Category Archives: Christian Dior

Is It a Trench Coat – or Is it Not?

It is not.  However, I am quite sure this classic look from 1974 was inspired by the classic Trench Coat as we know it.  

I am certain this Vogue pattern is from 1974, as it is featured in that year’s July/August issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  It is part of a section entitled NEW ARRIVALS.  

The caption tells me it is made in silk shantung, a little bit of information unknown to me when I decided to make my (new) version of it in silk taffeta.  

Interestingly, in the same NEW ARRIVALS section, a dress by Patou also is reminiscent of Trench coat style, with its epaulets, slotted pockets with shaped flaps and a belted waist.  It also has a center back inverted pleat.

Fast forward two years and here is a very classic Trench in the 1976 September/October issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  

The caption reads: “Come rain, come shine, what more liveable coat than the trench!  All that star reporter elan in epaulets, front & back shields, center back inverted pleat.”  This particular pattern also includes a detachable lining for the coat and additional detachable collar. I believe that is the collar you see in red in the above picture from the magazine.  The thumbnail drawings of the pattern are helpful in seeing these details:

Now, hang onto your hats and fast forward 46 years to 2022.  The Trench Coat, despite being in fashion since the 1940s, is apparently enjoying new attention and reimagination according to an article in the Style & Fashion section of The Wall Street Journal, April 23-24, 2022.  Although I am a little doubtful as to the long-lasting appeal of some of the Trench Coat variations shown and suggested in the article by Katharine K. Zarrella – which include a skirt, pants and a corset (really?) – some of the reflections and thoughts on Trench Coat style by various fashion insiders are worth sharing.  

Michael Kors is quoted as saying:  “A trench coat inherently feels like an old friend that makes you feel very secure…  But you want an old friend to surprise you.”  (Pink checks, anyone?)

Jane Tynan, author of a soon-to-be-released book entitled Trench Coat, says the appeal of the Trench to contemporary women is the “danger and sensuality it conveys.” (Think spies and clandestine meetings.)  However, a certain Loa Patman of Boston, Massachusetts, says, “Anything trench-inspired tends to look somewhat pulled together and professional.”  

Well, I don’t expect to be doing any sleuthing in my Trench-inspired Christian Dior design from 1974, but I do aspire to feel “pulled together” while wearing it.  Right now it is anything but pulled together, as you can see from the photos of my “work in progress”.  

Thinking further about the origins – and definitional category – of this particular design from the House of Dior, it seems to me to be a cross between a dressmaker coat and a Trench. Perhaps “Dressmaker Trench” might be the best description. As you will recall, if you follow this blog, I have referred to “dressmaker coats” before. Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion describes it as: “A woman’s coat designed with softer lines and more details than the average coat. May have a waistline and unusual details, e.g., tucks or pleats.” (p. 92, ibid.)

I’m not sure Dressmaker Coat is a descriptor many use anymore, but it certainly is useful. One thing I am quite certain of, once this Trench-inspired Dressmaker Coat is finished – it promises to stand the test of further time. I anticipate it as a staple in my Spring and early Summer wardrobe.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Coats, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Mid-Century style, Silk taffeta, Dressmaker coats, Fashion commentary, Christian Dior

Personal Style – And the Passage of Time

Over the past few weeks, in anticipation of my current project, I have been thinking about personal style and how it changes – or doesn’t change – over the decades of one’s life.  What  prompted my contemplation is this pattern:

I purchased this pattern when it was new about 1974 or ’75, when I was in my mid-twenties.  I loved the style then, and although I was in dire need of clothes to wear to work, such as dresses and skirts, I must have decided I needed this coat more.  I made it in a tan cotton twill, and it accompanied me on many a trip on the commuter rail line into Philadelphia (Pennsylvania.)    At some point years later, I obviously discarded it, along with other pieces I had diligently sewn.  I am certainly glad I kept the pattern, as I still love this style. Working on it now is a true deja vu experience.

I am not sure I recognized it per se, but my fascination with coats must have already been firmly established in my personal style, even then.  For example, I was obsessed with this color-blocked coat pattern:

At the time, I remember resisting the urge to purchase it, as I could not guarantee to myself that I would actually get around to making it.  The pattern was too expensive ($3.50) for me, at that time, to take that risk.  However, though many years passed by, I never forgot it. Those of you who follow this blog know that I did finally purchase this pattern a few years ago and this time, I did make it! It continues to be one of my favorite pieces, and I feel wonderful wearing it.

Then there is this pattern, also purchased in the mid-seventies:  

I must have thought this was a more practical style and worth the cost.  I never made it, but one of these days I intend to.  

Buried deep in my cedar closet is a white wool coat, purchased when I was in high school in the mid-sixties.  I am not sure why I have kept it all these years except that I loved it and perhaps in some way treasured it more since my father bought it for me.  Its style is very similar to the coat of this pattern – a style I still love  – and also hope to make some day. 

I find it interesting that three of the patterns pictured are Christian Dior designs. Hmmmm…

I guess what I am getting at, using these coats as an example, is how consistent my style has remained over almost five decades.  How about you?  Do you still gravitate to the same profiles in clothes that you wore in your twenties (assuming you are at least 40)?  If not, what has changed?  

What has changed for me is not the style, but the choice of fabrics and color.  I am more adventurous in using color than I was as a young woman, although even then, I gravitated towards pink. 

I made this Moygashel linen dress for our Honeymoon in 1973. Pink? YES!

All this makes me wonder if one’s personal style is part of their DNA; why, for example, do I like softly tailored, feminine clothes (and have obviously done so for years) while someone else likes the Bohemian look and wears it well; why does someone prefer to wear black, and more black, while I love color (and the occasional black, too).  Quentin Bell summed this observation up well in his quote:  “Our clothes are too much a part of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition; it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body or even of the soul.”  [my italics]

And what about the person who follows every fashion trend that comes along?  Do they not have that personal style component in their DNA, or are they governed by different needs?  Toby Fischer-Mirkin, in her book Dress Code addresses this – and offers some frank advice – in her chapter entitled Fashion and Status:  Under the Spell of Haute Couture:  “The unrelenting quest to be fashionable is usually undertaken to fill not a closet, but a personal void….  A woman’s fashion compass should come from within.  When you’re aware of what works for you, you’ll take pride in that aesthetic and, within the boundaries of good taste, project the person you truly are.”  (pages 146-147)

Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, New York, c1995

Is your personal style really that important?  Does it allow you to project the person you truly are?  If so, I can understand why one’s personal style does not change very much over the years.  Indeed, Givenchy once said, “With style, you must stay as you are.”  When I was a young woman in my twenties, I never would have guessed I would, decades later, still gravitate towards the same patterns, the same silhouettes, and have the same weaknesses for certain apparel (such as coats.)  I have changed personally in many other ways, but obviously my personal style has not – the recognition of which has been a revelation to me.  

I suspect there are many, many of you who, once you think about it, can say the same thing?  

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A Fabric Full of Surprises

Several years ago I purchased a piece of vintage French Lesur wool, which I subsequently made into one of my favorite pieces ever, my pink Christian Dior-designed coat.  

When I received the length of pink wool from the eBay seller, I wrote her a note to tell her how excited and grateful I was to have the opportunity to purchase that fabric.  It apparently had been from the estate of an accomplished dressmaker, known for her good taste.  The seller then kindly offered me another piece – very different in aspect – from the same collection.  The photos she sent me showed a wool plaid which looked to be a medium khaki background with purple and lavender lines woven into it.  It wasn’t exactly what I usually gravitate to, but I knew the quality of the fabric would be superb, and being a pushover for vintage fabric, I decided to purchase a five-yard length from her.  

When the fabric arrived, it wasn’t at all what I had expected.  This is one of the downsides of purchasing fabric – especially vintage fabric – online.  You don’t always get what you think you are getting.  This fabric was deep brown and the purple and lavender intersecting lines were more the colors of eggplant and lilac.  It seemed kind of dark to me. Except for black and navy blue, I’m not usually a dark-wearing person.  The quality of the fabric, however, was indeed superb.  Soft, lightweight with a beautiful hand to it.  

I was a little disgruntled about this purchase, though.  I don’t like to spend money frivolously, and this suddenly seemed like an unwise decision.  But – it was done, so I put the fabric in my fabric closet for storage.  Every once in a while I would take it out and ponder it.  I started to like it more and more, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to make with it – all 5 yards!  

Now. . .  I have discovered with fashion sewing, that sometimes time allows creativity and inspiration to blossom, and that is what happened with this fabric. At some point over the summer, I decided this wool would make beautiful slim slacks.  But what to do with all that remaining fabric?  Somehow, a matching jacket did not appeal to me at all – and then I remembered a lovely vintage Vogue pattern, designed by Molyneux, I had in my collection at home in Pennsylvania.  I knew it would be perfect with the pants – and the fact that I had long wanted to make its featured hip-length cape sealed the deal!  

In preparation for this project, I needed to order lining fabric, both for the pants and for the cape. I selected 5 shades of brown silk charmeuse on Emma One Sock’s website and sent off for swatches.  (I often prefer to use a contrasting color for a lining, but in this case I determined a matching lining would allow me greater flexibility in wearing the cape with something other than the matching pants.)  The swatches arrived in short order, and I was astounded to discover that not one of them was even close to a matching color.  

The swatch second from the right was the closest match, but it was still a long way from viable, even more so in person than in this photo.

And then it hit me – like an iron in the face! – this wool was not brown, it was a true olive green!  No wonder it had started to appeal to me.  I have long been a fan of olive green, which I now know to be a little bit of an enigmatic color.  Off I sent for 5 more swatches of silk lining, this time in shades of deep green.  When the swatches arrived, it was a Bingo moment.  One was clearly a perfect match.  

The center swatch “reads” brown in this photo, but it is a true olive green, as is the background of the wool fabric.

Please stay with me in the next couple of posts, as I work through this two piece outfit – a project whose time has finally come.  

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Filed under Capes, Christian Dior, Linings, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

Too Late – or Too Early?

This sewing out of season is perplexing.  On the one hand, I am happy to have been able to complete this dress.  But on the other hand, the timing of its completion means it is too late in the season to even think about wearing it – or much too early.  Not that it will matter six months from now. 

After my successful use of a new sheath dress pattern earlier this winter, I was anxious to use it again.  And I just happened to have a piece of cashmere herringbone wool tucked away for such an occasion.  I had been on the hunt for a wool to coordinate with the Classic French Jacket shown, and I was quite excited when I found this selection at Farmhouse Fabrics.  The bonus was the fact that it is cashmere, and oh, so soft.  

Wool is quite possibly my favorite fabric on which to sew.  Christian Dior certainly had kind words to say about wool in his Little Dictionary of Fashion.  “Wool shares with silk the kingdom of textiles…  And like silk it has wonderful natural qualities.  Always before you cut woolen material it has to be shrunk to avoid disappointment afterward.” [I always steam wool fabric heavily before I cut into it for just this reason].  Dior continues, “Wool has the great advantage over all other materials in that it can be worked with a hot iron and molded.” (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior, Abrams, New York, New York, c2007, Page 122.)  

Additionally, I have always loved the herringbone weave.  The chevron pattern in this particular fabric is achieved by the use of two contrasting colors, yellow and pumpkin, which produces the lovely and soft deep persimmon color.  

The two contrasting colors are apparent in this photo.

Making this sheath dress was very straightforward, its details identical to the sheath dress which preceded it:  lapped zipper, underlined with silk organza and lined with crepe de chine, under-stitched neckline and armscyes, and a real kick pleat.  

I chose this delicate crepe de chine for the lining. I purchased it from Emma One Sock, which has a beautiful assortment of silks suitable for linings.
Oh, how I love this kick pleat.

This jacket and skirt will be perfect for Fall – and I am delighted to have a dress to wear with my jacket which I completed two years ago.  

And now for those of you who like to see the sewing I do for my granddaughters, here are two more dresses which were definitely too early (although on time for Spring birthdays.)  Unseasonably cold Spring weather kept these dresses on their hangers apparently, but I do have pictures of them before they went on their journey across many, many miles to their final destination.

I found the fabric at Emma One Sock last Fall.  It looks and feels like Liberty Lawn but is not.  The bordered eyelet which I used for the collars is from Farmhouse Fabrics, as is the pattern, which I have used before.  (This is the last year for this pattern for my girls, as I used the [largest] size 12 for my very tall and slender eight-year-old!) 

This diagram helps to show the details of the pattern. Notice the narrow darts in the bodice, which gives such a nice degree of shaping. This is the type of detail found on well-engineered patterns, of which this is one.

The buttons are vintage Lady Washington Pearls.  The pale pink rickrack is also vintage – and 100% cotton – which makes it lay beautifully flat, molding itself with the cotton fabric.   

 

Beautiful vintage buttons like these are a good match for this timeless pattern.
Such lovely eyelet and just the perfect weight for gathering into a collar.

So quickly these weeks turn into months and then into seasons! Whatever the season from whence you are reading this, I wish you dresses which are just right!  One of these days, mine will be, too.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Christian Dior, classic French jacket, couture construction, Eyelet, Sewing for children, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Diversions – in Print

Works of fiction which feature some aspect of sewing or fashion are often some of my favorite reading experiences.  While I do not necessarily seek them out, if I hear of such a novel, and it’s reviews are positive, then I will add it to my reading queue (similar to my sewing queue!) And sometimes, there is a surprise sewing element in a novel – those are the bonuses.

The last three novels I have read, in quick succession, were all very different, but each one used sewing and/or fashion as foundational premises either for the plot or for character development.  So, here are short reviews of each one, in the order in which I read them.

The first novel, Beneficence, by Meredith Hall, came to my attention by a review in The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition back in the Fall.  The subtle role sewing plays in this novel makes it one of those bonus books. Some of the words used to describe this novel, and rightly so, have been “haunting,” luminous,” and “exquisite.”  It takes place in Maine (USA) and spans the years from the late 1940s to the early ‘60s. The story is about the Senter family, who owns a dairy farm, and the devastating tragedy which befalls the family of five.  Early in the book, one gets the sense of impending doom.  At this point, in no way did I have any inkling of the role sewing would have in the development of one of the main characters, Dodie, the daughter.  The masterful writing – eerily beautiful, and very affecting – is of such quality that it was only after I had finished the book did I realize how her sewing helped to define Dodie. The sewing references even hint at the blessings ahead for her in the reader’s mind at book’s end.  She is a mender, a creator, and a giver of things she has sewn.  She is wise beyond her years.  She is a character I will long remember.  The book is a masterpiece.  

One word of warning, however, is necessary for this book.  Parts of it are very difficult emotionally to read.  I cried a lot reading it, perhaps crying the most at the book’s end when grace and wisdom finally replace anguish for each of the Senters.  If you are feeling in any way fragile right now, then plan to read this book at another, more secure time.  

Feeling emotionally drained (but fulfilled) after reading Beneficence, I wanted something light-hearted and fun.  And like a blessing, this book came to me as a Christmas gift from my daughter, Susanna.  

This novel first appeared in 1993, and it has been recently re-released.

The Women in Black, by Madeline St. John, is set in the early 1950s in Sydney, Australia.  It follows four women (actually 3 women and one 16-year-old girl) who work at Goode’s Department Store in Fine Dresses and Model Dresses (Model Dresses being the most expensive.)  The time of year is December, when cocktail and party dress buying is at a frenzy!  Patty and Fay are in the fine dresses, Magda manages the Model Gowns, and Lisa is a temporary hire who helps out wherever she is needed.  In many ways, however, it is Lisa’s story.  Magda takes a loving interest in her, and when Lisa is exposed to the confectionary frocks in Model Gowns, she comes alive.  She particularly has her eye on one dress, which is called “Lisette.”  And when she finally has the opportunity to try the dress on, this is what transpires: 

“Lisette was, of course, everything which could have been dreamed; like all the great works of the French couture, it was designed to look beautiful not simply as a thing in itself, but as the clothing of a female form.  It took on then the property of vitality and movement, that is, of rhythm:  it became finally incarnate.  Lisa stood, overwhelmed, staring into the great cheval glass.   . . . The frock changed her absolutely; the revelation which had come upon her when she had first been shown the Model gowns was now complete.”  

What a fun book, written by someone (sadly now deceased) who understood the transformative power of dress and dresses.  Treat yourself and read this book!

Just the title of the third book I am sharing is intriquing enough to catch your attention.  

Based loosely on a true story, but definitely a work of fiction, The French Model, by Alexandra Joel,  is the story of a stunningly beautiful young Australian woman who makes her way to Paris and becomes a model in Christian Dior’s House in post-war France.  In leaving Australia, she is escaping not only from an unhappy marriage, but also from revelations about her past which make her question her identity and all those she has ever loved.  This book has it all:  mystery, espionage, love, fashion, friendship, sacrifice, sex, “very important person” sightings, political intrigue, history, and courage – all in a complex story line which will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The writing is lovely and descriptive, the main characters endearing.  Some of the story is a bit contrived – or unbelievable – but I was generally able to overlook those parts to enjoy the larger storyline.  And I loved the emphasis on the workings of the House of Christian Dior. Anyone who loves vintage fashion – or historical fiction set at the end of World War II – should find escaping into this story a happy place to be.  

One final observation about these three books.  The dust jackets are works of art.  Not unlike a perfectly fitted and flattering dress, each one is so perfectly evocative of what lies within, capturing the very essence of the books they adorn.  As I look again and again at each one, it takes me back to those stories, those places and those indelible characters which gave me so much reading pleasure.  

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Filed under Book reviews, Christian Dior, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A December Tradition

Is there any month more steeped in tradition than December?  I think not.  It is important to remember that traditions, according to Webster, are “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice,” and therefore, they help to define our lives.  Suspending tradition goes contrary to our desires and our goals and our self-expression.  

I suspect most of you are having to suspend some of your December/Holiday/Christmas traditions this year, as am I.  So I was pleased to see that Pantone has once again continued their tradition of introducing the Color of the Year for the year to come, 2021.  In a vote of confidence – and perhaps because we need to be thinking expansively in the year to come – their color of the year is actually two colors, Ultimate Gray (PANTONE 17-5104) and Illuminating (PANTONE 13-0647), a vibrant yellow.  This gray is “emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”  “Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power.”  

Here is a very “illuminating” yellow silk taffeta jacket I made back in 2016.
And an “ultimate” soft gray cashmere coat, also made in 2016.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, talks about this color combination:  “ The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude.  Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives resilience and hope.  We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”  

As one who loves both yellow and gray, and as one who has sewn with both colors over the years, as detailed above, this choice sent me to my pattern collection, where I quickly found examples of gray and yellow pattern art from years past.  Here are two:

I also went to Christian Dior’s Little Dictionary of Fashion to read, once again, his take on gray and yellow.  

Some of the language and expressions in this little book seem a bit old-fashioned, but it contains a wealth of information and advice.

About Gray:  “The most convenient, useful and elegant neutral color.  ….There is nothing more elegant than a wonderful, gray satin evening dress.  For day frocks, suits and coats it is ideal.  I would always advise it.”  Page 50.  That is quite an endorsement for gray.

About Yellow:  “The color of youth and of the sun, and of good weather.  A beautiful color for frocks and also for accessories and right for any time of the year.  …There is a shade of yellow for everyone – but you have to take the trouble to find it.”  Page 124.  

Cheerfulness, elegance, optimism, fortitude – these are worthy goals to set for living in the months to come – and for sewing – whether or not we blend the colors of gray and yellow into them.  Right now, however, with the enduring promise which defines December, I am focused on the colors of the season, red and green, and of keeping what we can of beloved traditions – knowing that, like finding that perfect yellow, we have to take the trouble to make this holiday season glow and sparkle in its own way. 

I wish all of you, my readers, a warm, happy and even MERRY, Christmas and holiday!

From my house to your house, Merry Christmas! (Cavallini & Co. vintage-inspired tag)

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Pantone Color of the Year, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

A Fabric Story

Several years ago I found this fabric on the website of Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.  As I have always been intrigued with “alphabet” prints, and I love red, making this purchase was an easy decision.  

At first glance, it appears to be just that – an alphabet print.  But if you look closely, you start to realize that the letters represented are not all the alphabet.  In fact, only 7 letters of the alphabet are represented.  They are indeed only the letters in the surname of the manufacturer, Marcel Guillemin et Cie.  The manufacturer’s name is in the selvedge.  

I decided to buy two yards, thinking I would one day make a blouse.  A couple of years went by and I had occasion to visit Britex while on one of my trips to California.  By this time I had started making Classic French Jackets, and I was always on the lookout for potential lining fabrics for a future jacket.  To my great surprise, the bolt of this exact fabric was on the silk table, which gave me the opportunity to purchase another yard “just in case.”  (I’m not sure why I didn’t buy another two yards.)  This one-yard length joined its sibling in my fabric closet.  I thought about it a lot, and often got it out to admire it, still not committing to its actual use, however.  

Fast forward several years – to 2020, to be exact.  A plan started to form in my mind for this fabric.  And it all had to do with this blouse pattern from 1957.  I envisioned this blouse made into a dress, and that was that.  Decision made!

I used View B for a blouse several years ago, and have always loved it. Why not a dress?

Sitting in my sewing queue over the summer, this fabric kept talking to me.  Although at one time, most fabric manufacturers proudly included their name on the selvedge (and even sometimes provided labels), it is somewhat rare to find this selvedge notation now.  So, I wanted to know “Who is Marcel Guillemin?”  

I was able to find a little bit of information online, but only enough to raise more questions.  The most valuable information came from my personal “library” of fashion/fashion history books, which not only provide me with inspiration but also background information.  Although I still have many blanks to fill in, this is what I discovered – and what a surprise it has been!  

  1. Marcel Guillemin et Cie was a “wholesaler established in Paris in 1930; manufactured silk and synthetic fabrics; still active today.”  I found this entry in Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, by Lesley Ellis Miller, V&A Publishing, London, 2007. 
  2.  The company provided “ribbons, silk and velvet” for Balenciaga (ibid) and silks for Christian Dior.  Each couturier had a list of textile purveyors whom they used for their creations, and it was exciting for me to find Marcel Guillemin among the listed.  Anyone who knows of the post-World War II efforts to revitalize the devastated fashion industry can appreciate what Guillemin and other textile concerns faced at that time. “The French luxury textile industry was a fragile one throughout the postwar period.  To assist manufacturers, the French government gave a subsidy to couture houses if they used 90 percent French textiles in a collection.”  Christian Dior: History and Modernity 1947-1957, by Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2018., p. 69.
This well-known dress from the House of Christian Dior, 1947, was made in silk from Marcel Guillemin et Cie. (Ibid., p. 107)

3. The company also produced silk scarves. A number of silk scarves which I have found pictured online appear to be from the early years of the company.  But it also appears that Guillemin became known for its scarves at least through the 1960s.  

This advertisement from the 1950s with an illustration by Rene Gruau features “Les Echarpes de Marcel Guillemin”

A few vintage scarves with the Guillemin name printed on them are currently available for sale in various online shops and sites.  This one appeared in an Etsy shop a few weeks ago, and I was quick to purchase it. 

 The seller listed it as “probably 1980s,” but I believe it to be from the 1960s when Marcel Guillemin et Cie produced a number of scarves in bold geometric designs.  This one is quintessentially 1960s’ “flower power.”  And the silk is lustrous, of the best quality.  

When I found this scarf, I knew it would be perfect to pair with my recently completed linen dress.

The fabrics we use in our sewing is of such importance to a successful outcome.  I have treasured this opportunity to learn more about this fabric and the storied history of Marcel Guillemin et Cie. 

Of course, every story benefits from a happy ending.  I have still to finish writing – or should I say, sewing – the ending, but with any luck, it will be the successful completion of my red silk dress.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Dreaming in Color

Way back in January of this year – which seems like a lifetime ago now – making plans for my 2020 sewing was an exciting exercise.  I was eagerly looking forward to some upcoming events, including one in early May which was going to require at least two new dresses.  One of these dresses would be worn to a “fancy” evening.  In this casual world, what dressmaker does not relish the idea of making a dressy frock?  It was definitely going to be a fun trip and a varied multi-day event.

C         A        N        C        E        L        L        E       D

Needless to say, that trip and all its events were cancelled.  Other special occasions were also cancelled, along with many that were not so special.  I looked anew at my sewing plans.  I shifted some things around, eliminated others.  But I kept going back to the thought of that dressy dress.  The fabric was so cheerful, the colors so bright I could not abandon the idea of making it, even without an occasion for its wearing. So in early May I decided to go ahead with my original plans, albeit without a deadline.

I had purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City several years ago.  It reminded me of fabric which one might see in a design by Christian Dior, due to its “Impressionistic” appearance.

The subtitle for this informative book is The Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior.

When I unfolded the fabric to give it a press, I saw it was actually a Pierre Cardin design.  It struck me as somewhat unusual for Cardin, so of course I wanted to know if there had ever been any connection between the two couturiers or their fashion houses.  I went to my St. James Fashion Encyclopedia.  Well, yes, as a matter of fact there was:  “From his earliest work for the House of Dior up to the 1950s [my italics],Cardin displays an interest in the sculptural qualities of cut and construction that are still his trademarks in the 1990s.” (p. 87, The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan, c1997.)

It may be a bit of a stretch to suppose this fabric does indeed have a Dior connection, but still, I wonder.  Could Cardin – now at his advanced age of 97 – and his fashion house still be influenced by those early days with Dior?  Of Dior’s style direction in the early 1950s, Christian Dior himself wrote ”…Colors were inspired by the pictures of the Impressionists and evoked the fields of flowers dear to Renoir and Van Gogh.”  (p. 5, Dior Impressions, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2013.)  It is fascinating to ponder.

Now back to topic:  I started my dress.  I got the silk organza underlining marked and cut, I cut out the fashion fabric, I basted the two layers together, ready to start the actual construction.  Then I had a bad day.  It had nothing to do with my progress or the process, which was going along fine.  I just had this dismal feeling this was all for naught.  Why would I need such a lovely silk dress?  Where would I wear it?  Were all these hours I was spending in my sewing room just a waste of time? What purpose do all these pretty clothes serve without any social gatherings and occasions to which to wear them?  I think it is fair to say I was having a serious existential sewing crisis.  It was dispiriting and discouraging to say the least.  It made me question my otherwise passionate commitment to couture sewing.

That night I had a dream – in vivid color.  I saw myself in a fancy restaurant which was bustling with people – and I was wearing the very dress I had started – now completed and quite notable in its floral print of bright greens, and pinks and reds and purple.   I was seated at a table with three friends and we were lunching. (Not sure this dress is quite the thing I would wear to a midday lunch, but that’s dreams for you.)   The four of us were having the best time. We were laughing and totally engaged in our conversation and in our friendship. It was lovely and it was memorable.

And there was not a facemask in sight.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, Formal or fancy dresses, Love of sewing, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized

Santa’s Sewing Sack

This year’s list of gift ideas for your fashion-sewing friends (or you!) is heavy on print.  Included are things to read and things to use, all with the goal of adding knowledge, inspiration and enjoyment to a sewing life.

First up is what I believe to be the definitive book on the golden years of Christian Dior.  Christian Dior:  History and Modernity, 1947-1957, by Alexandra Palmer, is both a fashion book and a dressmaker’s book.  Replete with line drawings of patterns for some of Dior’s most famous silhouettes, this book explores construction techniques as well as design preferences for the women who commissioned these haute couture garments.  I really should write an in-depth review of this book at some point, but trust me – if you or someone you know is interested in fashion history at this pivotal point of the 20th century – then this book is a necessity.

Published by the Royal Ontario Museum, 2018.

Of course, no list this year is complete without the newest book from Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr, A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing. Excellent for a sewing friend or anyone interested in dressing with classic style, this book is sure to please.  I wrote a complete review of this book earlier in the month should you still need convincing!

Another book which was new to me this year (but published in 2006) is one of those sweet go-to books whenever you are thinking of making a gift for a friend.  The Apron Book:  Making, Wearing, and Sharing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort, by EllynAnne Geisel documents aprons for every use, such as kitchen aprons, house aprons, “Daddy” aprons, holiday aprons, to mention just a few.  The bonus is a full size  pattern included  so you can make a basic bib apron, using inspiration from the history, pictures and diagrams included in the book.  Many thanks are due to my friend Jane for giving me this book earlier in the year.

Published by Andrews McMeel Publishibng, LLC, Kansas City, Missouri, 2006

A magazine which deserves your attention is Classic Sewing for Everyday and Special Occasions, published by Hoffman Media.  I was introduced to this magazine by Farmhouse Fabrics in South Carolina, where it is available for purchase quarterly.  Ostensibly a magazine devoted to sewing for children, it also provides endless inspiration for sewing for adults, and often includes patterns for adults.  Each issue has a separate full-size pattern included with it.  The Holiday 2019 issue features classic capes for children as well as a delicate, heirloom type blouse for adults.

If you have a young girl in your life who is very special to you, then you really should go to the Clara and Macy Etsy store and purchase this wrapping paper.  It will be like two gifts in one to present a package with this cute paper doll tag, including a complete holiday wardrobe printed and ready to cut out.

Well, no Christmas list of mine is complete without a notepad.  Another tried and true friend gave me this very appropriate notepad earlier in the year.  How can you not be inspired reading its catchy message!  Thank you, Nancy!

Finally there is one item on my list which deviates from the printed theme this year.  I treated myself to a pair of these Kai (7000 series) dressmaking shears when I needed to set up my sewing room in our new vacation home in Wyoming.   I was flabbergasted at how wonderful they are!  Somehow they grip the fabric as they cut, giving you incredible control and precision.  Smooth as silk, and tough as nails.  When I got back to my sewing room in Pennsylvania, I promptly ordered another pair.  I really don’t know how I ever sewed without them. Available from Susan Khalje and also from Amazon.

That completes my list for this year’s holiday gift-giving.  Of course the most coveted sewing gift I could recommend is MORE TIME TO SEW.  I’m still working on that one, although I am grateful every day for having this passion and so many lovely sewing friends worldwide with whom to share it.  Thank you to you, my readers, for all you give me every month of the year!

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Filed under Book reviews, Christian Dior, Gifts for Sewing, Uncategorized

Completing the Pink Coat Ensemble

Although I hope to wear my pink wool coat (completed Spring of 2019) with various dresses and skirts, I particularly wanted to make a skirt which would coordinate with it.  That way I would have a “planned” ensemble.  I envisioned a petite pink-and-gray houndstooth wool, or a mini-checked pink-and-gray wool.  After a wide search and coming up empty-handed, I was just about convinced I was not going to find either of those two fabrics, at least not in the time frame I planned.  And then I found a lightweight wool and silk blend on the website of Farmhouse Fabrics.  It was a variegated gray and oyster-white plaid with a pink pinstripe running through it on the cross-grain.  Although it looked lovely on my computer screen, I wasn’t sure it would fit my needs, so I ordered a swatch.  From the swatch I could see its beautiful quality – and its perfect colors – so my search was over.

I am so accustomed to using silk organza as my underlining, but the incredible softness and delicacy of this fabric made me think twice.  I thought silk organza would undermine the fluidity of the wool/silk blend, so I decided to use a very lightweight cotton batiste instead. Using the Susan Khalje pattern for which I already had a toile (yay!), I made a very simple straight skirt.  Just for fun I decided to line it in pink silk charmeuse.  I had some in stock as I had used it for the pocket linings in my pink coat.  I also lined the waistband, which I like to do when sewing with wool.

The pink charmeuse lining is my unseen homage to this color which I love so much.

I inserted a lapped zipper by hand in the center back seam.

I angled the center back vent toward the center back seam so that it will hang evenly when I am wearing the skirt.

It is easy to see the angle on the vent with this particular fabric.

One side of the vent folded back.

When I cut out the lining for the coat, I maneuvered the pattern pieces to give me a long narrow length of the silk, which I made into a scarf.

Paired with a V-neck gray sweater, it proves to be the perfect accessory.  As Christian Dior said in The Little Dictionary of Fashion, “In many cases, a scarf gives a final touch to a dress.”

It’s a nice combination of colors!

The scarf is a pretty addition to the coat, I think.

It is rewarding to see my vision become reality!

So, now the big question, one which I have been asking myself frequently as of late, “When and where will I be wearing this lovely ensemble?”  It seems life is just so despairingly casual now, affording few opportunities to wear pretty dresses and skirts and specialty coats.  I try to buck the trend when I have the place and time to do so – and I have yet to feel like I have been overdressed.  Of course, Christian Dior had something to say about this, too. “Generally it is very bad to be overdressed, but I think that in certain circumstances it is very impolite and wrong to be underdressed.” I could not agree more and personally prefer to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.  How about you?  I do hope my pink coat, paired with this gray skirt, will prove to be the perfect dressing for many occasions.  I am certain I will enjoy wearing them.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Scarves, Straight skirts, Uncategorized, underlinings