Category Archives: Liberty cotton

Thoughts on Fabric

One theme I often see in New Year’s sewing resolutions is an emphasis on sewing from one’s “stash” rather than purchasing more new fabric.  I don’t know too many serious sewers who don’t harbor at least a little guilt about all the fabric they have squirreled away (the word “stash” actually does imply something put away, usually in a secretive place!).  I used to feel a lot more guilt about all my fabric than I do now, and here’s why.  First, I don’t consider my fabric a “stash” of anything.  I look at it as a collection, to be used, admired, and taken care of like any valuable thing.  And second, I believe having a selection/collection of beautiful and inspirational fabric adds to the creative process of sewing.

As with the selection and collection of any worthwhile genre, it’s usually best to buy the best you can afford.   There used to be much more stated emphasis on “quality” in fabric than there is now.   It is so interesting to me that fabric manufacturers used to advertise their products by name, obviously with great pride in their newest line of designs.  Some of the manufacturers were almost household names, with tag lines such as  “A fabric you can lean on – that’s Klopman”.  Woolens were known by their manufacturer’s name, such as Forstman and Anglo, to mention just two.  The same was true for cottons, linens, silks, and synthetics. So many of the full-page advertisements in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s were from fabric manufacturers (whereas now there are virtually none).  Here is a quick look at some from each of those decades:

Moygashel Linen advertised heavily in VPB Magazine during that 30-year span of time.  Here is an ad from the inside front cover of the December/January 1953/54 issue:

Thoughts on Fabric - 54

“The first name in linen… The last word in quality”

Moygashel was also one of those fabric companies which supplied labels with purchases of their linens.  Here is a string of labels, which came with a recent purchase I made of vintage Moygashel:

Thoughts on Fabric - Moygashel w: tag

Many new synthetic fabrics were being developed in the post-war era, as evidenced by the many ads from manufacturers of these yard goods.  Here is an ad for acetate, made by the Celanese Corporation of America.  It appeared in the February/March 1957 issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Thoughts on Fabric - 57

In the same issue was this full page ad for Wamsutta cotton prints.  Now known primarily for sheets, Wamsutta once had the tagline “it has to be WAMSUTTA!” which many a home sewer knew as a sign of quality.

Thoughts on Fabric - 57-2

European fabrics also found their place in VPB.  Here is an ad from February/March 1964 for Boussac screen-printed cottons.  “A collection of rich designer fabrics used by the haute couture of the world.”

Thoughts on Fabric - 64

I want to show you something else in that same issue.  Although there was not a dedicated ad for American Silk, Vogue pattern #6105 was sewn in American Silk, as stated in its accompanying caption.

How I would love to find a piece of this silk tucked away in some drawer!

How I would love to find a piece of this silk tucked away in some drawer!

Twelve years later, in 1976, I attended a fashion show featuring the various dress silks made by this company for the home sewing market, another example of the effort put into marketing by specific fabric manufacturers.

By 1972, the look of VPB Magazine was becoming more sophisticated, but those full-page fabric ads were still abundant.  Here is an ad in the October/November issue devoted to Qiana, a nylon made by DuPont:

Thoughts on Fabric - 72

And – Crompton is velvet appeared a few pages further in the same issue:

Thoughts on Fabric - 72-2

In September/October 1976, Diane von Furstenberg was featured on the cover, and Ernest Einiger had a full-page color ad for “The Great American Wools”.

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In the same issue, Britex Fabrics in San Francisco offered a buy-by-mail offer for Ultrasuede, the “it” fabric of the decade!

Thoughts on Fabric - 76-2

I can really only think of a few current fabric lines that still retain the distinction of being “known” by their names: Liberty, Pendleton, and Linton Tweeds come to mind.  (Linton Direct advertises in the current VPB magazine, but it is a small column ad, not a full-page “look at me” type of statement.) Then, of course, there are designer fabrics, but the manufacturers of these “name” goods are generally not listed.  For the most part, unless you ask, when you are buying yard goods, the names of the manufacturers are virtually unknown.  It is really kind of a shame, as there are so many exquisite fabrics of the highest quality still being woven in certain parts of the world.  These fabrics (and others, some vintage) make it difficult to say “no” to the opportunity to add to one’s fabric collection.  Here are two such fabrics I could not resist:

This is a linen and cotton blend I purchased from Mood Fabrics a while ago.  It is patiently waiting to be cut and sewn . . .

This is a loosely woven linen and cotton blend I purchased from Mood Fabrics a while ago. It is patiently waiting to be cut and sewn . . .

This is a vintage linen, newly acquired by me.  Although there is nothing printedon the selvedge, I believe it is a Moygashel linen from the 1950s.

This is a vintage linen, newly acquired by me. Although there is nothing printed on the selvedge, I believe it is a Moygashel linen from the 1950s.  I plan to make a sheath dress from this fabric sometime during the Summer of 2014.

William Blake notably said “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”  I must confess I never knew what that meant until I applied it, somewhat sheepishly,  to collecting fabrics.  It seems the more various and beautiful fabrics I can look at and choose from, the more I am able to determine the perfect pattern with which to pair them.  If I own the fabric already, so much the better!  Sometimes the fabric dictates the sort of garment I should make and sometimes I have a pattern which leads me to my (excessive?) fabric collection, where I can admire anew and oftentimes choose a long-before purchased length of the perfect silk, linen, cotton, or wool.  It is a back and forth process, one filled with visual and tactile components, demanding – and developing – sewing wisdom.  It is one of the reasons I love to sew.

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Filed under Liberty cotton, Linen, Love of sewing, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, woolens

Happy New Sewing Year

“Dresses for breakfasts, and dinners, and balls;

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

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

Dresses in which to do nothing at all;

Dresses for Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another gorgeous Italian silk!

Another gorgeous Italian silk!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of corners lurking in this Liberty cotton!

Lots of corners lurking in this Liberty cotton!

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

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

Give me Liberty . . .

. . .  and I’ll make a dress!  Of course, I’m referring to Liberty cottons, one of the great fabrics of the world.  There is, as most of you already know, more to Liberty than just cottons – they make silks, too, and one look at their website will introduce you to the full range of Liberty products, appeal, and mystique.  It is so exciting to me to realize that this company, which was founded in 1875, is still producing some of the finest quality fabrics in the world. Their most famous fabric is that cotton, more properly referred to as Tana Lawn.  Here I quote from The Liberty Book of Home Sewing (about which I’ll tell you more shortly):

Tana Lawn   Synonymous with Liberty, this 100% cotton fabric has a very fine thread count and soft, silky feel.  New print designs are created each season, heritage classics are continuously reworked, and there is also an array of coordinating plain colors.”

It just so happens that I lucked into two pieces of Tana Lawn, originally purchased by a relative in the ‘60s, and tucked away, unused, into a bureau drawer.  When the contents of that drawer were being emptied about a decade later, I was the happy recipient.  At that point in time, Tana Lawn was only 35” wide, so in order to make a dress or blouse, it was necessary to have a good bit of yardage at one’s disposal, to compensate for the narrow width.  Of course, the piece I liked the best had the least yardage:

I find the colors and design of this cotton so appealing.

It sat in my fabric drawer for about another 12 or 15 years, until I finally made it into a dress for my daughter when she was about 8 years old.

The only reason I saved this dress is because of its vintage Liberty fabric.

The second piece had a bit more yardage to it, but it, too, sat in my fabric closet, until last Summer, when I finally decided I would make myself a dress.

This is the same fabric design in different colors.

I knew it would have to be sleeveless, and I envisioned a simple belted bodice with some fullness in the skirt.  The only pattern I could find which came close was this Butterick one:

I chose this pattern primarily for the bodice in View A (the blue one).

Then I began making alterations to it:  a few soft pleats for the skirt instead of all that fullness; I wanted to add pockets in the side seams; to add pockets, I had to move the zipper from the side to the back, which also made it easier for me to fit the pattern pieces onto the narrow fabric. Finally, I wanted it lined, which I did with a very lightweight white cotton lawn.  Here’s how it turned out:

I did not have enough fabric left to make a self belt, so I have worn it with one I already have, until I can find one I like better!

I really like the back of this dress.

Here is a close-up of the back neckline.

Well, it seems I am always rediscovering pieces of fabric in my extensive collection, and although I have known this fabric was there, it always seems like a new discovery when something so pretty surfaces again.  I purchased this piece of Tana Lawn in Bermuda (probably at Trimingham’s, now unfortunately out of business) sometime in the 1980s.

I still love this fabric over twenty-five years after purchasing it!

I could never decide on a pattern to use for it – those ’80 styles were just too awful.  So this fabric is another one of those “Thank goodness I never made this!”  Although it is also just 35” wide, I have a plentiful 4½ yards so I should be able to pair it with a vintage pattern from the ‘50s or ‘60s – I’m still looking and deciding…  Ideas, anyone?  (Interestingly, Liberty apparently changed their production in the early 1990s, and now their Tana Lawn is 44” wide.)

Now, about that afore-mentioned book:  last Summer I was browsing books on sewing and fashion on Amazon, and The Liberty Book of Home Sewing popped up for pre-order.  Being a complete push-over for any books which showcase beautiful fabrics, I signed up for it and it arrived in October.  Of the 25 projects featured, my favorites are the vintage ‘50s look apron on the cover and the peacock pincushion.

This is the cover of the hardback book, showing the frilly '50s' style apron.

And here is the whimsical peacock pincushion project.

What I really like about this book, however, are the full-page representations of Liberty cottons; the Glossary of Fabrics, which includes a little history about each featured design; and the Foreword, which includes a history of the production of Tana Lawn.

Here is one page of the Glossary of Fabrics.

Finally – one last thing:  when I purchased my Liberty fabric in Bermuda, this label came with it:

This tag is small, but packs a powerful message! I'll definitely be sewing it into whatever dress I eventually make.

What is it about a label that can give a fabric or pattern purchase – and ultimately the finished garment – its own persona?  How can something so small add so much validation and completeness to the dressmaker’s labor of love?

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Filed under 1980's dress patterns, Liberty cotton, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized