Category Archives: Uncategorized

Personal Style – And the Passage of Time

Over the past few weeks, in anticipation of my current project, I have been thinking about personal style and how it changes – or doesn’t change – over the decades of one’s life.  What  prompted my contemplation is this pattern:

I purchased this pattern when it was new about 1974 or ’75, when I was in my mid-twenties.  I loved the style then, and although I was in dire need of clothes to wear to work, such as dresses and skirts, I must have decided I needed this coat more.  I made it in a tan cotton twill, and it accompanied me on many a trip on the commuter rail line into Philadelphia (Pennsylvania.)    At some point years later, I obviously discarded it, along with other pieces I had diligently sewn.  I am certainly glad I kept the pattern, as I still love this style. Working on it now is a true deja vu experience.

I am not sure I recognized it per se, but my fascination with coats must have already been firmly established in my personal style, even then.  For example, I was obsessed with this color-blocked coat pattern:

At the time, I remember resisting the urge to purchase it, as I could not guarantee to myself that I would actually get around to making it.  The pattern was too expensive ($3.50) for me, at that time, to take that risk.  However, though many years passed by, I never forgot it. Those of you who follow this blog know that I did finally purchase this pattern a few years ago and this time, I did make it! It continues to be one of my favorite pieces, and I feel wonderful wearing it.

Then there is this pattern, also purchased in the mid-seventies:  

I must have thought this was a more practical style and worth the cost.  I never made it, but one of these days I intend to.  

Buried deep in my cedar closet is a white wool coat, purchased when I was in high school in the mid-sixties.  I am not sure why I have kept it all these years except that I loved it and perhaps in some way treasured it more since my father bought it for me.  Its style is very similar to the coat of this pattern – a style I still love  – and also hope to make some day. 

I find it interesting that three of the patterns pictured are Christian Dior designs. Hmmmm…

I guess what I am getting at, using these coats as an example, is how consistent my style has remained over almost five decades.  How about you?  Do you still gravitate to the same profiles in clothes that you wore in your twenties (assuming you are at least 40)?  If not, what has changed?  

What has changed for me is not the style, but the choice of fabrics and color.  I am more adventurous in using color than I was as a young woman, although even then, I gravitated towards pink. 

I made this Moygashel linen dress for our Honeymoon in 1973. Pink? YES!

All this makes me wonder if one’s personal style is part of their DNA; why, for example, do I like softly tailored, feminine clothes (and have obviously done so for years) while someone else likes the Bohemian look and wears it well; why does someone prefer to wear black, and more black, while I love color (and the occasional black, too).  Quentin Bell summed this observation up well in his quote:  “Our clothes are too much a part of us ever to be entirely indifferent to their condition; it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body or even of the soul.”  [my italics]

And what about the person who follows every fashion trend that comes along?  Do they not have that personal style component in their DNA, or are they governed by different needs?  Toby Fischer-Mirkin, in her book Dress Code addresses this – and offers some frank advice – in her chapter entitled Fashion and Status:  Under the Spell of Haute Couture:  “The unrelenting quest to be fashionable is usually undertaken to fill not a closet, but a personal void….  A woman’s fashion compass should come from within.  When you’re aware of what works for you, you’ll take pride in that aesthetic and, within the boundaries of good taste, project the person you truly are.”  (pages 146-147)

Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, New York, c1995

Is your personal style really that important?  Does it allow you to project the person you truly are?  If so, I can understand why one’s personal style does not change very much over the years.  Indeed, Givenchy once said, “With style, you must stay as you are.”  When I was a young woman in my twenties, I never would have guessed I would, decades later, still gravitate towards the same patterns, the same silhouettes, and have the same weaknesses for certain apparel (such as coats.)  I have changed personally in many other ways, but obviously my personal style has not – the recognition of which has been a revelation to me.  

I suspect there are many, many of you who, once you think about it, can say the same thing?  

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A Very Pink Coat, Part 3

Added Value….  There is a significant little entry in 101 Things I learned in Fashion School (Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick, Grand Central Publishing, New York, New York, 2010, page 40).  Although aimed at Ready-To-Wear customers and the designers who cater to them, it certainly is meaningful to those of us who sew our own fashions:  “Fashion customers often need to be convinced to buy a new garment that, in effect, they already own.  …  Value added details [my emphasis] are those that are inherently necessary to a garment but are executed in a novel or interesting way…”  thus making them attractive to potential customers.  

Well, not that I really need convincing to make another coat for myself, but I will freely admit it is the unique little details in a pattern (and gorgeous fabric, of course) which convince me I MUST make THIS coat, even though I might not really NEED it.  Such was the case with my very pink coat, which is now finished.  

Those details included 1) the three welt pockets with flaps, 2) the concealed front closure, 3) the  arrowhead detail accompanying the minimal top-stitching, 4) the sleeve tabs (okay, not really a necessary detail, but a very nice one!), and 5) the opportunity to add a little flash to the lining with edge-piping.

I’ll cover the sleeve tabs first since they were the detail in question in my last post. 

 As you can observe, I decided to leave them with the buttons facing forward.  Several comments left by readers (thank you – you know who you are and I am very appreciative!) got me thinking anew about the orientation of the tabs.  Then I had an aha moment when I realized that the one button which is visible on the front of the coat, at the neckline, might look a bit disconnected without its counterparts showing on the sleeves.  Decision made, with confidence!  However, I doubt I will ever look at a sleeve tab in quite the same way again. 

The three welt pockets with flaps are quite likely my favorite detail on this coat.  First of all, I like making them.  There is a certain feeling of empowerment, although slightly nerve-wracking, to cut those big slashes into the front of the coat and be confident it will all be okay. And this type of pocket is just so pretty when they are done.  In addition, while they are utilitarian, they also suggest refinement, elevating a simple car coat to a coat with some sophistication and flair. 

Here is the underside of one of those pockets, with the slash” clearly visible.
As you can see, I used lining fabric (Bemberg from Emma One Sock Fabrics) for the facing on the flaps. And here’s a fun fact – that small pocket on the right side is called a “ticket pocket,” small and shallow, perfect for a printed ticket. As printed tickets go the way of the dinosaurs, this little pocket may become obsolete – but I sincerely hope not. It adds so much to the visual pleasure of this coat and other similar garments.
A good view of the small “ticket pocket.”

I must have a certain penchant for concealed coat fronts.  This is the third one I have made and I can let you know there may be more to come (but not soon.)   As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to reduce the bulk of the closure by using my lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the front flap.  

I made three machine buttonholes for this part of the flap, which made everything lay flat and neat. 

The gray buttons – 6 of them, which is what I needed – were in my collection, so that was a happy find. They are 1950s’ vintage gray pearl, very appropriate indeed for this 1957 pattern.

Although this coat pattern called for some topstitching, it was minimal.  Just the sleeve tabs, the pocket flaps and the collar, plus the front detail on the right side.  I was unhappy with the machine topstitching I did at the front closure.  There was enough bulk from the wool and the facing and the fly front, that it interfered with the smoothness of the topstitching.  So I took it out.  Initially I was going to do without topstitching and the arrowhead detail, but it looked a bit plain and unfinished.  So I did my fallback to what I know works – topstitching by hand.  Because of the hand-worked arrowhead detail, I felt hand topstitching would not look out of place.  Of course, I had never done an embroidery arrowhead before, so I had to practice, practice practice  so it hopefully does not look amateurish.  

I purchased matching embroidery floss for the arrowhead detail and the hand top-stitching.

Finally, coat linings lend themselves so beautifully to that extra little treatment – a narrow edge piping.

  I deviated from my Vogue pattern to add this dressmaker detail, but I am sure they would have approved.  My Avoca wool scarf which is such a perfect complement to this coat inspired me to choose checked piping.  I “robbed” a small corner from some pink silk gingham (intended for a Spring coat, as mentioned previously here) to make my flat piping.  

I purchased the pink cashmere wool for this coat from Farmhouse Fabrics.

Well, there you have it.  My first major project of 2022 finished.  I am happy I chose pink for my theme this year as it has brightened up many a dark day in this troubled world of ours. 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, car coats, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker details, Mid-Century style, piping, Scarves, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Very Pink Coat, Part 2

The pattern for a very pink coat has many pieces.  

When I am getting ready to start a new project with a pattern new to me, I like to read through all the instructions just to get a feel for what is ahead.  That lets me know if I can mix things up a bit, deviate from the step-by-step instructions, prepare a component ahead of time (such as sleeves.  If I feel confident about the fit, I will often make the sleeves first and set them aside until I am ready for them).  During this initial study of the instruction sheet, all was straightforward except for one thing.  For the life of me, I could not figure out how the  concealed – or fly – opening on the front was constructed.  I have done this type of opening before (here and here), but this construction was different.  

Because I wanted to use my gray lining fabric for one layer of the buttonhole side of the opening (to reduce bulk) I needed to know if I could do that and be confident that the lining would not show.  So I REALLY needed to understand how this detail went together.  I decided I would have to do a trial run.  What better use of a well-marked muslin (toile) than to use it for this task?  Armed with pins, I proceeded to do a mock-up.  

Here are the two separate fly pieces, one attached to the facing and the other one attached to the right front coat piece.
Here are the attached fly pieces folded back from the front edge. This detail allowed me to use the lining fabric for one layer of the buttoned side.
Here the two sides are sandwiched together to show the concealed opening.

Instead of taking my mock-up apart, I decided to keep it for referral when I got to that point of the coat.  And I am so glad I did.  It helped me through many a confusing moment, giving me confidence that I was doing this correctly.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life gave one a trial run first before facing the real thing – and then stood by to offer reassurance?  Well, you will have to wait to see the finished opening in my next post, but it is all but complete.  And I must confess, I think it is going to be very lovely.

Now here is something to ponder.  A few days ago I walked into my sewing room and was startled to observe something that did not seem right on my up-to-that-point constructed coat.  I had it hanging on my dress form and almost had a panic attack when I looked at the to-be-buttoned tabs on the sleeves.  It certainly looked as though I had sewn them on backwards!  The buttonholes, and therefore the soon-to-be-attached buttons, were oriented toward the front of the sleeve, rather than the back.

Before completely losing it, I went to my pattern, and there, plain as day in the illustration, the tabs wrapped around to the front of the sleeve.  

I still could not quite believe it, so I went to the illustrations in the 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, shown in my last post.  Yep – the tabs were oriented the same way as mine.  Just to make sure, I checked the silk organza under-lining on the two-part sleeves to double check my markings which would tell me that the backs of the sleeves were truly in the back (although my common sense had already answered this question for me.  Of course, the sleeves would not have gone in as smoothly as they did if I had put them in incorrectly).  

After being reassured repeatedly that I had not made a BIG mistake, I started to question why the tabs were oriented that way.  I looked for other examples of buttoned sleeve tabs.  I found one or two in which the tab wraps around to the front, but most tabs were sewn into the inside seam, wrapped around the front and buttoned just past the center point of the sleeve (or seam, if there was a center seam as with my pattern), toward the back.  I wondered if this might one of those things which is distinctly feminine, such as the fact that buttonholes on womens’ apparel are on the right, whereas mens’ are on the left.  But no, I could not verify that.  

Here is one of the few examples I found showing the tab buttoning toward the front of the sleeves.
And here is an example of the more customary orientation of the buttoned tab. Both illustrations are from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, ibid.

Now I am left with a decision to make.  Somehow, I think I would like the tabs on my coat to button toward the back.  I had faced the tabs with my gray lining fabric, again to reduce bulk.  I think that gray lining would better stay undercover should the tabs button in the back. I also think a backward orientation will reduce the incidence of “catching” the tab on things.  Both of those considerations obviously figure into my thinking.  Do I take out the bottom part of the finished sleeves, with their pretty catch-stitched seams, remove the tabs and reorient them?   

This photo of the interior seam of one of the sleeves shows the end of the tab catch-stitched in place along with the seams. The clips you see are where the hem turns back.

Or do I leave well-enough alone and stay true to my vintage pattern? I must decide before the lining goes in the coat. Which brings me to the realization I have just 4 pattern pieces remaining, all for the lining.  Part 3 of this saga is just around the corner.  

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Filed under car coats, Coats, couture construction, Mid-Century style, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Very Pink Coat, Part 1

Some projects deserve more than one blog post and this pattern and coat fall into that category. 

I am making View A, although with the concealed (fly front) opening.
I purchased this cashmere and wool blend from Farmhouse Fabrics. It has a “brushed” surface, giving it a nap which provides a depth to the deep pink color. I have underlined all the components of the coat with silk organza. Basting holds the two fabrics together and also gives me my stitching lines and other pertinent information.

From the magical year of 1957 (I promise some time I will devote an entire post to the notable spot that the year 1957 occupies in the modern history of fashion), this coat pattern is in a class of its own.  Referred to as a “car coat” in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazine entries, it is a quintessential example of that genre.  Here’s why:

  1. It is a wonderful example of fashion following lifestyle.  The copyright date of 1957 puts it firmly in the early appearance of this form.  To wit, the entry for car coats in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion reads:  “Sport or utility coat made hip-to-three-quarter length, which is comfortable for driving a car.  First became popular with the station-wagon set in suburbia in the 1950s and 1960s and has become a classic style since then.”  (ibid, p. 89)
  2. The flap pockets – three of them – are intentionally utilitarian, but also add a certain finesse to the coat.   Those flaps help protect the contents of the pocket – in the case of a car coat, obviously keys, perhaps gloves, or even a change purse. 
  3. The side slits give a bit of wiggle room to the area of the hips, for sliding in and out of car seats.  And the buttoned tabs at the wrists add to its aesthetic appeal.  No, they are not really necessary, but that is not what this coat was all about.  It was meant to be extremely functional, but smart looking.
  4. The concealed front in View B, commonly referred to as a fly front, steps the appearance of this coat up a notch.  Particularly notable is the arrowhead detail at the top of the topstitching on the front of the coat.  
  5. The busy mother and wife would have looked very “put-together” wearing this coat out and about.  Later versions of the car coat style included Benchwarmer, Duffel coat, Ranch coat, Mackinaw jacket, Stadium coat, and Toggle coat (according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion)  But this coat was a car coat, in its very pure early, but fashionable form.

This pattern is featured twice in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from August-September 1957.

Here is the longer version shown on page 22:

“The coat that goes over everything.” Here is an interesting observation which might not be readily apparent. When I was fitting my muslin (toile) for this coat, I initially thought the sleeves may be a bit too loose. You can see in this photo they are not slim on the model. But then I realized they have a bit more girth to them for a reason – to give the wearer comfort and unrestricted movement while driving. (And in 1957 there was a good chance she was driving a stick-shift car!) I kept them the way they are as I will appreciate being able to wear a heavy sweater under my coat.

And here on page 37 is a drawing (by illustrator Dilys Wall) of the coat in red with this description:  “A hounds-tooth-check car coat with three flap pockets, side-slit seams, and tab-button detail on the sleeves.  Designed in sizes 10 to 18.”  

Interestingly, also featured in this same magazine is this example of a child’s coat, also with a fly front.  This type of opening takes more skill – and time – to make.  I love the affirmation this item gives to the commitment and ability of the home-sewer in the 1950s.  

Because this coat has those extra details which put it a notch above ordinary, there is a lot of preparation work before seams can actually be sewn together.  The sleeve tabs, with their bound buttonholes must be complete before the sleeve seams can be sewn.  Additionally, the set-in pockets with their flaps present a considerable amount of prep work on the fronts of the coat.  Sounds like fun to me! More to come . . .

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Filed under car coats, Coats, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Pattern Art, pockets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

A Return to Sewing

Did you think I had abandoned my cape?  After an unexpectedly long hiatus from sewing – due to busy holidays, travel, and things out of my control – I finally returned to my sewing room last week.  And although PINK is supposed to feature large in my 2022 sewing agenda, I first had “anything but pink” unfinished business from 2021.  Yes, that cape which I thought would be such an easy make…  I put the final stitches in it last week, only about 6 weeks after I imagined that would happen.

Hah… Those buttons are much more of a deep olive green in reality!
Can you tell it was freezing when I took these photos? This duo will be a good Fall ensemble, but it is not quite warm enough for the middle of Winter!

In all fairness, I should say whenever I must stop a project and then return to it weeks later, I always imagine that it has taken me much longer than it should have.  There is a “reacquaintance” factor in the time involved.  “Now, just where am I in this?  What’s the next step?  What did I do with the undercollar?  Is the lining already cut out?  If so, where is it?”  and on and on. Believe it or not, I tend to be rather organized about my sewing, leaving notes for myself – that sort of thing.  But still – the momentum needs to be rebooted, both for the project and for myself!

Enough of this babble. On to the cape – what worked, what didn’t, and what will I do differently, should I make this pattern again.  Regardless – the cape is ready to wear, and I am very pleased with how it turned out.  

I had to pay extensive attention to laying out the pattern and matching plaids as best I could, knowing that this uneven plaid was going to play some tricks on me.  For the most part, I think I was fairly successful; at least there aren’t any glaring mismatches.  

I must have sewn, torn out and resewn the collar at least five times until I realized those stripes were never going to perfectly align.
I chose an olive green silk charmeuse from Emma One Sock Fabrics for the lining.

The arm slits are just lovely, both outside and inside:

The welts are continuous with the front princess seam.
The lining is brought right up to the inner edge of the welt and slip-stitched in place.

I was a bit concerned about the size of the collar.  This is a pattern from the 1970s, when collars tended to be a bit oversized.  I certainly did not want this cape to scream 1970s, so I was ready to pare down those collar points if necessary.  But I think the collar is perfect just the way it is.

I under-stitched the collar to control the edges.
I think the size of this collar is just right.
I also under-stitched the front edges of the lining. The entire cape is underlined with silk organza, which gave me the perfect anchor upon which to attach those stitches invisibly.

The one component of this pattern I did have trouble with was the separate closing tab.  The pattern, surprisingly, did not specify bound buttonholes.  Rather it called for machine or hand-stitched buttonholes.  I usually like to make bound buttonholes on wool fabric (there are exceptions, of course, but I did not look at this as one of those).  So I dutifully went at it.  But the narrow width of the tab made turning it, with bound buttonholes applied, nearly impossible.  No, make that totally impossible.  It was lumpy, uneven, and unacceptable.  But I was not going to give up on my bound buttonholes.  I decided to redraw the tab, using “squared-off ends” rather than rounded ends.  I knew that would give me more space to manipulate all the interior buttonhole bulk.  I also oriented the buttonholes horizontally instead of on an angle as shown in the lower pattern piece below.

The lower figure is the original tab as taken from the pattern. The upper figure is my redrawn tab.

Voila!  It worked, and I think it might even be a better look than the tab with the rounded ends.  

Not sure why my olive green enameled buttons look almost mint green in these photos.

So – what would I change next time?  I think I might add an inch or two in length.  I think the cape pictured on the pattern envelope looks longer than the reality of it.  

I also think I would taper the back hem of the cape to a gentle extended curve so that the back of the cape is about one to one-and-a-half inches longer than the front.  When I visualize that, I like what I “see.”  

Making this cape has reinforced my opinions about this type of outer covering – it is graceful and quietly elegant in this unfussy form, even in plaid.  Finishing up this project was necessary, but also, as it turned out, a successful start to the new sewing year.  

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Capes, couture construction, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns, woolens

PINK Plans for 2022

Five days into the New Year seems like a good time to look forward and put down in writing new plans and projects, both personally and in my sewing life.  Occasionally in past years, I have chosen a word to guide me in my thinking, and after a sewing friend (thank you, Debra!) suggested this approach again, I happily went with the first word which popped into my mind.  P I N K.

Pink is undoubtably my favorite color.  I love it in all hues and shades, from the palest pink to deepest fuchia, from bubblegum pink to carnation pink.  I love wearing pink and I love sewing with pink fabrics. Looking at fabrics I have collected over the past few years testifies to this fact.

A few of those selections with “assignments” for 2022 will be scattered amongst this exploration into PINK.

And first up is this length of deep pink cashmere blend (Farmhouse Fabrics), from which I plan to make this jacket:

P:

P of course stands for PINK the color.

P is also a good reminder to keep PERSPECTIVE on the year.  If the last two years have taught us anything, it is to be prepared for the unexpected.  Sometimes things are out of our control, thwarting our plans and timing.  Rolling with the punches (another P-word!) is something I need to become better at.  Which brings me to . . .

P is for PERSEVERANCE.  This is an invaluable asset when it comes to sewing well – and living well.  

I have plans to make a day dress out of this soft and supple dress-weight wool, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics. I am still deciding on the pattern.

I:

I is for INDULGENCE.  I have decided to indulge my love of coats and dresses and fancy clothes even I don’t need them.  So there!  

I is also for INDECISION.  I am not usually one who has trouble making decisions, but sometimes, a fabric or pattern stumps me.  When that happens, I have to step back and let time make the decision for me.  It always works.

I is for INSPIRATION, which is never in short supply among all the vintage patterns, fashions, buttons, and fabrics in the couture-loving-and-sewing online community.

If you follow my blog, you have seen this duo before. Silk charmeuse for a fancy blouse and silk twill for a floaty skirt, both from Britex Fabrics.

N:

N is for NEW ENDEAVORS, both in sewing and in my personal life – NEW patterns, NEW fabrics (YES! Even new fabrics), NEW commitments, determined by answering these two questions:  What can I let go of?  And, more importantly perhaps, What can I not let go of? 

N is also for NOT feeling guilty about all the time I devote to sewing and fashion and dreaming about both. 

The pink gingham on the right is silk taffeta. When I purchased this fabric from Farmhouse Fabrics, I intended to make a shirt dress, but then it did not seem right to me. A couple of years later, I knew it needed to be a Spring coat instead, lined with the quirky vintage 1950s’ novelty silk. The pattern is below, first used by me in 1974 for a trench coat I sadly no longer have.
I love this pattern now as much as I did when I first made it in my early twenties.

K:

K is for Kindred Spirits – such an amazing camaraderie amongst the global sewing community. I am so grateful to be part of the network of friendships we share.

K is for Keeping Focus, and for the need to Knuckle Down in order to accomplish my sewing and personal goals this year.   

K is finally for Kindness which I hope will guide me throughout this new year.

Even when I choose a color other than pink, somehow pink wiggles its way into the design. When I found this fabric at Emma One Sock Fabrics, I immediately thought of making a tunic and trimming it with pink Petersham ribbon.
A Pink-Lover’s Dream Collection: From top to bottom: 1)vintage Moygashel linen, purchased on eBay 2) silk charmeuse, purchased from Britex Fabrics 3)vintage Moygashel linen, purchased by me in the 1970s 4) linen, possibly Moygashel, purchased on Etsy 5) silk jacquard purchased from Britex 6) silk charmeuse, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics 7 & 8) coordinating silks, purchased from Mendel Goldberg.

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”  Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy New Year, dear Sewing Friends.  

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Filed under Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

Wool Slacks

Or do you call them pants?  For some reason, I tend to think there are slight differences between pants and slacks.  But not so, according to Fairchild’s Dictionary.  Slacks are listed as “Synonym for pants. Term is usually applied to loose-cut casual pants, not part of a suit.  In the 1930s when women first began wearing pants for leisure activities, these garments were generally called slacks rather than pants.” (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyliss  Tortora, Third Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, 2003, p. 359-360).  I find this interesting, and a little confusing. I have always thought of slacks as a bit more refined than just pants.  “Slacks and a sweater” conjures up a town-and-country-state of mind for me – rich wool, cable-knit sweater and a string of pearls or simple gold necklace.  Perfect for being comfortable but stylish.  Although it doesn’t really matter what one calls them – pants or slacks – I prefer “slacks” – especially when they are finished!  

This is the pattern I used for the slacks. Notice they are called slacks in the description! There are 8 shaping darts – four in the front and four in the back, and no pockets.

It took so many fittings during the process of making these slacks, and so many minor tweaks, so that when I finally took the last stitch, I was so relieved!  A lot of thought went into them which I will share here.

First of all, the vintage wool I was using (and from which my matching cape is being constructed) is – you guessed it – an uneven plaid.  Fortunately, the dominant colors in the plaid allowed me to “ignore” the uneven aspect and concentrate on what WAS even, if that makes sense.  

This photo from my last post shows the uneven aspect of the plaid. I planned the layout according the the brighter lavender stripe.

Then I had to determine where I wanted those lavender lines to hit my hips, and where I wanted them to run up and down the legs.  These considerations needed to accommodate where I wanted the pants-leg hems to fall in relation to the larger blocks of the plaid.  I generally like to have a hem fall somewhere mid-way between dominant horizontal lines.  I never want a dominant horizontal line to be right at the edge of a hem if I can avoid it. 

Here is the hem on one of the legs, to show where I wanted the lower edge to fall in relation to the plaid.
And here you can see how I placed the vertical stripes on the legs.

I underlined these slacks with silk organza, I lined them with silk crepe de chine (from Emma One Sock Fabrics).  I am lining the cape with matching color silk charmeuse, but I wanted a lighter weight lining for the slacks.  The only exception to this is the facing on the waistband, for which I used silk charmeuse.  The interior of the waistband may occasionally be against my bare skin, and silk charmeuse is just a bit more comfortable in areas which call for a snugger fit. 

I faced the waistband with silk charmeuse.

It was serendipitous that I had a wool sweater, purchased many years ago, which is a perfect complement to the darker purple/eggplant color in the plaid. 

It was quite chilly when I took these photos! Where’s my cape?

 Now I’m excited to make more progress on that cape, which has taken a backseat to holiday sewing and shopping.  It may, indeed, be after Christmas until the cape gets its debut, but life has its priorities, doesn’t it? 

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Filed under Fashion history, Hems, Linings, Slacks, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Diversionary Tactics

While bogged down in the fitting of these wool slacks, my mind has been thinking about capes instead. 

Almost ready for the waistband!
But first – finish inserting the lapped zipper and the silk lining.

I know myself well enough to recognize it is always prudent to work on the least favorable item first and save the ”goodies” for later, and that is what I have done with this cape and slacks ensemble introduced in my last post.  There is a reason I have made few pairs of slacks in my years of sewing:  I find fitting them tedious.  So, while I think I am just about satisfied with how they are coming along, the thing which has kept me sane is the prospect of making that beautiful cape. 

All of this has led me to do a little research into capes.  I started with Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, as I often do when investigating a sewing/fashion topic.  Well, oh my!   There happen to be no fewer than 8 pages of entries for capes, cloaks, and shawls!  It turns out a cape is not just a cape, and the history of capes is long indeed.  For my purposes here, the simple definition of a cape is sufficient:  “Sleeveless outerwear of various lengths usually opening in center front; cut in a full circle, in a segment of  a circle, or on the straight – usually with slits for arms.  A classic type of outerwear worn in one form or another throughout history….”  (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003)

Interestingly, Christian Dior has no entry for capes in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, another one of my go-to reference books.  But as luck would have it, the newest J. Peterman Company catalogue, Owners Manual No. 197, Holidays 2021, arrived in my mailbox this week.  And there on page 5, he has offered for sale a Plaid Wool Cape, with the enticing caption:  “Capes are mysterious.  Alluring.  Functional. In the past, they’ve existed as an alternative to coats so you wouldn’t crush your real clothing…”  He goes on to say one will not want to take off this particular cape, as there could be nothing better under it.  Well, I guess that’s an arguable point, but you get the picture.  Capes demand attention, but in a good way.

I started thinking about the patterns I have gathered over the years, and I remembered at least two which feature capes.  Once I got into my pattern collection, I found four besides the one I am currently using.  

The earliest one is clearly this Vogue Couturier Design from the second half of the 1950s.

Its description reads:  “Suit and Reversible Cape.  Easy fitting jacket with concealed side pockets buttons below shaped collar.  Below elbow length sleeves.  Slim skirt joined to shaped waistband.  Reversible, collarless cape has arm openings in side front seams.”  I think this is pretty spectacular, and while the suit is lovely, it is enhanced many times over by the addition of the short cape.

Next is this Advance pattern from the 1960s, a cape in two lengths.  

The more I look at capes, the more I think I like the shorter versions.

I was attracted to this pattern because of its lengthwise darts, its rolled collar and back neckline darts.  

This diagram from the back of the envelope shows the finesse of the design.

The 1970s is represented by the Molyneux pattern I am using and two more: a Pucci design and a Sybil Connolly design.

I purchased the Pucci pattern for the dress (which I now believe to be too “youthful” for me), but its cape certainly completes the outfit.  The description reads:  “…Cape with jewel neckline has arm openings in side front seams; back vent [which I find interesting}.  Top-stitch trim.”

And the final cape pattern I own – almost a capelet – is this Sybil Connolly design.  The caption states “…Short asymmetrical flared cape has side button closing.”  No arm slits in this cape.  

I actually made this cape a number of years ago, but I must admit I have worn it infrequently.  The wide stance of the neckline makes it a little unstable.  I guess there is a good reason most capes have a tighter neckline – and open in the center front.  

So there is my whirlwind cape tour. What do you think?  Are capes alluring and mysterious?   Functional and sophisticated?  I, for one, think capes have a slightly romantic charm to them. Do you?  

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Filed under Advance vintage patterns, Capes, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

A Fabric Full of Surprises

Several years ago I purchased a piece of vintage French Lesur wool, which I subsequently made into one of my favorite pieces ever, my pink Christian Dior-designed coat.  

When I received the length of pink wool from the eBay seller, I wrote her a note to tell her how excited and grateful I was to have the opportunity to purchase that fabric.  It apparently had been from the estate of an accomplished dressmaker, known for her good taste.  The seller then kindly offered me another piece – very different in aspect – from the same collection.  The photos she sent me showed a wool plaid which looked to be a medium khaki background with purple and lavender lines woven into it.  It wasn’t exactly what I usually gravitate to, but I knew the quality of the fabric would be superb, and being a pushover for vintage fabric, I decided to purchase a five-yard length from her.  

When the fabric arrived, it wasn’t at all what I had expected.  This is one of the downsides of purchasing fabric – especially vintage fabric – online.  You don’t always get what you think you are getting.  This fabric was deep brown and the purple and lavender intersecting lines were more the colors of eggplant and lilac.  It seemed kind of dark to me. Except for black and navy blue, I’m not usually a dark-wearing person.  The quality of the fabric, however, was indeed superb.  Soft, lightweight with a beautiful hand to it.  

I was a little disgruntled about this purchase, though.  I don’t like to spend money frivolously, and this suddenly seemed like an unwise decision.  But – it was done, so I put the fabric in my fabric closet for storage.  Every once in a while I would take it out and ponder it.  I started to like it more and more, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to make with it – all 5 yards!  

Now. . .  I have discovered with fashion sewing, that sometimes time allows creativity and inspiration to blossom, and that is what happened with this fabric. At some point over the summer, I decided this wool would make beautiful slim slacks.  But what to do with all that remaining fabric?  Somehow, a matching jacket did not appeal to me at all – and then I remembered a lovely vintage Vogue pattern, designed by Molyneux, I had in my collection at home in Pennsylvania.  I knew it would be perfect with the pants – and the fact that I had long wanted to make its featured hip-length cape sealed the deal!  

In preparation for this project, I needed to order lining fabric, both for the pants and for the cape. I selected 5 shades of brown silk charmeuse on Emma One Sock’s website and sent off for swatches.  (I often prefer to use a contrasting color for a lining, but in this case I determined a matching lining would allow me greater flexibility in wearing the cape with something other than the matching pants.)  The swatches arrived in short order, and I was astounded to discover that not one of them was even close to a matching color.  

The swatch second from the right was the closest match, but it was still a long way from viable, even more so in person than in this photo.

And then it hit me – like an iron in the face! – this wool was not brown, it was a true olive green!  No wonder it had started to appeal to me.  I have long been a fan of olive green, which I now know to be a little bit of an enigmatic color.  Off I sent for 5 more swatches of silk lining, this time in shades of deep green.  When the swatches arrived, it was a Bingo moment.  One was clearly a perfect match.  

The center swatch “reads” brown in this photo, but it is a true olive green, as is the background of the wool fabric.

Please stay with me in the next couple of posts, as I work through this two piece outfit – a project whose time has finally come.  

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Filed under Capes, Christian Dior, Linings, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

What Do You Think of Pockets?

Do you love pockets and add them to your sewn creations wherever you can?  Would you be happy never to have to sew another pocket?  Do you tolerate them in a garment, preferring to do without if possible?  Many people have very strong opinions about pockets or the lack thereof. I think those of us who sew are among those with the strong opinions, primarily because we have it in our power to add them or delete them.  My personal mantra on pockets is “Let’s see if we can do without them, unless we can’t.”   

I generally divide my thoughts about pockets into three categories: those in dress pants (slacks), those in dresses and skirts, and those in dressier coats and jackets. (A little caveat is probably useful here  before I get any further.  Yes, jeans should have pockets, as should hiking and/or activewear pants and shorts.  And absolutely, pockets are part of the functionality of active outdoor coats and jackets and vests. Those categories are not part of this discussion.)  

It was over two decades ago when I first started thinking about the dilemma pockets in slacks present.  I had just purchased a navy blue wool flannel, dressy pair of slim pants, which fit well and were flattering.  There were two welt pockets on either side of the front which were basted closed, as is the custom in better clothes (leaving it up to the purchasing customer to remove the basting.)  I left the basting in and preserved the slim silhouette of the slacks.  Had I removed the basting, the front, I am sure, would have “pooched” out at those two spots and, well, not done my tummy any favors.  Once I started buying vintage patterns a decade ago, I began to notice the slacks in the patterns from the 1950s generally were pocketless.  (I have long thought fashion and style in the decade of the 1950s was at its zenith, both in elegance and in silhouette, which is a topic for another discussion.)  Here a few examples of patterns from the 1950s:

Note the defining tuck in the front of the pant legs.
These slim pants are enhanced with 4 shaping darts each, front and back, with no waistband.
These slim pants do have a waistband.

In my mind, pockets in dress slacks are superfluous at best, detrimental at worst, and just unnecessary.  Although I rarely make pants and slacks, I have yet to put a pocket in any of them.

Dresses and skirts are a bit more complicated.  Fuller skirts often provide the perfect camouflage for in-seam pockets.  I have sewn at least three such styles, the patterns for which included pockets in the side seams.  Interestingly, two of them were vintage Diane von Furstenberg patterns from the 1970s; the other is a more recent Vogue shirt dress.

This DvF dress pattern from the 1970s has pockets in the side seams.
And so does this one!
Again, pockets in the side seams in this Vogue pattern. The fuller skirts in all three of these dresses conceal the pockets well, but only if they are empty! If I make any of these patterns again, I will not bother with adding pockets.

There was a charming article appearing this summer in a Weekend Edition of The Wall Street Journal by author Jasmine Guillory and her “perfect dress” which, alas, has pockets. (Check her website here to read the article under “About”.)  Here is what she wrote, “The only element that mars this dress’s perfection is its pockets.  This might be a controversial statement, but I don’t like dresses with pockets.  They pooch at my hips, even when empty, and if you put something in them, it’s worse….  What’s this great need for dresses with pockets?”  She goes on to say she regularly takes her dresses with pockets to the dry cleaner to have the pockets removed.  (Alas, again!  Her dry cleaner closed during the pandemic, meaning that her “perfect dress” still has its pockets, making it “almost perfect.”)  

But what about slimmer silhouettes?  In-seam pockets could cause the same “gapping” situation, which begs the question “Would you put anything in those pockets which would cause that pocket to gap even more?  Probably not.  I would place my hankie or my cell phone or lip stick in my handbag, not in my pocket – and that goes for fuller skirts as well.  (Besides, like Jasmine Guillory, I am quite smitten with handbags.) 

However, what about in-seam pockets which are part of the design?  Here is a notable example:

This Vogue Designer pattern has shallow pockets in its side front seams. Somehow, I can’t imagine this dress without them!

And then, of course, applied pockets are often part of the design, but not really intended for practical use.  Take a look at this evening gown: 

Notice that these pockets open from the side.

You might be able to tell I have decided I am not so keen on pockets in skirts and dresses either – UNLESS they are integral to the design.  

Which brings us to coats and jackets.  I think one’s first reaction to this category would be “Well, of course, jackets and coats need to have pockets.”  And for the most part, I would agree with that.  Often pockets in coats and jackets are part of the design and add stylistic interest as well as functionality.  Here are a few examples of coats I have made, with such pockets: 

The pockets in this coat are inserted into the shortened princess seam.
I am very fond of the slanted pockets in this Christian Dior design.
A pocket detail from a Givenchy Vogue coat pattern, with hand sewn topstitching.

Here is a jacket pattern which is in my sewing queue for 2022.  I absolutely love the pockets.

And where would a Classic French jacket be without its pockets?  They are not really functional, but undeniably integral to the design. 

One of the Classic French jackets I have made.

Not all coats have pockets, however.  Take a look at this Madame Gres design which I made in a lavender linen.  It has no pockets, nor would I want them in this Spring coat.

And here is a “summer” coat which I think is just so chic.  No pockets.

I have made this coat pattern twice – once with pockets and once without. 

The wool version has in-seam pockets which I find useful:

A peek inside one of those in-seam pockets.

But here is the same pattern, made as a “cocktail” coat.  I made it pocketless and love it.

No pockets needed when one has a lovely little clutch to carry.

Clearly there is much to consider when it comes to pockets.  When we add them to a garment, or delete them, or change their placement, or baste them shut to eliminate that dreadful “pooch” problem, we are admitting that not all pockets are equal.  Some are perfect in every way, some not so much, and some – are never missed.  

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Filed under Coats, Day dresses, Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, pockets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns