Category Archives: The Conde Nast Publications

What Do You Think of Sewing Contests?

And – what do you know about them?  One of the more venerable sewing contests is the annual Make It With Wool.  Founded in 1947, it is still going strong and features winners in various categories/age groups.  Prizes for winners and runners’-up include scholarships, sewing machines and fabrics, and of course, national recognition in the field.  Pattern Review sponsors several sewing competitions throughout each year, in addition to a “sewing bee.”   Its followers are legion at this point, and it is always a coup to be a winner, selected by readers’ votes.

But what would you say if I told you that in 1956 the Singer Sewing Machine Company introduced a national sewing contest with prize money totaling $125,000?   The 1st Grand Prize carried the unbelievable reward of $25,000.  In current 2020 American dollars, that is almost $240,000!  Not only that, the 33 regional first prize winners also received a free trip to New York.  Take a look at the following two-page ad which appeared in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, announcing the second year of the competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vogue Pattern Book Magazine of August/September 1957 included this page “as we go to press…”

Vogue Pattern Company was rightly proud of their representation in this contest and in others.

And then here is the feature article on those winners in the following issue (October/November, 1957):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging was based on “fashion points of appearance, fit and selection of design, colour and fabric, plus construction points of quality and accuracy of cutting, sewing and finishing.”  Isn’t this what most of us strive to attain in our own sewing?

By the next year, 1958, the contest included a new category, called the Young Homemaker Division, for young women between the ages of 18 – 25.  $9,000 of prize money was awarded to the top four winners.  What beautiful dresses and ensembles they created!

I suspect these young women continued to sew throughout their lives.

Also that year, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored their own sewing contest.  The theme of the contest was “the ideal costume for a clubwoman’s wardrobe.”  Points of consideration in the judging were: “fashion-rightness,” “versatility and appropriateness for club occasions,” “becomingness to the wearer,” “over-all fashion effect,” and “workmanship.”  24 of the state finalists submitted entries consisting of a dress with its own jacket or coat.  That is still to this day a winning combination, classic and chic.

The prize money was certainly less impressive in this contest, at $250, $150 and $100 for the first-, second-, and third-place winners, but imagine the prestige of winning for “your” club, at a time when there were 1,485 clubs represented in the contest!

By 1963, Singer Sewing Company had started the Young Stylemaker Contest for girls aged 10 – 21.  The caption on the following article tells it all:

Included in the trip to Paris for the two winners was a tour of the famous Parisian couture houses.  Can you imagine having such an opportunity at that point in your life?

This contest had expanded its scope by 1965, ferrying fifteen finalists to Rome via a chartered jet for a 5-day stay before the final judging of the Stylemaker Contest.  Notes by the contestants included the charming observation “how very chic the Italian women are.”

By 1969, this contest had drawn more than 93,000 participants!  As part of their prize, the three winners each were given an all-expense paid, one-week trip for two to London, Paris or Rome.  The purpose of the Stylemaker Contest was to “encourage young and creative talents in Fashion sewing.”

By 1971, it appears that changes were in the air for the Stylemaker Contest.  Whittled down to two winning divisions, only the overall winner received a trip to London, Paris or Rome for two, although both final winners also received cash prizes of $800 and $600 respectively.  The “heyday” period of home fashion sewing was sadly beginning to draw to a close.

Needless to say, fashion sewing contests no longer command such notable and generous prize money or trips.  Those were heady times in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, likely never to be experienced again.  However, I would like to think a new sewing heyday is upon us – or perhaps we are it.  What place do contests have in our current global community of sewing?

I rarely enter sewing contests, not for any reason other than the fact that I have so many projects in my queue that the last thing I need to put my attention on is something that is not top priority for me.  But that doesn’t mean I will never enter a contest.  I actually think I probably should at some point. So – again, what do you think of them?   Sewing is creative, so obviously contests today still value and encourage creativity.  Surely emphasis is still placed on fashion appropriateness, workmanship, style, a flattering assessment, fabric and color selection. It is precisely these goals which make fashion sewing so exciting, at least for me, and I suspect for most of us.

Let’s learn a little from the past and make it new again.

 

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Filed under Fashion history, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Sewing Contests, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

Seeing Dots

Who doesn’t love a polka dotted motif?  The term “polka dot,” dating from 1880-85, is of American derivation, and of course it immediately conjures up a mental picture of a field of spots forming a pattern on a textile.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about Dots in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, first published in 1954:  “I would say the same about dots as about checks.  They are lovely, elegant, easy, and always in fashion.  I never get tired of dots…  Dots are lovely for holiday clothes … and for accessories.  According to their color, so they can be versatile…  Black and white for elegance; soft pinks and blues for prettiness; emerald, scarlet, and yellow for gaiety; beige and gray for dignity.”  (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior; Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 34.)

“Lovely, elegant, easy and always in fashion.”  That is quite an endorsement, and one with which I completely agree.  I also have to agree with these quotes, the first one  from Marc Jacobs: “There is never a wrong time for a polka dot,”  and this one from the American actress, Anna Kendrick, “You can’t have a bad day in polka dots.”

While images of polka-dotted dresses, blouses, ensembles, and sportswear are in abundant supply from many sources, it’s always inspiring to look at a few select examples, many from the 1950s.  The following two images were part of a feature in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  Although pictured in black and white the first example is described as “Tiny white polka dots on red crepe. A soft day-long dress.”

The next image is titled Gigantic Dots:  “Bold black dots on hot pink surah.  A dramatic sheathed bodice dress.”

Can you imagine how beautiful this dress was in hot pink with black dots?

The June/July 1957 VPB Magazine featured “the most romantic dress of the season – a pouf of black-and-white silk polka dots.”

Less than a year later, in the April/May 1958 VPB Magazine, an entire feature was on Polka Dots and Patent Leather:  “Exciting goings-on in polka dots: fresh new arrangements – at their most polished in black and white silk surah, spruced with gleaming black patent leather.”

Below is the dress of this description: “Dots blown up to impressive sizes – a look for relaxed but festive evenings.”

This two-piece dress could easily be worn today and look very current.

And here is the image for “Classic polka dots – square cut blouse [with] reverse-dot cummerbund:”

One of my favorite outfits from the show Mad Men was this white linen dress with a built-in silk polka dot sash. The two-color sash makes this dress a standout:

Image from The Fashion File; Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of MAD MEN, by Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel; Grand Central Life & Style, New York, New York, 2010, page 8.

This famous – and stunning – 1958 dress and coat ensemble by Arnold Scaasi, an American couturier, was featured prominently in the retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, September 25, 2010 – June 19, 2011:

Now this is an exhibit I wish I had seen.

And finally, this is a Carolina Herrera ad which I plucked out of some magazine a while ago. The ad is for the handbag, but the polka-dotted dress, with its bright red sash steals the show:

So why all my focus on polka dots?  They have been much on my mind lately, as I have finally begun the many-step process of making a couture dress, using this vibrant silk, purchased seven or eight years ago:

This is a crepe de chine which I purchased from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. Smaller irregular dots are woven into the design.

The background color is navy blue.

Now my hope is that one cannot have a bad sewing day when working with polka dots.

 

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, Day dresses, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

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!

 

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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

A Passel of Patterns

“Just when I thought I had seen it all…” That was my reaction when not one, not two, not three, but four “new-to-me” vintage Vogue patterns came up for sale in the span of just a couple of weeks. Although I am always on the lookout for any pattern which might expand my collection in a meaningful way, I am, nevertheless, quite particular when it comes to buying new ones. I only want to add patterns which I think I will use at some point, even if it is just one detail which I might combine with another pattern. But I admit to having certain proclivities which seem to guide (no, sabotage) my pattern collecting – such as coats. I am complete mush in the face of a beautiful coat pattern! Another weakness is cocktail dresses and ensembles, especially ones with little jackets. Oh, I do love a classy cocktail dress! So, is it any wonder, that when these four patterns came “on the market,” I put considerable effort into trying to make them mine? And I hope that, even if you would never see yourself using a vintage pattern, you might still find much to admire in these beauties.

If you follow me on Instagram (@fiftydresses), you have already had a sneak peek at the first pattern.

The description reads: “Slim dress has flange with front draping. Narrow shoulder straps. Short jacket with below elbow length kimono sleeves has crossed over fronts. Left shoulder scarf is joined to front shoulder.”

Lots of pattern pieces as you can see in the diagram.

The front draping and the left shoulder scarf, adding back interest, put this ensemble on a notch well above ordinary.

This Vogue Couturier Design by Ronald Paterson was next to come on the market, at which time I happened to be traveling. Of course, that did not discourage me from keeping at the important business at hand, i.e. pattern collecting.  I felt very fortunate to have the winning bid, tucked in between airline flights!

This coat is a perfect example of what is known as a “dressmaker coat.”

I was initially drawn to the blouse pattern, which has such a demure, ladylike feel to it, but, of course, the coat with its lovely collar and flattering seaming completely won me over.

The description reads: “Narrow, semi-fitted coat has curved seaming at back of waistline. Small, shaped collar; long sleeves, four fake welt pockets [I can live with that, or perhaps eliminate them…] Fly-front, tuck-in blouse has kimono sleeves in front, set-in at back. Trim-stitching on shaped neckline and sleeve bands. Slim skirt.”

The long darts in the coat sleeves are an unusual detail, and notice the four neck darts on both the coat and the blouse.  These vintage patterns give so much useful information on the backs of their envelopes.

No sooner had the last pattern appeared than another one from the same decade came to my attention. From the House of Dior, this classic dress and coat have some notable stylistic details, such as the Dior darts in the bodice of the dress and the shoulder line extensions on both the dress and the coat.

The description reads: “Sleeveless, semi-fitted dress has back shoulder line extension and high round neckline. Ribbon belt. Slender coat has padded [YES! Padded!] band edging at side closing, around neckline and on long sleeves.”

If I make the dress, I will be cutting in the shoulders by a few inches and probably slightly reshaping the neckline. Also, the ribbon belt looks a bit too wide, but that will take some more thought. I think the coat is gorgeous.

When the final “new-to-me” pattern came up for sale, I was still traveling! I was getting proficient at keeping up with multiple bids, but the auction for this one was ending when I was going to be landing at our home city, so I resolved myself to losing this one. How lovely when I found out a few hours later I had, indeed, had the winning bid.

I have found that vintage Guy Laroche patterns often have a bit of “drama” to them. Certainly that is the case with this dress with its draped back.   That detail and the perfectly placed, half-looped bow at the shoulder make this design a winner in my opinion.

This pattern is copyright 1960, making it the earliest of these four patterns.

The description reads: “Slim skirt in two lengths joins the bloused bodice at waistline. Loose draped back section below shaped neckline. Three quarter length fitted sleeves and sleeveless. “ I quite like the options available: long, short, three-quarter sleeves, sleeveless. This dress could be quite fancy or understated, depending on the fabric and how it is made.

Once these patterns started arriving in the mail, I was, happily, not disappointed.  However, since I’ve been home, I have been trying to tow the line on any more pattern purchases after my flurry of activity! I have, instead, been trying to concentrate on a flurry of sewing. It’s great, finally, to be back in the sewing room. Dare I say (without jinxing myself) that I am excited to show you – soon – what I am working on?

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Coats, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Dressmaker coats, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“To the Most Imaginative Woman in the World”

“You see her leafing through pattern books – picking out a collar here, a cuff there, a new way of pleating a skirt . . . You see her fingering a tiny swatch of fabric, Yet she’s seeing it as a whole dress, or a blouse, or a jacket . . . Who is she – this lady with the limitless imagination? She’s the woman who sews. YOU . . .”

Most imaginative woman - Burlington-2

This is just one of many ads placed by manufacturers of fabric in the April-May 1950 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. Ordinarily I would not have purchased this issue, as most Vogue patterns available before 1955 were not printed, and I rarely buy a vintage pattern which is not printed! My particular interest in these vintage magazines is the opportunity they provide to identify dates for patterns, fabrics and style trends, making the experience of sewing with vintage patterns (and fabrics) even more enjoyable.  However, when this issue was available in an Etsy store, I succumbed. I was born in May of 1950, and my curiosity just got the better of me.

I find the haughty expression on the cover model somewhat amusing.

An early haughty expression on a  model!

Looking at this issue made me realize how old I am… NO, NO, NO! Just kidding, I think. Actually, what really popped out at me was how exciting it must have been to be a home dressmaker at this point in time, with the home sewing business booming, post-war, and fine fashion – and the desire to look wonderful – such important aspects of a woman’s life.

And then, as I was leafing through the magazine, I found an unexpected surprise. Tucked in between two pages was Vogue Patterns April 15 Collection, an 8-page flyer, available at pattern counters and easily something that could be tossed away. I find it remarkable that this slim printed piece survived.

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-5

The format is larger than what I am used to seeing in later Vogue pattern flyers from the 1960s and 1970s.  When one looks at the fashions and patterns detailed, it is easy to imagine the woman who picked this up, looking at it again and again.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

Not only that, also tucked in with this flyer was this page from Harper’s Bazaar, March 1st, 1950.

Most imaginative woman - Harpers Bazaar

How many of you save pictures of dresses/blouses/coats you would like to copy? Pinterest, anyone? I certainly do!

Clearly she had in mind making the dress pictured on the back cover of the flyer:

"Consider them two by two - the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result." Timeless advice!

“Consider them two by two – the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result.” Timeless advice!

Some of my favorite pages in this, my “birthday” issue? I was delighted to find an ad for Moygashel linen, for which I have a particular passion:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-1

A lover of polka dots makes me partial to this gorgeous blouse:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-3

This blouse is very similar to one I made a few years ago.

And how can I resist this stunning “moulded sheath dress with a draped cascade”?

Most imaginative woman - cascade dress-4

I am so struck by the sophistication of the styling of the fashions and illustrations, the emphasis on Designer offerings, and the exciting abundance of piece goods being sold by manufacturer’s name to the home sewing population. Times and fashions change, but I believe we have much in common with these mid-century home dressmakers plotting their wardrobes with creativity and skill – pairing fabric and pattern. We are the women who sew – and are still the ones with the limitless imaginations!

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Filed under Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Pattern Art, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, Part II

One of the most intriguing aspects of couture dressmaking is that the techniques and the sewing procedures have really not changed much in over 60 years, perhaps even longer. There seem to be very few short cuts when it comes to MAKING a quality garment. (And, although sergers are handy and have their place, they are unnecessary – nay, unwelcome, even! – in the world of couture dressmaking.)          Thus we come to our second half of  The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G

M, of course, is for MUSLIN. Although many of my fellow dressmakers around the world refer to this as a toile, in the States we call our test garment a muslin, after the basic cotton fabric, purchased cheaply, which is used for its construction. Once I started taking classes with Susan Khalje, I learned the true value and versatility of this basic part of dressmaking. Subsequently, my muslins are written upon with abandon, torn apart, discarded when too many fitting issues are revealed, and regarded with a certain restraint, for what they can and cannot do. They CAN help you fit your pattern to your particular shape and needs. They CAN be a test run for the construction of your garment. They CAN suggest to you if the design you have chosen is right for you (although not always). They CAN’T mimic the flow and drape and weight of your fabric. So – as always – one needs to use her sewing brain to compensate for the lack of this important detail – and make a best guess as to how the finished garment will actually fit and look.

How many muslins does one dress need? Sometimes, several!

How many muslins does one dress need? Sometimes, several!

A is for ACCURACY. Accuracy in marking straight-of-grain, seams, notches, darts, buttonholes, buttons, center front and center back, fold lines, pleats, tucks, pockets, etc. etc., is absolutely paramount for a successful garment. This is often time-consuming and tedious work, isn’t it? But have you ever had to go back to your tissue pattern to see exactly where a notch or seam junction are? That’s also time-consuming.   I try to do it right the first time, but sometimes I miss. So – I am always striving to increase my accuracy when it comes to marking my fashion fabric.

Just for example, the most important ingredient in making successful bound buttonholes is precise marking.

Just for example, the most important ingredient in making successful bound buttonholes is precise marking.

K is for KEEP. When you have a workable muslin pattern which has been successfully made into a finished garment, and you have notes and diagrams, and suggestions written on it, KEEP it. You never know when you might want to use it again. I think I have kept all my muslins – in large plastic zip-lock bags for the most part – except for one. I could not wait to get the muslin for what I call my Ghost Dress out of my house! I will never make this pattern again! The moral of the story is, Keep the good, discard the bad…

I also like to keep extra buttons, and at least a little bit of extra fabric and trim (if appropriate) for each of the pieces I complete. One of these days, I’m going to put together a notebook of fabric swatches, so that I can keep a record of all these yard goods which have stolen my heart.

I is for INNER WORKINGS. The inside story of any couture dressmaking is a story of attention to details. Interfacings, inter-or-under-linings, linings, seam finishes, bar tacks, waist stays, boning, pad-stitching, even labels (and the list goes on and on) – give your garment a professional look. Skimp on this part of dressmaking and results will be compromised.

Here is just one page from the 1957 Vogue Dressmaking Book which shows some "inner workings."

Here is just one page from the 1957 Vogue Dressmaking Book which shows some “inner workings.”

N is for NEEDLES. Using the correct needles will go a long way in making your sewing experience a pleasant one. I have only recently started using real basting needles for attaching silk organza underlining to the fashion fabric – and what a difference it makes.

These are excellent basting needles!

These are excellent basting needles!

Of course, everyone knows the importance of changing your machine needles frequently. I even find that my hand sewing needles sometimes need to be “retired” if they start to show signs of losing their sharpness – or get a bend in their spines.

All in all, sewing needles are amazing things! The magic within them has been recognized by artists, poets, and, of course, by dressmakers, for centuries. Samuel Woodworth summed up their charms and inextricable human connection in this charming quote:

The bright little needle – the swift-flying needle, the needle directed by beauty and art.”

G is for GET ON WITH IT. Sometimes the most difficult part of dressmaking is getting started. Starting a new project – especially a complicated one, can be daunting, but the only way to get started is to . . . get on with it.

So, there we have it – the ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, a simplified synopsis of a very complicated and diverse undertaking. Dressmaking has it all for those of us who love to sew fine fashions – and find joy in the process.

 

 

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Filed under couture construction, Love of sewing, Quotes about sewing, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized

The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, Part I

Those of us who do fashion sewing sometimes have difficulty identifying what we do in a single descriptive word. A “sewer” (not those stinky things that go underground that happen to be spelled the same way) can be one who sews many different things, right? The term “sewist” is a somewhat new word, made up of sew + artist, which really doesn’t describe anything specific to my way of thinking. Most of us are not “designers” (and not all designers can sew), although most of us use some design techniques in our fashion sewing.   Some of us may be “sewing professionals,” a term which covers a broad range of endeavors, such as being a custom clothier, a sewing teacher, a writer about sewing, or even a retailer involved in the sewing industry. The term “seamstress” implies one who sews on a machine, as in a factory; although this person may be very talented in certain techniques, her job does not leave room for innovation or creativity. And that is why I like the term “dressmaker” so much. In one word it expresses many things explicit and implied. And although it is a term much used until the 1960s and not much since then, I consider myself a Dressmaker; maybe you do, too?

This wonderful Vogue book, copyright 1957, still used the term "Dressmaking" in its title.

This wonderful Vogue book, copyright 1957, still used the term “Dressmaking” in its title.

A dressmaker is one who makes custom clothing for women (oneself included.) She usually works from a commercial pattern, and then uses all her creative, design, and technical skills to create a one-of-a-kind dress, blouse, skirt, coat, etc. I have devised this ABCs of DRESSMAKING to define some of the important aspects and practices of dressmaking, especially in the couture sense.

D is for Design. This seems like it should be common sense, but it cannot be said too often that you should choose a design that is going to work for you. Unlike ready-to-wear that we get to try on, when we sew, we are working from patterns that we think will be flattering, but we really will not know until it is finished (a muslin takes some of the guesswork out of this, but not entirely.) Most of us have our own personal style that we know is flattering to us. Even if you want to diverge a bit from it (which is fine), it’s probably best not to go too far afield. Also, beware of trends that may not be flattering. (An example of this from a couple of years back is the revival of the peplum, a look that not too many of us can wear very successfully.)  When it comes to Design, choose one that is “smart for [many] seasons” rather than “one that’s soon outdated.”

The first page of the book pictured above tells the reader why she should be using Vogue patterns, but it also suggests some of what it means to be a "Dressmaker."

The first page of the book pictured above tells the reader why she should be using Vogue patterns, but it also suggests some of what it means to be a “Dressmaker.”

R is for Risk. Let’s face it, fashion sewing can be risky. We can be sewing with really expensive or “difficult” fabric or vintage fabric, which is now no longer available – or sewing with a complicated design/pattern – or making something for a very special occasion – and the outcome is entirely in our hands! It takes bravery, confidence in one’s skills, patience, and a willingness to take a risk to grow in our dressmaking, but the rewards are manifold.

One of the Dressmaking signs I have hanging in my sewing room.

One of the Dressmaking signs I have hanging in my sewing room.

E is for two things: Engineering and Embellishment. I have said this before, but it bears repeating – sewing is engineering. I love to read pattern instruction sheets, especially for something that is complicated, and I bet many of you do, as well. It’s fascinating to see how patterns go together, how different fabrics demand specific approaches to that process, how the pattern pieces need to be manipulated to fit one’s particular form. A well-engineered pattern is a beautiful thing, and it takes a sewing-engineer’s mind to know how to best bring that pattern to life in a stylish and successful fashion. It takes a dressmaker.

Another one of my signs, the first one I purchased and still my favorite!

Another one of my signs, the first one I purchased and still my favorite!

Embellishment is almost synonymous with the term dressmaker. “Dressmaker Details” include such things as ruffles and frills, ribbon, or braid, but also those little touches that add so much to a successful garment, such as well-chosen buttons, interior trims, non-boring linings, covered snaps, bound buttonholes (when appropriate), and the creative manipulation of, or addition to, a pattern to get the effect you want. A creative dressmaker can start with something basic and make it unique – and couture – by adding just the right embellishments or details.

S is for Seams. This is about as basic as it gets, but those seams must be sewn well and finished well for a successful finished garment. One of the techniques I learned in the couture sewing classes I have taken with Susan Khalje is, for me, the method to achieve successful seams. That is – thread basting along seam lines to use as your sewing guide, rather than relying on the seam allowance markings on one’s sewing machine.   This is the building block for successful dressmaking.  And then, finish those seams on the inside to control bulk and add to the wearability and durability of your garment.

S is also for Steam. As in ironing. A good steam iron is worth its weight in gold! Steam is useful in so many ways – here are just a few:   1) When sewing with wool or most dry-cleanable fabrics, a good place to start is steaming your fabric before you begin to lay out your pattern pieces. Even if you have pre-washed cotton or linen fabrics, a good initial steaming of your yardgoods will insure a better outcome. 2) Steam newly sewn seams flat to set your stitches before spreading the seam open for its second pressing. 3) Contours can be set beautifully with steam, especially when using a pressing ham and/or a seam roll, or draping your work-in-progress on a dress form.

Te Vogue Dressmaking Book has an entire section on pressing, with guidelines still appropriate almost 60 years later. Click on the image to read the page.

The Vogue Dressmaking Book has an entire section on pressing, with guidelines still appropriate almost 60 years later. Click on the image to read the page.

And then, S + S  is for Sewing Sense, which is what every successful Dressmaker must develop. This subject is so vast it warrants its own blog post sometime in the future!

So now I am halfway through the ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G. Part II is yet to come…

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