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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

Give Me Liberty – Again

It was not planned this way.  Not much so far this year has been planned in the way it is going, truth be told. Which makes my most recent make both tinged with nostalgia and hopeful.  Mostly hopeful, I think.

For over thirty years I have had this length of Liberty Lawn surface time and again from its storage basket in my fabric closet.  I never had the right pattern for it, not when I purchased it on the island of Bermuda back in the 1980s, nor over the ensuing years – that is, until this year.  After making my wool challis shirtdress earlier in the year, I realized that same pattern was how I had subconsciously – for years – envisioned this fabric being used.

It has been satisfying to use this fabric, finally, as it deserves to be used.  Liberty is one of the world’s famous manufacturers of cotton.  Did you know it has its own entry in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion?   Actually two entries – one under Liberty and another under Liberty Print.  Here is the latter entry: “Trademark of Liberty, London, for wide range of printed fabrics.  The best known are small multicolored floral designs.” (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Third Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, c2003.) I wrote about Liberty cotton way back in 2012 when I was still pondering the use of this red and green floral print.  But voila!  Now I have used it!

Enough of the blah, blah, blah, here are the details:  I underlined the fabric with a very lightweight white cotton batiste, purchased from Farmhouse Fabrics.  Then I finished the raw edges of the seams with Hug Snug rayon seam binding.  I love this finish for garments which are underlined, but not lined.

Here is a detail of the cuff. I did not underline the sleeves.

As I mentioned in my post on the wool challis shirtdress, I added shoulder darts to the back of the bodice, and instead of using an eased-in sleeve, I converted the necessary fullness into a dart at the very top of the sleeve.  The button placement guide for this pattern indicates using 8 buttons.  I think next time I make this pattern (and I’m sure there will be a next time), I am going to increase that number to nine.  I think the distance between buttons on the bodice is just a bit too much, now that I have it finished.

Speaking of buttons, I found white pearl, metal shank buttons in my collection, and they seemed just perfect for this fabric, which has such a fresh appearance.  The only substitution I made was the button on the collar band, where I used a button which was 3/8” rather than 1/2”.  Fortunately I had a card of 4 buttons in this size which mimics the appearance of the other buttons.

A detail of one button on the bodice.

For the belt/sash, I got my inspiration from RTW which I detailed back in January.  My first thought was to use a red grosgrain ribbon sash.  But it just didn’t look right.  Fortuitously, in looking in Promenade Fabrics Etsy store for ribbons that might work, I came across a white Seersucker-look 2 ½” wide light weight ribbon which I thought looked wonderful.  I ordered three yards, and it was just as wonderful as it looked online.  However, in holding it up to my fabric, there was enough “show-through” to be problematic.

The ribbon was not opaque enough to cover sufficiently the print of the fashion fabric.

To remedy this, I used a fusible interfacing for the middle section of the sash which would be the initial circling of my waist.  (I rarely use fusible interfacings, although I keep some on hand for some of the sewing I do for my granddaughters, but this time it came in handy.)  This did the trick and also added just a bit of stiffness to that section of the sash.  Then the un-faced end sections of the sash are still soft and flowing.

This shows the sash with fusible interfacing applied to the mid-section of the length of the sash, but not to the top layer nor bow. It adds just enough coverage to minimize the appearance of the fashion fabric beneath it.

After I took photos, I got the idea to fold the interfaced part of the sash in half lengthwise to make it narrower and maybe a bit more flattering.  Here it is on my dress form:

One of our few warm, sunny days allowed me to get these following photos.


While I was making this dress, I could not help but remember the fun trip my husband and I took to Bermuda when I purchased this Liberty cotton.  I still remember trying to decide which piece of Liberty print to purchase (so many from which to choose), how many yards to get (it was still manufactured in 35” width at that point), and being delighted to get a label with it.  Those were the times when one dressed for dinner, had breakfast served in one’s room , and tea in the afternoon.  Yes, I could not help but be nostalgic.  But then I had so much fun bringing this fabric to life, I could not help but feel hopeful.  It was a lovely way to spend the hours in my sewing room. And how fitting to sew with fabric which perfectly expresses my sentiments right now.  Please, give me Liberty!

 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Liberty cotton, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, Vogue patterns

From Ready-to-Wear to No-Wear

Is a dress really complete if one has nowhere to wear it?  Well, yes, I think it is. Otherwise, I fear, I never would have finished this dress.

Its inspiration came from a ready-to-wear dress I spied on the Halsbrook website.

My original intention was to make a wool dress using this vintage royal blue-and-black houndstooth boucle I found several years ago.

After deciding it was just a bit too hefty to use for a dress, I switched gears and ordered this boucle from Linton Tweeds in England.

It is a cotton, silk and viscose blend with a lovely hand and a beautiful luster to it.  The colors look like the woven manifestation of Spring, and once it arrived, I was feeling very grateful that I was moving on to some warmer weather sewing rather than being stuck in a Winter project.  Below is the vintage pattern I had chosen to recreate the look of the ready-to-wear dress.

I used this pattern once before and knew it would work beautifully for this purpose.

All was not so merry, however, once I had my silk organza underlining cut out.  While positioning it onto the boucle fabric, I had a rude realization that the boucle, despite its very even grid, was an uneven plaid, in regard to color.  There was no way I was going to be able to balance the colors evenly across the width of this dress.  I had to make a decision how I wanted to treat the center front seam (which helps with the shaping of the dress).  I also had to determine which of the colors was dominant in the grid and then try to fixate on getting that evenly spaced.

After much debate, I decided to use the yellow as the dominant color, and I decided to “railroad track” the center seam, disrupting the even windowpane grid in that spot.

This picture shows how I tried to balance the yellow on the front of the dress, which I was able to do by narrowing the windowpane in the center seam.

I guess I have looked at this dress just a bit too much, as I am still second-guessing myself.  Sometimes it looks okay to me and other times, all I see are the unevenly spaced pink and green grids.

I decided to line the dress in pale-ish yellow crepe de chine, ordered from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

When it came time to finish the inside neck edge with understitiching, I was completely out of matching yellow thread.  Of course, with all the non-essential stores closed (since when I ask, is a sewing supply store considered non-essential?), I had to choose another color for that task.  I went to my supply of vintage buttonhole twist and found coral pink, a nice substitute.

I machine-sewed strips of silk organza interfacings onto the edges of the sleeves and hem, so that I could fray them confidently.   Then I finished the interiors by hand.  Somehow, most vexingly, I lost my pictures of this process.

I actually used the reverse side of the fabric for the double-wide fringe several inches up from the hemline.  It gave me another “railroad track” detail which I thought would help make sense of that center front seam.

This is the reverse side of the fabric.

And here is the double-sided fringe attached to the skirt. The “railroad track” motif is visible in the center of the fringe.

Can you tell I was consumed by this uneven color scheme?  I think it is still playing games with my head, but the good news is, once I did the final try-on of the dress, I thought it looked okay!

I’m not looking back any more on this one!

Well, from Ready-to-Wear to No-Wear to currently No-Where to Wear anything pretty, the only way to go is towards the time, hopefully soon, when we can all be thinking,”So many places to go, so many new dresses to Wear.”

 

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Filed under couture construction, Day dresses, Hem facings, Hems, Linings, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Sewing, Silence, and Solitude

It was exactly two years ago I first started this post.   It must have been a cold, snowy day – the sort when it is best to stay in and settle down with a sewing project – for me to be prompted to write about this subject.   Then I must have gotten distracted – or maybe I just ran out of things to say – but I never finished writing it.  Now seems like a good time to do so…

A dear friend of mine who spends her sewing hours making beautiful quilts once lamented to me, “It’s a shame sewing is such a solitary activity.”  She certainly has a point.  There is just no way around the fact that most of us spend hours and hours alone with our sewing; it is just the nature of the enterprise, being for the most part not a collaborative effort, but one in which each of us is the main decision-maker and craftswoman.

Sewing takes space, preferably a separate space, removed from the hustle and bustle of a normal household, where that inevitable sewing mess can be tolerated.  Being removed, despite its inherent joys, usually means being alone (except for pet visits – what is it about sewing that is so inviting to pets?)

Despite the hours and hours of time I spend by myself in my sewing room, I never really feel lonely.  Granted, I do listen to the radio or music most of the time, so that the silence is muffled by other voices or melodies.  But I am still definitely alone – with only my thoughts for dialogue.

That self-dialogue can be demanding – solving problems, perpetual decision-making, irritation with oneself when things go awry, and continued re-dedication towards a specific, often time-consuming goal.

I feel so fortunate to have this collection of French Milliner’s Heads, assembled over many years, to keep vigilance over me in my sewing room. What tales they could tell if only they could talk…

Then, of course, it is not just the active process of sewing to consider; hours of thought, effort, and planning often go into your project long before the first stitch is taken.  And did I mention daydreaming?  What dedicated dressmaker does not devote lots of her personal daydreaming thoughts to this outfit, including what shoes will work with it, what handbag to carry, what jewelry will complement it?

And now – here we are in March of 2020.   Strangely, this solitude that is self-imposed, this solitude that we, who choose to be alone and sew, are accustomed to – is suddenly almost universal and mandated.  It is a strange phenomenon.  And also now, in such a visceral way, I do feel lonely – but so grateful to have this exceptional interest and passion which helps me while away the hours.  I am so grateful for the expansive global sewing community which connects with one another across so many online platforms.  But most of all, I am so grateful to have this blog and you, my lovely readers – many of you have become my dear friends, confidantes, advisers, and sewing soulmates.  Many a silent hour in my life is devoted to thinking of you as I plan what to share and write here at Fifty Dresses, always hoping it will be interesting and worthwhile to you.  Thank you, thank you for adding so much focus, joy, fun and friendship to my solitary and silent sewing life, and especially now when the world is so topsy-turvy.

This little lady has the most endearing expression on her well-worn face. Her tiny secret smile seems to be one of gentle reassurance.

I fervently wish you all good health and perseverance at this difficult time as we stitch our way through our shared loneliness to better times, filled with optimism – and lots of places to wear our newly-made pretty frocks.

 

 

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Filed under Love of sewing, Uncategorized

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

The Horsey Set

How long must a fabric be in one’s possession before it can be considered “not new”? This is an important consideration to fashion sewing if you are, like me, always trying to use one of my “collected” fabrics, as opposed to purchasing new.  I tend to think if I have owned a fabric for at least three or four months, then it is no longer new (maybe newer, but not new.)  So, please indulge me as I congratulate myself on using this fabric, purchased last September from Farmhouse Fabrics.

This fabric is a 100% wool challis.

As soon as I spied it on their website, I knew I wanted to make a shirtwaist dress.  When it arrived, its fate was sealed, as its weight (very light), its drape (very fluid), and its allover meandering print made it perfect for such a dress with a bit of fullness in the skirt.  And I just happened to have the perfect pattern, too, purchased several years ago from an Etsy store.

I used View A for this project, with the self sash.

Making the muslin (toile) for this dress identified several areas which needed adjustment, specifically the back of the bodice, the shoulders/upper sleeve, and the waist.  I added shoulder darts to the back of the bodice and was able to minimize a saggy back by making a horizontal dead dart across the lower back of the muslin .

Shoulder darts are a great addition to this pattern.

In addition, I elongated the top of the sleeve by about 3/8” and replaced the normal easing in the sleeve cap with a dart.

The dart in the top of the sleeve is visible on the right.

The waist?  Well, unfortunately I just needed to make it larger, taking a bit from each skirt pleat to accommodate the extra girth of the bodice.

I thought long and hard about how to underline/line this fabric in order to preserve and enhance its qualities.  I felt a silk organza underlining would add too much body to this soft and fluid wool challis.  On the other hand, an underlining provides that wonderful surface on which to secure interior stitches (such as the hem, the facings, the seam allowances) invisibly.  I finally decided to underline the body of the dress with a very fine black cotton batiste and forego a separate lining.  I also used the cotton batiste as the interfacing in the collar, the cuffs and the front facings.  The sleeves I left un-underlined.

Knowing the seam allowances would be exposed inside the dress led me to finish off those raw edges with Hug Snug rayon seam binding.

Because I was working with wool, I decided to make bound buttonholes.  This decision probably added at least ten hours onto the making of this dress.  Memo to self – if the buttonholes are small, and the fabric frays easily, and the fabric is dark, it’s probably best to avoid bound buttonholes.  I thought I was going to lose my mind.

But the silver lining – or should I say gold lining – to the whole buttoning aspect of this dress is what I found for those little fasteners which can make or break a project.  And here is where my  predilection for much-loved vintage elements sneaks in oh-so-gently.  Because this fabric is dark and rich in appearance, I felt a contrast button would be best.  But the button would have to be equally rich in appearance, preferably enhancing a design element in the print.  Here are the buttons I used:

And here were three other choices:

The cross-hatching in my chosen buttons picks up the woven rope design in this equestrian print, and I think adds just a tiny bit of sparkle to what is otherwise a tailored dress.  Because they are tiny, they are not overpowering.

It is really difficult to get an actual true color for this fabric…. It is more maroon than it appears here.

And where, you may ask, did I find these four sets of buttons from which to choose?  Vintage they are, all four, all purchased bulk by my mother in the 1950s from a manufacturer of quality dresses for little girls.  The store was Ruth Originals in Asheville, North Carolina (USA).  Over the last 30 to 40 years, I have often searched in this magic box of buttons given to me by my mother, sometimes finding exactly what I need, other times not.  My quest this time was for a “horse of a different color” and that is what I found.

I also like this dress with a black belt rather than the sash.

I am very excited to make this pattern again – and again – and again, hopefully using long-stockpiled fabrics – and buttons with a similar rich history.

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Ready To Wear, Ready To Copy

It is no secret that those of us who sew often get inspiration from Ready To Wear.  When select catalogs come in the mail, I love to look at them just to see what ideas I can find which may apply to one of my planned projects.  The same goes for online ads which pop up in all kinds of situations.  The sources of inspiration are practically endless, but every once in a while, I find a bonanza of ideas all bunched together.

Such was the case with the Gorsuch catalog which recently arrived.

 Getaway 2020 should be renamed Stay at Home and Sew, Sew, Sew!  Shirtwaist dresses are much on my mind right now as I am currently working on a wool challis rendition of that classic style.  I have plans for more versions of this timeless dress in silk and cotton.  So imagine my delight when I turned the page in the catalog and saw this stunner:

My gingham shirtwaist dress is going to be in pink silk.

I found this pink silk gingham at Farmhouse Fabrics.

And although it will be a few months until I get to it, I had already been pondering what to do for a belt/sash.  I didn’t really want one to match the dress.  Well . . . the wide grosgrain belt in white pictured in the catalog is just the look I know I want.  Would I have thought of this myself?  Probably not.  So hooray for RTW ideas.

I didn’t have to turn more than a few pages in the same catalog, and I came across this dress:

The all-over floral design reminded me of a piece of cotton I purchased from Mendel Goldberg a couple of years ago.

This fabric is partially translucent, so the body of the dress will be underlined in batiste.

I bought this fabric thinking I would make a shirtwaist dress, but I couldn’t quite make it work in my mind.  I thought I would like to emphasize the purple/deep lavender in it, although other colors are more dominant.  I even found lavender buttons, but then thought they may be washed out by the other colors.  But – seeing this dress being so effective with a grosgrain belt (again!) in a very non-dominant color, has given me all the confidence I need to take this future dress in the original direction I envisioned.

Among my many clippings from catalogs and magazines are some I keep in a separate “pile” in my sewing room.  They are separate because I love the ideas in them so much, I want them to be ever present in my presence!  This blouse featured in a J. McLaughlin catalog last year is just such an idea.

And while I could wear gingham checks forever and ever, I plan to make a copy of this blouse in a grass green windowpane check cotton I found at Farmhouse Fabrics.  I may even make a pair of linen pants to wear with it, but we’ll see.  (Pants are my least favorite item to make.)

 

And then there is this inspiration from the online presence of Halsbrook:

Remember this dress.  It is going to be copied….

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