Monthly Archives: August 2012

Flights of Fashion Fancy

Having returned just a couple of days ago from a short Summer trip, I still seem to have airplanes and airports on my mind.  Although it wasn’t practical to take any sewing (hand-work, that is) along with me, that doesn’t mean I have not been thinking sewing, fabrics, patterns and fashion.  In fact, while I am still physically (and mentally) working away on my “couture dress”, another part of my brain is thinking about Fall and Winter, getting my projects listed in some sort of order.  I’ve started envisioning them all lined up on the “runway” – kind of like planes all queued up and waiting for take-off.  Some big, some small, some already late, others sneaking in before their time!  Which ones will have to return to the gate?  Which ones will be smooth flying – and which ones will hit that proverbial turbulence?

After finishing my current Summer projects, I am thinking the first one to “take off” will be an addition to a suit I made last winter.  I have enough fabric left of this lovely checked wool to make an overblouse:

Paired with the suit skirt, an overblouse in this fabric will make a variation on the “little black dress” – just in two pieces instead of one.

I recently found this pattern, view D, which I intend to use for this blouse.  I am so fond of the “Dior darts” which give a lovely silhouette to a bodice.

I’ll definitely make a muslin of this pattern to check the fit.

After that, I know I’ll be working on a dressy suit, which I need for a wedding and another event mid-Fall.  I found this wool at B and J Fabrics which I’m about to order   to use for the jacket.  I am still on the hunt for a slightly orchid-colored pink in light- weight wool or heavier silk to coordinate with it for the skirt.

This fabric, a wool/lurex blend, has a bit of sparkle to it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love pink – and here is another one:

I have a lot of yardage of this fabric, so I have flexibility in choosing a pattern.

I’ve had this fabric for several years.  It is a wool/cotton blend with the perfect weight for a Fall dress.  However, I can’t decide on what style I should make it in:  shirtdress, sheath, tailored or not?  If I can’t decide, then it may just have to go to the back of the line.

This is a recent purchase from Britex Fabrics:

This is actually alpaca – and very, very soft!

I bought this fabric to be made up in this dress, view A, with the below-elbow length sleeves:

The length of this dress as shown on the envelope is very 1950’s. I’ll be making it in knee-length.

The back of the envelope shows the versatility of the belt, which can be included – or not.  Think of the endless possibilities with changing the belt on this dress, especially with a basic black and white herringbone weave:  it would look great with red, pink, orange, black, green, or even bright blue.  This pattern will give me more practice on the couture techniques I’ve been learning, too.

I love that the drawings include the handbags!

Finally, here is another fabric from Britex:

Another subtle windowpane, this one in navy with deep red and ivory intersecting lines.

This is a pure cashmere wool which I purchased last year in the store.  There is no way to describe how soft and luscious this fabric is.  And here is the pattern I know I am going to use for it:

This pattern is circa 1970.

Well, if all I had to do between now and December is sew clothes, I might get most of this done.  However, interspersed amongst this fashion sewing will be  several “gift” sewing projects, which are going to sneak their little wings into line, along with holidays!  No matter – among other things, sewing encourages flexibility and, like flying, can take us to places of great adventure and quiet reflection.  No wonder I – and so many, many of you –  love to sew!


Filed under Dior darts, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

A Stitch in Time

I’ve been doing a lot of hand stitching as I work my way through “The Couture Dress” online class on Craftsy.  It’s mostly been basting (and more basting and even more basting) so far, but I’m now in the “catch-stitch” phase (controlling the raw edges), and that’s always been one of my favorite stitches to do.  All this hand stitching got me thinking about how I learned to do certain stitches – and I think I just taught myself by following directions on pattern instructions and from diagrams in sewing books and magazines.  There were lots of articles on perfecting one’s hand stitches when I was growing up, such as this representative page from Vogue Sewing Book, c1958, The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.:

Sewing in 1958: including tips and new ideas even for the experts!

This is just one page of many detailing stitches and seam finishes.











Five years later, another article in Vogue Sewing Book, c1963, The Butterick Company, Inc., featured the same basic stitches.

The introduction to this page gives this advice: “If it’s the custom-look you’re after, hand-stitch all details including zippers. But keep your stitches fairly loose or you’ll end up with that unhappy, puckered home-made look.”

It seems there can never be too much of a good thing, as evidenced by a February/March 2008 article in Threads magazine, by Kenneth D. King, entitled “Master the Hand Stitch: Learn the fine, invisible stitches that are the hallmarks of couture sewing.” This article is especially informative, with photographs and expert tips, all of which serve the modern amateur dressmaker so well.

So – how did our grandmothers and great-grandmothers learn the stitches and sewing techniques that are so readily available to us?  Many of them made their own sewing/stitching “example” books in “finishing school”.  My husband’s grandmother was one such young woman.  I am so fortunate that her “Sewing” book, dated November 1, 1907, is in my possession now.  She would have been fourteen years old in late 1907.

There is a label inside the book which tells me that she purchased this book of blank pages at L. B. Herr, Bookseller, Lancaster, PA.

Ethel filled her book with 35 pages of examples of stitches, types of seams, and sewing techniques. Every example was made by her, with a brief description in her handwriting.   Here are a few pages from her remarkable book (click on the photos to see them up close).

Some of the stitches represented are:

Basting stitches – three kinds!


Running and a back stitch – notice that she spells it “stich”.

All buttonholes were made by hand in 1907 – and Ethel had to learn how to make them as well.  She finally spelled “stitch” correctly – although it looks like it was struggle!

She has examples of many types of seams:

Here is a gathered seam.

And numerous sewing techniques:

Here is Ethel’s example of Honey-combing or smocking.

She even learned how to make a gusset!

Although Ethel died before I had the opportunity to meet her, I understand that she was not a particularly great fan of sewing, but nevertheless, she thought enough of her sewing book to save it.  In learning her “stiches”, she was quite clearly carrying on a tradition that generations before her had also done.   Consider this quote from Catherine  E. Beecher’s A Treatise on Domestic Economy, 1843:  “Every young girl should be taught to do the following kinds of stitch, with propriety [my emphasis]. Overstitch, hemming, running, felling, stitching, back-stitch and run, button-stitch, chain-stitch, whipping, darning, gathering and cross-stitch.”

Although I know not every young girl now would be interested in learning such things – I suspect there are lots who would proudly make their own “sewing” book if given the opportunity.  (Maybe without the darning stitch – does anybody darn anymore?)

One interesting omission in Ethel’s book:  that catch stitch I like to do so much.

Here is one of my seams in my “couture dress” with the seams properly catch-stitched!

No matter what stitch you are doing – may it  look happy, unpuckered and definitely not home-made!


Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, underlinings

Eating my words.

I never expected to find a pattern from the decade of the ‘80s that I liked, as my refrain about fashions from that span of time has always been:  “Those ’80s’ styles were just too awful”.  But I humbly ate my words when I finally found a pattern (from an Etsy shop) for a sarong skirt, which just happens to be from 1985.

I won’t be making the bra top… And notice the “big” shoulders on the blouse, which otherwise would be kind of cute, I think!

It’s quite obvious where the Vogue pattern designer got the inspiration for this sarong and “bra-type top” look.  Here is the scoop from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion , p. 395 (Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 2010):

“Long straight wraparound skirt made of bright-colored tropical design fabric with deep fold in front, held on by a scarf around waist.  Worn by men and women of the Malay Archipelago.  Adapted as a beach dress style with wraparound skirt draped to one side and strapless top first designed by Edith Head for Dorothy Lamour film Hurricane, in 1937.  Worn by Lamour in many films of the 1930s and 1940s. [my emphasis]

This sketch accompanies the entry for sarong skirt/dress in Fairchild’s Dictionary.

The original owner of the pattern made the long version skirt while I decided to make the shorter version.  She left cryptic notes throughout the instruction sheet.

Here is an example of some of the notes which the original owner made on the instruction sheets.

I made some of my own notes, but I wrote them on the muslin which I made to test the pattern before cutting into my fashion fabric.   I am glad I did, too, as I discovered that the overlap for the skirt was not quite enough for a “street” skirt (as opposed to the beachy/resort intent of the pattern).  So – I made the side panels each about 2” wider.  Then to make the waist still work, I added a dart in the left side front (which is the hidden side of the wrap).  I  made the ties each about 2 inches longer, as I thought they would be more becoming and lay flatter if they had a little more length to them.

Here is the diagram from the envelope which shows the thumbnail details of the two skirts.

I had picked out this tropical-look fabric, ordered a swatch, then the yardage from B & J Fabrics in New York.

Here’s how it all turned out:

Not quite Dorothy Lamour.

A close-up view, showing the ties.

When I was putting my new skirt in my closet, I spied my chartreuse green Tommy Bahama top, which is almost vintage itself, it’s so old.  But, h-m-m-m-m, the wheels started turning and I paired the two together here:

The green in the top actually matches the green in skirt better than it shows here. Just wish I had some green shoes to match…

From 1937 – to 1985 – to 2012, I suspect this is one style which will never go out of style.


Filed under 1980's dress patterns, Asian-inspired dress designs, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, Vogue patterns

Parlez vous français?

Unfortunately I do not – yet.

It is undeniable that French is the universal language of fine sewing.  I have found myself often going to my copy of The Vogue Sewing Book (copyright 1970 by Vogue Patterns, New York, New York) to check translations and pronunciations of certain French fashion terms in the list at the back of the book.

A few weeks ago I picked up a paperbound copy of this Vogue Sewing Book from 1963:

Notice the price on this paperback book: $1.00!

I was intrigued by the teasers on the front, such as “High Fashion Sewing with Professional Skill”, “Profiles of Europe’s Great Designers” and especially by “How to Become America’s Best-Dressed Woman.” (I figured that was one tutorial I did not want to miss!)  What I didn’t know was that the final page of this book is a “Glossary of French Fashion and Sewing Terms.”

One page – full of information…

I just assumed that this list would be the same as the one in the hardbound book I already owned.  Not so!  While there is certainly some crossover of terms (such as the common ones:  au courant, boutique, couturier and couturiere, chic, haute couture, vendeuse, volant, etc.), other terms appear on only one list, such as amincir (1963 book, meaning “to make thin, look slender”), gens du monde (1963 book, meaning “people of fashionable society”), and chemise (1970 book, meaning “blouse or style with manshirt details”).  At least one term is two variations on the same meaning – and very much in our vocabulary today:  confectionne (1963 book, meaning “ready-to-wear”) and prêt a porter (1970 book, meaning “ready to wear”, but with this addition: “more current than ‘confection’”).

I like to think that I began my “French lessons” last summer, when I purchased this silk neck scarf from a vendor at The Vintage Fashion and Textile Show in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  (I blogged about this fun day with my daughter back in January):

French for beginners!

Of course, this scarf has its own share of fashion and sewing terms featured on it:

It’s quite appropriate that the needle and the hand are side by side.

A stylish green dress.

A diamond and a fan to complete your outfit!

I guess I must be attracted to alphabet-related textiles –  like this one, which I purchased online from Britex last Fall:

A lustrous crepe de chine.

The tell-tale selvedge edge.

A design by the house (“chez” in French!) of Marcel Guillemin, Paris, it very subtly spells out that name in the letters.  I have two yards of this beautiful fabric, and I keep seeing it as the lining in a Chanel-type jacket…

It is plans like this and some of those beautiful French fashion/sewing terms that help to inspire me to become a better dressmaker.  Something else, too, is inspiring me to dare to think of myself as being my own “couturiere”: my enrollment and active participation in The Couture Dress, on online Craftsy course taught by Susan Khalje.   I am currently working on my muslin (also known as “toile”) for my version of the class-suggested “fourreau” (fitted or semi-fitted, sheath-like dress).   I may not be thinking in French yet, but I am definitely dreaming in it!


Filed under Scarves, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s