Just for the Chill of It

Autumn is a delightful season here in the northeastern part of the United States. One can tell it is on its way when the warm days quickly take on an evening chill once the sun slips below the horizon. It is the time of year when a light coat or sweater is a necessity, especially with a sleeveless dress.

With this scenario, and a September wedding to attend, what better excuse did I need, to make a coat to go with this dress?

The Year of Magical Sewing

If you follow my blog then you probably already know this was my intention all along, when I made the dress two years ago. But it took a while to find the right coordinating fabric for a coat. I was looking for something between a coral and a pink. While the silk taffeta I found at Britex Fabrics looks more like a deep persimmon color when photographed, the fuchsia pink warp is very apparent when being worn.

Taffeta coat - swatch

Once I decided the Jo Mattli-designed coat, part of the original dress pattern, was too voluminous, I went to another pattern. I wanted to keep the “intention” of the original coat, but have it more streamlined.

The "original" coat designed by Jo Mattli.

The “original” coat designed by Jo Mattli.

Taffeta coat - %22too scimpy%22

The coat pattern I settled on.

Somehow along the way, in making my muslin, I got the idea to add a curved belt to the back of the coat. I knew I had used a coat pattern several years ago with a curved belt back detail, so I went through my pattern collection to retrieve this:

This is a 1957 pattern, but look at the belt shown on the back of the envelope, below.

This is a 1957 pattern, but look at the belt shown on the back of the envelope, below.

taffeta-coat-belt-pattern-thumbnail

The belt is only shown in view A.

It took a couple of tries with the muslin to get the placement and angling of the belt correct, but once I did, I knew it was a winner. Dressmaker details like this always give me a thrill!

I anchored the belt in the side seams right under the bust darts.

I anchored the belt in the side seams right under the bust darts.

Just for the Chill of it

The curve of the belt needed to fall at my waistline.

The curve of the belt needed to fall at my waistline.

One of the things I like about this pattern is the two-part sleeve with a center seam. I think this design is always flattering to the shoulder. Here are the constructed sleeves:

Just for the Chill of it

That center seam also provides the opportunity for a faux vent, and since I just happened to have three buttons, which I thought would be perfect for the coat, I happily included vents, as the pattern dictated:

Just for the Chill of It

A small, cylindrical, crystal button!

A small, cylindrical, crystal button!

Although I originally thought I would leave the coat “closure-less,” that third button kept calling to me. While I did not want to have a single bound buttonhole in the center of the chest, I thought a button loop might do the trick. If I didn’t like it, I could remove it fairly easily from the front facing seam.

Just for the Chill of it

I also decided to add a loop at the neck, with a plain flat button under the collar. This way, I could close the collar if I chose to do so.

I pad-stitched the collar, but forgot to take a picture. Pad-stitching is like magic in how it makes the collar roll properly!

I pad-stitched the collar, but forgot to take a picture. Pad-stitching is like magic in how it makes the collar roll properly!

I have to say, I think the coat looks equally good any way it is worn: with the single button at the bust line closed, with both buttons secured and with neither of the buttons secured.

I chose not to add the optional pockets to this coat, but if I make it again in a less formal fabric, I would absolutely include them.

Once I got to the lining, I had to decide if I wanted to add the flat piping detail which I like so much. Of all the bias silk ribbon I have on hand, the only one which looked good was deep pink. Because of that, it doesn’t show contrast all that well, but I still like the subtle finishing look it gives to the lining.

Just for the Chill of it

Just for the Chill of it

Here, by the way, is the coat before I inserted the lining:

I underlined the entire coat with silk organza and added "cigarette" sleeve headings.

I underlined the entire coat with silk organza and added “cigarette” sleeve headings.

I love a center back seam!

I love a center back seam!

I used some vintage silk buttonhole twist to tack the center back fold in the lining at the neck and at the waistline.

Just for the Chill of it

There is no question that the dress and the coat go together once the lining shows!

There is no question that the dress and the coat go together once the lining shows!

Just for the Chill of it

I love that the lining peeks out from the sleeves when I am wearing the coat.

I love that the lining peeks out from the sleeves when I am wearing the coat.

taffeta-coat-full-copy

I was delighted when the photographer at the wedding wanted to take my picture because he "liked my outfit so much." (This is not that photo...)

I was delighted when the photographer at the wedding wanted to take my picture because he “liked my outfit so much.” (This is not that photo…)

Here with my husband - with a coordinating tie, no less (not planned, but makes for a great photo!)

Here with my husband – with a coordinating tie, no less (not planned, but makes for a great photo!)

It may seem a bit frivolous to make a coat like this, knowing that it will not be worn all that often – although I do have two other dress-weight silks in my collection which would look fairly stunning paired with this coat!  However,  it really is the perfect weight and look for an elegant, but chilly, evening out – and it was so much fun to make.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Dressmaker details, Linings, Mid-Century style, piping, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

What Color is Your Lining?

Linings seem to be coming out of the (fabric) closet and finally getting the recognition they deserve! I have been thinking a lot about linings lately, as I have been working on a coat, the lining for which was its inspiration.

I made a cocktail dress out of the blue fabric and purchased enough to use as the lining for a coordinating coat.

I made a cocktail dress out of the blue fabric and purchased enough extra yardage to use for the lining of a coordinating coat.

As luck would have it, the current issue of Threads Magazine has an article on techniques to achieving “A Smoother Jacket Lining,” which states “the secret is installing it by hand.” I always appreciate an illustrated step-by-step approach to techniques such as this, and this article by Daryl Lancaster does not disappoint. While I am well versed in sewing in linings by hand, it is always good to read a refresher article such as this. (Obviously, the alternative to sewing in a lining by hand is to bag the lining, effectively sewing the lining in by machine.) I also always seem to gather one helpful tip, such as “Easy access to the armhole seam: Reach through the openings at the front hem to support the sleeve lining while you’re hand-sewing the armhole seams.” But what I really liked about this article was the section on “Fabric Guidelines.” In a nutshell, the author lists them as: “a low-friction surface; a supple hand; opacity; durability; and design compatibility.”

Design compatibility! This means, according to the author: “The lining should complement the garment. It can match or contrast. Lining offers the opportunity to subtly show the wearer’s creativity.” EXACTLY!

Many of us, I think, grew up or learned to sew with the idea that linings should match the color of the outer garment as closely as possible. And while that is still appropriate in many instances, there is also a case to be made for linings of contrasting or coordinating colors, and/or figured designs. In fact, I believe a lining has the potential to turn your garment from ho-hum into tres chic.

One of the best examples of the power of a lining is the classic little French jacket.   Pictured here are the two I have made for myself (with two more planned.) Imagine the one on the left being lined in a plain black or red charmeuse, and the one on the right lined in a solid light brown. Neither would be nearly as attractive even though the lining does not show when the jacket is being worn. As it turned out, I made a sheath dress, which matches the lining of the red jacket, and a blouse to match the lining of the jacket on the right. This makes the lining an integral part of the all-over design of the ensemble.

What color is your lining?

Likewise, this Pucci silk sat in my fabric collection for a few years until I found the right pattern for it. Then I became obsessed with somehow working out a way to line the jacket and make the dress out of the scant existing yardage I had.

Defying the passage of years

An inside look at the jacket with its matching lining.

An inside look at the jacket with its matching lining.

The nice thing about this jacket is that it does not have to be paired with the dress, looking equally as nice with a plain pink skirt. Which leads me into the next thought: sometimes it is more appropriate for your lining to be subtle in order to make your garment more versatile. When I made a linen coat last year, I would have loved to use a deep pink lining silk to match the linen dress I knew I would be wearing with it. I chose, instead, to match the lavender of the coat, making it easier to wear with other dresses or pants, which might not have any pink in them. To make it a little extra special, however, I added flat silk piping to the front edges of the lining. Because coats come off and on, and sometimes find themselves flung over chair arms, this little detail is often seen by more than just the wearer.

Fitting finish

Then there are the linings which truly are only seen by the person wearing the garment – you or I. Is it worth the time and/or expense to create a special lining in something like this? Every situation should be evaluated on its own merits, but I believe this is where the privilege of being your own dressmaker is in full flower. Why not add a little detail or use a beautiful, contrasting color to coordinate with your fashion fabric?

I used a gray Bemberg lining for this dress, but accented the neck edge with green piping. Obviously, no one sees this but me!

I used a gray Bemberg lining for this dress, but accented the neck edge with green piping. Obviously, no one sees this but me!

Here is the dress with its hidden lining detail.

Here is the dress with its hidden lining detail.

Who would guess that under this dress is . . .

And who would guess that under this dress is . . .

. . . this lining?

. . . this lining?

In sewing (as in life) it is often the hidden treasures or small gestures which add depth and enjoyment to the process and product. May your hidden or not-so-hidden linings be beautiful every time!

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Filed under Dressmaker details, Linings, piping, Uncategorized

“Mrs. Scimpy”

Two years ago I made this dress:

The Year of Magical Sewing

From this pattern:

Perfect Blue - Mattli pattern

Once I had the dress finished, I liked it so much that I decided a coordinating coat, with a lining to match the dress would be wonderful – sometime. I even went so far as to order more of the blue silk blend fabric from EmmaOneSock, while I knew it would still be available.   Tucked away in my fabric closet, it has patiently waited while I searched and searched for the right coat fabric in a coordinating/contrasting color and in silk. I finally found it last Spring, during a online silk sale at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.

Taffeta coat - swatch

The fabric is lightweight silk taffeta, with the weft in persimmon color and the warp in fuchsia pink, giving it a shimmer which changes color with movement. I decided it would be my first project after we returned from our summer travels – with the intention of having it ready to wear with the dress to a September wedding, which happens to be at a location where a light coat or wrap is advisable.

All along I had intended to use the Jo Mattli coat pattern that is shown with the dress. I liked the idea of no buttons and simple lines.

Taffeta coat - Mattli pattern

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

However, when I got the pattern pieces out, here is what I found:

Front and back pattern pieces

Front and back pattern pieces

Yep, that is one voluminous coat! I knew that, even with taking some of the bulk out, I would probably still look like I was wearing a tent. With that slim dress, I am not sure why the coat has to be so full, but I had no qualms about deciding not to go in that direction. However, I still wanted a coat with no buttons or maybe just one button. I dug through my collection and came up with several possibilities, which included this one:

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn't convinced this was the right look.

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn’t convinced this was the right look.

I have another Jo Mattli coat and dress design which I love, but I think the coat would make up much more attractively in wool rather than silk taffeta, so I ruled this one out:

Taffeta coat - 2nd Mattli pattern

Then I came across this one: View B shows it with no button/buttonholes down the front. I also like the three-quarter sleeves, with the cuff detail.

The pattern description reads: "Striaght coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.

The pattern description reads: “Straight coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.”  I knew this coat would take on an appropriate dressy look when made up in silk taffeta.

Now –  I try to buy vintage Vogue patterns in sizes with a 32” bust and 34” hip measurement; however, that is not always possible, so I will go up or down a size if it is a pattern I really want to have. When I make my muslin (toile) for such a pattern, I try to include adjustments for the size issues so that my final alterations will be easier. However, the handwritten note on the front of this pattern gave me pause: “too scimpy” it reads. She obviously meant “skimpy,” but those two words spoke volumes to me (no pun intended!) Maybe I would just follow the pattern exactly (except for lowering the bust which I always have to do), and see if the size is okay.

Taffeta coat - pencil notes

And that is exactly what happened! Little did Mrs. “Scimpy” know that her simple pattern review, circa 1961, would save me both time and effort in 2016!

It looks like Mrs. Scimpy made her coat out of red wool, with a matching skirt. Her pencil notes on the yardage required indicate such, along with the cost of the fabrics: $22. I certainly hope she figured out that the coat was too skimpy in time to make adjustments, as a red wool coat with matching skirt would be lovely indeed!

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Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Théâtre de la Mode

 

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

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

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

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

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

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

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

And here is another view of it.

And here is another view of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermes copy

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

Day dresses and suits were in abundance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mode Schiaparelli copy

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

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

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

And who is this?

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

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

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Filed under Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

Two of Three

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

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

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

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

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

Pendleton - blanket on bolt copy

More blanket fabric!

More blanket fabric!

And more ...

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

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

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

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

Pendleton dress fabrics copy

Pendleton dress fabrics 2 copy

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

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

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

Or you could buy a hooded shawl from the catalogue.

Or you could buy a hooded shawl from the catalogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Britex or Bust

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

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

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

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

Britex interior view copy

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

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

Britex boucles 1 copy

More boucles!

More boucles!

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

Britex interior view 2 copy

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

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

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

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

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

Britex wool

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

I loved this geometric print.

I loved this geometric print.

Bold and beautiful.

Bold and beautiful.

I am always drawn to pink and green.

I am always drawn to pink and green.

A real conversation starter!

A real conversation starter!

An unbelievable print!

An unbelievable print!

A watercolor print, reminiscent of Matisse.

A watercolor print, painterly and shimmery.

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

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

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

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, silk, Uncategorized

At The Met

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

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

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

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

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

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

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

Met - Chanel cape copy

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

Met - rooster dress

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

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

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

Met Givenchy Dress

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

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

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

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

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

Met - Dior ensemble copy

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

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

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

Met Chanel suit

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

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

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

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