Category Archives: vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

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

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

Tuesday is for Ironing

One might get the idea I love to iron should they take stock of how many cotton blouses I have made over the past few years. Now I do love a crisp cotton blouse, and I find them to be imminently wearable, neat and tidy, and versatile.  So I keep making them.  But do I love to iron?  Not really, although it is not my most dreaded household chore.  (I think that might be grocery shopping – or more precisely, lugging everything home and putting it all away.  I don’t like that.)  

Even wearing a pretty blouse, like this – my most recent make, to the grocery store doesn’t make that chore more bearable!

One advantage to having lots and lots of cotton blouses is that the ironing can pile up, yet I will still have blouses to go to in my closet, so there’s that.  I think – no, I know – another reason I keep making casual cotton blouses is that I love to sew with beautiful quality cotton (of course Liberty comes to mind!) The selection of quality cotton prints, checks, plaids, stripes, and solids available online is astoundingly diverse, making the temptation great to make “just one more blouse.”

And then there are the buttons. If you follow my sewing life through this blog, you know my fascination with and pursuit of vintage buttons to use on my blouses and other projects.  Yes, a white plastic button can perform the same function, but a beautiful pearl button adds a touch of class to a simple blouse like no other detail can.  

A simple pearl button, circa 1960, BGE Originals, “First in Fashions”

It also helps that I have a set of blouse patterns which fit well due to many alterations and tweaking over several years’ use.  It is a lovely feeling to start a new project, knowing I don’t have to fit the pattern and make a muslin before I can get started on the fashion fabric.  

Three of my favorite blouse patterns, for which I have fitted muslins.
And one which I feel sure will become a favorite once I make and fit a muslin for it! View A is a classic look and the sleeves are so elegant.

I had been eyeing this Liberty cotton lawn on the Farmhouse Fabrics website for quite a while when I decided last Spring to go ahead and indulge.  Having a floral among my blouse selections is something just a bit different for me, as I already have numerous ginghams, plaids, and stripes.  

Liberty Lawn is lovely to sew and lovely to wear.
These colors make me happy.

So – is Tuesday really for ironing?  There used to be a proscribed schedule for all those household chores – and it went like this:

Monday: Wash Day

Tuesday:  Ironing Day 

Wednesday:  Sewing Day

Thursday:  Market Day

Friday:  Cleaning Day

Saturday:  Baking Day

Sunday:  Day of Rest

Well, times have changed. Now, every day is Sewing Day.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Liberty cotton, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

A White Eyelet Blouse

Eyelet is one of those fabrics which can conjure up memories from one’s life.  So often associated with pinafores, eyelet is lovely for little girls’ dresses – and petticoats.  It is often used for lingerie or sleepwear for all ages, as well as dresses and blouses.  It is a summer fabric, with its “built-in” air conditioning – ie. all those little holes surrounded by embroidery.    Often eyelet trim – and sometimes eyelet yard goods – have one or two finished borders.  Such was the case with the eyelet I found earlier this year for the ruffled collars for sundresses for my granddaughters.  

This lace was a 14″ wide double scallop-edged panel, which I cut down the middle to use for the two collars.

It was working on those collars which convinced me I needed to make an eyelet bouse for myself.  I went back to Farmhouse Fabrics, from which I had purchased the double-sided eyelet panel for those collars, to find a suitable eyelet for a blouse.  Farmhouse Fabrics has quite an inventory of lovely eyelets, so it was difficult to decide.  But decide I did, and purchased this all-cotton eyelet made in Spain.  

I liked the meandering motif in this design.

For a pattern I used this vintage Vogue pattern from 1957.

I liked the convertible collar of this pattern, as shown in View B. A convertible collar is one which can be worn open or closed. The collar is sewn directly to the neckline.  I did, however, shorten the sleeves to below elbow-length.  I also chose to make plain, buttoned cuffs without the extra turn-back detail.  

Although the blouse is described on the pattern envelope as “tuck-in,” I liked the gently curved and split hem which would also allow me to wear the blouse as an over-blouse.  The thumbnail detail from the pattern envelope shows the curved hem.  

I lined the main body of the blouse with white cotton batiste, leaving the sleeves unlined.  To reduce bulk, I made the undercollar and the cuff facings from the white batiste.

Buttons are always a favorite component of a blouse for me.  I had a card of vintage Lady Washington Pearls which seemed a lovely complement to the scale of the fabric embroidery.  

One button remaining!

I first wore this blouse on a very warm evening to attend an outdoor concert.  I was amazed at how cool the blouse was. The little breeze there was, did indeed feel like air-conditioning as it wafted through all those embroidered holes!

In my case, this collar is not “convertible” as I did not put a button and buttonhole at the neckline!
I made the cuffs with a bit more width than needed so I can push the sleeves up further if I want.
After I finished the blouse I went back and added two narrow fisheye darts to the back to make the fit a bit more streamlined.
I think this blouse might be a good pairing for the Liberty cotton skirt featured in my last post.

Finding beautiful eyelet fabric is now on my sewing radar.   I would like to make more with this timeless, feminine and versatile type of lace. 

