Monthly Archives: June 2012

“You are going to have some new clothes.”

So said the fortune which was tucked inside my cookie.  What it failed to mention was that I was going to be the one making those new clothes, but otherwise I’d say it was right on target. Well, it seemed only fitting that, with this Chinese dictum, and with my burning desire to use those shell buttons (which kind of give off an exotic aura), I should indulge my attraction to Asian-inspired clothing design, and make this tunic my next sewing project.

The date on this pattern is 1958. The envelope is in sad shape, but the pattern pieces are fine!

I had another reason, too, to choose this tunic pattern.  After my last project, the Pierre Cardin silk dress, I was ready for something that did not need to be underlined or lined – and I was ready for something casual and fun.  I might add “bright” to that list, too, as the fabric I chose is indeed that!

This is the swatch I ordered from B&J Fabrics.

Just a reminder (if you need it) that I wanted to use these buttons for this tunic.

I had the fabric swatch sitting on my ironing board in my sewing room when I started work on my “Pierre Cardin” dress.  The pink silk from that dress complimented this silk check so much that, putting the two together seemed inevitable.  I played around with some small scraps, scrunching them around those orange shell buttons, still on their card.  What could be more perfect than making the buttonhole loops and details out of the pink fabric, to set off those shell buttons?  I was sure that would be much more effective than making the loops and details out of the same checked fabric.

I ordered enough fabric to make a matching obi-type sash, as I thought I might want to wear the tunic “belted” sometimes, too.  (In the back of my mind is the knowledge that I have enough of that pink silk left, that I can make a skirt – or blouse – with it.  I’m definitely leaning towards skirt…)

First, of course, I set out to make a muslin.  When I opened the pattern, the pieces for the dress had been previously used, but not the pieces for the tunic.  The collar was universal for all three views.  However, in addition to the tissue collar, there was a collar piece cut out of newspaper.

Here are the two pattern pieces for the collar – the top one cut by the original home sewer.

There was nothing written on the instruction sheet or envelope to explain this mystery – and it appeared that the “newspaper” collar was shorter in length than the tissue pattern.

Here you can see the newspaper pattern is shorter than the tissue one.

Having no explanation, I just decided to use the tissue pattern – and I figured the muslin would tell me what I needed to know.  Did it ever!  The collar included with the pattern is too long for the neckline, so this home sewer in the late ‘50s re-cut it to fit her pattern.  I decided to take another approach: I kept the tissue collar and widened the neckline enough so it fit perfectly.  I also decided to shorten the shoulders a bit, for a more structured fit, and I took the center back seam in a bit at the waistline.  I ended up adding long tapered “floating” darts to each side of the back, too, to give it a little more definition to the waistline –  but I am getting ahead of myself…

As is my method of approaching a new project, that is, getting a few things constructed before I need them, I decided to make the obi sash first.  I just kind of guessed for width and length, making it 4” wide (finished width) and 77” long, so it could go around me twice comfortably with a double knot in front.

The completed sash.

Next I made the button loops and details.  The pattern didn’t give too much instruction on these pieces, other than the length they should be and the finished width (1/4”).  (I should mention here that I decided to put 5 buttons on the tunic, not 4 as is shown on the pattern.)  I cut bias strips 1”wide, folded them in half lengthwise, sewed the seam twice and turned them with a bodkin.  Nice and easy!

From top to bottom, the making of the strips for the buttonholes and details: 1″ wide bias strip, one folded and stitched, one turned and finished! (Click on the photo to see these close-up.)

I put flat-felled seams in the sleeves and added interfacing to the front edges even though the pattern did not call for this.  The most time-consuming part of the whole thing was hemming the ends of the buttonhole loops and details and then sewing them onto the tunic.  But that’s really what the project was about – showcasing those buttons in an appropriate way.

The finished tunic, with the sleeves folded up, as they are supposed to be.

A close-up of the front, with the button detailing.

An even closer look at one of the buttons and loops.

This photo will make my daughter very happy! Here I am modeling my new tunic, with sash.

One more view of the sashed tunic. Picture this with a narrow skirt in that same solid pink…

I think it works – what do you think?

One final thought:  fortune cookies are a little like potato chips (or chocolate!) – it’s hard to eat just one.  Yes, my first cookie was followed by another one – and I was hoping for a similarly enticing fortune.

Imagine my surprise when my second fortune was exactly the same as the first one!


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

What should a button do?

The last several things I have sewn have been button-free, using zippers or hooks to accomplish that all-important task of “closure”.  I’ve discovered I can go button-free just so long, and then I have to indulge my passion for those small wonders, with their miraculous power to be both eye-catching and practical.

I will leave a serious discussion of vintage buttons to the experts, but looking anew at some of my still-carded vintage buttons has revealed some interesting tidbits, too good not to share.  For example, it seems a lot of attention was given to “presentation” of the buttons on their cards.  These Luckyday buttons not only have a sweet lady on the front of the card, there is also a “Handy Rule for Mending” on the back.

I am guessing these buttons are from the late 1930s or early ’40s.

I love this feature!

It also seems that patriotic themes were commonplace.  There is no company named on these buttons, just the American eagle on a shield with the words TRADE MARK.

These simple buttons are quite eye-catching on this deep red card.

This is one of my favorite button cards of all time, the Maid in America. I doubt I’ll ever use these buttons, as it would seem a shame to take them off this amazing card.

This button card is like a small piece of folk art!

La Mode buttons are still manufactured – and still “Superior Quality”, and Costumaker buttons were “made in the U. S. A.”.

Two well-known button companies!

La Mode advertised frequently in Vogue Pattern Book magazine.  This ad from the October/November 1956 issue has the byline:  “You can tell just from the buttons it’s an important outfit!”

An ad from February/March 1958 features a fashion picture which looks incredibly timely today!

The featured fashion colors are certainly right for 2012!

And by 1960, their ads were beginning to take on a more modern look.

This ad appeared in the October/November 1960 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

Costumaker buttons also advertised in Vogue Pattern Book magazine.  In August/September 1958, this ad had the byline “Buttons that are more than buttons.”

This ad from April/May 1963 asks the question:  “What should a button do?”  Read the ad to get the answer!

One thing I know a button CAN do is be small but powerful!  The real truth of the matter mentioned in my first paragraph is that I have a set of buttons which I must use, as they have occupied my mind for the past weeks since I received them – it’s really quite that simple.  But they are not simple – they are actually quite demonstrative, and therein lies the rub, to paraphrase from Shakespeare.

The buttons which won’t let me sleep! Notice the American eagle motif on the card!

I have been pondering how to use them and with what color and type of fabric to pair them.  They deserve the perfect venue for more reasons than one.  They were gifted to me by my dear friend, Nancy C., who, when we met for coffee a couple of months ago, met me with her family button box in tow.  She invited me to pick out any buttons which I thought I could use for future sewing projects!  When I got past my incredulity at her offer, I picked out a few amazing single buttons (which you will see eventually) and about three beautiful sets of loose buttons.  These orange shells, however, sewn neatly to their original card, kept catching my eye (how could they not??)  At first, they struck me as just too orange.  I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to use them. Nancy and I kept talking about them over our coffee, pondering their color and shape, and then, before I knew it – I was hooked.

So you know by now that they came home with me.  And something with so much personality moves up in priority on the sewing list!  You’ll soon see them sewn onto a “Fifty Dresses” creation.   Thank you, Nancy, for this amazing gift, which is only eclipsed by your generosity and friendship!!

A little closer look at these bright beauties!

Stay tuned to see them doing what good buttons should do…  Gulp!  I’m hoping to do them justice!


Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

Destiny met – Pierre and me.

Back in November I wrote about finally locating some lovely pink and navy blue silk, which I had squirreled away after never making it up in the pattern I had purchased for it.  Both the fabric and that pattern date from the late 1980s, and I must have known even then that this beautiful silk deserved a better dress design than was available during that era of big shoulders and more big shoulders.

Pink and blue silk which I had never used.

So when I found this pattern in my size on eBay several months ago, it seemed destined to be interpreted in my pink and navy silk.

A Pierre Cardin design, circa 1970, in the Vogue Designer pattern series.

Specifically, I envisioned it made in the sleeveless version in pink, with a contrasting navy blue yoke (and without the side slits).  I had just the right yardage of navy silk to accomplish this feat, and plenty of pink.  Not only that, I knew an event was approaching when I would want to wear a dress of some elegance.  What could be more perfect than that?  The right fabric and pattern matched with incentive gets the project underway in a jiffy.  My affair with Pierre (as in Cardin) was about to begin.

(Interestingly enough, back on February 25, this article ran in The Wall Street Journal, featuring some Spring dress designs from Victoria Beckham.  Does the look of the pink and black dress seem familiar?):

A variation of the Pierre Cardin dress? No – a “new” design!

Well, as is often the case with sewing, nothing is quite as easy as it first appears.  The pattern called for an underlining and a lining.  (Hm-m-m-m, I thought, this could get time-intensive!)  Because I did not want to interfere with the fluidity of the silk fabric, I knew I needed an underlining fabric with minimal weight, but good stability.  I found just the perfect thing from Dharma Trading Co.:  rayon voile.   I ordered what I needed (and then some extra yardage for future projects), and it seemed like about two hours later it arrived.  Actually it was two days later, but considering it was being shipped across the continent from California to Pennsylvania, that’s what I call excellent service!

During those two days, I headed off to Joann Fabrics to find lining fabric, thread, zipper and hem tape.  I was delighted to find Gutermann silk thread in a pink which perfectly matched my fabric. While a pink lining fabric to match was sadly elusive, I went with a navy blue lining fabric instead.

I made the dress lining first, and it was kind of nice to have this part of the dress sewn and set aside until needed.  I did my normal basting of the underlining to the silk as shown here.

Basting on the bodice yoke.

The scallop detail called for stuffing with lambs wool, but I used two layers of drapery weight flannel instead.  This small section of the dress took a long time to complete.

This shows the underlining and the facing for the scallop detail.

Here is what the inside of the scallop part of the dress looked like before I attached the lining.

I put the zipper in by hand, and understitched the neck and arm facings by hand as well, to make a nice, neat finish.  The pattern called for the lining to be sewn in place by hand, so my fingers were certainly doing a lot of stitching!  About this time I was beginning to wonder why I always make things so complicated.  Here is the hand sewn zipper application.

I love the look of hand-sewn zippers!

Here is the front of the dress

. . . and here is the back.

When I purchased the pattern it came complete with a Vogue label, which I was only too happy to apply to the inside neck edge as the finishing touch!

You can also see the hand-sewn-in lining in this photo.

Yes – I completed the dress in time to wear for the intended event!

The good news, other than the fact that this dress is finished?  Two things – one being that I still have enough pink silk to make a skirt or a blouse, not sure which yet.  The other is that I can start another project now that my fling with Pierre is happily over!


Filed under sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

Strawberry Season

It is strawberry season here in southeastern Pennsylvania right now – the juicy red berries are available at farmers’ markets and local farm stands, begging for attention with their vibrant green caps and happy demeanors.  Although the season is short for these local fruits, it just happens to be strawberry season all year ‘round at my house.

Several years ago (I think in February, 1999 – yes, I’d say that was several years ago!), there was a crafts feature on “strawberry pincushions” in Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Here is the page from Martha Stewart Living Magazine which featured these “strawberry pincushions.”

I was immediately smitten with these tiny treasures.  However, instead of pincushions, I envisioned them strictly as little woolen fruits to put in baskets and on display in various corners of my house.

A plump woolen berry, inspired by the feature in Martha Stewart Living Magazine.

I made three variants of the pattern, small, medium and large, with corresponding sizes of “caps” .  After a few trials and errors, I had a routine in place to make these little whimsies.  First I cut out quite a few of the “curved triangle berry pieces.”  Next I sew the side seams all on the machine.  Then, working on one at at time,  I hand sew a running stitch around the open top.  Next comes the stuffing, which is simple fiberfill, although they could be stuffed with wool roving or even cotton balls!    Once they are nicely stuffed, I pull the thread to close them up, secure with a knot, but leave the thread and needle attached.  Next comes the beading, which is totally at random, and so much fun to do!  Just poke through the fiberfill with the needle out onto the surface of the berry – one loop through a bead is all you need.  Go from one bead to another, rethreading as needed. For the first few I made, I followed the magazine directions for “French knot” seeds, but I’ve never been able to make French knots that I am happy with.  I really like the little bit of glimmer that the beads add to the berries – kind of like the real thing!  Then after the beading, I stitch the tops on, making “veins” with thread.  Before you know it, you’ve got a plump strawberry which will last forever!

Here is a gathering of some of my woolen berries, showing the various colors of wools I used. I couldn’t resist making some yellow berries.

A small basket brimming with woolen berries.

And a top-down view of the same basket.  You can see the “veining” in the berry cap on the far right.

By now I have made so many of these woolen berries that I gave up counting a long time ago.  I have given bunches of them as gifts, I’ve even sold a few, and I still make batches of them on and off throughout the year.   I save any little scrap of red, pink, green, tan and yellow wool to use for these berries.

Then, for a change of pace,  a few years ago I made a strawberry penny rug from a kit.

Unlike my woolen berries which hang out all year round on display here and there in my house, I usually only use this table-top penny rug during the summer season.

Here is a detail of the penny rug. The pattern called for French knot seeds, but I used simple short stitches instead.

While I love decorating with my berries, the strawberry motif doesn’t translate very well into classic wearable fashion  – or does it?  Here is some ribbon I have had stashed away since the early 1980s.

Red and green berries on a navy blue background.

Red and green berries on navy blue.

Here is a detail of the motif on the ribbon.

With just about 2¼ yards of length, I am thinking about making a semi-tailored hatband and bow from it.  Backed by a wide red grosgrain ribbon, I think it could be quite effective on the right wide-brimmed straw hat.

The red grosgrain ribbon sets off the strawberry ribbon quite well!

Finally, I can’t end this post without sharing this pattern from the early 1970s, which I have admired for decades.

From the Vogue Designer series, circa 1972.

When I had the chance finally to buy it in my size from Sew Vintage Ladies, an Etsy shop, I pounced!  While I usually do not feel any great attachment to the fabric and color combinations featured on any particular pattern, this one is an exception to the rule.  It must be the stunning combination of red and green (a la strawberries??) which draws me to this dress, and makes me want to make one in just the same color scheme.  The only notable change I would make is to the collar, whose long points I would tame a bit.

Dare I dream to be wearing this dress by the time next strawberry season rolls around?


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