The Old Year Sails Away

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is a maxim I grew up with, and once again, it served me well to remember it. Although much of my sewing had to be put on hold after I injured my left hand in October, I was determined to get a dress made for each of my two granddaughters for Christmas. Matching sister dresses seemed to be the way to go.

Sailboat dresses

My inspiration was a child’s jumper I had seen on Pinterest, with appliquéd sailboats, but first I needed to find the right fabric. I knew I wanted to make the jumpers out of fine wale corduroy, and a quick search on fabrics.com produced a lovely Robert Kaufman fabric with the requisite anchors embroidered onto it.

a-little-sewing-fabric

The coordinating cottons I found at JoAnn’s, along with a pattern which I adapted to this particular use:

This is a very adaptable pattern. I was quite pleased with it!

This is a very adaptable pattern. I was quite pleased with it!

I turned the shoulder seams into button tabs, with the thought that this would make the dresses more “adjustable.” (I still installed zippers in the center back seams, as this just makes it so much easier to get two little busy girls dressed.) Button tabs also allowed me to use two sets of vintage buttons I had stashed away, waiting for the perfect application for them.

The larger buttons I used for my older granddaughter's dress and the smaller ones for my younger one's dress.

The larger buttons I used for my older granddaughter’s dress and the smaller ones for my younger one’s dress.

I lined the bodices in red polka dotted cotton, and I took a little bit of the fullness out of the skirt patterns. I added carriers to the sides of each bodice, for the belts to slip through.

Sailboat dresses

The belts come off completely, for easy washing. Being sewn on the diagonal keeps them from twisting, and it also makes them more interesting!

The belts come off completely, for easy washing. Being sewn on the diagonal keeps them from twisting, and it also makes them more interesting!

Then I left the hull of the sailboats open along the top edge, so my little girls could use them as pockets if they like. And, of course, I had to add some rickrack embellishment – to the mast as streamers, and below the boats, as waves.

Sailboat dresses

Although I was fairly certain the girls would like these jumpers, I was gratified and somewhat amazed at their excited and happy reactions to what they dubbed their “swirly dresses.” After what turned out to be a difficult year for me, it was rewarding to end it with a little success!

 

 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Jumpers, Sewing for children, vintage buttons

Gifts for Thee, Gifts for Me

Part of the irony of shopping for gifts for friends and family is that I often find just as many things that I would like to see stuffed in my own stocking. Does this happen to everyone, or just me, I wonder. But I digress. Here are a few select items just right for a sewing and/or fashionable friend or relative, or maybe for a treat for yourself, as well.

Colette Patterns has come out with a Sewing Planner which is divided into two sections: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. There is lots of room for listing goals, priorities, and inspirations, as well as two-page layouts for individual projects. This planner makes sense to me, and I think it will finally encourage me to keep a record of fabric swatches for each of my projects – something I have been wanting to do for a long time, but never got around to doing!

gifts-for-thee-planner

The December 2016/January 2017 issue of Vogue Patterns featured, in its Must Haves section, Handy Tape II. Although I haven’t ordered this yet, I am going to (if I don’t get it in my stocking), as I think it could come in quite, well as they say, handy! It is self-adhesive repositionable tape marked in 12” repeats.

gifts-for-thee-tapeMany of you have probably already purchased a copy of The Tunic Bible, by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr. Who doesn’t like a tunic? They really are timeless, which appeals to my penchant for clothes that transcend current trends. Once you see some of the examples in this book, you will definitely want to make one – or more. I guarantee you will love the photographs and diagrams in this book. After perusing The Tunic Bible, I discovered the perfect solution for what to make out of a piece of vintage embroidered linen which I own. Bought on a whim, its future was a mystery to me until I realized it will make a beautiful tunic dress. More on that in a future post!

gifts-for-thee-tunic-bible

For those of you who, like me, love the fashions from the 1950s, and have a preference for Vogue patterns, you really should go on eBay and find yourself one of these handkerchiefs.

Vogue handkerchief

Vogue handkerchief

The one I own still has its original tags on it.

The designer was Tammis Keefe, known for her whimsical and creative compositions for textiles. She also designed under the name of Pat Prichard, which you see on this piece. The colors are charming, the fabric is a beautiful handkerchief weight linen, and the design is a dressmaker’s dream. Most of us don’t use linen handkerchiefs any more, but this one, framed, would be perfect for the walls in your sewing room.

Vogue handkerchief

Vogue handkerchief

How delightful that this handkerchief features Vogue patterns!

No list of gifts is complete without something for pleasure reading (although I must admit that reading sewing books is pleasure for me, too!) If you, or a friend, is a lover of historical fiction, then “run, do not walk”, to get a copy of The Time in Between, by Maria Duenas. The heroine is a dressmaker and her profession both saves her from ruin and puts her life in jeopardy. Set during the Spanish Civil War, in the lead up to World War II, this book is also a love story, a story of redemption, and a story of resilience and bravery in the face of incredible odds. It is a wonderful, captivating read, and the descriptions of fabrics, patterns, sewing deadlines, and fashions will thrill anyone with a knowledge of fashion sewing. I read the English translation from the original Spanish. I love this story!

gifts-for-thee-time-inbetween

Perhaps you have a young girl for which to buy a special gift. I have written on this book before, but I want to again recommend Brave Irene by  William Steig. As the title implies, it is also a book about bravery, pint-sized, but every bit as meaningful, especially for a young future dressmaker. The story is charming, the illustrations unique, and the lessons implied are ones of old-fashioned values: family, love, duty, and perseverance. I love this story, too!

This book is still in print and available on Amazon, of course!

This book is still in print and available on Amazon, of course!

The title page.

The title page.

I will end my list of gifts with something that would be right only for those of you who don’t mind splurging on an occasional ready-to-wear piece. But, really, who among us who loves haute couture could possibly pass on these pajamas?

gifts-for-thee-pajamas

Featured in the Gumps (of San Francisco) Catalogue, they are called “Fashion Week in Paris” pajamas. If we can’t be in Paris for Fashion Week, then surely we can dream about doing so, right?

Right about now I am dreaming of a white Christmas, as the song goes. Whatever you may be dreaming of in this busy, happy season, I hope you find it, settled comfortably under your tree or, especially, comfortably in your heart.

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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

Life Throws a Curveball

Knowing that all of us who sew and love to do so, often have so many interruptions in our lives that keep us from our fabric and thread, our patterns and plans, I have always hestitated to whine too much about that usurped time.  After all, none of us is immune from laundry, cooking, housekeeping, vacations, births, deaths of family and friends, the flu, a broken sewing machine, holidays, weddings, trips, family illness – the list goes on and on.  But one thing I never expected has made its way into my life here in Autumn, my favorite of all the seasons.

I have broken my left hand.  A terrible fall, outside here at my home on Sunday, October 9th, caused injury to four of my fingers – and a broken rib, too.  One of the fingers was severely dislocated, one was chipped at the center joint, and two were broken and required surgery to repair the breaks.

I’m incredibly grateful that this did not happen to my dominant hand!  I’m also so grateful for excellent medical care, a talented, caring surgeon, and family and friends who are attentive and so helpful.  I have so much for which to be thankful.

However, of course, there is much I am unable to do while I recover, including sewing. All the projects and plans in my queue are now put on hold.  But only on hold. . . so please do not give up on me!  I’ll be back at my fashion sewing and writing about it on Fifty Dresses just as soon as I am able.  In the meantime, I am missing both.  Wishing all of you, my readers, a crisp, colorful and creative Fall!

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Filed under Love of sewing, Uncategorized

Classic Diane von Furstenberg

Forty years ago this month – October of 1976 – the first Diane von Furstenberg Vogue patterns were available for purchase. At the same time, Cohama (fabrics) produced Diane von Furstenberg-designed knits specifically for use with those patterns. Both were detailed in the September/October 1976 edition of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine:

One of the Diane von Furstenberg designs I long admired but never purchased when I was sewing for myself in the 1970s was this pattern:

One year at a time - DvF pattern

I never quite believed that it could really be reversible; I just especially liked the front wrapped version. So when I had the opportunity to purchase this pattern a few years ago online, I jumped at it. Then not long after, one of my blog readers contacted me with some vintage Cohama DvF fabric for sale. She so kindly gave me first choice of what she had, and I purchased two lengths from her. The first piece of fabric I made into this dress:

Easy breezy dress

The second piece was this “Birds” design, and I was fortunate enough to have over three yards available to me:

Classic DvF

The selvedge clearly states the DvF connection.

The selvedge clearly states the DvF connection.

How I waited THIS LONG to make this dress, I’ll never know, but now it is reality!

 Classic DvF

Worn with the V and wrap to the back.

Worn with the V and wrap to the front.

Worn with the V and wrap to the front.

DvF-designed Cohama knit fabric is a lovely cotton/rayon blend, very soft and surprisingly easy to sew. I am not a big fan – or any fan at all, really – of sewing with knits, so I appreciate that this fabric is so accommodating. One downside of sewing with knits that I can’t quite get around is the fact that it is almost impossible to make a muslin mock-up to try out the fit and sizing. Perhaps someone knows some trick that I don’t know, but I felt a little like I was flying blind when making adjustments to the pattern which I would need for the proper fit. These included 1) lengthening the bodice by about an inch (which I know needs to be done from other wrap dresses I have made), 2) shortening the sleeves to three-quarter length and adding a little bit of width to them so they could be pushed up comfortably, and 3) adding about an inch and a half to the diameter of the waistline. Even with the forgiving nature of a knit fabric, I am not comfortable making a dress without a proper muslin first – so I was a little bit nervous the whole way through the construction of this dress.

I followed the instructions carefully, and was fascinated to find that all the seams needed to be double-stitched, trimmed and pressed to one side. I discovered the reason for this after the dress was finished – it helps make the dress truly reversible, in some magical way.

A side and waist seam detail.

A side and waist seam detail.  Yes, this dress has pockets – two of them!

I did, however, use my trusty Snug Hug seam binding for the front skirt facings and the hem.

I did, however, use my trusty Snug Hug seam binding for the front skirt facings and the hem.

I needed an iron-on interfacing suitable for use with knits and after some research came up with Heat-n-Bond Fusible tricot (purchased from Fabrics.com.) This is the perfect interfacing for use with knits as it stretches, but also stabilizes. I used it for the neck and front facings per the pattern instructions, and I also reinforced the hems in the sleeves. The pattern called for under-stitching the front and neck facing, and I could not help myself – I did it by hand rather than machine!

Hand finishing is just so much nicer!

Hand finishing is just so much nicer!

I was fortunate enough to receive a label with the pattern! You can see a small strip of the fusible interfacing showing beyond the edge of the facing...

I was fortunate enough to receive a label with the pattern! You can see a small strip of the fusible interfacing showing beyond the edge of the facing…

In the description of this pattern in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, it states: “Night & Day, Diane is the one! She wraps up both scenes in one pattern! Her wizard [my emphasis] wrap (that reverses front to back)… [for] day with plunge to front and …[for] night with plunge to back.”

Plunge is right! When I tried on the dress with the wrap to the front, I decided I was going to have to add a modesty panel or a very strong snap to keep the front closed. I opted for the snap, but I’m not entirely happy with the way it looks.

I should have taken a closeup of the bodice!

I should have taken a closeup of the bodice!

There seem to be a few wrinkles across the back.

There seem to be a few wrinkles across the back.

Classic DvF

I so prefer three-quarter length sleeves rather than long sleeves, particularly in a dress like this which will be worn in the warmer months.

When I tried on the dress with the wrap to the back, I loved it, and I felt like it fit me better, especially across the shoulders.

Classic DvF

The back without the snap fastened.

The back without the snap fastened.

Classic DvF

Classic DvF

Now the dilemma: I need the snap for the front V, but I don’t need it for the back V, nor can I reach it by myself in the back to fasten it. But one half of the snap shows when the V is in the back, which obviously will not do!   If I take the snap off, I cannot wear the dress with the front V (which is a little more casual look.) If I leave the snap on, I cannot wear the dress with the back V (a little dressier look.) Maybe I should forgo the snap and make a modesty panel, which can fasten underneath and be removed when I wear the dress “backwards.”   Any thoughts, anyone??

I guess I have the advantage of time on my side to figure this out, as I probably will not, at this point, be wearing this dress until next Spring. Despite this one little gaping issue, I think this dress is beautiful, versatile, comfortable and very feminine!

Hooray for Diane von Furstenberg, vintage Vogue Patterns and vintage Cohama fabrics – some styles never get old!

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Filed under Diane von Furstenberg Vogue patterns, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Wrap dresses

Just for the Chill of It

Autumn is a delightful season here in the northeastern part of the United States. One can tell it is on its way when the warm days quickly take on an evening chill once the sun slips below the horizon. It is the time of year when a light coat or sweater is a necessity, especially with a sleeveless dress.

With this scenario, and a September wedding to attend, what better excuse did I need, to make a coat to go with this dress?

The Year of Magical Sewing

If you follow my blog then you probably already know this was my intention all along, when I made the dress two years ago. But it took a while to find the right coordinating fabric for a coat. I was looking for something between a coral and a pink. While the silk taffeta I found at Britex Fabrics looks more like a deep persimmon color when photographed, the fuchsia pink warp is very apparent when being worn.

Taffeta coat - swatch

Once I decided the Jo Mattli-designed coat, part of the original dress pattern, was too voluminous, I went to another pattern. I wanted to keep the “intention” of the original coat, but have it more streamlined.

The "original" coat designed by Jo Mattli.

The “original” coat designed by Jo Mattli.

Taffeta coat - %22too scimpy%22

The coat pattern I settled on.

Somehow along the way, in making my muslin, I got the idea to add a curved belt to the back of the coat. I knew I had used a coat pattern several years ago with a curved belt back detail, so I went through my pattern collection to retrieve this:

This is a 1957 pattern, but look at the belt shown on the back of the envelope, below.

This is a 1957 pattern, but look at the belt shown on the back of the envelope, below.

taffeta-coat-belt-pattern-thumbnail

The belt is only shown in view A.

It took a couple of tries with the muslin to get the placement and angling of the belt correct, but once I did, I knew it was a winner. Dressmaker details like this always give me a thrill!

I anchored the belt in the side seams right under the bust darts.

I anchored the belt in the side seams right under the bust darts.

Just for the Chill of it

The curve of the belt needed to fall at my waistline.

The curve of the belt needed to fall at my waistline.

One of the things I like about this pattern is the two-part sleeve with a center seam. I think this design is always flattering to the shoulder. Here are the constructed sleeves:

Just for the Chill of it

That center seam also provides the opportunity for a faux vent, and since I just happened to have three buttons, which I thought would be perfect for the coat, I happily included vents, as the pattern dictated:

Just for the Chill of It

A small, cylindrical, crystal button!

A small, cylindrical, crystal button!

Although I originally thought I would leave the coat “closure-less,” that third button kept calling to me. While I did not want to have a single bound buttonhole in the center of the chest, I thought a button loop might do the trick. If I didn’t like it, I could remove it fairly easily from the front facing seam.

Just for the Chill of it

I also decided to add a loop at the neck, with a plain flat button under the collar. This way, I could close the collar if I chose to do so.

I pad-stitched the collar, but forgot to take a picture. Pad-stitching is like magic in how it makes the collar roll properly!

I pad-stitched the collar, but forgot to take a picture. Pad-stitching is like magic in how it makes the collar roll properly!

I have to say, I think the coat looks equally good any way it is worn: with the single button at the bust line closed, with both buttons secured and with neither of the buttons secured.

I chose not to add the optional pockets to this coat, but if I make it again in a less formal fabric, I would absolutely include them.

Once I got to the lining, I had to decide if I wanted to add the flat piping detail which I like so much. Of all the bias silk ribbon I have on hand, the only one which looked good was deep pink. Because of that, it doesn’t show contrast all that well, but I still like the subtle finishing look it gives to the lining.

Just for the Chill of it

Just for the Chill of it

Here, by the way, is the coat before I inserted the lining:

I underlined the entire coat with silk organza and added "cigarette" sleeve headings.

I underlined the entire coat with silk organza and added “cigarette” sleeve headings.

I love a center back seam!

I love a center back seam!

I used some vintage silk buttonhole twist to tack the center back fold in the lining at the neck and at the waistline.

Just for the Chill of it

There is no question that the dress and the coat go together once the lining shows!

There is no question that the dress and the coat go together once the lining shows!

Just for the Chill of it

I love that the lining peeks out from the sleeves when I am wearing the coat.

I love that the lining peeks out from the sleeves when I am wearing the coat.

taffeta-coat-full-copy

I was delighted when the photographer at the wedding wanted to take my picture because he "liked my outfit so much." (This is not that photo...)

I was delighted when the photographer at the wedding wanted to take my picture because he “liked my outfit so much.” (This is not that photo…)

Here with my husband - with a coordinating tie, no less (not planned, but makes for a great photo!)

Here with my husband – with a coordinating tie, no less (not planned, but makes for a great photo!)

It may seem a bit frivolous to make a coat like this, knowing that it will not be worn all that often – although I do have two other dress-weight silks in my collection which would look fairly stunning paired with this coat!  However,  it really is the perfect weight and look for an elegant, but chilly, evening out – and it was so much fun to make.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Dressmaker details, Linings, Mid-Century style, piping, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

What Color is Your Lining?

Linings seem to be coming out of the (fabric) closet and finally getting the recognition they deserve! I have been thinking a lot about linings lately, as I have been working on a coat, the lining for which was its inspiration.

I made a cocktail dress out of the blue fabric and purchased enough to use as the lining for a coordinating coat.

I made a cocktail dress out of the blue fabric and purchased enough extra yardage to use for the lining of a coordinating coat.

As luck would have it, the current issue of Threads Magazine has an article on techniques to achieving “A Smoother Jacket Lining,” which states “the secret is installing it by hand.” I always appreciate an illustrated step-by-step approach to techniques such as this, and this article by Daryl Lancaster does not disappoint. While I am well versed in sewing in linings by hand, it is always good to read a refresher article such as this. (Obviously, the alternative to sewing in a lining by hand is to bag the lining, effectively sewing the lining in by machine.) I also always seem to gather one helpful tip, such as “Easy access to the armhole seam: Reach through the openings at the front hem to support the sleeve lining while you’re hand-sewing the armhole seams.” But what I really liked about this article was the section on “Fabric Guidelines.” In a nutshell, the author lists them as: “a low-friction surface; a supple hand; opacity; durability; and design compatibility.”

Design compatibility! This means, according to the author: “The lining should complement the garment. It can match or contrast. Lining offers the opportunity to subtly show the wearer’s creativity.” EXACTLY!

Many of us, I think, grew up or learned to sew with the idea that linings should match the color of the outer garment as closely as possible. And while that is still appropriate in many instances, there is also a case to be made for linings of contrasting or coordinating colors, and/or figured designs. In fact, I believe a lining has the potential to turn your garment from ho-hum into tres chic.

One of the best examples of the power of a lining is the classic little French jacket.   Pictured here are the two I have made for myself (with two more planned.) Imagine the one on the left being lined in a plain black or red charmeuse, and the one on the right lined in a solid light brown. Neither would be nearly as attractive even though the lining does not show when the jacket is being worn. As it turned out, I made a sheath dress, which matches the lining of the red jacket, and a blouse to match the lining of the jacket on the right. This makes the lining an integral part of the all-over design of the ensemble.

What color is your lining?

Likewise, this Pucci silk sat in my fabric collection for a few years until I found the right pattern for it. Then I became obsessed with somehow working out a way to line the jacket and make the dress out of the scant existing yardage I had.

Defying the passage of years

An inside look at the jacket with its matching lining.

An inside look at the jacket with its matching lining.

The nice thing about this jacket is that it does not have to be paired with the dress, looking equally as nice with a plain pink skirt. Which leads me into the next thought: sometimes it is more appropriate for your lining to be subtle in order to make your garment more versatile. When I made a linen coat last year, I would have loved to use a deep pink lining silk to match the linen dress I knew I would be wearing with it. I chose, instead, to match the lavender of the coat, making it easier to wear with other dresses or pants, which might not have any pink in them. To make it a little extra special, however, I added flat silk piping to the front edges of the lining. Because coats come off and on, and sometimes find themselves flung over chair arms, this little detail is often seen by more than just the wearer.

Fitting finish

Then there are the linings which truly are only seen by the person wearing the garment – you or I. Is it worth the time and/or expense to create a special lining in something like this? Every situation should be evaluated on its own merits, but I believe this is where the privilege of being your own dressmaker is in full flower. Why not add a little detail or use a beautiful, contrasting color to coordinate with your fashion fabric?

I used a gray Bemberg lining for this dress, but accented the neck edge with green piping. Obviously, no one sees this but me!

I used a gray Bemberg lining for this dress, but accented the neck edge with green piping. Obviously, no one sees this but me!

Here is the dress with its hidden lining detail.

Here is the dress with its hidden lining detail.

Who would guess that under this dress is . . .

And who would guess that under this dress is . . .

. . . this lining?

. . . this lining?

In sewing (as in life) it is often the hidden treasures or small gestures which add depth and enjoyment to the process and product. May your hidden or not-so-hidden linings be beautiful every time!

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Filed under Dressmaker details, Linings, piping, Uncategorized