Dior, 1947, was made in silk from Marcel Guillemin et Cie. (Ibid., p. 107)

3. The company also produced silk scarves. A number of silk scarves which I have found pictured online appear to be from the early years of the company.  But it also appears that Guillemin became known for its scarves at least through the 1960s.  

This advertisement from the 1950s with an illustration by Rene Gruau features “Les Echarpes de Marcel Guillemin”

A few vintage scarves with the Guillemin name printed on them are currently available for sale in various online shops and sites.  This one appeared in an Etsy shop a few weeks ago, and I was quick to purchase it. 

 The seller listed it as “probably 1980s,” but I believe it to be from the 1960s when Marcel Guillemin et Cie produced a number of scarves in bold geometric designs.  This one is quintessentially 1960s’ “flower power.”  And the silk is lustrous, of the best quality.  

When I found this scarf, I knew it would be perfect to pair with my recently completed linen dress.

The fabrics we use in our sewing is of such importance to a successful outcome.  I have treasured this opportunity to learn more about this fabric and the storied history of Marcel Guillemin et Cie. 

Of course, every story benefits from a happy ending.  I have still to finish writing – or should I say, sewing – the ending, but with any luck, it will be the successful completion of my red silk dress.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

The Last Dress of Summer

Or is it the first dress of Fall?  It depends on your point of view, apparently.  The Autumnal Equinox, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is September 22nd, officially the first day of (Astronomical) Fall.  Meteorological Fall began on September 1st, marking the point in the year when the temperatures begin to fall (pardon the pun.)  Either way one looks at it, I now have a finished dress which is either late for Summer or just under the wire.  I’m honestly just delighted to have it finished!

Although linen is traditionally thought to be a summertime fabric, I have long thought it is also the perfect fabric for early Fall.  Moygashel linen is especially well suited for this time of year.  Its natural fibers keep it cool for those days which continue to warm up, but its sturdy weave and heft give it a substantial enough look for these days of transition.

I purchased this piece of vintage linen from an Etsy shop years ago.

This particular piece of Moygashel, undoubtably a survivor from the mid-1950s, presented me with a couple of challenges.  First, it was only 35” wide.  And I only had 2½ yards.  Laying out pattern pieces on a single layer of fabric always allows me to maximize their placement, improving my ability to do the impossible – get a dress out of too little fabric.  (Here is another Moygashel linen dress which I was able to squeak out of 1 5/8 yards of 35” fabric.)

This vintage Vogue pattern gave me two sleeve options.  If I had opted for the very short sleeves, I would have had ample yardage.  But, for the seasonal reasons mentioned above, I particularly wanted to make this dress with the below-elbow-length sleeves.  So, I fiddled and figured and made it work by utilizing both the straight of grain and the cross grain for the bodice/sleeve pieces.  I was able to do this because of the allover floral design – ie., no directional limitations.

This pattern is dated 1957.

Interestingly enough, this dress with its cut-on sleeves does not have gussets.  Rather, the underarm seams of the dress sections are curved to add moveability.

This shows where the seams join under the arm close to the top of the side zipper.

I underlined this dress with white cotton batiste (from Farmhouse Fabrics) and I finished the seams with Hug Snug Rayon seam binding.

The buttoned upper back bodice is a real focal point of this pattern.  Being 1957, the pattern calls for “fabric buttonholes” – or bound buttonholes.  So that’s what I did.

When it came to buttons, I wanted to use some sort of faceted black buttons.  After searching online and coming up empty-handed for buttons of the correct size and look, I settled on these carved pearl buttons already in my button collection.

I love these buttons, but I still think black ones would be better …  so I will keep searching and switch them when I’m successful.  That will also allow me to use the “leaf” buttons (I have 6 of them) for something which will show them off to better advantage.

The final construction detail of note is the 10” side zipper.  I used a lapped, hand-picked application which lays inconspicuously below the left sleeve.

It is so inconspicuous, you can barely see it here!

I did not leave an opening on either side at the waist for a belt to slip through.  In fact, I did not have enough fabric to make a self-belt!  However, my intention was always to use a contrasting belt.  I think this fabric will lend itself to using belts of varying colors (red or yellow or pink?) as long as I can coordinate with shoes, handbags and/or jewelry.  That will have to wait until I am home from our Summer location.  Maybe I’ll even find black buttons back home!

I could wear this dress without a belt as well. (But I’m not sure I will…)

One final note about this pattern and dress:  it has to go over the head.  It was much more common for dresses from the 1950s and ‘60s to have side zippers and “over the head access”  only.  This can wreak havoc on hair (and make-up)!  So a little pre-planning is necessary – I will need to finish my primping after I have put on the dress.

And everytime I put this dress on, I shall see the original Moygashel linen label which came with the fabric.

I suspect this dress will go right into the cedar closet for the months to come, as I switch out the wool skirts and dresses and coats and sweaters.  But hopefully, in March, at the Spring Equinox, it will creep out from its dark and quiet spot and maybe even actually be worn!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Moygashel linen, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns