Monthly Archives: September 2014

Light Load


String is a wonderful thing. I am particularly fond of kitchen string. Usually twisted cotton or a twisted cotton blend, it is useful for many things (such as tying together the newspapers for recycling, playing with the cats, securing open bags of flour and sugar, etc., etc.) It also occasionally makes its way upstairs to my sewing room.
Light Load DSC_1380

“Light load” kitchen string happens to be the perfect weight and diameter for making piping to be used in apparel. And – my current project for Fall features piping as one of the main design details.

The piping is more clearly visible on the green view of this dress.

The piping is more clearly visible on the green view of this dress.

As luck would have it, I had purchased some hand-dyed silk bias ribbon from Britex Fabrics a couple of years ago. One of the colors I had ordered turned out to be a perfect complement to this silk from Mendel Goldberg, which is slowly making its transformation into a dress.

Light Load

After hours and hours of working on the muslin (toile), cutting out the underlining (on the bias to accommodate the stretch of the silk fabric), checking and re-checking (multiple times) to make sure my pattern pieces were laid out properly, and then meticulously basting the gossamer silk gauze underlining and the slippery fashion fabric together, I was ready to do something fun. “What could be easier?” I thought. “The ribbon is already cut on the bias so I’ll just sew up three yards of piping and I’ll be in business.” Except that I kept getting ridges and lumps in my piping as I encased that kitchen string in the silk ribbon. I thought maybe if I stretched it a bit, it might look better, but it really didn’t. I must admit I was discouraged – actually very discouraged. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong, but I knew I needed to take a break from this mess and come back the next day.

Before I left my sewing room, I went to my stack of Threads Magazines to look for a particular issue recently recommended to me for another reason, and in my search found, by chance, the December 1994/January 1995 issue. There on the cover “Techniques for Perfect Piping” was a featured article.

I have many odd issues of Threads Magazine, but earlier in the year I bought the Threads Magazine Archive 1985-2013, available on their website. I can't recommend it highly enough - decades of sewing advice and expertise is readily available at the click of your computer mouse!

I have many odd issues of Threads Magazine, but earlier in the year I bought the Threads Magazine Archive 1985-2013, available for purchase on their website. I can’t recommend it highly enough – decades of sewing advice and expertise is readily available at the click of your computer mouse!

Needless to say, that became my evening reading. One line in this article by Linda Wakefield led me to the solution to my problem: “I also recommend reducing presser foot pressure, if possible, so that the fabric doesn’t twist or ripple as you stitch.” Even though I am unable to change the presser foot tension on my machine, that advice made me think that I needed to stabilize and reinforce the silk bias ribbon somehow to make it feed more evenly through the needle. The next day, back in my sewing room, I got some tissue paper – the kind one uses for wrapping presents – and cut it into strips. I placed a single layer of tissue under the silk ribbon as I stitched – and voila! Perfect piping emerged from my machine.

The tissue is brown (which is just some I happened to have with my gift wrapping supplies.)

The tissue is brown (which is just some I happened to have with my gift wrapping supplies.)


 The tissue paper tears off easily and cleanly from the silk piping.

The tissue paper tears off easily and cleanly from the silk piping.

Further advice in the article gave tips on applying the piping. I decided to try my hand with this added guidance, choosing to start with the sleeves. The pattern calls for piping around the lower edge – a nice short distance and easy to fix if I wasn’t happy with the finished look. What do you think?

Light Load

The sleeve has a side opening - to be secured by snaps.  Here it is just pinned.

The sleeve has a side opening – to be secured by snaps. Here it is just pinned.

There will still, I am sure, be some tedious moments as I continue work on this dress, but my load was definitely made lighter by something as simple as —- tissue paper!


Filed under 1980's dress patterns, piping, sewing in silk, vintage Vogue Designer patterns

“This is your mission, should you choose to accept it.”

Those of you who are sewing bloggers and/or readers of sewing blogs are probably aware of a “survey” of sorts which is quietly and slowing making the rounds of those of us who share this interest. The survey is a simple list of questions which explores the relationship between sewing and one’s blog. I have been enjoying reading other bloggers’ thoughts on this relationship, most recently those of Mel of Poppykettle. Mel is surely world famous by now for her exquisite wedding gown which, of course, she made, as well as the gowns for her attendants. Now, I have never met Mel (although I hope to someday!), but I can tell she is just as charming and fun and genuine as the delightful blog which she writes. Knowing this made it even more flattering for me that she nominated me to expound on these same questions. So, I “accepted” the mission and here goes…

What am I working on?

As the sun-filled days steadily get shorter and shorter here in the northeastern part of the United States, and the morning and evening air begins to shiver a bit, I have mentally packed away my Summer sewing and am switching over to my favorite season of all – Autumn. As much as I love this time of year, I find that my wardrobe generally is sparse for Fall apparel. Last year, I made a Diane von Furstenberg knock-off wrap dress that was – and still is, of course – perfect for Fall.

DSC_1022 So it should come to no one’s surprise that I want to add one or two more Fall-appropriate dresses this year. I have just begun work on the muslin for a silk dress, using a Vogue pattern from the 1980s (which is somewhat of a shock, since I consider that decade, for the most part, a vast fashion desert!) The silk is Italian, purchased from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. This dress should be ideal for Autumn, assuming I finish it before we’ve moved into Winter!

Fabric for my current project.

Fabric for my current project.

Why do I write?

Now that is a good question! Unfortunately for you, my readers, the answer to that has multiple parts, and I hope I won’t bore you! First and foremost, I really, really love to write. I like to put words together. I like to try to make sentences clear but colorful and evocative. (I am not nearly as good at “explaining” procedures or techniques, although I know I need to do so occasionally.)

Second, I love to tell a story. I’m not sure how it happens, but it often seems that my sewing projects have inherent stories to them. Sometimes it’s about the pattern, sometimes it’s about the fabric, sometimes it’s about a long-fulfilled sewing dream of mine (left over from the ‘50s, ‘60s or ‘70s!), sometimes it’s about the accessories, and sometimes it’s a combination of all of these things. Writing and telling stories about my sewing helps to give it another layer of meaning.

Third, writing and sewing are very, very similar. Both involve great expanses of solitary endeavor, engineering (of words or patterns and cloth), creativity, sense of style, striving for excellence of technique, and tenacity. However, both have a friendly and supportive communal aspect to them as well, when shared with others of the same interest. And – both sewing and writing are goal-oriented pursuits, perfect for my personality type!

Finally, I must give credit to my daughter, Susanna, who gave me the inspiration to start a sewing blog. An exceptional writer, Susanna had her own blog for a while, and her encouragement to me made all the difference.

How does my blog differ from others of its genre?

Answering this question reminds me of the beginning sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Except that there is nothing unhappy about sewing blogs! I think my interest in the fashions and vintage patterns of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s helps to differentiate my blog from many others. I really enjoy making connections between mid-century fashions and the fashions of today. The fact that I can make a dress using a 50-year-old pattern (or 50-year-old fabric!) and have it look totally current continues to amaze me – and sharing this excitement hopefully makes my blog just a little bit unique.

How does my writing process work?

I wish I had a magic formula to share! Fortunately, sewing is a slow process, at least for me, so I have lots of time to think about writing while I stitch away. I sometimes make notes to myself (and take photos, of course) while sewing and sometimes I wish I had made notes and taken more photos! I usually try to do a little research on the pattern (or fabric) I am using, to help “tell the story”. I actually often start with a title for my post, which can sometimes take a lot of thought and time. That small detail usually sets the narrative for me, so that I am able to proceed with the story. One thing I try to do is keep my posts to a reasonable length (a guideline I am not following right now…). Because of this, I do a lot of editing during and after the writing process.


Now comes the fun part – and difficult part, too. Fun because I can nominate two fellow sewing bloggers to participate in this same survey, and difficult because there are so many interesting and talented bloggers about whom I would love to learn more. However, two talented dressmakers whose blog posts I never want to miss are my nominees: Janene of ooobop and Brooke of Custom Style. Of course, you, Janene and Brooke, are under no obligation to participate, but I do hope you will accept the “mission”!



Filed under Love of sewing, Uncategorized


Cocktails in our home – and in our family – are always preceded by a toast of some sort. Usually a simple “Cheers!” will suffice, but sometimes the occasion calls for something more meaningful. One of the most memorable cocktail toasts I have ever heard was standard fare for one of my late mother-in-law’s good friends. By the time I met her, she was a little shaky, which made the toast even more charming. She would raise her trembly glass with great ceremony and declare “To our noble selves!”

As I was working on my latest project – yes, a cocktail dress – I thought about all the possible declarations we, as sewers, could add to the vocabulary of toasts. More about those thoughts later… First up is something to wear to that cocktail/dressy party!

This Vogue Designer pattern is from the early 1960s.

This Vogue Designer pattern is from the early 1960s.

The lengthy process of perfecting the muslin (toile) for my blue cocktail dress revealed a few minor changes I needed to make – four of them, to be exact.   You might be able to see on the pattern envelope, that the “overblouse” in the front actually hits about an inch above the waistline. This just did not look good on me, so I extended the length of those two over-lapping fronts an inch so that they would lay directly at my waist. Second, the under-dress, the top of which is not seen when being worn is cut low so that it does not show beneath the “V” of the overblouse. However, it was cut much lower than I needed, so I raised it a bit.

I thought the shoulders of the overblouse extended a little bit too wide, so I cut the top of the armscye in about ¾ of an inch, graduating it down to join the lower part of the armscye. And fourth – I added a slit at the lower back center seam to make walking easier. I seem to do this frequently with vintage patterns.

The pattern called for the fashion fabric to be underlined, but not lined.   I wanted to line the dress – and actually felt it was a necessity with the fabric I was using. Because of the unusual construction of the dress, I knew that this was going to be interesting – and that I was going to have to make it up as I went. To see what I mean about the unusual construction, take a look at the pattern instructions. The front of the “underdress” is sewn to the back of the dress at the side seams only to the waistline. The bodice part of the front “underdress” hangs loose while the two sections of the overblouse are first sewn to the dress back. Then that bodice is hand sewn in place.

To our sewing selves - pattern diagram

To line the dress, I first sewed the lining to the front underdress at the neck and the armscyes by machine. I under stitched these sections by hand, leaving about an inch free on either end.


Next I lined the two front overblouse sections, stitching only the front armscyes by machine; I attached the rest of these linings by hand, using fell stitches.  Then I joined the overblouse sections to the (unlined at this point) dress back.

The front overblouse sections are attached to the side seams, but the front underdress is hanging loose, which does not show in this photo.

The front overblouse sections are attached to the side seams, but the front underdress is hanging loose, visible at the lower left.

I had pieces of dress and overblouse and lining hanging every which way! Any of you who have made a “Chanel” type jacket know how unruly the process is before the lining is seamed in place by hand. This reminded me of that. Somehow I would have to make order out of chaos!

To line the back dress section, I pinned the lining to the armscyes and neck and fell stitched in place by hand. Then I was able to sew each side seam on the machine. The shoulder seams were the final ones to finish, which I did by hand. Then it was only a matter of fell stitching the lining to the hand-picked zipper and understitching the neck and arm sections.

The shoulder seam encloses two finished layers in front.

The shoulder seam encloses two finished layers in front.

It worked! The lining fit perfectly and made for a pretty “insides”!

An inside look at the underdress and the overblouse.

An inside look at the underdress and the overblouse.

The pattern called for tacking the front overblouse sections to the underdress, but I decided to use snaps instead. Ironing this dress will be so much easier with the overblouse sections opened up. However, I did permanently tack the looped tie in place, as indicated in the pattern directions. There was much more hand sewing involved in this dress because of the added lining, but the process was so rewarding in the end.



I anticipate this dress being perfect for not only cocktails, but also weddings and other dressy occasions (particularly if I get the coat made, too!).





Although I doubt I’ll be clinking my cocktail glass with many other dressmakers, I like the thought of a “virtual” toast with my fellow sewing enthusiasts. Some possibilities I have come up with are “To needle and thread” – or “To weft and to warp” – or “To scissors and seams” – or the one I think I prefer, with thanks to a lady from the past – “To our sew-able selves!”


Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s