Category Archives: Mid-Century style

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.  

28 Comments

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

A Summer Dress

Summer is quickly slipping away, but before it does, I will share one quintessentially summer dress which I made back in July.  It ticks off a number of features which make it “Summer Seasonal”:  it is sleeveless, it is a bright color, and it is linen.  

I found this vintage piece of Moygashel linen a few years ago on eBay. Always a pushover for vintage Moygashel, I purchased it, not quite knowing what shade of green it would be. I was expecting a lime green, but when it arrived it was “lime green meets mint,” a color reminiscent of the early 1960s.  Actually, not just reminiscent – an actual survivor from that period of time.  The width of the fabric was only 35” which was a dead giveaway that this fabric is from the early part of that decade.  Shortly thereafter, Moygashel began to be woven in 45” widths.  Fortunately I had three yards, which compensated for the dearth of width.   

To keep with the early ‘60’s vibe, I decided to line it in pink.  Although I usually line linen with a cotton batiste or cotton/linen lightweight blend, I decided to treat this dress a little bit differently.  I do not often use Bemberg for lining, usually preferring silk, but this lovely, time-tested 100% rayon lining just seemed to be the right choice. (Why?  I knew the seam allowances of the bright green  linen would not show through the tightly woven Bemberg lining, AND it would be a comfortable, lightweight and slinky fabric with which to line a summer dress.)  I ordered what I thought would be a medium pink, but when it arrived, it was more of a very deep rose.  What to do?  I hemmed and hawed, I thought about ordering a different hue of pink, I even thought about abandoning the pink idea and just using a white crepe de chine I had on hand.  Why I was agonizing so much over the color of the lining had to do with my thought if the dress turned out well, I would enter it in the County Fair. I knew not everyone would “understand” such a deeply contrasted lining.  But not wanting to waste money and fabric – and time! – I finally decided just to go with the dark pink, shown a few pictures below.  

I used this sheath dress pattern again, as I am so fond of the double shaping darts in the bodice front and the real kick-pleat.  

The sheath dress pattern I like is the one on the right, underneath its matching plaid coat.
Not just a slit, but a real kick-pleat!
Here is the kick-pleat on the inside of the dress.

I underlined the dress in silk organza so that I could eliminate facings and have an invisible application of the lining.  (The silk organza underlining gives one a base upon which to tack and secure stitches which do not show on the fashion fabric.)

The neck and armhole edges are stay stitched by machine close to the seam line, then clipped and tacked in place by hand to the silk organza underlining.
Here is one of the side seams, clipped and then also tacked in place by catch-stitches.
A beautiful lining hides all those interior stitches and seams.

I surprisingly found a zipper which was almost a perfect match to the green linen, and I did a hand-picked lapped application.  

Once I had the lining fell-stitched in place around the neckline and the armholes, I under-stitched those areas in waxed and ironed white thread.  (I used white to quiet down the deep pink!) Using this technique keeps the lining in place.  The under-stitching is attached to the silk organza underlining only, not the fashion fabric, as explained above.

I used Hug Snug rayon tape to construct the strap holders.

To complete the early 1960s’ essence of this dress, I can pair it with a vintage ‘60s’ Guillemin scarf, also found on eBay.  The pink in the scarf doesn’t match the pink lining, but since the lining does not show, it only matters to me (and now all of you also know this little fact!)  

So how did I do with this dress as an entry in the County Fair?  It was awarded a Red Ribbon in the Adult Division, which was lovely.  The day was “saved” however, when dresses I made for my granddaughters each won Blue Ribbons (and one of them won Best of Division).

(Those of you who follow me on Instagram @fiftydresses have seen this picture already…)

Good Summer memories, all of them.    

29 Comments

Filed under couture construction, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Scarves, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Tuesday is for Ironing

One might get the idea I love to iron should they take stock of how many cotton blouses I have made over the past few years. Now I do love a crisp cotton blouse, and I find them to be imminently wearable, neat and tidy, and versatile.  So I keep making them.  But do I love to iron?  Not really, although it is not my most dreaded household chore.  (I think that might be grocery shopping – or more precisely, lugging everything home and putting it all away.  I don’t like that.)  

Even wearing a pretty blouse, like this – my most recent make, to the grocery store doesn’t make that chore more bearable!

One advantage to having lots and lots of cotton blouses is that the ironing can pile up, yet I will still have blouses to go to in my closet, so there’s that.  I think – no, I know – another reason I keep making casual cotton blouses is that I love to sew with beautiful quality cotton (of course Liberty comes to mind!) The selection of quality cotton prints, checks, plaids, stripes, and solids available online is astoundingly diverse, making the temptation great to make “just one more blouse.”

And then there are the buttons. If you follow my sewing life through this blog, you know my fascination with and pursuit of vintage buttons to use on my blouses and other projects.  Yes, a white plastic button can perform the same function, but a beautiful pearl button adds a touch of class to a simple blouse like no other detail can.  

A simple pearl button, circa 1960, BGE Originals, “First in Fashions”

It also helps that I have a set of blouse patterns which fit well due to many alterations and tweaking over several years’ use.  It is a lovely feeling to start a new project, knowing I don’t have to fit the pattern and make a muslin before I can get started on the fashion fabric.  

Three of my favorite blouse patterns, for which I have fitted muslins.
And one which I feel sure will become a favorite once I make and fit a muslin for it! View A is a classic look and the sleeves are so elegant.

I had been eyeing this Liberty cotton lawn on the Farmhouse Fabrics website for quite a while when I decided last Spring to go ahead and indulge.  Having a floral among my blouse selections is something just a bit different for me, as I already have numerous ginghams, plaids, and stripes.  

Liberty Lawn is lovely to sew and lovely to wear.
These colors make me happy.

So – is Tuesday really for ironing?  There used to be a proscribed schedule for all those household chores – and it went like this:

Monday: Wash Day

Tuesday:  Ironing Day 

Wednesday:  Sewing Day

Thursday:  Market Day

Friday:  Cleaning Day

Saturday:  Baking Day

Sunday:  Day of Rest

Well, times have changed. Now, every day is Sewing Day.

16 Comments

Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Liberty cotton, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

A White Eyelet Blouse

Eyelet is one of those fabrics which can conjure up memories from one’s life.  So often associated with pinafores, eyelet is lovely for little girls’ dresses – and petticoats.  It is often used for lingerie or sleepwear for all ages, as well as dresses and blouses.  It is a summer fabric, with its “built-in” air conditioning – ie. all those little holes surrounded by embroidery.    Often eyelet trim – and sometimes eyelet yard goods – have one or two finished borders.  Such was the case with the eyelet I found earlier this year for the ruffled collars for sundresses for my granddaughters.  

This lace was a 14″ wide double scallop-edged panel, which I cut down the middle to use for the two collars.

It was working on those collars which convinced me I needed to make an eyelet bouse for myself.  I went back to Farmhouse Fabrics, from which I had purchased the double-sided eyelet panel for those collars, to find a suitable eyelet for a blouse.  Farmhouse Fabrics has quite an inventory of lovely eyelets, so it was difficult to decide.  But decide I did, and purchased this all-cotton eyelet made in Spain.  

I liked the meandering motif in this design.

For a pattern I used this vintage Vogue pattern from 1957.

I liked the convertible collar of this pattern, as shown in View B. A convertible collar is one which can be worn open or closed. The collar is sewn directly to the neckline.  I did, however, shorten the sleeves to below elbow-length.  I also chose to make plain, buttoned cuffs without the extra turn-back detail.  

Although the blouse is described on the pattern envelope as “tuck-in,” I liked the gently curved and split hem which would also allow me to wear the blouse as an over-blouse.  The thumbnail detail from the pattern envelope shows the curved hem.  

I lined the main body of the blouse with white cotton batiste, leaving the sleeves unlined.  To reduce bulk, I made the undercollar and the cuff facings from the white batiste.

Buttons are always a favorite component of a blouse for me.  I had a card of vintage Lady Washington Pearls which seemed a lovely complement to the scale of the fabric embroidery.  

One button remaining!

I first wore this blouse on a very warm evening to attend an outdoor concert.  I was amazed at how cool the blouse was. The little breeze there was, did indeed feel like air-conditioning as it wafted through all those embroidered holes!

In my case, this collar is not “convertible” as I did not put a button and buttonhole at the neckline!
I made the cuffs with a bit more width than needed so I can push the sleeves up further if I want.
After I finished the blouse I went back and added two narrow fisheye darts to the back to make the fit a bit more streamlined.
I think this blouse might be a good pairing for the Liberty cotton skirt featured in my last post.

Finding beautiful eyelet fabric is now on my sewing radar.   I would like to make more with this timeless, feminine and versatile type of lace. 

24 Comments

Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Eyelet, Lace, Mid-Century style, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

And There Went March.

March was not home to much sewing at Fifty Dresses this year.  The reasons were manifold, but suffice it to say, my loved ones and I weathered through the storm. Now sweet April is here, adorned in grace and gentleness and goodness, like a balm to our collective souls.  April is filled with promise.  

And I have given April much to make promises about!  I may have not been able to sew throughout most of March, but that did not prevent me from looking at fabric, patterns, buttons, books, and fashionable inspirations.  Despite my best intentions of not succumbing to new fabric purchases, my discipline failed me and I found two silk fabrics at Britex which I decided were too special to pass by.  They are so different from each other, but each one appeals to certain design penchants I have finally admitted are my weakness.  One is for geometric and linear prints:

This is a silk crepe de chine, blouse weight.

The second penchant is for whimsical, scattered florals, in multi-color.  This one is especially appealing to me as it also has polka dots in its motif.  Polka dots are especially difficult for me to resist.  

This is a silk twill, dress or blouse weight. I’m not sure what I will make with this yet. If I thought I would have occasion to wear a hostess skirt, that would be it, but …. it is all still to be determined.

By this point I have an extensive collection of vintage patterns, so it is rare when I find one which fills a gap for me.  But such was the case with this purchase of a Vogue Paris Original by Pierre Balmain.  I had not come across this pattern before, and I believe it was rightly advertised as “rare.”  

I wanted this pattern for the jacket.  The neckline is lovely with its small, rolled collar, and the lines in the jacket appear to be very flattering.  The corded front edges are an interesting design feature which will require the right weight fabric to be finished correctly, I think.  And the four buttons certainly have a prominent position for a jacket not meant to be buttoned!  I will relish finding buttons for this project.  

As with most of my vintage patterns, where I am never quite satisfied until I am able to assign a copyright/production date to them, such was the case with this pattern.   Being a Designer pattern made it easier to narrow my search through my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines.  Also, at this point I have developed a “decade” sense for styles, so I instinctively started with the mid-1960s.  Bingo – the second issue from the mid ‘60s through which I looked featured this pattern.  It was included in an article “Just Arrived – 33 Great Imports” in the October/November 1965 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

I like this image of the pattern (on the far right) as I believe it shows the lines of the jacket in a more flattering way than on the pattern envelope.

What made it especially rewarding for me was that my pink Dior coat pattern is included in the same feature.  It must have been a good year.  

The caption for my pink coat pattern, top and center in the same feature of “33 Great Imports”, reads: “DIOR: The ensemble to wear all year – a dirndled dress and a coat that’s shaped high and narrow.”

Pink was on my mind (well, truth be told, pink is always on my mind) during the waning days of March as I zeroed in on making “birthday” dresses for my granddaughters.  (Time and looming dates have a wonderful way of getting me back on the sewing track.)  And yes, they are pink.  However, they are also under wraps – and wrapping paper – to be opened by the birthday girls next week.

Hopefully April will not hurry away, as these months are wont to do.  There are promises to keep and there is more sewing to happen at Fifty Dresses.    

21 Comments

Filed under Mid-Century style, Polka dots, silk, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Diversions – in Print

Works of fiction which feature some aspect of sewing or fashion are often some of my favorite reading experiences.  While I do not necessarily seek them out, if I hear of such a novel, and it’s reviews are positive, then I will add it to my reading queue (similar to my sewing queue!) And sometimes, there is a surprise sewing element in a novel – those are the bonuses.

The last three novels I have read, in quick succession, were all very different, but each one used sewing and/or fashion as foundational premises either for the plot or for character development.  So, here are short reviews of each one, in the order in which I read them.

The first novel, Beneficence, by Meredith Hall, came to my attention by a review in The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition back in the Fall.  The subtle role sewing plays in this novel makes it one of those bonus books. Some of the words used to describe this novel, and rightly so, have been “haunting,” luminous,” and “exquisite.”  It takes place in Maine (USA) and spans the years from the late 1940s to the early ‘60s. The story is about the Senter family, who owns a dairy farm, and the devastating tragedy which befalls the family of five.  Early in the book, one gets the sense of impending doom.  At this point, in no way did I have any inkling of the role sewing would have in the development of one of the main characters, Dodie, the daughter.  The masterful writing – eerily beautiful, and very affecting – is of such quality that it was only after I had finished the book did I realize how her sewing helped to define Dodie. The sewing references even hint at the blessings ahead for her in the reader’s mind at book’s end.  She is a mender, a creator, and a giver of things she has sewn.  She is wise beyond her years.  She is a character I will long remember.  The book is a masterpiece.  

One word of warning, however, is necessary for this book.  Parts of it are very difficult emotionally to read.  I cried a lot reading it, perhaps crying the most at the book’s end when grace and wisdom finally replace anguish for each of the Senters.  If you are feeling in any way fragile right now, then plan to read this book at another, more secure time.  

Feeling emotionally drained (but fulfilled) after reading Beneficence, I wanted something light-hearted and fun.  And like a blessing, this book came to me as a Christmas gift from my daughter, Susanna.  

This novel first appeared in 1993, and it has been recently re-released.

The Women in Black, by Madeline St. John, is set in the early 1950s in Sydney, Australia.  It follows four women (actually 3 women and one 16-year-old girl) who work at Goode’s Department Store in Fine Dresses and Model Dresses (Model Dresses being the most expensive.)  The time of year is December, when cocktail and party dress buying is at a frenzy!  Patty and Fay are in the fine dresses, Magda manages the Model Gowns, and Lisa is a temporary hire who helps out wherever she is needed.  In many ways, however, it is Lisa’s story.  Magda takes a loving interest in her, and when Lisa is exposed to the confectionary frocks in Model Gowns, she comes alive.  She particularly has her eye on one dress, which is called “Lisette.”  And when she finally has the opportunity to try the dress on, this is what transpires: 

“Lisette was, of course, everything which could have been dreamed; like all the great works of the French couture, it was designed to look beautiful not simply as a thing in itself, but as the clothing of a female form.  It took on then the property of vitality and movement, that is, of rhythm:  it became finally incarnate.  Lisa stood, overwhelmed, staring into the great cheval glass.   . . . The frock changed her absolutely; the revelation which had come upon her when she had first been shown the Model gowns was now complete.”  

What a fun book, written by someone (sadly now deceased) who understood the transformative power of dress and dresses.  Treat yourself and read this book!

Just the title of the third book I am sharing is intriquing enough to catch your attention.  

Based loosely on a true story, but definitely a work of fiction, The French Model, by Alexandra Joel,  is the story of a stunningly beautiful young Australian woman who makes her way to Paris and becomes a model in Christian Dior’s House in post-war France.  In leaving Australia, she is escaping not only from an unhappy marriage, but also from revelations about her past which make her question her identity and all those she has ever loved.  This book has it all:  mystery, espionage, love, fashion, friendship, sacrifice, sex, “very important person” sightings, political intrigue, history, and courage – all in a complex story line which will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The writing is lovely and descriptive, the main characters endearing.  Some of the story is a bit contrived – or unbelievable – but I was generally able to overlook those parts to enjoy the larger storyline.  And I loved the emphasis on the workings of the House of Christian Dior. Anyone who loves vintage fashion – or historical fiction set at the end of World War II – should find escaping into this story a happy place to be.  

One final observation about these three books.  The dust jackets are works of art.  Not unlike a perfectly fitted and flattering dress, each one is so perfectly evocative of what lies within, capturing the very essence of the books they adorn.  As I look again and again at each one, it takes me back to those stories, those places and those indelible characters which gave me so much reading pleasure.  

18 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, Christian Dior, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A Dress That Was Meant to Be – in Vogue

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.  

I wrote about this vintage Forstmann wool fabric in a previous post.

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!  

What a glamorous look!
And here is the entry for this pattern in the capsule catalog.

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.

You will notice that this fabric has a center front, woven to provide a mirror image of the plaid on each side. Really a brilliant way to handle an uneven plaid.

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 the plaid 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.)

The red “band” at the hemline serves as this “float.”

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.

The instruction diagram shows the kick pleat quite well.
I angled the raw edges to finish the bottom edge of the seam.
Here is the finished kick pleat.

I loved that fact that this type of kick pleat made the perfect setting for a lapped zipper, shown below.  

The left side is pressed slightly to the middle to accommodate a lapped zipper.

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.

This photo shows what I did with the side seam at the bust dart.

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. 

Black is so difficult to photograph, but hopefully the angle is apparent.

 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.  

How lovely to have a label for this vintage wool.

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. 

I now would like to make a black jacket to wear with this dress; I do have a small amount of fabric remaining to use as trim in some way…

So now, how about you?  Have you started the new year in Vogue? I hope so!

50 Comments

Filed under couture construction, fabric labels, Hems, Linings, Mid-Century style, Pattern Art, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

A Fabric and Its Label

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.  

This wool is 56″ wide and I have 1 1/3 yards, just enough for either a skirt or a simple dress.

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.

In the center of this photo is the center point of the wool, with half the width to one side and half to the outer side. Absolutely brilliant.
Here is a close-up, in which the lovely herringbone weave is also beautifully apparent.

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 love this ad for many reasons, but especially for the red coat. Isn’t it just so elegant?

I found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:

This has to be one of my favorite magazine covers of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines I have.

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. 

This label is another variation, without the descriptive phrase “100% Virgin Wool.” Again, this ad has beautiful depictions of wool, with Vogue patterns chosen for each of them.

It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.  

This ad was prominently placed on the inside front cover of the October/November 1960 edition of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

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.  

From the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

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 . . .

28 Comments

Filed under fabric labels, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

What Do You Think of Sewing Contests?

And – what do you know about them?  One of the more venerable sewing contests is the annual Make It With Wool.  Founded in 1947, it is still going strong and features winners in various categories/age groups.  Prizes for winners and runners’-up include scholarships, sewing machines and fabrics, and of course, national recognition in the field.  Pattern Review sponsors several sewing competitions throughout each year, in addition to a “sewing bee.”   Its followers are legion at this point, and it is always a coup to be a winner, selected by readers’ votes.

But what would you say if I told you that in 1956 the Singer Sewing Machine Company introduced a national sewing contest with prize money totaling $125,000?   The 1st Grand Prize carried the unbelievable reward of $25,000.  In current 2020 American dollars, that is almost $240,000!  Not only that, the 33 regional first prize winners also received a free trip to New York.  Take a look at the following two-page ad which appeared in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, announcing the second year of the competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vogue Pattern Book Magazine of August/September 1957 included this page “as we go to press…”

Vogue Pattern Company was rightly proud of their representation in this contest and in others.

And then here is the feature article on those winners in the following issue (October/November, 1957):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging was based on “fashion points of appearance, fit and selection of design, colour and fabric, plus construction points of quality and accuracy of cutting, sewing and finishing.”  Isn’t this what most of us strive to attain in our own sewing?

By the next year, 1958, the contest included a new category, called the Young Homemaker Division, for young women between the ages of 18 – 25.  $9,000 of prize money was awarded to the top four winners.  What beautiful dresses and ensembles they created!

I suspect these young women continued to sew throughout their lives.

Also that year, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored their own sewing contest.  The theme of the contest was “the ideal costume for a clubwoman’s wardrobe.”  Points of consideration in the judging were: “fashion-rightness,” “versatility and appropriateness for club occasions,” “becomingness to the wearer,” “over-all fashion effect,” and “workmanship.”  24 of the state finalists submitted entries consisting of a dress with its own jacket or coat.  That is still to this day a winning combination, classic and chic.

The prize money was certainly less impressive in this contest, at $250, $150 and $100 for the first-, second-, and third-place winners, but imagine the prestige of winning for “your” club, at a time when there were 1,485 clubs represented in the contest!

By 1963, Singer Sewing Company had started the Young Stylemaker Contest for girls aged 10 – 21.  The caption on the following article tells it all:

Included in the trip to Paris for the two winners was a tour of the famous Parisian couture houses.  Can you imagine having such an opportunity at that point in your life?

This contest had expanded its scope by 1965, ferrying fifteen finalists to Rome via a chartered jet for a 5-day stay before the final judging of the Stylemaker Contest.  Notes by the contestants included the charming observation “how very chic the Italian women are.”

By 1969, this contest had drawn more than 93,000 participants!  As part of their prize, the three winners each were given an all-expense paid, one-week trip for two to London, Paris or Rome.  The purpose of the Stylemaker Contest was to “encourage young and creative talents in Fashion sewing.”

By 1971, it appears that changes were in the air for the Stylemaker Contest.  Whittled down to two winning divisions, only the overall winner received a trip to London, Paris or Rome for two, although both final winners also received cash prizes of $800 and $600 respectively.  The “heyday” period of home fashion sewing was sadly beginning to draw to a close.

Needless to say, fashion sewing contests no longer command such notable and generous prize money or trips.  Those were heady times in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, likely never to be experienced again.  However, I would like to think a new sewing heyday is upon us – or perhaps we are it.  What place do contests have in our current global community of sewing?

I rarely enter sewing contests, not for any reason other than the fact that I have so many projects in my queue that the last thing I need to put my attention on is something that is not top priority for me.  But that doesn’t mean I will never enter a contest.  I actually think I probably should at some point. So – again, what do you think of them?   Sewing is creative, so obviously contests today still value and encourage creativity.  Surely emphasis is still placed on fashion appropriateness, workmanship, style, a flattering assessment, fabric and color selection. It is precisely these goals which make fashion sewing so exciting, at least for me, and I suspect for most of us.

Let’s learn a little from the past and make it new again.

 

34 Comments

Filed under Fashion history, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Sewing Contests, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

The Last Dress of the Year Past

Little did I know when I found this “end-cut” earlier in the year at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics that “classic blue” would be chosen as Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2020.  But so it was, which makes my last dress of 2019 the perfect transition into the new year and the new decade.

This an Italian silk charmeuse, in a dotted and printed jacquard.

I am one of those people who rarely goes looking for a particular fabric.  I think fabrics find me and when this fabric found me, I really had no plan for what I would make out of it.  But as soon as it arrived, I knew immediately I wanted a sheath dress with three-quarter length sleeves and a V-neck.  I tucked it away, happy with the thought of making this dress, and knowing I had the perfect pattern to make it a reality.

View C, of course! And look at those lovely shaping darts.

This Vogue pattern is from the early 1960s, a little tattered and worn, but very versatile and beautifully engineered.

After finishing my granddaughters’ December dresses, and then my pink Parisian Jacket, and then some cute little flannel blouses for gifts for my little girls, I envisioned finishing this dress to wear to holiday parties.  What was I thinking?  First of all, after tweaking the pattern one last time (I had had the pattern fitted a couple of years ago while in a class with Susan Khalje), it took two full days – yes, TWO – to figure out how in the world to lay out my pattern pieces.  Truth be told, I really did not have enough fabric.  I should have reconsidered, but I am stubborn and tenacious when it comes to my sewing “visions.”  I finally decided that I could exactly match the print on the back center seam and make it sleeveless – OR I could have sleeves and not match the back.  I really, really wanted sleeves.  It had to have sleeves.  So I did the best I could with making the back seam look okay, and I got my sleeves.

Fortunately the all-over placement of the floral motifs lent itself to imprecise matching better than many fabrics would.

And what lovely sleeves they are!  When Susan fitted the pattern, she elongated the top curve of the sleeve to accommodate my prominent shoulders.  She also added a dart at the shoulder of the sleeve (actually slightly forward from the marked shoulder of the pattern to accommodate the roll of my shoulders).  I added a slight amount to the width of the sleeve, about 3/8”.  I have found these vintage patterns are often narrow in the sleeves.

The purple lines are the changes to the muslin.

The double elbow darts in the sleeves make a lovely fit and are placed precisely where they should be.

It’s a little difficult to see the double darts, but they are there!

When it came to the V-neck, I knew I would need to use a facing of some sort, but I did not have enough fabric to cut a full facing.  So – I cut a partial facing instead, just enough to be able to turn the V and have it stable.  (The first thing I did when I started sewing the dress, was to reinforce that neckline with a strip of silk organza selvedge.)  Well, this worked like a charm, much to my delight.

The partial facing extends up from the bottom of the V about 2.5 inches, and then the turned- back seam allowance takes over.

Then I brought the lining fabric right to the edge of the neckline and understitched it to secure it in place, just as you would expect a couture dress to be finished.

I chose a “mushroom” colored crepe de chine for my lining. Blues are very difficult to match as you know, so I decided a contrast color would be best. The lining fabric is from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

I used blue thread for the under stitching.

I used a lapped application for the hand-picked zipper.  The more I use the lapped insertion for zippers, the more I like it.  And I especially like it in a center back seam.

I’m feeling quite pleased with this dress!

There is not much more to say about this blue floral dress, except that it was not finished in time to wear to any holiday event.  Which was fine!  Once I realized this would be the case, I was able to really enjoy the process of making it.  It was a delightful way to end the year – and the decade, which has had such a profound effect on my sewing.

 

37 Comments

Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Mid-Century style, Pantone Color of the Year, Polka dots, sewing in silk, Sheath dresses, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s