Monthly Archives: June 2013

Inspiration and Adaptation

Sometimes in life – and in sewing – you have to alter your plans to accommodate the situation at hand.

This is the situation I found myself in:  I had my heart set on pairing a favorite vintage Vogue Designer pattern with a piece of vintage Moygashel linen I had found in an Etsy shop.  They are both likely from the early 1970s and seemed destined to be together.

Molyneux has always been a favorite designer of mine.  My thought was to make the dress with short sleeves, but belt it as shown in View B.

Molyneux has always been one of my favorite designers. My thought was to make the dress with short sleeves, but with a belt as shown in View B.

My best guess is that this Moygashel linen is from the very early '70s.

My best guess is that this Moygashel linen is from the very early ’70s.

To make this pairing of fabric and pattern even more enticing, I was given this amazing pearl button by my dear friend Nancy C.  (Thanks, Nancy!)

I love this unique button!

I love this unique button!

The square shape of the button – and its largeness (1 3/16” square) – and the fact that I had exactly one of these beauties – made it seem custom made for the design of the fabric and the tab featured on the pattern.

I couldn’t wait to get started!  I pulled out all the pattern pieces, ironed them flat, ready to make a muslin – and then the “uh-oh” moment struck.  The “straight of grains” on the pattern pieces could not have signaled more trouble if they had been flashing in bright red.   I grabbed the pattern envelope – and right there in plain English was stated:  “Not suitable for obvious plaids.”  (Why won’t I learn to read those envelopes more closely???)  While this fabric is not a plaid, it reads like a plaid.  My heart sank – as I realized very quickly that I absolutely could not use this pattern for this fabric.  It just would not work.  End of discussion.

If you look carefully at these line drawings, it's obvious that "plaids" would not work.

If you look carefully at these line drawings, it’s obvious that “plaids” will not work.

I took a few deep breaths – and went back to my vintage pattern file.  None of my other vintage patterns would do.  I had my vision for this fabric and no pattern came even remotely close.   It was then I decided I would have to adapt a new pattern to achieve the look I wanted.  Once I made this decision (Plan B, as in “it BETTER work!”), I began to see the advantages, and the possibilities for an even better look than I originally thought.

The first thing that went right was having this pattern in my “new pattern” file:

I picked up this pattern a few months ago as i thought it looked very versatile!

I picked up this pattern a few months ago as I thought it looked very versatile.

I figured if I used View B, I could alter the neck band to incorporate a center tab.  I wanted to belt it, but I happily thought the tapered darts at the mid-section, front and back, would help create less bulk at the waist (and that’s always welcome).  I liked the shape of the neck (and had actually planned to widen and lower the neckline on the vintage Vogue….).  I would have to lengthen it, but I had plenty of fabric.  I also like the banded sleeves.  To envision the look, I did a quick sketch:

More about the belt later - it was ready before the dress was even cut out.

More about the belt later – it was ready before the dress was even cut out.

Then I set about adding the 1970’s tab to the neckband.  I actually used the pattern piece for the original tab facing so that I could get the correct size and look.

I placed the old pattern piece onto the new neckband.

I placed the old pattern piece onto the new neckband.

Then I made a new pattern piece.

Then I made a new pattern piece.

I made my muslin and then proceeded to use some couture techniques, but not all I normally would.  For one thing, I did not want to underline this linen fabric with silk organza (to preserve the breathability of the linen and keep it as light as possible).  The pattern called for the dress (but not the sleeves) to be lined.  I used a very lightweight cotton/linen blend for this which worked beautifully.  I also decided to use the facings included in the pattern (usually eliminated with couture sewing), and I’m really happy with that decision.

This photo shows the neck facing and the off-white lining I used for the body of the dress.

This photo shows the neck facing and the off-white lining I used for the body of the dress.

I hand-picked the zipper, understitched the facings by hand, and sewed the hem oh-so-carefully so that my stitches would not show (one of the disadvantages of not using an underlining is that there is no layer to sew the hem to, except for the actual fashion fabric). I made a bound buttonhole for that big lovely button (the original Vogue pattern calls for a bound buttonhole).

Here's the buttonhole, with the button peeking through!

Here’s the buttonhole, with the button peeking through!

The underside of the tab.

The underside of the tab.

I also added a slit to the back seam as once I lengthened the dress, I thought I might need the extra wiggle room.

a quick look at the slit I added to the back center seam.

A quick look at the slit I added to the back center seam.

I had the belt made by Pat Mahoney of Pat’s Custom Belts and Buckles.  What a great decision!  I could never make as neat a belt and buckle as she does.

Pat Mahoney does nt have a website, but she can be contacted at: 209-369-5410; 537 York Street, P.O. Box 335, Lodi, California 95241, USA.

Pat Mahoney does not have a website, but she can be contacted at: 209-369-5410; 537 York Street, P.O. Box 335, Lodi, California 95241, USA.

Here is the finished dress.

linen tab dress

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I am bound and determined to make a summer dress using that vintage Vogue pattern.  But – now I know I’ll have to use a plain fabric for best results (maybe a solid linen…).  It will, however,  have to wait for another Summer, as  I have other projects in mind!

Making this dress has reminded me that sometimes Plan B turns out to be the BEST plan of all.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, Linen, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

A “Little” More on Chanel

Coco Chanel has been the fascinating, and sometimes controversial, subject of many, many biographies, several of which I have read.  However, none has charmed me quite the way Different Like Coco has.  This delightful slim book by Elizabeth Matthews is written for the 5 – 9 group.  Now, I don’t mean the fun-loving cocktail ladies, who start sipping at 5:00 PM and finally get to dinner at 9:00.  No, this group is the age-group of 5 – 9, meaning the “little” ones.  Yes, this is a children’s book, a small biography of Coco Chanel, with expressive illustrations, and text which strikes a good balance between simplicity and sophistication.

This bright yellow book jacket hints at the lively story inside.

This bright yellow book jacket hints at the lively story inside.

Different Like Coco was published in 2007 by Candlewick Press, a children’s book publisher located in Massachusetts.  I became acquainted with the newly-minted book when I read a review of it in The Wall Street Journal, by Meghan Cox Gurdon.  Being a “pushover” for all things about the fashion and creative sense of Coco Chanel, I ordered my own copy from Amazon.  (Little did I ever imagine that 6 years later, I would have my own little granddaughter who might just hear this book read to her – oh, who knows how many times?)

On one level, the book is purely biographical, emphasizing Chanel’s childhood spent in poverty – which she did not allow to define her.  The later part of her childhood was spent in a convent, and it was there where she learned to sew.

The author's charming illustration of Coco as a child with her sewing.

The author’s charming illustration of Coco as a child with her sewing.

Those sewing skills were the “mechanical” ticket to her success, while her creativity, her determination, her hard work and her daring flounting of convention set her apart from others of her age.

Coco's creativity on display.

Coco’s creativity on display.

The story emphasizes these characteristics for the young readers of this book, which makes it more than a biography.  Indeed, these characteristics are treated as inspirational, which they certainly can be to children.

Some of the more controversial aspects of Chanel’s life are handled discreetly, so that the opening of her first shop and the creation of the classic cardigan jacket (made from one of her lover’s sweaters) are seamless chapters in her life story.

A classic created anew!

A classic, created anew!

For the adult reader of this sweet book, there are two features which I guarantee will be read again and again.  One is the “Timeline” which is in the back of the book (accompanied by a bibliography, too).  All the important dates of Chanel’s life are succinctly listed, including the development of her perfume Chanel No. 5 in 1921; the afore-mentioned creation of her signature jacket, also in 1921, and her debut of the “little black dress” in 1926.

The other compelling aspect of this book is one of pure brilliance from a design point of view:  the lining pages feature a “running commentary” of some of Chanel’s famous and less-known quotes.

One side of the lining pages of the book.

One side of the lining pages of the book.

A sampling of her quotes about fashion:

“Fashion is made to become unfashionable.”

“A fashion that does not reach the streets is not a fashion.”

“Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.”

And some of her quotes about life:

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.”

“Luxury must be comfortable; otherwise it is not luxury.”

“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.”

And I so appreciate that this quote is placed centermost:  “The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.  Aloud.”

I cannot close this post without a special word about the author, Elizabeth Matthews.  The book jacket has this short statement about her and her motivation to write this book:

Click on the window for an enlarged view.  PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT 2007, THE CANDLEWICK PRESS.

Click on the window for an enlarged view. PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT 2007, ELIZABETH MATTHEWS.

Thank you, Elizabeth Matthews, for making the life story of Coco Chanel an inspiring and almost magical tale for 5 to 9-ers of every age!

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Filed under Book reviews, Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, Uncategorized

Saved from the ‘70s

After reading the re-issue of Claire McCardell’s book What Shall I Wear, I determined that I needed to make myself a version of a “pop-over” dress.  Her pop-over dress was originally designed to either go over other clothing or be worn just by itself, but the intent was a “utility” dress to make yourself look presentable and even fashionable when you are doing household duties.  Well, household duties will still find me in blue jeans, but a dress to pop on quickly to go run errands, meet a friend for coffee, or go out for a casual supper – that idea was appealing to me.

My plan began to take form when I read the June/July issue of Vogue Patterns.  Page 86 features a “caftan-style” dress – or my idea of a tunic dress.

Tunic sundress - magazine photo

(I have always thought of caftans as full-length, and indeed, according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, a caftan is a “long, full robe with a slit neckline that is often decorated with embroidery and has long or three-quarter-length sleeves that widen to the end…  adopted by American women in the 1960s and after…  ”)

Tunic sundress - 4

This is Fairchild’s diagram of a caftan; Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, copyright 2003

Although I know there is a 1970s-era Vogue pattern for a tunic dress, I have not found one to purchase, so I thought I’d go ahead and get this current one.

I like both versions of this dress.

I like both versions of this dress.

There is lots of room for individualization with this pattern, as a quick look at the line drawings illustrate.

There is lots of room for individualization with this pattern, as a quick look at the line drawings illustrate.

About the same time, I was in JoAnn’s Fabric Store to buy thread and looked at their “linen and linen-look-fabrics” (in order to get some light-weight cotton/linen blend for underlining for another planned project).  I was pleasantly surprised at the linen-cotton blends they had, including this bright orange/pink/red floral:

Tunic sundress fabric

I guess it is no surprise that fabric came home with me, and then I dug out that piece of deep pink linen pictured, which I had “saved from the ‘70s”, to use as the accent trim.  (It must have been 1974 when I purchased this pink linen in a fabric store on South Street in Philadelphia.  I made myself a suit out of it, now long gone.  But – I’m really glad I saved the left-over fabric!)

Then I doodled a bit to figure out how I wanted to treat the trimming on my tunic dress.

I quickly doodled these sketches to help me determine the look I wanted.

I quickly doodled these sketches to help me determine the look I wanted.

I decided to make it sleeveless so it’s cool and comfortable. I used my Clover bias-maker to make the bias tape I needed for the trim and the binding for the neck and armholes.  Because the linen blend was so lightweight, I underlined it with the same weight linen in off-white.

This shows a shoulder seam with a Hong kong finish to the raw edges and the pink bias binding around the armhole and neck.

This shows a shoulder seam with a Hong kong finish to the raw edges and the pink bias binding around the armhole and neck.

The front, very-low slit neckline as shown on the pattern meant one of two things:  either I would have to wear a camisole underneath it, or I would have to add two buttons and loops.  I decided to add the buttons and loops.

I forgot to add the loops before I sewed the frint neck facing in place.  Then I had to open up the seam to accomplish that little task! I turned the loops with a bodkin

I forgot to add the loops before I sewed the front neck facing in place. Then I had to re-open the seam to accomplish that little task! I turned the loops with a bodkin.

Another view of the front facing.

Another view of the front facing.

Ready to run errands!

Ready to run errands!

What a comfortable dress!

What a comfortable dress!

The back is unstructured and loose.

The back is unstructured and loose.

This is indeed a dress I can pop over my head and go!  I would definitely like to make it again, maybe with the collar and sleeves next time.  And maybe, just maybe, inspiration will come from some other fabric remnant I have tucked away, saved from the ’70s!

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Filed under Linen, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vogue patterns