Category Archives: Chanel-type jackets

Does Sewing Make Us Smarter?

Could it be that while we are planning, fitting, pinning, cutting, stitching, (and re-stitching), we are also using skills that can enhance the ability of our brains to process information and solve complex problems?

I have always loved the fact that sewing demands so many different skills and abilities, but I never thought of it as “brain-enhancing” until I read an article with the intriguing title “Which Professions Can Make You Smarter?” (by Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2015: search here.) The author identified five criteria that indicate the activity or job you are doing, can, according to some neuro-scientists, enhance the “elasticity” and cognitive ability of the brain. One by one, as these criteria were listed, I thought of how apropos they are to sewing. See what you think:

1) “You work at tasks that are difficult enough that you make some mistakes.”

As we all know only too well, mistakes are part of sewing. Why else would seam rippers have been invented?  Have you ever sewn a sleeve in backwards or failed to match a plaid? I immediately thought of this blouse which I made a couple of years ago; while sewing the collar/tie to the front of the bodice, I made the same mistake over and over until I finally got it right.

The Necessary Blouse

2) “You have a job [or avocation] that is continually challenging.”

Whether the challenge comes from the pattern you have chosen, the fabric, the fitting issues you are facing, your time constraints, or any other myriad of potential hazards or goals, sewing is inherently challenging. A good example of a sewing challenge is the use of Marfy patterns. With no written instructions, minimal marking on the pattern tissues, and often complex (but very exciting) designs, Marfy patterns are definitely for the dressmaker who relishes a challenge.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

3) “Your work lets you progress to higher skill levels, but you are never able to master it.”

I am always amazed at people who, knowing that I have  taken numerous couture-sewing classes, comment to me that I “must know everything there is to know about sewing.”  I find that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Just take a look at the Table of Contents of this special Designer edition of Threads Magazine from Summer 2014.   So much to learn, and while every piece we finish expands our sewing knowledge – and abilities – we are still humbled by some of the amazing techniques that would take more than a lifetime to master.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques

Click on the image to read the text.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques - 2

4) “Improving your skills is rewarding enough that you want to keep trying to do better.”

I believe this is one of the most important aspects of sewing. The reward of using – and improving – your skills is something you can wear! Although I love a Classic French Jacket, and want more of them because of their wearability, style, and enduring appeal, I have to confess that after making my first one in a class with Susan Khalje, I immediately wanted to make another one to see if I could improve on the first one. Now I have two more in my queue – and yes, it does have at least some small part to do with making each one better than the one before.

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes on my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes to my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

5) “You have to pay attention to details while solving more complex problems.”

The details in sewing are legend! The darts, the seams, the proper alignment of your fabric, using the correct thread, choosing buttons, marking – well, the list goes on and on and on. We do all of this as a matter of course in our sewing, but we also know that if one of these details is not done well, it can affect the outcome of the entire garment. So, for example, while I am working my way through some complex instructions such as the sheet below, I have to be completing each detail, no matter how simple, with mindfulness and skill.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

One of the sewing quotes I love so much is from the great American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“It is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their hearts than while so occupied.”

It seems we are also at home with our minds while stitching away the hours.

 

 

31 Comments

Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Love of sewing, Marfy patterns, Quotes about sewing, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized

The Necessary Blouse

Fashion sewing is an interesting combination of inspiration, aspiration, indulgence and necessity, manifested singly or collectively.  My newly completed bow blouse is an example of a bit of all of these motivations rolled into one.  This is the blouse I made to go with my No. 2 Chanel-inspired jacket, made from the same red and navy blue geometric print silk with which I lined the jacket.

The Necessary Blouse Inspiration came from several sources.  I was mostly inspired by the pattern, which is copyright 1957 by The Conde Nast Publications, Inc. (Vogue Patterns) – so much so, that I purchased it in a size larger than I usually wear, as that was what was available – and with vintage patterns, one is never sure to find a favorite one again soon – or ever.

Looking at blouses 1957

Some of the aspects of the pattern which appealed to me are: 1) the “dropped” bow shown in views A and B; 2) the various sleeve lengths; 3) the shaping in the body of the blouse – soft and understated, but very feminine.  Just for fun, I looked through a few of my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from 1957 and 1958, to see if I could find examples of this blouse pattern.  That was easy!  Here is one sketch and one photograph of Vogue 9227:

The blouse was featured in the December/January 1957-58 issue.

The blouse was featured in the December/January 1957-58 issue.

Part of a feature entitled "A new era for the soft BLOUSE."  In the August/September, 1957 issue of VPB.

Part of a feature entitled “A new era for the soft BLOUSE.” In the August/September, 1957 issue of VPB. 

After making a sheath dress to coordinate with my Chanel-inspired jacket No. 1, I aspired to pair my Jacket No. 2 with a suitable companion, too.  A bow blouse seemed to be a versatile and useful solution.  And then it became a necessity!   I decided my Jacket No. 2 would not be complete until I finished this blouse.

Back view

Back view

Step number one was to make a muslin (of course), knowing that I would need to alter the pattern to fit me correctly.  Sure enough, I needed to take out the bagginess in the bust and body of the blouse, and I needed to shorten the sleeves.  I went to my favorite book on making alterations which guided me through the correct changes:

I highly recommend this book.

I highly recommend this book.

My muslin showed me that the sleeves were also a little too full for me and for current 2014 styles, so I removed some girth from them as well.  I was skeptical of the bow (cut on the diagonal) when I looked at the pattern and then the muslin.  Would it be too full?  Made up in muslin it seemed a little overwhelming.  But, my silk was so lightweight and fine, that I decided it might just be okay, using the original dimensions.

Here is the bow/collar ready to be attached to the body of the blouse.

Here is the bow/collar ready to be attached to the body of the blouse.

This blouse went together quite as planned, although I worked on one side where the bow/collar joins the corner at the front facing for hours, until I had it inserted correctly.  I kept making the same mistake over and over, which was a little irritating.  I also added some extra hand-sewing, understitching the facing by hand and hand-stitching the hem.

Hand understitching looks just so much nicer than machine stitching!

Hand understitching looks just so much nicer than machine stitching!

When I started the blouse, I had not yet picked out buttons, thinking I would use some that I have in my vintage collection.  But then I was on Waechter’s website and found these buttons, which seemed just about perfect:

The Necessary Blouse - button

These buttons measure 5/8″. 

(Sadly, Waechter’s is closing their business in Asheville, N. C., to my great dismay.  This makes me even more grateful for Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, from which I purchased all the fabric for this blouse and my Jacket No. 2.)

Sewing with vintage patterns is such a pleasure in so many ways.  For example, the sleeve vents had their own separate pattern piece:

The instruction sheet from the pattern . . . .

The instruction sheet from the pattern . . . .

The vent sewn on . . . .

The vent sewn on . . . .

. . . . and the finished vent.

. . . . and the finished vent.

Another classic vintage aspect is the proscribed use of snaps  – in this pattern, at the waist and below, which takes bulk away from the “tuck-in” part of the blouse.

And that bow?  Once I had it made up, was it too much?

I think the bow is just about perfect.

I think the bow is just about perfect.

I am very glad I didn't tinker with the size of the bow!

I am very glad I didn’t tinker with the size of the bow!

Shown with the jacket.  I really like how the collar on the blouse shows a bit when i have the jacket on.

Shown with the jacket. I really like how the collar on the blouse shows a bit when I have the jacket on.

The Necessary Blouse

A comfortable fit.

The Necessary Blouse

Would be nice with a navy skirt as well …

The Necessary Blouse

Whew!  Blouse and jacket turned out as I had hoped!

Whew! Blouse and jacket turned out as I had hoped!

I am feeling quite good about indulging in the extra fabric and extra time needed to make this blouse.  Now that my No. 2 Jacket is complete, I can indulge in my other current project – my color-blocked coat –  which might add a new word to the vocabulary of fashion sewing – obsession!

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, sewing in silk, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

The Second Time Around

Coco Chanel reopened her House of Chanel in 1954, and by the early ‘60s, her suit with its narrow skirt and boxy cardigan jacket, famously made from beautiful boucles, was a dominant fashion look.  I could not help but think of another product of the early ‘60s as I was working on my Chanel-inspired Jacket No. 2:  the song, written by Sammy Cahn and set to music by Jimmy Van Heusen, entitled “The Second Time Around”.  I wondered if making my No. 2 would be “lovelier the second time around”?  And you know what?  It was!  I give so much credit to Susan Khalje, from whom I took the Classic French Jacket Class, whose tips and teachings gave me much confidence as I tackled No. 2 on my own.

There were a couple of additions and subtractions I decided to try with my second jacket.  The easy one was deciding to have just two pockets rather than four.  The more involved one was deciding to add buttonholes to the front edge, the sleeve plackets, and the pockets.  However, I remembered Susan’s statements about making buttonholes in one of these jackets – and the reason she advocates in her class the use of “hook and eye” fasteners at the abutted front edges.  It is very difficult to make acceptable hand-done buttonholes in this loosely woven fabric, unless one is extremely skilled in this procedure.  Since the only hand-done buttonholes I am used to doing are bound buttonholes – not acceptable in this application, due to the type of fabric – I knew I had to figure out another way to get buttonholes in my No. 2.

Fortunately, I have an issue of Threads Magazine from June/July 1989 in which Chanel jackets are featured.  This picture gave me the idea for seam-slot buttonholes.

You can tell the buttonholes in this jacket are vertical, nestled between two trims.

You can tell the buttonholes in this jacket are vertical, nestled between two trims.  Pictured in Threads Magazine, June/July 1989, page 28.

I would just have to add on a separate piece for the right front, make each pocket in two pieces, and make the plackets on the sleeves separate pieces, sewn on with openings in the seams to make the buttonholes.  Here is an example of what I did.

The extension is sewn on separately, leaving three openings, evenly spaced for buttonholes in the seam.

The extension is sewn on separately, leaving three openings, evenly spaced for buttonholes in the seam.

Of course doing these extra pieces meant I had to apply separate linings to each extension.

Here is the separate lining piece being applied to the placket.

Here is the separate lining piece being applied to the placket.

The entire time I was quilting the jacket, working on the seams, and figuring out these buttonholes, I was pondering the trim.  Some of you may recall (if you read my blog regularly) that I could not decide between two different trims.

Here are the two trims I had chosen.

Here are the two trims I had chosen.  I really liked the fact that the spacing on the multi-color trim matched exactly the spacing of the red rows on my fabric.

Because of the lining fabric I had chosen (and from which I am making a blouse), I was leaning towards the red, white and blue trim, but I thought it looked a little “weak”.  What to do?  I started looking at as many pictures of Chanel jackets as I could find, but the one that made the light bulb go off was one from that same issue of Threads Magazine:

The Second Time Around - grosgrain ex

Click on the picture to see the underlying grosgrain ribbon.

If I could find a Petersham grosgrain ribbon in the right color, I thought it would be the perfect backing for either trim.  Once again, Britex Fabrics  (from which I had already purchased the boucle, the lining fabric, the buttons, and the two trims) came to the rescue:  I ordered 5/8 inch Tomato Red ribbon – and then paired it with each trim.

I thought the grosgrain ribbon made both trims look better, but especially the multi-color one.

The grosgrain ribbon made both trims look better, but especially the multi-color one.  Click on the photo for a close-up view.

I thought it added just the right amount of depth to the multi-color trim, and my decision was confidently made.

I sewed the Petersham ribbon on before I did the finish work on the inside lining seams.  Then the ribbon provided a wonderful surface on which to attach the trim.

The Petersham ribbon attached.  If you look closely, you can see the sea-slot buttonholes.

The Petersham ribbon attached. If you look closely, you can see the seam-slot buttonholes.

 I took this picture to show the contrast between the trims.  I think the multi-color trim adds more interest to the jacket.

I took this picture to show the contrast between an all red  trim and the multi-color one. I think the multi-color trim adds more interest to the jacket.

So – here’s the jacket (shown on my dress form for now.  Once I get the matching blouse finished, I’ll “model” it for you.)

No 2

Back view, obviously!

Back view, obviously!

No 2

Details, details!

Details, details!  Can you tell that I added a little length to the back of the jacket?  It makes for a more graceful appearance when worn.

Here is the bottom buttonhole on the front of the jacket - and notice the chain!

Here is the bottom buttonhole on the front of the jacket – and notice the chain!

There is no way to make this jacket quickly.  The extra steps I added (buttonholes and 2 layers of trim) added to the length of the process as well.  But – it was incredibly satisfying to see it turn out as well as it did.  I am grateful that I made this No. 2 shortly (well, within 6 months) after my first jacket, as it reinforced my knowledge of the process.  For my next one I’d like to add a “mandarin” type collar, as shown in these examples:

The Second Time Around - mandarin collar ex 1

This example is from Threads Magazine June/July 1989, page 28

I love this suit in houndstooth wool.  This is pictured in Threads Magazine, January 2014, page 44.

I love this suit in houndstooth wool. This is pictured in Threads Magazine, January 2014, page 44.

So when will No. 3 commence?  I don’t see it on the horizon yet, but perhaps when it does, the third time around will be … “the charm”.

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, couture construction, Uncategorized, woolens

Happy New Sewing Year

“Dresses for breakfasts, and dinners, and balls;

Dresses to sit in, and stand in, and walk in;

Dresses to dance in, and flirt in, and talk in;

Dresses in which to do nothing at all;

Dresses for Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall”

William Allen Butler (1825-1902) may have thought “Nothing to Wear”, from which these lines are taken, was a satirical poem, but he obviously did not know 21st century fashion sewers.  Isn’t January just the perfect time to plan for the creation of “dresses for Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall”?  Yes, thank you for agreeing with me.

Last year I took a rather theoretical approach to the new sewing year, but this year I am focusing on more specific plans.  Let me start with Winter.

I have three things that I want to complete while the snow is still flying (which gives me until the end of March, more or less):

1)  My Chanel-inspired classic French jacket is my current project, and I am happy to report that I am making slow but steady progress on it.

2) I won’t consider the jacket really complete until I have made the bow blouse that will match its lining.

3) I am excited to say that I am going to be joining one of Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing Classes in February, and my intended project is — ta-daa — this jacket which I have wanted to make ever since Vogue Patterns first issued it in the 1970s!

I will definitely be doing the color blocked version when I make this coat.

I will definitely be doing the color blocked version when I make this coat.

With any luck (or maybe lots of it will be needed), it may still be Winter when I start this project intended for an event in late April event:

I have an authentic Pucci silk from which to make the dress and line the jacket.

I have an authentic Pucci silk from which to make the dress and line the jacket.

In addition, Spring will not be complete for me until I make a dress for my granddaughter who will be 1-year-old in March.  I purchased this fabric last Fall when I was at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts.  You can imagine my excitement when I saw that the gift shop included yardage of soft, quality cotton featuring designs from his books.  I envision these little ducks embellished with yellow rick-rack.

Happy New Sewing Year - carle fabric Before Spring bids us adieu, I may divert from dresses to make another pair of slim pants in this vintage 1950s’ linen:

I only have 1 5/8 yards of this 35" wide fabric, so it remains to be seen if i can squeeze pants out of it.

I only have one and 5/8 yards of this 35″ wide fabric, so it remains to be seen if I can squeeze pants out of it.

If Summer of 2014 is as hot as last Summer (or even if it is not), I’ll be making at least two more cool, linen dresses, one sheath-style and one belted.  More on these linen fabric finds in a future post…

And a bathrobe!!  I am dying to make a swishy bathrobe!

Ah, and then comes Fall (already??), probably my favorite season of all.  I have two projects envisioned:

1) I found this stretch silk charmeuse at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics on a quick day trip to NYC in early Fall.

Another gorgeous Italian silk!

Another gorgeous Italian silk!

I bought it thinking I may use it for the lining for my No. 2 French jacket, but shortly after that I found this pattern on eBay and promptly decided it would be perfect made up in this dress (which requires a stretch fabric.  Well, it says “ knit fabrics only” but I say stretch fabric will do just fine).

This os one of the few patterns from the 1980s which I really like.  However, i will not be duplicating the hairstyle.

This is one of the few patterns from the 1980s which I really like. However, I will not be duplicating the hairstyle.

2) I’ve had this buttery soft cashmere wool for a couple of years now.  I originally thought I’d make a suit, but now I’m thinking long-sleeved dress instead.  I’m still sorting this one out in my head so I’m very glad I have until next Fall.

A subtle windowpane check in navy with deep red and ivory intersecting lines.

A subtle windowpane check in navy with deep red and ivory intersecting lines.

Sprinkled among these plans for Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall will surely be more little dresses for granddaughter Aida.  I fully intend for her to have some of the cutest frocks in all of New England.

Finally, if 2013 taught me anything, it is that the unexpected is waiting around every corner.

Lots of corners lurking in this Liberty cotton!

Lots of corners lurking in this Liberty cotton!

Life can take sudden turns and twists that are not always sewing-friendly, so I plan to be kind to myself if that happens.  But wouldn’t it be nice for all of us to have the kind of year when we have the extra time to make a dress in which to do “nothing at all”?

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Filed under 1980's dress patterns, Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Liberty cotton, Linen, Polka dots, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns, woolens

Color Wheel

Pantone’s annual announcement of “the color” of the coming year is always notable.  Last week’s revelation of Radiant Orchid as the newest “it” color caught me a little by surprise.  After emerald green’s reign over 2013, I just was not expecting such a dramatic turn on the color wheel.  But, being a “pink” person, I think I can be persuaded to embrace this violet-y pink, although right now I have no fabric or project planned to do so.  I am actually thinking that this color might suit me better in accessories rather than a full outfit in it.  Handbags and shoes?  Yes, I could get excited about that.

This choice of color made me start to think about predecessors to it, so back I went to my Vogue Pattern Magazines, two from the 1950s and one from the 1960s, to see what I could find.  In December/January of 1953-54, an entire feature focused on The Pleasures of Pink. 

"From bon bon to shocking - from the beach to the ballroom ... pink casts its rosy glow"

“From bon bon to shocking – from the beach to the ballroom … pink casts its rosy glow”

Two ads from the February/March 1957 VPM featured a pink, which is very close to 2014’s radiant orchid.  Who could argue with the statement “You are more beautiful in Silk”?

Here is" Radiant Orchid", mid-century style!

Here is” Radiant Orchid”, mid-century style!

Lowenstein’s ad features “Signature” cottons designed by famous artists.  If you read the caption fully, you will see that the price per yard is listed at “about $1.39”.

And don't you love the hat??

And don’t you love the hat??

December/January of 1960-61 shows two of the suit and blouse patterns in what could definitely be called Radiant Orchid.

Look at that Chanel-type jacket in Pattern #4136.

Look at that Chanel-type jacket in Pattern #4136. 

While 2014 is set to be the year of “Radiant Orchid”, dear old 2013 is just not quite over yet.  Busy December of every year finds me focusing on the colors of  Christmas and the holiday season more than on the current fashionable colors.

Somehow, Christmas just would not be Christmas if I were not scrambling to finish some handmade gifts.   This year is no different, as I conjured up some crazy idea to design and make Christmas-themed potholders as a small addition to the presents I give to some very wonderful ladies who help me in my house (and vacuum many a thread off the floor of my sewing room!)    I dug through my stash of “quilting” cottons and came up with some holiday themed fabric, which I used as my starting point.  Then I paired each fabric with some complementary small prints, and concocted what I hope looks like fancy Christmas balls – except that they are large enough to use on a hot pan!

Color wheel potholders I indulged my love of rickrack, and the most fun part was deciding which color binding and which color rickrack to use to enhance the finished product.

color wheel potholder

I added a small gray “cap” at the top to simulate a Christmas ball hook-holder, and a rick-rack loop for hanging.

color wheel potholder

This is my favorite one…

Coming full circle (pardon the pun) on the color wheel brings me back to radiant orchid – and whether  our holiday celebrations will possibly see any pink hues peeking out between the Christmas reds and greens?  Oh, yes!  Once I get around to cookie-making, I’ll be certain to make  fashionably forward stockings and mittens decorated with sparkly pink sugar!

color wheel

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

No. 2 ~ The Beginning

I may – or may not – find Chanel No. 5 Paris Parfum in my Christmas stocking, but Chanel-inspired, Classic French Jacket No. 2 can currently, definitely, be found in my sewing room.  Well, actually, it’s not a jacket yet.  It is just lengths of fabric and loose trims and buttons, but that is how these things begin, as every home dressmaker knows.

I actually started planning this jacket long before I took the Classic French Jacket Class with Susan Khalje this past summer.  In September of 2012 when I was at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, I found this boucle and purchased it – even then – as my intended Jacket No. 2.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

My first jacket is definitely very dressy, so I wanted this one to be less so, which meant I had to find just the right lining, trim, and buttons.  It took another, recent, trip to San Francisco to produce those ingredients – and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I found again at Britex.

A bolt of this light-weight silk twill was tucked under one of the front tables, and it was love at first sight.  I was hoping to find something with navy blue in it, and the geometric pattern in this fabric makes it bold and less dressy than a floral silk charmeuse would be.

No. 2 jacket

The ruler will help you get a feel for the size of the squares.  Click on the photo for a close-up view.

The ruler will help you get a feel for the size of the squares. Click on the photo for a close-up view.

Immediately, however, I knew that I had to purchase enough for a blouse as well, which I did.  I suspect I’ll be using this pattern from 1957 for a blouse with a bow, which should evoke the correct Coco Chanel look. (A muslin should tell me if I need to tame the bow.  I don’t want it to be overwhelming…)

View B with long sleeves has my vote.

View B with long sleeves has my vote. 

With fabrics in tow, I then headed up to the Buttons and Trims Department on the 3rd floor.  An initial look at the red trims flummoxed me, as none of them seemed right.  Then one of the wonderful assistants in the Department came to my rescue and found these two trims.

No. 2 Jacket

Shown with the lining/blouse fabric...

Shown with the lining/blouse fabric . . .

... and again.

. . . and again. 

Back and forth I went between them, unable to make a decision.  It was then that I went to my fail-safe method of choosing between two equally wonderful trims:  I bought both of them! ( It certainly helped that neither was terribly expensive – and both very versatile.)

Now that I have them home, I am leaning toward one of them – can you guess which one?  Does it help to see the buttons, too?  Once again, the experienced button assistant quickly found these – and there was no question in my mind that they were just what I wanted for this jacket.

These are shank buttons, with gold decoration reminiscent of Chanel "C"s.

These are shank buttons, with gold decoration slightly reminiscent of intertwined Chanel “C”s.

And here with the other trim.

And here with the other trim. 

Well, as in so much in life, timing is everything – or it sometimes seems that way.  My timing could be better to be starting such a lengthy project.  It is, after all, one month until Christmas.  I have those proverbial stockings to fill and much to do, but I’ll just bet I can squeeze in some sewing time before my sewing room transforms into Santa’s workshop.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Boucle for French style jackets, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Simple Sheath?

One of the most enduring dress styles in the last 60 years is undoubtably the classic sheath.  According to the definition in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, a sheath can be one of two constructions:  without a set-in waist or with a set-in waist.  In either case, the silhouette is straight, narrow, and fitted, “shaped to body with vertical darts”, with ease of movement facilitated by a slash at back or an inverted pleat.  “Both styles were popular in 1950s and early 1960s.  Revived periodically.”

Fairchild's illustration of a sheath dress.  copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

Fairchild’s illustration of a sheath dress. copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

It doesn’t take very long looking at current fashion magazines and websites to see that the sheath dress is enjoying one of those revivals right now.  And why not?  It is an infinitely versatile style, going from casual to dressy just by choice of fabric.  Earlier in the Summer when I was shopping at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC with Susan Khalje’s  “Classic French Jacket” class, I succumbed to purchasing 1½ yards extra of my lining fabric, with the express intention of making a sheath dress out of it.  The fabric is definitely a demonstrative print, so I thought the simpler the style of dress, the better.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

I have to admit I had a few moments when I wondered if that fabric, which I loved as the lining in my jacket, might not be a bit too much for a dress.  Well, too late for any misgivings – this dress was going to happen!  Then suddenly I started seeing photos of more and more sheath dresses, many of them made out of very bold and colorful fabrics.  Two fashion websites I often visit for inspiration and ogling each featured such dresses:

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta's Ready-to-wear line.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta’s Ready-to-wear line.

Encouraged with this affirmation of my idea, I chose my pattern, ordered china silk for the lining (I already had black organza underlining), purchased the zipper and proceeded to plan my dress.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using the third view without the neck and hem bands.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using view A (on the right) without the neck and hem bands.

First, of course, I once again sewed up the muslin I had already made for this pattern earlier in the summer.  Here are the changes I made:

1) I sewed the neckband onto the body of the dress and treated it all as one.

2) I eliminated the facings, as I was making this dress with couture techniques.

3) I tweaked the fit a little more, to make it more fitted than my earlier dress (which was belted and needed a little more ease).

4) I adjusted the shoulder to be cut a little higher on the arm.

5) I dipped the neckline a little bit, to match the neckline on my jacket.

6) I added a slit in the back seam for ease of movement.

While I love the look, sheen and feel of silk charmeuse, I don’t think it is the easiest fabric to work with.  I thought I could make my job easier if, when laying out the fabric for pattern (muslin) placement and cutting, I was able to control the slipperiness of it somehow.  I decided to use  half of my dining room table, covered with heavy drapery flannel (which is what I use under tablecloths for cushioning).   The flannel “anchored” it beautifully.

Then I was faced with a design element quandary.  Before I cut out my jacket lining in Susan Khalje’s class, she and I had looked at the fabric with my dress in mind –and had determined that one of the gold “cross” lines in the design should hit at about my breastbone.  However, once I had the fabric remaining from my jacket laid out, I realized that was not going to work.  I tried every which way, and, with the fabric I had available to me, I simply could not match up the pattern in the fabric across the front and two side backs of the pattern and still “cross” my breastbone.  It took a couple of hours, but I finally was able to come up with a new plan – this one to have one of the “cross” details at my waist.  This allowed me to have a shoulder detail I really liked, a black field  (with cherries) at my neckline, and the slimming effect of a “cinched” waist, effected entirely by the design in the fabric!

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

Then I was off and sewing!

Zipper and neck details.

Zipper and neck details.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

The dress turned inside out!

The dress turned inside out.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

Finished!  What do you think?  Too demonstrative or just right?

Finished! What do you think? Too demonstrative or just right?

A back view.

A back view.

A side view

A side view

And, of course, I have to show the dress with its Chanel-inspired jacket:

A simple sheathA simple sheath

A simple sheath

This project is complete!

This project is complete!

Once again, I underestimated just how long it takes to make a dress using all couture techniques – even a simple (?) sheath dress.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings