December Surprises

While a life in sewing can never be humdrum, a few good surprises are always welcome. What better month for surprises than December? While my focus right now is almost entirely on getting ready for our family Christmas celebration, four unexpected occurrences have recently added fun and focus to my life in sewing. I will tell you about two of them . . .

Of course – when it comes to sewing, finding a special fabric is always a welcome surprise. Those of you who follow Fifty Dresses regularly will know that I am always on the lookout for exceptional vintage fabric. After feeling so fortunate to find one gorgeous piece of French Lesur wool earlier in the year, I thought my chances of running across another piece of Lesur were next to nothing. So – imagine my surprise when a length of midnight black Lesur came to my attention. Although this piece did not have a selvedge marking, its tags were still attached. In addition I was able to match its weave to another example which I have found in my research on this storied French manufacturer. The weave is a minute basket weave, with almost a stretchy component to it, although the weave is quite tight and the fabric is fluid.

I am always excited when I can date a fabric. From what I can tell, the real heyday of availability for Lesur wool in the USA was the early to mid 1960s. The tag on this wool clearly supports that timeframe.

The date of this fabric is in pencil on the right margin of the tag, 1/14/64.

The tags also indicate the purity of the wool, and they show the process it went through during importation from France to this country.

The lovely person who sold me this piece told me it came “from the collection of an amazing professional dressmaker who definitely splurged on her fabrics.” I have had it in the back of my mind to put a “little black dress” in my sewing queue, so this purchase now makes that inevitable.

Surprise number two is also fabric-oriented. Like many of you, I always look forward to hearing what the Pantone Color of the Year will be. I am often surprised and sometimes delighted with the choice. For the year 2018, I was both. Color 18-3838 Ultra Violet is “a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level.” According to Pantone’s description, “Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now.”

Although I do not wear a lot of purple, I love the color. I think it can be distinctive, flattering, and creative, if handled correctly. It was for that reason that when I had the chance, a few years ago, to purchase a length of vintage, purple, wool boucle, I felt very fortunate.

This is a coat weight boucle, with a distinctive windowpane weave.

What made this purchase even more exciting for me is that this is a piece of Einiger wool, from a distinguished American manufacturer of fine woolens (now no longer in business). It is not often an opportunity to own such a piece of wool comes along, especially one whose origin is clearly marked.

“Luxury Inspired by Einiger” sounds good to me!

From the early 1960s, this wool embodies not only the “intrigue of what lies ahead,” but also the intrigue of what was in the past.

So, what does lie ahead for my treasured Color of the Year fabric? Since its purchase, I have collected a flowered silk charmeuse to coordinate with it, I have picked a coat and dress pattern from the early 1960s, and I have thought much about this project. Obviously, 2018  will be – should be –  the year to make this coat.

Now, if only the “mysteries of the cosmos” could promise more sewing time in the year to come!

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Filed under Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens

Two Holiday Dresses

Sewing for my granddaughters, ages 4½ and 2½, generally means I am sewing two of everything. As they get older, I suspect this will not always be the case, but right now, it seems safe to go with identical sister dresses. They live in a part of the country which can get very cold winters, and the specific part of their state where they live tends towards a casual lifestyle. Keeping those parameters in mind, I decided to look for warm flannel when planning for dresses which could see them through the holidays and into the winter months. I wanted the dresses to be festive but not too fussy. When I found this red brushed flannel check, I bought five yards – the details for adding “festive” to the dresses would come to me, of that I was sure!

I went back to a pattern I have been using over and over, adjusting the sizing as the girls have grown, and adding my own varying design aspects to make the dresses look new and different from one season to another. The contrasting collars and cuffs add interest to the dresses, through the use of various trims.

I have used View C of this pattern for birthday dresses, including the Strawberry-print dresses from last Spring.

Finally I did not want these dresses to look so Christmas-y that the girls would not be able to use them beyond the holiday season. I knew that if I made solid holly green the sole accent color, it would limit their versatility. That’s when I got the idea to look for some multi-color wide ribbon, preferably vintage, which could be used not only for sashes, but also for piping for the collars and cuffs. I found some of the most gorgeous plaid ribbons online, especially at Promenade Fine Fabrics. They have a bricks-and-mortar store in New Orleans and a website, but they also have an Etsy Store, and that is where I found this ribbon:

The ribbon is vintage French, of course (!) – 3 1/2″ wide.

Somehow I knew instinctively that the orderly flannel gingham check and the more random plaid of the ribbon would work together. (I have since found the term for this phenomenon, as clearly stated on page 84 of the wonderful little book, 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School by Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick: “Combining visual patterns – The most effective tool for the harmonious mixing of visual patterns is counterpoint. Scale counterpoint means grouping patterns of dissimilar scales, i.e. a larger pattern with a smaller pattern… If similar patterns are used together [in this case, two plaids], their scales need to be very different. …”) I also knew that making piping out of the ribbon to accent the collars and cuffs would tie the entire look together.

Normally with piping, I try to avoid too many seams, but the ribbon is lightweight and such lovely quality that I was able to piece together bias strips of it easily, and the seams are really imperceptible on the finished dresses.

This gives you an idea of how much piecing I had to do to make the bias strips for piping!

However, the plaid gave me very specific sewing lines when joining the bias pieces.

I made the collars and cuffs out of a creamy white linen and cotton blend, which matched the “white” in the flannel well. I also lined the bodices with that same fabric.

I couldn’t help myself – I put the zippers in by hand.

The buttons are vintage ones that I have had in my button box for decades, just waiting for the right application.

I originally thought I would place each button within a square of the gingham plaid, but it looks so much better to have the buttons straddle the squares.

I added sash carriers to the side seams, and the ribbon just gets tied in a big bow.

The longer sleeves will help keep the girls warm.

And here are Aida and Carolina, after visiting Santa, candy cane included!

This is very satisfying sewing, made especially so by two little girls who seem to love dresses! My daughter tells me they will be wearing them when they go to see a special performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. They may just steal the show!

 

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

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays, Part 3: The Sash

The sash started it all. After finishing this silk taffeta coat last year, I was left with about 1 and ½ yards of that luscious coral fabric.

I just could not stand the thought of having that yardage sitting in my fabric closet, unused, as I found it so delightful to sew and to wear. That is when I got the idea to combine this fabric with the Guipure lace, also sharing space in that closet of wonders. However, my first thought was to make a blouse from the fabric and also use it as the fashion fabric for a lace skirt, knowing I would need at least one more yard to accomplish this plan. I contacted Britex Fabrics, from whence the fabric came, and to my dismay, they were sold out, with no more available to special order. Undeterred, I then came up with the idea of coordinating fabrics for the blouse and skirt, and using the coral silk to tie it all together. After receiving swatches of several silks from Britex, I settled on the bronzy brown and the apricot colored fabrics for the skirt and blouse, respectively.

A sash should really be straightforward, right? Well, yes; however, I thought it would be good if the sash had a slight curve to it to follow the curvature over the upper hip. That’s when I went to my closet and pulled out a silk sash that I purchased from J. Crew years ago. I had remembered correctly that it had a slight curve to it:

I often think of the tip in the book 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School, page 86: “When in doubt, look in your closet.” Looking at something that is “Ready to Wear” will often help you with construction methods or design ideas.

The J. Crew sash is 72 inches long. A trial tying of the bow proved to me that I needed to add more length to the sash if I wanted to tie a full bow at the waist, which was my intent. I determined that adding 12 inches would do the trick. Then I used that sash as a template to make a pattern, not quite knowing how sewing that long, slow curve was going to work (the sash has one long seam on the concave side of the curve, meaning that some give would need to be worked into that seam.) As it turned out, ironing was the trick to get it to behave correctly, as is so often the case!

84″ proved to be the perfect length to tie a complete bow.

I had to piece the sash in the center back, but I knew that ahead of time and it really does not bother me.

After trying on this completed outfit for the photos, I know that I need to somehow tighten up the interior waist of the skirt (you many recall from my last post, that I added what turned out to be unnecessary width to the circumference of the waist.) My blouse is not going to stay tucked in if I don’t, and the skirt feels like it is drooping on me. I am going to try adding interior waist elastic to straddle the side seams and see if that might do the trick. I am not about to take the skirt apart and remake it! And the sash should help conceal any bobbles in the waistline.

The “concealed zipper.”

It was cold and blustery when I took these photos! I could not wait to get back inside for a cup of hot tea!

Sewing for the holidays is such an anticipatory activity, and one that I love to do. There is already a festive feeling in the air here in late November, and so much more to sew…

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Filed under Blouses, Bows as design feature, Fashion commentary, Lace, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part 2, the Skirt

If I had known how lengthy a process it is to make a couture Guipure lace skirt, I would have chosen to make it before the blouse. Here I thought I was getting the more complicated part finished first. Well, I could not have been more mistaken! However, it certainly feels good to have both finished, although I may be in “skirt recovery” for a while!

The Guipure lace I used was some that I had purchased a couple of years ago. I liked the fact that the color from my fashion fabric – that coppery brown silk – would be a good contrast to the white lace. However, I did not consider if it was really the best choice for a Guipure skirt, due to the fact that part of the allure of these skirts is camouflaging the seams and darts. The light weight nature of this Guipure – and its very regular pattern – made it somewhat difficult to use for this purpose.

One of the first things I did was determine what selvedge edge of the lace I wanted to use for the hem. Once I had settled that, I had to decide how much of the fashion fabric to leave showing on the hem edge.

This selvedge edge is marked by some of the small daisy-like flowers in a horizontal line with the larger motifs.

And here the larger motifs are more prominent.I preferred this one, but I moved it up a bit to show more of the fashion fabric, in order to “ground” the lower edge.

From then on, I followed the Craftsy Class presented by Threads Magazine, with Susan Khalje teaching. Here are some pictures taken along the way:

Pinned in place, ready to stitch part of the lace covering the back seam.

In trying to camouflage the zipper, I chose to have a fairly substantial flap of lace on the left, to be snapped in place on the right. It would have been better to have smaller overlays across the zipper, which are much easier to handle.

The back of the skirt with all the lace attached and snapped in place.

All in all, the back of the skirt looks okay, I think.

And the shaping over the darts is almost imperceptible on this view of the skirt front.

I have one tip to add: when I was ready to insert the silk lining, there were many fuzzies and threads clinging onto the cotton underlining. I really did not want them encased in my skirt forever, so I quickly removed them all with a lint roller. Then the lining went in just as intended, followed by the Petersham ribbon inner waist band.

Here is the lining with its built-in drop pleat for ease of wearing.

View of the interior Petersham ribbon waist “facing.”

All in all, I am fairly pleased with how this skirt turned out. I learned so much from taking this course and making this skirt, and it probably isn’t surprising that I have a list of things to do differently the next time.

1) choose a heavier weight – or more substantial – Guipure, with a more intricate pattern. This should make it easier to hide the snaps and manipiulate the motifs in the lace to conceal all which must be concealed!

2) use a lighter weight cotton for my underlining. I felt the one I used was just a little heavier than needed. (It was some I found in my stack of quilting cottons.)

The underlining cotton. A little lighter in weight would be preferable.

3) leave 1/2” distance from the top of the zipper to the line for the Petersham ribbon. I left about 3/8” and I think the zipper is a little squashed at the waistline.

4) when I tried on the skirt midway through to doublecheck on the fit, I thought the waist was a little snug, so I added 3/8”. But once the skirt was finished, I found I really did not need the extra fullness. So next time, I’ll keep my original measurement! Hopefully I won’t need suspenders to keep the skirt from falling down.

5) next time I will definitely use a more exciting lining. I think this one is dull.

Now I have one more small thing to make for this outfit (with full pictures to come.)  But I have small on the brain right now as I need to do some sewing for my little granddaughters, making for a fierce competiton in my sewing room. I believe multi-tasking will be on the agenda.

 

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Filed under couture construction, Lace, Linings, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

C is for Couture . . .

. . . And Courage. I guess “C” could also be for Craftsy, come to think of it. Although I thought I would be writing only one post solely devoted to my guipure lace skirt (when finished!), I really feel the need to address my progress and the Craftsy course which is leading the way for me.

When, just a few months ago, Craftsy announced a new class by Susan Khalje, The Couture Lace Skirt, presented by Threads Magazine where Susan is a Contributing Editor, I jumped at it. Susan has not only written about these skirts in Threads Magazine (November 2014, number 175), she has also developed her own skirt pattern – with one view expressly intended for a guipure lace skirt – and, of course, she teaches the construction of these skirts in her own classes, too. Now with this class on Craftsy, there is ample reason to feel confident in plunging ahead with the construction of one of these elegant skirts.

View C is the version intended for use with Guipure lace. Although this looks like a simple straight skirt, there are subtle details which make it a step above ordinary. For example, the side seams are set slightly back from the front. There is slight fullness built in at the hip; not enough to be noticeable, but enough to make it more comfortable for wearing. This pattern is available on Susan’s website.

I knew I could not go wrong with this course, but it is even better than I imagined. To look at one of these skirts, one could never imagine the amount of work in something with such a simple silhouette. About halfway through the lessons, it dawned on me that there are quite a few similarities between making one of these skirts and making a classic French jacket. Both have very specific, and unusual, construction techniques. Both defy many of the normal sewing rules. Both have a tremendous amount of handwork involved. And both garments go through a really messy stage – almost chaotic! – before emerging in their final manifestation.

Here is one of the skirts illustrated in the Threads article from November 2014.

The course has ten parts, and although it is a couture sewing course, Susan’s directions can be implemented by someone with no couture construction experience. However, patience is a must. She walks you through the making and fitting of a toile, followed by preparation of the underlining and fashion fabric (the fabric which peeks through the lace, usually silk charmeuse), then the sewing of the side seams (only) and hem. I had never worked on a skirt where the back seam is not sewn until so far into the construction process, but such is necessary to provide a flat surface on which to shape and attach the lace overlay.

Another example of one of these skirts, from the Threads article.

This is where Courage comes in. Shaping the lace to lie properly on curves and darts requires a good amount of snipping and clipping and cutting of the lace! This is not for the faint of heart, but once you get into the process, it really is logical and even captivating. Besides, as Susan says, if you make a mistake, you can always patch!

A detail from my skirt, with the lace pinned and ready to attach.

This is also the part that looks somewhat chaotic, with great flaps of lace waiting to be tamed, and a crazy network of tiny stitches emerging on the underlining, but invisible on top.

One section of the underlining cotton showing the maze of stitching required to attach the lace to the top of the skirt. Leaving the basting stitches in helps to orient the lace properly.

I am about ready to insert the hand-picked zipper, which will be hidden when finished.

Ready for inserting the zipper. This is a good example of the flaps of lace which still need to be “tamed.”

What an interesting process this has been so far. Susan has so much sewing wisdom to impart, and she does it in such an engaging way, that it is like having your own personal couture teacher right by your side. If you have ever admired these skirts and thought about making one, you will find this course to be invaluable!  More on my skirt to follow in the next post on Fifty Dresses.

These opinions are my own. I purchased my subscription to the course on Craftsy and have no affiliation with the company.  

 

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Filed under couture construction, Lace, sewing classes, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

A Three-Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part One, The Blouse

“Today blouses are not worn quite as much as they used to be and I think it is a pity.” So said Christian Dior in 1954. With that in mind, hopefully he would have approved of this Vogue blouse pattern from 1958:

You have already seen my toile of this blouse, where I worked out all the “kinks.” I liked it made up in muslin and now I am quite thrilled with it made up in silk dupioni, purchased from Britex Fabrics.

The iridescent quality of silk dupioni woven with two contrasting colors, such as this one, makes it an excellent fabric to use for “fancy” attire. The only reservation I had was whether it would be too stiff for use in a blouse. It is by nature rather “papery” in composition. I was a little concerned it might not have enough drapeability for this blouse, where a major focus is on the softly pleated sleeves. I did a little research, and of course, the first guideline I found was an admonishment not to wash dupioni! Doing so would diminish that papery nature. Well, that was exactly what I wanted to do – soften it a bit. Further research led me to an article in Threads Magazine from a few years back, where, indeed, a reader had successfully washed dupioni in her quest to make it suppler. Off to my washing machine I went with a large swatch for a (successful) trial run. Soon the entire two yards were gently swashing around in cold water on the delicate cycle. It took quite a bit of heavy steam to wrestle out the wrinkles, but I was left with a soft, drapeable fabric for my blouse.

Quite apparent in this image are the two contrasting threads, one fuchsia and the other bright yellow, which, woven together made a shimmery apricot color.

Buttons for a blouse such as this one are an important element. I knew they needed to be special, and what could be more special than vintage glass buttons from France? I found these listed in an Etsy store (YumYum Objects).

These glass buttons have silver accents, adding just a bit more depth to their appearance.

The listing was for a set of 6, and I needed 8 for this blouse. The French cuffs required two buttons each. These buttons were too perfect to pass up, however, so I decided I could use two buttons of another style for the rear-facing part of the cuff. I found a set of little, clear glass, ball buttons in my button box, which seemed appropriate and a good compromise!

The ball button on the back.

For some reason I always like to make sleeves first, so that is what I did. The French cuffs, by their very nature, of course, call for two buttonholes with two buttons looped together to thread through those openings, one on each side. However, I placed a buttonhole on the front part of the cuff only. I then sewed the two buttons together, back to back through the back part of the cuff, with the fancy button meant to thread through that single buttonhole and the other button to be stationary. I liked the idea that this method would hold the two sides of the cuff more tightly together.

The fancy glass button on the front.

This view shows the three pleats in the sleeve. In addition, there is a small amount of gathering which adds to the blouson effect of the lower sleeve.

Being a pattern from 1958, the instructions called for bound buttonholes, of course. However, due to the nature of the fabric, I decided machine buttonholes would make a nicer finish, so that is what I did (with a little hand-finishing on each one…)

The rest of the blouse was quite straightforward.

I took this picture with the sun streaming in one of my sewing room windows. It really shows the luminosity of the fabric.

I am so happy I decided to keep the released darts at the waistline. I think they will work beautifully with the skirt I have planned.

I gave my usual attention to hand-finishing the hem and facings (it just looks nicer!) and marveled again at the finesse added to this notched shawl collar by that small dart in the collar crease. Hopefully you can see this detail here:

That dart makes the collar turn beautifully.

Next up is a guipure lace skirt! I wonder what Christian Dior would have to say about that?

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Passel of Patterns

“Just when I thought I had seen it all…” That was my reaction when not one, not two, not three, but four “new-to-me” vintage Vogue patterns came up for sale in the span of just a couple of weeks. Although I am always on the lookout for any pattern which might expand my collection in a meaningful way, I am, nevertheless, quite particular when it comes to buying new ones. I only want to add patterns which I think I will use at some point, even if it is just one detail which I might combine with another pattern. But I admit to having certain proclivities which seem to guide (no, sabotage) my pattern collecting – such as coats. I am complete mush in the face of a beautiful coat pattern! Another weakness is cocktail dresses and ensembles, especially ones with little jackets. Oh, I do love a classy cocktail dress! So, is it any wonder, that when these four patterns came “on the market,” I put considerable effort into trying to make them mine? And I hope that, even if you would never see yourself using a vintage pattern, you might still find much to admire in these beauties.

If you follow me on Instagram (@fiftydresses), you have already had a sneak peek at the first pattern.

The description reads: “Slim dress has flange with front draping. Narrow shoulder straps. Short jacket with below elbow length kimono sleeves has crossed over fronts. Left shoulder scarf is joined to front shoulder.”

Lots of pattern pieces as you can see in the diagram.

The front draping and the left shoulder scarf, adding back interest, put this ensemble on a notch well above ordinary.

This Vogue Couturier Design by Ronald Paterson was next to come on the market, at which time I happened to be traveling. Of course, that did not discourage me from keeping at the important business at hand, i.e. pattern collecting.  I felt very fortunate to have the winning bid, tucked in between airline flights!

This coat is a perfect example of what is known as a “dressmaker coat.”

I was initially drawn to the blouse pattern, which has such a demure, ladylike feel to it, but, of course, the coat with its lovely collar and flattering seaming completely won me over.

The description reads: “Narrow, semi-fitted coat has curved seaming at back of waistline. Small, shaped collar; long sleeves, four fake welt pockets [I can live with that, or perhaps eliminate them…] Fly-front, tuck-in blouse has kimono sleeves in front, set-in at back. Trim-stitching on shaped neckline and sleeve bands. Slim skirt.”

The long darts in the coat sleeves are an unusual detail, and notice the four neck darts on both the coat and the blouse.  These vintage patterns give so much useful information on the backs of their envelopes.

No sooner had the last pattern appeared than another one from the same decade came to my attention. From the House of Dior, this classic dress and coat have some notable stylistic details, such as the Dior darts in the bodice of the dress and the shoulder line extensions on both the dress and the coat.

The description reads: “Sleeveless, semi-fitted dress has back shoulder line extension and high round neckline. Ribbon belt. Slender coat has padded [YES! Padded!] band edging at side closing, around neckline and on long sleeves.”

If I make the dress, I will be cutting in the shoulders by a few inches and probably slightly reshaping the neckline. Also, the ribbon belt looks a bit too wide, but that will take some more thought. I think the coat is gorgeous.

When the final “new-to-me” pattern came up for sale, I was still traveling! I was getting proficient at keeping up with multiple bids, but the auction for this one was ending when I was going to be landing at our home city, so I resolved myself to losing this one. How lovely when I found out a few hours later I had, indeed, had the winning bid.

I have found that vintage Guy Laroche patterns often have a bit of “drama” to them. Certainly that is the case with this dress with its draped back.   That detail and the perfectly placed, half-looped bow at the shoulder make this design a winner in my opinion.

This pattern is copyright 1960, making it the earliest of these four patterns.

The description reads: “Slim skirt in two lengths joins the bloused bodice at waistline. Loose draped back section below shaped neckline. Three quarter length fitted sleeves and sleeveless. “ I quite like the options available: long, short, three-quarter sleeves, sleeveless. This dress could be quite fancy or understated, depending on the fabric and how it is made.

Once these patterns started arriving in the mail, I was, happily, not disappointed.  However, since I’ve been home, I have been trying to tow the line on any more pattern purchases after my flurry of activity! I have, instead, been trying to concentrate on a flurry of sewing. It’s great, finally, to be back in the sewing room. Dare I say (without jinxing myself) that I am excited to show you – soon – what I am working on?

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Coats, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Dressmaker coats, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s