Category Archives: side-placed zippers

The Last Dress of Summer

Or is it the first dress of Fall?  It depends on your point of view, apparently.  The Autumnal Equinox, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is September 22nd, officially the first day of (Astronomical) Fall.  Meteorological Fall began on September 1st, marking the point in the year when the temperatures begin to fall (pardon the pun.)  Either way one looks at it, I now have a finished dress which is either late for Summer or just under the wire.  I’m honestly just delighted to have it finished!

Although linen is traditionally thought to be a summertime fabric, I have long thought it is also the perfect fabric for early Fall.  Moygashel linen is especially well suited for this time of year.  Its natural fibers keep it cool for those days which continue to warm up, but its sturdy weave and heft give it a substantial enough look for these days of transition.

I purchased this piece of vintage linen from an Etsy shop years ago.

This particular piece of Moygashel, undoubtably a survivor from the mid-1950s, presented me with a couple of challenges.  First, it was only 35” wide.  And I only had 2½ yards.  Laying out pattern pieces on a single layer of fabric always allows me to maximize their placement, improving my ability to do the impossible – get a dress out of too little fabric.  (Here is another Moygashel linen dress which I was able to squeak out of 1 5/8 yards of 35” fabric.)

This vintage Vogue pattern gave me two sleeve options.  If I had opted for the very short sleeves, I would have had ample yardage.  But, for the seasonal reasons mentioned above, I particularly wanted to make this dress with the below-elbow-length sleeves.  So, I fiddled and figured and made it work by utilizing both the straight of grain and the cross grain for the bodice/sleeve pieces.  I was able to do this because of the allover floral design – ie., no directional limitations.

This pattern is dated 1957.

Interestingly enough, this dress with its cut-on sleeves does not have gussets.  Rather, the underarm seams of the dress sections are curved to add moveability.

This shows where the seams join under the arm close to the top of the side zipper.

I underlined this dress with white cotton batiste (from Farmhouse Fabrics) and I finished the seams with Hug Snug Rayon seam binding.

The buttoned upper back bodice is a real focal point of this pattern.  Being 1957, the pattern calls for “fabric buttonholes” – or bound buttonholes.  So that’s what I did.

When it came to buttons, I wanted to use some sort of faceted black buttons.  After searching online and coming up empty-handed for buttons of the correct size and look, I settled on these carved pearl buttons already in my button collection.

I love these buttons, but I still think black ones would be better …  so I will keep searching and switch them when I’m successful.  That will also allow me to use the “leaf” buttons (I have 6 of them) for something which will show them off to better advantage.

The final construction detail of note is the 10” side zipper.  I used a lapped, hand-picked application which lays inconspicuously below the left sleeve.

It is so inconspicuous, you can barely see it here!

I did not leave an opening on either side at the waist for a belt to slip through.  In fact, I did not have enough fabric to make a self-belt!  However, my intention was always to use a contrasting belt.  I think this fabric will lend itself to using belts of varying colors (red or yellow or pink?) as long as I can coordinate with shoes, handbags and/or jewelry.  That will have to wait until I am home from our Summer location.  Maybe I’ll even find black buttons back home!

I could wear this dress without a belt as well. (But I’m not sure I will…)

One final note about this pattern and dress:  it has to go over the head.  It was much more common for dresses from the 1950s and ‘60s to have side zippers and “over the head access”  only.  This can wreak havoc on hair (and make-up)!  So a little pre-planning is necessary – I will need to finish my primping after I have put on the dress.

And everytime I put this dress on, I shall see the original Moygashel linen label which came with the fabric.

I suspect this dress will go right into the cedar closet for the months to come, as I switch out the wool skirts and dresses and coats and sweaters.  But hopefully, in March, at the Spring Equinox, it will creep out from its dark and quiet spot and maybe even actually be worn!


Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Moygashel linen, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

The Champagne Dress

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

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

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

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

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

Please click on the image to enlarge the print.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#7 shows the gathering of the interior drape.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Shopping in My (Cedar) Closet – Again!

Some dresses – and patterns – just keep giving and giving. As the date approached for a “black tie/ masquerade” ball which my husband and I planned to attend, I decided I had better start to think about what I was going to wear. I reluctantly admitted that the fancy dress I made this past Summer was really too summery to wear to a mid-October event, so I went into my cedar closet in search of another party dress. Still looking like the day I made it 22 years ago was this dress, made from a Butterick pattern:


And here is the pattern.

Here is the pattern.

The thumbnail drawings shoe the process lines in the bodice. The description explains the construction of the skirt. I made it in the ankle length version.

The thumbnail drawings show the princess lines in the bodice. The description explains the construction of the skirt. I made it in the ankle length version. And yes – it has a side zipper.

Although I have actually made just one dress from this pattern, I have used the bow pattern (or some “sized-up” or “sized-down” variation of it) again and again. My most recent use of it was for the waist bow on my Summer dress:

 I enlarged the pattern a bit to make this bow.

I enlarged the pattern a bit to make this bow.

With a black velvet bodice, the dress from my cedar closet is definitely more suitable for cooler weather, and I didn’t think it looked too dated to wear.

GD Ball 3

I like the dropped front waistline – a detail not often seen in current patterns – at least to my knowledge.

Black and pink fancy dress

The pink fabric is polyester, although it certainly resembles silk. I never forgot the “name” of this fabric – it was called “Eyelash”! It has a crinkled effect to it, but is soft and wrinkle resistant.

This is a view of the back of the dress.

And, as luck would have it, several years ago I made a mask to wear to some other event, the purpose of which now is lost to the ages! Fortunately I had used some left over fabric from my “cedar closet” dress – so it matched perfectly.

Mask Pink

I love a mask on a stick – it doesn’t muss one’s hair! I added that vintage flower to give it extra allure. The stick is just that – a skinny dowel which I covered with ribbon.

Those are sequins around the eyes!

Those are sequins around the eyes!

When I made the dress back in the 1990s, I found this evening bag to use with it, so, of course, I wanted to use it again. How times do change! I tried every which way to fit my smartphone in it, and no amount of “schmushing” or angling allowed me to do so. Fortunately, my husband’s tux has lots of pockets, so he toted my phone for me!

Black and pink fancy dress

The final touch to my outfit was long black velvet gloves. I adore long gloves; they are elegant, fetching and … warm! I did not see another pair of formal gloves the entire evening, which to me is a little sad. Accessories like that add so much to our attire and to our “presentation” and unfortunately are one of those fashion niceties being lost in an increasingly casual world.

GD Ball 1

Click on the photo for a closer look…

GD Ball 2

Some of the people in attendance at the Ball were in costume, but I loved the fact that I could get one more wearing out of a formal dress made so long ago. Back into the cedar closet it has gone – sharing space with other out-of-season or “too sentimental-to-give-away” pieces. It is anybody’s guess whether I will ever have another opportunity to wear it. But those gloves? I am keeping those handy!



Filed under Bows as design feature, Formal or fancy dresses, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized

The Long and Mysterious Journey of Sandhurst 121

When the piece of linen I had purchased arrived in the mail, I was not sure what to expect. I had bought it with the hope that it was, indeed, a piece of Moygashel linen, but I had nothing to go on except an educated hunch. I knew it was an early piece of fabric, as its width was 35”, a common width for pre-1960’s dress-goods. I liked the design in the photo from which I made my decision, although it was not a colorway to which I normally gravitate. Upon opening the package, I found the only identifying mark on the fabric to be this tag:

Gottshalk's in Fresno, California obviously sold fine fabrics.

Gottschalk’s in Fresno, California obviously sold fine fabrics.

This short length of fabric had been on the remnant table, and, being too good of a bargain to pass by, some home dressmaker in California (USA) scooped it up with all good intentions of making something out of it someday. It must have lived in a dark drawer somewhere, carefully buffered from stains and yellowing. It didn’t even have much of a crease in it. And so, after many years in dormancy, it arrived at my home in Pennsylvania. I knew immediately that it was a Moygashel linen. I could tell by the hand of the fabric, the unique, slightly funky design, and by its amazing survival virtually wrinkle-free.

Sandhurst 121

As I mentioned in a former post, my only dilemma was the scant yardage, combined with the narrow width. So, I stuck it in my fabric closet, to think about another day. One thing nagged at me, however. I really, really wanted to know what year it was from.

Over the past three years or so, I have had some luck in finding copies of old and older (1950-1980) Vogue Pattern Book Magazines. They are fascinating, and treasure troves of mid-century fashion as it relates to home sewing. I have tried to get a good cross-section of magazines from those three decades. One issue, which I tried a couple of times to get – and did not (on eBay) – finally became available to me. I loved the suit on the cover, and those mid-fifties styles are just so chic, even though most Vogue patterns from that time period were unprinted, and therefore, very difficult to use. (By 1957, Vogue was starting to produce many of their patterns in printed and perforated format.)

This is the February/March 1955 issue.

This is the February/March 1955 issue.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this? I was looking through this particular issue once again in May of this year, and low and behold, a full-page ad for Moygashel linen clearly pictured “my” linen as one of their “new crop”. The colorway was different, but Moygashel was known for producing their fabrics “all in many colors or color combinations.” Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t get so excited about such a discovery, but I was ecstatic! Now I knew, for certain, that the linen I had purchased made its debut in early 1955. (I would be turning 5 years old a little later that year!) I even had a name for it now – Sandhurst 121. I suddenly very much wanted to sew this linen, this Summer!

There is my linen in the upper left hand corner of the full-page advertisement.

There is my linen in the upper left hand corner of the full-page advertisement.

By now, many of you know that I determined to make a sheath dress out of this scant yardage of fabric, and in order to do so, I had to reconfigure my sheath dress pattern to include a back yoke. Here’s the fabric layout, which hopefully will show how sectioning the back enabled me to fit the pattern on the available fabric:

The fabric is shown 35" flat on my cutting table.  The muslin pattern piece for the front of the dress is on the right, and the two shortened back pieces are lined up smack against each other on the left.  The yoke pieces then fit above the dress front.  I did not need facings, as I lined the entire dress in a light weight linen/cotton blend, and finished the neck and armholes all by hand.

The fabric is shown 35″ flat on my cutting table. The muslin pattern piece for the front of the dress is on the right, and the two shortened back pieces are lined up smack against each other on the left. The yoke pieces then fit on the fabric  above the dress front. I did not need facings, as I lined the entire dress in a light weight linen/cotton blend, and finished the neck and armholes all by hand.  I had to face the hem as I did not have enough fabric to do a self hem!

Many of you also know that fortune shone her happy face again on this project when I found three orange vintage buttons, which I knew would help make a back yoke far more interesting. I relied on a Vogue pattern from 1957, which has a back yoke to help me with this reconfigure.

This card of buttons cost 2 cents originally!  They seem to mimic the small orange explosions on the dress fabric.

This card of buttons cost 2 cents originally! They seem to mimic the small orange explosions on the dress fabric.  They may actually be even earlier than the fabric.

The yoke on this dress uses 4 buttons.  I only had three, but their large size still makes the proportions work well.

The yoke on this dress uses 4 buttons. I only had three, but their large size still makes the proportions work well.

A close-up of the back of the dress.

A close-up of the back of the dress.  I made bound buttonholes – very 1950-ish!

And then, another classic 1950s’ design detail worked right into this dress: I would need to move the zipper to the side in order for the back yoke to look correct. Now I will be the first to tell you that a side zipper is not as convenient as a back zipper, but it is a small sacrifice when everything else is enhanced by this placement.   After these obeisances to ‘50s’ style, I slipped right into 2014 with a bright orange, newly made belt, a widened jewel neckline, slightly cut-in shoulders, and a back slit to enhance comfort. I like to choose the best from the ‘50s, but I really don’t want to look like the 1950s.

I sent new orange linen to Pat Mahoney of Pat's Custom Belts and Buttons  and this lovely belt came back to me in the mail.

I sent new orange linen to Pat Mahoney of Pat’s Custom Belts and Buttons and this lovely belt came back to me in the mail.

Cool and summery-looking, don't you think?

Cool and summery-looking, don’t you think?

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Not every dress can have a story, nor should it. But this fabric, which began its life in Ireland, no doubt entered this country through New York City, ordered by a store in Fresno, California, purchased and squirreled away for decades by persons unknown – has now found a starring role in my wardrobe almost 60 years later. Sewing is just so much fun!




Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, hand-sewn zippers, Linen, Love of sewing, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, side-placed zippers, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Presently Preferring Pucci

Once I get into a project, especially one that has some complicated decisions or construction to it, I tend to think about it during many of my non-sewing hours. (I wonder if other sewers/dressmakers do that?) Now that I have finished my Pucci dress, I’ll be spending both sewing and non-sewing hours on the jacket.

First, however, some details about the dress are in order.

The dress is finished!

The dress is finished!

There are a few design aspects of this dress which set it apart from a simple A-line or sheath dress.  Notable to me is the effect that the curved front yoke makes on the bustline. It gives it more definition than it would have with just darts.

If you look closely, you can see the yoke seam.

If you look closely, you can see the yoke seam.

The back yoke adds some “surprise” interest by being split in the middle. In addition, the back of the dress would not be quite so clean looking if the zipper were placed in the center back below the yoke. Its location on the side seam is one of those hallmarks of a carefully planned Designer pattern.

The "open" yoke on the back of the dress.

The “open” yoke on the back of the dress.

I made some changes to the dress, based on the muslin. My six alterations are:

1) I decided to incorporate curved armholes into the two back yoke sections. On a younger person, the more revealing back arm would be fine, but I was not so comfortable with it!  Please see the photo above.

2) I took out some of the A-line from the dress. I wouldn’t say I actually “pegged” it, as I left a slight taper, but the effect is now one of a straighter skirt, which I think is a bit more “current.”

A sdie view shows this alteration best.

A side view shows this alteration best.

3) Taking out some of the taper meant I had to give myself a bit more ease in the skirt, so I left a slit at the center back.

The center back slit at the hem line.

The center back slit at the hem line.

4) I added two small darts to the back sides at the waist, which adds some definition to it.

5) I lowered the neckline to accommodate a particular necklace that I want to wear with this outfit. Isn’t it just lovely that sewing allows us the ability to make these kind of custom alterations?

6) The pattern called for a hook and eye at the center back neck. I decided to add a loop and small button instead, although I added an interior hook and eye to help the back neck lay flat.  Adding this button and loop can definitely be called a “dressmaker detail”.

The button is one I have had in my button box for decades!  Its faceted surface seemed perfect for this dress.

The button is one I have had in my button box for decades! Its faceted surface seemed perfect for this dress.

Of course I underlined the dress with silk organza.

Preferring Pucci

This back view also shows the extended armhole line.

This back view also shows the extended armhole line.

And this side view shows how the front yoke adds definition to the bustline.

And this side view shows how the front yoke adds definition to the bustline.

Then I lined the dress in black crepe de chine, and under-stitched the neckline and armhole seams with turquoise silk buttonhole twist, just for fun.

The dress turned inside out.

The dress turned inside out.

Under-stitchibng in turquoise. No one will ever see it, but I love what it adds!

Under-stitching in turquoise. No one will ever see it, but I love what it adds!  Click on the photo for a close-up view.

So – that’s it!

Now here’s a phenomenon that seems to happen to me frequently. I’ll be using a mid-century designer pattern for a project, and I’ll come across a current magazine or newspaper article, which in one way or another relates to what I am sewing or planning to sew. So it was this past weekend, when I was catching up with reading the April WSJ. The Wall Street Journal Magazine, delivered the weekend before. Right there on page 84 was an article on Laudomia Pucci, Emilio’s daughter, entitled: Fortress of Fashion. It is a fascinating account of her commitment to preserve the “fashion legacy” of her father, by reinventing an ancestral estate in Tuscany into an accessible-and-preservation-minded archives. On view are fabrics and fashions, and “already Pucci has hosted several educational events… Two groups of students … have come to study sewing and print design…[would not this be wonderful?! – my addition].  Laudomia is hoping to extend the educational activities to international fashion schools for longer visits.”   Her goal is to encourage the “next generation … to find inspiration for innovative fashion.” Now this is a place where a Preference for Pucci is definitely a way of life!



Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, Dressmaker details, sewing in silk, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

A Newly Defined ‘50s’ Frock

I have finished making a new dress from an old pattern, which isn’t anything too unusual for me.  What is unusual is the spell which this pattern cast over me from the time I first saw it last January, and then purchased it from an Etsy shop.

The length of this dress as shown on the envelope is very 1950's.  I'll be making it in knee-length.

The back of the envelope, showing the back yoke detail.  Don't you love the handbags that the artist included?

The back of the envelope, showing the back yoke detail. Don’t you love the handbags that the artist included?

Copyright 1957, this pattern has intrigued me for both how modern it looks, and how quintessentially “1950s” its various details are – such as:

1) Kimono sleeves in three-quarter length.  Cut in one with the bodice, kimono sleeves were common in the ‘50s, and now seem to be making a comeback.  Three quarter length is extremely flattering for most women, and was popular then and now.

2) Side zipper.  This dress goes over the head and needs that side zipper to accommodate the wiggle room needed to accomplish this method of dressing.  A back zipper would completely ruin the effect of the four-buttoned back yoke.

3) No pockets.  While pockets are lovely inventions, this dress would lose some of its slim and flattering line should pockets bulge out from the side seams.

4) Mid-calf length.  This length looks great in the pattern illustration, but not so much on me.  One of the beauties of these vintage patterns is adapting them for current wear – so I opted for knee-length instead.

5) Bound buttonholes.  Although this pattern is called “easy to make” on the back of the envelope, it still calls for bound buttonholes.  And, oh, they add such a nice detail.

Now to the specifics.  I found this black and white herringbone alpaca wool (made in the USA) on Britex Fabrics’ website, and purchased it on sale a few months ago, specifically for use with this pattern.

This is the swatch I ordered from Britex sometime over the Summer.

This is the swatch I ordered from Britex sometime over the Summer.

I wanted to make the dress using couture techniques (learned in the online Craftsy course The Couture Dress taught by Susan Khalje.)  This meant that I would 1) make a muslin for fitting and pattern tracing; 2) underline the entire dress with silk organza; 3) eliminate the separate neck facing; 4) finish all the interior seams by catch-stitching them to the underlining; and 5) line the entire dress, which I did using Bemberg instead of china silk (more on that in a bit).

There were a number of decisions/problems/successes involved in making this dress. First, the nature of the fabric is that there are slight imperfections in the weave, and it is quite loosely woven, making it quite susceptible to raveling.  When I laid it out to cut it, I wanted to avoid any obvious imperfections front and center.  Patterns with kimono sleeves demand large expanses of fabric and thus do not allow a lot of jiggling of their placement.  I can honestly say that I had JUST enough fabric and not an inch more than I needed!

One of the first problems I realized I was going to have concerned the buttonholes.  I quickly discovered that the loose weave of the fabric meant that I was not going to be able to make bound buttonholes using self-fabric for the “strips”.  I considered using a plain black wool for these strips, but I thought that would be too much of a contrast.  Well, now I know why I save all kinds of scraps from previous projects – you never know when one of those random pieces of fabric will come in handy.  I spied a scrap in my fabric closet and quickly decided that one part of the weave would be perfect to delineate those buttonholes:

I used the "gray"portion of this windowpane check for the buttonhole "strips".

I used the “gray” portion of this windowpane check for the buttonhole “strips”. Click on the photo to see this up close.

An inside look at the buttonholes in progress

An inside look at the buttonholes in progress

And an outside look...

And an outside look…

When it came to deciding on buttons, I could not find any I liked.  But I remembered some buttons I had sewn onto a RTW jacket several years ago (to replace the ones that came on it.)  They have a “herringbone” look to them – it’s very subtle, but effective.  The jacket is one I haven’t worn in a couple of years, so I just robbed the cuffs of their buttons and used them on my dress.  (Now I guess I know for sure I won’t be wearing that jacket again!)  But – the buttons are perfect for this dress.

My buttons of choice!

My buttons of choice!

Choosing to use couture techniques was a “dress-saver”.  The larger seam allowances took away the panic I might have felt, once I realized the fabric frayed so easily.  And finishing off each interior seam with catch-stitching controlled the fraying and helped the seams to lay perfectly flat.

Eliminating the separate neck facing was also a bonus to ease construction.  First of all, I wanted to widen the neckline, which I worked out in my muslin.  Using the seam allowance and hand-applied, under-stitched lining for the neck facing made it lay flat, and of course, it’s not itchy either!

The "couture-constructed" neckline, before the lining is attached.

The “couture-constructed” neckline, before the lining is attached.

Even though I did not have “plaids” to match, I needed to pay close attention to the rows in the herringbone weave, so that none of them were crooked.  This is where Clover two-pronged pins (recommended by Susan Khalje in The Couture Dress class) came in handy and helped me keep those rows lined up evenly.

Clover "fork" pins

Clover “fork” pins

Finally, I decided to use Bemberg lining fabric instead of China silk because I thought it might be a bit more substantial for this somewhat heavy weight wool.  When I was deciding what color to make the lining, I considered ivory, black, and even a bright color, such as red.  But I settled on deep gray, and it seems just right.

In fact, everything about this dress seems just right.  It is delightfully rewarding when a pattern does not disappoint – and when it turns out to be a complete winner, well, that is reason to make it again (which I will)!

I can wear this dress as a sheath, unbelted, but I love it with this Coach black belt.

I can wear this dress as a sheath, unbelted, but I love it with this Coach black belt.

The back view

With a touch of emerald green for the holiday season

With a touch of emerald green for the holiday season.

With green gloves for a '50s' look!

With green gloves for a ’50s’ look!

And another back view.

And another back view. Alpaca is a very warm wool – so this dress is very cozy.

For now, however, my sewing room is “gift-wrap central”.  The colorful ribbons, paper and tags are cheerful tokens of a season of blessings and family and home.  To all of you celebrating the season, may it be a time of great peace and love for you and yours. And, as I  take a couple of weeks “off”, I send a heartfelt Merry Christmas from me to you…


Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, kimono sleeves, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

Give me Liberty . . .

. . .  and I’ll make a dress!  Of course, I’m referring to Liberty cottons, one of the great fabrics of the world.  There is, as most of you already know, more to Liberty than just cottons – they make silks, too, and one look at their website will introduce you to the full range of Liberty products, appeal, and mystique.  It is so exciting to me to realize that this company, which was founded in 1875, is still producing some of the finest quality fabrics in the world. Their most famous fabric is that cotton, more properly referred to as Tana Lawn.  Here I quote from The Liberty Book of Home Sewing (about which I’ll tell you more shortly):

Tana Lawn   Synonymous with Liberty, this 100% cotton fabric has a very fine thread count and soft, silky feel.  New print designs are created each season, heritage classics are continuously reworked, and there is also an array of coordinating plain colors.”

It just so happens that I lucked into two pieces of Tana Lawn, originally purchased by a relative in the ‘60s, and tucked away, unused, into a bureau drawer.  When the contents of that drawer were being emptied about a decade later, I was the happy recipient.  At that point in time, Tana Lawn was only 35” wide, so in order to make a dress or blouse, it was necessary to have a good bit of yardage at one’s disposal, to compensate for the narrow width.  Of course, the piece I liked the best had the least yardage:

I find the colors and design of this cotton so appealing.

It sat in my fabric drawer for about another 12 or 15 years, until I finally made it into a dress for my daughter when she was about 8 years old.

The only reason I saved this dress is because of its vintage Liberty fabric.

The second piece had a bit more yardage to it, but it, too, sat in my fabric closet, until last Summer, when I finally decided I would make myself a dress.

This is the same fabric design in different colors.

I knew it would have to be sleeveless, and I envisioned a simple belted bodice with some fullness in the skirt.  The only pattern I could find which came close was this Butterick one:

I chose this pattern primarily for the bodice in View A (the blue one).

Then I began making alterations to it:  a few soft pleats for the skirt instead of all that fullness; I wanted to add pockets in the side seams; to add pockets, I had to move the zipper from the side to the back, which also made it easier for me to fit the pattern pieces onto the narrow fabric. Finally, I wanted it lined, which I did with a very lightweight white cotton lawn.  Here’s how it turned out:

I did not have enough fabric left to make a self belt, so I have worn it with one I already have, until I can find one I like better!

I really like the back of this dress.

Here is a close-up of the back neckline.

Well, it seems I am always rediscovering pieces of fabric in my extensive collection, and although I have known this fabric was there, it always seems like a new discovery when something so pretty surfaces again.  I purchased this piece of Tana Lawn in Bermuda (probably at Trimingham’s, now unfortunately out of business) sometime in the 1980s.

I still love this fabric over twenty-five years after purchasing it!

I could never decide on a pattern to use for it – those ’80 styles were just too awful.  So this fabric is another one of those “Thank goodness I never made this!”  Although it is also just 35” wide, I have a plentiful 4½ yards so I should be able to pair it with a vintage pattern from the ‘50s or ‘60s – I’m still looking and deciding…  Ideas, anyone?  (Interestingly, Liberty apparently changed their production in the early 1990s, and now their Tana Lawn is 44” wide.)

Now, about that afore-mentioned book:  last Summer I was browsing books on sewing and fashion on Amazon, and The Liberty Book of Home Sewing popped up for pre-order.  Being a complete push-over for any books which showcase beautiful fabrics, I signed up for it and it arrived in October.  Of the 25 projects featured, my favorites are the vintage ‘50s look apron on the cover and the peacock pincushion.

This is the cover of the hardback book, showing the frilly '50s' style apron.

And here is the whimsical peacock pincushion project.

What I really like about this book, however, are the full-page representations of Liberty cottons; the Glossary of Fabrics, which includes a little history about each featured design; and the Foreword, which includes a history of the production of Tana Lawn.

Here is one page of the Glossary of Fabrics.

Finally – one last thing:  when I purchased my Liberty fabric in Bermuda, this label came with it:

This tag is small, but packs a powerful message! I'll definitely be sewing it into whatever dress I eventually make.

What is it about a label that can give a fabric or pattern purchase – and ultimately the finished garment – its own persona?  How can something so small add so much validation and completeness to the dressmaker’s labor of love?


Filed under 1980's dress patterns, Liberty cotton, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized

Can you zip me up, please?

This is a completely unscientific observation, but it seems to me that the zipper has made a fairly substantial migration over the years – from the side of the dress – to the back of the dress.  If that sounds confusing, let me explain a bit more, by showing you some of my dress patterns which date from the 1950s.  All of these dresses feature a side zipper, placed a few inches under the left arm and extending a few inches below the waist (or, in other words, these zippers open within a garment seam.).

I love the clean lines of this dress from 1957, with the "yoke" effect which extends into the kimono sleeves. The back of the envelope shows more detail.

You can see from this back view that, although the top back yoke buttons, a side zipper is still necessary to get the dress on!

The front on this dress only opens to the waist, so a side zipper enables one to step into it. This pattern is dated 1957.

The back detail on this evening gown from 1958 would have been interrupted by a center back zipper, but a side zipper preserves the designer's intent.

I love this dress design from 1957, which simply would not work using a center back zipper.

Patterns from the last half of the 1960s start to feature more and more zippers which are placed in the center back of the dress, and by the 1970s, it seems, almost all zippers were center back ones.

This design from the early '60s would work with either a side or center back zipper, but the pattern calls for a center back one, thus showing the start of the transition.

The dress on this pattern is actually my next project! It is a design by Jacques Heim from the 1970s. I'll be inserting a 22" neckline zipper in the back of this dress.

A casual look at vintage clothes from this time period also seems to support this observation (with the occasional exception to the rule, of course.  I actually saw a side-zippered dress at J.Crew one day this week, but it’s not the same, really, as the dress is sleeveless and the zipper parts at the top, under the arm.)

To try to understand some of the dynamics of this zipper conundrum, I went to my 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School book (by Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick) to see if I could find any entry on zippers.  Here is what I found on page 64:

“Center back zippers are like fine crystal:  best reserved for special occasions.  When a student designs an interesting garment and is asked how the wearer gets into it, the common answer is, ‘center back zipper.’  This solution is favored by inexperienced designers because it doesn’t require an invasive change to a garment.  But a back closure is rarely a satisfactory solution; it’s a fussy, frustrating concern when one has only fifteen minutes to dress for work.

“Back closures are a remnant from an era when women wore corsets and hoopskirts and had maids to truss them up in back.  Today they are more appropriate in association with major events.  On her wedding day or Oscar night, after a woman has spent a lot of time and money on her hair and makeup, she is more likely to want to step into her dress than pull it over her head.  A center back zipper implies a fitting sense of occasion.” [my emphasis]

Side-placed zippers are different from center-back zippers both in name and detail:  side zippers are called “dress” zippers and have bottom and top “stops”, while zippers for the center back (or skirts, pants, shorts) are called “neckline” or “skirt” zippers and, of course, open at the top with a stop just at the bottom.  (Skirt and neck zippers can easily be made into dress zippers by putting a few tacking stitches to anchor the two sides together right above the pull.)  Back in their hay-day, dress zippers were available in lengths from 10” to 14”. Skirt and neckline zippers are still available in lengths ranging from 6” to 24”, but they are now called “all-purpose” zippers.

So why, since the ‘70s, have most side dress zippers been replaced by neckline zippers placed center back?  I guess there are several potential answers to that question, including:

1) a lot of us would rather step into our dresses than pull them over our heads even if we are not dressing for a special occasion.

2) laziness or ignorance  (both kind of strong words, for which I apologize to anyone offended!) or practicality on the part of designers.

3) it’s just become the accepted way of closing a dress.

4) the invisible zipper made application of the zipper easier and the finished look more streamlined.

5) Huh? What’s a side zipper?

I’m sure there are lots of other explanations but my favorite one is a bit more romantic…   James H. Boren put it succinctly thus:  “A dress that zips up the back will bring a husband and wife together.”   I’d say that is a “fitting sense of occasion”!


Filed under kimono sleeves, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns