Monthly Archives: August 2013

Wrapping My Mind Around a New Dress for Fall

I am not sure why, but I have been obsessed with wrap dresses lately.  I think it began in May when I wore the dress I made last summer from a mid-‘70s Vogue Diane von Furstenberg pattern.   It seemed to make a hit whenever I had it on – and there is nothing like a compliment to make one try for a repeat!  I just needed to find the perfect fabric – and another perfect pattern.

I made the sleeveless version of this dress in a red and white print.

I made the sleeveless version of this dress in a red and white print.

The perfect fabric turned out to be the easy part of the equation.  One of my classmates in Susan Khalje’s Classic French Jacket Class chose this silk charmeuse for her jacket lining:

Wrap dress - 9 - fabric I loved the design so much that I asked for a swatch of it while I was at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC with my classmates.  Well, you can guess the end of this part of the story.  A few weeks after arriving home, I called up Alice at Mendel Goldberg and ordered some yardage.  I could picture this fabric as a wrap dress with ¾ or bracelet-length sleeves.  However, it is a woven fabric (of course), and even though it does have a slight stretch to it, those vintage Diane von Furstenberg patterns require “stretchable knits”, even including a stretch gauge on the pattern envelopes to ensure success.

Wrap dress - 8 - stretch gauge Out of curiosity I went through my collection of vintage patterns to see what other “wrap” dresses I could find, and although none of these three were quite the look I wanted, I was struck by the variety of wrap dress patterns available, obviously some long before Diane von Furstenberg made them so popular.

This pattern is copyright 1960.  "slightly gathered skirt back of the sleeveless, easy-does-it dress wraps around plain front to fasten at waist-line with tied belt."

This pattern is copyright 1960. “slightly gathered skirt back of the sleeveless, easy-does-it dress wraps around plain front to fasten at waist-line with tied belt.”

A thumbnail diagram on the back of the pattern envelope.  "Dress opens flat for ironing."

A thumbnail diagram on the back of the pattern envelope. “Dress opens flat for ironing.”

Here is a slightly more elegant wrap dress, also from the early ’60s:

Actually, just the skirt is a wrap on this dress, which has so many different looks, all of them quite stunning.

Actually, just the skirt is a wrap on this dress, which has so many different looks, all of them quite stunning.

Finally this Pucci design, which is another elegant wrap dress:

"Slim, high fitted dress in evening r street length has wrapped back closing, soft side back folds."

“Slim, high fitted dress in evening or street length has wrapped back closing, soft side back folds.”

It was about this time that the September issue of Threads magazine arrived in my mailbox.  Now my obsession was in full force, as the main feature article was on Wrap Dresses: Easy to Fit and Sew.

Wrap dress I liked the dress featured on the cover – which happens to be a new Vogue pattern (V8784).  I also liked the fact that it does not require a knit fabric, and that it is to be lined (I could make it using couture techniques).  I did not like the sleeves, however – too baggy and shapeless.

I could not get around the idea that the look I thought I wanted was this D v F dress, featured on the front cover of Vogue Patterns for September/October 1976:

Wrap dress - 6 DvF cover

This presented two major problems, however,  First, I do not own this vintage pattern (yet), which commands high prices when it comes on the market.  And second, even if I did own it, my woven silk fabric would not be appropriate to use for it.

Well, this second part of the equation was beginning to be a problem.  Then, quite by luck, I stumbled on a Simplicity pattern from 1976 in an Etsy store.  The pattern  is obviously a knock-off of the classic Diane von Furstenberg dress I like so much.  However, it is for woven fabrics!  It was in my size, which I took as a “sign” that I was supposed to buy it – which I did.  I thought my search was over.  With a few minor adjustments to the “extreme” points on the collar and the cuffs, I felt sure this pattern would work.

I really don't think there is anything "JIffy" about this pattern . . .

I really don’t think there is anything “JIffy” about this pattern . . .

A few weeks passed as life took me in other directions and with other projects. Then, finally, I eagerly started on the muslin for this dress.   I was eager, that is, until I realized that the pattern piece for the sleeve is missing –  and the pattern is going to require many more alterations than I usually have.

This is not fun.

There – I feel better now that I have said that!  So my quest for the perfect pattern has been a challenge, but it’s not Fall yet.  By hook or by crook, I’ll be wearing a new silk wrap dress before the trees gently release their leaves into the cool, crisp autumn air.

 

 

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

A Simple Sheath?

One of the most enduring dress styles in the last 60 years is undoubtably the classic sheath.  According to the definition in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, a sheath can be one of two constructions:  without a set-in waist or with a set-in waist.  In either case, the silhouette is straight, narrow, and fitted, “shaped to body with vertical darts”, with ease of movement facilitated by a slash at back or an inverted pleat.  “Both styles were popular in 1950s and early 1960s.  Revived periodically.”

Fairchild's illustration of a sheath dress.  copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

Fairchild’s illustration of a sheath dress. copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

It doesn’t take very long looking at current fashion magazines and websites to see that the sheath dress is enjoying one of those revivals right now.  And why not?  It is an infinitely versatile style, going from casual to dressy just by choice of fabric.  Earlier in the Summer when I was shopping at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC with Susan Khalje’s  “Classic French Jacket” class, I succumbed to purchasing 1½ yards extra of my lining fabric, with the express intention of making a sheath dress out of it.  The fabric is definitely a demonstrative print, so I thought the simpler the style of dress, the better.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

I have to admit I had a few moments when I wondered if that fabric, which I loved as the lining in my jacket, might not be a bit too much for a dress.  Well, too late for any misgivings – this dress was going to happen!  Then suddenly I started seeing photos of more and more sheath dresses, many of them made out of very bold and colorful fabrics.  Two fashion websites I often visit for inspiration and ogling each featured such dresses:

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta's Ready-to-wear line.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta’s Ready-to-wear line.

Encouraged with this affirmation of my idea, I chose my pattern, ordered china silk for the lining (I already had black organza underlining), purchased the zipper and proceeded to plan my dress.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using the third view without the neck and hem bands.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using view A (on the right) without the neck and hem bands.

First, of course, I once again sewed up the muslin I had already made for this pattern earlier in the summer.  Here are the changes I made:

1) I sewed the neckband onto the body of the dress and treated it all as one.

2) I eliminated the facings, as I was making this dress with couture techniques.

3) I tweaked the fit a little more, to make it more fitted than my earlier dress (which was belted and needed a little more ease).

4) I adjusted the shoulder to be cut a little higher on the arm.

5) I dipped the neckline a little bit, to match the neckline on my jacket.

6) I added a slit in the back seam for ease of movement.

While I love the look, sheen and feel of silk charmeuse, I don’t think it is the easiest fabric to work with.  I thought I could make my job easier if, when laying out the fabric for pattern (muslin) placement and cutting, I was able to control the slipperiness of it somehow.  I decided to use  half of my dining room table, covered with heavy drapery flannel (which is what I use under tablecloths for cushioning).   The flannel “anchored” it beautifully.

Then I was faced with a design element quandary.  Before I cut out my jacket lining in Susan Khalje’s class, she and I had looked at the fabric with my dress in mind –and had determined that one of the gold “cross” lines in the design should hit at about my breastbone.  However, once I had the fabric remaining from my jacket laid out, I realized that was not going to work.  I tried every which way, and, with the fabric I had available to me, I simply could not match up the pattern in the fabric across the front and two side backs of the pattern and still “cross” my breastbone.  It took a couple of hours, but I finally was able to come up with a new plan – this one to have one of the “cross” details at my waist.  This allowed me to have a shoulder detail I really liked, a black field  (with cherries) at my neckline, and the slimming effect of a “cinched” waist, effected entirely by the design in the fabric!

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

Then I was off and sewing!

Zipper and neck details.

Zipper and neck details.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

The dress turned inside out!

The dress turned inside out.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

Finished!  What do you think?  Too demonstrative or just right?

Finished! What do you think? Too demonstrative or just right?

A back view.

A back view.

A side view

A side view

And, of course, I have to show the dress with its Chanel-inspired jacket:

A simple sheathA simple sheath

A simple sheath

This project is complete!

This project is complete!

Once again, I underestimated just how long it takes to make a dress using all couture techniques – even a simple (?) sheath dress.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

Love, Luck and What I Sewed

Many years ago I ran across this little book:

This book was published in 1995 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.  All illustrations are copyright 1995 by Ilene Beckerman.

This book was published in 1995 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All illustrations are copyright 1995 by Ilene Beckerman.

I don’t remember how I found it or where I saw it, but I bought a copy for my mother-in-law, which she loved.  I finally gave in a few years later and bought one for myself.  It’s a very straightforward kind of book, with un-fancy writing and unsophisticated, but charming, drawings by the author.  Within the book’s simple demeanor, however, is an expressive, and touching tribute to the power of what we wear and how we remember – and measure – our lives.

The contents are divided according to decades, starting with the 1940s and continuing into the first part of the 1990s.  The author was born in 1935, so her recollection of clothing and fashion begins when she is a child.  She had the great fortune, as did so many from that era, of having a mother who sewed – beautifully and extensively – for her and her sister.  Here are a few examples:

Love, luck, etc - 1

About this dress which she wore to her cousin’s wedding, Beckerman wrote: “ My mother made this pink, green, and black iridescent-metallic plaid taffeta gown.  We bought the material at Macy’s at Herald Square [New York City].  They had a whole floor for selling patterns and fabrics.”

One of the author’s sister’s dress is featured here:

Love, luck, etc - 2 “My mother made this sexy red dress for my sister.  It had a . . . peplum and was accented with hand-sewn gold sequins.”  This prompted the memory of her mother sewing sequins on printed silk scarfs, which served as Christmas gifts for the author’s teachers.

Here is another dress made by the author’s mother – this one for her sister to wear to their cousin’s wedding.

Love, luck, etc - 3 By the 1950s, the author’s mother had died, and with her death came the end of the joy of wearing her sewn creations.  However the author and one of her best friends ventured into some sewing themselves with the making of these cotton circle skirts:

Love, luck, etc - 4 “It took forever to hem them” – says Beckerman, a statement with which any home dressmaker can identify!

This stylish coat was purchased by Ilene, and when shown to another best friend’s mother, Miriam Landey, who happened to be a dress designer/dressmaker, Mrs.Landey told her daughter to go and buy one as well.  Such a compliment!

Love, luck, etc - 5 Mrs. Landey, according to Beckerman, “would go to Europe in the summer to buy fine and fancy fabrics…”

The 1960s are marked by only two fashions, one of which is a maternity dress.

Love, luck, etc - 6 Six pregnancies during the decade surely are the reason for the dearth of fashion memories from that period of time.  Or perhaps the death of one of those children made the memories too painful.

The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are lumped together, and are set off most dramatically by this Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress from the ‘70s.  While wearing this dress, the author came to the decision to end her marriage.  How could one not remember what she wore at such a time in her life?

Love, luck, etc - 7 As the story ends, grown children marry and have children of their own.  But at night, says Beckerman, she reflects on her mother and the dresses she made.  “I like to think I got my fashion sense from my mother and from Dora’s mother [Mrs. Landey].”  Thus is a life remembered by what she wore, and so many of those memories have their foundation in home-sewing.

It had been a while since I had looked at this little book, but I had occasion to dig it off the shelf recently, right after I finished my Chanel-inspired red jacket.  I went to it after a difficult life event, which I know I will now always associate with that jacket.

I was happily expecting to finish all the final hand-work on my jacket within a day or two (okay, maybe three!), when, as the saying goes, “life is what happens when you are making other plans”.  After a fairly routine diagnostic medical test, my husband and I unexpectedly found out he had to have open-heart surgery for a triple coronary by-pass.  I was still in shock (my fit, active, healthy husband?), when the surgery was quickly scheduled for the following morning at 6:30 AM.

Suddenly I was relieved that I still had much to complete on my jacket.  Facing what I knew would be some of the longest hours of my life – the 5 to 6 hour operation – I packed up my unfinished jacket, thread, pins, etc. in the very still and long, lonely hours of the night preceding the surgery.  And so – the next morning, sitting in the hospital, I sewed and sewed and sewed as the hours slipped by, the time punctuated by phone calls and, blessedly, by occasional good reports from the Operating Room.  My needle and thread kept me calm – I equated every stitch with repairing my husband’s heart.  And so it was  – beautifully, successfully repaired . . .

The following days took on a life of their own, as I shuttled back and forth to the hospital, spending hours every day by my husband’s bedside.  And then one day, on a whim, I brought in the as-yet-incomplete pockets for my jacket.  I sat and sewed the trim on to the top edge of each one (much to the delight of my husband who did some bragging about my sewing skills), arousing much curiosity among the doctors, nurses, staff, and visitors.

Here are the four pockets, in various stages of completion.  I decided to add silk organza interfacing to them (suggested by Susan Khalje, but optional).

Here are the four pockets, in various stages of completion. I decided to add silk organza interfacing to them (suggested by Susan Khalje, but optional).

It seems that construction of parts of a Chanel-inspired jacket was a first for the Intensive Care Unit and then the Progressive Care Unit!  By the time my husband came home a week after the surgery, he had made tremendous progress.  I had made progress on my jacket, too, but most importantly, sewing on it had given me a sense of normalcy during a time of great uncertainty.

So many people have told us how lucky we are, and it is difficult to express how very correct they are.  Instead of “loss”, we have, indeed, been abundantly blessed with love and luck.

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Filed under Book reviews, Chanel-type jackets, Uncategorized