Monthly Archives: October 2015

A Notable Exhibit of Twentieth Century Fashion

Fascination with international high-styled fashion really knows no boundaries when it comes to audiences. Last past week I had the opportunity to see “Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection” at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). This is the first time that any of Drexel’s extensive fashion collection has been exhibited – and judging from the crowded gallery, interest in it abounds. Besides students with sketch pads, other attendees were intrigued with the history of “famous” ownership of many of the items (including Babe Paley, Mrs. Walter Annenberg, Princess Grace of Monaco – to name just a few), some were there as students of fashion history, others had just a casual interest in clothing and fashion, and then there were those like me, who look at everything through the eyes of a dressmaker.

Although the Exhibit spans a period of three centuries, the majority of the items on display are mid-nineteenth century, and include not only dresses, but also shoes, handbags, hats and other accessories. I will share some of my favorite selections, some of which are inspiring to me for a number of reasons. Although I was allowed to take photos, “flashes” were not permitted, so the quality of my pictures is somewhat compromised.

The fabric in this Elsa Schiaparelli gown, from her Zodiac Collection, 1938-1939, positively shimmers. This gown, cut on the bias, is a wrapped design, with a wide sash tied on one side.

Drexel - Schaparelli dress

One of my favorite items in the exhibit is a wool suit by Gilbert Adrian, an American, circa 1947. The “slashed” detailing as shown in my photo still has me scratching my head, trying to figure out how this was achieved so successfully.

Drexel - black and white suit

I guess no fashion exhibit with highlights from the twentieth century is complete without a Charles James gown. Dating from 1948, this gown, a gift from Mrs. William S. (Babe) Paley, is absolutely serene.

Drexel - Charles James gown

The gown that struck me as the most amazing feat of construction is a coral-embroidered dress owned by Princess Grace of Monaco and given by Her Serene Highness to the collection at Drexel. Dating to 1964, the dress, which was designed by Hubert Givenchy, was executed by Marie Therese of Nice, who must have been a remarkable dressmaker!

A detail of the bodice of this gown is featured on the cover of the Exhibit catalogue, shown further down in this post.

A detail of the bodice of this gown is featured on the cover of the Exhibit catalogue, shown further down in this post.

This Exhibit does not disappoint when it comes to a classic Chanel suit. Having made two Chanel-type jackets myself, one under the tutelage of Susan Khalje and one on my own, I am always excited to see pocket and trim details on a “real” Chanel. These are the techniques which we, as dressmakers, can mimic.

Drexel - Chanel suit 1

Drexel - Cahnel suit 2

Having just finished a 1960s’ Madame Gres-designed coat, using a Vogue Designer pattern, I was excited to see this Madame Gres coat from the early 1970s. I am a fan of her unusual seaming and reserved elegance.

Drexel - Madame Gres coat

Nowhere is elegance more in focus than with this quintessential gown, also by Madame Gres, circa 1980. From across the gallery, this gown was recognizable as a Gres design, with its petite soft pleats and Classically-inspired demeanor.

Drexel - Madame Gres gown - 2

Drexel - Madame Gres gown

Heralding from the 1990s is this Carolina Herrera sequined jacket, a gift from the designer to the collection. Deep yellow and black are not colors one usually associates with “evening wear;” enhanced with pave sequins, these colors make this a striking ensemble.

Drexel - Carolina Herrara jacket

I can’t leave my short synopsis of this exhibit without showing one of the beautiful pairs of shoes on display. Evening shoes by Ferragamo – what a delight to see these beauties!

Drexel - Ferragamo shoes

The curator of the Exhibit is Clare Sauro. She is also co-author of the catalogue accompanying the Exhibit, entitled: Immortal Beauty.

Drexel - Catalog

The final display in the Exhibit is an ethereal ball gown by Chado Ralph Rucci. Dating to just 2006, it is remarkable for its complex fabric and simplicity of form. Unable to do any justice to it with a photograph, I refer to the catalogue for excellent views of it and other of the beautiful fashions on display, too many to detail here.


Filed under Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

Shopping in My (Cedar) Closet – Again!

Some dresses – and patterns – just keep giving and giving. As the date approached for a “black tie/ masquerade” ball which my husband and I planned to attend, I decided I had better start to think about what I was going to wear. I reluctantly admitted that the fancy dress I made this past Summer was really too summery to wear to a mid-October event, so I went into my cedar closet in search of another party dress. Still looking like the day I made it 22 years ago was this dress, made from a Butterick pattern:


And here is the pattern.

Here is the pattern.

The thumbnail drawings shoe the process lines in the bodice. The description explains the construction of the skirt. I made it in the ankle length version.

The thumbnail drawings show the princess lines in the bodice. The description explains the construction of the skirt. I made it in the ankle length version. And yes – it has a side zipper.

Although I have actually made just one dress from this pattern, I have used the bow pattern (or some “sized-up” or “sized-down” variation of it) again and again. My most recent use of it was for the waist bow on my Summer dress:

 I enlarged the pattern a bit to make this bow.

I enlarged the pattern a bit to make this bow.

With a black velvet bodice, the dress from my cedar closet is definitely more suitable for cooler weather, and I didn’t think it looked too dated to wear.

GD Ball 3

I like the dropped front waistline – a detail not often seen in current patterns – at least to my knowledge.

Black and pink fancy dress

The pink fabric is polyester, although it certainly resembles silk. I never forgot the “name” of this fabric – it was called “Eyelash”! It has a crinkled effect to it, but is soft and wrinkle resistant.

This is a view of the back of the dress.

And, as luck would have it, several years ago I made a mask to wear to some other event, the purpose of which now is lost to the ages! Fortunately I had used some left over fabric from my “cedar closet” dress – so it matched perfectly.

Mask Pink

I love a mask on a stick – it doesn’t muss one’s hair! I added that vintage flower to give it extra allure. The stick is just that – a skinny dowel which I covered with ribbon.

Those are sequins around the eyes!

Those are sequins around the eyes!

When I made the dress back in the 1990s, I found this evening bag to use with it, so, of course, I wanted to use it again. How times do change! I tried every which way to fit my smartphone in it, and no amount of “schmushing” or angling allowed me to do so. Fortunately, my husband’s tux has lots of pockets, so he toted my phone for me!

Black and pink fancy dress

The final touch to my outfit was long black velvet gloves. I adore long gloves; they are elegant, fetching and … warm! I did not see another pair of formal gloves the entire evening, which to me is a little sad. Accessories like that add so much to our attire and to our “presentation” and unfortunately are one of those fashion niceties being lost in an increasingly casual world.

GD Ball 1

Click on the photo for a closer look…

GD Ball 2

Some of the people in attendance at the Ball were in costume, but I loved the fact that I could get one more wearing out of a formal dress made so long ago. Back into the cedar closet it has gone – sharing space with other out-of-season or “too sentimental-to-give-away” pieces. It is anybody’s guess whether I will ever have another opportunity to wear it. But those gloves? I am keeping those handy!



Filed under Bows as design feature, Formal or fancy dresses, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized


This particular word seems to sum up my experience – so far – with my new project of the month. I have had to “scrap” three complete muslins – as in “throw away” and “discard.” I rather like one of the other definitions for this particular word to sum up my past week of sewing – “a fight or quarrel.”   Yes, it’s been a battle, but I believe I am winning! It all started with this fabric – a soft, lovely, light-weight wool and silk blend – from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.


Here it is draped over my dress form.

Here it is draped over my dress form.

Although I knew I wanted to make a dress with a slim profile – to minimize the fabric’s horizontal design – it took me a while to find the right pattern. I started with one that had curved lines in its bodice and “scraped” that idea after my muslin (toile) revealed many fitting issues. I took that as a sign that the pattern wasn’t the best one to use anyway (which I suspected all along. It’s really important to listen to one’s intuition in things like this!) After another search in my pattern collection, I settled on this dress.

Gray painterly dress - Lanvin pattern

However, I want below-elbow length sleeves so I did a little sketch to try out the look:

Gray painterly dress - sketchAfter finding a sleeve pattern from another dress which sports two elbow darts, I figured I was in business. Ah, the battle was just beginning. The first muslin I made revealed bust darts that were two inches (two!!) too high. And although I wanted a slim profile, I do have to be able to move in the dress!  I figured I needed to add two inches in total width from the lower armscye down.  Here is a diagram of the pattern pieces. The angle of the bust darts is vital to the fit of the dress so I could not just pivot the apex of the bust. I had to reposition the entire dart, which was getting it awfully close to the pocket.

Gray painterly dress - pattern diagram

Making changes in that first muslin was just a study in frustration, so I scraped it and made a new one. My second one was better, but still had some kinks in it. The armscye seemed to be off kilter, the reason for which I could not figure out. I’m telling you these are the things that keep me up at night. At this point I went to JoAnn’s and bought more muslin. I was determined to win this fight! A whole new muslin and finally I had one that fit. I was even happy with my mish-mash sleeve (after making a few minor adjustments.)



I have now progressed to the silk-organza underlining stage of construction.   Matching the horizontal design of the fabric across the various components of the pattern will take concentration, but that’s a task that always intrigues me.


A decision about those two buttons, such an important focal point of the dress, is still to be made. The wrong side of the fabric is plain gray, so I might end up using that side for covered buttons. Suggestions, anyone??


Other than these challenges, I am feeling fairly confident that my next post will not have to be entitled “Scrap – Continued.”


Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens