Fifty Dresses begins…

A couple of years ago my daughter, Susanna, asked me what I’d like to do with the rest of my life.  It was a great question – but I didn’t know how to answer it.  I did, however, know what I did not want to be doing for the rest of my life – and that was the “full-time” volunteer work that had gradually taken over my days, often my sleep, and certainly my sense of balance in my day-to-day living.  But it was more complicated than that.  I had to admit that the work I had done and was doing (mostly for The Philadelphia Antiques Show, a major fundraiser for the University of Pennsylvania Hospital) had given me countless friendships, a peculiar source of “identity” and respect, and a sense of accomplishment.  I had to figure out if I really wanted to “give that all up”  – and if so, what would I replace it with?  That was the key question that I could not answer.

How I have come to Fifty Dresses is my “rediscovery” story, a crazy concurrence of events which provided me with an answer to that question which I never could have imagined.

Here’s what happened:

  •  Mad Men on AMC.  The story line is captivating, but it was those early 60’s fashions that really caught my attention.
  • A chance sighting of a book display in a Barnes and Nobel for A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff.  The cover illustration of 1950’s style prom dresses piqued my interest.  I bought the book, loved the story, and it started me thinking about vintage clothing and about many of my clothes from my childhood (which my mother made for me) and from my teens and 20’s (which I made for myself).
  • A random search on Google to find an obscure kitchen item lead me to make my first purchase  on eBay, which meant that I had to set up an eBay account and a PayPal account.  Once those were in place, I thought I’d do a search for Vogue patterns, then vintage Vogue patterns.
  • I started to dig out old Vogue patterns which I had sewn with in the 1970’s and had kept because I loved them so much.  In doing so, I found a beautifully tailored  red linen jacket which I had completed except for buttons and handworked buttonholes. I figured if I could sew like that years ago, I could do it again.
  • I went shopping for an outfit to wear to the Preview Party of The Philadelphia Antiques Show.  I found exactly one dressy jacket that I liked.  It was an Armani (!), it was $1,295, and it would need another $100 in alterations to fit me properly.  It wasn’t even silk!!   That’s when I knew it was time to start sewing again…

You’re invited to follow my adventures in sewing from these mid-century patterns and my observations about what I call the Golden Years of Fashion – the 1950s through the 1970s.


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13 responses to “Fifty Dresses begins…

  1. Charlotte W. Mark

    Love the blog, Karen!!! What a great idea, and so interesting: are you going into real dressmaking for people other than yourself, that is?


  2. Thanks, Char – I’m so glad you like it. I’m not sure where this will take me – but for right now, I’m sewing for myself and having so much fun!

  3. Deb

    Thanks for letting me know about your new blog endeavor, Karen…how fun! I will definitely keep checking in on your dressmaking adventures. It was great to have dinner together a few weeks ago– not nearly enough time to catch up on each others lives…

  4. Patty

    Karen, This is so much fun. As many times that you and I have volunteered together, I had no idea that sewing was a passion of yours. I tried years ago and it just didn’t work for me. I look forward to lots more of this and to finding my own “new” identity. Your friend. Patty

  5. Betty

    I have seen the one of the results of your “new” identity and it was stunning.
    Would love to see more of your creations. I may have some red silk I purchased years ago but never made whatever I had thought I would make for Kim. Will look for it if you are interested in having it. I am envious of your many talents. Stay in touch. Betty

    • Thanks, Betty! Well, it’s a relief to know someone else has fabric stashed away, waiting to be found. Red silk sounds luscious – when you find it, let me know!

  6. Susanna

    So proud of you, Mom! I love you. Can’t wait to see what else you come up with!

  7. Thanks, Susanna! It wouldn’t have been possible without your logistical support to get me started!! I’m working on a new post and hope to get it up in the next day or two (it’s been a busy week…) I love you, too!!

  8. Peggy Garinger

    Thanks for the post card telling me about your blog, it is so cool that you are doing this. I love your style (prose and fashion)! I will look forward to further updates on your blog. Good Luck!

  9. Shirley Messina

    Karen, what a wonderful new adventure you’ve undertaken! I look forward to reading more about you in your blog. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who has old patterns tucked away…

  10. Gale

    I still have your lovely chicken potholder and it is beautifully sewn! Your patterns and the blue and white dress look wonderful – I look forward to seeing you model them! Unlike you, I am still working on what I want to do when I grow up but it’s truly wonderful that you have found something you love doing – please keep me posted about your projects and Happy New Year! Gale

  11. Mary Knake


    Received your postcard today and eagerly went to your blog. Loved it and the pictures. Will look forward to reading more. Now I will have to pull out rolls of “old” fabric and patterns to rediscover what I have.


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