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Eyelet, Lace, Mid-Century style, Sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Frivolous(?) Decision

When inspiration strikes, one must seize it, even if it doesn’t really make sense.  You may remember this fabric from a couple of months ago, purchased online from Britex Fabrics:

This is one of those fabrics which has just gotten better and better the more I have looked at it.  I have had it sitting out in my sewing room since it arrived, just pondering its potential.  Then one day I went “shopping” in my fabric closet.  I have my stored fabrics divided according to fiber or usage, with a large “basket” container for each class.  For example, all the silks are together, as are the linens, the cottons, the lining and underlining and interfacing fabrics, with the wools (which take up more space due to their generally bulkier nature) stacked on shelves next to the baskets.   Well, this particular day – the day I went “shopping” – I pulled out the silk fabrics just to reacquaint myself with what exactly I had in that container.    Buried down at the very bottom I found a deep pink, polka dotted silk charmeuse jacquard and INSPIRATION struck!  I had found the perfect complement to my newly acquired floral printed silk twill.  

At that point all I could imagine was a pink silk blouse and a flowing hostess skirt.  My prudent, practical side told me I have no occasion for such an outfit.  But my creative, dreamy side said “If you make it, you will wear it.”  I am stealing the following quote from some unknown sage, but it is speaking to me now:  “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”  

These two fabrics are meant for each other with their perky polka dots and shared sheen.  And the somewhat amazing thing is I purchased the pink charmeuse probably 10 years ago from – you guessed it – Britex Fabrics!  

Once I had the two fabrics side by side, I really began to “see” the floral twill, all its intricacies, the brilliance of design in having a spacious polka-dotted field for those whimsical flowers, and the color combination where the blues and pinks play off of each other in a color tug-of-war.  In the words of Oscar Wilde, “To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.”  [My italics]

My mental wheels were really turning by this time.  I knew what blouse pattern would be perfect for this two-piece project.  I had made this 1950’s pattern a few years ago in a silk dupioni – and it has continued to rank among my most favorite makes.  

(Well, this could use a good pressing!) I love the sleeves with their French cuffs and the lovely neckline of this pattern.

I will have to search for a skirt pattern, but suffice it to say, it should have uncluttered lines to show off the fabric, and it definitely needs to have a gentle fullness to it.  Decisions still need to be made as to how I underline this fabric.  I believe white cotton batiste will be best, as I will need to block the show-through of the pink blouse fabric.  That, combined with a white crepe  de chine lining, should do the trick.  We will see, as they say.  

Time is, God-willing, on my side.  I envision the start of this project in late Winter or early Spring of 2022.  And buried deep in my head – like that pink fabric buried deep in its lair – is the thought I may just have to HOST some tony party to provide the perfect setting for my elegant hostess skirt and swanky blouse.  Who wants an invitation?  

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Filed under Polka dots, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Fabric and Its Label

Find me a beautiful vintage fabric, accompanied by its original label, and I will tell its story. 

 
What started off as a simple eBay purchase evolved into something quite unexpected, with secrets and history to reveal. It is all about this piece of vintage Forstmann wool, purchased within the last two years.  

This wool is 56″ wide and I have 1 1/3 yards, just enough for either a skirt or a simple dress.

I was drawn to its vibrant plaid combination of red and green and black and white.  An extra bonus was its attached label and famous brand name.  I was familiar with Forstmann woolens from the time I was a child in the 1950s, and I was aware of its renowned quality.  But I was quite unprepared for the reality of my purchase.  

Immediately upon opening the package, I was struck with two things:  the saturation of the colors and the buttery softness and easy hand of the wool.  I was thrilled with my purchase, and carefully placed it away in my fabric closet, intending to think about it until I had a plan in place.   I would occasionally get it out to admire it, so I felt I was quite familiar with it.  However, it was not until this past Spring when I suddenly realized it was an uneven plaid.  Having just agonized over a dress made from an uneven Linton tweed plaid, and having by this time determined that I wanted to make a sheath dress from this wool, I had one of those dreaded “uh-oh” moments.  My plan seemed to be self-destructing.  An uneven plaid would not do for such a dress.

And then I did something I had yet to do – I opened out the full expanse of the yardage.  That was when I realized the brilliance of the woolen manufacturer.  The wool was loomed with a right and left side, with a center “panel,“ making it possible to have an even orientation of the plaid. Thus, I would be able to balance the plaid on the front and also on the back of the dress I hoped to make.

In the center of this photo is the center point of the wool, with half the width to one side and half to the outer side. Absolutely brilliant.
Here is a close-up, in which the lovely herringbone weave is also beautifully apparent.

With this exciting discovery, I then wanted to know more about when this fabric was manufactured.  I knew that Forstmann Woolen Company had advertised in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I also knew Forstmann woolens were often the fabrics of choice for fashions displayed in the magazine.  A little bit of perusing and detective work helped me narrow down an approximate span of years for the production of my wool.

This full-page advertisement from the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features the label current at that time.  It is probably a precursor to the label I received with my wool.  

I love this ad for many reasons, but especially for the red coat. Isn’t it just so elegant?

I found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:

This has to be one of my favorite magazine covers of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines I have.

The inside front cover from October/November 1959 is once again a full-page ad for Forstmann.  The label shown is similar to mine, but not exact. 

This label is another variation, without the descriptive phrase “100% Virgin Wool.” Again, this ad has beautiful depictions of wool, with Vogue patterns chosen for each of them.

It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.  

This ad was prominently placed on the inside front cover of the October/November 1960 edition of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Proof of this partnership was quite apparent by the second half of 1962.  The label featured in this ad actually has Stevens Fabrics woven into the logo.  

From the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

My best guess, from the above references, is that my piece of fabric was manufactured in the second half of the decade of the 1950s.  I have always considered that span of years as the golden age of American fashion.  My fortunate purchase reinforces the knowledge for me of the excellence of design, quality and craftsmanship available to the home sewing industry at that time.  Now – it is up to me to do justice to this piece of Forstmann wool. Amazingly, and with good fortune, the story of this fabric continues some 65 years after its manufacture. 

And here’s to a new year – 2021 – with its own secrets and stories to reveal. May they all be happy ones, waiting to be discovered and shared . . .

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Filed under fabric labels, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Red Letter Day-Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fabric Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

The Last Dress of Summer

Or is it the first dress of Fall?  It depends on your point of view, apparently.  The Autumnal Equinox, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is September 22nd, officially the first day of (Astronomical) Fall.  Meteorological Fall began on September 1st, marking the point in the year when the temperatures begin to fall (pardon the pun.)  Either way one looks at it, I now have a finished dress which is either late for Summer or just under the wire.  I’m honestly just delighted to have it finished!

Although linen is traditionally thought to be a summertime fabric, I have long thought it is also the perfect fabric for early Fall.  Moygashel linen is especially well suited for this time of year.  Its natural fibers keep it cool for those days which continue to warm up, but its sturdy weave and heft give it a substantial enough look for these days of transition.

I purchased this piece of vintage linen from an Etsy shop years ago.

This particular piece of Moygashel, undoubtably a survivor from the mid-1950s, presented me with a couple of challenges.  First, it was only 35” wide.  And I only had 2½ yards.  Laying out pattern pieces on a single layer of fabric always allows me to maximize their placement, improving my ability to do the impossible – get a dress out of too little fabric.  (Here is another Moygashel linen dress which I was able to squeak out of 1 5/8 yards of 35” fabric.)

This vintage Vogue pattern gave me two sleeve options.  If I had opted for the very short sleeves, I would have had ample yardage.  But, for the seasonal reasons mentioned above, I particularly wanted to make this dress with the below-elbow-length sleeves.  So, I fiddled and figured and made it work by utilizing both the straight of grain and the cross grain for the bodice/sleeve pieces.  I was able to do this because of the allover floral design – ie., no directional limitations.

This pattern is dated 1957.

Interestingly enough, this dress with its cut-on sleeves does not have gussets.  Rather, the underarm seams of the dress sections are curved to add moveability.

This shows where the seams join under the arm close to the top of the side zipper.

I underlined this dress with white cotton batiste (from Farmhouse Fabrics) and I finished the seams with Hug Snug Rayon seam binding.

The buttoned upper back bodice is a real focal point of this pattern.  Being 1957, the pattern calls for “fabric buttonholes” – or bound buttonholes.  So that’s what I did.

When it came to buttons, I wanted to use some sort of faceted black buttons.  After searching online and coming up empty-handed for buttons of the correct size and look, I settled on these carved pearl buttons already in my button collection.

I love these buttons, but I still think black ones would be better …  so I will keep searching and switch them when I’m successful.  That will also allow me to use the “leaf” buttons (I have 6 of them) for something which will show them off to better advantage.

The final construction detail of note is the 10” side zipper.  I used a lapped, hand-picked application which lays inconspicuously below the left sleeve.

It is so inconspicuous, you can barely see it here!

I did not leave an opening on either side at the waist for a belt to slip through.  In fact, I did not have enough fabric to make a self-belt!  However, my intention was always to use a contrasting belt.  I think this fabric will lend itself to using belts of varying colors (red or yellow or pink?) as long as I can coordinate with shoes, handbags and/or jewelry.  That will have to wait until I am home from our Summer location.  Maybe I’ll even find black buttons back home!

I could wear this dress without a belt as well. (But I’m not sure I will…)

One final note about this pattern and dress:  it has to go over the head.  It was much more common for dresses from the 1950s and ‘60s to have side zippers and “over the head access”  only.  This can wreak havoc on hair (and make-up)!  So a little pre-planning is necessary – I will need to finish my primping after I have put on the dress.

And everytime I put this dress on, I shall see the original Moygashel linen label which came with the fabric.

I suspect this dress will go right into the cedar closet for the months to come, as I switch out the wool skirts and dresses and coats and sweaters.  But hopefully, in March, at the Spring Equinox, it will creep out from its dark and quiet spot and maybe even actually be worn!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Moygashel linen, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns