Monthly Archives: March 2012

Give me Liberty . . .

. . .  and I’ll make a dress!  Of course, I’m referring to Liberty cottons, one of the great fabrics of the world.  There is, as most of you already know, more to Liberty than just cottons – they make silks, too, and one look at their website will introduce you to the full range of Liberty products, appeal, and mystique.  It is so exciting to me to realize that this company, which was founded in 1875, is still producing some of the finest quality fabrics in the world. Their most famous fabric is that cotton, more properly referred to as Tana Lawn.  Here I quote from The Liberty Book of Home Sewing (about which I’ll tell you more shortly):

Tana Lawn   Synonymous with Liberty, this 100% cotton fabric has a very fine thread count and soft, silky feel.  New print designs are created each season, heritage classics are continuously reworked, and there is also an array of coordinating plain colors.”

It just so happens that I lucked into two pieces of Tana Lawn, originally purchased by a relative in the ‘60s, and tucked away, unused, into a bureau drawer.  When the contents of that drawer were being emptied about a decade later, I was the happy recipient.  At that point in time, Tana Lawn was only 35” wide, so in order to make a dress or blouse, it was necessary to have a good bit of yardage at one’s disposal, to compensate for the narrow width.  Of course, the piece I liked the best had the least yardage:

I find the colors and design of this cotton so appealing.

It sat in my fabric drawer for about another 12 or 15 years, until I finally made it into a dress for my daughter when she was about 8 years old.

The only reason I saved this dress is because of its vintage Liberty fabric.

The second piece had a bit more yardage to it, but it, too, sat in my fabric closet, until last Summer, when I finally decided I would make myself a dress.

This is the same fabric design in different colors.

I knew it would have to be sleeveless, and I envisioned a simple belted bodice with some fullness in the skirt.  The only pattern I could find which came close was this Butterick one:

I chose this pattern primarily for the bodice in View A (the blue one).

Then I began making alterations to it:  a few soft pleats for the skirt instead of all that fullness; I wanted to add pockets in the side seams; to add pockets, I had to move the zipper from the side to the back, which also made it easier for me to fit the pattern pieces onto the narrow fabric. Finally, I wanted it lined, which I did with a very lightweight white cotton lawn.  Here’s how it turned out:

I did not have enough fabric left to make a self belt, so I have worn it with one I already have, until I can find one I like better!

I really like the back of this dress.

Here is a close-up of the back neckline.

Well, it seems I am always rediscovering pieces of fabric in my extensive collection, and although I have known this fabric was there, it always seems like a new discovery when something so pretty surfaces again.  I purchased this piece of Tana Lawn in Bermuda (probably at Trimingham’s, now unfortunately out of business) sometime in the 1980s.

I still love this fabric over twenty-five years after purchasing it!

I could never decide on a pattern to use for it – those ’80 styles were just too awful.  So this fabric is another one of those “Thank goodness I never made this!”  Although it is also just 35” wide, I have a plentiful 4½ yards so I should be able to pair it with a vintage pattern from the ‘50s or ‘60s – I’m still looking and deciding…  Ideas, anyone?  (Interestingly, Liberty apparently changed their production in the early 1990s, and now their Tana Lawn is 44” wide.)

Now, about that afore-mentioned book:  last Summer I was browsing books on sewing and fashion on Amazon, and The Liberty Book of Home Sewing popped up for pre-order.  Being a complete push-over for any books which showcase beautiful fabrics, I signed up for it and it arrived in October.  Of the 25 projects featured, my favorites are the vintage ‘50s look apron on the cover and the peacock pincushion.

This is the cover of the hardback book, showing the frilly '50s' style apron.

And here is the whimsical peacock pincushion project.

What I really like about this book, however, are the full-page representations of Liberty cottons; the Glossary of Fabrics, which includes a little history about each featured design; and the Foreword, which includes a history of the production of Tana Lawn.

Here is one page of the Glossary of Fabrics.

Finally – one last thing:  when I purchased my Liberty fabric in Bermuda, this label came with it:

This tag is small, but packs a powerful message! I'll definitely be sewing it into whatever dress I eventually make.

What is it about a label that can give a fabric or pattern purchase – and ultimately the finished garment – its own persona?  How can something so small add so much validation and completeness to the dressmaker’s labor of love?

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Filed under 1980's dress patterns, Liberty cotton, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized

Shopping in my (cedar) closet.

In the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, most well appointed ladies’ closets contained at least one dress or suit made from Moygashel linen.  The cachet around this product of Ireland was legendary:  it was touted as crease resistant, made so by  a special process in its manufacture which used soft rainwater from the streams in the Mourne Mountains of northern Ireland.    It has many virtues, including:

1)   it was available in many beautiful solid colors…

2)   and in amazing prints, which by themselves are like mini works of art….

3)   and in embroidered designs, which are still today instantly recognizable as Moygashel.

4)   It is machine washable.

5)   It does not wrinkle, truly!!

6)   It lasts and lasts.

It’s no wonder that designers and high-end ready-to-wear garment manufacturers used Moygashel linen and proudly displayed the name of Moygashel along with, and in addition to, their own labels.

Luckily for the home sewer and dressmaker, Moygashel linen was also available in yardage at the finest fabric stores and departments.  Obviously home sewers took to it readily.  Artful, full-page ads for Moygashel linen in sewing and pattern magazines were commonplace.  Here are a few that were given up-front placement in issues of the Vogue Pattern Book magazine from various dates in the ‘60s:

This ad was featured in the February/March 1961 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine. The dress illustrated is a Vogue pattern from the designer series. I love that this ad shows 5 different linens available for purchase.

This ad appeared in the February/March 1963 issue of Vogue pattern Book. It has such a sophisticated look to it, which was a hallmark of Moygashel ads.

Occasionally Moygashel ads would feature a real model, such as this one from the April/May 1963 issue of Vogue pattern Book.

As I am a big fan of the color pink, I'm particularly fond of the linens featured in this ad from the February/March 1964 Vogue Pattern Book.

As I began to do more and more serious sewing for myself in the late ‘60s, I, too, took notice of Moygashel linen, which started my long love-affair with it.  I was even fortunate enough to purchase a few select pieces in the 70’s: I made dresses and suits and skirts, most of which I no longer have.  However, my current renewed interest in sewing and mid-century fashion and patterns led me to my cedar closet with a fresh eye.  So what did I find in that fragrant repository of out-of-season, out-of-date, and too-sentimental-to-give-away clothing ?  In reverse chronological order, here are three Moygashel treasures:

1)   Carefully packed away in a box I found an almost-completed jacket and unfinished skirt, complete with pattern and pins and thread.  Here is the pattern, which is from 1981:

The jacket of this pattern looks just as stylish today as it did in 1981. I'm not sure why I never finished it three decades ago.

Last Spring I (finally) completed the jacket, with buttons and a few stitches here and there,  and it is now a valued member of my Spring and Summer wardrobe.  I’ll probably recycle the skirt fabric into something else, still to be determined.

I am also a big fan of the color red, so I couldn't be more pleased that I chose this red for this jacket so many years ago.

Here is a close-up of my 1981 jacket. I hope you can see the beautiful quality of the linen.

2)  My mother-in-law was a lady of great taste in clothes, and although she did not sew, she would occasionally have her “dear little German dressmaker” make something special for her.  I told her about the wonderful fabrics available at Stapler’s on Walnut Street in Philadelphia, and I believe she made some fabric purchases in combination with one of her many day trips with friends to the city and to the Forrest Theatre.   One of her purchases (circa 1975) was a colorful piece of Moygashel linen, from which she had a long “hostess” skirt made.  I eventually ended up with this skirt, which I took apart and remade two years ago into this shorter version:

The colors and design in this fabric are so eye-catching.

Here is a close-up of the skirt fabric, which is quintessential '70s!

Here is the back of my re-made skirt.

3)   In 1973, I made my own purchase of Moygashel linen at Stapler’s, this one for a dress to accompany me on my honeymoon:

This simple A-line dress, with raglan sleeves, was made from a Vogue pattern, long gone. Ankle-length dresses like this were very fashionable in 1973.

Here is a back view of the dress. The zipper is metal (that really dates me!) which I inserted by hand.

A few years later I made a belt to wear with it, to “update” it a bit, but since then it has hung in my cedar closet, a sweet reminder of years past.

This photo shows the dress belted. The bright, bold print of this linen makes a statement.

And here is a close-up of the bodice of the belted version. I kept all my large "scraps" of this fabric, left over from 1973.

Somehow what fit me in my twenties just doesn’t look the same in my early sixties.  Imagine that!   So this dress, made from one of Moygashel’s classically timeless linens, is in that category of “too-sentimental-to-give-away”.  But now I wonder.  Should I remake it into something I can wear and use?  Would I have the nerve to cut it apart?  Should I be practical or nostalgic?  Whoever knew that the contents of a cedar closet could pose such existential questions to ponder? What should I do?

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Filed under Linen, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

Can you zip me up, please?

This is a completely unscientific observation, but it seems to me that the zipper has made a fairly substantial migration over the years – from the side of the dress – to the back of the dress.  If that sounds confusing, let me explain a bit more, by showing you some of my dress patterns which date from the 1950s.  All of these dresses feature a side zipper, placed a few inches under the left arm and extending a few inches below the waist (or, in other words, these zippers open within a garment seam.).

I love the clean lines of this dress from 1957, with the "yoke" effect which extends into the kimono sleeves. The back of the envelope shows more detail.

You can see from this back view that, although the top back yoke buttons, a side zipper is still necessary to get the dress on!

The front on this dress only opens to the waist, so a side zipper enables one to step into it. This pattern is dated 1957.

The back detail on this evening gown from 1958 would have been interrupted by a center back zipper, but a side zipper preserves the designer's intent.

I love this dress design from 1957, which simply would not work using a center back zipper.

Patterns from the last half of the 1960s start to feature more and more zippers which are placed in the center back of the dress, and by the 1970s, it seems, almost all zippers were center back ones.

This design from the early '60s would work with either a side or center back zipper, but the pattern calls for a center back one, thus showing the start of the transition.

The dress on this pattern is actually my next project! It is a design by Jacques Heim from the 1970s. I'll be inserting a 22" neckline zipper in the back of this dress.

A casual look at vintage clothes from this time period also seems to support this observation (with the occasional exception to the rule, of course.  I actually saw a side-zippered dress at J.Crew one day this week, but it’s not the same, really, as the dress is sleeveless and the zipper parts at the top, under the arm.)

To try to understand some of the dynamics of this zipper conundrum, I went to my 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School book (by Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick) to see if I could find any entry on zippers.  Here is what I found on page 64:

“Center back zippers are like fine crystal:  best reserved for special occasions.  When a student designs an interesting garment and is asked how the wearer gets into it, the common answer is, ‘center back zipper.’  This solution is favored by inexperienced designers because it doesn’t require an invasive change to a garment.  But a back closure is rarely a satisfactory solution; it’s a fussy, frustrating concern when one has only fifteen minutes to dress for work.

“Back closures are a remnant from an era when women wore corsets and hoopskirts and had maids to truss them up in back.  Today they are more appropriate in association with major events.  On her wedding day or Oscar night, after a woman has spent a lot of time and money on her hair and makeup, she is more likely to want to step into her dress than pull it over her head.  A center back zipper implies a fitting sense of occasion.” [my emphasis]

Side-placed zippers are different from center-back zippers both in name and detail:  side zippers are called “dress” zippers and have bottom and top “stops”, while zippers for the center back (or skirts, pants, shorts) are called “neckline” or “skirt” zippers and, of course, open at the top with a stop just at the bottom.  (Skirt and neck zippers can easily be made into dress zippers by putting a few tacking stitches to anchor the two sides together right above the pull.)  Back in their hay-day, dress zippers were available in lengths from 10” to 14”. Skirt and neckline zippers are still available in lengths ranging from 6” to 24”, but they are now called “all-purpose” zippers.

So why, since the ‘70s, have most side dress zippers been replaced by neckline zippers placed center back?  I guess there are several potential answers to that question, including:

1) a lot of us would rather step into our dresses than pull them over our heads even if we are not dressing for a special occasion.

2) laziness or ignorance  (both kind of strong words, for which I apologize to anyone offended!) or practicality on the part of designers.

3) it’s just become the accepted way of closing a dress.

4) the invisible zipper made application of the zipper easier and the finished look more streamlined.

5) Huh? What’s a side zipper?

I’m sure there are lots of other explanations but my favorite one is a bit more romantic…   James H. Boren put it succinctly thus:  “A dress that zips up the back will bring a husband and wife together.”   I’d say that is a “fitting sense of occasion”!

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Filed under kimono sleeves, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

Spring-Summer Fashion Show – A Day Remembered from 1976

I was working in center city Philadelphia in 1976.  The venerable John Wanamaker Department Store was just a few blocks away from my place of employment – and often I would grab a quick yogurt and crackers for lunch and then head over to the Fabric Department to spend the remainder of my lunch hour dreaming among the bolts of silks and linens, cottons and wools.  It was about this same time of year – mid-March – when I saw a notice about a fashion show, which was going to be held at the store.  It was to feature Vogue patterns, and the sole fabric of choice was to be American-made silk.  Well, this was quite enough to make a girl’s heart go pitter-patter; this was one show I was not going to miss!

When the appointed day arrived, somehow I carved out the time from work and scurried off to the top floor of the Wanamaker building which housed the “designer fashions” department.  I was feeling a little young and naïve among the well-dressed ladies in attendance, but that did not deter me!  I was in heaven as I saw one gorgeous outfit after another, all in glorious colors of the most beautiful silk fabrics.  I came away with the printed “program” from the show and have kept it all these years.  Here is the front of it:

The symbol for American Silk featured on the cover of the Program is still used today.

I came away with a couple of other things as well – a Vogue pattern which had been featured, and a piece of American silk in which to make my chosen design!  First, however, a few words on the company which sponsored the Show – and a few peeks into the rest of the printed program.

Here is the statement at the bottom of page two of the Program:

“All fabrics in the show are pure silk and made in America by the American Silk Mills Corp. and distributed to the over-the-counter market by Logantex, Inc.  You will find the fabrics in the colors in the show as well as other favorite colors in the fabric department.  Fashion note:  the identical silk fabrics are presently being used by leading American designers in their spring and summer ready-to-wear collections.”

American Silk Mills is still in operation, but it seems they are no longer producing dress goods, just drapery and upholstery fabrics.  Logantex is still a distributor of fabrics.

The Show was conducted by Charles Kleibacker, whom I remember as very charming and very sophisticated on stage.   He was known as “Master of the Bias” and gave some styling and sewing tips that day on using the bias in dressmaking.  He died in 2010 at the age of 88.

The show was divided into five “scenes”:  Day Dressing in Silk, Sporty Silks, Silk Chic – The Layered Look, At Home in Silk, and Evenings in Silk.  Twenty-eight patterns were featured in twenty-four “looks”.  The diagrams of these outfits are in black and white, but the colors and types of silk used for each are designated in the  descriptions.  Here are the four pages of designs (click on the images to see them enlarged):

Not all the Vogue patterns featured were from their Designer Series, but of those that were, they were all American designers - very appropriate for the Bicentennial Year!

The sailor middy and skirt outfit shown at the top of the page was memorable in its Fire Engine Red, Canton Navy Blue and White.

You can read some more about Charles Kleibacker at the top of this page from the Program.

The designs on this page give a good feel for the various weaves of silk which were featured in this show: crepe de chine, "Shan-Twill", broadcloth, and linen. Shantung was also one of the weaves.

Reading the color descriptions and combinations is totally inspiring.  For example, View 6 featured Shocking pink, Pure pink, and Blossom pink.  Olive and Pistachio were paired in view 8, while view 13 brought Mariner blue, Sun gold, Chrysanthemum, and Canton Navy together in one stunning outfit.  View 24 was a fabulous finale piece in Straw, Apricot, Desert Coral and Wheat.

However, the colors which spoke to me the most that day were the Hyacinth silk linen, the Desert coral silk linen and the Melon twill.  I could only afford to buy one length of fabric – I opted for the pattern shown in View 2, an Anne Klein shirtdress –  and I purchased the hyacinth blue silk linen.

I made a wide self belt and wore this dress with the collar up in back as pictured.

Here is all I have left of the fabric, two scraps!

This photo cannot show you the depth of color saturation, nor the perfect weight and weave of this silk linen.

I remember wearing the dress to parties and feeling very happy.  Isn’t that what beautiful clothes are supposed to do?

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Filed under Dressmaker details, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

Project complete! Well, kind of…

One day this week I sewed the final stitches on my wool suit.  Yes, doing the skirt hem finished it off, and now it is ready to wear.  For those of you who read my last post and ventured a guess on which pattern I used, you were correct if you chose number three.  As a reminder, here it is.

I made a few small alternations to this pattern, including shortening the skirt to just below the knee.

However, I did not choose it for the reasons you might think.  Here is how I made my decision:

1)   With such a bold plaid fabric, I thought a shorter jacket would be a better look.

2)   I thought the square tabs on the front of the jacket would compliment the windowpane check.

3)   The kimono sleeves are such a classic mid-century look that I couldn’t resist trying them.

4)   And, I love a challenge!  Even though the sleeves are “kimono” type sleeves, which means while there is no sleeve cap to match plaids, they do have seams down the middle of them cut on an angle.  Plus the jacket has side, front and underarm seams, a rounded collar which puts the plaid on a curve, and, finally, the skirt has six seams.  And, I needed to make sure that the check also matched, up and down and side to side, from jacket to skirt.  So, that’s a lot of matching.

The first thing I did was make up the jacket in muslin.  From that I determined that I needed to add a couple inches to its length, and I decided to make the sleeves ¾ rather than below elbow length.  Then I got nervous about the windowpane check looking good in kimono sleeves, so I got out my magic marker and “drew” the check onto the muslin, so I could visualize it.  Okay, I liked it!

Here is my muslin - can you see the magic marker lines I drew on it? I sew my muslins using up bobbin thread that's left over from other projects - and I always baste in leftover contrasting thread.

Then I laid out the pattern pieces, and oh my gosh, what a puzzle of matching notches and checks.  I knew I couldn’t make a mistake, so after I laid it out, I let it sit overnight.  The next day, after cogitating on it overnight, I realized I had not properly matched up the check on the shoulder seams.  I made the adjustment, double and triple checked (pardon the pun), made sure I would have the same reveal at the hem of the jacket as on the skirt, and confidently (actually about 92% confidently) cut it – and the lining –  out.

First, I made the skirt (except for the hem).  I like to put my zippers in by hand, as I just think it makes a nicer look.

Here is the zipper, set in using small back stitches.

And here is how I finished the waistband inside:

I bind the raw edge with a soft seam tape and then catch-stitch underneath to the waistband seam. This makes a nice, unbulky finish.

By the way, have you noticed how it is now almost impossible to find a ready-made skirt or pants with a waistband?  Another reason to sew!

The jacket called for five bound buttonholes: one at the neck, on the two tabs on the front of the jacket, and in the sleeve plackets.  (This, of course, meant that I had to find buttons first.  A trip to the local fabric/craft store produced some, which I immediately recognized as “perfect.”  They are made by La Mode, an old button company still going strong after 125 years.)  Whenever I am making bound buttonholes, I like to make a couple of “practice” ones.  Every fabric handles differently, and with this fabric, I also needed to decide what part of the fabric I would use for the “bands”.  Here is my practice piece, which will help to explain what I mean.

Here were two of the three "trial" buttonholes I made. I decided to use all black bands where the buttonhole would be on a light part and light bands on all black. These trial runs helped me make my decision.

It always strikes me as being “out of sequence” when practically the first thing I have to do is make the buttonholes, but so it is with these bound beauties!

Of course, before the buttonholes comes the interfacing. I cut a small square out of the interfacing on the right side in order to accommodate the bound buttonhole.

Here is the start of the buttonhole on one of the "tabs". The yellow fuzzies are tailor tacks.

Here is the buttonhole at the neckline.

Here is the finished buttonhole on one of the tabs, sporting buttons which I think are perfect for this suit and fabric.

And here is one of the sleeve plackets, all finished!

The rest of sewing the jacket was fairly straightforward, just time-consuming!  The collar was a dream to do because there was a separate pattern piece for the two-piece, bias undercollar.  A bias undercollar makes the top part of the collar finish up with a smooth and neat turn.  Vogue Patterns – I love you!

I lined both the skirt and the jacket in a silk crepe de chine which I ordered online from fabrics.net/The Fabrics Network.  This company, in Spokane, Washington, carries beautiful solid silks and other fabrics.  I got swatch/color cards from them last year and have purchased several pieces of fabric from them, all of them lovely, excellent quality goods, quickly delivered.

So here are some shots of my finished suit:

My suit, laid out on my sewing room floor - definitely prostrate from being worked on for so long!

Here is a close-up of the jacket.

Here is an example of the puzzle of matching the check up and down and side to side. When I am wearing the jacket, I want the collar to match up to the back of the jacket. I think I was fairly successful with my calculations!

And here is a view of the one area which could not be matched, as that seam serves as a dart for the bust. But somehow, it looks okay, I think...

Finally here is a view of inside the neck, showing the lining and just a bit of the collar.

So – why did I say this project was “kind of” complete?   Well, wouldn’t a simple  blouse in that same lining silk be lovely?  I just happen to have enough fabric to make one (!) – and I’m thinking about using this pattern:

I think this simple shell would make up beautifully in that beige silk. What do you think? (I would wear it tucked in.)

Also, when I purchased the wool, I bought plenty to allow for matching those checks, and the wonderful salesperson at Britex cut the piece generously for me as well – many thanks, dear lady! So – I have enough left to make a simple lined  overblouse, which could be worn just with the skirt for a variation on a two-piece “little black dress.”  Memo to self:  move this idea to the top of my “sewing to do” list for next Fall!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, kimono sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns