Category Archives: vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Three-Piece Outfit for the Holidays: Part One, The Blouse

“Today blouses are not worn quite as much as they used to be and I think it is a pity.” So said Christian Dior in 1954. With that in mind, hopefully he would have approved of this Vogue blouse pattern from 1958:

You have already seen my toile of this blouse, where I worked out all the “kinks.” I liked it made up in muslin and now I am quite thrilled with it made up in silk dupioni, purchased from Britex Fabrics.

The iridescent quality of silk dupioni woven with two contrasting colors, such as this one, makes it an excellent fabric to use for “fancy” attire. The only reservation I had was whether it would be too stiff for use in a blouse. It is by nature rather “papery” in composition. I was a little concerned it might not have enough drapeability for this blouse, where a major focus is on the softly pleated sleeves. I did a little research, and of course, the first guideline I found was an admonishment not to wash dupioni! Doing so would diminish that papery nature. Well, that was exactly what I wanted to do – soften it a bit. Further research led me to an article in Threads Magazine from a few years back, where, indeed, a reader had successfully washed dupioni in her quest to make it suppler. Off to my washing machine I went with a large swatch for a (successful) trial run. Soon the entire two yards were gently swashing around in cold water on the delicate cycle. It took quite a bit of heavy steam to wrestle out the wrinkles, but I was left with a soft, drapeable fabric for my blouse.

Quite apparent in this image are the two contrasting threads, one fuchsia and the other bright yellow, which, woven together made a shimmery apricot color.

Buttons for a blouse such as this one are an important element. I knew they needed to be special, and what could be more special than vintage glass buttons from France? I found these listed in an Etsy store (YumYum Objects).

These glass buttons have silver accents, adding just a bit more depth to their appearance.

The listing was for a set of 6, and I needed 8 for this blouse. The French cuffs required two buttons each. These buttons were too perfect to pass up, however, so I decided I could use two buttons of another style for the rear-facing part of the cuff. I found a set of little, clear glass, ball buttons in my button box, which seemed appropriate and a good compromise!

The ball button on the back.

For some reason I always like to make sleeves first, so that is what I did. The French cuffs, by their very nature, of course, call for two buttonholes with two buttons looped together to thread through those openings, one on each side. However, I placed a buttonhole on the front part of the cuff only. I then sewed the two buttons together, back to back through the back part of the cuff, with the fancy button meant to thread through that single buttonhole and the other button to be stationary. I liked the idea that this method would hold the two sides of the cuff more tightly together.

The fancy glass button on the front.

This view shows the three pleats in the sleeve. In addition, there is a small amount of gathering which adds to the blouson effect of the lower sleeve.

Being a pattern from 1958, the instructions called for bound buttonholes, of course. However, due to the nature of the fabric, I decided machine buttonholes would make a nicer finish, so that is what I did (with a little hand-finishing on each one…)

The rest of the blouse was quite straightforward.

I took this picture with the sun streaming in one of my sewing room windows. It really shows the luminosity of the fabric.

I am so happy I decided to keep the released darts at the waistline. I think they will work beautifully with the skirt I have planned.

I gave my usual attention to hand-finishing the hem and facings (it just looks nicer!) and marveled again at the finesse added to this notched shawl collar by that small dart in the collar crease. Hopefully you can see this detail here:

That dart makes the collar turn beautifully.

Next up is a guipure lace skirt! I wonder what Christian Dior would have to say about that?

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Prepping for the Next Project

Sewing is a little bit like house painting in that successful end results are often dependent upon good prep work. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be making a muslin (toile), tedious as it sometimes is, than sanding, spackling, and cleaning walls or woodwork. And sometimes, a pattern reveals unknown charms as its toile comes to life.

Such has certainly been the case with my next project, a three-part ensemble, the first of which is a blouse, to be made out of lightweight and shimmery silk dupioni. This is to be a dressy blouse in which I want to emphasize the fabric and some amazing French buttons I found for it. Because I love a notched collar which can be raised up at the back of the neck and frame the neck and face in the front, I looked for a pattern which had that feature, but also some feminine sleeves. Among the possibilities in my pattern collection was this Vogue pattern from 1958.

Of course, View A is my version of choice.

After studying the pattern pieces, I determined it had just about everything I was looking for, even though the pattern art doesn’t make this look like a particularly fancy blouse.

The back of the pattern envelope often gives important information, such as placement of darts. This one also told me that the collar has a center back seam, which is a stylistic detail I like.

I was especially intrigued by the small diagonal darts you can see here on the “blouse front” and “collar and interfacing” diagrams. The instructions were to graduate the dart down from 1/8 of an inch at the center point to nothing at both ends. I discovered that little bit of shaping makes a huge difference in the way the collar turns, allowing it to emphasize the neckline.

Click on the image for enlargement.

I show the collar flat here, but I intend to wear it with the back of the neck standing up.

The sleeve pattern called for three tucks (also visible above on the pattern diagram) as well as gathering at the cuff, which I knew would add a gentle feminine silhouette, especially in dupioni. And the cuffs are French cuffs, but very petite ones, with a small angled turn-back, which is just such a lovely feature. The only thing I could not determine was if the sleeves were too short for my “vision.” Of course, that is what muslins/toiles are for, and indeed, the first sleeve was too short. I added a three-inch extension to the next sleeve, knowing I could always take it up. I finally settled on lengthening the pattern by 1.5 inches.

Here is the blouse with the original sleeve on the right (as you are looking at it, actually the left side of the blouse), and the sleeve with an extension of 1.5 inches opposite.

I believe the longer sleeve looks less like 1958 and more like 2017. I love using vintage patterns, but I don’t want to look vintage!

The toile also told me that the top button needed to be lowered, and I needed to add a bit of width around the hips. I originally thought I might not want to use the released darts at the waistline, but I love the effect they make.

It’s not often that I stand back and admire a muslin, with its loose threads, its uncut seam allowances and lumpy corners. I am usually anxious to tear it apart so I can quickly proceed to use its pieces for my working pattern. Of course, I will be doing that, but until then, I will marvel at all the design secrets it has revealed to me in its humble cloth.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Pattern Art, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Sewing Mystery

Sewing with vintage patterns is such an interesting activity. Beyond the finesse of the designs, the intricacies of construction, the attention to small details, and the fabulous pattern art lay some sophisticated and mysterious references to the history of fashion sewing.

For example, I am in wishful awe at some of the fabric suggestions on the pattern envelopes: one pattern for a coat and dress with a copyright of 1957 suggests, among other more common fabrics: Barathea, Shantung, Surah, Matelasse. Another coat pattern suggests Camel’s hair and Worsted, while Madras is suggested on two dress patterns. This is just a small sampling, but you can surmise from this that the sewing audience for these patterns knew their fabrics – and the pattern companies expected them to.

But it is in the short descriptive entries on the back of the envelopes where I have come across a mystery of terminology. One of the first vintage patterns I purchased was this coat pattern:

This pattern is dated 1957.

On the back of the envelope, to quote:

9232 Coat “easy to make” Flared back coat in regulation [my emphasis] and shorter length. High front and back belt, optional. Tapering kimono sleeves may be worn pushed up. [Don’t you love that styling advice?]

So, I thought, “What is regulation length?” I could not find a reference to this term anywhere – not in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, not in any of the vintage sewing books I own, nor in any of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines which I have in my collection.  I figured I would just keep an eye out for other references to this term, and it did not take long for me to come across another one.

Isn’t this just so chic? No date on this pattern, but it clearly is about 1961.

This one was in reference to pants:

Again, to quote:

5234 Coat, blouse, slacks and cummerbund Knee length coat with standing band collar has full length novelty or buttoned closing. Opening in side seams. Below elbow length kimono sleeves. Over-blouse may be worn tucked in. [More of that styling advice!] Below elbow length sleeves and sleeveless. Regulation slacks. [Again, my emphasis] Shirred cummerbund fastens at underarm.

Then my search for other examples went dry – until a couple of months ago when I found this pattern on eBay:

(I have a difficult time resisting Asian-inspired dresses.) When the pattern arrived, I was delighted to read its description:

5571 One piece dress and pants   Sheath dress [here’s another mystery – why did they call this a sheath dress and not a cheongsam?] in three lengths, has opening in side seams. Optional waist-line darts. Diagonal right side frog closing below standing band collar. Below elbow length sleeves rolled up for cuffs, short sleeves and sleeveless. Regulation pants. [My emphasis]

With two examples of pants/slacks (notice that one is called pants and one is called slacks, just to compound the confusion), I thought I might be onto something. So back to Fairchild’s I went to look at the entry for pants. I found this excellent diagram about pant lengths, but no reference to “Regulation” length.

