Monthly Archives: September 2012

Missing in Action – or – Doesn’t everyone shop for fabric on vacation?

You may have noticed that I’ve not posted anything for almost two weeks.  Mr. Fifty Dresses and I have been away on the West Coast, enjoying some time with our grown son, and seeing some of the majestic scenery in the states of California and Oregon.  Of course, one of the best places to enjoy colorful scenery is always in Britex Fabrics on Geary Street in San Francisco.  My husband and son know by now that no trip to California is complete without fabric shopping!

I am all smiles with my newly-made purchase! I am wearing “my very styish pants” and was delighted to get complimented on them in the store.

You may recall that I have been looking for a skirt-weight fabric to coordinate with this wool:

This fabric will be a jacket, and I want to make a pink skirt to make it into a “dressy suit”.

That pink is a tricky color, I’ve discovered.  I’ve ordered many swatches, thinking one of them will be “it” and it never was.  So I tucked that pink and black houndstooth- checked wool sample into my carry-on bag so that I could enlist the experts at Britex to assist me.  The bolted wools and silks and designer fabrics are on the first floor, and it did not take long for me to accept Douglas’ kind offer of help.  We looked first at the wools, one beautiful bolt after another, but none that totally complimented the pink.  Next we moved to the silks – and there we struck gold – or perhaps I should say pink gold.  As soon as Douglas pulled out this silk shantung, we knew the color was right.

Just what I was looking for!

We carefully checked the color inside and then took it outside on the steps to check it in sunlight.  Perfect, both places.  Being shantung, it has the correct heft to accompany the wool, but it is light enough to be used for attached trim if I choose to add it around the collar, down the front, and at the bottom of the sleeves.

I am probably going to use this 1970s’ pattern for this outfit.

Next we selected a lining fabric, enough for a narrow skirt and the jacket.   Those of you who know Britex, know that the store is on 4 levels, so to accommodate the need to move between floors, I was provided this card with swatches of my newly selected fabrics attached.

The lining is the lighter-colored fabric.

Off I went to the third floor to find buttons.  Oh, the choices!    That little bit of sparkle in the wool – and the sheen in the silk shantung – seem custom made for buttons with a bit of sparkle, too.  I kind of felt like Goldilocks looking at the buttons which the savvy “button lady” pulled out for me.  Some were too frou-frou for me, some were too round (and fought with the angles in the weave), some were too sparkly…  but these were perfect!

When I actually sew these buttons onto the jacket, I promise I’ll have them on straight!

With my tasks accomplished, I decided to check out the remnants on the fourth floor, and took a quick look at the cottons on the second floor, but then I headed back down to the first floor to look at the woolens again.  Britex has a very large selection of wools suitable for “Chanel-type” jackets, including some actual Chanel fabrics.  I am trying to buy only what I can’t live without (which isn’t as limiting as it should be, unfortunately), so I carefully considered all the selections in front of me.  You can probably guess by now that I did indeed find one I deemed necessary for continued life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I can just imagine this wool in a jacket trimmed in an orangey-red something – all yet to be determined, which is, of course, part of the creative intrigue of sewing.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

So – what about the rest of the trip?  Lots of driving those great distances out West, lots of laughs, fun, and brews with husband and son, wonderful days at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, hiking without a fabric store in sight.  When one is in such a place as Crater Lake, the great expanse and passage of time is ever in one’s presence.  However, I couldn’t help but think about another passage of time, this one personal: the last time I was at Crater Lake was in 1962 when I was twelve years old.  It just so happens that Britex Fabrics celebrated their tenth anniversary that very same year.  Happy 60th Birthday, Britex!

One more smile before closing hour!


Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

Spending time on the Cape.

Doesn’t this sound like a wonderful vacation?  Picture billowy clouds reminiscent of  silk organza, gently undulating waves of turquoise hue, windswept flowers lining the landscape. . .   So where would one find this perfect setting?  I hope you’re not disappointed to learn that it all happened in my sewing room.  Yes, that’s correct – it has been wonderful, but this cape is the wearable kind, and I have definitely spent time on it!

The fabric in which I made my Couture dress was a length of linen I picked up last April.  When I found it, I did not yet have a pattern in mind for it so I thought I’d purchase enough (3 yards) to cover just about anything, and at 58” wide, I had a nice amount left over from my dress.  It just so happens that earlier in the Summer, I had found this pattern and added it to my collection:

Capes were in fashion in the 1970s and are again today!

I remembered this pattern from the 1970s and always liked the short cape, with its asymmetrical opening and clever folds of fabric resulting from that detail.

As I was working on my dress, I started to think about what else I could make from this lovely linen.  I didn’t particularly want to make a jacket, as I envisioned the dress as the focal point, but I did think it would be nice to have some kind of matching “wrap” for cool evenings. Well, the rest is quite obvious – I decided to make a short cape to go with my dress.

First I needed to find a silk lining fabric, which would compliment the linen.  I wanted a print of some sort to add some interest to the finished look.  I think I looked at every printed silk available on the internet!  I found lots of gorgeous designs, but only one which presented the possibility of both coordinating with the teal blue linen and introducing some other colors as well.  My old friend Britex Fabrics not only had this fabric, but  also had a vintage button among their extensive offerings, which looked like a good candidate for my needs.  I sent off for the button and swatch, and did indeed then order the silk charmeuse.

I like the abstract quality to this print.

Armed with my new-found couture techniques, I made a muslin pattern which helped me get the perfect fit over the shoulders (which is pretty much what a cape is all about).  I underlined the cape in that oh-so-wonderful silk organza, and added  interfacing, where required, of the same.  Some of this was a judgment call, as I determined were I could use couture features and where I had to follow the tailored construction of the cape.

This shows the silk organza underlining, and the side seam, catch-stitched to it.

One of the hem techniques I learned in The Couture Dress class was helpful with this hem.

Call me crazy, but I just love to make bound buttonholes.  Although the pattern called for a 2-inch button, the one I found was 1½ inches (and I thought it a more refined size anyway).  That still calls for a large buttonhole!  I practiced first, then got to work on the real thing.

The finished bound buttonhole

And the finished underside of the buttonhole.

And the button…

I understitched the facings by hand with that beautiful prick stitch, and attached the lining with the fell stitch.

A peak inside the cape.

Here is the finished look (unfortunately on a hanger and not on me…).

Here is the cape shown over my Couture dress

With one corner pinned up to show the lining.

This view shows the lovely draping formed by the asymmetrical opening.

And one more view.

Well, my time on the Cape officially draws my summer sewing to a close.  Now it’s going to be all wools or wool blends and maybe some silks – and I can’t wait!  Let’s throw an extra blanket on the bed and dream of cool nights and crisp days filled with creative hours of sewing. . .


Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Capes, couture construction, Linen, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

Completely Captivating Couture Construction

I just can’t seem to avoid alliteration in my blog-post titles as of late!  Truthfully, however, this title really seems to sum up just how badly I have been bitten by the “couture” bug.  Earlier in the summer I signed up for Susan Khalje’s class, The Couture Dress, on Craftsy.  I’ve mentioned it several times in my past posts, but now, my couture dress is finished.

The Craftsy course included this Vogue pattern:

I decided to make this dress in the slim skirt with short sleeves.

Although I could have substituted another pattern for my dress, I decided it would be beneficial to follow the exact steps which Susan takes one through in her course.  (It helped that the view I chose to make reminds me very much of a classic 1960s–style dress).

My idea of making a “muslin” or toile has been completely transformed by this course. I now know it as the most essential ingredient in the proper fit and alteration of a garment – and although the process of producing a useable muslin is time-consuming, every minute is worth it.  There is nothing quite so discouraging as spending a lot of time, energy, and money on a garment and then not being completely satisfied with the fit.  Making a couture muslin eliminates this possibility almost entirely.  Check out the online preview of the course if you want to know more about this concept.

Here is one of my muslin pieces. The lines in red were the original tracings from the pattern and the lines in black are my alterations.

This muslin piece shows the “blind dart” I added to the neck edge. Susan goes over all these details in her course.

There are several “hallmarks” of couture construction, I have learned: Control, Generosity, and that all-important duo of Form and Function.    So what (in a nutshell) do these terms mean?

A few examples of Control are:

1) Control of the fit, which, as stated above, is the purpose of the muslin.

2) Control of the stitching line, which is your reference point for sewing – as opposed to the seam allowance, which is how most of us were taught to sew.  Lots and lots of basting is the key to controlling the stitching line.

3) Control of the inner seams, the raw edges of which are each catch-stitched to the underlining.

Here you can see the interior of the assembled dress, with every edge catch-stitched in place. The underlining serves as a “tablet” upon which you can make all kinds of notes!

The two big examples of Generosity are:

1) Cutting out the muslin, the underlining and the fashion fabric with very large seam allowances which give you the flexibility you might need to make changes in your final fitting.

2) Allowing – and taking – the time to do a lot of hand-sewing, fitting, and detail work.

If you look closely you can see the hand made loop and the “couture” attachment of the hook at the neck edge.

I ended up applying a bias facing to the sleeve edges. At my final fitting, I decided I wanted the sleeves a bit longer than I had originally anticipated, so the bias facing gave me another 3/4 inch in length. This is one more detail which Susan covers in her fabulous course!

Finally, Form and Function are well illustrated by these two examples:

1) A couture lining is always applied by hand, using the fell stitch.  To insure that the lining will not “migrate” to the outside, it is secured by the very lovely pick stitch – doing the job (function) in a truly elegant way (form).

Here is the finished front neck edge, showing the “applied by hand” lining and the pick-stitches which keep the lining from migrating out of the dress!

2) The zipper (if you are using one) is a regular zipper (not invisible) which is set in by hand, again using the pick stitch.

The top part of my hand-picked zipper.

Now that you’ve gotten a few glimpses of my dress inside and out, here it is all finished:

The fabric is a teal green linen; the lining is matching crepe de chine, and the underlining is white silk organza.

Another view…

… and a back view.

One of the things that appeals to me so much about couture construction is how transferable it is to vintage patterns. In fact, I would go so far as to say that parts of this type of construction are implied in many vintage patterns.  Here is an example from a construction sheet from the early’70s:

The instructions say to sew the zipper in by hand, the hooks and loops are shown in “couture” detail, and the hem treatment is very similar to one I learned in this course. One exception I should note here is that couture does not use facings as shown in the topmost drawing.

Consider for a moment this advantage of using vintage patterns over contemporary ones:  contemporary patterns, which are usually “multi-sized”, are drawn with the cutting line only.  To make one of these patterns usable for couture construction, you must add the stitching line onto the pattern tissue, adding another step in the whole process.  Vintage patterns (except for unprinted ones, of course) have the stitching line drawn on the tissue – ready to be traced onto your muslin fabric (which becomes your ultimate pattern).  All of which brings me to another alliterative phrase  . . .  as I find myself Valuing all the many Virtues of Very Versatile Vintage!


Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linen, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns