Tag Archives: 1950’s Vogue patterns

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!

38 Comments

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.

19 Comments

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!

21 Comments

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.

DSC_0036

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!

17 Comments

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

DSC_1095

DSC_1080

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!

27 Comments

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

A Collection of Coats

When the weather turns wintry, warm coats become a wardrobe staple. One or two “practical – wear everywhere” coats are a must. (I just added years to the life of a 2+ decades-old cashmere, classic, double-breasted coat by having the tattered lining replaced by a local tailor – and I will continue to wear this coat often!) But how delightful to have a collection of coats – and how much better if they are not only warm, but also stylish. If you were sewing in the 1950s and 1960s you were fortunate to have many, many coat styles and patterns available to you – and if you are sewing now, you are also fortunate to have access to many of these same patterns through the internet – and they are just as stylish now as they were 50+ years ago. I am, of course, speaking of “dressmaker coats.”

Quoting from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, (Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora; Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, copyright 2003) a dressmaker coat is: “A woman’s coat designed with softer lines and more details than the average coat. May have a waistline and unusual details, e.g., tucks or pleats.” Such coats are so-called because they are styled more like a dress.

It doesn’t take very long to find examples of such coats in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from those two decades. The sheer numbers of patterns for such coats – and coat and dress ensembles – make me believe that home dressmakers from that period of time did not shy away from such sewing challenges. And why should we when so many gorgeous coats are waiting to be sewn?

Here are a few examples to tempt you:

“The Rectangle Coat: New Fashion Geometry” was a feature in the December 1958/January 1959 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Dressmaker coats - rectangle #1

Both of these coats feature fur collars “added by your furrier.” The one on the left has a “slight oval to the back” – and a half belt.

Suggestions for suitable fabrics are given for each of these designs.

Suggestions for suitable fabrics are given for each of these designs.

Continuing with the theme of “New Fashion Geometry,” the following pages of the same Vogue Pattern Book Magazine show examples of “the triangle coat.” Other terminology for this style of coat is the A-line coat. First introduced in 1955 by Christian Dior, this coat was “made close and narrow at the shoulders, flaring gently from under the arms to hem; shaped like letter A, made in single-or double-breasted style with or without a collar,” according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, page 85.

Dressmaker coats - triamgle coat #1

The coat on the right has unusual princess seaming.

The coat on the right has unusual princess seaming.

A few years later, the December 1962/January 1963 issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine featured “7 new ways to keep warm and look wonderful.”

Dressmaker coats - 7 coats 1

Several of the coats in this section feature "fullness" in the body of the coat.

Several of the designs in this section feature “fullness” in the body of the coat.

For me, however, it is the “ensembles” that make the ultimate fashion statement when speaking of coats. Christian Dior succinctly sums up their allure in The Little Dictionary of Fashion (Abrams, New York, New York, copyright 2007), page 40: “A very elegant way of dressing is to have a coat and dress matching together, making an ensemble… The frock should be fairly simple and the coat can be either fitted or loose, according to your taste. It can also be either long or short.” Vogue Patterns had no shortage of offerings for such ensembles. Here are four wonderful Vogue patterns – which are part of my pattern collection – and which are “ensembles.”

Note the "fullness" in this coat as well.

Note the “fullness” in this coat as well.

The princess seaming on this coat is similar to the red one mentioned above.

The princess seaming on this coat is similar to the red one mentioned above.

Somehow, this Guy Laroche pattern shows better in this photograph than in its drawing.

Another view of this  Guy Laroche pattern; it seems to show better in a photograph than in its pattern illustration.

This pattern was featured in that same VPB Magazine issue from December 1962/January 1963.

This pattern was featured in that same VPB Magazine issue from December 1962/January 1963.

And here it is in black and white in that issue. Stunning, isn't it?

And here it is in black and white in that issue. Stunning, isn’t it?

I love the knee length coat, although I may substitute another pattern for the coordinating dress.

The neckline on this coat is lovely and perfectly suited for a coordinating dress.

I actually have fabric for three of these patterns – with plans to sew them of course.  (Can you guess which one is the fabric-less orphan?)   However, all of them will remain part of my sewing dreams until after the holiday season – which “officially” begins this week with our American Thanksgiving celebration. I have festive attire and a few homemade gifts to fill my sewing days through December. Building my collection of coats will just have to wait.

Happy, Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers – and my heartfelt thanks to my loyal readers worldwide in this season of gratitude.

11 Comments

Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Panic and Patterns

Being away, as “on vacation” (or “on holiday” as many express it), can take its toll on sewing projects. If I have to leave a project in mid-stream, it seems to take even longer to get back to it and pick up where I left off. A recent trip to the western state of Wyoming necessitated that I abandon my current “Fall” dress at precisely the time of year when I need to complete it! And now I’ve run into some complications with it.

I guess you could say that panic has set in. Here is what the dress bodice looks like on my dress form:

Panic and patterns

I am using vintage Vogue pattern 2718 for this dress.

The fit seems okay. The neckline will need a little adjustment, but nothing out of the ordinary. The sleeves look good, and I am pleased with the piping so far. So what is the problem? When I try the bodice on, it looks awful. It pulls across the bust, it doesn’t want to move with me at all, and the front seems too short-waisted even though it measures perfectly for me when on the form. Worse still, this fabric is too dear (as in expensive) to put it aside or to think about abandoning this dress.

I think I know what is wrong, and it will take a great deal of effort to try to correct it – and hopefully it will be correctable! I insisted on using an underlining on this stretch silk fabric. I thought I could accommodate the stretch by cutting the underlining on the bias. Guess what? It doesn’t work. The bias pulls from underneath, restricting the stretch of the silk. What this means is that I am going to have to remove the underlining. It is not going to be fun to remove black underlining from black fabric, sewn together with black thread, is it?

I have consoled myself with the thought that I can salvage this project by making a skirt instead of a dress, which may be what I end up doing. Needless to say, I am fighting my discouragement, and trying to stay focused so I can finish this and move on to something more fun.

While traveling is not conducive to sewing, it doesn’t put a damper on looking at more patterns and fabrics online! Sometimes I go weeks without finding a pattern and then I’ll find several all bunched together in the space of a few days. You might be guessing that such was the case during the last few weeks. So while I am struggling with vintage Vogue 2718 right now, I look at my new acquisitions to give me encouragement for the future. Here are some of my “new” finds:

I was delighted to find this DvF pattern in my size, at a reasonable cost!  This one should see some fabric next Spring or Summer.

I was delighted to find this DvF pattern in my size, at a reasonable cost! This one should see some fabric next Spring or Summer.

DSC_0303

This one was too good to pass up, although I don’t have any plans for it right now. This looks like a dress, but it is really a skirt and top, paired with the jacket.

DSC_0304

What can I say? I love coats.

DSC_0305

I have been on the search for this pattern for a long time. I hope I’ll have some reason to make this dress sometime soon…

DSC_0306

The sleeves on the blue version of this blouse are so pretty!

In addition to these new patterns, I just ordered two Marfy patterns, which should either add to my current sewing anxiety or help alleviate it. I hope it is the latter!

17 Comments

Filed under 1980's dress patterns, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Coats, Cocktail dresses, piping, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Wrap dresses

Fashion Past, Fashion Present

Many reviews of Linda Przbyszewski’s book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish have been written. Two of the most recent ones are by Stephani Miller of Threads Magazine, and by Joy Landeira in the quarterly newsletter (Summer 2014) of the American Sewing Guild, Notions (available to members only). Both of these, plus many others give an excellent overview of the subject of the book. For those of you abroad and others who may not have been exposed to this book, here in a nutshell is the narrative: From 1900 – 1960, American women’s interest in fashion was shaped to a great degree by many professionals in the fields of Home Economics, Retailing, and Art. Following certain concepts espoused by these “Dress Doctors”, as the author calls them, average American women embraced style, grace, appropriateness, and practicality in their dress, making them paragons of American fashion.

Lost Art of Dress - cover

I found the book completely fascinating to read, learning much about the cultural and social history of this country during those six decades. Although the book is scholarly in its research, documentation, and overview, Linda is an engaging writer, infusing humor frequently, adding pointed commentary throughout, and, finally, extrapolating meaning from the “lessons” taught by the Dress Doctors for present seekers of style. As a dressmaker and frequent user of vintage patterns, I read the book looking for specific references, which would apply to my sewing and fashion sense, and to help me answer the question “Just exactly why do I find the fashions from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s so captivating?” To say that I found much to savor is, indeed, an understatement.  However, certain “Aha” moments stood out for me, so that is what I will try to cover in my remarks here.

1) To be successful and enduring, fashion should emphasize one’s face. When I look at vintage patterns, so many of them have details at the neckline, or unusual and flattering collars, or necklines cut gracefully to frame the face. This seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Fashion should bring attention to one’s face – and therefore, one’s person – so that YOU are remembered rather than your attire (although the proper fashions can help you be remembered at your best). Jewelry is one way to help emphasize a face, but, of course, it should not overpower your countenance. Prior to 1965, wearing hats was commonplace, adding another point of emphasis to the face. Now we are not so lucky, save for some very special occasions.

2) Black is fine to wear for evening, but think again for day-time wear. While I am not naïve enough to think that black is going to leave the wardrobes of American women (after all, what is more classic than the Little Black Dress for after-five?), most of us would do well to consider adding more color to our fashion sewing and wearing. Color is a powerful enhancer to complexions (of all hues) and moods.

3) Older women were once considered at the apex of elegance and style. Women and girls younger than 30 were expected to dress in a more youthful manner that mimicked their elders, rather than the other way around! (Isn’t it interesting that 30 was considered the age at which women were expected to assume a more polished appearance?)   Vogue Pattern Book Magazine contained the occasional feature on young girls and college girls, and Vogue even had a pattern series called Young Fashionables. But the majority of their patterns were for the 30 – and – older crowd, showcasing models and fashions which were demure but elegant, feminine but refined.

Here is one "Young Fashionable" pattern, to illustrate the type of style designed for the younger than thirty age group.

Here is one “Young Fashionable” pattern, to illustrate the type of style designed for the younger-than-30 age group.

This page from the October/November 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine shows many of the ingredients of a polished look, the norm among American women at that time.

This page from the October/November 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine shows many of the ingredients of a polished look, the norm among American women at that time.

Even fashion illustration included all the elements of a polished look.  (From the same VPB magazine as above.)

Even fashion illustration included all the elements of a polished look. (From the same VPB magazine as above.)

4) The Dress Doctors were not only concerned with fashion, but also with how fashion could influence the rest of one’s life. First and foremost, one should buy, or sew one’s own attire, which is appropriate for the life one leads. Buying on impulse is rarely a good idea if the item you are buying has no use in your weekly or monthly calendar. Further, if you find a style or look which works for you, repeat it – easily accomplished by those of us who sew. And those of us who sew know that tweaking a pattern, adding or subtracting a detail, and choosing diverse fabrics can make any pattern look new. Hooray for us!

5) A final point – and it is about many women’s favorite fashion accessory — shoes. According to Linda Przbyszewski, shoes have taken on much more significance than they once did – and should. Shoes should never be the focal point of one’s outfit. They should be chosen to enhance the overall look and to be functional for the occasion for which you are dressing. Shoes used to be just one of the accessories adding to the complete outfit, along with gloves, hats, scarves, handbags, jewelry, and coats. As gloves and hats and coat “wardrobes” have receded from the recipe for a “fashionable look”, shoes have filled that gap for many of us.

The last chapter of the book is devoted to the “demise” of the Dress Doctors in the 1960s and ‘70s. The emphasis on “youth”, starting in the ‘60s, and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s changed mainstream fashion dramatically. Not addressed in the book is the continuance of some of the standards, established by the Dress Doctors, by the pattern companies in these two decades. Although my experience is mostly with Vogue patterns, I continue to be inspired by many of the fashions, Designer and otherwise, featured in patterns during these two decades. Once again home dressmakers were at an advantage – and continue to be.

The author leaves the reader on a positive note, stressing lessons for all of us to be learned from the wisdom of the Dress Doctors, and crediting the home sewing movement NOW for the beginning of a return to standards and style in the art of dress. I look at this  as a responsibility.  How about you?

2 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, Little Black Dress, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

The Long and Mysterious Journey of Sandhurst 121

When the piece of linen I had purchased arrived in the mail, I was not sure what to expect. I had bought it with the hope that it was, indeed, a piece of Moygashel linen, but I had nothing to go on except an educated hunch. I knew it was an early piece of fabric, as its width was 35”, a common width for pre-1960’s dress-goods. I liked the design in the photo from which I made my decision, although it was not a colorway to which I normally gravitate. Upon opening the package, I found the only identifying mark on the fabric to be this tag:

Gottshalk's in Fresno, California obviously sold fine fabrics.

Gottschalk’s in Fresno, California obviously sold fine fabrics.

This short length of fabric had been on the remnant table, and, being too good of a bargain to pass by, some home dressmaker in California (USA) scooped it up with all good intentions of making something out of it someday. It must have lived in a dark drawer somewhere, carefully buffered from stains and yellowing. It didn’t even have much of a crease in it. And so, after many years in dormancy, it arrived at my home in Pennsylvania. I knew immediately that it was a Moygashel linen. I could tell by the hand of the fabric, the unique, slightly funky design, and by its amazing survival virtually wrinkle-free.

Sandhurst 121

As I mentioned in a former post, my only dilemma was the scant yardage, combined with the narrow width. So, I stuck it in my fabric closet, to think about another day. One thing nagged at me, however. I really, really wanted to know what year it was from.

Over the past three years or so, I have had some luck in finding copies of old and older (1950-1980) Vogue Pattern Book Magazines. They are fascinating, and treasure troves of mid-century fashion as it relates to home sewing. I have tried to get a good cross-section of magazines from those three decades. One issue, which I tried a couple of times to get – and did not (on eBay) – finally became available to me. I loved the suit on the cover, and those mid-fifties styles are just so chic, even though most Vogue patterns from that time period were unprinted, and therefore, very difficult to use. (By 1957, Vogue was starting to produce many of their patterns in printed and perforated format.)

This is the February/March 1955 issue.

This is the February/March 1955 issue.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this? I was looking through this particular issue once again in May of this year, and low and behold, a full-page ad for Moygashel linen clearly pictured “my” linen as one of their “new crop”. The colorway was different, but Moygashel was known for producing their fabrics “all in many colors or color combinations.” Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t get so excited about such a discovery, but I was ecstatic! Now I knew, for certain, that the linen I had purchased made its debut in early 1955. (I would be turning 5 years old a little later that year!) I even had a name for it now – Sandhurst 121. I suddenly very much wanted to sew this linen, this Summer!

There is my linen in the upper left hand corner of the full-page advertisement.

There is my linen in the upper left hand corner of the full-page advertisement.

By now, many of you know that I determined to make a sheath dress out of this scant yardage of fabric, and in order to do so, I had to reconfigure my sheath dress pattern to include a back yoke. Here’s the fabric layout, which hopefully will show how sectioning the back enabled me to fit the pattern on the available fabric:

The fabric is shown 35" flat on my cutting table.  The muslin pattern piece for the front of the dress is on the right, and the two shortened back pieces are lined up smack against each other on the left.  The yoke pieces then fit above the dress front.  I did not need facings, as I lined the entire dress in a light weight linen/cotton blend, and finished the neck and armholes all by hand.

The fabric is shown 35″ flat on my cutting table. The muslin pattern piece for the front of the dress is on the right, and the two shortened back pieces are lined up smack against each other on the left. The yoke pieces then fit on the fabric  above the dress front. I did not need facings, as I lined the entire dress in a light weight linen/cotton blend, and finished the neck and armholes all by hand.  I had to face the hem as I did not have enough fabric to do a self hem!

Many of you also know that fortune shone her happy face again on this project when I found three orange vintage buttons, which I knew would help make a back yoke far more interesting. I relied on a Vogue pattern from 1957, which has a back yoke to help me with this reconfigure.

This card of buttons cost 2 cents originally!  They seem to mimic the small orange explosions on the dress fabric.

This card of buttons cost 2 cents originally! They seem to mimic the small orange explosions on the dress fabric.  They may actually be even earlier than the fabric.

The yoke on this dress uses 4 buttons.  I only had three, but their large size still makes the proportions work well.

The yoke on this dress uses 4 buttons. I only had three, but their large size still makes the proportions work well.

A close-up of the back of the dress.

A close-up of the back of the dress.  I made bound buttonholes – very 1950-ish!

And then, another classic 1950s’ design detail worked right into this dress: I would need to move the zipper to the side in order for the back yoke to look correct. Now I will be the first to tell you that a side zipper is not as convenient as a back zipper, but it is a small sacrifice when everything else is enhanced by this placement.   After these obeisances to ‘50s’ style, I slipped right into 2014 with a bright orange, newly made belt, a widened jewel neckline, slightly cut-in shoulders, and a back slit to enhance comfort. I like to choose the best from the ‘50s, but I really don’t want to look like the 1950s.

I sent new orange linen to Pat Mahoney of Pat's Custom Belts and Buttons  and this lovely belt came back to me in the mail.

I sent new orange linen to Pat Mahoney of Pat’s Custom Belts and Buttons and this lovely belt came back to me in the mail.

Cool and summery-looking, don't you think?

Cool and summery-looking, don’t you think?

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Not every dress can have a story, nor should it. But this fabric, which began its life in Ireland, no doubt entered this country through New York City, ordered by a store in Fresno, California, purchased and squirreled away for decades by persons unknown – has now found a starring role in my wardrobe almost 60 years later. Sewing is just so much fun!

 

 

37 Comments

Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, hand-sewn zippers, Linen, Love of sewing, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, side-placed zippers, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

The Necessary Blouse

Fashion sewing is an interesting combination of inspiration, aspiration, indulgence and necessity, manifested singly or collectively.  My newly completed bow blouse is an example of a bit of all of these motivations rolled into one.  This is the blouse I made to go with my No. 2 Chanel-inspired jacket, made from the same red and navy blue geometric print silk with which I lined the jacket.

The Necessary Blouse Inspiration came from several sources.  I was mostly inspired by the pattern, which is copyright 1957 by The Conde Nast Publications, Inc. (Vogue Patterns) – so much so, that I purchased it in a size larger than I usually wear, as that was what was available – and with vintage patterns, one is never sure to find a favorite one again soon – or ever.

Looking at blouses 1957

Some of the aspects of the pattern which appealed to me are: 1) the “dropped” bow shown in views A and B; 2) the various sleeve lengths; 3) the shaping in the body of the blouse – soft and understated, but very feminine.  Just for fun, I looked through a few of my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from 1957 and 1958, to see if I could find examples of this blouse pattern.  That was easy!  Here is one sketch and one photograph of Vogue 9227:

The blouse was featured in the December/January 1957-58 issue.

The blouse was featured in the December/January 1957-58 issue.

Part of a feature entitled "A new era for the soft BLOUSE."  In the August/September, 1957 issue of VPB.

Part of a feature entitled “A new era for the soft BLOUSE.” In the August/September, 1957 issue of VPB. 

After making a sheath dress to coordinate with my Chanel-inspired jacket No. 1, I aspired to pair my Jacket No. 2 with a suitable companion, too.  A bow blouse seemed to be a versatile and useful solution.  And then it became a necessity!   I decided my Jacket No. 2 would not be complete until I finished this blouse.

Back view

Back view

Step number one was to make a muslin (of course), knowing that I would need to alter the pattern to fit me correctly.  Sure enough, I needed to take out the bagginess in the bust and body of the blouse, and I needed to shorten the sleeves.  I went to my favorite book on making alterations which guided me through the correct changes:

I highly recommend this book.

I highly recommend this book.

My muslin showed me that the sleeves were also a little too full for me and for current 2014 styles, so I removed some girth from them as well.  I was skeptical of the bow (cut on the diagonal) when I looked at the pattern and then the muslin.  Would it be too full?  Made up in muslin it seemed a little overwhelming.  But, my silk was so lightweight and fine, that I decided it might just be okay, using the original dimensions.

Here is the bow/collar ready to be attached to the body of the blouse.

Here is the bow/collar ready to be attached to the body of the blouse.

This blouse went together quite as planned, although I worked on one side where the bow/collar joins the corner at the front facing for hours, until I had it inserted correctly.  I kept making the same mistake over and over, which was a little irritating.  I also added some extra hand-sewing, understitching the facing by hand and hand-stitching the hem.

Hand understitching looks just so much nicer than machine stitching!

Hand understitching looks just so much nicer than machine stitching!

When I started the blouse, I had not yet picked out buttons, thinking I would use some that I have in my vintage collection.  But then I was on Waechter’s website and found these buttons, which seemed just about perfect:

The Necessary Blouse - button

These buttons measure 5/8″. 

(Sadly, Waechter’s is closing their business in Asheville, N. C., to my great dismay.  This makes me even more grateful for Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, from which I purchased all the fabric for this blouse and my Jacket No. 2.)

Sewing with vintage patterns is such a pleasure in so many ways.  For example, the sleeve vents had their own separate pattern piece:

The instruction sheet from the pattern . . . .

The instruction sheet from the pattern . . . .

The vent sewn on . . . .

The vent sewn on . . . .

. . . . and the finished vent.

. . . . and the finished vent.

Another classic vintage aspect is the proscribed use of snaps  – in this pattern, at the waist and below, which takes bulk away from the “tuck-in” part of the blouse.

And that bow?  Once I had it made up, was it too much?

I think the bow is just about perfect.

I think the bow is just about perfect.

I am very glad I didn't tinker with the size of the bow!

I am very glad I didn’t tinker with the size of the bow!

Shown with the jacket.  I really like how the collar on the blouse shows a bit when i have the jacket on.

Shown with the jacket. I really like how the collar on the blouse shows a bit when I have the jacket on.

The Necessary Blouse

A comfortable fit.

The Necessary Blouse

Would be nice with a navy skirt as well …

The Necessary Blouse

Whew!  Blouse and jacket turned out as I had hoped!

Whew! Blouse and jacket turned out as I had hoped!

I am feeling quite good about indulging in the extra fabric and extra time needed to make this blouse.  Now that my No. 2 Jacket is complete, I can indulge in my other current project – my color-blocked coat –  which might add a new word to the vocabulary of fashion sewing – obsession!

16 Comments

Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, sewing in silk, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns