Category Archives: Dior darts

At The Met

Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.

The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:

“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.”   These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!

But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:

This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”

Met - Chanel cape copy

Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”

Met - rooster dress

The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”

Met Givenchy Dress

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:

Met - Dior ensemble copy

I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!

Met Chanel suit

After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.

The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!

There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”   But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.

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Filed under Capes, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

Magnificent Obsession

Sometimes the dreams and aspirations of our younger days take a long time to come to fruition.  Although I was doing a lot of fashion sewing for myself when I was in my twenties, there were many more Vogue pattern designs which I never had the opportunity to make.  One was Vogue Paris Original #2668 by Hubert de Givenchy (1927-).

Coats of certain length - 7 I never forgot the jacket, in particular, featured in this Designer Pattern.  Over the years I occasionally obssessed about this pattern, regretting that I had not purchased it.  I never imagined I would have a second chance to make it mine, but thanks to the marvels of the Internet, I did.  When I saw a listing for it in this Etsy store months ago, and it was in my size, I knew it was time to buy it.

The use of color blocking, as featured in View A, became stylish in the mid-1960s, when Yves Saint Laurent introduced his classic Mondrian dress.

This little sketch from The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New , York, 2010, p. 329, shows the classic blocked design.

This little sketch from The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New  York, 2010, p. 329, shows the classic blocked design.

The appeal of the use of large geometrical sections of contrasting colors was widespread then and has, for many of us, never lost its cachet.  The clean precise lines, and diverse use of fabrics in color blocking must have appealed to Hubert de Givenchy’s sense of design.  Known for simplicity and refinement, according to Arlene C. Cooper, writing in the St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Givenchy emphasizes “line rather than decoration”.  Further, Givenchy is known for “coats that are marvels of line and volume…”  (St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, 1997, p. 154).  Vogue Patterns must have been exceptionally pleased to have the rights to this design for its Designer Series in the early 1970’s.

I started my jacket in early February this year in Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School class in San Francisco.  I just finished it.

Magnificent Obsession

Magnificent Obsession

I like it worn open as well...

I like it worn open as well…

A look inside...

A look inside…

A back view.

A back view.

Making this was one of the most enjoyable sewing experiences I have ever had.  Being privileged to get Susan’s expert guidance on some parts of the jacket certainly was part of the equation.  In addition to that, however, were the preciseness and subtle design details of the pattern, which made it a pleasureable sew.  A few of those details are:

1)  the genius of the extra side panel, which enhances the “swing” line of the coat.

2) that side panel  also allows the use of a Dior dart which adds just enough to the bust to keep the line smooth, but ample.

Th instruction sheet gives a good diagram of the small Dior dart tucked into that front side seam.

The instruction sheet gives a good diagram of the small Dior dart tucked into that front side seam.

3) the concealed front allows the clean appearance of the coat to be unencumbered by buttons.

I chose these navy blue buttons for the concealed front.  They are flat, simple, and match the blue exactly.

I chose these navy blue buttons for the concealed front. They are flat, simple, and match the blue exactly.

4) the flap pockets, which conceal the openings, again with minimal interruption to the clean and “simple” look.

The concealed opening, with a flash of pretty pocket lining.

The concealed opening, with a flash of pretty pocket lining.

I did make a few changes/alterations to the jacket, ensuring a better fit for me in 2014.

First, with Susan’s assistance, I took some of the volume out of the back seam, as it was just too full for my frame.  Second, I added ½ “ to the diameter of each sleeve, as they were just a little too slim for comfort.  Doing this allowed me to enlarge the lower armscye, also adding comfort and more flexibility.  I felt like I was able to do these alterations without changing the look of the jacket.  I also made two “visible” changes, although still in keeping with the design.  The original flaps looked a little too “’70s” to me.  I reduced the “depth” of them by 7/8″, so that they are more in keeping with modern sensibility.

These muslin patterns are folded in half to show the depth of the original flap and the depth of the altered one below.

These muslin patterns are folded in half to show the depth of the original flap and the depth of the altered one below.

The pattern had separate pieces for the lining, and even the lining followed the blocked design.  I had chosen a printed silk charmeuse (at Britex , naturally!) for my lining, which did not need to be block sewn.  So, using the muslin I had made for the lining, I cut the “lengths” as one piece, eliminating 16 horizontal seams.  I also underlined the silk charmeuse with a very lightweight rayon voile, which made the lining fabric easy to control, and adds another layer of warmth to the overall coat.  This photo shows the underlining in the sleeve linings before I sewed them into the coat.

Magnificent Obsession

The jacket turned inside out, showing the lining.

The jacket turned inside out, showing the lining.

The inside back of the coat.

The inside back of the coat.

Finally, the pattern called for topstitching the exterior edges of the coat.  Due to the nature of my napped fabric, I thought machine topstitching would detract rather than add.  But – I wasn’t happy with the thought of no topstitching, either.  So I decided to do it by hand.  It wasn’t nearly as time-consuming as I thought it would be, and I am happy with the result.

The topstitching is very subtle, but you can see it here on the pocket flap.

The topstitching is very subtle, but you can see it here on the pocket flap.  Click on the photo for a close-up.

One more thing about this pattern.   When I received it, the pattern pieces for the pants and sleeveless tunic were cut and had obviously been used (although every piece is intact).  The tissue pieces for the coat were still in their factory folds.  On the outside of the pattern in the upper right hand corner is the name Georgia Sanders.  I guess I’ll always wonder if she had plans to make the jacket, too.  I’m so glad she bought this pattern and kept it in such good condition so that it could find its way eventually to me – to help me realize my magnificent obsession from my younger self.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Color blocking, couture construction, Dior darts, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns, woolens

A Blouse by Any Other Name Would Be the Same

I usually work on only one project at a time, but for the past three weeks I’ve had  two going strong.  I’m furiously working on a “dressy” suit – which needs to be completed this week!  However, last winter I made a mental note to myself to use up the fabric remaining from another suit, to make a matching overblouse.  I knew the pattern I was going to use, and with my newfound techniques from Craftsy’s The Couture Dress  online course, I knew this “small” project would be a great way to practice those skills.   So, I thought, “Oh, I’ll just throw this together in no time at all.”  Why do I ever think such things?  I must be either an eternal optimist or totally divorced from reality.

I have always loved sleeveless overblouses – also known as “shells” and sheath tops.  They were particularly popular in the late 1950s and 1960s with or without sleeves (during which time I also knew them as “jerkins” or “weskits” – which are really synonyms for vests).  Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion describes an overblouse as “ Any blouse or top worn over the skirt or pants rather than tucked inside.”  And here’s what they say about a “shell”:

From: The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, 3rd Edition, New York, New York, 2010, page 37

A number of my ‘60s patterns show overblouses paired with suits or as part of two-piece dresses.

This v-neck overblouse is a great pairing with this sporty suit.

The description on the back of the envelope says this overblouse “may be tucked in”.

This design by Gres shows a boxy overblouse and skirt combination.

I particularly liked this pattern, with its Dior darts, the slits at the front hem, and its back zipper.  (I was able to pick up a refined separating zipper when I was at Britex in September – many are suitable for outerwear only and too clunky for something like this.)

View D is my choice.

Here is another example of an overblouse with Dior darts, which forms part of a two-piece dress.  Note that the zipper is on the side:

This design was featured in the August/September 1957 Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

I dutifully made up my muslin, to which I made a number of adjustments (lowering the bust line/darts, shortening the darts in the back, lowering and widening the neckline a bit, adding a little more girth to the hipline so it would slip over my matching skirt without buckling, and adding about two inches to the overall length of the blouse.   Hm-m-m, is that all?)  I underlined it with silk organza, matched the plaid everywhere I could, keeping in mind how the windowpane check would line up with the skirt.  I secured all the seam allowances with catch-stitching, and then I hand-picked the separating zipper.  About this time I quietly panicked when I realized how much time I had already put into this blouse!  I put it aside and started working on my suit, with a promise to myself to put in a bit more time on the overblouse whenever I had just 30 or 40 minutes “extra”, whatever that means.

Somehow I have managed to complete it, and I think I’m on track to finish my suit in a day or two, as well.  Whew!  Here are some of the details:

Here is a front view . . .

. . . and here is the back view.

A peek inside the blouse . . .

. . . and a look at the hand-picked zipper. This was the first separating zipper I think I have ever put in – and I am happy with the results!

And here is the finished blouse/overblouse/shell/sheath top, shown with the skirt:

An impersonal view, for which I apologize – no tangling with the tripod and camera timer today!

Just as I appreciate the preciseness which couture sewing makes possible when sewing something as “simple” as this shell, so do I also appreciate the many variant words to describe this type of blouse.  My personal favorite name for this blouse?

Finished!

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, couture construction, Dior darts, hand-sewn zippers, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns, woolens

Flights of Fashion Fancy

Having returned just a couple of days ago from a short Summer trip, I still seem to have airplanes and airports on my mind.  Although it wasn’t practical to take any sewing (hand-work, that is) along with me, that doesn’t mean I have not been thinking sewing, fabrics, patterns and fashion.  In fact, while I am still physically (and mentally) working away on my “couture dress”, another part of my brain is thinking about Fall and Winter, getting my projects listed in some sort of order.  I’ve started envisioning them all lined up on the “runway” – kind of like planes all queued up and waiting for take-off.  Some big, some small, some already late, others sneaking in before their time!  Which ones will have to return to the gate?  Which ones will be smooth flying – and which ones will hit that proverbial turbulence?

After finishing my current Summer projects, I am thinking the first one to “take off” will be an addition to a suit I made last winter.  I have enough fabric left of this lovely checked wool to make an overblouse:

Paired with the suit skirt, an overblouse in this fabric will make a variation on the “little black dress” – just in two pieces instead of one.

I recently found this pattern, view D, which I intend to use for this blouse.  I am so fond of the “Dior darts” which give a lovely silhouette to a bodice.

I’ll definitely make a muslin of this pattern to check the fit.

After that, I know I’ll be working on a dressy suit, which I need for a wedding and another event mid-Fall.  I found this wool at B and J Fabrics which I’m about to order   to use for the jacket.  I am still on the hunt for a slightly orchid-colored pink in light- weight wool or heavier silk to coordinate with it for the skirt.

This fabric, a wool/lurex blend, has a bit of sparkle to it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love pink – and here is another one:

I have a lot of yardage of this fabric, so I have flexibility in choosing a pattern.

I’ve had this fabric for several years.  It is a wool/cotton blend with the perfect weight for a Fall dress.  However, I can’t decide on what style I should make it in:  shirtdress, sheath, tailored or not?  If I can’t decide, then it may just have to go to the back of the line.

This is a recent purchase from Britex Fabrics:

This is actually alpaca – and very, very soft!

I bought this fabric to be made up in this dress, view A, with the below-elbow length sleeves:

The length of this dress as shown on the envelope is very 1950’s. I’ll be making it in knee-length.

The back of the envelope shows the versatility of the belt, which can be included – or not.  Think of the endless possibilities with changing the belt on this dress, especially with a basic black and white herringbone weave:  it would look great with red, pink, orange, black, green, or even bright blue.  This pattern will give me more practice on the couture techniques I’ve been learning, too.

I love that the drawings include the handbags!

Finally, here is another fabric from Britex:

Another subtle windowpane, this one in navy with deep red and ivory intersecting lines.

This is a pure cashmere wool which I purchased last year in the store.  There is no way to describe how soft and luscious this fabric is.  And here is the pattern I know I am going to use for it:

This pattern is circa 1970.

Well, if all I had to do between now and December is sew clothes, I might get most of this done.  However, interspersed amongst this fashion sewing will be  several “gift” sewing projects, which are going to sneak their little wings into line, along with holidays!  No matter – among other things, sewing encourages flexibility and, like flying, can take us to places of great adventure and quiet reflection.  No wonder I – and so many, many of you –  love to sew!

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Filed under Dior darts, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns