Tag Archives: 1950’s Vogue patterns

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

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

Blame It on the Buttons

It can be a little overwhelming to look at my (growing) collection of beautiful summer linens, and then try to make a decision on which piece to select for my next project.

Fortunately, a random purchase of buttons helped me make up my mind this time around. I found these buttons at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco last year, and purchased them on a whim, not knowing when or how I would use them. I also don’t know what possessed me to purchase 6 of them, but that’s what I did.

Yes, those are interlocking "a la Chanel" Cs.

Yes, those are interlocking “a la Chanel” Cs.

When I got them home, I realized they were a perfect match with a length of vintage, pale yellow, Moygashel linen in my possession. I tucked the fabric and the buttons away together, confident that the perfect pattern would also be found amongst my many vintage Vogue patterns.

It was a bit of a trick finding a pattern that needed 6 (or fewer) ¾” buttons. This one kept surfacing as the most ideal candidate:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

Ideal, except for the yardage needed, that is. Many of you know by now that being a “little shy” of the prescribed fabric usually does not keep me from my desired goal! After making a fitting muslin and making the necessary adjustments, I cut out my underlining (light weight linen/cotton blend) and used that as my pattern. It was immediately evident that I did not have enough of that 35” width linen.

Or did I? I figured if I eliminated the center back box pleat and replaced it with just a slit in the back center seam, I’d save a bit of yardage requirements. I could make the sleeve hem facings out of the underlining, saving a bit more. And if I cut the collar on the horizontal straight of grain rather then the vertical, I could just fit the pattern pieces onto my yardage. It was a good thing I had already decided to eliminate the chest pockets (a little too 1950s.) And a self-belt?   Out of the question!

A belt turned out to be a perplexing question. I had been fortunate enough for a few years to have my belts and covered buttons custom made by Pat Mahoney, but since her retirement last year, I have found no replacement for her services. I was dreading the prospect of making my own belt. The only good thing was I knew I had a piece of vintage Moygashel linen in a medium navy blue (see the button photo above) which would be a good contrasting color for the yellow dress. I decided I would think about actually making the belt after I had the dress itself finished.

For a simple shirtwaist dress, there were a number of time-consuming details, like the gussets I covered in my last post. There were also six bound buttonholes to work.

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

Blame it on the buttons

 

There were separate front bodice facings, and a front skirt placket with separate facings. There were sleeve hem facings (as mentioned above), and lots of trimming, clipping, and grading of seams! And then the dress was done.  Except for the belt, of course.

After giving myself a pep talk, I took out one of Pat’s belts and studied it, vowing to duplicate as closely as possible her techniques and precision. Fortunately I had a belt buckle from long ago, which I had saved. It was for a 1.25” width belt, which is exactly what I wanted.  I plunged ahead and this what I made, working the eyelets by hand (which fortunately don’t show much on the dark linen!):

Blame it on the buttons

The underside, just in case you are curious!

Although not my favorite dress of all time, I think I’ll get good use out of it, and I do love its pairing with “summer” blue.

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

The clutch is a perfect match with the belt – how lucky is that?

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Best of all, the buttons add just the right, somewhat mysterious, touch.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Day dresses, kimono sleeves, Linen, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

“To the Most Imaginative Woman in the World”

“You see her leafing through pattern books – picking out a collar here, a cuff there, a new way of pleating a skirt . . . You see her fingering a tiny swatch of fabric, Yet she’s seeing it as a whole dress, or a blouse, or a jacket . . . Who is she – this lady with the limitless imagination? She’s the woman who sews. YOU . . .”

Most imaginative woman - Burlington-2

This is just one of many ads placed by manufacturers of fabric in the April-May 1950 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. Ordinarily I would not have purchased this issue, as most Vogue patterns available before 1955 were not printed, and I rarely buy a vintage pattern which is not printed! My particular interest in these vintage magazines is the opportunity they provide to identify dates for patterns, fabrics and style trends, making the experience of sewing with vintage patterns (and fabrics) even more enjoyable.  However, when this issue was available in an Etsy store, I succumbed. I was born in May of 1950, and my curiosity just got the better of me.

I find the haughty expression on the cover model somewhat amusing.

An early haughty expression on a  model!

Looking at this issue made me realize how old I am… NO, NO, NO! Just kidding, I think. Actually, what really popped out at me was how exciting it must have been to be a home dressmaker at this point in time, with the home sewing business booming, post-war, and fine fashion – and the desire to look wonderful – such important aspects of a woman’s life.

And then, as I was leafing through the magazine, I found an unexpected surprise. Tucked in between two pages was Vogue Patterns April 15 Collection, an 8-page flyer, available at pattern counters and easily something that could be tossed away. I find it remarkable that this slim printed piece survived.

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-5

The format is larger than what I am used to seeing in later Vogue pattern flyers from the 1960s and 1970s.  When one looks at the fashions and patterns detailed, it is easy to imagine the woman who picked this up, looking at it again and again.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

Not only that, also tucked in with this flyer was this page from Harper’s Bazaar, March 1st, 1950.

Most imaginative woman - Harpers Bazaar

How many of you save pictures of dresses/blouses/coats you would like to copy? Pinterest, anyone? I certainly do!

Clearly she had in mind making the dress pictured on the back cover of the flyer:

"Consider them two by two - the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result." Timeless advice!

“Consider them two by two – the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result.” Timeless advice!

Some of my favorite pages in this, my “birthday” issue? I was delighted to find an ad for Moygashel linen, for which I have a particular passion:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-1

A lover of polka dots makes me partial to this gorgeous blouse:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-3

This blouse is very similar to one I made a few years ago.

And how can I resist this stunning “moulded sheath dress with a draped cascade”?

Most imaginative woman - cascade dress-4

I am so struck by the sophistication of the styling of the fashions and illustrations, the emphasis on Designer offerings, and the exciting abundance of piece goods being sold by manufacturer’s name to the home sewing population. Times and fashions change, but I believe we have much in common with these mid-century home dressmakers plotting their wardrobes with creativity and skill – pairing fabric and pattern. We are the women who sew – and are still the ones with the limitless imaginations!

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Filed under Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Pattern Art, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

The Silky, Shimmery Colors of Spring

Just as with the elusive answer to “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?,” those of us who sew can try to answer “Which comes first, the fabric or the pattern?” The answer, at least as I see it, is “It depends.” And sometimes, even, it is a little of both.

When I saw this fabric on the website of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics last Fall, I really did not stop to think about a pattern. It was a “bolt end,” 1 3/8 yards of 58” wide Italian silk. With that width, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the length being under 1 and ½ yards. I just ordered it as soon as I could.

The colors of Spring

Upon arrival, the fabric was even prettier in person, shimmery with “polka dots” woven in, fluid as only silk can be, and the picture of Spring. At that point, I was up to my ears with my Winter sewing, so I thought about it only casually until just a few weeks ago. I already had this pattern in my collection, and in the back of my mind, I had paired that fabric with the dress in View B on the right.

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

One interesting thing about vintage patterns is the yardage requirements are often given for widths that are narrower than many modern fabrics are produced in. For that reason, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much fabric is needed for a particular design. I’m getting better at sensing what I need, so I just assumed that I would have enough fabric to make that dress.   I had my heart set on it, actually. So much so, that when Britex Fabrics announced an upcoming sale of silk fabrics, I sent off for swatches for coordinating silk for the short jacket (in view A) and lining for the dress.

The green is a lightweight silk/cotton blend. The goldenrod yellow is silk taffeta from Italy, without the stiffness that taffeta so often has.

The green is a lightweight silk/cotton blend. The goldenrod yellow is silk taffeta from Italy, without the stiffness that taffeta so often has.

Dutifully ordered, the fabric arrived from California, and it, too, was even prettier in person! I was in love, and really could not wait to get started, first on the dress, and then on the jacket.

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The green for the lining . . .

The colors of Spring

… and the yellow for the short jacket in View A.

Then reality hit. When I took out the pattern pieces, here is what I found for that unusual flounced skirt:

This skirt piece uses almost a yard in length, and the diagonal shaping on it uses more fabric than normal.

This skirt piece uses almost a yard in length, and the diagonal shaping on it uses more fabric than normal.

My heart sank as I knew immediately I did not have enough fabric. There was going to be no Rumplestiltskin to help me with this one.   I went back to my pattern collection and pulled out two more possibilities.

I love this dress, but I thought it might be too tailored for the fabric. Also, the seaming detail would be lost entirely with the busy design of the silk.

I love this dress, but I thought it might be too tailored for the fabric. Also, the seaming detail which adds so much to this dress would be lost entirely with the busy design of the silk.

I felt like Goldilocks evaluating this pattern for my fabric. Just not right...

I felt like Goldilocks evaluating this pattern for my fabric. Just not right…

With both these dresses I would have to rethink the jacket, as the styles would not compliment each other. I stewed over this, re-measured, re-thought, and left it all in a heap in my sewing room. There was something about that shimmery silk that kept telling me that a dress made from it needed to have some movement to it –  like the flounced half-skirt pictured in the pattern. And then it hit me. If I made the front part of the skirt the same as the back, I could probably just squeak it out.

I did a quick diagram to consider this option.

I did a quick diagram to consider this option.

My completed muslin verified this for me, and, not only that, I loved the look, at least done up in muslin. Once again, using the couture technique of laying out and cutting each pattern piece individually enabled me to manipulate the pieces to make the most of the fabric I had available to me. Fortunately, there was no matching to be done, although there is a specific up and down to the design.

Now this is what is called making the most of one's available fabric!

Now this is what is called making the most of one’s available fabric! This shows my silk organza underlining pieces in place, ready to cut.

As far as the jacket – losing the diagonally shaped flounces on the skirt, makes the effect of the jacket not quite as dramatic, but I think it will still be very flattering – and appropriate. (The jacket has a million pieces to it, so it will be quite the project…!)

Well, I can’t leave this post without sharing another color of Spring, although this one is not silk and not shimmery. Pink cotton gingham is the picture of Spring, especially in a little dress for a little girl! When I made a crib quilt for my younger granddaughter, Carolina, I backed it in pink gingham, appropriately called “Carolina Pink.” I ordered enough so that I would be able to make her a dress for her first birthday (earlier in April) and here it is:

The colors of Spring

The colors of Spring

The bodice is lined in soft white cotton, which makes a lovely finish.

The bodice is lined in soft white cotton, which makes a lovely finish.

In my tins of buttons, I found these little ceramic ones, purchased years ago when Carolina’s mommy was my little girl. (Well, she is still my little girl, but you know what I mean.) How appropriate to use them for one of her daughter’s dresses.

The colors of Spring

These buttons, with their delicate cross-hatch design, were just waiting for this dress.

And with this dress –  the fabric absolutely came first!

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Formal or fancy dresses, Heirloom sewing for children, Mid-Century style, Sewing for children, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

The Calm before the Storm

Starting the new year with a “simple” project seemed like the way to go, knowing that I plan to spend the remainder of the winter on a coat and “related apparel.” More on that in my next post. I thought that if I didn’t get this “skirt that was meant to be” cut out and sewn in the first couple of weeks of January, it might not get finished this year.

I found the fabric on eBay – dubbed as a medium-weight wool in good condition – 58” wide, 1+ yard in length, which I figured was enough for a skirt.

Navy and white houndstooth.

Navy and white houndstooth.

There is always a bit of the unknown when one is bidding on fabric online, especially when it comes to the feel and hand of the fabric. For that reason, I kept my bid fairly low, especially as I seemed to be the only one bidding or even watching this lot. So, you can imagine my surprise when I was OUTBID! I was disappointed, but clearly it was my own fault for not making a stronger bid.

I went on with my day, trying not to think about how much I liked the look of this fabric. And then – eBay sent me a message saying I had a second chance at the fabric – it could be mine for the amount I had bid originally. Hurray! I will never know what happened to make this possible, but clearly the skirt I had planned in my mind was meant to be.

DSC_1090

When the fabric arrived, it was lovely, although a bit heavier than I thought it would be. I decided it would make up better if there were few – or no – darts. So I settled on the paneled skirt from this 1958 pattern.

The calm before the storm - pattern

These small drawings show the seams and shaping of the skirt quite well. Obviously, I shortened the length of the skirt.

These small drawings show the seams and shaping of the skirt quite well. Obviously, I shortened the length of the skirt.

The shaping is in the seams, and even though there are a lot of seams (6 of them to be precise), I knew I could control the bulk by using couture techniques.

I underlined the skirt with silk organza, and secured the raw edges of each seam with catch-stitching.

I underlined the skirt with silk organza, and secured the raw edges of each seam with catch-stitching.

I also lined the waistband, thereby reducing bulk in that area. I used Bemberg rayon for the lining.

It is a little difficult to see, but this photo shows the inside of the lined waistband.

It is a little difficult to see, but this photo shows the inside of the lined waistband.

Another look at the waistband.

Another look at the waistband.

DSC_1087

DSC_1091

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I believe this skirt is going to be a staple in my winter wardrobe – classic houndstooth in navy and white wool is versatile, timeless, and warm. This was a calm and simple way to start the new sewing year. Now I can dig into something much more complicated, and I am excited to do so!

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Filed under couture construction, paneled skirts, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens