Category Archives: Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads)

A Timely Arrival

Last week, as I was putting in some final hours on a suit I have been sewing, I was  thinking about some of the “creative” solutions I had to come up with to make the jacket turn out successfully.  I had, unbeknownst to me, made a “bad” decision about the fabric. Even though I (still) love the color and design of the black and pink hounds-tooth wool blend, it turned out to be a very heavy, bulky fabric to sew.  Well, my newest Threads magazine arrived in the mail last Friday – and right there on page 56 is an article entitled “Better Sewing Habits”.  Number 4, by Claire Shaeffer, is:  Choose fabrics appropriate to the garment design.  Printed in bold is this line:  “Select a fabric that is recommended for the pattern”. 

This issue of Threads is packed with all kinds of great advice and ideas!

Sure enough, when I went back to the pattern envelope, there in plain English for the recommended fabrics is:  “Lightweight wool.”  I really felt that sinking feeling, but I tried to console myself by reminding myself that I had made some changes to the pattern and to the construction to accommodate the heavy fabric.  I was trying to feel grateful that I actually have some skills which allow me to make changes and try different approaches to solve sewing problems.  And, actually, now that the jacket is finished, I am happy with it.

This is the pattern I used – from Vogue’s Designer series, Jo Mattli, circa early 1970s.

The completed outfit – wool blend jacket and silk skirt.

Here is what went well:

1) I was able to match the design quite well across seam lines, shoulders, and sleeves.

2) I think I nailed the fit!  Of course, I made a muslin first, so it’s not like that just happened.

3) I reduced the spread of the collar, which actually turned out to be a good decision, when I realized how difficult double layers of the fabric were to work with.

Here is what either did not go well or needed to be “creatively” approached:

1) I really wanted to make bound buttonholes, but the loosely woven, heavy fabric gave me pause.  So I decided to make them out of the silk skirt fabric.  I backed the buttonhole strips with silk organza by fusing them together.  This made the silk stiff enough to stand up to that heavy wool.

The strips attached for the bound buttonholes.

I made the topmost  buttonhole a “blind” one as I determined that I would not be buttoning that top button anyway.  I knew I could never finish the back of the two remaining buttonholes by the normal method, so I “patched” behind them on the interfacing with a lightweight black wool.

Here is a close-up of the bound buttonholes – and the happily matched front!  Click on the photo for a closer-up view.

Before I sewed the front facing, I attached these “patches” to back up to the buttonholes. Then I cut away the heavy fabric underneath, so that I could finish the underneath of the buttonholes somewhat successfully. Click on the photo to see this up close.

2) The neck facing was going to be too heavy using the pink/black wool.  So I used that same lightweight black wool for it instead.

Using a lightweight black wool for the facing made the neckline much more manageable.

3) The back vents were not going to lay flat if I turned in the raw edges as the pattern instructions indicated.  So I bound them with black bias tape instead.

Instead of turning back the facing edge to finish it, I attached this bias binding.

4) Setting in the sleeves was an exercise in sewing terror!  I was sure they would never look good, but somehow they came out unpuckered and pretty well matched.  I only used a sleeve heading to round out the shoulder, even though the pattern called for shoulder pads.

5) I have steamed and steamed, but still feel like the front edge could use some further attention.  I might take the jacket to the dry cleaners and have it professionally steamed….

I actually really liked the engineering of the pattern: with the correct weight fabric, the jacket would go together quite well and the skirt pattern is a winner, with its shaped waistband.

This view of the back waistband shows how it is shaped.

And, of course, I inserted the zipper by hand.

Another look at the finished suit.

And one more…

Interestingly enough, in the same issue of Threads, the winners of the “Make it with Wool” contest were featured.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that the Senior Winner of the Mohair Council of America, Marisa Linton, of Mount Olive, North Carolina, had used either the same fabric or one very close to “my” fabric to make the coat for her entry (which is stunning, I might add!).  She had used a very original and successful technique for her buttonholes, which are part of the details which make her outfit so noteworthy.

Do you think this is the same fabric? (Threads, January 2013, page 52)

So – it seems the past 7 days have been a time of many arrivals, including a huge and destructive East Coast storm – and the first day of November.    May the next 7 days bring the final arrival of power and comfort to so many who lost so much in the storm, and make us all grateful for resilience, whether it be in life – or in sewing .


Filed under bound buttonholes, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

What Do a Chanel Jacket and a Chicken Have in Common?

Not much – unless you were in my sewing room last week.

When we were out in California very recently, my son’s girlfriend, Rachel, showed me a Chanel jacket she had found at a store which sells vintage clothing.  Sadly, she had never been able to wear it because it had very prominent shoulder pads, which screamed 1980s.  Otherwise it was a very wearable cropped jacket with petite convertible collar, in a creamy white wool with just a hint of  a sparkly windowpane weave.  Rachel asked me what I thought could be done with it.

Hm-m-m-m, I looked inside it, felt around those shoulder pads hidden inside the lining, and guessed that I could easily remove them and replace them with a much more reasonable sleeve header.  Of course, I’d need to bring the jacket home with me, so in the suitcase it went, landing in my sewing room.

I carefully removed the stitching from the lining at the right shoulder and took a peek.  The shoulder pad had been attached with hand stitches, easily snipped.  Out it came.  I cut a piece of French sleeve heading tape, called Cigarette, which I had purchased from Susan Khalje’s website. (I had used this in my Craftsy course The Couture Dress.)

The shoulder pad is in plain view in this photo.

The jacket has top-center seams on the sleeves, so with that extra fabric bulk, I determined that the simple sleeve heading would be enough shaping.  Here is the jacket with just the side on the left fixed:

Can you see how bulky the shoulder on the right is?

Here I have placed the shoulder pad on top to show some perspective on its bulk.

And here is the jacket with both shoulders complete and all sewn up inside (with itty-bitty stitches):

The padded hanger helps to simulate the shoulder line.

Of course, I had to guess a little on the final fit as I did not have Rachel here to try it on.  But I am sure, once it completes its return trip to California, that it has a better chance of being worn now than before!

It was interesting for me to be able to see inside a Chanel jacket – I discovered some details I thought I might find – such as 1) the wool fabric was totally underlined in what looks like silk organza; and 2) hand-sewing was evident in quite a few areas.  However, the seams were not catch-stitched to the underlining, which I thought they might be.  The most amazing thing was actually seeing those shoulder pads – as their construction was almost exactly like view C of Vogue 7503, my vintage pattern from 1953. How cool is that?

Two authentic Chanel shoulder pads!

View C is right in the middle.

So that was Chanel.  But what about the chicken?  Another project I wanted to finish last week was an auction item for my garden club’s annual fundraiser.  As I am the only one in my club who has a backyard flock of chickens (yes – can you believe it?), I like to put together what I call a “Little Red Hen” basket to add to our auction selection every year or so.  Besides the main attraction of a couple dozen of our farm-fresh eggs, I add other items with a chicken theme.  Some examples are egg poachers, an egg timer, cocktail napkins with chickens on them – things like that.  Of course, as one who sews, it is impossible for me to do a project like this without adding something handmade. So this year, I made a tea cozy with a matching chicken potholder.  I had already completed the tea cozy a couple of weeks ago, but the potholder  – well, it had to take its place behind Chanel.    It did not take long for me to fashion this little hen (in red, of course) to match the cozy. Here she is, ready to perch on the handle of any hot pan:

She is interlined with several layers of heavy cotton flannel.

She’s pretty underneath it all, too!

Here is the little red hen in front of the tea cozy.

Tthe bottom of the tea cozy can be folded out to fit a higher pot.

So what was more fun – and what did really come first– Chanel or the chicken?  Now there are two questions for the ages!


Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Uncategorized, underlinings, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue pattern 7503 for shoulder shapes, woolens

Buttons, blouses and bijoux*

One of the often minimalized components of making a garment is the selection of fasteners (ie., buttons).  It’s easy to put so much attention to pattern and fabric, that when it comes to deciding on buttons, it’s “Oh, well, these will do.”  However, the wrong buttons can, quite simply, ruin a blouse, dress, suit, jacket, or coat.  And, the right buttons can add just the perfect accent.  So – how do you know what kind of buttons to choose?  Here are my guidelines:

First, the obvious.  Just as you match pattern to fabric to suit its weight, weave, seasonality, and ambience (how dressy or non-dressy it is), so should you choose buttons accordingly.  This includes texture of the button (rough, smooth, ribbed, etc.), style (fancy, sporty, novelty, etc.), size (usually the more buttons a garment needs, the smaller they should be), and weight (light weight fabric needs more delicate buttons, for example).

Second, I believe color is hugely important.  To select the correct color, I try to visualize the finished garment with different color buttons.  If you do this, your brain will automatically sort out what will work and what won’t work.

Finally, I think about what jewelry* (bijoux is an Archaic French word meaning an elegant jewel!) and/or accessories I will be wearing with a garment, and I take that into consideration when choosing buttons.  This is one reason why those of us who make clothing for ourselves are so fortunate – we can coordinate the look we want from start to finish.

So – I’ll give you a peek at my just completed project, which incorporates these button guidelines.  But first, some background info.  Last July, I traveled to Massachusetts to spend a few fun-filled days with daughter Susanna, who lives in the Pioneer Valley.  We had an agenda (what women do not??), which included two trips to the Brimfield area.  Our first trip was to the Sturbridge Antique Textile and Vintage Clothing Extravaganza.  Susanna wrote about some of our purchases from this excursion on her blog, but here is a picture of a set of 12 black Bakelite buttons which I found at one of the vendors.

My set of 12 Bakelite buttons

Here is a close-up of some of the buttons. Can you see the rounded corners on some of the cubes? This detail makes them more interesting!

I bought them without knowing how or when I would use them, but they definitely had my name on them – and they came home to Pennsylvania with me!  What I would have loved to have also brought home with me was a black and yellow Bakelite bracelet, which caught my eye at another booth later in the day.  I resisted buying it as we had already done our part to support the economy…! What I did not know was that my sneaky daughter quickly purchased this bracelet while I went to the ladies’ room – and she, her husband Jon, and our son Nate surprised me with it for Christmas!  Here it is:

My Christmas surprise!

Here is the bracelet shown next to the buttons: obviously these were meant for each other!

Now fast forward to the completion of this silk blouse:

The finished blouse made from a vintage Vogue pattern, complete with vintage Bakelite buttons

Here is a closer view of the blouse

Yes, I decided those Bakelite buttons would be perfect for it, and here is why:

–  The fabric, both in design and color, makes a statement, so it needs buttons which are not wimpy.  The square-ish shape of the buttons helps them stand up to those demonstrative polka dots without distracting from them.

And an even closer view...

–  Black is the only color I could picture using with this fabric (gold, yellow, white pearl or gray pearl did not visualize well for me…).

–  I thought the French cuffs (which I love) on this pattern would show to more advantage with buttons which have some heft to them.

Here is a close-up of the French cuff

These buttons are just heavy enough for the weight of this fabric, and finally…

–  I knew I would be wearing my Bakelite bracelet with this blouse!

Well – I can’t end this post without showing you the shoulder shapes which I made fromVogue 7503, view F.

Here are the shoulder shapes before I positioned them in the blouse. The crosswise stitching makes them fit over the shoulder beautifully.

They turned out perfectly and are just the right thickness/softness/size for this blouse!


Filed under Bakelite buttons and/or jewelry, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Polka dots, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Vogue pattern 7503 for shoulder shapes, Vogue patterns

And – the winning number is 7503

Any serious dressmaker working in the 1950s must surely have known this four-digit number by heart.  This was the number of the Vogue pattern for “shoulder shapes,” what we now call shoulder pads (more on that nomenclature in a minute).   While 1940s’ fashion was dominated by the broad shoulder look, not so the 1950s’ – and that is what is so clever – and remarkably useful – about this pattern, which has a copyright date of 1953.

However, I am getting ahead of myself.  I first learned of Vogue 7503 when I purchased this dress pattern from an online shop called “Stitches and Loops” last Spring.

This pattern gave me my first clue to Vogue 7503

On the back of the envelope, it states:  Optional shoulder shapes  – Use Vogue Pattern 7503

Here is the statement which sent me on my search for Vogue 7503

My interest piqued,  I started looking at some of my other patterns for suits, dresses and blouses from the 1950s.  Some of them, too, had a reference to Vogue Pattern 7503.  Having just made an outfit which required shoulder pads – and for which I had purchased “ready-made” ones which just were not quite the right shape, thickness nor natural feel – I knew that Vogue 7503 was something I needed to find.  A quick Google search told me that I had just missed one that had been available on eBay.  Thus began a months’ long search which ended in early November, when an uncut, ff (factory folded) copy with original envelope was listed by a shop on Etsy.  Excited, I could barely get my order in quickly enough!  Here is my copy of this wonderful dressmaker’s aid:

Vogue 7503 - Copyright 1953

Now for the particulars:

1 – My copy is actually copyrighted as Revised 1953.  It is unprinted!  Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m not a fan of unprinted patterns, but this is a little different.  For one thing, the pattern pieces are all small, the directions simple, and each piece can easily be copied onto pattern tracing paper, where I can make all the notations I want.  Interestingly, I have since seen this pattern for sale in its 1957 printed and perforated version, so obviously The Conde Nast Publications, Inc. was keeping up with demand.

2 –The term “shoulder shapes” is so much more precise and useful than “shoulder pads”, as that is what these mini-creations do – they help to shape the shoulder line. I’m not sure why the term “shoulder shapes” was replaced by “shoulder pads.”  Patterns from 1958 still referred to “shapes,” but by 1959, they were being referred to as “pads.”  I guess it’s a minor thing, this particular “nomenclature,” but put me in the “shapes” fan club.

3 – Finally – the remarkable versatility of this pattern becomes apparent when you take the time to look closely at the pattern envelope.  Here you can see all the versions of shoulder shapes for different applications:  for coats and suits with set-in sleeves (two variations); for a coat, suit or dress with raglan sleeves or sleeves cut-in-one with garment; for suits and coats with a dropped shoulder line; and for blouses, sweaters or dresses with set-in sleeves.

Here is a close-up of two variant shapes for use with coats and suits. Notice the extra darts in View D, which add a gentle slope to the shoulder line.

Here is a very simple - "just enough" - shape for blouses, sweaters and dresses.

Then if you look in the lower left hand corner, you will see that this pattern also includes a “hip shape” for a coat, jacket, skirt or dress.  Very 1950s.   I guess this was used to accentuate one’s narrow waist – however, this is the only part of this pattern which I just can’t see myself using…

Hip shapes - for those who need it!

I have “view F” cut out for the silk blouse which I am currently sewing – and now that I have this clever pattern, I doubt I will ever again use a purchased shoulder pad  – oops, I mean shoulder shape.

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Filed under Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), The Conde Nast Publications, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, Vogue pattern 7503 for shoulder shapes, Vogue patterns