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

Tunic Time

Nothing says Summer quite like crisp white and bright navy blue. Pair those colors with an easy-wearing, dress-length tunic, and it is a recipe for comfort and versatility.

This is one of those projects which took a couple of years to evolve. I purchased the white polka-dotted cotton voile from Britex Fabrics about two years ago, thinking I would make a blouse. I considered patterns for it every once in a while, and then put it back in the cupboard. What was keeping me from moving forward on it was the fact I had over 2 yards of this 56” wide fabric, more than enough for a blouse. Using it for a dress seemed the more efficient way to proceed. All I needed was some inspiration.

Then last Fall, I purchased a copy of the then-newly-released The Tunic Bible by Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr.

Well, there is lots of inspiration in this book, and I especially was drawn to this style, but in a dress length.

Shown on page 65 in The Tunic Bible is this top. The combination of the wide split placket, the angled collar, and the split cuffs really appealed to me. All three are really lovely details. (I purchased my copy of this book on Amazon.)

(Now here’s a bit of trivia: a tunic dress is not the same as a dress-length tunic, according to the number one definition in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion. A tunic dress is “a two-piece dress with a long overblouse worn over a separate narrow skirt,” although the definition was expanded a bit in the 1960s to cover a tunic mini-dress.)

Detail from page 459, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, 2003

Back to my dress: I knew I wanted to embellish it with Petersham ribbon (which is so malleable and cooperative!) In choosing a color, I went for bright navy blue, also ordered from Britex Fabrics.

I actually have three tunic patterns in my collection, one just a couple of years old which I have used, one from the 1980s (also used), and this vintage one, not used yet:

The description on the envelope does not describe this as a dress length tunic, rather an “A-line dress with a caftan neckline.” But, of course, it has a tunic look.

But I decided to give the pattern included in The Tunic Bible a go. I transferred my size to pattern tracing paper and made my muslin. I knew I would have to line the main body of the dress (the fabric is translucent.) After considering two types of light-weight white linen, which I deemed not quite opaque enough, I went with white muslin.

The tapered darts in the back of the tunic are optional, but help to add some lovely shaping.

The first thing I did was make the stand collar, so that I could see how the blue Petersham ribbon would look; I was a little worried that the intensity of the blue color might be too much for the delicate white fabric, but I was pleasantly rewarded with a look I liked:

The first line of trim goes on…

The stand collar is such a flattering design, even from the back.

I used Dritz Wash-Away Wonder Tape to make the application of the ribbon precise. This was the first time I have used this product, and I thought it was wonderful! I haven’t washed my dress yet, but supposedly the Wonder Tape washes away without leaving a residue.

It is especially important to follow the sequence of construction when it comes to the front of the dress, as the neckline trim needs to be applied even before the bust darts are sewn. Once I had the front and back of the dress together, I decided it was a little too baggy (this did not show up in my fitting muslin, which sometimes happens…)   So, I added tapered darts to the front, which was an excellent solution.

Applying the trim to the hemlines required four mitered corners. One way to help get a precise corner is to use a straightedge to guide the miter. Here you can see I used the end of one of my little slide rulers which was the perfect width:

A nice, precise corner.

With the ribbon trim all applied.

And here is what the hem looks like on the wrong side.

One of the things I love about this color combination is its versatility. In these photos I have paired it with turquoise, but it looks equally good with accessories in orange, red, yellow, green, and of course, blue.

The darts I added to the front give the dress a nice fit. I also used a 12″ side zipper, or else I would not be able to get the dress on!

The dress is loose but not baggy.

Here I have the split cuffs hanging down. I think I prefer them folded back, as shown in all the other photos. However, it’s nice to have the option of wearing them either way.

I suspect there will be a couple more tunics to sew in my summers to come. If there will be in YOURS, I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book, if only for the abundance of photos and style options which are handsomely presented. I do recommend that you familiarize yourself with the layout of the book before starting your project. The layout is logical once you understand the formula, but it’s best to give the book a thorough study before you proceed.

And now, with my sights on Fall and Winter (I can’t believe I am saying that!), I think this will be the last of my sewing for Summer. However, I should end with this MEMO to family and friends: Expect to see me in this dress often over the next six/seven weeks.   It is Tunic Time, indeed!

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Filed under Book reviews, Linings, Tunics, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

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

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!

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

Jacket AND Dress!

One of the aspects of fashion sewing that appeals to me so much is how projects seem to take on a life of their own. By the time I have it finished, a piece rarely ends up being exactly how I thought it might be when I started it. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. (There are those flops, which are bad things, but thankfully this post is not about a flop.)

When I did the planning and started the construction of my recent Classic French Jacket, I really thought I would be making a pale blue linen sheath to wear with it, using fabric already in my collection. But somehow that pink accent in the weave of the boucle, the trim I selected, and the buttons, all conspired together and changed my mind for me.

Fortunately, I also had a piece of pale pink linen in my fabric collection (at this point, I might ask myself, what color linen do I not have in my collection? But let’s not go there….) By this time I had already decided I needed to figure out a way to show that gorgeous lining silk in my jacket, rather than having it solely hidden inside. Having seen accent scarves paired with Chanel jackets on Pinterest gave me the idea to make a scarf. Then I thought it might be fun to “attach” the scarf to the pink (planned) dress in some fashion.

I came up with buttoned shoulder tabs as a possibility. I had purchased eight small buttons for my jacket – three for each sleeve and one for each pocket, long before I had this idea. You might recall in my last post, that I decided to make the sleeve vents for two buttons instead of three? That’s where I found/got the two buttons I needed for shoulder tabs.

I ended up liking my two button vents!

The first tabs I made just did not look right. First of all, they did not turn well, with a pleasing curve And when I placed them at the neckline of my dress, all I saw were the seams.

I even finished the bound buttonholes before deciding I didn’t like these.

I had to think through lots of possible solutions and finally had a eureka moment when I thought of piping the edges.

Piping makes the sewn curve much easier to turn well.

So much better!

I placed the tabs slightly forward rather than exactly on top of the shoulder seam.

The rest of the dress was very straightforward, as sheath dresses tend to be. It is lined with a lightweight, cotton/linen blend, but I did not underline it, as I like to preserve the washability of most of my linen garments (easier without an underlining.)  It is also cooler without an underlining.

Being a lover of pink, I already had pink pumps that match the dress exactly – and a handbag which brings out the peachy part of the pink in the boucle.

The tabs on this dress give it kind of a ’60s vibe. Unintended, but kind of a nice touch to go with the jacket.

Because these two pieces – and this look – came together from so many sources, I think it is a good idea to give credit where credit is due:

Boucle: Mendel Goldberg Fabrics , NYC, gift from my grown children.

Soutache Braid and Buttons: M & J Trimming, NYC

Pink Petersham Ribbon: Britex Fabrics, San Francisco

Lining and Scarf silk: Britex Fabrics, San Francisco

Pink Linen: vintage Moygashel, 35” wide, purchased on Etsy

Cotton/linen lining for the dress: JoAnn’s Fabrics, purchased in bulk a couple of years ago

Shoes: Ferragamo, old!

Handbag: Kate Spade, also old.

I do love pink!

So that’s it! One major project now residing in my closet rather than in my sewing room. Time to start something new…

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, piping, Scarves, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

“Secret” Ingredients

Like that extra dash of nutmeg, which makes a dish sparkle in an indecipherable way, Classic French Jackets also have some secret ingredients. Except, they really are not secrets at all. They are, however, a few of the components which help to make these jackets so “classic” and just a step above ordinary.

Before I get to those details, however, let me show you my finished – yes, finished! – jacket.

To start with, one of the main features of a classic French jacket is the three-piece sleeve. The seam placed along the center point of the shoulder and running down along the outside of the arm does two things: it allows for the all-important vent and it provides a gentle curved shaping of the sleeve. The under-sleeve piece, which straddles the underarm area reduces bulk in the lower armscye and also contributes to the shaping of the sleeve.

The depth and width of the extension on the vent is entirely subject to the decision of the dressmaker. I opted to make my vents and their extensions suitable for two buttons. I originally planned on making a three-button vent, but I changed my mind, for reasons you will see in a future post.

Probably the most visible component of one of these jackets is the trim. This is such a personal choice, and the selection of the trim can really change the entire complexion of the jacket. As you all may know by now, I decided to use a layer of Petersham ribbon under the braid I selected. Once the Petersham was on, and I had started applying the soutache braid, I took this picture to illustrate how combining two layers of trim can effect such a different look.

On this jacket I placed my trim right on the outside edges of the parts being adorned, but this is also a personal choice.   Yes, there are “rules” to making these jackets, but the way you trim your jacket is not one of them! I also like to apply my trim after the interior of the jacket is finished, but I have seen a number of very successful jackets where the trim was applied before the edges were finished in the interior.

In the Classic French Jacket Class I took with Susan Khalje a few summers ago (which I cannot recommend highly enough!), she made the point that a lot of couture jackets are hemmed slightly longer in back, allowing for a gentle curve that is flattering and feminine. I love this look and used it again for this jacket. I think it is particularly effective with contrasting trim.

The gentle slope of the back hem is a little more apparent in this side view.

Obviously the trim has to have a starting point and an ending point somewhere on the jacket, right? Common sense tells us it should be in the most inconspicuous place – which, for the most part, happens to be in the side seam under your non-dominant arm. I am right-handed, so I made my starting and ending spot under my left arm.

I decided to make a double continuous loop of the soutache braid in order to reduce the bulk at the beginning and ending spot. Here you can see how I looped it in order to apply it this way.

From a little farther away, it is barely perceptible. By the way, do you see how that pocket is buckling?  I realized I had sewn the button on a little too low, so I had to do that over.  Seems there is always something to “tweak” at the end!

Because the boucle I used for this jacket is more of a lightweight weave, I decided I needed to anchor the buttons in some way. So I sewed them on (with waxed and ironed, double thread, of course), attaching them on the lining side with small white buttons.

While we are looking inside, here are photos of the jacket turned inside out.

I did not make any attempt to “match” the print because I did not think it would have made any difference.

Another key, necessary ingredient to one of these jackets is the chain which weights the jacket and keeps it looking neat and tidy. Sewing on the chain has to follow the Goldilocks rule: not too tight and not too loose.

I chose a silver-toned chain for this color combination.

The lining fabric I used for this jacket is such a lovely silk twill print. It seems a shame to hide such a beauty on the inside, although the interiors of these jackets are one of their most delightful secret ingredients. You will, however, be seeing more of this silk, along with photos of me wearing my jacket – all in a post to come soon!

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Linings, Uncategorized