And Winter it has been! BRRRR…. Seriously cold weather calls for some seriously warm fabric, and I had just the right piece waiting for such an occasion.
When I found and purchased this vintage piece of Viyella several years ago, I thought the plaid was of a larger format. I’m not quite sure what I thought I might make with it, but I tucked it away for another day. After making so many casual cotton blouses over the past few years, last Fall I had one of those “Aha” moments, and decided this Winter would be good time to make one for cold weather – and what better fabric to use than this small-scaled plaid Viyella?
I have had direct experience with the warmth that Viyella provides, having made two bathrobes out of this storied fabric. And unlike some wool (Viyella is a wool/cotton blend), this fabric does not itch against bare skin. I made the robes pictured below in 2017 and 2019, respectively. I expected the Viyella which is the subject of this post to be of the same scale as these two plaids. Yes, purchasing vintage fabric online can have its surprises!
The background of this current fabric “reads” blue, but it turns out gray thread and gray buttons seemed to be the best complement to it.
This is the time-tested and altered Simplicity pattern I have used repeatedly – with its yoked back – and shirttail hem.
Every time I make this pattern, I have to go to the instruction sheet for the yoke construction details, and EVERY time I get confused!
This may be the first time I have actually made this pattern without having to take out at least one seam in the process of joining the yoke to the back and fronts.
There is really not too much more to say about this blouse, except perhaps to wonder why it took me so long to decide to make it.
Hmmmm. One for Winter might become Two for Winter…
Sometimes the sewing stars align to ensure success (and sometimes they don’t.) But this story is a success story, although it played out differently than I originally planned.
Having only 1.25 yards of this vintage wool restricted my options to either a simple sheath dress or a skirt. I opted for the sheath, with all good intentions of using the princess-lined pattern I had recently used for a pink dress in vintage Linton wool. In fact, one of the reasons I made the pink dress was to see if I would be able to successfully match plaids when I started on the red/green wool. (The weave of the pink Linton has a plaid woven into it, which I knew would be helpful to me in determining the pattern’s useability for a multi-color plaid.) Only one problem – when I laid out the pattern pieces on the Forstmann wool, I didn’t have enough fabric. I should have realized that the 7-panel princess dress would take more fabric than I had – and this time there was no making it work.
SO – I had to find another pattern. I have, over the years, made several sheath dresses using a newer Butterick pattern, but I really wanted to use a vintage pattern for this wool. Now, I have a lot of vintage patterns in my collection – and I went through every single one looking for the right sheath dress. At first I didn’t realize this pattern had the look I wanted.
I had originally purchased this pattern for that gorgeous shawl collared coat. But – BINGO – when I took another look, there was the perfect sheath looking right at me.
Although the pattern was not dated, I knew it was from the early 1960s. But of course, I thought it would be wonderful to know the year it first appeared. A lengthy search through old Vogue Pattern Magazines proved to be successful – not only successful, but timely. This pattern was included in the December 1962/January 1963 issue, and was the featured pattern for a Special Capsule Catalog included in the issue. Not only that, the caption read: “110 IDEAS TO START THE NEW YEAR IN VOGUE.” Yes, I thought, that’s what I want to do!
Of course, starting with a pattern I had not before used meant I had to make a muslin (toile) and fit it. That little effort took two days. But then I got started in earnest, cutting out the silk organza underlining and positioning it right where it needed to be on the fabric.
There were two important considerations for placing my silk organza underlining “templates” on the plaid: 1) the orientation of the plaid vertically and 2) the correct placement of the hemline on the grid of theplaid and making this placement work with the position of the waistline and neckline.
I thought the wider, darker part of each woven “block” on the plaid should be oriented to the bottom of the dress, which I believe is apparent above.
I find, when working with plaid, it is very important to have the hemline determined before you cut out your fabric. Visually it is more appealing if the hem does not cut a block of the plaid directly in half or, especially with smaller plaids, end right at the edge of a block. I think it looks better if there is a bit of a “float” around the bottom of the dress to anchor the bottommost blocks. (Larger plaids have their own considerations. Look at the art on the pattern envelope above to observe this.)
One of the design features of this dress is the kick pleat, which has its origin in the back seam starting at the bottom of the zipper. I wasn’t sure how I was going to work the lining around this, but I also thought I could probably figure it out.
I loved that fact that this type of kick pleat made the perfect setting for a lapped zipper, shown below.
You will notice this dress has two shaping darts on either side of the front panel, in addition to the bust darts. The back has one shoulder dart and one shaping dart on either side.
All these darts make for such a lovely fit. In addition, I used a trick I have learned from Susan Khalje. Instead of sewing the bust dart into the side seam, I allowed it to float free, stitching the seam above and below the dart. I did this for both the fashion fabric and the lining. Using this method provides more ease to the bust.
I did lower the neckline by about ½ inch, and I cut the shoulders in by about an inch on either side. These changes just seemed to look better on me, as determined by my muslin (toile).
I lined the dress in black silk crepe de chine. (I find almost all my lining silk at Emma One Sock.) When it came to the kick pleat, I found that a slanted seam below the end of the zipper was necessary to divide the lining between the two sides of the kick pleat.
I have no idea how to explain what I did to finish the lining in this area. Just know that whatever I did – worked! I ended up with no lumps and no restriction on the functionality of the pleat.
This dress was such a fun project. I loved working with such a beautiful wool and such a beautiful pattern. There will be more such sheath dresses in my future.
So now, how about you? Have you started the new year in Vogue? I hope so!
Find me a beautiful vintage fabric, accompanied by its original label, and I will tell its story.
What started off as a simple eBay purchase evolved into something quite unexpected, with secrets and history to reveal. It is all about this piece of vintage Forstmann wool, purchased within the last two years.
I was drawn to its vibrant plaid combination of red and green and black and white. An extra bonus was its attached label and famous brand name. I was familiar with Forstmann woolens from the time I was a child in the 1950s, and I was aware of its renowned quality. But I was quite unprepared for the reality of my purchase.
Immediately upon opening the package, I was struck with two things: the saturation of the colors and the buttery softness and easy hand of the wool. I was thrilled with my purchase, and carefully placed it away in my fabric closet, intending to think about it until I had a plan in place. I would occasionally get it out to admire it, so I felt I was quite familiar with it. However, it was not until this past Spring when I suddenly realized it was an uneven plaid. Having just agonized over a dress made from an uneven Linton tweed plaid, and having by this time determined that I wanted to make a sheath dress from this wool, I had one of those dreaded “uh-oh” moments. My plan seemed to be self-destructing. An uneven plaid would not do for such a dress.
And then I did something I had yet to do – I opened out the full expanse of the yardage. That was when I realized the brilliance of the woolen manufacturer. The wool was loomed with a right and left side, with a center “panel,“ making it possible to have an even orientation of the plaid. Thus, I would be able to balance the plaid on the front and also on the back of the dress I hoped to make.
With this exciting discovery, I then wanted to know more about when this fabric was manufactured. I knew that Forstmann Woolen Company had advertised in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I also knew Forstmann woolens were often the fabrics of choice for fashions displayed in the magazine. A little bit of perusing and detective work helped me narrow down an approximate span of years for the production of my wool.
This full-page advertisement from the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features the label current at that time. It is probably a precursor to the label I received with my wool.
I found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:
The inside front cover from October/November 1959 is once again a full-page ad for Forstmann. The label shown is similar to mine, but not exact.
It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.
Proof of this partnership was quite apparent by the second half of 1962. The label featured in this ad actually has Stevens Fabrics woven into the logo.
My best guess, from the above references, is that my piece of fabric was manufactured in the second half of the decade of the 1950s. I have always considered that span of years as the golden age of American fashion. My fortunate purchase reinforces the knowledge for me of the excellence of design, quality and craftsmanship available to the home sewing industry at that time. Now – it is up to me to do justice to this piece of Forstmann wool. Amazingly, and with good fortune, the story of this fabric continues some 65 years after its manufacture.
And here’s to a new year – 2021 – with its own secrets and stories to reveal. May they all be happy ones, waiting to be discovered and shared . . .