Category Archives: woolens

A Navy and Red Plaid Skirt

The almost-finished Classic French Jacket hanging on my dress form must be getting a bit impatient with me at this point.  I switched gears and decided to give the Jacket (and me) a rest while I took on a “small” project.  I had purchased this merino wool from Promenade Fabrics last Fall.  It was a “remnant,” but one I knew would be ample enough for me to make a straight skirt.

What better month to have a red and navy plaid wool skirt than February, with its heart-colored hues and chilly temperatures?  And after the nubbiness of the French jacket boucle, I was ready for some soft, finely woven merino wool.  What is it about merino wool that makes it so lovely?  The description in Fairchild’s Dictionary reads: “High-quality wool yarn made from fleece of merino sheep, which has short, fine, strong, resilient fibers, and takes dyes well.”  ((Page 326, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Third Edition,  New York, New York, 2010.)  Made in England by Butterworth and Roberts, this fabric has all those attributes and more.

Plaids are always interesting to sew.  Obviously the plaid has to be matched, but as important is determining the placement of the plaid, both on your body and on the pattern.   Most plaids have a dominant color or block, and this is a good starting point.  With this particular piece of wool, I wanted to emphasize the navy rather than the red (even though the red is dominant).  I first thought the best way to do this was to place a navy block/stripe down the front middle of the skirt.  I quickly discovered this actually emphasized the red instead of the navy.  When I placed a red block/stripe in the center, the red receded, and I had the look I wanted.

I also wanted the reveal of the plaid on the front center of the skirt to match the reveal of the back center seam.  This enabled navy to predominate the side seams of the skirt, framing the front and back.  Perfect!

This shows the back vent folded back, but you can see the back seam is sewn so that the front center block and the back center block match.

One of the side seams.

I used Susan Khalje’s straight skirt pattern which I had already used last Fall, and which needed no alterations in my existing muslin. (YAY!)  While laying out the muslin pattern, I realized if I was careful, I would be able to save enough fabric to make a matching scarf.  That would also mean that practically none of this beautiful wool would be unused.

The scarf is 60″ long and 9″ wide. I fringed the short edges, to make a nice finish.

Here are a few tips I used for sewing this plaid skirt:

1) In sewing the seams together, in order to match the lines of the plaid exactly, I used my walking foot.  This helped to keep everything perfectly lined up and eliminated slippage of the fabric as I sewed.  (Forked pins are useful in this application, too, but I found the walking foot to be just about foolproof.)

2) Even though the front center of the skirt was easily discernable because of the placement of the plaid, I still marked that line with a running stitch.  I find that helps to eliminate mistakes!  That was the final bit of basting thread which I removed from the skirt when it was finished.

Here is that front center line, marked with a running stitch. You can also see the Petersham ribbon I used to stabilize the waistband.

3)  I angled the back vent out about 1/4 inch on each side to help it hang straight while being worn.

4)  I faced the waistband with the lining silk, which makes it comfortable to wear.

With much of Winter still to come, I suspect I will have numerous occasions to wear this wool skirt.  And now I can get back to that French Jacket with at least one thing to show for the year so far!

 

32 Comments

Filed under couture construction, Straight skirts, Uncategorized, woolens

Another Rosy Outlook for the New Year

There is a fine art to planning ahead, and nowhere is this more obvious than in planning a new sewing year.  No matter how carefully I think it through, I still end up with some fabrics that never make it out of storage and some newly-purchased fabrics that quickly get moved to the head of the queue.  But no matter!  I still find it useful to make a list of intended projects, while at the same time reminding myself that being flexible and realistic about my intentions is what is really necessary.  (There are, after all, those unexpected special events which can’t be planned for, but which take top priority when the “save the date” card arrives in the mail.)

When I look back at what I accomplished in 2018, I happily find that about half my projects used fabrics which I had purchased at least a few years prior.  Some had actually been in my collection for more than a few years! Last year’s list was replete with rosy hues and rosy prints, and this year is not too different, especially considering three of my most favorite fabrics from last year are being forwarded onto my plans for 2019. Will this be the year that I finally get this vintage piece of Moygashel linen made into a dress?  I’ve only been trying to do this for at least three years now!

A very early 1950s’ linen, petite black flower silhouettes on a pale ecru background.

But for starters, and as with last year, I am first finishing up a project which I began, but did not have time to finish before the holidays took over my sewing room – and my life!

I am bound and determined to finish the Classic French Jacket I started in late 2018. While I am currently working on the body of the jacket, having completed its quilting, I am still undecided about trim.  I am auditioning different options, but have yet to find the perfect one.

However, I am anxious to get on with it, as the rest of my list includes:

1)  a wool coat

2)  3 cotton shirtwaist blouses

3)  1 boat-neck blouse (silk, maybe, or still undecided)

I love this French blouse-weight silk, so it is a heavy favorite for a boat-neck blouse to be made along with fellow dressmakers enrolled in Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing Club.

4)  1 linen skirt

5)  2 wool skirts

6)  1 wool, two-piece dress

7)  1 cotton dress

I found this amazing cotton at Mulberry Silks in North Carolina when I was looking for fabric for the Christmas dresses for my granddaughters.

8)  1 linen dress – referenced above

9)  1 silk dress

10) birthday dresses for my two little granddaughters

11) play dresses for granddaughters

12) holiday/Christmas sewing for those same two little girls

and finally

13) some necessary home decorator sewing, which is not my favorite thing to do, until I see it finished and can enjoy living with it!

The wool coat will be my first major project in 2019 once the French jacket is finished.  I can’t wait to get started on this vintage Lesur wool from Paris, lined in a pink, gray and white silk purchased from Mendel Goldberg a few years ago.

I will probably make a simple wool skirt before starting the coat, as I know it will be a relatively quick project nestled between the jacket and the coat.  I found this wool when Promenade Fabrics was closing their Etsy shop a few months ago.  How I love a red and navy tartan.  I could not resist it, and I am glad I didn’t.

The hand of this wool is so lovely. I think it will make a beautiful skirt. And I have just the shoes to wear with it!

Life is, of course, filled with all kinds of non-sewing duties, and I have plenty on that list, too.  It will be a tricky balancing act to make significant progress in both realms, but my guess is that sewing wins out over cleaning out the attic.

Welcome, 2019, with all your grand opportunities!

10 Comments

Filed under classic French jacket, Coats, Linen, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens

A Simple Straight Skirt

Sounds super simple, doesn’t it?  Well, yes, but simple does not necessarily equate with speedy.  The skirt in question is this one which I fit into my sewing queue as part of a group project in Susan Khalje’s new subscription sewing club.

Susan provided the pattern to all the members, and the choice of which view to use (if one chose to participate; no pressure in this club, only support!) was entirely up to each individual.

I used View A for my skirt. Although this looks like a simple straight skirt, there are subtle details which make it a step above ordinary. For example, the side seams are set slightly back from the front. There is slight fullness built in at the hip; not enough to be noticeable, but enough to make it more comfortable for wearing. This pattern is available on Susan’s website.

I chose the view with the waistband sitting right at the waist (View A), and decided to use a lovely, soft piece of vintage wool I found recently.  As Susan provided video support for each step of the skirt, and answered questions online, I slowly worked through each component while working on my other projects at the same time.

Some of the members in the group have gotten very creative with their renderings of the skirt, but I chose just to keep it simple.  I had already used this pattern once when I made my guipure lace skirt last year, but I tweaked the fit again and am now much happier with it.  (And now I have a go-to skirt pattern.)  One fitting tip that Susan shared was to make sure those side seams are exactly perpendicular to the floor.  If they sway to the front or back, then adjustments need to be made.

The wool I used for my skirt was very lightweight, enough so that I determined the lining fabric should be as close in color as possible.  Luckily I had a piece of silk crepe de chine in my “linings” box which matched perfectly.  (I love it when things like this happen!)

I hand-picked a lapped zipper into the center back seam, and this small detail adds just a touch of class, in my opinion.

Here my center back seams are clearly marked, necessary for any zipper application, but especially so with a lapped zipper.

Here the zipper is in, and the center back lines match, showing the offset of the zipper on the left.

More of the same!

And here is what the zipper looks like when completed.

Even though my wool’s lightweight quality would have lent itself to a simple “all-in-one” waistband, I prefer not to have wool up against my bare middle, or my middle, clothed with just a layer of camisole silk between it and the waistband.  So – I made a two-piece waistband with a facing out of the lining silk.  Inserted into the band is a piece of Petersham ribbon, giving it support and shape.

The lining has been attached (see how good the match is to the wool?), and the Petersham ribbon is ready to be encased inside the waistband.

The waistband facing is ready to be attached to the lining/waistline seam.

The back slit of the skirt is angled in about a quarter inch on both sides, so that it hangs and wears with less of a separation.

The white basting stitches show the center back. I angled the edges towards the center before finishing the hem.

The finished slit and hem.

Not too much else to say about this simple skirt, except that it was a very satisfying little project.

Notice how the back slit hangs together?

Actually there is one more thing to say – about straight skirts in general.  They take very little fabric for most people – often a scant yard in a wide-width wool will suffice.  Will there be more straight skirts in my future?  Oh, yes.  In fact, I already have a wool tartan remnant waiting for early 2019.  But there is much to sew before then… not all of it so simple as this!

30 Comments

Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Straight skirts, Uncategorized, woolens

A Surfeit of Sewing

Do you ever have so many sewing plans that you don’t know where to begin?  Do you find yourself at a loss of how to prioritize your projects?  Do you look at the calendar and find yourself in disbelief that there are only two months left in the year?  How did that happen?

My answer to those first three questions is Yes, Yes, and Yes.  (My answer to the last question above is “I have no idea,” but that’s my reaction every year when the calendar is about to turn over to November.)

It is very unlike me to have more than one project going at a time.  I like to finish what I start before moving on to something else. However, four different “sewing adventures” are vying for my attention right now, so I think they are going to have to share space and time.

The first item is the one about which I am least concerned.  That is the skirt I am making as a member of the newly minted Susan Khalje Sewing Club (SKC Sewing Club).   Inaugurated in September, this online couture sewing club is by subscription only, but open to all who may already employ couture techniques in their fashion sewing or those who want to learn more about this remarkable method of creating beautiful apparel.  As a way of creating dialogue and offering fitting advice, Susan sent all members a copy of her “skirts” pattern.

This pattern is available in Susan’s online store (see link above.) It is a beautifully drafted pattern, and very versatile. I will be using it often!

Those who choose to follow along (Susan posts video lessons online) are working through the process with their own choice of fabric.  I have chosen to use this lightweight wool herringbone tweed for my skirt:

With my skirt fitted, basted and underlined in silk organza, with darts and seams sewn, I am currently on hold, awaiting our next step.  Bit by bit, this skirt will be finished forthwith, of that I am confident.

An item I had every intention of getting to this Fall is another Classic French Jacket.  I am currently in the process of laying out the pattern on my boucle.

Here is a small swatch of the boucle I am using for the jacket, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.

I have revised my expectations now to have, at the very least, the jacket cut out, the outline basting complete, and the lining pieces quilted onto the jacket pieces.  Actually finishing this jacket will no doubt happen in 2019.

For some reason, I have it in my mind to make a white cotton blouse.  Where that came from, I don’t know, but that’s what I want to do. I found this woven-in-stripe Swiss cotton at Britex Fabrics several years ago, and it keeps surfacing in my fabric closet.  I think it is time to make this blouse!

And then there are Christmas dresses for my two granddaughters, to be ready in time for December’s many pre-Christmas activities.  There is no negotiating on these.  They must be finished on time.  I have ordered fabric (kindly through Mulberry Silks and Fine Fabrics, which I had the pleasure to visit on a very recent trip to North Carolina.) Oh, the many (still secret) plans I have for these!

The last two months of 2018 are going to be . . . well . . . very busy indeed.

16 Comments

Filed under Blouses, classic French jacket, couture construction, woolens

A Coat For Many Reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other of Susan’s recommendations included:

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

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

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

Here the bias cut of the belt is quite apparent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

33 Comments

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

December Surprises

While a life in sewing can never be humdrum, a few good surprises are always welcome. What better month for surprises than December? While my focus right now is almost entirely on getting ready for our family Christmas celebration, four unexpected occurrences have recently added fun and focus to my life in sewing. I will tell you about two of them . . .

Of course – when it comes to sewing, finding a special fabric is always a welcome surprise. Those of you who follow Fifty Dresses regularly will know that I am always on the lookout for exceptional vintage fabric. After feeling so fortunate to find one gorgeous piece of French Lesur wool earlier in the year, I thought my chances of running across another piece of Lesur were next to nothing. So – imagine my surprise when a length of midnight black Lesur came to my attention. Although this piece did not have a selvedge marking, its tags were still attached. In addition I was able to match its weave to another example which I have found in my research on this storied French manufacturer. The weave is a minute basket weave, with almost a stretchy component to it, although the weave is quite tight and the fabric is fluid.

I am always excited when I can date a fabric. From what I can tell, the real heyday of availability for Lesur wool in the USA was the early to mid 1960s. The tag on this wool clearly supports that timeframe.

The date of this fabric is in pencil on the right margin of the tag, 1/14/64.

The tags also indicate the purity of the wool, and they show the process it went through during importation from France to this country.

The lovely person who sold me this piece told me it came “from the collection of an amazing professional dressmaker who definitely splurged on her fabrics.” I have had it in the back of my mind to put a “little black dress” in my sewing queue, so this purchase now makes that inevitable.

Surprise number two is also fabric-oriented. Like many of you, I always look forward to hearing what the Pantone Color of the Year will be. I am often surprised and sometimes delighted with the choice. For the year 2018, I was both. Color 18-3838 Ultra Violet is “a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level.” According to Pantone’s description, “Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now.”

Although I do not wear a lot of purple, I love the color. I think it can be distinctive, flattering, and creative, if handled correctly. It was for that reason that when I had the chance, a few years ago, to purchase a length of vintage, purple, wool boucle, I felt very fortunate.

This is a coat weight boucle, with a distinctive windowpane weave.

What made this purchase even more exciting for me is that this is a piece of Einiger wool, from a distinguished American manufacturer of fine woolens (now no longer in business). It is not often an opportunity to own such a piece of wool comes along, especially one whose origin is clearly marked.

“Luxury Inspired by Einiger” sounds good to me!

From the early 1960s, this wool embodies not only the “intrigue of what lies ahead,” but also the intrigue of what was in the past.

So, what does lie ahead for my treasured Color of the Year fabric? Since its purchase, I have collected a flowered silk charmeuse to coordinate with it, I have picked a coat and dress pattern from the early 1960s, and I have thought much about this project. Obviously, 2018  will be – should be –  the year to make this coat.

Now, if only the “mysteries of the cosmos” could promise more sewing time in the year to come!

23 Comments

Filed under Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens

Summer Dreaming

In the midst of summer, I am dreaming about – Winter sewing? I wouldn’t be doing such a thing, except that when opportunity knocks, it’s a good idea to take advantage of it.

For a while now, I have been thinking about wanting to make a pale pink wool coat. My idea was definitely solidified when I saw pictures of this stunning Valentino coat:

Looming large on page 58 of the November 2016 Wall Street Journal Magazine is a Valentino coat, traditional in design, but made very special by its exquisite embroidered pink wool.

Although making a pink coat hasn’t necessarily been a top priority for me, I’ve been quietly keeping a watch out for the right fabric, should I find it somewhere. Then a couple of weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity to purchase a piece of wool, loomed in France in the early 1960s.

It was an eBay offering, with a substantial first bid requirement, so I thought quite a bit about it, especially since the seller did not accept returns. It is somewhat difficult to buy fabrics, either vintage or new, online, especially without a swatch. The photos in the offering confirmed that it was Lesur wool, made in France.  I could tell by the style of printing on the attached tag that the 2.5 yard piece was most likely from the early 1960s. The weight of the fabric was, of course, unknown to me. The description said it was a boucle, but I doubted that attribution based on the photos.  However, that gave me the feeling that it was a heavier-than-dress-weight wool. At least I hoped so! At 56” wide, this was an ample piece of fabric. My intuition told me this was an opportunity not to miss, so I went for it!

When the package arrived a couple of days later, I was elated. The color is luscious, the weight of the fabric is perfect for a coat (but not too heavy), and the piece is in pristine condition.

To put the icing on the cake, within the past year, I had purchased an end-cut of pink and gray charmeuse silk from Mendel Goldberg which looks so beautiful with it. I was going to make a wrap dress out of that silk, but now it is going to be my coat lining.

Shortly before I found the fabric, I purchased this coat pattern, which now seems perfect for the pink wool, although I always reserve the right to change my mind!

But this is not the end of the story. I am endlessly fascinated by the fabrics available to home dressmakers in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. On a whim, I decided to look through some of my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from the early ‘60s to see if I could find any other examples of Lesur wool. The first one I opened had this ad in it:

From the October/November 1962 issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Further sleuthing provided more examples of Lesur wool made into Vogue Couturier designs.  Here are a few examples:

The description of the Lesur fabric reads: “purest marigold nubbed wool.” From the April/May 1963 issue.

Here is the description of the yellow suit, plus the inset shows its overblouse.

Here the Lesur wool is shown in a Guy Laroche design. From the February/March 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

From the same issue of VPB Magazine, a design by Nina Ricci; the description of the fabric is: “A leonine tweed by Lesur.” Note the fringed self scarf.

In several of the magazines, there are listings of Fabric Houses:

Click on the image to read the list!

Can you imagine having the opportunity to visit these fabric houses and make purchases?  Put me in a  time capsule and take me there, please!

Getting back to reality – I won’t be working on my pink coat anytime soon, as there are already several projects in the queue that need my attention first, including some pressing Summer sewing. But – Summer dreaming is just so much fun!

20 Comments

Filed under Coats, Dressmaker suits, Linings, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens