Some blouses are worn A LOT. Those are everyday blouses, and I have quite a few of those (with more to come, I am sure!) And some blouses are worn infrequently, but equally loved for their unique properties. These would include exceptional fabric, refined or formal appearance, limited wearing opportunity, or their ability to make a statement. The blouse I most recently completed has all those properties.
This deep pink silk charmeuse Jacquard has been in my fabric closet for over ten years, having been purchased at Britex Fabrics when I started sewing for myself again, way back when. Its color, and the polka dot woven motif, both personal favorites, drew me to it. A couple of years ago, after purchasing another piece of silk – a printed silk twill – I paired the two fabrics together and added them both to my sewing queue. The skirt may have to wait until next year, but the blouse earned a spot in 2022’s sewing agenda.
I used a blouse pattern which I have made once before. From 1957, this pattern is timeless with its elegant collar (which looks good lying flat or propped up around the neck), petite French cuffs and feminine three-quarter length sleeves. I suppose in 1957, this style blouse may have been considered a casual piece, which the illustrations on the pattern envelope suggest. I saw this blouse as dressy, however, and that is how I have interpreted it.
One of the details which make this blouse so flattering to wear is the waistline open-ended darts, easily visible above. They minimize the bulk when the blouse is tucked inside its skirt and add a lovely billow effect above the waist. I made these darts a bit shallower than the pattern indicated. When making these darts, I secured their upper edges by pulling the thread tail on one side to the other side so that I had the ability to knot those threads with three tight loops. For those of you who have made a classic French jacket, this is the same method used to secure the quilting stitches at the end of the columns. The photo below helps to show this.
Buttons are such fun to select for a blouse like this. I have had these vintage white pearl buttons for some time, and no doubt they were waiting for this project. When the skirt is made at some point, the three-lobed profile will play off the designs in the silk twill. But, more than that, I needed something to act as a foil for the polka-dotted field. More “round” would have been fine, but not exciting. Additionally, these buttons are a bit bigger which helps them hold their own on that deep, rich, pink silk.
Being the ‘statement” blouse that it is, I doubt I will be wearing this blouse casually. But I’m betting/hoping I will find good reason to wear it not infrequently to one or another tony event.
…but Your Outfit Can Be. I took a picture last summer of this sign at a Western wear store in Pinedale, Wyoming (Cowboy Shop). I loved the saying, but little did I know how often I would reflect on it this summer, which has had its difficulties.
And even when my outfit, like Life, is far from perfect, which has been often, I know there is always Hope, and yes, that is hope with a capital H.
What a long hiatus it has been between my last musings about Trench coats and Dressmaker coats and pink gingham. The final, finishing stitch in my pink checked coat was in mid-June, and at this point I can hardly remember what I wanted to say about it.
It does seem appropriate to start with the changes I made to the pattern, of which there were two major ones. The first change was to the size of the collar. In the 1970s long pointed collars were a trend. Although I like a pointed collar, one with a more petite profile seemed to be a little more flattering and classic. To achieve this desired look, I shortened the collar’s points by about an inch on either side.
When I made this coat in 1974, I remember being a bit disappointed with the volume of the back of the coat. I was using a cotton twill, so it was a heavier fabric than the silk taffeta in my new version, making the volume seem even more pronounced. But even so, I thought I would be happier with a less full back. I experimented around with my muslin/toile until I got the desired girth. It turned out I eliminated a total of three inches from the back pattern pieces, 1 ½” from each side back panel.
In addition to these alterations, I had a slight construction change. The instructions for the gathering of the lining at the back waistline called for using elastic thread. First of all, I didn’t have any elastic thread, nor did I think it would give the look I wanted even though it would not be very apparent on a lining. Instead, I had some elastic cord, and I attached it by hand, using embroidery floss in a criss-cross stitch enclosing it the width of the back. Worked like a charm, and I like the effect it made.
Once I had the coat partially assembled, I decided I would have liked it to be a bit longer than I planned with the muslin. I was very tight with fabric, so I really could not have cut it longer and still been able to get the coat out of the fabric I had. So, to gain another inch and a half, I decided to face the hem right to the point where the lining would be attached. It certainly took extra effort, but I’m glad I did it as I much prefer the slightly longer length.
The one thing I would change should I ever make this coat again (which I doubt) would be to add about an inch or so to the diameter of the cuffs. I would like to keep them buttoned and be able to slip my hands through them. As they are, they are too tight to do that. This was something I could have determined had I made a muslin/toile with completed sleeves, which I did not. All I did was check the length. A good reminder to me to be more thorough in situations like this.
When I was planning this coat, I intended to use this vintage silk fabric for the lining.
However, even though I underlined the fashion fabric with white cotton batiste, I felt there was a slight “see-through” of the black details in the print of the intended fabric. In the meantime, I had ordered a piece of polished cotton in “Paris Pink” from Emma One Sock Fabrics. Although not an exact match, the two fabrics – the pink checked taffeta and the polished cotton – made a pretty pair so I changed course, and the rest is history.
No report on this coat would be complete without mention of the buttons. Again, I went with vintage mother-of-pearl buttons. These have a carved detail in them, which I thought would pair nicely with the gingham.
This was an involved, lengthy project. I was rather in awe of my 24-year-old self for attempting it “back in the day.” But making it again brought back hidden memories (good ones) and new appreciation for all that I have learned over the ensuing years. Wearing my new version of this Trench-inspired coat will, I believe, fall into the “nearly perfect“ category.
It is not. However, I am quite sure this classic look from 1974 was inspired by the classic Trench Coat as we know it.
I am certain this Vogue pattern is from 1974, as it is featured in that year’s July/August issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. It is part of a section entitled NEW ARRIVALS.
The caption tells me it is made in silk shantung, a little bit of information unknown to me when I decided to make my (new) version of it in silk taffeta.
Interestingly, in the same NEW ARRIVALS section, a dress by Patou also is reminiscent of Trench coat style, with its epaulets, slotted pockets with shaped flaps and a belted waist. It also has a center back inverted pleat.
Fast forward two years and here is a very classic Trench in the 1976 September/October issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.
The caption reads: “Come rain, come shine, what more liveable coat than the trench! All that star reporter elan in epaulets, front & back shields, center back inverted pleat.” This particular pattern also includes a detachable lining for the coat and additional detachable collar. I believe that is the collar you see in red in the above picture from the magazine. The thumbnail drawings of the pattern are helpful in seeing these details:
Now, hang onto your hats and fast forward 46 years to 2022. The Trench Coat, despite being in fashion since the 1940s, is apparently enjoying new attention and reimagination according to an article in the Style & Fashion section of TheWall Street Journal, April 23-24, 2022. Although I am a little doubtful as to the long-lasting appeal of some of the Trench Coat variations shown and suggested in the article by Katharine K. Zarrella – which include a skirt, pants and a corset (really?) – some of the reflections and thoughts on Trench Coat style by various fashion insiders are worth sharing.
Michael Kors is quoted as saying: “A trench coat inherently feels like an old friend that makes you feel very secure… But you want an old friend to surprise you.” (Pink checks, anyone?)
Jane Tynan, author of a soon-to-be-released book entitled Trench Coat, says the appeal of the Trench to contemporary women is the “danger and sensuality it conveys.” (Think spies and clandestine meetings.) However, a certain Loa Patman of Boston, Massachusetts, says, “Anything trench-inspired tends to look somewhat pulled together and professional.”
Well, I don’t expect to be doing any sleuthing in my Trench-inspired Christian Dior design from 1974, but I do aspire to feel “pulled together” while wearing it. Right now it is anything but pulled together, as you can see from the photos of my “work in progress”.
Thinking further about the origins – and definitional category – of this particular design from the House of Dior, it seems to me to be a cross between a dressmaker coat and a Trench. Perhaps “Dressmaker Trench” might be the best description. As you will recall, if you follow this blog, I have referred to “dressmaker coats” before. Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion describes it as: “A woman’s coat designed with softer lines and more details than the average coat. May have a waistline and unusual details, e.g., tucks or pleats.” (p. 92, ibid.)
I’m not sure Dressmaker Coat is a descriptor many use anymore, but it certainly is useful. One thing I am quite certain of, once this Trench-inspired Dressmaker Coat is finished – it promises to stand the test of further time. I anticipate it as a staple in my Spring and early Summer wardrobe.
Over the past few weeks, in anticipation of my current project, I have been thinking about personal style and how it changes – or doesn’t change – over the decades of one’s life. What prompted my contemplation is this pattern:
I purchased this pattern when it was new about 1974 or ’75, when I was in my mid-twenties. I loved the style then, and although I was in dire need of clothes to wear to work, such as dresses and skirts, I must have decided I needed this coat more. I made it in a tan cotton twill, and it accompanied me on many a trip on the commuter rail line into Philadelphia (Pennsylvania.) At some point years later, I obviously discarded it, along with other pieces I had diligently sewn. I am certainly glad I kept the pattern, as I still love this style. Working on it now is a true deja vu experience.
I am not sure I recognized it per se, but my fascination with coats must have already been firmly established in my personal style, even then. For example, I was obsessed with this color-blocked coat pattern:
At the time, I remember resisting the urge to purchase it, as I could not guarantee to myself that I would actually get around to making it. The pattern was too expensive ($3.50) for me, at that time, to take that risk. However, though many years passed by, I never forgot it. Those of you who follow this blog know that I did finally purchase this pattern a few years ago and this time, I did make it! It continues to be one of my favorite pieces, and I feel wonderful wearing it.
Then there is this pattern, also purchased in the mid-seventies:
I must have thought this was a more practical style and worth the cost. I never made it, but one of these days I intend to.
Buried deep in my cedar closet is a white wool coat, purchased when I was in high school in the mid-sixties. I am not sure why I have kept it all these years except that I loved it and perhaps in some way treasured it more since my father bought it for me. Its style is very similar to the coat of this pattern – a style I still love – and also hope to make some day.
I guess what I am getting at, using these coats as an example, is how consistent my style has remained over almost five decades. How about you? Do you still gravitate to the same profiles in clothes that you wore in your twenties (assuming you are at least 40)? If not, what has changed?
What has changed for me is not the style, but the choice of fabrics and color. I am more adventurous in using color than I was as a young woman, although even then, I gravitated towards pink.
All this makes me wonder if one’s personal style is part of their DNA; why, for example, do I like softly tailored, feminine clothes (and have obviously done so for years) while someone else likes the Bohemian look and wears it well; why does someone prefer to wear black, and more black, while I love color (and the occasional black, too). Quentin Bell summed this observation up well in his quote: “Our clothes are too much a part of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition; it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body or even of the soul.” [my italics]
And what about the person who follows every fashion trend that comes along? Do they not have that personal style component in their DNA, or are they governed by different needs? Toby Fischer-Mirkin, in her book Dress Code addresses this – and offers some frank advice – in her chapter entitled Fashion and Status: Under the Spell of Haute Couture: “The unrelenting quest to be fashionable is usually undertaken to fill not a closet, but a personal void…. A woman’s fashion compass should come from within. When you’re aware of what works for you, you’ll take pride in that aesthetic and, within the boundaries of good taste, project the person you truly are.” (pages 146-147)
Is your personal style really that important? Does it allow you to project the person you truly are? If so, I can understand why one’s personal style does not change very much over the years. Indeed, Givenchy once said, “With style, you must stay as you are.” When I was a young woman in my twenties, I never would have guessed I would, decades later, still gravitate towards the same patterns, the same silhouettes, and have the same weaknesses for certain apparel (such as coats.) I have changed personally in many other ways, but obviously my personal style has not – the recognition of which has been a revelation to me.
I suspect there are many, many of you who, once you think about it, can say the same thing?
Added Value…. There is a significant little entry in 101 Things I learned in Fashion School (Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick, Grand Central Publishing, New York, New York, 2010, page 40). Although aimed at Ready-To-Wear customers and the designers who cater to them, it certainly is meaningful to those of us who sew our own fashions: “Fashion customers often need to be convinced to buy a new garment that, in effect, they already own. … Value addeddetails [my emphasis] are those that are inherently necessary to a garment but are executed in a novel or interesting way…” thus making them attractive to potential customers.
Well, not that I really need convincing to make another coat for myself, but I will freely admit it is the unique little details in a pattern (and gorgeous fabric, of course) which convince me I MUST make THIS coat, even though I might not really NEED it. Such was the case with my very pink coat, which is now finished.
Those details included 1) the three welt pockets with flaps, 2) the concealed front closure, 3) the arrowhead detail accompanying the minimal top-stitching, 4) the sleeve tabs (okay, not really a necessary detail, but a very nice one!), and 5) the opportunity to add a little flash to the lining with edge-piping.
I’ll cover the sleeve tabs first since they were the detail in question in my last post.
As you can observe, I decided to leave them with the buttons facing forward. Several comments left by readers (thank you – you know who you are and I am very appreciative!) got me thinking anew about the orientation of the tabs. Then I had an aha moment when I realized that the one button which is visible on the front of the coat, at the neckline, might look a bit disconnected without its counterparts showing on the sleeves. Decision made, with confidence! However, I doubt I will ever look at a sleeve tab in quite the same way again.
The three welt pockets with flaps are quite likely my favorite detail on this coat. First of all, I like making them. There is a certain feeling of empowerment, although slightly nerve-wracking, to cut those big slashes into the front of the coat and be confident it will all be okay. And this type of pocket is just so pretty when they are done. In addition, while they are utilitarian, they also suggest refinement, elevating a simple car coat to a coat with some sophistication and flair.
I must have a certain penchant for concealed coat fronts. This is the third one I have made and I can let you know there may be more to come (but not soon.) As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to reduce the bulk of the closure by using my lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the front flap.
I made three machine buttonholes for this part of the flap, which made everything lay flat and neat.
The gray buttons – 6 of them, which is what I needed – were in my collection, so that was a happy find. They are 1950s’ vintage gray pearl, very appropriate indeed for this 1957 pattern.
Although this coat pattern called for some topstitching, it was minimal. Just the sleeve tabs, the pocket flaps and the collar, plus the front detail on the right side. I was unhappy with the machine topstitching I did at the front closure. There was enough bulk from the wool and the facing and the fly front, that it interfered with the smoothness of the topstitching. So I took it out. Initially I was going to do without topstitching and the arrowhead detail, but it looked a bit plain and unfinished. So I did my fallback to what I know works – topstitching by hand. Because of the hand-worked arrowhead detail, I felt hand topstitching would not look out of place. Of course, I had never done an embroidery arrowhead before, so I had to practice, practice practice so it hopefully does not look amateurish.
Finally, coat linings lend themselves so beautifully to that extra little treatment – a narrow edge piping.
I deviated from my Vogue pattern to add this dressmaker detail, but I am sure they would have approved. My Avoca wool scarf which is such a perfect complement to this coat inspired me to choose checked piping. I “robbed” a small corner from some pink silk gingham (intended for a Spring coat, as mentioned previously here) to make my flat piping.
Well, there you have it. My first major project of 2022 finished. I am happy I chose pink for my theme this year as it has brightened up many a dark day in this troubled world of ours.
When I am getting ready to start a new project with a pattern new to me, I like to read through all the instructions just to get a feel for what is ahead. That lets me know if I can mix things up a bit, deviate from the step-by-step instructions, prepare a component ahead of time (such as sleeves. If I feel confident about the fit, I will often make the sleeves first and set them aside until I am ready for them). During this initial study of the instruction sheet, all was straightforward except for one thing. For the life of me, I could not figure out how the concealed – or fly – opening on the front was constructed. I have done this type of opening before (here and here), but this construction was different.
Because I wanted to use my gray lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the opening (to reduce bulk) I needed to know if I could do that and be confident that the lining would not show. So I REALLY needed to understand how this detail went together. I decided I would have to do a trial run. What better use of a well-marked muslin (toile) than to use it for this task? Armed with pins, I proceeded to do a mock-up.
Instead of taking my mock-up apart, I decided to keep it for referral when I got to that point of the coat. And I am so glad I did. It helped me through many a confusing moment, giving me confidence that I was doing this correctly. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life gave one a trial run first before facing the real thing – and then stood by to offer reassurance? Well, you will have to wait to see the finished opening in my next post, but it is all but complete. And I must confess, I think it is going to be very lovely.
Now here is something to ponder. A few days ago I walked into my sewing room and was startled to observe something that did not seem right on my up-to-that-point constructed coat. I had it hanging on my dress form and almost had a panic attack when I looked at the to-be-buttoned tabs on the sleeves. It certainly looked as though I had sewn them on backwards! The buttonholes, and therefore the soon-to-be-attached buttons, were oriented toward the front of the sleeve, rather than the back.
Before completely losing it, I went to my pattern, and there, plain as day in the illustration, the tabs wrapped around to the front of the sleeve.
I still could not quite believe it, so I went to the illustrations in the 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, shown in my last post. Yep – the tabs were oriented the same way as mine. Just to make sure, I checked the silk organza under-lining on the two-part sleeves to double check my markings which would tell me that the backs of the sleeves were truly in the back (although my common sense had already answered this question for me. Of course, the sleeves would not have gone in as smoothly as they did if I had put them in incorrectly).
After being reassured repeatedly that I had not made a BIG mistake, I started to question why the tabs were oriented that way. I looked for other examples of buttoned sleeve tabs. I found one or two in which the tab wraps around to the front, but most tabs were sewn into the inside seam, wrapped around the front and buttoned just past the center point of the sleeve (or seam, if there was a center seam as with my pattern), toward the back. I wondered if this might one of those things which is distinctly feminine, such as the fact that buttonholes on womens’ apparel are on the right, whereas mens’ are on the left. But no, I could not verify that.
Now I am left with a decision to make. Somehow, I think I would like the tabs on my coat to button toward the back. I had faced the tabs with my gray lining fabric, again to reduce bulk. I think that gray lining would better stay undercover should the tabs button in the back. I also think a backward orientation will reduce the incidence of “catching” the tab on things. Both of those considerations obviously figure into my thinking. Do I take out the bottom part of the finished sleeves, with their pretty catch-stitched seams, remove the tabs and reorient them?
Or do I leave well-enough alone and stay true to my vintage pattern? I must decide before the lining goes in the coat. Which brings me to the realization I have just 4 pattern pieces remaining, all for the lining. Part 3 of this saga is just around the corner.
Some projects deserve more than one blog post and this pattern and coat fall into that category.
From the magical year of 1957 (I promise some time I will devote an entire post to the notable spot that the year 1957 occupies in the modern history of fashion), this coat pattern is in a class of its own. Referred to as a “car coat” in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazine entries, it is a quintessential example of that genre. Here’s why:
It is a wonderful example of fashion following lifestyle. The copyright date of 1957 puts it firmly in the early appearance of this form. To wit, the entry for car coats in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion reads: “Sport or utility coat made hip-to-three-quarter length, which is comfortable for driving a car. First became popular with the station-wagon set in suburbia in the 1950s and 1960s and has become a classic style since then.” (ibid, p. 89)
The flap pockets – three of them – are intentionally utilitarian, but also add a certain finesse to the coat. Those flaps help protect the contents of the pocket – in the case of a car coat, obviously keys, perhaps gloves, or even a change purse.
The side slits give a bit of wiggle room to the area of the hips, for sliding in and out of car seats. And the buttoned tabs at the wrists add to its aesthetic appeal. No, they are not really necessary, but that is not what this coat was all about. It was meant to be extremely functional, but smart looking.
The concealed front in View B, commonly referred to as a fly front, steps the appearance of this coat up a notch. Particularly notable is the arrowhead detail at the top of the topstitching on the front of the coat.
The busy mother and wife would have looked very “put-together” wearing this coat out and about. Later versions of the car coat style included Benchwarmer, Duffel coat, Ranch coat, Mackinaw jacket, Stadium coat, and Toggle coat (according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion) But this coat was a car coat, in its very pure early, but fashionable form.
This pattern is featured twice in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from August-September 1957.
Here is the longer version shown on page 22:
And here on page 37 is a drawing (by illustrator Dilys Wall) of the coat in red with this description: “A hounds-tooth-check car coat with three flap pockets, side-slit seams, and tab-button detail on the sleeves. Designed in sizes 10 to 18.”
Interestingly, also featured in this same magazine is this example of a child’s coat, also with a fly front. This type of opening takes more skill – and time – to make. I love the affirmation this item gives to the commitment and ability of the home-sewer in the 1950s.
Because this coat has those extra details which put it a notch above ordinary, there is a lot of preparation work before seams can actually be sewn together. The sleeve tabs, with their bound buttonholes must be complete before the sleeve seams can be sewn. Additionally, the set-in pockets with their flaps present a considerable amount of prep work on the fronts of the coat. Sounds like fun to me! More to come . . .
Five days into the New Year seems like a good time to look forward and put down in writing new plans and projects, both personally and in my sewing life. Occasionally in past years, I have chosen a word to guide me in my thinking, and after a sewing friend (thank you, Debra!) suggested this approach again, I happily went with the first word which popped into my mind. P I N K.
Pink is undoubtably my favorite color. I love it in all hues and shades, from the palest pink to deepest fuchia, from bubblegum pink to carnation pink. I love wearing pink and I love sewing with pink fabrics. Looking at fabrics I have collected over the past few years testifies to this fact.
A few of those selections with “assignments” for 2022 will be scattered amongst this exploration into PINK.
P of course stands for PINK the color.
P is also a good reminder to keep PERSPECTIVE on the year. If the last two years have taught us anything, it is to be prepared for the unexpected. Sometimes things are out of our control, thwarting our plans and timing. Rolling with the punches (another P-word!) is something I need to become better at. Which brings me to . . .
P is for PERSEVERANCE. This is an invaluable asset when it comes to sewing well – and living well.
I is for INDULGENCE. I have decided to indulge my love of coats and dresses and fancy clothes even I don’t need them. So there!
I is also for INDECISION. I am not usually one who has trouble making decisions, but sometimes, a fabric or pattern stumps me. When that happens, I have to step back and let time make the decision for me. It always works.
I is for INSPIRATION, which is never in short supply among all the vintage patterns, fashions, buttons, and fabrics in the couture-loving-and-sewing online community.
N is for NEW ENDEAVORS, both in sewing and in my personal life – NEW patterns, NEW fabrics (YES! Even new fabrics), NEW commitments, determined by answering these two questions: What can I let go of? And, more importantly perhaps, What can I not let go of?
N is also for NOT feeling guilty about all the time I devote to sewing and fashion and dreaming about both.
K is for Kindred Spirits – such an amazing camaraderie amongst the global sewing community. I am so grateful to be part of the network of friendships we share.
K is for Keeping Focus, and for the need to Knuckle Down in order to accomplish my sewing and personal goals this year.
K is finally for Kindness which I hope will guide me throughout this new year.
“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.” Rainer Maria Rilke
While bogged down in the fitting of these wool slacks, my mind has been thinking about capes instead.
I know myself well enough to recognize it is always prudent to work on the least favorable item first and save the ”goodies” for later, and that is what I have done with this cape and slacks ensemble introduced in my last post. There is a reason I have made few pairs of slacks in my years of sewing: I find fitting them tedious. So, while I think I am just about satisfied with how they are coming along, the thing which has kept me sane is the prospect of making that beautiful cape.
All of this has led me to do a little research into capes. I started with Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, as I often do when investigating a sewing/fashion topic. Well, oh my! There happen to be no fewer than 8 pages of entries for capes, cloaks, and shawls! It turns out a cape is not just a cape, and the history of capes is long indeed. For my purposes here, the simple definition of a cape is sufficient: “Sleeveless outerwear of various lengths usually opening in center front; cut in a full circle, in a segment of a circle, or on the straight – usually with slits for arms. A classic type of outerwear worn in one form or another throughout history….” (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003)
Interestingly, Christian Dior has no entry for capes in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, another one of my go-to reference books. But as luck would have it, the newest J. Peterman Company catalogue, Owners Manual No. 197, Holidays 2021, arrived in my mailbox this week. And there on page 5, he has offered for sale a Plaid Wool Cape, with the enticing caption: “Capes are mysterious. Alluring. Functional. In the past, they’ve existed as an alternative to coats so you wouldn’t crush your real clothing…” He goes on to say one will not want to take off this particular cape, as there could be nothing better under it. Well, I guess that’s an arguable point, but you get the picture. Capes demand attention, but in a good way.
I started thinking about the patterns I have gathered over the years, and I remembered at least two which feature capes. Once I got into my pattern collection, I found four besides the one I am currently using.
The earliest one is clearly this Vogue Couturier Design from the second half of the 1950s.
Its description reads: “Suit and Reversible Cape. Easy fitting jacket with concealed side pockets buttons below shaped collar. Below elbow length sleeves. Slim skirt joined to shaped waistband. Reversible, collarless cape has arm openings in side front seams.” I think this is pretty spectacular, and while the suit is lovely, it is enhanced many times over by the addition of the short cape.
Next is this Advance pattern from the 1960s, a cape in two lengths.
I was attracted to this pattern because of its lengthwise darts, its rolled collar and back neckline darts.
The 1970s is represented by the Molyneux pattern I am using and two more: a Pucci design and a Sybil Connolly design.
I purchased the Pucci pattern for the dress (which I now believe to be too “youthful” for me), but its cape certainly completes the outfit. The description reads: “…Cape with jewel neckline has arm openings in side front seams; back vent [which I find interesting}. Top-stitch trim.”
And the final cape pattern I own – almost a capelet – is this Sybil Connolly design. The caption states “…Short asymmetrical flared cape has side button closing.” No arm slits in this cape.
I actually made this cape a number of years ago, but I must admit I have worn it infrequently. The wide stance of the neckline makes it a little unstable. I guess there is a good reason most capes have a tighter neckline – and open in the center front.
So there is my whirlwind cape tour. What do you think? Are capes alluring and mysterious? Functional and sophisticated? I, for one, think capes have a slightly romantic charm to them. Do you?
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
But here is the same pattern, made as a “cocktail” coat. I made it pocketless and love it.
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.