Category Archives: Capes

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

Spending time on the Cape.

Doesn’t this sound like a wonderful vacation?  Picture billowy clouds reminiscent of  silk organza, gently undulating waves of turquoise hue, windswept flowers lining the landscape. . .   So where would one find this perfect setting?  I hope you’re not disappointed to learn that it all happened in my sewing room.  Yes, that’s correct – it has been wonderful, but this cape is the wearable kind, and I have definitely spent time on it!

The fabric in which I made my Couture dress was a length of linen I picked up last April.  When I found it, I did not yet have a pattern in mind for it so I thought I’d purchase enough (3 yards) to cover just about anything, and at 58” wide, I had a nice amount left over from my dress.  It just so happens that earlier in the Summer, I had found this pattern and added it to my collection:

Capes were in fashion in the 1970s and are again today!

I remembered this pattern from the 1970s and always liked the short cape, with its asymmetrical opening and clever folds of fabric resulting from that detail.

As I was working on my dress, I started to think about what else I could make from this lovely linen.  I didn’t particularly want to make a jacket, as I envisioned the dress as the focal point, but I did think it would be nice to have some kind of matching “wrap” for cool evenings. Well, the rest is quite obvious – I decided to make a short cape to go with my dress.

First I needed to find a silk lining fabric, which would compliment the linen.  I wanted a print of some sort to add some interest to the finished look.  I think I looked at every printed silk available on the internet!  I found lots of gorgeous designs, but only one which presented the possibility of both coordinating with the teal blue linen and introducing some other colors as well.  My old friend Britex Fabrics not only had this fabric, but  also had a vintage button among their extensive offerings, which looked like a good candidate for my needs.  I sent off for the button and swatch, and did indeed then order the silk charmeuse.

I like the abstract quality to this print.

Armed with my new-found couture techniques, I made a muslin pattern which helped me get the perfect fit over the shoulders (which is pretty much what a cape is all about).  I underlined the cape in that oh-so-wonderful silk organza, and added  interfacing, where required, of the same.  Some of this was a judgment call, as I determined were I could use couture features and where I had to follow the tailored construction of the cape.

This shows the silk organza underlining, and the side seam, catch-stitched to it.

One of the hem techniques I learned in The Couture Dress class was helpful with this hem.

Call me crazy, but I just love to make bound buttonholes.  Although the pattern called for a 2-inch button, the one I found was 1½ inches (and I thought it a more refined size anyway).  That still calls for a large buttonhole!  I practiced first, then got to work on the real thing.

The finished bound buttonhole

And the finished underside of the buttonhole.

And the button…

I understitched the facings by hand with that beautiful prick stitch, and attached the lining with the fell stitch.

A peak inside the cape.

Here is the finished look (unfortunately on a hanger and not on me…).

Here is the cape shown over my Couture dress

With one corner pinned up to show the lining.

This view shows the lovely draping formed by the asymmetrical opening.

And one more view.

Well, my time on the Cape officially draws my summer sewing to a close.  Now it’s going to be all wools or wool blends and maybe some silks – and I can’t wait!  Let’s throw an extra blanket on the bed and dream of cool nights and crisp days filled with creative hours of sewing. . .

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Capes, couture construction, Linen, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s