Category Archives: Sheath dresses

Almost September

What?  It is almost September and time to assess just exactly what I accomplished the last three months.  I have a friend whose late mother always said, “A flurry of activity at the end of the day does not make up for earlier unfocused, unproductive hours.”  I guess the same could be said for the waning days of a month or a season.  However, despite my nagging feeling that I have not accomplished much this summer, I have actually made some progress on my never-ending list.

For one thing, I tackled the alterations on my silk floral dress about which I wrote earlier in the summer.  I took out the hand-picked, lapped zipper to see if resetting it would give me enough ease over the tight bust and uncomfortable back.  There was much to take out and then put back in:  the lining, part of the neck ruffle, the understitching of the neck facing, and of course the entire zipper, in addition to reattaching the silk organza underlining back to the fashion fabric.  Thank goodness for the ample seam allowances which, in true couture fashion, enabled me to add just enough extra across the back.  Yes, it worked, and I am so much happier with the fit and the look of the dress.  Now I can wear it or hope to wear it! (Someday?)  I still think I will tweak the neckline a bit if I make this pattern again, but I do feel I salvaged this dress.

Well,  these are not the shoes I intend to wear with this dress. They happen to be the only heels I have with me this summer.

This dress fits so much better… I’m so happy I did not put off “fixing” this dress until … who knows when!

Several weeks of the summer were devoted to home decorative sewing, including pillows, cushions, and a tailored bed skirt.  I won’t bore you with that! But it was all very time-consuming, as those things tend to be.  More weeks were spent, happily, with welcoming  family for visits and extended stays and even some sewing for my granddaughters. I have never known two little girls who enjoy “playing dress-up” more than my two.  In a weak moment a couple of years ago I purchased this amazing vintage pattern of the Chiquita Banana Señorita’s dress in girls’ size 6-8.

The Chiquita Banana copyright for this costume is from 1947. The pattern is undated, but it is undoubtably from the 1950s.

I knew this was the summer to make these dresses, so I was off to the races on them.  I opted for rick rack rather than bias tape as the decorative trim. I ordered the fabric from Farmhouse Fabrics – a cotton/poly blend which was lovely, and in equally lovely colors.  As the dresses got heavier and heavier as I worked on them, I decided to eliminate the third row of ruffles.  As it turned out, the dresses were amply sized.  My 5-year-old granddaughter reassured me that it was so good to have dresses with room to grow.  And so, these fiesta dresses will serve them for at least a couple of years.

I wanted the girls to have different colored dresses, and I got creative with the colors, as I really think of these as “fiesta” dresses rather than Chiquita Banana. Lots of twirling ensued!

And then last week – yes the last full week of the month – I was finally able to focus on what will be my last make of Summer. Here is the pattern:

This pattern is dated 1957.

And here is the fabric:

I was fortunate to find this vintage piece of Moygashel linen several years ago. It is also from the 1950s.

And so my last minute flurry of sewing activity is well underway.  Happy September!

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Filed under hand-sewn zippers, Moygashel linen, Ruffles, Sewing for children, sewing in silk, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Unfinished Business

What happens when an unavoidable interruption takes you away from the depths of a sewing project for more than a couple weeks of time?  Well, if you are me, you forget exactly where you were in the process.  And, when you finally get back to work on it, you assume, incorrectly, certain fitting steps have already happened.  Recipe for disaster?  Well, not quite that bad, because this dress can be saved.  It is just going to take some time.

The dress in question is the one for which I used this colorful floral silk.

Although I was so certain in May I would finish this dress before we departed our home on the East Coast (USA) for our Summer home in Wyoming, it did not happen.  So I brought it with me to finish.  When I finally picked it up again, I needed to reacquaint myself with all the steps yet to be completed.  I had the hand-picked lapped zipper sewn and the sleeves inserted.

I love a hand-picked lapped zipper…

I was working on the narrow ruffle I had decided to add to the V-neck edge.  I consider this to be the focal point of the dress (in addition to the fabric).

I used the same vintage pattern for this dress as I did for a blue silk dress late in 2019. This fabric, to me, was begging for a narrow neck ruffle.

As luck would have it, the most recent issue of Threads Magazine included an article by Susan Khalje on Couture Gathering.  Now, I have done a lot of gathering of fabric in my life, but this article is illuminating in all the tips it offers for an excellent result.  It could not have been more timely.  As it turns out, there is lot more to gathering than I ever considered.

Among the concepts covered in the article are:  gathering ratio, fabric grain, underlining, stitch length, preparation of the piece to be ruffled, forming the gathers and attaching the gathered fabric to the body of the item.  As with so much of couture sewing, each step builds on the one before it.

Three of the tips in the article, so helpful to me in completing this detail, were:  1) cutting the piece to be gathered much wider than I would have thought was necessary.  This gives one much more control than with a narrower strip.  2) using three lines of gathering rather than the customary two, and 3) once the gathers are formed, using an iron to set them in place, stopping just short of pressing the ruffle.

I decided on a 5/8″ wide ruffle. I cut my piece to be gathered 5″ wide, folded to 2.5″. I used three rows of gathering stitches.

For those of you with subscriptions to Threads Magazine, I highly recommend this Essential Techniques article.  It has forever changed the way I will do gathering/ruffles.  And although not all features in Threads are as useful, it is offerings like this which make me a fan of this sewing magazine.  (These are my opinions;  I have no relationship with Threads.)

Well, back to where I left off.  After picking up work on this dress again, I proceeded to go through all the steps necessary to complete it.  When I thought this dress was finally finished, I put it on to take pictures, and to my surprise, it did not fit correctly.  It pulls across the bust and forms drag lines on the V-neck.  Ugh.

The pulling across the bust and at the V-neck is clearly noticeable in this photo.

I can only guess I thought I had tried it on for fit after the zipper was basted, but I must not have done that.  Unknowingly, I proceeded with the finishing of the interior – the facing of the V-neck, the hem, and the insertion of a green crepe de chine lining.

Normally with couture sewing, neck facings are eliminated and the lining is brought right up to the neck edge and then understitched to secure it. However, with a V-neck, a facing is necessary. I then cut the lining about 3/4″ below the neck edge and fell-stitched it into place.

I believe removing the zipper and taking some of the center back seam allowance to add to the width of the back will correct this glaring mis-fit. This is not a dress which I will have occasion to wear  this summer – so do I dig in and make the corrections now, or do I wait?  I have quite a bit in my summer sewing queue, and perhaps a tried and true project like a blouse will put me in a better frame of mind.  Regardless, this “unfinished business” will one day be finished, hopefully successfully.

 

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Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Ruffles, Sheath dresses, silk, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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.

 

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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

The Never-Ending Winter

One advantage to this never-ending Winter we are having in the Northeastern part of the United States is the focus – and extra time – it has given me in finishing my Winter projects. After completing my recent Classic French Jacket, I did some “birthday dress” sewing for my granddaughters (still to be shared) and made two baby gifts, and only then did I come back to making a matching sheath dress for that jacket.

I had thought long about how this dress should be constructed, and not having the advantage of taking a class in such a project, I knew I would have to figure it out on my own. I decided I would combine classic couture construction with the techniques used for making a classic French jacket.

First, I underlined the three pieces of the dress (front and two back panels) with black silk organza, and I anchored all the darts with a catch-stitch. (I always go back to that sound advice from Susan Khalje – couture is about control – and I know how this extra step helps to keep everything in its rightful place.)

Then I machine quilted the two back panels and the dress front just as I would quilt the separate pieces of a French jacket. I ended the quilting about two inches from the tops and bottoms of the pieces and tied off each line of quilting inside between the two layers. I figured the quilting did not need to be as closely placed as it is with a French jacket, so my quilting lines are about 2 inches apart. This following photo shows the quilted channels on the inside (they are virtually invisible on the fashion fabric):

The three pieces were sewn together as a Jacket would be sewn with the edges of the lining loose and then finished by hand with a fell stitch. At this point I felt fairly confident that the dress was going together as I had hoped. And yes, there is a lot of handwork involved! Next I inserted the long back zipper by hand and then finished the neckline and lining with a fell stitch.

Because I wanted to apply a length of trim above the bust – to match the trim placement on my jacket – I did the armholes last, as the trim needed to be attached before they were finished.

 

Finally, the hem. The length had to be precise, as there will be no lengthening nor shortening of this baby! The final step was to sew the hemline trim on by hand. I delineated the back vent with the trim to give it some extra interest. Also, although it is not visible here, I angled the edges of the vent slightly to the inside so that when the dress is on, the vent will not gape, but rather hang straight. This is another one of those lovely couture tricks I learned from Susan Khalje!

I must say this dress is a dream to wear, with that quilted silk interior.

And – I am quite happy with how it looks with my jacket.

Br-r-r-r-r!

As warm as this dress and jacket are, I was freezing when these photos were taken!

I have faith that Old Man Winter – who is truly ancient by now – will soon leave us, but not without a fond farewell from Fifty Dresses who appreciated his extra encouragement on seasonal sewing!

 

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, classic French jacket, couture construction, Linings, Sheath dresses, Suit dresses, Uncategorized