Category Archives: Silk taffeta

Just for the Chill of It

Autumn is a delightful season here in the northeastern part of the United States. One can tell it is on its way when the warm days quickly take on an evening chill once the sun slips below the horizon. It is the time of year when a light coat or sweater is a necessity, especially with a sleeveless dress.

With this scenario, and a September wedding to attend, what better excuse did I need, to make a coat to go with this dress?

The Year of Magical Sewing

If you follow my blog then you probably already know this was my intention all along, when I made the dress two years ago. But it took a while to find the right coordinating fabric for a coat. I was looking for something between a coral and a pink. While the silk taffeta I found at Britex Fabrics looks more like a deep persimmon color when photographed, the fuchsia pink warp is very apparent when being worn.

Taffeta coat - swatch

Once I decided the Jo Mattli-designed coat, part of the original dress pattern, was too voluminous, I went to another pattern. I wanted to keep the “intention” of the original coat, but have it more streamlined.

The "original" coat designed by Jo Mattli.

The “original” coat designed by Jo Mattli.

Taffeta coat - %22too scimpy%22

The coat pattern I settled on.

Somehow along the way, in making my muslin, I got the idea to add a curved belt to the back of the coat. I knew I had used a coat pattern several years ago with a curved belt back detail, so I went through my pattern collection to retrieve this:

This is a 1957 pattern, but look at the belt shown on the back of the envelope, below.

This is a 1957 pattern, but look at the belt shown on the back of the envelope, below.

taffeta-coat-belt-pattern-thumbnail

The belt is only shown in view A.

It took a couple of tries with the muslin to get the placement and angling of the belt correct, but once I did, I knew it was a winner. Dressmaker details like this always give me a thrill!

I anchored the belt in the side seams right under the bust darts.

I anchored the belt in the side seams right under the bust darts.

Just for the Chill of it

The curve of the belt needed to fall at my waistline.

The curve of the belt needed to fall at my waistline.

One of the things I like about this pattern is the two-part sleeve with a center seam. I think this design is always flattering to the shoulder. Here are the constructed sleeves:

Just for the Chill of it

That center seam also provides the opportunity for a faux vent, and since I just happened to have three buttons, which I thought would be perfect for the coat, I happily included vents, as the pattern dictated:

Just for the Chill of It

A small, cylindrical, crystal button!

A small, cylindrical, crystal button!

Although I originally thought I would leave the coat “closure-less,” that third button kept calling to me. While I did not want to have a single bound buttonhole in the center of the chest, I thought a button loop might do the trick. If I didn’t like it, I could remove it fairly easily from the front facing seam.

Just for the Chill of it

I also decided to add a loop at the neck, with a plain flat button under the collar. This way, I could close the collar if I chose to do so.

I pad-stitched the collar, but forgot to take a picture. Pad-stitching is like magic in how it makes the collar roll properly!

I pad-stitched the collar, but forgot to take a picture. Pad-stitching is like magic in how it makes the collar roll properly!

I have to say, I think the coat looks equally good any way it is worn: with the single button at the bust line closed, with both buttons secured and with neither of the buttons secured.

I chose not to add the optional pockets to this coat, but if I make it again in a less formal fabric, I would absolutely include them.

Once I got to the lining, I had to decide if I wanted to add the flat piping detail which I like so much. Of all the bias silk ribbon I have on hand, the only one which looked good was deep pink. Because of that, it doesn’t show contrast all that well, but I still like the subtle finishing look it gives to the lining.

Just for the Chill of it

Just for the Chill of it

Here, by the way, is the coat before I inserted the lining:

I underlined the entire coat with silk organza and added "cigarette" sleeve headings.

I underlined the entire coat with silk organza and added “cigarette” sleeve headings.

I love a center back seam!

I love a center back seam!

I used some vintage silk buttonhole twist to tack the center back fold in the lining at the neck and at the waistline.

Just for the Chill of it

There is no question that the dress and the coat go together once the lining shows!

There is no question that the dress and the coat go together once the lining shows!

Just for the Chill of it

I love that the lining peeks out from the sleeves when I am wearing the coat.

I love that the lining peeks out from the sleeves when I am wearing the coat.

taffeta-coat-full-copy

I was delighted when the photographer at the wedding wanted to take my picture because he "liked my outfit so much." (This is not that photo...)

I was delighted when the photographer at the wedding wanted to take my picture because he “liked my outfit so much.” (This is not that photo…)

Here with my husband - with a coordinating tie, no less (not planned, but makes for a great photo!)

Here with my husband – with a coordinating tie, no less (not planned, but makes for a great photo!)

It may seem a bit frivolous to make a coat like this, knowing that it will not be worn all that often – although I do have two other dress-weight silks in my collection which would look fairly stunning paired with this coat!  However,  it really is the perfect weight and look for an elegant, but chilly, evening out – and it was so much fun to make.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Dressmaker details, Linings, Mid-Century style, piping, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“Mrs. Scimpy”

Two years ago I made this dress:

The Year of Magical Sewing

From this pattern:

Perfect Blue - Mattli pattern

Once I had the dress finished, I liked it so much that I decided a coordinating coat, with a lining to match the dress would be wonderful – sometime. I even went so far as to order more of the blue silk blend fabric from EmmaOneSock, while I knew it would still be available.   Tucked away in my fabric closet, it has patiently waited while I searched and searched for the right coat fabric in a coordinating/contrasting color and in silk. I finally found it last Spring, during a online silk sale at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.

Taffeta coat - swatch

The fabric is lightweight silk taffeta, with the weft in persimmon color and the warp in fuchsia pink, giving it a shimmer which changes color with movement. I decided it would be my first project after we returned from our summer travels – with the intention of having it ready to wear with the dress to a September wedding, which happens to be at a location where a light coat or wrap is advisable.

All along I had intended to use the Jo Mattli coat pattern that is shown with the dress. I liked the idea of no buttons and simple lines.

Taffeta coat - Mattli pattern

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

However, when I got the pattern pieces out, here is what I found:

Front and back pattern pieces

Front and back pattern pieces

Yep, that is one voluminous coat! I knew that, even with taking some of the bulk out, I would probably still look like I was wearing a tent. With that slim dress, I am not sure why the coat has to be so full, but I had no qualms about deciding not to go in that direction. However, I still wanted a coat with no buttons or maybe just one button. I dug through my collection and came up with several possibilities, which included this one:

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn't convinced this was the right look.

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn’t convinced this was the right look.

I have another Jo Mattli coat and dress design which I love, but I think the coat would make up much more attractively in wool rather than silk taffeta, so I ruled this one out:

Taffeta coat - 2nd Mattli pattern

Then I came across this one: View B shows it with no button/buttonholes down the front. I also like the three-quarter sleeves, with the cuff detail.

The pattern description reads: "Striaght coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.

The pattern description reads: “Straight coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.”  I knew this coat would take on an appropriate dressy look when made up in silk taffeta.

Now –  I try to buy vintage Vogue patterns in sizes with a 32” bust and 34” hip measurement; however, that is not always possible, so I will go up or down a size if it is a pattern I really want to have. When I make my muslin (toile) for such a pattern, I try to include adjustments for the size issues so that my final alterations will be easier. However, the handwritten note on the front of this pattern gave me pause: “too scimpy” it reads. She obviously meant “skimpy,” but those two words spoke volumes to me (no pun intended!) Maybe I would just follow the pattern exactly (except for lowering the bust which I always have to do), and see if the size is okay.

Taffeta coat - pencil notes

And that is exactly what happened! Little did Mrs. “Scimpy” know that her simple pattern review, circa 1961, would save me both time and effort in 2016!

It looks like Mrs. Scimpy made her coat out of red wool, with a matching skirt. Her pencil notes on the yardage required indicate such, along with the cost of the fabrics: $22. I certainly hope she figured out that the coat was too skimpy in time to make adjustments, as a red wool coat with matching skirt would be lovely indeed!

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Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

An Evening Jacket for the Ages

“Very up and coming” for the Fall of 1962, according to Vogue Pattern Magazine, was “the striking medium between a straight line and a bold curve – the gentle convex ‘barrel’ shaping of this coat:”

An Evening Jacket for the Ages - picture

It is from this time period – perhaps a year or two later – that this Designer Pattern comes:

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

I don’t know many of us who want to look like they are in a barrel, so it was my intention to take the best parts of the design of the evening jacket and then adapt it to a more current look, or at least to one that did not scream 1963/64

The details I loved about it were: 1) the shaped, two-part collar, which doesn’t really look like a collar, rather as an extension of the body of the jacket, but with more definition to it:

Evening jacket for the Ages

2) the dipped back hem of the jacket:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

I purchased the yellow silk taffeta from Britex Fabrics, while the dress fabric, also silk, is from Mendel Goldberg.

Evening Jacket for the Ages

3) the below-elbow length, kimono sleeves with their clever built-in gusset, and 4) the prominent, offset buttons:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

The top buttonhole is a slot-seam one, while the other two are bound buttonholes.

Less attractive to me was the fullness of the body of the jacket.

My muslin (toile) showed me that I needed to eliminate quite a bit of that fullness from the pattern pieces. I took 2 inches right out of the back of the jacket, making for much less to be gathered into the collar:

Even with two inches removed from the center back seam, there is still enough to gather nicely into the collar.

Even with two inches removed from the center back seam, there is still enough to gather nicely into the collar.

I also took a large wedge out of the each side of the back:

The dark blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line. the original seam line is marked in red.

The dark blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line. The original seam line is marked in red.

Then to add a little more shaping, I re-drew the side seams in the side underarm sections:

Again, the blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line.

Again, the blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line.

Because the buttons are such a prominent feature of the jacket, I knew I had to find the right ones. The pattern called for them to be 1¼” in diameter. That is a big button! I also knew they had to be a bit fancy or elegant, and I envisioned mother-of-pearl as the ideal composition. It took a while, but I found these buttons on eBay, and they looked just about perfect to me: right size, beautifully carved mother-of- pearl with a swirl design which I thought would add just the right contrast to the silk taffeta of the jacket. As it turned out, they were also the right price (always a welcome surprise!), and more beautiful when they arrived than I had anticipated:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

These buttons have a substantial heft to them, making them well suited for their application on this jacket.

After getting the body of the jacket together, I tried it on to look at the length of it. Fortunately I had cut my pattern with about an extra half-inch in the length, and I used it, plus another ¼ of an inch, as it just looked better a little longer.

Another plus to lengthening the jacket is that the sleeve length lined up more attractively, something I didn't realize until I saw these photos!

Another plus to lengthening the jacket is that the sleeve length lined up more attractively, something I didn’t realize until I saw these photos.

I did my usual flat applied piping along the edge of the lining:

Here is the piping sewn in place.

Here is the piping sewn in place.

The green piping picks up the green in the dress. I opted for an off-white lining, which is a little boring but that's okay!

The green piping picks up the green in the dress. I opted for an off-white lining, which is a little boring but that’s okay.

And I added the label I had:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

Evening Jacket for the Ages

Evening Jacket for the Ages

A few wrinkles left over from the jacket’s first wearing!

Evening Jacket for the Ages

Evening Jacket for the Agea

Evening Jacket for the Ages

I have to say, I really love this evening jacket. I have decided it is going to have another life – with another dress, this one constructed with the double, slanted flounce on it (see pattern above).  It would look fairly fabulous with a black and goldenrod printed silk – or navy, white and goldenrod printed silk…   I’ll be on the search.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, piping, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Those Sneaky Pattern Instructions!

Is anyone else out there in Sewing Land regularly deceived by the conciseness and orderliness of pattern instructions? They look so innocent all neatly delineated on those folded sheets that fit into pattern envelopes. But lying beneath the surface are hours and hours of precise pinning, basting, stitching, and, at times, head-scratching and seam ripping!

The construction of an entire coat or jacket can fit on one side of one sheet of instructions! That which is illustrated and described on this sheet of paper, measuring approximately 19” x 15,” can take hours, days, and even weeks to plow through!

Those sneaky pattern instrucitions

As one who likes step-by-step, clearly delineated and enumerated guidelines, I relish looking at pattern instructions and innocently thinking about how straightforward and “simple” this is all going to be. And I am regularly fooled. A good example of this is my current project, a silk jacket to pair with my recently completed dress.

These small sketches included on the instruction sheets of many vintage Vogue patterns are so helpful in the visual information they provide.

These small sketches included on the instruction sheets of many vintage Vogue patterns are so helpful in the visual information they provide.

I got a good preview of the construction idiosyncrasies when I made my muslin (toile). The pattern piece for the kimono “sleeve back” struck me as unusual.

Here is that sleeve piece in the fashion fabric, with silk organza underlining basted to it.

Here is that sleeve piece in the fashion fabric, with silk organza underlining basted to it.

After reading the instructions, it still did not make sense, until I actually put the sleeve together. That little pointed end works as an underarm gusset, which is quite clever, and as it turns out, I believe it will be very flattering. Putting this part of the jacket together is delineated in steps 6 – 12:

Step 9 deals with this particular pattern piece.

Step 9 deals with this particular pattern piece.

Here is one-half of the jacket as I have it completed at this writing:

Those sneaky pattern instrucitions

It took at least 4 – 5 hours to complete just this part of the jacket, and I still have the other half to do! Granted, I regularly add effort and time onto this type of construction as I catch-stitch all the seams to the silk organza underlining. For this jacket, with all its curved seams, slashed darts, and tight corners, I am not sure it would turn out successfully without the control that catch-stitching those raw seams provides. So – it is time well spent.

But still – how can those “easy to follow guides” be so sneaky?

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Filed under couture construction, Dressmaker coats, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Silk taffeta

The Silky, Shimmery Colors of Spring

Just as with the elusive answer to “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?,” those of us who sew can try to answer “Which comes first, the fabric or the pattern?” The answer, at least as I see it, is “It depends.” And sometimes, even, it is a little of both.

When I saw this fabric on the website of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics last Fall, I really did not stop to think about a pattern. It was a “bolt end,” 1 3/8 yards of 58” wide Italian silk. With that width, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the length being under 1 and ½ yards. I just ordered it as soon as I could.

The colors of Spring

Upon arrival, the fabric was even prettier in person, shimmery with “polka dots” woven in, fluid as only silk can be, and the picture of Spring. At that point, I was up to my ears with my Winter sewing, so I thought about it only casually until just a few weeks ago. I already had this pattern in my collection, and in the back of my mind, I had paired that fabric with the dress in View B on the right.

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

One interesting thing about vintage patterns is the yardage requirements are often given for widths that are narrower than many modern fabrics are produced in. For that reason, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much fabric is needed for a particular design. I’m getting better at sensing what I need, so I just assumed that I would have enough fabric to make that dress.   I had my heart set on it, actually. So much so, that when Britex Fabrics announced an upcoming sale of silk fabrics, I sent off for swatches for coordinating silk for the short jacket (in view A) and lining for the dress.

The green is a lightweight silk/cotton blend. The goldenrod yellow is silk taffeta from Italy, without the stiffness that taffeta so often has.

The green is a lightweight silk/cotton blend. The goldenrod yellow is silk taffeta from Italy, without the stiffness that taffeta so often has.

Dutifully ordered, the fabric arrived from California, and it, too, was even prettier in person! I was in love, and really could not wait to get started, first on the dress, and then on the jacket.

DSC_0036

The green for the lining . . .

The colors of Spring

… and the yellow for the short jacket in View A.

Then reality hit. When I took out the pattern pieces, here is what I found for that unusual flounced skirt:

This skirt piece uses almost a yard in length, and the diagonal shaping on it uses more fabric than normal.

This skirt piece uses almost a yard in length, and the diagonal shaping on it uses more fabric than normal.

My heart sank as I knew immediately I did not have enough fabric. There was going to be no Rumplestiltskin to help me with this one.   I went back to my pattern collection and pulled out two more possibilities.

I love this dress, but I thought it might be too tailored for the fabric. Also, the seaming detail would be lost entirely with the busy design of the silk.

I love this dress, but I thought it might be too tailored for the fabric. Also, the seaming detail which adds so much to this dress would be lost entirely with the busy design of the silk.

I felt like Goldilocks evaluating this pattern for my fabric. Just not right...

I felt like Goldilocks evaluating this pattern for my fabric. Just not right…

With both these dresses I would have to rethink the jacket, as the styles would not compliment each other. I stewed over this, re-measured, re-thought, and left it all in a heap in my sewing room. There was something about that shimmery silk that kept telling me that a dress made from it needed to have some movement to it –  like the flounced half-skirt pictured in the pattern. And then it hit me. If I made the front part of the skirt the same as the back, I could probably just squeak it out.

I did a quick diagram to consider this option.

I did a quick diagram to consider this option.

My completed muslin verified this for me, and, not only that, I loved the look, at least done up in muslin. Once again, using the couture technique of laying out and cutting each pattern piece individually enabled me to manipulate the pieces to make the most of the fabric I had available to me. Fortunately, there was no matching to be done, although there is a specific up and down to the design.

Now this is what is called making the most of one's available fabric!

Now this is what is called making the most of one’s available fabric! This shows my silk organza underlining pieces in place, ready to cut.

As far as the jacket – losing the diagonally shaped flounces on the skirt, makes the effect of the jacket not quite as dramatic, but I think it will still be very flattering – and appropriate. (The jacket has a million pieces to it, so it will be quite the project…!)

Well, I can’t leave this post without sharing another color of Spring, although this one is not silk and not shimmery. Pink cotton gingham is the picture of Spring, especially in a little dress for a little girl! When I made a crib quilt for my younger granddaughter, Carolina, I backed it in pink gingham, appropriately called “Carolina Pink.” I ordered enough so that I would be able to make her a dress for her first birthday (earlier in April) and here it is:

The colors of Spring

The colors of Spring

The bodice is lined in soft white cotton, which makes a lovely finish.

The bodice is lined in soft white cotton, which makes a lovely finish.

In my tins of buttons, I found these little ceramic ones, purchased years ago when Carolina’s mommy was my little girl. (Well, she is still my little girl, but you know what I mean.) How appropriate to use them for one of her daughter’s dresses.

The colors of Spring

These buttons, with their delicate cross-hatch design, were just waiting for this dress.

And with this dress –  the fabric absolutely came first!

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Formal or fancy dresses, Heirloom sewing for children, Mid-Century style, Sewing for children, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

The Allure of Silk: Sewing with Susan Khalje, Part 2

Whoever knew there could be so many valuable tips to be learned about sewing with taffeta?   The second “part” of my dress, which I began under the tutelage of Susan Khalje in early June, was simple compared with the embroidered silk organza overlaid bodice. However, it proved to be an excellent opportunity to learn about some of the peculiarities inherent in silk taffeta.

The skirt pattern for which I had made a muslin (toile) in preparation for class was actually a full circle with 4 seams. I wasn’t so sure I wanted anything quite so full, and as I only had 3½ yards of 35” wide taffeta, I also wasn’t so sure I had enough fabric to make such a skirt. But what really put the kibosh to those plans was Susan’s observation that silk taffeta does not perform well with seams cut on the straight of grain (seams sewn thus, apparently do not lie flat and drape well.) She suggested a three-part skirt, with one panel centered on the front, and the other two joined to the sides of that front panel and then seamed together up the back. All cut edges would be on the bias, with the straight of grain being down the center of each panel. So we took one prepared muslin piece and made these changes to it:

This is one of the original 4 panels.  We redrew the side seams, adding enough to the waist to compensate for reducing the skirt to three panels, and by doing that, also reduced the width at the bottom of the panel.

This is one of the original 4 panels. We redrew the side seams, adding enough to the waist to compensate for reducing the skirt to three panels, and by doing that, also reduced the width at the bottom of the panel.

Here is a close-up, with the new straight of grain going up the middle rather than down the side.

Here is a close-up, with the new side seam lines and straight of grain going up the middle rather than down the side. Both are marked in black.

Once I had my new pattern piece, cutting it out was easy and took every inch of the sapphire blue taffeta I had brought with me. Here is what it looked like when the seams were stitched:

All the basting lines are still visible.

All the basting lines are still visible.

The next surprise I had was about the silk organza underlining. I am so used to catch-stitching seams to organza underlining in couture sewing. But with taffeta, it’s better not to do so. With the impressionable finish of taffeta, such catch-stitching could “shadow” on the front of the garment. So I left the seams unsecured on the wrong side:

Blue taffeta skirt

Ironing those seams also took special attention. Susan had me iron them over a seamroll, taking care to “spread” the seam so that the tight stitching actually would show in front of the point of the iron. This was to get a crisp seam. Once ironed, taffeta does not respond well to changes in your intent (like some people we all know), so it has to be done correctly the first time.

Because the center back zipper would be applied onto the bias, Susan had me use a little fusible interfacing to reinforce that seam. Luckily, Becky, a classmate, had a bag of all kinds of high quality fusible interfacings with her! (Thanks, Becky!)

The interfacing was sandwiched between the fashion fabric and the underlining.

The interfacing was sandwiched between the fashion fabric and the underlining.

I certainly did not get to the hem of the skirt before I left for home, but Susan gave me tips on how to sew that wide and curved expanse. I cut a 2½” strip of silk organza to use as a hem facing. I turned it up with a very narrow strip of blue taffeta exposed on the wrong side. Then I used a very short straight stitch to secure the organza facing to the organza underlining:

Blue taffeta skirt

I haven’t pressed the hem yet, but Susan has instructed me not to press the edge of the hem flat. It should have a little softness to it, which is the French way! I’m all for that.

The hemmed skirt

The hemmed skirt

The lining, which will be the full expanse of the skirt itself, will be out of silk crepe de chine and will hang loose.

In the past, I have always thought of taffeta as kind of stiff and a little too structured for my taste, but now I am a fan. I like the slight rustle to it, and when constructed properly, it drapes and moves beautifully. The secret is to work with very fine quality silk taffeta – and know the tricks! Thanks, Susan!

 

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Filed under couture construction, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized