Category Archives: Coats

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

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 Very Pink Coat, Part 3

Added Value….  There is a significant little entry in 101 Things I learned in Fashion School (Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick, Grand Central Publishing, New York, New York, 2010, page 40).  Although aimed at Ready-To-Wear customers and the designers who cater to them, it certainly is meaningful to those of us who sew our own fashions:  “Fashion customers often need to be convinced to buy a new garment that, in effect, they already own.  …  Value added details [my emphasis] are those that are inherently necessary to a garment but are executed in a novel or interesting way…”  thus making them attractive to potential customers.  

Well, not that I really need convincing to make another coat for myself, but I will freely admit it is the unique little details in a pattern (and gorgeous fabric, of course) which convince me I MUST make THIS coat, even though I might not really NEED it.  Such was the case with my very pink coat, which is now finished.  

Those details included 1) the three welt pockets with flaps, 2) the concealed front closure, 3) the  arrowhead detail accompanying the minimal top-stitching, 4) the sleeve tabs (okay, not really a necessary detail, but a very nice one!), and 5) the opportunity to add a little flash to the lining with edge-piping.

I’ll cover the sleeve tabs first since they were the detail in question in my last post. 

 As you can observe, I decided to leave them with the buttons facing forward.  Several comments left by readers (thank you – you know who you are and I am very appreciative!) got me thinking anew about the orientation of the tabs.  Then I had an aha moment when I realized that the one button which is visible on the front of the coat, at the neckline, might look a bit disconnected without its counterparts showing on the sleeves.  Decision made, with confidence!  However, I doubt I will ever look at a sleeve tab in quite the same way again. 

The three welt pockets with flaps are quite likely my favorite detail on this coat.  First of all, I like making them.  There is a certain feeling of empowerment, although slightly nerve-wracking, to cut those big slashes into the front of the coat and be confident it will all be okay. And this type of pocket is just so pretty when they are done.  In addition, while they are utilitarian, they also suggest refinement, elevating a simple car coat to a coat with some sophistication and flair. 

Here is the underside of one of those pockets, with the slash” clearly visible.
As you can see, I used lining fabric (Bemberg from Emma One Sock Fabrics) for the facing on the flaps. And here’s a fun fact – that small pocket on the right side is called a “ticket pocket,” small and shallow, perfect for a printed ticket. As printed tickets go the way of the dinosaurs, this little pocket may become obsolete – but I sincerely hope not. It adds so much to the visual pleasure of this coat and other similar garments.
A good view of the small “ticket pocket.”

I must have a certain penchant for concealed coat fronts.  This is the third one I have made and I can let you know there may be more to come (but not soon.)   As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to reduce the bulk of the closure by using my lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the front flap.  

I made three machine buttonholes for this part of the flap, which made everything lay flat and neat. 

The gray buttons – 6 of them, which is what I needed – were in my collection, so that was a happy find. They are 1950s’ vintage gray pearl, very appropriate indeed for this 1957 pattern.

Although this coat pattern called for some topstitching, it was minimal.  Just the sleeve tabs, the pocket flaps and the collar, plus the front detail on the right side.  I was unhappy with the machine topstitching I did at the front closure.  There was enough bulk from the wool and the facing and the fly front, that it interfered with the smoothness of the topstitching.  So I took it out.  Initially I was going to do without topstitching and the arrowhead detail, but it looked a bit plain and unfinished.  So I did my fallback to what I know works – topstitching by hand.  Because of the hand-worked arrowhead detail, I felt hand topstitching would not look out of place.  Of course, I had never done an embroidery arrowhead before, so I had to practice, practice practice  so it hopefully does not look amateurish.  

I purchased matching embroidery floss for the arrowhead detail and the hand top-stitching.

Finally, coat linings lend themselves so beautifully to that extra little treatment – a narrow edge piping.

  I deviated from my Vogue pattern to add this dressmaker detail, but I am sure they would have approved.  My Avoca wool scarf which is such a perfect complement to this coat inspired me to choose checked piping.  I “robbed” a small corner from some pink silk gingham (intended for a Spring coat, as mentioned previously here) to make my flat piping.  

I purchased the pink cashmere wool for this coat from Farmhouse Fabrics.

Well, there you have it.  My first major project of 2022 finished.  I am happy I chose pink for my theme this year as it has brightened up many a dark day in this troubled world of ours. 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, car coats, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker details, Mid-Century style, piping, Scarves, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Very Pink Coat, Part 2

The pattern for a very pink coat has many pieces.  

When I am getting ready to start a new project with a pattern new to me, I like to read through all the instructions just to get a feel for what is ahead.  That lets me know if I can mix things up a bit, deviate from the step-by-step instructions, prepare a component ahead of time (such as sleeves.  If I feel confident about the fit, I will often make the sleeves first and set them aside until I am ready for them).  During this initial study of the instruction sheet, all was straightforward except for one thing.  For the life of me, I could not figure out how the  concealed – or fly – opening on the front was constructed.  I have done this type of opening before (here and here), but this construction was different.  

Because I wanted to use my gray lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the opening (to reduce bulk) I needed to know if I could do that and be confident that the lining would not show.  So I REALLY needed to understand how this detail went together.  I decided I would have to do a trial run.  What better use of a well-marked muslin (toile) than to use it for this task?  Armed with pins, I proceeded to do a mock-up.  

Here are the two separate fly pieces, one attached to the facing and the other one attached to the right front coat piece.
Here are the attached fly pieces folded back from the front edge. This detail allowed me to use the lining fabric for one layer of the buttoned side.
Here the two sides are sandwiched together to show the concealed opening.

Instead of taking my mock-up apart, I decided to keep it for referral when I got to that point of the coat.  And I am so glad I did.  It helped me through many a confusing moment, giving me confidence that I was doing this correctly.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life gave one a trial run first before facing the real thing – and then stood by to offer reassurance?  Well, you will have to wait to see the finished opening in my next post, but it is all but complete.  And I must confess, I think it is going to be very lovely.

Now here is something to ponder.  A few days ago I walked into my sewing room and was startled to observe something that did not seem right on my up-to-that-point constructed coat.  I had it hanging on my dress form and almost had a panic attack when I looked at the to-be-buttoned tabs on the sleeves.  It certainly looked as though I had sewn them on backwards!  The buttonholes, and therefore the soon-to-be-attached buttons, were oriented toward the front of the sleeve, rather than the back.

Before completely losing it, I went to my pattern, and there, plain as day in the illustration, the tabs wrapped around to the front of the sleeve.  

I still could not quite believe it, so I went to the illustrations in the 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, shown in my last post.  Yep – the tabs were oriented the same way as mine.  Just to make sure, I checked the silk organza under-lining on the two-part sleeves to double check my markings which would tell me that the backs of the sleeves were truly in the back (although my common sense had already answered this question for me.  Of course, the sleeves would not have gone in as smoothly as they did if I had put them in incorrectly).  

After being reassured repeatedly that I had not made a BIG mistake, I started to question why the tabs were oriented that way.  I looked for other examples of buttoned sleeve tabs.  I found one or two in which the tab wraps around to the front, but most tabs were sewn into the inside seam, wrapped around the front and buttoned just past the center point of the sleeve (or seam, if there was a center seam as with my pattern), toward the back.  I wondered if this might one of those things which is distinctly feminine, such as the fact that buttonholes on womens’ apparel are on the right, whereas mens’ are on the left.  But no, I could not verify that.  

Here is one of the few examples I found showing the tab buttoning toward the front of the sleeves.
And here is an example of the more customary orientation of the buttoned tab. Both illustrations are from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, ibid.

Now I am left with a decision to make.  Somehow, I think I would like the tabs on my coat to button toward the back.  I had faced the tabs with my gray lining fabric, again to reduce bulk.  I think that gray lining would better stay undercover should the tabs button in the back. I also think a backward orientation will reduce the incidence of “catching” the tab on things.  Both of those considerations obviously figure into my thinking.  Do I take out the bottom part of the finished sleeves, with their pretty catch-stitched seams, remove the tabs and reorient them?   

This photo of the interior seam of one of the sleeves shows the end of the tab catch-stitched in place along with the seams. The clips you see are where the hem turns back.

Or do I leave well-enough alone and stay true to my vintage pattern? I must decide before the lining goes in the coat. Which brings me to the realization I have just 4 pattern pieces remaining, all for the lining.  Part 3 of this saga is just around the corner.  

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Filed under car coats, Coats, couture construction, Mid-Century style, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Very Pink Coat, Part 1

Some projects deserve more than one blog post and this pattern and coat fall into that category. 

I am making View A, although with the concealed (fly front) opening.
I purchased this cashmere and wool blend from Farmhouse Fabrics. It has a “brushed” surface, giving it a nap which provides a depth to the deep pink color. I have underlined all the components of the coat with silk organza. Basting holds the two fabrics together and also gives me my stitching lines and other pertinent information.

From the magical year of 1957 (I promise some time I will devote an entire post to the notable spot that the year 1957 occupies in the modern history of fashion), this coat pattern is in a class of its own.  Referred to as a “car coat” in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazine entries, it is a quintessential example of that genre.  Here’s why:

  1. It is a wonderful example of fashion following lifestyle.  The copyright date of 1957 puts it firmly in the early appearance of this form.  To wit, the entry for car coats in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion reads:  “Sport or utility coat made hip-to-three-quarter length, which is comfortable for driving a car.  First became popular with the station-wagon set in suburbia in the 1950s and 1960s and has become a classic style since then.”  (ibid, p. 89)
  2. The flap pockets – three of them – are intentionally utilitarian, but also add a certain finesse to the coat.   Those flaps help protect the contents of the pocket – in the case of a car coat, obviously keys, perhaps gloves, or even a change purse. 
  3. The side slits give a bit of wiggle room to the area of the hips, for sliding in and out of car seats.  And the buttoned tabs at the wrists add to its aesthetic appeal.  No, they are not really necessary, but that is not what this coat was all about.  It was meant to be extremely functional, but smart looking.
  4. The concealed front in View B, commonly referred to as a fly front, steps the appearance of this coat up a notch.  Particularly notable is the arrowhead detail at the top of the topstitching on the front of the coat.  
  5. The busy mother and wife would have looked very “put-together” wearing this coat out and about.  Later versions of the car coat style included Benchwarmer, Duffel coat, Ranch coat, Mackinaw jacket, Stadium coat, and Toggle coat (according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion)  But this coat was a car coat, in its very pure early, but fashionable form.

This pattern is featured twice in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from August-September 1957.

Here is the longer version shown on page 22:

“The coat that goes over everything.” Here is an interesting observation which might not be readily apparent. When I was fitting my muslin (toile) for this coat, I initially thought the sleeves may be a bit too loose. You can see in this photo they are not slim on the model. But then I realized they have a bit more girth to them for a reason – to give the wearer comfort and unrestricted movement while driving. (And in 1957 there was a good chance she was driving a stick-shift car!) I kept them the way they are as I will appreciate being able to wear a heavy sweater under my coat.

And here on page 37 is a drawing (by illustrator Dilys Wall) of the coat in red with this description:  “A hounds-tooth-check car coat with three flap pockets, side-slit seams, and tab-button detail on the sleeves.  Designed in sizes 10 to 18.”  

Interestingly, also featured in this same magazine is this example of a child’s coat, also with a fly front.  This type of opening takes more skill – and time – to make.  I love the affirmation this item gives to the commitment and ability of the home-sewer in the 1950s.  

Because this coat has those extra details which put it a notch above ordinary, there is a lot of preparation work before seams can actually be sewn together.  The sleeve tabs, with their bound buttonholes must be complete before the sleeve seams can be sewn.  Additionally, the set-in pockets with their flaps present a considerable amount of prep work on the fronts of the coat.  Sounds like fun to me! More to come . . .

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Filed under car coats, Coats, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Pattern Art, pockets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

What Do You Think of Pockets?

Do you love pockets and add them to your sewn creations wherever you can?  Would you be happy never to have to sew another pocket?  Do you tolerate them in a garment, preferring to do without if possible?  Many people have very strong opinions about pockets or the lack thereof. I think those of us who sew are among those with the strong opinions, primarily because we have it in our power to add them or delete them.  My personal mantra on pockets is “Let’s see if we can do without them, unless we can’t.”   

I generally divide my thoughts about pockets into three categories: those in dress pants (slacks), those in dresses and skirts, and those in dressier coats and jackets. (A little caveat is probably useful here  before I get any further.  Yes, jeans should have pockets, as should hiking and/or activewear pants and shorts.  And absolutely, pockets are part of the functionality of active outdoor coats and jackets and vests. Those categories are not part of this discussion.)  

It was over two decades ago when I first started thinking about the dilemma pockets in slacks present.  I had just purchased a navy blue wool flannel, dressy pair of slim pants, which fit well and were flattering.  There were two welt pockets on either side of the front which were basted closed, as is the custom in better clothes (leaving it up to the purchasing customer to remove the basting.)  I left the basting in and preserved the slim silhouette of the slacks.  Had I removed the basting, the front, I am sure, would have “pooched” out at those two spots and, well, not done my tummy any favors.  Once I started buying vintage patterns a decade ago, I began to notice the slacks in the patterns from the 1950s generally were pocketless.  (I have long thought fashion and style in the decade of the 1950s was at its zenith, both in elegance and in silhouette, which is a topic for another discussion.)  Here a few examples of patterns from the 1950s:

Note the defining tuck in the front of the pant legs.
These slim pants are enhanced with 4 shaping darts each, front and back, with no waistband.
These slim pants do have a waistband.

In my mind, pockets in dress slacks are superfluous at best, detrimental at worst, and just unnecessary.  Although I rarely make pants and slacks, I have yet to put a pocket in any of them.

Dresses and skirts are a bit more complicated.  Fuller skirts often provide the perfect camouflage for in-seam pockets.  I have sewn at least three such styles, the patterns for which included pockets in the side seams.  Interestingly, two of them were vintage Diane von Furstenberg patterns from the 1970s; the other is a more recent Vogue shirt dress.

This DvF dress pattern from the 1970s has pockets in the side seams.
And so does this one!
Again, pockets in the side seams in this Vogue pattern. The fuller skirts in all three of these dresses conceal the pockets well, but only if they are empty! If I make any of these patterns again, I will not bother with adding pockets.

There was a charming article appearing this summer in a Weekend Edition of The Wall Street Journal by author Jasmine Guillory and her “perfect dress” which, alas, has pockets. (Check her website here to read the article under “About”.)  Here is what she wrote, “The only element that mars this dress’s perfection is its pockets.  This might be a controversial statement, but I don’t like dresses with pockets.  They pooch at my hips, even when empty, and if you put something in them, it’s worse….  What’s this great need for dresses with pockets?”  She goes on to say she regularly takes her dresses with pockets to the dry cleaner to have the pockets removed.  (Alas, again!  Her dry cleaner closed during the pandemic, meaning that her “perfect dress” still has its pockets, making it “almost perfect.”)  

But what about slimmer silhouettes?  In-seam pockets could cause the same “gapping” situation, which begs the question “Would you put anything in those pockets which would cause that pocket to gap even more?  Probably not.  I would place my hankie or my cell phone or lip stick in my handbag, not in my pocket – and that goes for fuller skirts as well.  (Besides, like Jasmine Guillory, I am quite smitten with handbags.) 

However, what about in-seam pockets which are part of the design?  Here is a notable example:

This Vogue Designer pattern has shallow pockets in its side front seams. Somehow, I can’t imagine this dress without them!

And then, of course, applied pockets are often part of the design, but not really intended for practical use.  Take a look at this evening gown: 

Notice that these pockets open from the side.

You might be able to tell I have decided I am not so keen on pockets in skirts and dresses either – UNLESS they are integral to the design.  

Which brings us to coats and jackets.  I think one’s first reaction to this category would be “Well, of course, jackets and coats need to have pockets.”  And for the most part, I would agree with that.  Often pockets in coats and jackets are part of the design and add stylistic interest as well as functionality.  Here are a few examples of coats I have made, with such pockets: 

The pockets in this coat are inserted into the shortened princess seam.
I am very fond of the slanted pockets in this Christian Dior design.
A pocket detail from a Givenchy Vogue coat pattern, with hand sewn topstitching.

Here is a jacket pattern which is in my sewing queue for 2022.  I absolutely love the pockets.

And where would a Classic French jacket be without its pockets?  They are not really functional, but undeniably integral to the design. 

One of the Classic French jackets I have made.

Not all coats have pockets, however.  Take a look at this Madame Gres design which I made in a lavender linen.  It has no pockets, nor would I want them in this Spring coat.

And here is a “summer” coat which I think is just so chic.  No pockets.

I have made this coat pattern twice – once with pockets and once without. 

The wool version has in-seam pockets which I find useful:

A peek inside one of those in-seam pockets.

But here is the same pattern, made as a “cocktail” coat.  I made it pocketless and love it.

No pockets needed when one has a lovely little clutch to carry.

Clearly there is much to consider when it comes to pockets.  When we add them to a garment, or delete them, or change their placement, or baste them shut to eliminate that dreadful “pooch” problem, we are admitting that not all pockets are equal.  Some are perfect in every way, some not so much, and some – are never missed.  

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Filed under Coats, Day dresses, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, pockets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

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

Dressmaking in 2020 and Beyond

Every January when I sit down to do some planning for the new year at hand, I usually start by doing three things:

  • Looking at what I accomplished on my list from the past year, and moving those unfinished items onto my new list,
  • Going through my fabrics and deciding what looks inspiring – or in desperate need of action – and
  • Assessing what my wardrobe needs will be for the year.

This year, I am adding #4 to that list:  What patterns do I want to try for the first time, and which ones do I want to make again.

Number 1 looks like this:

This is my list for 2019, perhaps the third iteration of it. Things and priorities change during the year. My list for 2020 is still being planned!

Number 2 is shocking to me.  I have so many beautiful fabrics.  I could easily just concentrate on what I have stored away and be totally occupied with those for not just this year, but for several years to come.  However, I know from experience that I will buy new fabrics (and already have since January 1!), and I will be glad I did.  So there.  I am admitting I am a hopeless case when it comes to fabric.  There are too many dreams tied up in some fabrics for me to resist their purchase.  I always just hope that the fabrics used from my existing collection slightly outnumber the new ones I buy.  Usually this is the case.  Hopefully it will be this year.

Number 3 is not always apparent.  I do know I will need some dressier things for Springtime events.  I do know my summer will be very casual.  And usually Fall and early Winter require some dressier apparel.  I have a big birthday (gulp!) coming up this year, and I think it deserves something special, but I’m not sure what that is yet.  But I would be willing to bet it will demand a new dress, at the least.

And my new Number 4 – now here is a category that really inspires me.  I have so many amazing vintage patterns to try, but I also have so many I have made once (or more) and love so much that I never tire of making them.   I believe my patterns will guide my sewing this year to a large degree.

Here are a few I have never used, but have hopes for in 2020:

This pattern is out of print, but I don’t really consider it vintage. However, it looks like a great shirtwaist dress pattern. I especially like Views A and D. My hope/plan is to make at least two, and perhaps three, shirtwaist dresses this year. In fact, View A is my current project.

I love everything about the design of this dress: it has a two-piece look, but the skirt is attached to a camisole under the over-bodice. I love the buttoned back and the front seaming detail. I particularly like the long-sleeved version.

Here are the back views of this dress.

Here is another take on a princess-lined dress, with jacket. It is not suitable for striped, plaid or diagonal fabrics, which eliminates quite a few of my choices, but I would love to try it. Even better would be to make a dress and jacket…

The line drawings on the envelope back show the seaming details and dart placement. It looks really, really lovely.

I came across a piece of deep pink cashmere last year, and if I decide to make a coat I think it will be View B of this classic coat pattern.

And here a few patterns I have used and want to use again.  Most have been fitted correctly (although I always seem to tweak one or two little things) – and most are versatile and classic and have simple, but elegant, lines to them.

I will definitely be making this pattern again this year at least once.

I know for certain I will be making the short version of this dress again. I have a dress planned for Spring using it.  My first use of this pattern resulted in the dress below,  selected for inclusion in the Gallery of A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing, by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr.

I would love to make another bow blouse this year. This classic look from 1957 is about as lovely a bow blouse as one can find.

A bow blouse would be the perfect pairing with another Parisian Jacket.  A silk blouse with a Parisian Jacket made from vintage Moygashel linen?

Finally, ever since I used this pattern years ago, I have wanted to make it again, in a short-sleeved version.  I am hoping this will be the year!

I think I could make either view of this dress over and over and not get tired of it.

Much has been said this year about the start of a new decade.  It does seem prescient, doesn’t it?  Full of hope and anticipation, the new decade will, nevertheless, do what it will.  Dressmaking will be just a part of the new  continuum, but my days and months and years will be measured in no small part by what I put on my list, and then the placement of those happy checkmarks when I have accomplished that which I set out to do.

Welcome 2020!  No doubt you will be gone in a flash, so may we all make the most of your wondrous days, the dressmaking ones and all the others, too.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Coats, Day dresses, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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

Update on The Pink Coat

When is a sewing project really, really, finally finished?  That was the question I was asking myself after I thought I had finished my Pink Coat, but then decided I had more to do.  Or, more precisely, I had things to undo and then redo.

After seeing the photos I posted on this blog, my eye went right to that crinkled hem.

I had not noticed how crinkled the hem appeared until I saw these photos.

I had purposely steamed the hem lightly, not wanting to make it a knife edge, but after seeing these crinkles, I went back and steamed it again.  I still had crinkles. My expectation at this point was that I would probably have to take the hem out and redo it.  This suspicion was confirmed when I sought advice from Susan Khalje.  She oh-so-gently agreed with me!  First she suggested  removing the silk organza from the bottom of the coat up to the fold line of the hem, and lightly catch-stitching it along the fold, which would not show.  I did this after taking out all the stitching along the lining, the facings, and the seam allowances, in order to undo the hem.

The pins mark the fold line of the hem; as you can see, the silk organza underlining extends to the bottom edge of the coat.

I then pinned about a half inch above the hem line, so I was able to remove the silk organza right at the hem fold.  I then used a catch-stitch to secure the silk organza right along the fold line.

Doing this helped, but the hem was still not as soft as I thought it should be. Susan’s next suggestion was to add a bias strip of flannel to the interior of the hem, which I suspected was what I had needed to do from the start.  I went to my trusty Vogue Sewing Book from 1970 to get guidance and found this:

From: The Vogue Sewing Book, edited by Patricia Perry, Vogue Patterns, New York, New York, c1970, page 324.

I used all cotton white flannel, cut 2½ inches wide, the width of the hem.  I positioned it so that ⅝“ was below the fold line, with the remaining above.  I used a catch-stitch on the wider section of flannel, securing it to the silk organza.  Then I did a loose running stitch right on the fold line. After every step, I gently steamed the area.

Obviously I had to take out the catch-stitching along the lower portion of the center back seam, and then I was able to slip the flannel under the seam allowance.

Then I was ready to put the hem back in, and reattach the facings and lining.

None of this was difficult, but it was time-consuming. However, I am much happier with the appearance of the hem now.  It is soft and hangs with more grace.

A much smoother, softer hem!

Susan also suggested that I make an adjustment to the front edges of the collar.  Although I had under-stitiched it, I apparently did not coax the front-edge seams back away from the edge enough, allowing them to show more than they should.  So I took out a majority of the understitching and re–did it, too.

The collar lays flatter now, and I am really happy with it.

Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged that I was facing so much work to correct these problem areas, but I knew it needed to be done.  I considered waiting until next Fall to tackle these fixes, but I decided I would feel less like doing it then than now, so I dug in.  It became a good learning experience, and a good reminder that different fabrics behave in different ways. It is up to the dressmaker to seek out the best solution for a problem area and then do it, or in this case, re-do it.  Hooray, the Pink Coat is finally – really – finished.

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Filed under Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Hem facings, Hems, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s