Category Archives: Messages from past owners of vintage patterns

The Champagne Dress

It is a fact of sewing life that the construction of some dresses is just more difficult and time-consuming than other ones. This was a difficult dress to make and at times I really wondered just how long it would take to finish.

Before I go into the making of this dress, I want to put its pattern into historical context. This pattern is one of Vogue Patterns’ “Paris Originals.”

A former owner of this pattern made the notation about the bust enlargement.

As is obvious from the envelope cover, the dress was designed by Guy Laroche (1923-1989; pronounced Ghee Lah-rush); it is copyright 1960. According to the St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Laroche was a French couture and ready-to-wear designer who worked for Jean Desses from 1950-57. Desses was known for his intricately draped dresses, asymmetry in his designs and ornament derived from the “architecture” of the garment, according to his profile in The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia by Richard Martin, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, c1997, page 100. Bingo! It appears that Laroche learned well from his time with Desses and incorporated some of the same details into his couture designs once he opened his own fashion house in 1961.

I find it interesting that this pattern is dated 1960, one year before Laroche opened his couture house. Perhaps this statement in the Vogue Sewing Book from 1963 helps to explain how Vogue Patterns managed to obtain a Guy Laroche design before he had his own eponymous line:

Please click on the image to enlarge the print.

In any event, the appeal of this pattern, for me at least, was the asymmetrical draped bodice back and the tailored bow which anchors the drape on the right shoulder of the dress. It was also these details – and others – which made it a time-consuming project.

I made some alterations to the pattern before I even got started, as I wanted to eliminate some of the blousing above the waist of the dress. I do not have enough height to carry off too much excess around the mid-section, so I pulled most of the blousing into darts. Doing this made me rethink the instructions for the lining, the waistline of which was supposed to be sewn to the waistline of the dress itself. I assume the joining of these two elements was to insure that the blousing of the dress remained at the proper “elevation.”

The series of dots around the waistline indicate the sewing line to anchor the dress to the lining.

Having removed most of the blousing, I did not need to anchor the dress to its lining, so I left the lining loose.

This photo shows the loose lining and also the back neckline. Ordinarily, in couture sewing, facings are eliminated. However, in this case, knowing that the weight of the drape would be added to the back neck, I chose to use the facing to add more stability. I finished its edge with Hug Snug tape.

As you can see from the diagram of the lining (above), the back neckline is asymmetrical, to accommodate the attached drape on the bodice. I’m not sure why, but I found this rather confusing, resulting in sewing the lining together, first correctly, then thinking I had done it wrong, redoing it in what I thought was correct – and then realizing I had it right the first time. Fortunately it was easy to remove the stitching from the crepe de chine lining silk, but really? Three times? And then guess what this is?

Yes, this is a backwards back bodice!  Apparently I had flipped (or marked incorrectly) my silk organza underlining/pattern when I placed it on the fashion fabric, cut it out incorrectly and even had the underlining and the fashion fabric all carefully basted together.  When I discovered my mistake,  you can imagine my panic until I realized I had enough of the charmeuse left to cut it out again, this time correctly. Of course, then I had to baste it to the organza underlining for a second time. Tick tock, tick tock!

Things then went along fine until I got to the front neckline, which presented a quandary to me. From the instruction sheet, it seemed there was to be no interior finishing of it. It appeared to be a draped version of a bateau neckline. When I tried the dress on, it was uncomfortable as it pulled too tightly from the shoulders (which did not show up in my muslin).  It also did not look good. I decided the only way out of this predicament was to reshape it. I carefully basted and clipped and trimmed and clipped and trimmed some more (no photos of this, I am sorry to say. I was too intent on the task at hand to even think about photos!) But it all worked out. The front neckline certainly isn’t as draped as was intended, but I love the way it fits and looks.

The lining is not supposed to be attached to the dress at the front neck, according to the instruction sheet. In order to finish the neckline without adding any bulk (which would surely show up on that wide bias expanse), I stay-stitched and then catch-stitched the raw edge to the organza underlining. Not as finished a look as I would like, but it works well.

Another section of the pattern which did not present a proper interior finish for this very particular dressmaker, was the drape. It is partially gathered as you can see from the instruction sheet.

#7 shows the gathering of the interior drape.

As I did not care for a raw edge to be hiding under the drape, I decided to bind the edge with Hug Snug tape. This worked out so well and looks nice and tidy!

Besides these time-consuming corrections and additions, there were the hours of work involved in making the bow, attaching it to the dress, and making the belt. Then when I thought I was just about finished, I remembered I needed to add lingerie keepers, due to the wide stance of the shoulders. Okay, I thought. What else??

I have decided the belt is a little loose, so I need to reset the fasteners… What else, indeed!

What a good feeling of accomplishment to finish this dress and like it!

Here is a detail of the bow. I do love a tailored bow!

I haven’t worn it yet for any occasion, but when I do, I hope there is champagne involved, as I am going to toast myself for successfully finishing this one!



Filed under Bows as design feature, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Linings, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, side-placed zippers, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“Mrs. Scimpy”

Two years ago I made this dress:

The Year of Magical Sewing

From this pattern:

Perfect Blue - Mattli pattern

Once I had the dress finished, I liked it so much that I decided a coordinating coat, with a lining to match the dress would be wonderful – sometime. I even went so far as to order more of the blue silk blend fabric from EmmaOneSock, while I knew it would still be available.   Tucked away in my fabric closet, it has patiently waited while I searched and searched for the right coat fabric in a coordinating/contrasting color and in silk. I finally found it last Spring, during a online silk sale at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.

Taffeta coat - swatch

The fabric is lightweight silk taffeta, with the weft in persimmon color and the warp in fuchsia pink, giving it a shimmer which changes color with movement. I decided it would be my first project after we returned from our summer travels – with the intention of having it ready to wear with the dress to a September wedding, which happens to be at a location where a light coat or wrap is advisable.

All along I had intended to use the Jo Mattli coat pattern that is shown with the dress. I liked the idea of no buttons and simple lines.

Taffeta coat - Mattli pattern

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

However, when I got the pattern pieces out, here is what I found:

Front and back pattern pieces

Front and back pattern pieces

Yep, that is one voluminous coat! I knew that, even with taking some of the bulk out, I would probably still look like I was wearing a tent. With that slim dress, I am not sure why the coat has to be so full, but I had no qualms about deciding not to go in that direction. However, I still wanted a coat with no buttons or maybe just one button. I dug through my collection and came up with several possibilities, which included this one:

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn't convinced this was the right look.

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn’t convinced this was the right look.

I have another Jo Mattli coat and dress design which I love, but I think the coat would make up much more attractively in wool rather than silk taffeta, so I ruled this one out:

Taffeta coat - 2nd Mattli pattern

Then I came across this one: View B shows it with no button/buttonholes down the front. I also like the three-quarter sleeves, with the cuff detail.

The pattern description reads: "Striaght coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.

The pattern description reads: “Straight coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.”  I knew this coat would take on an appropriate dressy look when made up in silk taffeta.

Now –  I try to buy vintage Vogue patterns in sizes with a 32” bust and 34” hip measurement; however, that is not always possible, so I will go up or down a size if it is a pattern I really want to have. When I make my muslin (toile) for such a pattern, I try to include adjustments for the size issues so that my final alterations will be easier. However, the handwritten note on the front of this pattern gave me pause: “too scimpy” it reads. She obviously meant “skimpy,” but those two words spoke volumes to me (no pun intended!) Maybe I would just follow the pattern exactly (except for lowering the bust which I always have to do), and see if the size is okay.

Taffeta coat - pencil notes

And that is exactly what happened! Little did Mrs. “Scimpy” know that her simple pattern review, circa 1961, would save me both time and effort in 2016!

It looks like Mrs. Scimpy made her coat out of red wool, with a matching skirt. Her pencil notes on the yardage required indicate such, along with the cost of the fabrics: $22. I certainly hope she figured out that the coat was too skimpy in time to make adjustments, as a red wool coat with matching skirt would be lovely indeed!


Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“To the Most Imaginative Woman in the World”

“You see her leafing through pattern books – picking out a collar here, a cuff there, a new way of pleating a skirt . . . You see her fingering a tiny swatch of fabric, Yet she’s seeing it as a whole dress, or a blouse, or a jacket . . . Who is she – this lady with the limitless imagination? She’s the woman who sews. YOU . . .”

Most imaginative woman - Burlington-2

This is just one of many ads placed by manufacturers of fabric in the April-May 1950 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. Ordinarily I would not have purchased this issue, as most Vogue patterns available before 1955 were not printed, and I rarely buy a vintage pattern which is not printed! My particular interest in these vintage magazines is the opportunity they provide to identify dates for patterns, fabrics and style trends, making the experience of sewing with vintage patterns (and fabrics) even more enjoyable.  However, when this issue was available in an Etsy store, I succumbed. I was born in May of 1950, and my curiosity just got the better of me.

I find the haughty expression on the cover model somewhat amusing.

An early haughty expression on a  model!

Looking at this issue made me realize how old I am… NO, NO, NO! Just kidding, I think. Actually, what really popped out at me was how exciting it must have been to be a home dressmaker at this point in time, with the home sewing business booming, post-war, and fine fashion – and the desire to look wonderful – such important aspects of a woman’s life.

And then, as I was leafing through the magazine, I found an unexpected surprise. Tucked in between two pages was Vogue Patterns April 15 Collection, an 8-page flyer, available at pattern counters and easily something that could be tossed away. I find it remarkable that this slim printed piece survived.

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-5

The format is larger than what I am used to seeing in later Vogue pattern flyers from the 1960s and 1970s.  When one looks at the fashions and patterns detailed, it is easy to imagine the woman who picked this up, looking at it again and again.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

Not only that, also tucked in with this flyer was this page from Harper’s Bazaar, March 1st, 1950.

Most imaginative woman - Harpers Bazaar

How many of you save pictures of dresses/blouses/coats you would like to copy? Pinterest, anyone? I certainly do!

Clearly she had in mind making the dress pictured on the back cover of the flyer:

"Consider them two by two - the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result." Timeless advice!

“Consider them two by two – the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result.” Timeless advice!

Some of my favorite pages in this, my “birthday” issue? I was delighted to find an ad for Moygashel linen, for which I have a particular passion:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-1

A lover of polka dots makes me partial to this gorgeous blouse:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-3

This blouse is very similar to one I made a few years ago.

And how can I resist this stunning “moulded sheath dress with a draped cascade”?

Most imaginative woman - cascade dress-4

I am so struck by the sophistication of the styling of the fashions and illustrations, the emphasis on Designer offerings, and the exciting abundance of piece goods being sold by manufacturer’s name to the home sewing population. Times and fashions change, but I believe we have much in common with these mid-century home dressmakers plotting their wardrobes with creativity and skill – pairing fabric and pattern. We are the women who sew – and are still the ones with the limitless imaginations!


Filed under Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Pattern Art, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Suited for Spring

Last Fall when I found emerald green matka silk on Waechter’s website, I quickly purchased 3½ yards.  At 45” wide, I knew that amount would be enough for a Spring suit although I really did not know which pattern I would be using.  It seems I often  purchase fabric and then end up not actually using it for a year – or more.  But with emerald green so front and center in fashion this year, I definitely decided to make this project a top priority.

This is the silk I ordered from Waechter's Fine Fabrics

This is the silk I ordered from Waechter’s Fine Fabrics.

I envisioned what is known as a “dressmaker suit.”  Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion (3rd edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, 2003) gives this definition:  “Woman’s suit made with soft lines and fine details, as contrasted with man-tailored styles that have the sharply defined lines of a man’s suit made by a tailor.  Fashionable in 1950s and revived in the mid-1980s.”  Specifically, I envisioned a straight skirt (aka pencil skirt in today’s fashion parlance), a short-ish, dressy jacket with some neat detail on it, and adorned with buttons to compliment the sheen and slubby texture of the silk.

First step was to go to my pattern box, brimming over with vintage patterns (and a few new ones).  I quickly had my selection narrowed down to two possibilities, but one was actually a sheath dress with coordinating jacket, not a jacket and skirt. (Yes, there is a definition for this category as well, according to Fairchild’s:  “Suit dress:  Used in 1960s to refer to a jacket and dress ensemble that resembled a tailored suit.”)

Is it the hat that makes this ensemble so appealing - or just good styling?

Is it the hat that makes this ensemble so appealing – or just good styling?

I hashed over the two reservations I had about using this pattern:  1) I was a little short on yardage – about a quarter of a yard – and just not completely confident that I would be able to cut this pattern out with the generous seams that I have come to like so much, and 2) I have a RTW (gasp!) silk shell top which will look stunning, I think, paired with an emerald green silk skirt and matching jacket.  So in the end, I decided to go with a dressmaker suit to be made from this pattern:

I'll be making View B, which just happens to be shown in emerald green!

I’ll be making View B, which just happens to be shown in emerald green!

And then, the bonus!  Actually three of them . . .  I had forgotten that tucked inside the pattern envelope were two clippings obviously placed there by the original owner of the pattern.  She was doing some “comparison shopping” for styling.

The first clipping is for another pattern – a Spadea, available through mail order from the newspaper.  Fortunately, the date of 1964 shows up on one corner.

Dressmaker suit - 3

The second clipping is from Vogue magazine, showing a fashion from 1968.

The jacket of this suit, just like the Spadea pattern, is very similar to the Vogue pattern.

The jacket of this suit, just like the Spadea pattern, is very similar to the Vogue pattern.

Perhaps the original owner was trying to decide between a striped fabric and a plain one?  Maybe she was really undecided about making this style suit?  I’d love for her to sit down with me over a cup of coffee so we could discuss this pattern!  As it turns out, she never made the jacket, as its pieces were still in factory folds when I obtained it.  The skirt pattern shows signs of having been used, however.  I’ll never know why,  after all her thought about this suit, she never made it.  However, her decision afforded me the third bonus – the original pattern label – pristine after so many years.

I am looking forward to sewing this label into my green silk suit.

I am looking forward to sewing this label into my green silk suit.

I’ve made my initial adjustments to the pattern and am now making the muslin.  Like my “pattern predecessor” I am dreaming of a certain look.  Now it’s up to me to finish what she started.


Filed under Dressmaker suits, kimono sleeves, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns