Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Blouse by Any Other Name Would Be the Same

I usually work on only one project at a time, but for the past three weeks I’ve had  two going strong.  I’m furiously working on a “dressy” suit – which needs to be completed this week!  However, last winter I made a mental note to myself to use up the fabric remaining from another suit, to make a matching overblouse.  I knew the pattern I was going to use, and with my newfound techniques from Craftsy’s The Couture Dress  online course, I knew this “small” project would be a great way to practice those skills.   So, I thought, “Oh, I’ll just throw this together in no time at all.”  Why do I ever think such things?  I must be either an eternal optimist or totally divorced from reality.

I have always loved sleeveless overblouses – also known as “shells” and sheath tops.  They were particularly popular in the late 1950s and 1960s with or without sleeves (during which time I also knew them as “jerkins” or “weskits” – which are really synonyms for vests).  Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion describes an overblouse as “ Any blouse or top worn over the skirt or pants rather than tucked inside.”  And here’s what they say about a “shell”:

From: The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, 3rd Edition, New York, New York, 2010, page 37

A number of my ‘60s patterns show overblouses paired with suits or as part of two-piece dresses.

This v-neck overblouse is a great pairing with this sporty suit.

The description on the back of the envelope says this overblouse “may be tucked in”.

This design by Gres shows a boxy overblouse and skirt combination.

I particularly liked this pattern, with its Dior darts, the slits at the front hem, and its back zipper.  (I was able to pick up a refined separating zipper when I was at Britex in September – many are suitable for outerwear only and too clunky for something like this.)

View D is my choice.

Here is another example of an overblouse with Dior darts, which forms part of a two-piece dress.  Note that the zipper is on the side:

This design was featured in the August/September 1957 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

I dutifully made up my muslin, to which I made a number of adjustments (lowering the bust line/darts, shortening the darts in the back, lowering and widening the neckline a bit, adding a little more girth to the hipline so it would slip over my matching skirt without buckling, and adding about two inches to the overall length of the blouse.   Hm-m-m, is that all?)  I underlined it with silk organza, matched the plaid everywhere I could, keeping in mind how the windowpane check would line up with the skirt.  I secured all the seam allowances with catch-stitching, and then I hand-picked the separating zipper.  About this time I quietly panicked when I realized how much time I had already put into this blouse!  I put it aside and started working on my suit, with a promise to myself to put in a bit more time on the overblouse whenever I had just 30 or 40 minutes “extra”, whatever that means.

Somehow I have managed to complete it, and I think I’m on track to finish my suit in a day or two, as well.  Whew!  Here are some of the details:

Here is a front view . . .

. . . and here is the back view.

A peek inside the blouse . . .

. . . and a look at the hand-picked zipper. This was the first separating zipper I think I have ever put in – and I am happy with the results!

And here is the finished blouse/overblouse/shell/sheath top, shown with the skirt:

An impersonal view, for which I apologize – no tangling with the tripod and camera timer today!

Just as I appreciate the preciseness which couture sewing makes possible when sewing something as “simple” as this shell, so do I also appreciate the many variant words to describe this type of blouse.  My personal favorite name for this blouse?



Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, couture construction, Dior darts, hand-sewn zippers, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns, woolens

Who is Mrs. Exeter?

And the more important question is – Can she sew?  Yes, she can – and she does!  But first, let me tell you who she is – or actually who she was.  She was a fictional character – a “woman of a certain age” – who started appearing in The Conde Nast Publications’ Vogue magazine in 1949 (as best as I can determine).  She was the focus of a regular style column, which was meant to appeal to older fashionable women –  with the emphasis most definitely  on fashionable.   She must have proved to be an appealing figure to readers, because in 1954, the front cover of the October/November issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine announced:  Introducing Mrs. Exeter patterns.

Top billing for the new feature!

Suddenly Mrs. Exeter had discovered the joy of sewing beautiful, classic fashions for herself.  Obviously, Vogue patterns, which already had its own Couturier line of patterns, and its very popular Designer pattern series, knew that its audience included these “older” women who had the time, the talent, and the inclination to sew beautiful fashionable clothes for themselves. The copy accompanying the sketches and photos clearly played into the idea that Mrs. Exeter was very sure of her fashion sense:

Here we learn about Mrs. Exeter’s “experienced way of knowing the ‘right’ neither-too-young, nor too old fashions for herself…”

She also had color sense, knowing how to play up her features, and showing she was not afraid to branch out from neutrals and basic black.

Yes, red can definitely enhance silver hair!

She sounds like she was a fun grandmother, too, as this sketch attests:

The caption reads: “Mrs. Exeter takes her grandchildren to town for a Saturday movie treat.”

The Mrs. Exeter feature appeared sporadically  throughout the year in the issues of Vogue Pattern Book magazine,  continuing through the decade of the 1950s.  The October/November 1957 issue had this feature:

The reader was instructed to “sew jet buttons on the short, fitted jacket and flap pockets” of the gray suit on the right.

That same issue used a real model for the Mrs. Exeter section:

It seems Mrs. Exeter favored white gloves and classic handbags.

And another real model appeared in the February/March 1958 issue:

I think this Mrs. Exeter looks a bit insipid!

By the fall of 1958, Mrs. Exeter must have been very popular, as this was the cover of the magazine:

10 pages for Mrs. Exeter patterns!

The Mrs. Exeter appearing here suddenly looked a little less grandmotherly:

Now this is a lovely woman!

Again, the accompanying text was very flattering to the expertise of the older woman:

“Mrs. Exeter knows what she likes… how to look right on all occasions.”

And the texts made frequent reference to Mrs. Exeter’s civic and social obligations and interests. One two-page spread showing suits, declared:  “For Mrs. Exeter’s busy calendar of civic and social events, a suit wardrobe is almost a necessity.  Her choices, admirably combining chic, distinction, and flattery – with perhaps a shade more emphasis on flattery.”

She also apparently wore shirtwaist dresses with great aplomb, being careful “to avoid thickness at the waist.”

“For all day, every day, the shirtwaist dress is indispensable…” which could be true for 2012 as well!

The Mrs. Exeter feature continued into the early 1960s, but then succumbed to the burgeoning emphasis on youth, disappearing from the magazine by the mid-‘60s.  Indeed, in 1970, Vogue Pattern Book magazine introduced a new feature, this one called “Miss Vogue” in an obvious appeal to the younger generation.  The description of Miss Vogue?  Well, she must have been raised  by Mrs. Exeter:

“She’s the girl with the fabulously fresh smile.  She loves life.  She has fun.  She is active and her versatility knows no bounds.  …She is a sewing expert…  She loves a good challenge.  She’s got talent.  She’s got finesse…  She’s a winner!”

Although Mrs. Exeter might have been “replaced” by Miss Vogue, there were still plenty of 1970s’-era fashions and patterns, which certainly appealed to “the older woman” as well as a stylish younger one.  One of those patterns is the one I am currently using :

From Vogue’s Designer series, ca 1970.

I have completed the skirt, which incidentally is, to my thinking the perfect “pencil” skirt – as it is narrow, but very comfortable – and it has a shaped, two-part waistband. (I’m an unabashed fan of waistbands!)  I think Mrs. Exeter would approve.  I’ll show you in a future post…


Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

What Do a Chanel Jacket and a Chicken Have in Common?

Not much – unless you were in my sewing room last week.

When we were out in California very recently, my son’s girlfriend, Rachel, showed me a Chanel jacket she had found at a store which sells vintage clothing.  Sadly, she had never been able to wear it because it had very prominent shoulder pads, which screamed 1980s.  Otherwise it was a very wearable cropped jacket with petite convertible collar, in a creamy white wool with just a hint of  a sparkly windowpane weave.  Rachel asked me what I thought could be done with it.

Hm-m-m-m, I looked inside it, felt around those shoulder pads hidden inside the lining, and guessed that I could easily remove them and replace them with a much more reasonable sleeve header.  Of course, I’d need to bring the jacket home with me, so in the suitcase it went, landing in my sewing room.

I carefully removed the stitching from the lining at the right shoulder and took a peek.  The shoulder pad had been attached with hand stitches, easily snipped.  Out it came.  I cut a piece of French sleeve heading tape, called Cigarette, which I had purchased from Susan Khalje’s website. (I had used this in my Craftsy course The Couture Dress.)

The shoulder pad is in plain view in this photo.

The jacket has top-center seams on the sleeves, so with that extra fabric bulk, I determined that the simple sleeve heading would be enough shaping.  Here is the jacket with just the side on the left fixed:

Can you see how bulky the shoulder on the right is?

Here I have placed the shoulder pad on top to show some perspective on its bulk.

And here is the jacket with both shoulders complete and all sewn up inside (with itty-bitty stitches):

The padded hanger helps to simulate the shoulder line.

Of course, I had to guess a little on the final fit as I did not have Rachel here to try it on.  But I am sure, once it completes its return trip to California, that it has a better chance of being worn now than before!

It was interesting for me to be able to see inside a Chanel jacket – I discovered some details I thought I might find – such as 1) the wool fabric was totally underlined in what looks like silk organza; and 2) hand-sewing was evident in quite a few areas.  However, the seams were not catch-stitched to the underlining, which I thought they might be.  The most amazing thing was actually seeing those shoulder pads – as their construction was almost exactly like view C of Vogue 7503, my vintage pattern from 1953. How cool is that?

Two authentic Chanel shoulder pads!

View C is right in the middle.

So that was Chanel.  But what about the chicken?  Another project I wanted to finish last week was an auction item for my garden club’s annual fundraiser.  As I am the only one in my club who has a backyard flock of chickens (yes – can you believe it?), I like to put together what I call a “Little Red Hen” basket to add to our auction selection every year or so.  Besides the main attraction of a couple dozen of our farm-fresh eggs, I add other items with a chicken theme.  Some examples are egg poachers, an egg timer, cocktail napkins with chickens on them – things like that.  Of course, as one who sews, it is impossible for me to do a project like this without adding something handmade. So this year, I made a tea cozy with a matching chicken potholder.  I had already completed the tea cozy a couple of weeks ago, but the potholder  – well, it had to take its place behind Chanel.    It did not take long for me to fashion this little hen (in red, of course) to match the cozy. Here she is, ready to perch on the handle of any hot pan:

She is interlined with several layers of heavy cotton flannel.

She’s pretty underneath it all, too!

Here is the little red hen in front of the tea cozy.

Tthe bottom of the tea cozy can be folded out to fit a higher pot.

So what was more fun – and what did really come first– Chanel or the chicken?  Now there are two questions for the ages!


Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Uncategorized, underlinings, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue pattern 7503 for shoulder shapes, woolens