Gazing at Gussets and Fashion Exhibits

We are almost halfway through the sewing year! Time for me to just keep plugging along, being grateful for any hours I can spend sewing – or dreaming about sewing. Lately it seems I have spent more time dreaming about it than actually accomplishing anything. But that’s not quite true. I have actually done a lot of sewing (I call it necessary sewing) – just not anything worth sharing. But that is about to change.

I am working on a yellow linen shirtdress, using this pattern:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

I am making the short sleeve version – but a little shorter!

I am really getting to be a fan of kimono sleeves. They were incredibly popular in the 1950s (and early ‘60s), and their construction varies according to the type of gusset used. The dress in this pattern has a gusset that forms part of the sleeve, itself.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

The instructions for inserting the gusset are quite explicit and interesting, I think. The first step is to work a “bar” across the point on the bodice where the matching point of the gusset is placed. I have actually never seen this done, but it makes sense as it reinforces that stress point.

Gazing at Gussets 1st diagran

I also like the double stitching on the interior seams of the gusset as shown in this section:

Gazing at Gussets 2nd diagram

Here is how the finished short sleeve is diagrammed:

Gazing at Gussets 3rd diagram

And here are some photos of the finished gussets on my dress:

Gazing at Gussets

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the underpart of the sleeve.

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the under-section of the sleeve.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

I managed to tear myself away from my sewing room for a few hours this week to go to see an exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (USA). Entitled Philadelphia In Style, the exhibit featured fashions either made, worn or purchased in Philadelphia, PA over the course of about 100 years (1880-1980).

Duskin - Exhibit title

All are part of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a veritable treasure trove of designer, haute couture and ready-to-wear dresses, coats, ensembles, shoes, handbags, and accessories of all types. The Exhibit has special meaning for those of us with Philadelphia ties, but universal meaning for lovers of fine fashion anywhere.

Although the clothing on display was fascinating and, for the most part, lovely, it was the numerous fashion illustrations, framed and lined up one after the other, which really caught my attention. They had all been done in 1954 for a specialty ladies’ shop in Philadelphia, called Nan Duskin. The most amazing thing is that each one had a swatch of the intended fabric taped in the corner of each drawing. Here is a sampling:

Duskin sketch - purple dress

The buttons were still in question for this dress – note the line in the upper right side “buttons?”

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

I love the saucy pose in this sketch - and the posy perched on the shoulder!

I love the saucy pose in this sketch – and the posy perched on the shoulder!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

Here are a couple of the fashions represented in the Exhibit:

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table "Irene for Nan Duskin." This was Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA.

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table “Irene for Nan Duskin.” (Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA)

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. the fabric is s ilk and wool brocade.

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. The fabric is silk and wool brocade.

The Exhibit did manage to include one of the most unattractive Chanel suits I think I have ever seen.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

But it was still fascinating to look at the cuff detail:

Duskin Chanel suit detail

One of the most charming displays in the Exhibit was a collection of hat boxes from the stores in Philadelphia which were the purveyors of so many fine fashions over the decades.

Duskin - hat box display

As a lover of pretty boxes and bags, I found this vignette not only delightful, but also evocative of the thought and care inherent in buying and wearing beautiful fashions. They reminded me of the same little thrill I get when a piece of beautiful fabric which I have purchased shows up in the mail, elegantly presented in crisp tissue and tied with silky ribbons.   It makes it oh-so-easy to fall in love immediately!

23 Comments

Filed under bound buttonholes, Coco Chanel, Day dresses, Dressmaker suits, Fashion Exhibits, Gussets, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

23 responses to “Gazing at Gussets and Fashion Exhibits

  1. Love these photos, especially the Chanel and the Vogue and completed gusset scans. Good timing too; I’d just put up a post with scans of often contradictory gusset instructions from Evenlyn Mansfield, Adele Margolis, Frances Mauck and Line Jaque, and then I went to WordPress reader, and this was at the top. Now to take a better look at your scans…

    • So glad my post was timely for you. I went right over to read your post and found the gusset information you provided very interesting. Once again, I marvel at the excellent instructions in these older Vogue patterns.

  2. Thank you once again for a fabulous article. It just so happens that I’m inserting new gussets into a dolman sleeve vintage wedding gown for a customer because she wants to be able to dance in it. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. x

  3. Donna

    I realize the sketch is a sketch, but my goodness, look at the size of the waist. I do remember my mother wearing a long bra, or Merry Widow as she called it. I had to help get the hooks fastened!

  4. Gussets are under utilized in current patterns. They make possible a relatively slim fitting kimono sleeve. Please post the finished dress. I’ve also added underarm gussets to vintage wedding gowns for ease of movement.

  5. I love the pattern you’re using (even the big bag she is carrying), and as always, impressed with the quality of your sewing. The hat boxes are fun, the framed patterns are wonderful (what a grand idea for decorating a sewing room) …. oh those tiny waistlines! Can’t wait to see your lovely new finished dress!

  6. Thank you for the great photos of your project and the exhibit.

  7. I love your seam finishes on this linen. Is that a silk tape?

    • Actually it is Snug Hug rayon seam tape. Available on Amazon or at Wawak. It comes in 100 yard rolls – and I love it! I use it a lot, and it is especially nice as a seam finish in an application like this.

  8. Kati

    Can’t wait to see your new dress! I also love the seam finish. That exhibit sounds fascinating. I have just bought a couple of coffee table books on different exhibits.
    I would love to ask you that do you always use silk organza underlining and no other reinforcement when making coats? I have read some of your older posts when you used that method, which you learnt in a class with Susan Khalje. Does it give enough support? (I guess it must, otherwise you wouldn’t have used that method.) I’m in the UK and summer still haven’t arrived, so instead of making dresses and tops I’m thinking of jackets and coats already. Also, could you please share where you buy your silk organza from? You must get it by the bolt. 🙂 Many thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment, Kati. About that silk organza underlining: when I made my color blocked coat (started in a class with Susan Khalje), I was kind of amazed that she did not require me to add more interfacing – just the silk organza. Well, it is kind of like magic – it seems to add just the right amount of support, without adding stiffness. So yes, that’s all I use now in my coats. I did, however, add another layer of it in the shoulder area of my gray cashmere coat. I thought the kimono sleeve shoulders could use just a bit more reinforcement with the heavy wool, and I figured it couldn’t hurt! I buy my silk organza from Susan. It comes in 60″ width, and I usually buy ten yards at a time. I’ve tried silk organza from other sources, and it is just not as nice (too stiff, or something!) as the product that Susan carries. Hopefully she ships to the UK.
      We are right in the midst of hot summer here, but I am always thinking about coats!

      • Kati

        Thank you so much for responding! That’s fascinating! It certainly makes things a lot easier, no pad stitching, etc. necessary.
        I have purchased a couple of things from Susan before and just checked her silk organza and amazingly it still works out cheaper buying it from her. One thing that I will never understand is that how can high quality Italian fabrics be cheaper in he U.S. than in the U.K.? 😦
        Now I just need to find some nice fabrics for my projects…
        Best wishes!

      • Hi again, Kati! I should have mentioned that you should still do the prescribed pad stitching, just do it with the organza as your anchor. It works like a charm!

      • Kati

        Thank you, Karen for clarifying. I would love to see some construction pictures when you make a new coat.
        Oh, how I wish I had your skills! I’m still a beginner, although I did start my sewing off with a lined jacket. Nothing like a challenge. 🙂 I love beautiful fabrics, but slightly worried I will mess things up, so decided to go for fabrics with more of a mid range price point this time, such as Harris Tweed and Linton Tweed. Cannot wait to move on to working cashmere! 🙂
        (For some reason I could’t comment underneath your last your message.)

  9. Thanks for the photos! They used such lovely fabric!

  10. Marguerite

    What a wonderful exhibit! Thanks for posting so many great photos for us. Don’t you love that we can discuss gussets! They certainly are missing from newer patterns and RTW. Without them, dolman sleeves are so constricting. I was on a quest a while back for a pattern to try and replicate the iconic Max Mara camel coat and came across a few from the 50s with gussets.

  11. Sidney Sid

    Awesome post

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