Monthly Archives: July 2016

Britex or Bust

No trip to the West Coast of the United States is complete for me without a stop at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. This time I had a specific goal in mind: finding silk lining fabric for the next “Classic French Jacket” I have planned. I was so fortunate to receive this lovely boucle as a Christmas gift from my (grown) children, and am so anxious to start work on this jacket, hopefully in the late Fall.

2 full yards of this glorious boucle! What a wonderful gift!

2 full yards of this glorious boucle! What a wonderful gift! (Purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City.)

However, I knew I could not start work on it until I had the lining, the trim and the buttons. Britex seemed like the perfect spot to find the perfect lining (and trim), so off I went with my husband and son for a marathon session at this wonderful purveyor of beautiful fabrics and all things sewing. Walking in to Britex from their entrance on Geary Street always gives me a thrill. One is met with tables wide enough for entire bolts of silk twills, charmeuses, chiffons, etc., to be spread out for easy viewing.

Britex interior view copy

Like so many stores in San Francisco, Britex Fabrics extends through the width of the building, from its main entrance on Geary Street through to its back entrance on Maiden Lane.

Opposite from the silks are bolts and bolts of boucles lined up.

Britex boucles 1 copy

More boucles!

More boucles!

Above the silks are more bolts and bolts  – of woolens.

Britex interior view 2 copy

As usual, the Sales Associates at Britex are knowledgeable and always helpful. With my boucle sample swatch in hand, I started looking. My search was helped immensely by a lovely young woman who knew the silks, and started uncovering several which held promise. One, however, was the absolute winner. I was thrilled to find this blue silk lightweight twill, which had all the colors I wanted in a stunning floral print:

The photo does not give this silk its due. The colors are deep and clean.

The photo does not give this silk its due. The colors are deep and clean.

I had several more stops to make on the upper floors of Britex – for lightweight separating zippers (which I find impossible to find), for trim for my jacket (which I forgot to photograph before having it sent home with my other purchases), for Petersham ribbon, for this and that!

Returning to the first floor, I found my husband eyeing a piece of wool – not for me, but for him! Our tailor at home may find himself making a sport jacket out of a piece of Britex woolen:

Britex wool

With so much fabric already in my queue at home, I was trying to avoid being smitten by too much else. But I could not resist taking photos of some of the silks available:

I loved this geometric print.

I loved this geometric print.

Bold and beautiful.

Bold and beautiful.

I am always drawn to pink and green.

I am always drawn to pink and green.

A real conversation starter!

A real conversation starter!

An unbelievable print!

An unbelievable print!

A watercolor print, reminiscent of Matisse.

A watercolor print, painterly and shimmery.

I love the pop of pink in this blue floral silk charmeuse.

I love the pop of pink in this blue floral silk charmeuse.

With more to do and see in San Francisco, we were (too) soon on our way, and I bid a fond farewell to Britex. But only ‘til next time and next year and my next project needing something perfect…

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, silk, Uncategorized

At The Met

Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.

The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:

“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.”   These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!

But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:

This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”

Met - Chanel cape copy

Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”

Met - rooster dress

The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”

Met Givenchy Dress

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:

Met - Dior ensemble copy

I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!

Met Chanel suit

After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.

The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!

There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”   But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.

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Filed under Capes, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

From Flora to Flop

 

In sewing there are various degrees of success. At one end of the spectrum is something which not only fits well, but is flattering, a perfect combination of pattern and fabric, a piece destined to become a staple in one’s wardrobe. At the other end is – a complete flop. Flops are painful, aren’t they? I didn’t realize this project was going to be a flop until I was almost finished with it, although I was beginning to have my doubts about halfway through it.

I started out with this really lovely linen blend from Mood Fabrics, which I’ve had for a few years. Here it is draped on my dress form:

Flowered Flora

The fabric looks like - and is - a somewhat loosely woven linen, but it is surprisingly stable.

The fabric looks like – and is – a somewhat loosely woven linen, but it is surprisingly stable.

I had purchased the By Hand London “Flora” pattern (a departure for me to buy a “new” pattern!), as it reminded me of a Cristobal Balenciaga dress which I have long admired.

Flowered Flora

Flowered Flora

Evening dress in flocked shantung in blue and black, 1957

Both images are from: Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa; Fundazion Cristobal Balenciaga Fundazioa, Editorial NEREA; English Edition 2011; distributed in the USA by Thames & Hudson Inc., NY, NY, page 260.

Both images are from: Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga Museoa; Fundazion Cristobal Balenciaga Fundazioa, Editorial NEREA; English Edition 2011; distributed in the USA by Thames & Hudson Inc., NY, NY, page 260.

I had not intended to use the Flora pattern for this fabric, but somehow I got the notion that it would be really pretty. In addition the fabric was 60” wide, a requirement for the Flora dress, and for once, I had enough yardage. I made a muslin, and liked the way it looked – and I did a fairly good job of perfecting the fit of the bodice. The pattern lends itself to using couture construction techniques, as there are no facings, so that fit right in with how I like to sew. I underlined it all with silk organza. I catch-stitched all the seams. I used a silk crepe de chine lining, and hand sewed it into the bodice. I backstitched all the edges to secure the lining.

The silk organza added additional stability.

The silk organza added additional stability.

Flowered flora

I chose a pretty orange crepe de chine for the lining.

I chose a pretty orange crepe de chine for the lining.

The skirt is voluminous and that is where my problems began. It seemed okay made up in muslin, but once I had it constructed in the fashion fabric, I looked like I was a dumpling wearing a flowered parachute. The funny thing was that when I had it on my dress form, I thought it was rather attractive. I was fooled into thinking that if I just got it all put together, I’d be happy with it.

Looks pretty, doesn't it?

Looks pretty, doesn’t it?

I thought the orange lining would be lovely peeking out from the dipped back hem...

I thought the orange lining would be lovely peeking out from the dipped back hem…

I have been trying to figure out what went wrong. I think perhaps the pattern is just too “youthful” looking for me. I think it is such a pretty dress, but perhaps my days of wearing voluminous skirts are over (… although the skirt on my silk dress from last summer looks fine. It is, however, simply a gored skirt with no additional pleats or fullness.)

Allure of silk final

The skirt is full, but hangs with no bulk.

Now I am left with trying to salvage something from this project. I like the fabric too much to just abandon it, and I have too much time and effort and money invested in it all, as well.   Right now, however, I am very sick of the whole thing, so it might be a while until I come back to it. But when I do, I am going to separate the bodice from the skirt first.

Now I wish i had left the bodice just as you see it here!

Now I wish I had left the bodice just as you see it here!

Then I think I may cut a new slim skirt (no pleats, no gathers, just a nice, slim, matronly skirt!) to attach to the bodice, and perhaps make a self-belt with a tailored bow for the closure.

How does that sound?

 

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Filed under couture construction, Linen, Uncategorized

Blame It on the Buttons

It can be a little overwhelming to look at my (growing) collection of beautiful summer linens, and then try to make a decision on which piece to select for my next project.

Fortunately, a random purchase of buttons helped me make up my mind this time around. I found these buttons at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco last year, and purchased them on a whim, not knowing when or how I would use them. I also don’t know what possessed me to purchase 6 of them, but that’s what I did.

Yes, those are interlocking "a la Chanel" Cs.

Yes, those are interlocking “a la Chanel” Cs.

When I got them home, I realized they were a perfect match with a length of vintage, pale yellow, Moygashel linen in my possession. I tucked the fabric and the buttons away together, confident that the perfect pattern would also be found amongst my many vintage Vogue patterns.

It was a bit of a trick finding a pattern that needed 6 (or fewer) ¾” buttons. This one kept surfacing as the most ideal candidate:

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

Ideal, except for the yardage needed, that is. Many of you know by now that being a “little shy” of the prescribed fabric usually does not keep me from my desired goal! After making a fitting muslin and making the necessary adjustments, I cut out my underlining (light weight linen/cotton blend) and used that as my pattern. It was immediately evident that I did not have enough of that 35” width linen.

Or did I? I figured if I eliminated the center back box pleat and replaced it with just a slit in the back center seam, I’d save a bit of yardage requirements. I could make the sleeve hem facings out of the underlining, saving a bit more. And if I cut the collar on the horizontal straight of grain rather then the vertical, I could just fit the pattern pieces onto my yardage. It was a good thing I had already decided to eliminate the chest pockets (a little too 1950s.) And a self-belt?   Out of the question!

A belt turned out to be a perplexing question. I had been fortunate enough for a few years to have my belts and covered buttons custom made by Pat Mahoney, but since her retirement last year, I have found no replacement for her services. I was dreading the prospect of making my own belt. The only good thing was I knew I had a piece of vintage Moygashel linen in a medium navy blue (see the button photo above) which would be a good contrasting color for the yellow dress. I decided I would think about actually making the belt after I had the dress itself finished.

For a simple shirtwaist dress, there were a number of time-consuming details, like the gussets I covered in my last post. There were also six bound buttonholes to work.

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

Blame it on the buttons

 

There were separate front bodice facings, and a front skirt placket with separate facings. There were sleeve hem facings (as mentioned above), and lots of trimming, clipping, and grading of seams! And then the dress was done.  Except for the belt, of course.

After giving myself a pep talk, I took out one of Pat’s belts and studied it, vowing to duplicate as closely as possible her techniques and precision. Fortunately I had a belt buckle from long ago, which I had saved. It was for a 1.25” width belt, which is exactly what I wanted.  I plunged ahead and this what I made, working the eyelets by hand (which fortunately don’t show much on the dark linen!):

Blame it on the buttons

The underside, just in case you are curious!

Although not my favorite dress of all time, I think I’ll get good use out of it, and I do love its pairing with “summer” blue.

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

The clutch is a perfect match with the belt – how lucky is that?

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Best of all, the buttons add just the right, somewhat mysterious, touch.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Day dresses, kimono sleeves, Linen, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s