The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 2003, p. 354. Click on the picture for a better view. It was difficult to avoid the distortion on the spine side of the book.

Some further sleuthing led me to some of the descriptive terms used for military attire, and yes, there are references to regulation requirements, but nothing that could be transferred to fashion sewing in the early 1960s. I suspect there could be a carry-over from those pants/slacks that women wore in war plants during World War II. But that doesn’t help explain the coat length. And here, look at this pattern from approximately the same time period as the coat at the beginning of this post: it is virtually identical, but there is no reference to “regulation” anywhere.

This pattern is dated 1957.

I am stumped! I am certainly not losing sleep over this (that I save for my sewing projects), but I do find it intriguing. Do any of you, my readers, know why the term “regulation” is used regarding the length of some coats and pants? Has anyone else come across this term?  Can you solve this sewing mystery?

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Filed under Coats, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

A Lesson from Lilly

Have you ever purchased a piece of fabric on a whim – and then regretted it? That’s exactly what happened to me, here in the midst of July. I saw this piece of Lilly Pulitzer silk fabric offered on eBay, and without giving it too much thought, I bought two yards.

I have always loved most of the Lilly prints and color combinations, and something about this silk just looked fresh and summery to me. I have long wanted to make the pattern pictured below again, and with its Asian flare, I thought the multi-colored, abstract printed Lilly silk would pair well with it.

The date on this pattern is 1958. I made the blouse/tunic a few years ago and still enjoy wearing it. I would like to make view B sometime…

I had several scraps of solid green silk, one of which I thought would be good as a contrast fabric for the button details on the front of the blouse. (The pattern calls it a tunic, but it looks more like a blouse to me.) As it turned out, I used a scrap of green silk out of which I had made a blouse to go with a purchased Lilly skirt way back in the 1970s! I still have the skirt, but not the blouse…

Anyway, I am digressing. When the fabric arrived – in an itsy-bitsy package that weighed about an ounce – I knew I had made a mistake. Yes, it was silk, but it was so flimsy and slippery I wasn’t very sure it could be sewn with any sort of finesse. (Now I know that assessment was correct.) I contemplated saving it for a lining for something sometime, although truly, it would make a flopsy lining.  Deep down, I knew if I didn’t make it right now, I would never, ever use it. And that would be a waste of money for sure.

Well, now I am going to digress. I find that if I purchase a piece of fabric of impeccable quality, I can hold onto to it for months or even years without ever fearing it will never be used. In fact, the better quality the fabric is, sometimes the longer I wait to use it. That allows me time to think about and search for the perfect pattern, time to explore possible dressmaker details for it, and time to savor its beauty. When it comes to silk in particular, I have found that high quality, fine silk, even very lightweight silk, has a substance to it and a hand to it that makes sewing with it a pleasure.

Let me tell you, this was not a pleasure. I slipped and slid the whole way through the construction of this tunic/blouse. My pins would not stay in place, falling out willy-nilly. Clipping and trimming was a nightmare, as the fabric kept sliding in the way of my scissors. I contemplated spraying the entire thing with hairspray to stabilize it! Then, once I had enough of the tunic/blouse sewn that I was able to visualize my green silk accent strips on it, I realized that the green buttons I had planned to use were going to look – awful.

The green of this button is too deep for the colors of this fabric.

Happily, my luck changed just a bit. I went to my button box and found this card of four buttons.

One button was missing, but that was okay, as I only needed four.

They had been a “bonus” addition in an order of buttons from an Etsy shop, and I really thought I would never have any use for them. But guess what? They were just right for this tunic/blouse. At least this one thing was easy!

The blue of the button seems to work well with the solid green.

As you can see, I persevered and finished this monster.

I made an Obi-style sash to wear with it, which I think improves its appearance.

The back of this blouse has a center seam, which allows for some really nice shaping. I haven’t had a chance to get any self-modeled photos made yet, for which I apologize.

Here it is without the sash. In order to keep the slippery sleeves folded up, I had to add a snap on the inside seam of each sleeve.

I haven’t worn it anywhere yet. We shall see if I get any favorable comments; if I do, then perhaps I will eventually enjoy wearing it. At the least, it will stand as a lesson to me – never, ever again to buy any fabric on a whim.

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Filed under Asian-inspired dress designs, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Déjà vu

After completing my “Classic French Jacket” and its coordinating sheath dress, I wanted something easy – and relatively quick – for my next project. I didn’t think it was going to be another bathrobe, but that’s what it has turned out to be, to my great surprise.

Because we had such a chilly Spring, I was wearing my newly constructed Winter bathrobe into June. But, suddenly, Summer arrived in the middle of that month, with its humidity and often beastly temperatures. It was then I pulled out my old, lightweight Summer robe – you know, the one with the missing button – and the small tear – and the tea stain which somehow became a permanent fixture. Not such a pretty sight.  Having become used to my new Winter robe which makes me happy whenever I put it on, I decided maybe it was time to replace my Summer robe, too.

I already had a three-yard length of “water-color-designed cotton lawn” from Britex Fabrics.

I forgot to get a photo of the fabric before I cut into it.  This is a partial view of the back of the robe.  I purchased this Italian-produced, fine cotton during one of the online sales at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.

At 56” wide, I thought it would be enough to make a robe, using the same wonderful pattern I had used for my Winter robe.

This pattern from 1959 is so well engineered, with subtle details which give it a polished appearance.

My only reservation was that the fabric makes quite a statement. I wondered if perhaps it was going to be too, too much in an ankle length robe. Truthfully, though, how many people see me in my bathrobe? I figured I’d go for it.

Once again, laying out the pattern was quite the task, done entirely on the floor. Although the pattern matching didn’t have to be quite as precise as working with an orderly plaid, I did have to pay attention to the large squares and where they would end up in relation to each other and in relation to the dimensions of the front and back of the robe.

The front of the robe, sans its sash.

And a back view. Without lining up the “watercolor blocks” in some relation to each other, the effect would really have been chaos!

The fineness of the fabric is apparent if you look closely at the collar, where there is some fade-through of the design. (The interfacing is attached to the under section of the collar.)

I did not have enough fabric to “match” the designs on the sleeves, but I rather like them not exactly alike.  Also, I shortened the sleeves to below elbow length, more appropriate for a Summer robe, but also necessary to save fabric!

I used flat felled seams for the body of the robe.

After just barely managing to get the two fronts, one back, the sleeves and collar and front facings placed on the fabric, I knew I was not going to have enough fabric left to match the pockets to their underlaying design. I did, however, have two fabric blocks featuring those quirky little birds, enough to make two pockets. The birds could even face each other.

But I knew they would look a little “lost in space” unless I set them off somehow. That’s when I went to my tried and true solution for all kinds of sewing fixes – piping! Yellow seemed to delineate the pockets the best – beating out green, red, pink and purple, all of which I “auditioned.”

I quite like those little birds, looking cheery and chirpy on the front of my robe.

 

Ready for its debut!

The fabric is so lovely, almost diaphanous in its effect. And that bold, colorful pattern which had given me pause? It has an exotic flair to it, quite acceptable for a summer robe. I just hope it doesn’t panic the cat.

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Filed under Bathrobes, Mid-Century style, piping, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

How Exciting Can a Bathrobe Be?

Or – Who Is That Woman in our Kitchen? After well over twenty years of wearing the same ratty old bathrobe (well, it wasn’t old or ratty when I first started wearing it, but the years took their toll on it), I now have a new one. I will admit to being almost unrecognizable in the mornings and evenings now, as I float through the house in my new attire – leading my husband to wonder if a new woman is now making the morning coffee.

I found vintage Viyella wool/cotton fabric on eBay last year. Although only 35” wide, the length available was 5 ½ yards which I determined should be enough for a ankle-length bathrobe. Viyella is a lovely blend of 40% wool and 60% cotton, and it is machine washable. It is lightweight, but warm, very soft, and such a pleasure with which to sew.

The paper labels were still attached to this length of Viyella.

From four bathrobe patterns in my collection, I chose this one for its classic styling, including a wrap front and shawl collar:

I made a muslin (toile) to check on the fit, and then I used the muslin as my pattern, marking the seam lines onto the Viyella using waxed tracing paper.

Because of the narrow width of the fabric, and the need to be precise with matching the plaid in the fabric, I laid out my muslin pattern singly. I had to do this on the floor because of the great length with which I was working. Matching the plaid, although thankfully a very even plaid, took a lot of time – and time on my knees! Ouch!

One of the pattern pieces close up.

And here is one piece with markings transferred onto it. I am used to sewing on a marked seam line, and prefer this method rather than using set seam allowances.

I am always impressed by some of the subtleties in these vintage patterns. This one includes bust darts that descend from the shoulder seams. Also, two small back darts make the fit across the shoulders so much more precise. Both are clearly shown in the diagrams on the reverse side of the pattern envelope.

Click on the picture to see the details.

Also detailed on the pattern layout diagram is the slight flare to the front edges of the robe. I didn’t really pick this up in the muslin I made, but once I was working on the robe, especially in this plaid, which makes a flared seam more apparent, I was very aware of it. It is such a nice detail, making the wrapped front closure more graceful in appearance and offering just a bit more coverage than a straight edge would do.

You can follow the flare of the front edge by looking at the descension of the plaid.

A detail of the back neck edge.

I did make a few changes to the pattern. First of all, I used a fusible interfacing instead of a “sew-in” one (typically indicated on vintage patterns form the 1950s, as this one is.) I don’t use fusible interfacings very often, but I decided this would be a good application for such. I used “Heat n Bond” woven interfacing, ordered from fabric.com, and so far, I am very pleaded with its performance. Secondly, I added another pocket, as I like two pockets on my bathrobes. I also had to lower the placement of the pocket from the lines indicated on the pattern, which were inexplicably high!

Two pockets!

A third change was the elimination of the wide self-binding on the pockets and the cuffs of the sleeves. Instead I used a 1¼ inch self-binding which I cut on the bias. With all that plaid, I thought a little bit of variety would add a nice touch.

A minor fourth change was the addition of fabric belt loops, as opposed to the thread loops called for in the pattern instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the classic styling of this robe. The fact that I was able to use such a glorious fabric for it (contemporary with the age of the pattern, by the way!) makes it even more lovely to wear. Not only am I – yes – very excited (!) about wearing this new bathrobe, I also find it to be an unexpected, but wonderful change of persona for my early morning and late evening hours.

 

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Filed under Bathrobes, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Good Start

Happy December! It seems like a long time since I have been here with a new post for Fifty Dresses. The first thing I want to say, since my forced hiatus from sewing (due to my badly injured left hand), is “Thank You!” to so many of you who gave me encouragement, sent sympathy and healing thoughts, and made me feel like such a valued part of our worldwide fashion sewing community. Your kindnesses meant the world to me at a personally difficult and discouraging time.

Although my heart never left sewing (attested to by the new vintage patterns and a couple of lengths of new fabrics which have somehow found their way to my sewing room over the past weeks!), my hands have finally come back to it as well. While I still have weeks and weeks of “hand therapy” to attend in an effort to restore full use of my left hand, I now can sew at the machine, cut and mark fabric, and even hand sew. Having said that, I wish I had something truly spectacular to show you to prove that point, but alas, I do not. What I can show you is a promise of things to come, things which are now destined to make their appearance in 2017 instead of in November or December of 2016.

I had my heart set on getting this fabric made into a dress to wear during this month of December, even though back in October I still had not settled on a pattern for it.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. It is a wool/silk blend, similar to fabric in a dress I made last Fall.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. It is a wool/silk blend, similar to fabric in a dress I made last Fall.

After searching online through many, many vintage patterns, I finally came across this one, an Advance pattern (a small departure from my normal preference for Vogue):

I still need to do a little research on the exact date for this pattern, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

I still need to do a little research on the exact date for this pattern, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

I could easily see this dress made up in polka dots, with the three-quarter sleeves. I think the back detail with the buttons is so pretty. My muslin is in the process of being completed, and then I will determine if this style looks good on me. I certainly hope so…

Another project I wanted to complete this Fall was a new bathrobe. A while ago I found this vintage Viyella fabric (cotton/wool blend, warm but light-weight, 5¼ yards, 35” wide), and it just spoke “bathrobe” to me.

The paper label is still attached to this length of fabric.

The paper label is still attached to this length of fabric.  Isn’t it lovely that this fabric is washable?

This Vogue pattern seems just about perfect for it, as long as I can match the plaid and still have enough yardage to eke it out. My muslin will tell the story.

I definitely want to make the long version of this robe.

I definitely want to make the long version of this robe. This pattern is from the late 1950s.

But before I can get any further on either of these projects, I have some sewing to do for Christmas gifts. The countdown is on, but I think I have a good start. It is wonderful to be back in my sewing room, which now looks like a cross between a couture atelier and Santa’s workshop, with fabric and wrapping paper and ribbons vying for equal space.  Happy December, indeed!

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