Monthly Archives: May 2012

My very stylish pants.

For several months I was watching a piece of Moygashel linen for sale by Revival Fabrics.  When I first saw this offering, I had the eerie feeling of déjà vu – I was sure I remembered seeing this patterned fabric in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s when I was a steady admirer and occasional purchaser of this brand of linen I love so much.  The piece that was being offered was three yards long, 44″ wide and included a Moygashel label.  The description accompanying it suggested making patio furniture pillows or tote bags with it, neither of which much appealed to me.  And actually, this suggestion threw me off a bit ; I wondered if it was drapery-weight linen, not dress-weight.  But the more I looked at it online (clicking close-ups of the images), the more convinced I became that it was dress-weight.  I finally decided to buy it, not really knowing what I was going to make out of it (maybe a sheath dress…?)

When the package arrived and I finally saw this linen in person, I was – so excited! It was gorgeous – and my suspicions were correct – it was definitely dress-weight.

Here is a lengthwise view of the linen.

Here is closer view of this amazing pattern.

My first thought after my initial euphoria was:  This would make up into fabulous ankle-length pants (worn with a black, yellow or khaki top – and of course my black and yellow Bakelite bracelet).  And yes, I was sure I would have the nerve to wear them!

I laid out the fabric with a black cotton knit top and my Bakelite bracelet just to see how it would look.

And here is the label which came with the fabric.

With my plan in place, I decided this would be my next project after I finished the one I was on.  Then something really amazing happened.  A fashion article in the May 3, 2012 edition of The Wall Street Journal caught my eye.   Christina Binkley, one of the newspaper’s fashion reporters, headlined her weekly column “On Style”  with The Pantsuit Takes a Walk on the Wild Side.

I don’t like any of these fabric designs as much as I like my Moygashel linen!

I’ve never been a fan of pantsuits, but some of the fabrics featured had that same ‘60s’ feel as my new vintage linen.  The reporter rightly questioned how well these head to toe outfits would “play on the streets”, but then she added:

“…at least one mainstream retailer will highlight the idea that the pantsuit can be worn as separates…  There will be more busy pants than busy jackets.  ‘There may be women who wear it head-to-toe – very daring,’ says Sak’s Ms. Sherin.  ‘But for us, it’s probably about the patterned pant’.”

Then, Ms. Binkley suggested:  “The key to wearing this trend is not straying too far from your safety zone.  Stick to colors and patterns you will still love in five years.  And let the bold pattern do the talking – go with a conservative fit if you’d rather not be the center of attention.”

Further:  “It’s probably not a coincidence that wild pantsuits are appearing just as ‘Mad Men,’ the style-influencing television show, is entering the psychedelic phase of the ‘60s.”

Well, my linen fabric is far from psychedelic, but it is bold – and reading this article certainly did validate my plans for making pants.   I also already knew the pattern I wanted to use, one quite appropriately from the early to mid ‘60s!

I really like all the styles featured on this pattern – the coat, the two blouse variations, the cummerbund –and the “conservative” pants.Classic looks – all of them!

Okay – I was ready to start this project.  First I washed the linen in cool water, delicate cycle, and dried it on medium heat.  This way I know my pants are totally machine washabIe.  Next I made a muslin of the pants pattern to check for fit.  I should have done a little more measuring first, as the crotch was too deep and had to be redrawn.  Also, although I like slim-ankled pants, these were just a bit too slim, so that was another adjustment.  I ended up making muslin #2, which was much closer to the final version from which I cut my pants.  However, I had made so many adjustments, that I decided to copy the final pattern onto freezer paper. (Freezer paper is my secret sewing friend – the dull side provides a wonderful surface upon which to draw in pencil and the shiny side can be ironed to fabric to cut out appliqués or anything, really, and then easily removed.  And the long continuous roll of paper is perfect for long pattern pieces like pants, coats, etc.)  The good news is that now I have a pants pattern that fits really well with the slim, but not too slim, legs that I like.

During construction, I tried on these pants about a ga-zillion times.  This fabric was just too dear to make any mistakes, and the more I tried them on, the more I liked them.  Here they are, all finished.

I’d say these are definitely bold!

Here is my outfit, complete with Bakelite bracelet.  (I think the camera angle makes the legs look different lengths??)

A close-up of same, with the earrings I’ll also wear with this outfit. (Click on the image).

Here is a view of the waistband and zipper.

And here is the final touch – the label attached to the inside back of the waistband!

How neat is it to sew something up in vintage fabric, using a vintage pattern – and be totally stylish in 2012? And – I still have enough of this fabric left over to make a skirt.  Hopefully that will be very stylish, too, whenever I get around to making it!


Filed under Bakelite buttons and/or jewelry, Coats, Linen, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

A Dress for the Duchess

Do you ever read a book and feel enchanted by its storyline, or its life lessons, or because it speaks to you on many different levels of meaning?  How often is that book a children’s book?

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about the influences that the written word can have on the process of sewing – and vice-versa – and I have found my thoughts  going back time and again to a skinny little paperbound book first published in 1986.  My daughter was five years old at the time, the perfect age to have this small story by William Steig read to her.  Its title is Brave Irene.  If you sew and you haven’t read it, you should; even if you don’t sew, you should read it.

This book is still in print and available on Amazon, of course!  The publisher is Farrar Straus Giroux.

Quite simply, it is the story of Mrs. Bobbin (how perfect is that name?), a dressmaker who has just finished a fancy pink and lacey gown for the Duchess to wear at the evening’s Ball.

Mrs. Bobbin, the dressmaker, puts the final stitches in the ball gown.

However, Mrs. Bobbin is too ill to get the dress to the palace.  Her young daughter, Irene, takes charge – putting her mother to bed with blankets and tea – and then, with the dress carefully boxed and tight in her arms, setting off to deliver the beautiful dress to the Duchess.   Everything that can go wrong, does.  It is snowing mightily, and the wind is so strong that Irene can barely walk with her large precious parcel.  Suddenly the wind grabs the box and whips the dress out of it.  Away it flies.

“How could anything so terribly wrong be allowed to happen?  Tears froze on her lashes.  Her dear mother’s hard work, all those days of measuring, cutting, pinning, stitching … for this?  And the poor duchess!  Irene decided she would have to trudge on with just the box and explain everything in person.”

As if this humiliation were not enough, Irene steps in a hole buried beneath the snow and hurts her ankle.  At this point she just wants to go home, but forward she persists, ignoring her pain and searching for the palace in the swirling snow.  Finally she sees its glittering lights, and as she approaches it, she sees the most wonderful sight: the beautiful gown is spread out on a huge tree trunk, held in place by the hateful wind which had torn it from her.

So – Irene and the dress arrive at the palace with much fanfare.  Needless to say, the ball is a wonderful success with the Duchess in her glorious new gown and Irene, in her simple dress, is just as glorious.

The Duchess in her new gown . . .

. . . and Irene, brave and honorable, enjoying the Ball!

The next morning Irene is accompanied home by two footmen, a doctor for Mrs. Bobbin sent by the Duchess, presents from the Duchess to Mrs. Bobbin, “along with a note saying how much she cherished her gown, and what a brave and loving person Irene was.”

Here are the things I love about this story:

1)   The art of dressmaking is in full display, with pride in accomplishment and recognition of the intricate, time-consuming, and complicated work that goes into the construction of such a gown.

2)   Irene’s love for her mother and understanding of the immediacy of delivering this important dress to the Duchess instill in her a take-charge attitude.  We all know those times in our lives when we must take charge – they choose us, we don’t choose them.

3)   Irene was not going to give up, even when she thought all was lost!   She was determined to do the honorable thing.

4)   Irene attended the Ball (as an unexpected guest of honor) in the only clothes she had with her – her simple dress.  However plain her attire, her attitude made her radiant.

5)   Sometimes a piece of clothing will take on special significance because of the circumstances under which it is worn.  I daresay Mrs. Bobbin’s beautiful creation was thus for the Duchess!

A couple of years after this book was published, I made a “Duchess” dress for my daughter to play in.  Here it is:

A dress for playing out the storyline of  “Brave Irene”.

Here is the back of the dress, with its beautiful bow.

And then a couple of years after that, I needed to make a contribution to a fund-raiser at my son’s school.  So – I put together a “Brave Irene” auction item, which consisted of another “duchess” dress, this one a little fancier, with lace flourishes and silky ribbons.  I lined a sturdy, new cardboard box with shiny white paper, addressed it to the “Duchess c/o the Palace” (with Mrs. Bobbin’s return address, of course!); placed the dress in the box, with a new copy of the book, and a wool scarf for “Irene” to wear on her journey.   In retrospect, I should have included a tomato pincushion, too, and maybe a tape measure ….

Mrs. Bobbin’s dress form (called a “dummy” in the book).

Whenever I read this simple story, I wonder if William Steig might have been inspired by this quote by Isaac Bashevis Singer:  “What a strange power there is in clothing.”   Indeed!


Filed under Dressmaker details, sewing in silk, Uncategorized

A modern American translation: vintage Irish linen and 1966 French design

I’m never completely sure where pattern/fabric-pairing inspiration and decision- making comes from.  I kind of imagine all kinds of synapses going on in my brain, pulling information both stored and recently learned, which enable me to visualize a particular pattern made up in a particular fabric.  Somehow, most of us who sew  know what works – or doesn’t work – and then we can proceed, or not!  Well, my brain was telling me that this ca. 1965 Moygashel linen would look great made up in this 1966 Jacques Heim-designed dress:

Congratulations to those of you who picked this fabric in my Quiz #2!

I promise this will be the last time I show this pattern evelope!

Before I actually began work on the dress, I looked up Jacques Heim in one of my favorite reference books, The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia: A Survey of Style from 1945 to the Present. “Mr. Heim’s fashion house designed and made clothes of a modest style…” (p. 186) It appears he was not a great innovator, although he was interested in many styles, and his loyalty to a ladylike interpretation of those styles gave him staying power over his 45-year career.

Vogue Patterns started featuring his designs in the early ‘50s as part of their designer series.  It was interesting to go through some of my Vogue Pattern Book magazines and see the progression of his fashions.

In chronological order, here are four examples of his work:

This dress was featured in the June/July 1957 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

This ladylike suit was pictured in the August/September 1958 issue of the Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

Here is a Jacques Heim evening coat from the August/September 1962 Vogue pattern Book magazine.

This ensemble was one of Mr. Heim’s February/March 1963 designs. The waist on the dress has a set-in chevron-peaked belt detail. Very lovely!

The pattern I chose was actually featured in one of the free “flyers” which were available in fine fabric stores in the ‘60s.  It is dated Fall 1966.  I just happened to find this copy on eBay – no one bid against me, so I guess I was meant to have it!

I felt very lucky to find this item on eBay!  Note the hair-do.

Mr. Heim died in early January 1967, so this particular pattern must have been one of the last ones which he designed or which was designed under his name before his death.  His fashion house then only lasted for 2 more years, closing operation in 1969 .

So – now on to construction of my dress.  I made a muslin of the bodice yoke  so I could check on the neckline and shoulder line, both of which seem to be an ongoing challenge for me with these vintage patterns.  Although the neck seemed to be okay, the shoulder line appeared to me to extend a little too far out over the shoulders.   So I re-cut the pattern piece, which meant that the facing had to be re-cut as well.

I had to extend the length of the armhole facing to accommodate my changes to the shoulder line.

The pattern called for the dress to be interlined, for which I chose a lightweight linen/cotton blend.  I basted all the pieces together by hand, kind of in a grid before machine basting them together just inside the seam lines.  I also basted all the dart lines, as indicated on the pattern instructions.

Here are the “bodice/yoke” pieces shown with their underlinings.

This shows my basting stitches on the dart lines.

As I got near to the end of the construction, I was very happy that I had re-cut the shoulders, but I began to sense that the neck was going to be a problem.  After I had the facings in the armholes, I tried the dress on, and yes, the neck was tighter than I wanted it to be.  I cut off the 5/8” seam allowance on the neckline and the matching part of the facing, which made it perfect!

Here is the finished dress.

Here is the back view.

A close-up of the top of the dress. I used vintage silk thread to do the topstitching. It’s very subtle, but effective, I think, particularly in person…

I had just enough of this yellow vintage seam tape to do the neck. It makes a nice flat finish. I sometimes do the understitching on the facings by hand. If you click on the photo, you can probably see this detail. It’s time-consuming, but makes a nice finish!

Finally, for anyone who’s interested, here’s the inside story!

I really like this dress – it’s cheery, comfortable and casually dressy – what more could one ask for?


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