Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

Forever Gingham

Gingham fabric has been around for a long, long time.  Since the early 17thcentury to be exact, although the look of the fabric has changed considerably since those days.  The word “gingham” is from a Malay word “gingang” which means “with space between,” hence, striped.  Yes, originally gingham was a striped fabric.  It appears that it became a checked fabric sometime in the mid 1700s, and of course, that is how we think of it today.

Gingham has a fresh, timeless appeal to it, and the iterations of it are countless.  The size of the checks can be absolutely miniscule or large and prominent.

Each check in this gingham is only a couple of threads wide. I do not have an example of a really large checked gingham, but you can surely visualize it.

There are two types of gingham; the entry in The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora; Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003, page 209) explains it beautifully:  “Checked ginghams are two-colored effects made by using two colors, or one color and white, for groups of yarns in both the lengthwise and crosswise.  Plaid ginghams are yarn-dyed designs of several colors.”

And do you know what zephyr ginghams are?  “Zephyr ginghams,” according to Fairchild’s “are made with fine, silky, mercerized yarns.”   Obviously both checked and plaid ginghams can be zephyr ginghams.

And indeed, it was a zephyr plaid gingham which I used for my most recent blouse:

I purchased this fabric at the same time I ordered the fabric for my lavender gingham blouse. I still had the “blouse bug,” so I decided to go for it!  I made a few tweaks to the pattern; specifically I added a tapered half inch to the lower half of the  sleeves, to give me a little more ease in rolling them up.  Of course, this meant I needed to add a half inch to the diameter of the cuffs.  I also increased the length of the sleeve vent by about 1.25 inches. I find these changes just add a bit more finesse to the wearing of this blouse, which is super comfortable anyway.

I kept the center back pleat, as it just makes this blouse so comfortable to wear, especially on a hot summer day.

Now, do you see that double navy blue line at the center front?

That is a mistake. I thought I had calculated the grid of the plaid correctly to have a continuous pattern across the front of the blouse.  About halfway through its construction, I discovered I had calculated incorrectly.  At that point I did not have enough fabric left over to cut out two – or even one – new fronts, so my fate was sealed.  Now I know what I did wrong, and hopefully I won’t make that mistake the next time I make a gingham blouse.  (And there will be a next time, but probably not this year.)

This is a blue jean kind of blouse!

Being a button aficionado, I of course searched again for the right buttons for this blouse. I thought about using these vintage pearl buttons with their square motif. However, at 5/8” wide, they were just too big.

I finally admitted to myself that buttons on a blouse like this should not be the focal point; they should be delicate and discreet – which led me to this card of vintage buttons in my collection:

These buttons are 3/8″ in diameter.

The luminosity of the pearl in these buttons actually picks up the pink in the plaid in a very subtle way – and they are definitely discreet.

I used the spread collar again for this blouse.

I love any excuse to wear pink shoes!

Well, I don’t want to end this post without giving you a few more fun facts on gingham.  Did you know that “gingham” was a colloquial term for an umbrella in the 19thcentury?  Again, according to Fairchild’s Dictionary (page 462), “so called because the less expensive types were made out of gingham fabric.”

And who doesn’t know that Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz wore a blue gingham dress?  Or that Brigitte Bardot wore a pink gingham wedding dress (which led to a shortage of this fabric in France, according to Wikipedia)?

If you have not recently read the classic poem by Eugene Field (1850-1895), “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat,” it might be time to reacquaint yourself.  Here is how it starts:  “The gingham dog and the calico cat, side by side on the table sat.” Just the mention of the fabrics creates a mental picture of what is to ensue between these two!

There are few fashion references to gingham that are noteworthy, save for this one from interior designer Kelly Wearstler,  “The best thing I ever bought is a vintage Oscar de la Renta short gingham dress that I wore to my rehearsal dinner the night before my wedding.”

And finally, this from Christian Dior on “checks”  (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior, Harry N. Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 21): “I love checks. They can be fancy and simple; elegant and easy; young and always right….  They are always in fashion …  and there are so many styles of checks to choose that there will be one to suit every age and figure.”

Feeling happy about this blouse despite that center front mistake.

From “always right” cotton gingham, I now head to another “always right,” forever, classic motif: polka dots  – in silk!  New month, new project.  Happy July, everyone!

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

Happy Hippos and Dotted Daisies

Sewing for children is a specialized category, one which is certainly not of interest to everyone. For that reason, I sometimes skip doing a post on some of the clothes I make for my two little granddaughters. However, these two dresses turned out so cute that I thought I would share them.

I had not really intended to make more summer dresses for my two little ladies, but this hippo fabric made me do it!

This fabric is by Hoffman California.

I have had this piece stored on my fabric shelves for well over twenty years.  I really do not remember why I ever purchased it.  I always thought it was cute and cheerful.  As luck will have it, my older granddaughter’s favorite animal is a hippo! Little Miss Aida has a stuffed hippo who is well loved (almost to the point of being bedraggled!) and definitely a member of the family.  There really could be no better time to use this fabric to make her a dress, especially as, at age 5, she is still happy to wear a cute print like this. (By age six, maybe not?)

As I only had enough fabric for one dress, I needed to make the dress for her 3-year-old sister from another selection.  This navy, pink, and white fabric I have only had for a couple of years (no time at all in the realm of my sewing room!), purchased specifically with my two girls in mind.

I found this fabric at JoAnn’s. It is one of their premium cottons, and really quite a lovely quality.

Over those two years, however, I have slowly been using sections of it to line a number of “baby bags” which I often make for gifts, leaving me with only enough yardage for one dress, not two.  So voila!  This worked out perfectly – and the cheerful daisy print suits little Miss Carolina’s personality quite well.

I have made so many of these bags and they always seem to be a welcome baby gift. These are made from a Noodlehead pattern.

Showing the daisy lining.

For the dresses, I used the Children’s Corner “Louise” pattern again, this time without a separate band on the skirt.

However, to add interest, I made the collars out of coordinating fabrics, and I added pockets to the skirts.  Luckily, in my fabric collection, I found dotted cottons which worked perfectly for the collars and pockets.  Then rickrack provided the finishing touch.

When I am sewing long-distance for these two little girls, I am usually in a quandary over the length of the hems, especially as they are always, always growing and growing so fast.  This time, they were here for a visit, so I saved the completion of the hems until they arrived.  No guessing this time!

The bodices are lined with a white, lightweight, and very soft linen.

I used aqua colored buttons on the hippo dress and pink buttons on the daisy dress.

This was a very satisfying project – the girls love their new dresses, and I felt very virtuous using two fabrics that have been folded away in my sewing room closet, waiting for their new lives to begin.  Hippos and daisies turned out to be a winning combination.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Sewing for children, Uncategorized

Gingham and Pearls

Way back at the beginning of our just-past long winter, I was on the hunt for fresh cotton gingham to pair with some Liberty cottons for dresses for my granddaughters’ birthdays. Always having been a fan of gingham, I couldn’t help but notice the offerings of shirting gingham in the Etsy shop where I was making purchases.  Of course, I ordered two pieces.  (Why wouldn’t I?!)  One piece in lavender has been tugging at me and I knew it would be next to make after finishing my purple boucle coat.

What I did not realize when I purchased this fabric is that it is a printed, rather than woven, gingham. However, the quality is lovely and silky soft.

In the meantime, I came across this spread in the April (2018) issue of Harper’s Bazaar:

There in the lower left hand corner is – yes – a lavender gingham blouse.

Now at this point in my life, I do not sew to save money, although I am always happy to have that as an added bonus.  But in this instance, once I looked at the listed price of that blouse ($375!!!) I felt quite pleased with myself, knowing I could make this  knock-off, for well less than 10% of the cost of that shirt:

The feature I really liked about the “$375 blouse” was the spread collar.  A spread collar, of course, has a wide division between the points in front, as opposed to longer pointed ends.  I determined to alter my pattern to make my shirt look like the one in the magazine.

I used a Simplicity pattern from 1972, which somehow survived all my now-regrettable purges of sewing patterns over the last 40-some years.  I had to make several alterations to it in addition to the shape of the collar, but its basic lines – with a yoked back, single button cuffs, slightly fitted body, and a long shirttail – lent itself to my vision.

The pattern art here is so dated! I actually used this pattern once before for a silk blouse.

To me, buttons are always an important component of any style requiring them.  I went through my button collection to see what I could find, knowing that what I really wanted would be simple mother-of-pearl, two-hole buttons.  When I came across this card of “Lucky Day” buttons, I knew they would be perfect.

These buttons date from the 1940s!

These 2/3″ buttons are in good proportion to the 1/4″ gingham.

What is it about gingham that makes it so fresh and happy – and timeless, as the tag line in Harper’s Bazaar, states?

I added an inverted pleat to the center back below the yoke. I may eliminate that the next time I make this pattern.

Because the fabric is a printed gingham, when I roll up the sleeves, as I am wont to do, the reverse white of the fabric shows. This doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it might.

Well, I am quite certain my “Gingham Style” looks just as good as the much more expensive “Gingham Style” detailed above.  All the more reason to wear it with pearls!

 

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

A Coat For Many Reasons

When I started planning this coat, I could not then have known the many reasons why I am now so happy to have made it.

The journey – and yes, it has been a journey – started with the fabric, offered for sale to me by a reader several years ago.  Simply the provenance of the fabric  – a piece of stamped Ernest Einiger wool, from one of the great mid-century American wool manufacturers, now sadly long gone – was reason enough to give it some extra thought.  I knew I had to wait for the right time to put pattern and scissors to it. When the Pantone Color of 2018 – “Ultraviolet” – an orchid shade of purple – was announced, I knew the time had arrived!

In the meantime, I had given it much thought and the more I looked at it, the more I thought I would be wise to get some construction advice on it.  Happily I was able to go to Baltimore in mid-April for one of Susan Khalje’s week-long Couture Sewing Schools, during which everyone works on their own project.  Usually one is expected to arrive with a pattern selected, and a marked muslin (toile) of her project ready for fitting.  This time was no different, which meant that all my thinking about the best pattern to use for this coat was ready to come to fruition.

Because the fabric is a very heavy coat-weight boucle, I originally looked for a pattern which either did not include buttons and buttonholes (traditionally more difficult to do well on a fabric of this weight), or had slot-seam buttonholes. I thought I had the perfect pattern in this Vogue from 1962. However, when I actually opened out the pattern pieces, I realized it was not going to work.  The kimono sleeves would surely produce drag lines in this heavy fabric, and a double layer of the wool in the shawl collar could be quite bulky.

Then I pulled out two more patterns which I thought were possibilities:

The single slot-seam buttonhole in the Mattli pattern was ideal, but all the intersecting seams could be a problem to do well, so I eliminated that one.  The simple lines of the Christian Dior design were lovely, but then there were more buttons, in addition to my evolving thought that this fabric would work well with a pattern which did not have such a narrow silhouette. It was then that I went to a pattern which I had already used:

View A with the longer sleeve for this coat, although I originally made it with the shorter sleeve here.

I love the simple lines of this coat and its well-turned collar, and I especially love my addition of a half belt to the silk coat I made.  I still wasn’t sure what I would/could do about buttons and buttonholes.  Advice from Susan would be very valuable!  As it turned out, she helped me determine that I could do bound buttonholes even on this very substantial wool.  Another fortuitous finding was that this pattern lent itself to showing off the interesting windowpane weave of the boucle, which became much more apparent the further away from it we got.

Other of Susan’s recommendations included:

1) Making the coat dress length rather than coat length.  The intensity of the color, used with this pattern, looks better in a shorter length.

2) Cutting the belt on the bias.  This was brilliant and gives a nice subtle focus to the back of the coat.  She also recommended that I line the belt with the silk charmeuse lining fabric rather than using the boucle .  It reduces bulk and makes the belt lay much more nicely.  I sewed one side of the belt by machine and then hand-stitched the other side, making for a nice crisp turn of the charmeuse to the underside.

My addition of a belt to this pattern is an excellent example of what is known as a “dressmaker detail.”

Here the bias cut of the belt is quite apparent.

The entire coat is underlined in silk organza, including the belt, shown here with one side sewn by machine.

And here is the silk charmeuse belt lining almost ready to be applied by hand.

3) Underlining the collar with charmeuse (again to reduce bulk) and then under-stitching the underside, to make it turn beautifully.

The collar on this pattern is beautifully designed to sit perfectly on the neck.

4) Clipping the long back center seam, even though it is on the straight of grain.  Clipping it reduces strain on that seam and allows a much more fluid movement of the back of the coat.  (I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, but it is certainly not rocket science, just common sense.)

5) Tips for matching the woven windowpane design in the wool, the weave of which was difficult to see close-up.  Forked pins and a walking foot  helped to keep the layers – even basted ones – from shifting.

Other procedures I used to help “tame” this fabric were:  lots of judicious trimming of seams and corners; clipping, clipping and more clipping; lots of steam and pressing; lots of basting of seams.

I even trimmed the edges of the bound buttonholes to reduce bulk down the front of the coat. I am not completely happy with the buttonholes (which were difficult to do on this fabric), but once I finished them, they looked better than I thought they would.

I found these buttons in an Etsy store. From the 1960s, they are a nice fit with the fabric and the pattern. And I like their wobbly edges!

By the time I returned home from my class, I had the coat about half finished, but I felt completely confident in my ability to finish it competently.   Here are a few more details:

The sleeves feature a turned- back vent which is secured by a button through all layers.

I used the pockets for this version of the coat (which I had eliminated for my silk version.)

The belt is attached to the side seams just about an inch below the armhole. This placement allows it to fall right at the center back waist.

It is always rewarding to get to the point in the construction of a coat when you are ready to put the lining in.  And to make it just a little more fun, I added flat silk piping on the inside front facings – which will match one of the dresses (still to be made) I intend to wear with this coat:

I ended the piping at the shoulder seam on either side. (I see a basting thread which is peeking out from the piping!)

So my “coat for many reasons” allowed me 1) to use treasured fabric which had been in my collection for a few years; 2) to take advantage of the focus of this beautiful purple color during the year of  “Ultraviolet;” 3) to use a coat pattern which I really wanted to use again after making it once; and 4) to have experience in working – successfully – with such a heavyweight wool.

But the most important reason?  I need another coat. I always need another coat.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Dressmaker details, Mid-Century style, piping, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

A Spring Tradition

Early to mid-Spring means birthday time in our family, especially so now with our two little granddaughters, who have birthdays in March and April.  Fortunately both little girls love dresses and love wearing them, so of course my Spring sewing agenda has to include making two “birthday dresses.”  (Last year’s dresses were a bit more elaborate than what I had planned for this year. In fact, I just lengthened the hems on these “strawberry” dresses so the girls can wear them for one more year!)

I found these Liberty fabrics last year on Fabric.com and immediately ordered yardage in two colors.  They stayed tucked away in my fabric closet until early March when I got serious about getting these dresses sewn.

All along I intended to pair each print with 16thinch coordinating cotton gingham, and then I set about finding a pattern which would accommodate this idea. I ended up using a Children’s Corner pattern (Louise) which turned out to be the perfect choice. View B showed a hem band and collar in contrasting fabric to the rest of the dress.

View B includes the Peter Pan collar and hem band.

These dresses are quite simple to make, and the pattern is precise.  I really, really like that this company gives you separate pattern pieces for each size in the envelope.  For example, this pattern included sizes 1 – 5.  So – there are full patterns for each size. I used size 3 and size 5, and it was such a pleasure not to have to trace a pattern for each dress. Mysteriously, the seam allowance allotted for the pattern pieces was only ¼”.  I increased it to a standard 5/8” as I am much happier sewing with a more substantial seam allowance.  The only other changes I made to the pattern were to make the back opening button on the left side rather than the right side, and to add three decorative buttons to the bodice.

I needed to move the bottom button on this dress as it was not quite lined up!

First I made the size 5 dress.  I realized once it was well underway that a touch of rickrack would add so much more interest to the dress.  Finding lilac colored rickrack was quite the task, but once again an Etsy shop (Creative Trims) had just what I needed.

Looks too plain without some additional embellishment.

The rickrack looks so much better!

I applied the rickrack by hand.

The second dress came together quickly (for me, at least!) Making the dresses alike, but in different colors was an idea I liked, and I was hopeful that the girls would like that, too!

A back view.

I am happy to report that, according to my daughter, the little girls love their birthday dresses.  Time to start planning for next year!

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Filed under Uncategorized, Liberty cotton, Sewing for children

The Never-Ending Winter

One advantage to this never-ending Winter we are having in the Northeastern part of the United States is the focus – and extra time – it has given me in finishing my Winter projects. After completing my recent Classic French Jacket, I did some “birthday dress” sewing for my granddaughters (still to be shared) and made two baby gifts, and only then did I come back to making a matching sheath dress for that jacket.

I had thought long about how this dress should be constructed, and not having the advantage of taking a class in such a project, I knew I would have to figure it out on my own. I decided I would combine classic couture construction with the techniques used for making a classic French jacket.

First, I underlined the three pieces of the dress (front and two back panels) with black silk organza, and I anchored all the darts with a catch-stitch. (I always go back to that sound advice from Susan Khalje – couture is about control – and I know how this extra step helps to keep everything in its rightful place.)

Then I machine quilted the two back panels and the dress front just as I would quilt the separate pieces of a French jacket. I ended the quilting about two inches from the tops and bottoms of the pieces and tied off each line of quilting inside between the two layers. I figured the quilting did not need to be as closely placed as it is with a French jacket, so my quilting lines are about 2 inches apart. This following photo shows the quilted channels on the inside (they are virtually invisible on the fashion fabric):

The three pieces were sewn together as a Jacket would be sewn with the edges of the lining loose and then finished by hand with a fell stitch. At this point I felt fairly confident that the dress was going together as I had hoped. And yes, there is a lot of handwork involved! Next I inserted the long back zipper by hand and then finished the neckline and lining with a fell stitch.

Because I wanted to apply a length of trim above the bust – to match the trim placement on my jacket – I did the armholes last, as the trim needed to be attached before they were finished.

 

Finally, the hem. The length had to be precise, as there will be no lengthening nor shortening of this baby! The final step was to sew the hemline trim on by hand. I delineated the back vent with the trim to give it some extra interest. Also, although it is not visible here, I angled the edges of the vent slightly to the inside so that when the dress is on, the vent will not gape, but rather hang straight. This is another one of those lovely couture tricks I learned from Susan Khalje!

I must say this dress is a dream to wear, with that quilted silk interior.

And – I am quite happy with how it looks with my jacket.

Br-r-r-r-r!

As warm as this dress and jacket are, I was freezing when these photos were taken!

I have faith that Old Man Winter – who is truly ancient by now – will soon leave us, but not without a fond farewell from Fifty Dresses who appreciated his extra encouragement on seasonal sewing!

 

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, classic French jacket, couture construction, Linings, Sheath dresses, Suit dresses, Uncategorized