Category Archives: silk

Red Letter Day-Dress

Red Letter Day:  “A day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.”  (Cambridge Languages)

Day Dress: “The perfect all-in-one outfit, a day dress is a versatile and fashionable way to look chic and stay comfortable at the same time.”  

Any day I finish a lengthy project (successfully) is definitely a “red letter day.”  This dress just happens to be red, adorned with letters, and “back in the day,” as they say, it would have been considered a “day-dress,” although the apt description above is actually from a current website. (DavidJones.com)  

I found this silk at Britex Fabrics in San francisco.
I used this blouse pattern from 1957 as the basis for the dress, opting for long sleeves and the lower bow. I did not have enough buttons to make French cuffs, so I did plain cuffs.

I go into a little bit of how this dress evolved in my last post.  But of course there were many more decisions to be made along the way.  I had to decide: 

  • Do I underline this crepe de chine? 
  • If I underline it, what do I use for my underlining fabric?
  • Do I also line this dress?
  • If I line it, do I also line the sleeves?
  • The blouse pattern has floating, released darts at the waist.  Do I use that technique for this pattern transformed into a dress?
  • What color and type of buttons will most enhance the fabric?
  • Do I make bound buttonholes or machine-stitched ones?

So, let’s start at the beginning.  Because this was a very soft, fluid, lightweight crepe de chine, I thought it best to underline it.  My normal go-to for underlining – silk organza – would have reduced the fluidity of the silk, so I ruled that out.  Cotton batiste just did not seem the way to go.  When I found a silk batiste on the website for Farmhouse Fabrics, I knew I had my solution.

I believe you can, in this photo, see how lightweight and lovely this silk batiste is.

However, even with the ethereal nature of the silk batiste, I decided not to underline (or line) the sleeves.  I wanted them to retain their uninhibited flow.

I clipped the armscye seam carefully and pressed it to the interior of the dress. Then I fell-stitched the lining to the interior edge.

Once I had the underlining basted to the fashion fabric, I weighed whether or not to line the body of the dress.  I went with my gut feeling about this and decided to line it with a soft and lightweight red silk crepe de chine – almost a perfect match in color, as is evident in the above picture – which I purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.  

In doing so, I eliminated the front and neck facings which were replaced with the solid red lining. 

I eliminated the facings and used the red crepe de chine lining fabric to finish the interior of the body of the dress. Here is the right front edge.

I had worked out the floating dart question in my muslin/toile and decided to use them for the dress.  This left above the waist “blousy” and made it more fitted below the waist.  

This shows the released darts on the back of the dress.
Here is a side released dart on the front of the dress.
The released dart on one side of the dress front.

Buttons are always one of my favorite parts of a project.  I simply love looking for buttons – and I really love finding the perfect ones.  In this case, I knew I needed a large quantity – at least 10, depending on the size I found.  I did not think red buttons would do anything to enhance the dress, and I thought white pearl buttons would be too much of a contrast.  But then I found these buttons on eBay:

They are probably from the 1940s, cut glass, made in Czechoslovakia.  The card held 12 buttons, a good quantity for my purpose.  I think of these buttons as “small, but mighty.”  They provide the right contrast, and the faceted surface picks up the shimmer from the slight jacquard weave in the fabric.  I think they are perfect!

I used ten buttons for the front of the dress. These buttons are small so I was able to space them closely together to get the effect I wanted. I always know I have found the right buttons when they look like they “belong” – they do not steal the show nor are they too weak.
The right top neck edge, with a snap to keep things tidy under the tied bow.
The lone button on the sleeve, showing a bit of shimmer to match the shimmer in the fashion fabric.
The importance of the buttons shows off well in this photo, I think.

And finally, bound or machine-made buttonholes?  I did a sample of each.  I have recently started using my automatic buttonholer for my 1951 Singer Featherweight, and I must say, it is an engineering marvel.  It makes such amazing, precise buttonholes.  And although I do love bound buttonholes, I decided in this instance I would be happier with machine-made ones.  

I haven’t even mentioned the belt! I wanted a self belt, so I knew I would have to make it myself. I found a belt-making kit from the 1960s on eBay and used it for the buckle and the belt canvas.

So that about sums it up.  I had just barely enough fabric to eke out this dress (which seems to be a theme with me!), so I think it was meant to be.  Here’s to Red Letter Days – and the dresses which make them happy.  

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Bows as design feature, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Linings, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Fabric Story

Several years ago I found this fabric on the website of Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.  As I have always been intrigued with “alphabet” prints, and I love red, making this purchase was an easy decision.  

At first glance, it appears to be just that – an alphabet print.  But if you look closely, you start to realize that the letters represented are not all the alphabet.  In fact, only 7 letters of the alphabet are represented.  They are indeed only the letters in the surname of the manufacturer, Marcel Guillemin et Cie.  The manufacturer’s name is in the selvedge.  

I decided to buy two yards, thinking I would one day make a blouse.  A couple of years went by and I had occasion to visit Britex while on one of my trips to California.  By this time I had started making Classic French Jackets, and I was always on the lookout for potential lining fabrics for a future jacket.  To my great surprise, the bolt of this exact fabric was on the silk table, which gave me the opportunity to purchase another yard “just in case.”  (I’m not sure why I didn’t buy another two yards.)  This one-yard length joined its sibling in my fabric closet.  I thought about it a lot, and often got it out to admire it, still not committing to its actual use, however.  

Fast forward several years – to 2020, to be exact.  A plan started to form in my mind for this fabric.  And it all had to do with this blouse pattern from 1957.  I envisioned this blouse made into a dress, and that was that.  Decision made!

I used View B for a blouse several years ago, and have always loved it. Why not a dress?

Sitting in my sewing queue over the summer, this fabric kept talking to me.  Although at one time, most fabric manufacturers proudly included their name on the selvedge (and even sometimes provided labels), it is somewhat rare to find this selvedge notation now.  So, I wanted to know “Who is Marcel Guillemin?”  

I was able to find a little bit of information online, but only enough to raise more questions.  The most valuable information came from my personal “library” of fashion/fashion history books, which not only provide me with inspiration but also background information.  Although I still have many blanks to fill in, this is what I discovered – and what a surprise it has been!  

  1. Marcel Guillemin et Cie was a “wholesaler established in Paris in 1930; manufactured silk and synthetic fabrics; still active today.”  I found this entry in Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, by Lesley Ellis Miller, V&A Publishing, London, 2007. 
  2.  The company provided “ribbons, silk and velvet” for Balenciaga (ibid) and silks for Christian Dior.  Each couturier had a list of textile purveyors whom they used for their creations, and it was exciting for me to find Marcel Guillemin among the listed.  Anyone who knows of the post-World War II efforts to revitalize the devastated fashion industry can appreciate what Guillemin and other textile concerns faced at that time. “The French luxury textile industry was a fragile one throughout the postwar period.  To assist manufacturers, the French government gave a subsidy to couture houses if they used 90 percent French textiles in a collection.”  Christian Dior: History and Modernity 1947-1957, by Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2018., p. 69.
This well-known dress from the House of Christian Dior, 1947, was made in silk from Marcel Guillemin et Cie. (Ibid., p. 107)

3. The company also produced silk scarves. A number of silk scarves which I have found pictured online appear to be from the early years of the company.  But it also appears that Guillemin became known for its scarves at least through the 1960s.  

This advertisement from the 1950s with an illustration by Rene Gruau features “Les Echarpes de Marcel Guillemin”

A few vintage scarves with the Guillemin name printed on them are currently available for sale in various online shops and sites.  This one appeared in an Etsy shop a few weeks ago, and I was quick to purchase it. 

 The seller listed it as “probably 1980s,” but I believe it to be from the 1960s when Marcel Guillemin et Cie produced a number of scarves in bold geometric designs.  This one is quintessentially 1960s’ “flower power.”  And the silk is lustrous, of the best quality.  

When I found this scarf, I knew it would be perfect to pair with my recently completed linen dress.

The fabrics we use in our sewing is of such importance to a successful outcome.  I have treasured this opportunity to learn more about this fabric and the storied history of Marcel Guillemin et Cie. 

Of course, every story benefits from a happy ending.  I have still to finish writing – or should I say, sewing – the ending, but with any luck, it will be the successful completion of my red silk dress.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, silk, Uncategorized, 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

Dreaming in Color

Way back in January of this year – which seems like a lifetime ago now – making plans for my 2020 sewing was an exciting exercise.  I was eagerly looking forward to some upcoming events, including one in early May which was going to require at least two new dresses.  One of these dresses would be worn to a “fancy” evening.  In this casual world, what dressmaker does not relish the idea of making a dressy frock?  It was definitely going to be a fun trip and a varied multi-day event.

C         A        N        C        E        L        L        E       D

Needless to say, that trip and all its events were cancelled.  Other special occasions were also cancelled, along with many that were not so special.  I looked anew at my sewing plans.  I shifted some things around, eliminated others.  But I kept going back to the thought of that dressy dress.  The fabric was so cheerful, the colors so bright I could not abandon the idea of making it, even without an occasion for its wearing. So in early May I decided to go ahead with my original plans, albeit without a deadline.

I had purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City several years ago.  It reminded me of fabric which one might see in a design by Christian Dior, due to its “Impressionistic” appearance.

The subtitle for this informative book is The Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior.

When I unfolded the fabric to give it a press, I saw it was actually a Pierre Cardin design.  It struck me as somewhat unusual for Cardin, so of course I wanted to know if there had ever been any connection between the two couturiers or their fashion houses.  I went to my St. James Fashion Encyclopedia.  Well, yes, as a matter of fact there was:  “From his earliest work for the House of Dior up to the 1950s [my italics],Cardin displays an interest in the sculptural qualities of cut and construction that are still his trademarks in the 1990s.” (p. 87, The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan, c1997.)

It may be a bit of a stretch to suppose this fabric does indeed have a Dior connection, but still, I wonder.  Could Cardin – now at his advanced age of 97 – and his fashion house still be influenced by those early days with Dior?  Of Dior’s style direction in the early 1950s, Christian Dior himself wrote ”…Colors were inspired by the pictures of the Impressionists and evoked the fields of flowers dear to Renoir and Van Gogh.”  (p. 5, Dior Impressions, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2013.)  It is fascinating to ponder.

Now back to topic:  I started my dress.  I got the silk organza underlining marked and cut, I cut out the fashion fabric, I basted the two layers together, ready to start the actual construction.  Then I had a bad day.  It had nothing to do with my progress or the process, which was going along fine.  I just had this dismal feeling this was all for naught.  Why would I need such a lovely silk dress?  Where would I wear it?  Were all these hours I was spending in my sewing room just a waste of time? What purpose do all these pretty clothes serve without any social gatherings and occasions to which to wear them?  I think it is fair to say I was having a serious existential sewing crisis.  It was dispiriting and discouraging to say the least.  It made me question my otherwise passionate commitment to couture sewing.

That night I had a dream – in vivid color.  I saw myself in a fancy restaurant which was bustling with people – and I was wearing the very dress I had started – now completed and quite notable in its floral print of bright greens, and pinks and reds and purple.   I was seated at a table with three friends and we were lunching. (Not sure this dress is quite the thing I would wear to a midday lunch, but that’s dreams for you.)   The four of us were having the best time. We were laughing and totally engaged in our conversation and in our friendship. It was lovely and it was memorable.

And there was not a facemask in sight.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, Formal or fancy dresses, Love of sewing, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized

Wearing Dots

From this …


To this…


How did that happen?

After my purchase of that pattern a couple of years ago, I definitely had second thoughts.  While I loved it when it was first available back in the 1970s – and at that time I was of the age when I probably could have actually worn it – I immediately realized it would not be appropriate for a 60-something-year-old! I tucked it away in my pattern file where I knew I would come across it occasionally and indulge a long-ago dream.  Little did I know it would play a major roll in the realization of this polka-dotted dress.

It took almost eight years for me to come up with a plan for this polka dot silk fabric.  I kept envisioning a waisted, sleeveless dress with a “flowy” skirt, but I could not find a pattern I liked, either vintage or new.  I wanted to avoid darts as much as possible (that’s a story in itself for someday), which meant I needed a princess style bodice.  Many princess line bodices have side seams, but I wanted one without side seams, and with princess line seaming on the bodice back as well.  Pondering all this, I again came across my Belinda Bellville pattern above and thought maybe it would work, with a few changes. But then I noticed that the bodice was supposed to be cut on the bias. 

This pattern detailing from the instruction sheet shows the thee bodice pieces at the top of the picture. The bias is clearly marked.

After not having any success in finding any other suitable pattern, I gave it another look.  Why not cut it on the straight of goods?  It was at least worth a try in muslin, so that’s what I did.  The changes I made to it included; 1) lowering the bust line, 2) eliminating the short-waisted front of the dress and restoring it to waist level, 3) placing the front center part of the bodice on the fold, eliminating the center seam, 4) lowering the neckline just a little, 5) making the waist larger, and 6) adding some ease across the back and shoulders.  With all those changes, I had a bodice I really liked.

But then I needed to make a skirt to complement the bodice.  When I looked at the skirt pattern, I knew I needed to divide it in thirds (for one half of the width of the skirt) and match the seam lines to the seams in the bodice.  Here is what I came up with:

On the left is the one-piece tissue pattern for the skirt. Using the dart lines on that pattern helped me determine the angles I needed for my skirt.

It was about this time I got the idea to make this dress in a longer skirt rather than knee-length, which is where I usually wear my dresses.  The only question I had was – did I have enough fabric to do this?  My silk was 45” wide, and I only had two yards.  I spent at least an hour laying out and eyeballing my muslin pieces on the silk, on the floor, just to see if I could possibly accomplish this task.  I found one combination that would allow this, and took a photo so I could remember how to do it!

It literally took an entire week to work out the pattern and perfect the muslin, but then the sewing began!

As soon as I completed the construction of the bodice, including its silk organza underlining, its catch-stitched raw seam edges, with the seam allowances around the neckline and armholes appropriately tacked in place, I knew I had a bodice which was just what I had envisioned.

Somehow the skirt seams all matched up perfectly with the bodice seams and the center front inverted box pleat, which I added, looked wonderful, I thought.  I made the lining out of navy blue crepe de chine, purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

When it came to under-stitching the neckline and armholes, I decided to do it in white.  It mimics the white polka dots in the fashion fabric and also was much easier to see while doing all that handwork.

Instead of a box pleat in the lining, I did two side pleats to reduce bulk in that critical tummy region!

Fortunately, for the belt, I had silk taffeta left over from two previous projects, which turned out to be a perfect match.  I did not want the belt to take away visually from the rest of the dress, so I made it a modest 1.5 inches wide.  I think it is enough to complete the look, but not overpower it. And OF COURSE I wanted to finish it off with a tailored bow.  (I am planning a post on making this tailored bow belt, so I will not go into the details of it right now.)

 

An oyster-colored clutch helps to complete the look.

This is a very comfortable dress to wear!

No attempt was made to match any dots, as the pattern was completely random. This is the hand-picked zipper. I love the fact that the navy thread shows up on the white and coral dots.

And should I need a dress coat, this one matches the belt!

While this dress was firmly in my queue for summer sewing, at the time I did my planning I was not making it for any special occasion.  However, as good fortune would have it, two unforeseen occasions are now approaching in late summer for which this dress will be perfect.  I am definitely looking forward to wearing these dots!

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Linings, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, sewing in silk, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

A Rosy Sewing Year

It seems that every new sewing year – at least for me – does not start right on time, as I am always finishing up a project from the month of December. Such is the case in this early January of 2018. However, that does not keep me from planning and dreaming about the coats and jackets, dresses and blouses to come. I can’t help but think of the new year at hand as a “rosy sewing year,” because the fabrics that are in my queue right now share a common theme – so many are predominantly red or pink or peach or floral, a bouquet of colors and textures.

First up is this red and black “hounds tooth” boucle which I found at Mendel Goldberg. Yes, it will be a Classic French jacket, with a sheath dress to match.

I am planning some variations in detail and trim for this jacket and dress, about which I am excited. It is a big project, so I hope January gives me lots of sewing time! No doubt this will spill over into February…

As I mentioned in one of my December posts, I hope to make a coat from this vintage purple boucle I am so fortunate to own.

A few years ago I found this silk charmeuse (also at Mendel Goldberg) which I intend to use for a coordinating dress with the coat.

Other silks I would love to concentrate on this year are purchases made several years ago from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco:

This is a French crepe de chine.

This silk helps satisfy my penchant for polka dots.

Then there are two linens I never got to in 2017, one a geometric red and the other a ecru and black floral. I assume they are waiting patiently for me. Add to all this my determination to sew for my two little granddaughters and – there’s the year! (And can I possibly finish another classic French jacket next Fall?  We will see.)

But let me complete 2017 first. Whatever made me think I should start (and could possibly finish) another dress for myself in December I will never know. But that’s exactly what went through my head. I had plans to make taffeta “Cinderella” dresses for my granddaughters for Christmas presents, but thought I would sneak in some personal sewing time before I started on that project. Perhaps it was the pattern that made me do it? Or was it the fabric?

When I purchased this pattern at the end of last summer, I really had no idea when I would be using it; I just did not want to miss the opportunity to own it, knowing that I would surely use it someday. Little did I know that someday would be just a couple of months later.

Now it just so happened that I had draped this fabric, below, over my dress form so I could admire it while I worked on other things. I purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg fabrics in 2016 as an end cut, three yards in length.

I knew with three yards I would be able to use a dress pattern which called for more than normal yardage, and I had found a pattern in my collection which I thought I would use:

My idea was to lengthen the sleeves to three-quarter length.

But something just did not seem right. I could not get excited about that pattern in that fabric, even with three-quarter sleeves. Well, I had one of those proverbial light bulb moments when it occurred to me to use the Guy Larouche pattern for the champagne-colored, floral silk. It seems to be a perfect match. The bodice of the pattern is cut on the diagonal, and the meandering flower and vine motif in the fabric lends itself to both straight of grain and diagonal placement. I made my muslin (with quite a few alterations) and was really quite excited about the draped back, shown here in muslin:

And here is the front, minus one sleeve. The front neckline is a bit unusual and I think it will be flattering.

I got as far as transferring the markings onto the silk organza underlining, cutting out the fashion fabric, and basting the two layers together, all ready to start sewing. Then reality hit like a sledgehammer! I had to get those dresses for my granddaughters finished in time for Christmas (which I did, after some frantic sewing – and they love them, which made it all worthwhile!)

Just in case anyone would like to see these dresses, here they are. Big bows in back, and the sleeves are adorned with little bows. Very girly!

So that’s how I am now at this point, finishing up 2017, with the hope of starting the new sewing year one of these days – with my Guy Laroche dress perched in my closet, awaiting its debut. May the New Year be rosy and kind to all of us, and may it end with many sewing dreams fulfilled!

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Linen, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, Sewing for children, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

C is for Couture . . .

. . . And Courage. I guess “C” could also be for Craftsy, come to think of it. Although I thought I would be writing only one post solely devoted to my guipure lace skirt (when finished!), I really feel the need to address my progress and the Craftsy course which is leading the way for me.

When, just a few months ago, Craftsy announced a new class by Susan Khalje, The Couture Lace Skirt, presented by Threads Magazine where Susan is a Contributing Editor, I jumped at it. Susan has not only written about these skirts in Threads Magazine (November 2014, number 175), she has also developed her own skirt pattern – with one view expressly intended for a guipure lace skirt – and, of course, she teaches the construction of these skirts in her own classes, too. Now with this class on Craftsy, there is ample reason to feel confident in plunging ahead with the construction of one of these elegant skirts.

View C is the version intended for use with Guipure lace. Although this looks like a simple straight skirt, there are subtle details which make it a step above ordinary. For example, the side seams are set slightly back from the front. There is slight fullness built in at the hip; not enough to be noticeable, but enough to make it more comfortable for wearing. This pattern is available on Susan’s website.

I knew I could not go wrong with this course, but it is even better than I imagined. To look at one of these skirts, one could never imagine the amount of work in something with such a simple silhouette. About halfway through the lessons, it dawned on me that there are quite a few similarities between making one of these skirts and making a classic French jacket. Both have very specific, and unusual, construction techniques. Both defy many of the normal sewing rules. Both have a tremendous amount of handwork involved. And both garments go through a really messy stage – almost chaotic! – before emerging in their final manifestation.

Here is one of the skirts illustrated in the Threads article from November 2014.

The course has ten parts, and although it is a couture sewing course, Susan’s directions can be implemented by someone with no couture construction experience. However, patience is a must. She walks you through the making and fitting of a toile, followed by preparation of the underlining and fashion fabric (the fabric which peeks through the lace, usually silk charmeuse), then the sewing of the side seams (only) and hem. I had never worked on a skirt where the back seam is not sewn until so far into the construction process, but such is necessary to provide a flat surface on which to shape and attach the lace overlay.

Another example of one of these skirts, from the Threads article.

This is where Courage comes in. Shaping the lace to lie properly on curves and darts requires a good amount of snipping and clipping and cutting of the lace! This is not for the faint of heart, but once you get into the process, it really is logical and even captivating. Besides, as Susan says, if you make a mistake, you can always patch!

A detail from my skirt, with the lace pinned and ready to attach.

This is also the part that looks somewhat chaotic, with great flaps of lace waiting to be tamed, and a crazy network of tiny stitches emerging on the underlining, but invisible on top.

One section of the underlining cotton showing the maze of stitching required to attach the lace to the top of the skirt. Leaving the basting stitches in helps to orient the lace properly.

I am about ready to insert the hand-picked zipper, which will be hidden when finished.

Ready for inserting the zipper. This is a good example of the flaps of lace which still need to be “tamed.”

What an interesting process this has been so far. Susan has so much sewing wisdom to impart, and she does it in such an engaging way, that it is like having your own personal couture teacher right by your side. If you have ever admired these skirts and thought about making one, you will find this course to be invaluable!  More on my skirt to follow in the next post on Fifty Dresses.

These opinions are my own. I purchased my subscription to the course on Craftsy and have no affiliation with the company.  

 

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Filed under couture construction, Lace, sewing classes, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings

A Three-Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part One, The Blouse

“Today blouses are not worn quite as much as they used to be and I think it is a pity.” So said Christian Dior in 1954. With that in mind, hopefully he would have approved of this Vogue blouse pattern from 1958:

You have already seen my toile of this blouse, where I worked out all the “kinks.” I liked it made up in muslin and now I am quite thrilled with it made up in silk dupioni, purchased from Britex Fabrics.

The iridescent quality of silk dupioni woven with two contrasting colors, such as this one, makes it an excellent fabric to use for “fancy” attire. The only reservation I had was whether it would be too stiff for use in a blouse. It is by nature rather “papery” in composition. I was a little concerned it might not have enough drapeability for this blouse, where a major focus is on the softly pleated sleeves. I did a little research, and of course, the first guideline I found was an admonishment not to wash dupioni! Doing so would diminish that papery nature. Well, that was exactly what I wanted to do – soften it a bit. Further research led me to an article in Threads Magazine from a few years back, where, indeed, a reader had successfully washed dupioni in her quest to make it suppler. Off to my washing machine I went with a large swatch for a (successful) trial run. Soon the entire two yards were gently swashing around in cold water on the delicate cycle. It took quite a bit of heavy steam to wrestle out the wrinkles, but I was left with a soft, drapeable fabric for my blouse.

Quite apparent in this image are the two contrasting threads, one fuchsia and the other bright yellow, which, woven together made a shimmery apricot color.

Buttons for a blouse such as this one are an important element. I knew they needed to be special, and what could be more special than vintage glass buttons from France? I found these listed in an Etsy store (YumYum Objects).

These glass buttons have silver accents, adding just a bit more depth to their appearance.

The listing was for a set of 6, and I needed 8 for this blouse. The French cuffs required two buttons each. These buttons were too perfect to pass up, however, so I decided I could use two buttons of another style for the rear-facing part of the cuff. I found a set of little, clear glass, ball buttons in my button box, which seemed appropriate and a good compromise!

The ball button on the back.

For some reason I always like to make sleeves first, so that is what I did. The French cuffs, by their very nature, of course, call for two buttonholes with two buttons looped together to thread through those openings, one on each side. However, I placed a buttonhole on the front part of the cuff only. I then sewed the two buttons together, back to back through the back part of the cuff, with the fancy button meant to thread through that single buttonhole and the other button to be stationary. I liked the idea that this method would hold the two sides of the cuff more tightly together.

The fancy glass button on the front.

This view shows the three pleats in the sleeve. In addition, there is a small amount of gathering which adds to the blouson effect of the lower sleeve.

Being a pattern from 1958, the instructions called for bound buttonholes, of course. However, due to the nature of the fabric, I decided machine buttonholes would make a nicer finish, so that is what I did (with a little hand-finishing on each one…)

The rest of the blouse was quite straightforward.

I took this picture with the sun streaming in one of my sewing room windows. It really shows the luminosity of the fabric.

I am so happy I decided to keep the released darts at the waistline. I think they will work beautifully with the skirt I have planned.

I gave my usual attention to hand-finishing the hem and facings (it just looks nicer!) and marveled again at the finesse added to this notched shawl collar by that small dart in the collar crease. Hopefully you can see this detail here:

That dart makes the collar turn beautifully.

Next up is a guipure lace skirt! I wonder what Christian Dior would have to say about that?

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Do You Do Pink?

Apparently, pink is a controversial color. Or maybe “was a controversial color” is a better statement. A recent article by Nancy MacDonnell in the Off Duty section of The Wall Street Journal (“Making Peace with Pink” February 11-12, 2017) makes a case for the appropriateness – and timeliness – of pink even for those who think they don’t like it. While I am one who thinks pink is always in fashion, it turns out that this Spring, it really is in fashion! According to Ms. MacDonnell, “On this season’s runways, pink predominated.” The different fashion houses showed varying interpretations of pink: Michael Kors was “brisk, All-American, [and] cheery.” J. Crew was “equally upbeat,” while Valentino showed pink that was “lush and romantic, with intricate appliqués and historical references…”   The list goes on and on. The unifying thread (pardon the pun), as claimed by the designers, was the lack of traditional “sweetness” associated with pink, with emphasis on the feminine power inherent in the color.

Looming large on page 58 from the November 2016 WSJ Magazine is a Valentino coat, quite traditional in design, but made very special by its stunning appliquéd pink wool.

According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the Museum Director at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, who was quoted frequently in Ms. MacDonnell’s article, the idea of pink as a feminine color did not take hold until the 1950s. Back in 1954 when Christian Dior wrote The Little Dictionary of Fashion, his entry on “pink” stated: “The sweetest of all the colors. Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe. It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”   He even used pink throughout his book for illustrations, chapter headings and the title page. He recommended pink “for blouses and scarves; … for a young girl’s frock; it can be charming for suits and coats; and it is wonderful for evening frocks.” Who can argue with that, be it 1954 or 2017?

The title page of Dior’s smart little dictionary. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY, NY, copyright 2007)

This page from the June/July 2013 issue of Town and Country Magazine gives an interesting timeline of the color pink, “how the color of little girls and baby dolls came of age”:

Click on the image to read it.

I particularly like this statement from Laura Vinroot Poole, the founder of boutique Capitol in Charlotte, N. C., quoted in The Wall Street Journal article: “To wear pink, you have to be an interesting and smart person… You have to have things to say. In pink, you can’t hide.”   Nor would you want to.

Personally, pink is my favorite color. I am always drawn to it, regardless of its hue. And its hue covers a huge range from palest pink to deepest fuchsia, from bubblegum pink to raspberry red. In thinking about pink for this post, I gathered this stack of pink fabrics from my collection. Just looking at it makes me happy!

From top to bottom:
1) vintage Moygashel linen, purchased on eBay
2) silk charmeuse, purchased from Britex Fabrics
3) vintage Moygashel linen, purchased by me in the 1970s
4) linen, possibly Moygashel, purchased on etsy
5) silk jacquard purchased from Britex Fabrics
6) silk charmeuse, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics
7 & 8) coordinating silks, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics

The only controversy I have with pink is deciding which hue of it I like best.

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Moygashel linen, silk, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

“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