Monthly Archives: December 2017

“Blazing Fashions”

Every once in a while, something unexpected and totally charming arrives in the mail. Such was the case when a Christmas card we received had something extra inside, besides a lovely greeting. The envelope was rather lumpy so I could not imagine what might be enclosed. The dear friend who sent the card has a generosity of spirit which is an inspiration to me. She is so thoughtful and ever mindful of the passions and interests of her friends. So when I opened the card and a very large size matchbook fell out, I knew she had once again given me something very special and very apropos.   (Thank you, Nancy C.!)

This was no ordinary matchbook!

This matchbook measures 4″ x 6″ so it definitely makes a statement!

“Blazing fashions” –“Larry’s world famous dresses! 10,000 dresses to tell your friends about…at cut prices.” If I had to assign a particular year to this little gem, I would say 1957, based on the styles, hem lengths, and hairdos on display in the drawing. Certainly it is from the final half of the decade of the 1950s.

The back of the matchbook gives a nostalgic glimpse into the constraints of shopping hours during that time in history. “Get here by 2:30 P. M. to be waited on” and “Closed Sunday.”

I can just imagine some of the dresses, coats and suits available for purchase. This is especially enticing when you look at the list of brands carried by Larry’s:

(Click on the image to see the partial list of designers and fashion houses.)

Many of these fashion houses/designers I recognize, others I do not. Some of the notable brands are: Nini Ricci, Adele Simpson, Donald Brooks, Nettie Rosenstein, McMullen, Davidow, Mr. Mort, Herbert Sondheim, Nantucket Naturals, Kasper, Norman Norell, Christian Dior (New York), Oleg Cassini’s, Teal Traina, H. B. Wragge, Ann Fogerty. Some of the names are hidden beneath the match sticks (which are a good 3“ in length). Also hidden is a coupon to cut out and mail in and request the following: “Please Notify Me When Your Private Sale Begins.” Also mentioned is the fact that Larry’s is “Air Conditioned for Comfort” and “All Sales Are Final.”

A number of the fashion houses/designers listed also designed for Vogue Patterns during that time period, such as Nini Ricci, Christian Dior, and Teal Traina. And I would suspect that many of Larry’s customers were also women who sewed for themselves, as so many fashionable ladies did. I also suspect that Larry’s did a booming business during the holiday season – Christmas and New Year’s – when dressing up was de rigueur. So many stories reside in this little vintage piece, to remind us all that, although much has changed, fashion and dressing well is timeless.

Also timeless is this beautiful and sacred Christmas season. It is a magical time, filled with wonder and awe, a time when the generosity of spirit is abundant and enhanced by kindness and love. May your holiday be filled with such beauties and with the love and companionship of dear friends and family. All the best to you from me!

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

December Surprises

While a life in sewing can never be humdrum, a few good surprises are always welcome. What better month for surprises than December? While my focus right now is almost entirely on getting ready for our family Christmas celebration, four unexpected occurrences have recently added fun and focus to my life in sewing. I will tell you about two of them . . .

Of course – when it comes to sewing, finding a special fabric is always a welcome surprise. Those of you who follow Fifty Dresses regularly will know that I am always on the lookout for exceptional vintage fabric. After feeling so fortunate to find one gorgeous piece of French Lesur wool earlier in the year, I thought my chances of running across another piece of Lesur were next to nothing. So – imagine my surprise when a length of midnight black Lesur came to my attention. Although this piece did not have a selvedge marking, its tags were still attached. In addition I was able to match its weave to another example which I have found in my research on this storied French manufacturer. The weave is a minute basket weave, with almost a stretchy component to it, although the weave is quite tight and the fabric is fluid.

I am always excited when I can date a fabric. From what I can tell, the real heyday of availability for Lesur wool in the USA was the early to mid 1960s. The tag on this wool clearly supports that timeframe.

The date of this fabric is in pencil on the right margin of the tag, 1/14/64.

The tags also indicate the purity of the wool, and they show the process it went through during importation from France to this country.

The lovely person who sold me this piece told me it came “from the collection of an amazing professional dressmaker who definitely splurged on her fabrics.” I have had it in the back of my mind to put a “little black dress” in my sewing queue, so this purchase now makes that inevitable.

Surprise number two is also fabric-oriented. Like many of you, I always look forward to hearing what the Pantone Color of the Year will be. I am often surprised and sometimes delighted with the choice. For the year 2018, I was both. Color 18-3838 Ultra Violet is “a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level.” According to Pantone’s description, “Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now.”

Although I do not wear a lot of purple, I love the color. I think it can be distinctive, flattering, and creative, if handled correctly. It was for that reason that when I had the chance, a few years ago, to purchase a length of vintage, purple, wool boucle, I felt very fortunate.

This is a coat weight boucle, with a distinctive windowpane weave.

What made this purchase even more exciting for me is that this is a piece of Einiger wool, from a distinguished American manufacturer of fine woolens (now no longer in business). It is not often an opportunity to own such a piece of wool comes along, especially one whose origin is clearly marked.

“Luxury Inspired by Einiger” sounds good to me!

From the early 1960s, this wool embodies not only the “intrigue of what lies ahead,” but also the intrigue of what was in the past.

So, what does lie ahead for my treasured Color of the Year fabric? Since its purchase, I have collected a flowered silk charmeuse to coordinate with it, I have picked a coat and dress pattern from the early 1960s, and I have thought much about this project. Obviously, 2018  will be – should be –  the year to make this coat.

Now, if only the “mysteries of the cosmos” could promise more sewing time in the year to come!

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Filed under Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens

Two Holiday Dresses

Sewing for my granddaughters, ages 4½ and 2½, generally means I am sewing two of everything. As they get older, I suspect this will not always be the case, but right now, it seems safe to go with identical sister dresses. They live in a part of the country which can get very cold winters, and the specific part of their state where they live tends towards a casual lifestyle. Keeping those parameters in mind, I decided to look for warm flannel when planning for dresses which could see them through the holidays and into the winter months. I wanted the dresses to be festive but not too fussy. When I found this red brushed flannel check, I bought five yards – the details for adding “festive” to the dresses would come to me, of that I was sure!

I went back to a pattern I have been using over and over, adjusting the sizing as the girls have grown, and adding my own varying design aspects to make the dresses look new and different from one season to another. The contrasting collars and cuffs add interest to the dresses, through the use of various trims.

I have used View C of this pattern for birthday dresses, including the Strawberry-print dresses from last Spring.

Finally I did not want these dresses to look so Christmas-y that the girls would not be able to use them beyond the holiday season. I knew that if I made solid holly green the sole accent color, it would limit their versatility. That’s when I got the idea to look for some multi-color wide ribbon, preferably vintage, which could be used not only for sashes, but also for piping for the collars and cuffs. I found some of the most gorgeous plaid ribbons online, especially at Promenade Fine Fabrics. They have a bricks-and-mortar store in New Orleans and a website, but they also have an Etsy Store, and that is where I found this ribbon:

The ribbon is vintage French, of course (!) – 3 1/2″ wide.

Somehow I knew instinctively that the orderly flannel gingham check and the more random plaid of the ribbon would work together. (I have since found the term for this phenomenon, as clearly stated on page 84 of the wonderful little book, 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School by Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick: “Combining visual patterns – The most effective tool for the harmonious mixing of visual patterns is counterpoint. Scale counterpoint means grouping patterns of dissimilar scales, i.e. a larger pattern with a smaller pattern… If similar patterns are used together [in this case, two plaids], their scales need to be very different. …”) I also knew that making piping out of the ribbon to accent the collars and cuffs would tie the entire look together.

Normally with piping, I try to avoid too many seams, but the ribbon is lightweight and such lovely quality that I was able to piece together bias strips of it easily, and the seams are really imperceptible on the finished dresses.

This gives you an idea of how much piecing I had to do to make the bias strips for piping!

However, the plaid gave me very specific sewing lines when joining the bias pieces.

I made the collars and cuffs out of a creamy white linen and cotton blend, which matched the “white” in the flannel well. I also lined the bodices with that same fabric.

I couldn’t help myself – I put the zippers in by hand.

The buttons are vintage ones that I have had in my button box for decades, just waiting for the right application.

I originally thought I would place each button within a square of the gingham plaid, but it looks so much better to have the buttons straddle the squares.

I added sash carriers to the side seams, and the ribbon just gets tied in a big bow.

The longer sleeves will help keep the girls warm.

And here are Aida and Carolina, after visiting Santa, candy cane included!

This is very satisfying sewing, made especially so by two little girls who seem to love dresses! My daughter tells me they will be wearing them when they go to see a special performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. They may just steal the show!

 

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Sewing for children, Uncategorized