Tag Archives: 1950’s Vogue patterns

Color Wheel

Pantone’s annual announcement of “the color” of the coming year is always notable.  Last week’s revelation of Radiant Orchid as the newest “it” color caught me a little by surprise.  After emerald green’s reign over 2013, I just was not expecting such a dramatic turn on the color wheel.  But, being a “pink” person, I think I can be persuaded to embrace this violet-y pink, although right now I have no fabric or project planned to do so.  I am actually thinking that this color might suit me better in accessories rather than a full outfit in it.  Handbags and shoes?  Yes, I could get excited about that.

This choice of color made me start to think about predecessors to it, so back I went to my Vogue Pattern Magazines, two from the 1950s and one from the 1960s, to see what I could find.  In December/January of 1953-54, an entire feature focused on The Pleasures of Pink. 

"From bon bon to shocking - from the beach to the ballroom ... pink casts its rosy glow"

“From bon bon to shocking – from the beach to the ballroom … pink casts its rosy glow”

Two ads from the February/March 1957 VPM featured a pink, which is very close to 2014’s radiant orchid.  Who could argue with the statement “You are more beautiful in Silk”?

Here is" Radiant Orchid", mid-century style!

Here is” Radiant Orchid”, mid-century style!

Lowenstein’s ad features “Signature” cottons designed by famous artists.  If you read the caption fully, you will see that the price per yard is listed at “about $1.39”.

And don't you love the hat??

And don’t you love the hat??

December/January of 1960-61 shows two of the suit and blouse patterns in what could definitely be called Radiant Orchid.

Look at that Chanel-type jacket in Pattern #4136.

Look at that Chanel-type jacket in Pattern #4136. 

While 2014 is set to be the year of “Radiant Orchid”, dear old 2013 is just not quite over yet.  Busy December of every year finds me focusing on the colors of  Christmas and the holiday season more than on the current fashionable colors.

Somehow, Christmas just would not be Christmas if I were not scrambling to finish some handmade gifts.   This year is no different, as I conjured up some crazy idea to design and make Christmas-themed potholders as a small addition to the presents I give to some very wonderful ladies who help me in my house (and vacuum many a thread off the floor of my sewing room!)    I dug through my stash of “quilting” cottons and came up with some holiday themed fabric, which I used as my starting point.  Then I paired each fabric with some complementary small prints, and concocted what I hope looks like fancy Christmas balls – except that they are large enough to use on a hot pan!

Color wheel potholders I indulged my love of rickrack, and the most fun part was deciding which color binding and which color rickrack to use to enhance the finished product.

color wheel potholder

I added a small gray “cap” at the top to simulate a Christmas ball hook-holder, and a rick-rack loop for hanging.

color wheel potholder

This is my favorite one…

Coming full circle (pardon the pun) on the color wheel brings me back to radiant orchid – and whether  our holiday celebrations will possibly see any pink hues peeking out between the Christmas reds and greens?  Oh, yes!  Once I get around to cookie-making, I’ll be certain to make  fashionably forward stockings and mittens decorated with sparkly pink sugar!

color wheel

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

No. 2 ~ The Beginning

I may – or may not – find Chanel No. 5 Paris Parfum in my Christmas stocking, but Chanel-inspired, Classic French Jacket No. 2 can currently, definitely, be found in my sewing room.  Well, actually, it’s not a jacket yet.  It is just lengths of fabric and loose trims and buttons, but that is how these things begin, as every home dressmaker knows.

I actually started planning this jacket long before I took the Classic French Jacket Class with Susan Khalje this past summer.  In September of 2012 when I was at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, I found this boucle and purchased it – even then – as my intended Jacket No. 2.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

My first jacket is definitely very dressy, so I wanted this one to be less so, which meant I had to find just the right lining, trim, and buttons.  It took another, recent, trip to San Francisco to produce those ingredients – and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I found again at Britex.

A bolt of this light-weight silk twill was tucked under one of the front tables, and it was love at first sight.  I was hoping to find something with navy blue in it, and the geometric pattern in this fabric makes it bold and less dressy than a floral silk charmeuse would be.

No. 2 jacket

The ruler will help you get a feel for the size of the squares.  Click on the photo for a close-up view.

The ruler will help you get a feel for the size of the squares. Click on the photo for a close-up view.

Immediately, however, I knew that I had to purchase enough for a blouse as well, which I did.  I suspect I’ll be using this pattern from 1957 for a blouse with a bow, which should evoke the correct Coco Chanel look. (A muslin should tell me if I need to tame the bow.  I don’t want it to be overwhelming…)

View B with long sleeves has my vote.

View B with long sleeves has my vote. 

With fabrics in tow, I then headed up to the Buttons and Trims Department on the 3rd floor.  An initial look at the red trims flummoxed me, as none of them seemed right.  Then one of the wonderful assistants in the Department came to my rescue and found these two trims.

No. 2 Jacket

Shown with the lining/blouse fabric...

Shown with the lining/blouse fabric . . .

... and again.

. . . and again. 

Back and forth I went between them, unable to make a decision.  It was then that I went to my fail-safe method of choosing between two equally wonderful trims:  I bought both of them! ( It certainly helped that neither was terribly expensive – and both very versatile.)

Now that I have them home, I am leaning toward one of them – can you guess which one?  Does it help to see the buttons, too?  Once again, the experienced button assistant quickly found these – and there was no question in my mind that they were just what I wanted for this jacket.

These are shank buttons, with gold decoration reminiscent of Chanel "C"s.

These are shank buttons, with gold decoration slightly reminiscent of intertwined Chanel “C”s.

And here with the other trim.

And here with the other trim. 

Well, as in so much in life, timing is everything – or it sometimes seems that way.  My timing could be better to be starting such a lengthy project.  It is, after all, one month until Christmas.  I have those proverbial stockings to fill and much to do, but I’ll just bet I can squeeze in some sewing time before my sewing room transforms into Santa’s workshop.

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Boucle for French style jackets, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, Coco Chanel, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

In Pursuit of My Very Own Classic Cardigan (aka Chanel) Jacket

As I eagerly anticipate the Classic French Jacket class I will be taking with Susan Khalje in June, there are several things I am doing to get ready for it.  First, of course, is doing my homework.  That includes selecting the pattern I want to use and making the muslin.  I am sticking with the old stand-by Vogue pattern #7975 (which Susan recommends), as I really do want the classic princess-seamed cardigan look that has evolved from its original “boxy” styling.

Chanel jacket pattern

The view in the lower righthand corner is the version I anticipate starting with.

I’ve prepared my thread-traced muslin pieces, as seen here –

Chanel jacket muslin

And now those pieces are sewn together as well.  We (the members of the class) will be shopping for fabric and trim(s) on the first day of class, so what I end up with is still to de determined.  Am I looking for a particular color?  Yes, sort of, but who knows what wool will entice me – other than probably the most expensive one!

Having classic “Chanel” on my mind has made me think about how enduring this style jacket has been over so many decades.  From looking through some of my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from the 1950s and 1960s, it is obvious that this is one fashion that is always in Vogue (pardon the pun).  The October/November 1957 issue stated “The Chanel look of the easy jacket is in the news in both suits and ensembles.  Box jackets often have cropped sleeves to show cuff-linked shirt sleeves.”  Here is how that statement is llustrated:

The sketch in jade shows a "best-selling" pattern, newly available printed and perforated.

The sketch in jade shows a “best-selling” pattern, newly available printed and perforated.

Here is the opposing page to the previous illustration - more on the "Chanel look."

Here is the opposing page to the previous illustration – more on the “Chanel look.”

Shades of Chanel are obvious in this style from the August/September 1960 issue, with the statement:  “[T]he most versatile suit ever – the checked, straight jacket is buttonless and bias-trimmed…”

This suit definitely shows shades of Chanel!

This suit definitely shows shades of Chanel!  I like the suit much better than the hairstyle.

Two years later, the August/September issue included a classic Chanel-look suit in its wardrobe for Vogue’s fictional character, Mrs. Exeter.  Called “the suit of the year”, it is described as “. . . very Chanel, with its easy cardigan airs; its dark bands of braid on pale rough tweed; the silk blouse with its own flip and tier bow.  The slim skirt has a low bit of flare.”

This is the most classic Chanel image I found from the 1960s in my copies if VPB.

This is the most classic Chanel image I found from the 1960s in my copies if VPB.

The very next issue in 1962 featured a classic Chanel look on its cover.  The accompanying caption states:  “Take a clean-lined suit design (shades of Chanel) and make it shimmer:  a springy white suit wool scored with gold metallic and red braid . . .”

Chanel jacket images #9

That same issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine gave away this “secret” in a feature entitled VPB’s Boutigue Corner:  Couturier Flourishes:  “The secret of the suit jacket and the overblouse that hang beautifully is apt to be a “Chanel” chain.  A finishing touch by couturiers, the chain is tacked near the hemline as a weight.”

The topic figure shows the "Chanel" chain fastened to a hemline.

The topic figure shows the “Chanel” chain fastened to a hemline.

Ordering information for such chains was included in the same issue.  However, I know for a fact that these types of chains could be purchased in fabric stores, as I still have one (in its original –albeit tattered – packaging) that I purchased in the late ‘60s!

This "vintage" chain still looks new!

This “vintage” chain still looks new!

The back of the packeage shows the copyright date, 1966, and includes instructions on attaching the chain.

The back of the package shows the copyright date, 1966, and includes instructions on attaching the chain. 

Finally, an article in the February/March 1963 issue of the magazine gave some of that age-old advice on “pattern selection that can visually help to minimize your figure problem.”  The advice given “if you tend to be bosomy” seems like it could be good advice for just about every figure problem (or problem figure, depending on your point of view) as it states “In suits, the boxy Chanel-type jackets are your best bet…”

If you can get past this awful illustration, you can read the accompanying text about Chanel-type jackets!

If you can get past this awful illustration, you can read the accompanying text about Chanel-type jackets!

Gosh, I think Chanel-type jackets are just about perfect for everyone.  How else would this classic style have endured so beautifully for so long?

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns, woolens

“The Sweetest of All the Colors…”

“… Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.”   Christian Dior certainly had distinct thoughts about fashion, and with this statement I concur.  Everyone looks good in pink, especially pale pink (men definitely included), and I suspect pale pink was what Monsieur Dior was thinking when he wrote this in his Little Dictionary of Fashion (First published by Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1954; 2007 edition by Abrams; Copyright Catherine Dior and Jean-Pierre Teto, 2007).   Interestingly, the lining pages of his little book are pale pink, but the divider pages feature a deep, deep raspberry pink as in – – – my newly finished “ladylike” dress!

Here is the "section"page for E from Dior's Fashion Dictionary

Here is the “section”page for E from Dior’s Fashion Dictionary

Dated 1958, this is the pattern I used for my pink dress.

Dated 1958, this is the pattern I used for my pink dress.

The finished dress!

The finished dress!

As I mentioned in my last post, I made this dress using couture construction, which means a lot of hand-sewing.  The more I use this type of construction, the more I like it, but it doesn’t get any faster.

An interior view of some "couture" construction - silk organza underlining, catch-stitched seams, hand-picked zipper.

An interior view of some “couture” construction – silk organza underlining, catch-stitched seams, hand-picked zipper.

However, couture construction gives me a lot of flexibility in changing necklines, which I really appreciate.  That is one of the changes I made to this pattern – widening the neckline to a more flattering appearance for me.

The widened neckline.

The widened neckline.

I also changed the back of the skirt by removing the box pleats and substituting a darted back.

I substituted darted back panels for the "original" box pleats

I substituted darted back panels for the “original” box pleats

The original dress had pockets hidden in side box pleats, but when I narrowed the width of the skirt, I did away with those side pleats.  I still wanted pockets, so I added pocket extensions in order to still hide them in the side seams.  It worked!

A peek at the pocket inside which shows the raspberry silk lining I used for the dress.  I understitiched the pocket edges by hand, which took no time at all and looks so much nicer than machine stitching!

A peek at the pocket inside which also shows the raspberry silk lining I used for the dress. I understitiched the pocket edges by hand, which took no time at all and looks so much nicer than machine stitching!

I added a quarter-inch to the underneath seam on each sleeve, so that each sleeve would have one-half inch extra width to it.  Those ladies in the 1950s must have had skinny arms, as I find sleeve widths on these vintage patterns are often just not quite spacious enough.

I added to the underarm seam - an adjustment which I determined from  my muslin.

I added to the underarm seam – an adjustment which I determined from my muslin.

This was the first time I had made sleeves which are half set-in and half kimono.  This is a look and fit which I love!  In fact, the shoulder fits so well, that my original thought to add an interior sleeve heading was one I decided I did not need.

The one thing I’m not sure I like is the “purchased or novelty belt” as indicated on the pattern.  I think a self-belt, a little wider than the one I show, would be more attractive.  Please comment if you have an opinion.  (I have plenty of fabric left over to make one…)

I am thinking a 2" wide self belt might be more attractive???

I am thinking a 2″ wide self belt might be more attractive???

Before I move on to my next project (to be announced soon), I want to thank Dresses and me for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger award.

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

So, in accordance with the “rules” –  I am supposed to share a few facts about myself and nominate some others for the same award, so here goes:

1 – I am told I have a slight Southern accent, surely a remnant of being born and raised in North Carolina.

2 – I do most of my machine sewing on a 1940s’ Singer Featherweight and on my mother’s 1956 “306K” portable Singer.

3 – Autumn is my favorite season.

4 – I can make a very good Pumpkin pie.

5 – I enjoy reading historical fiction.

6 – I can’t sing (as in carry a tune) except for a few simple lullabies and Christmas carols.

Now – to pass on this award:  So many fellow bloggers inspire me every day that it is difficult to single out just a few (especially as many have already received this award!), but here are some worthy recipients:

For always giving me a laugh:  A Dress A Day and The Blue Gardenia.

For always teaching me something I would not have known otherwise:  The Vintage Traveler, Pattern Vault, Two Nerdy History Girls, and the FIDM Museum blog.

For sharing their sewing knowledge, design sense, and beautiful workmanship:  Custom Style, Lilacs and Lace, So Sew Lovely, and Frabjous Couture.

So now – you are IN THE KNOW and  – I am IN THE PINK!

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Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, kimono sleeves, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

Saying YES to a Ladylike Dress

What is it exactly that makes a particular dress elicit the description “ladylike”?  Is it primarily the fabric – or the color – or the style – or, as most would suggest, a combination of all these things?  And why, exactly, am I asking this question??

As one who generally is attracted to tailored, usually unfussy “frocks”, I had to answer this question for myself about this pattern, which, although still unfussy, with simple lines, just seems to be such a ladylike look:

Dated 1958, this pattern shows the influence of Christian Dior.

Dated 1958, this pattern shows the influence of Christian Dior.

This is what I’ve decided.  I definitely think you start with the style – or the pattern – and this one has it.  There are four elements which work together to make this a ladylike look: 1) a defined waist, here further delineated with a purchased belt (or, as the pattern calls it, a “novelty” belt); 2) a soft shoulder line, which in this pattern consists of a set-in sleeve on the front bodice, but kimono in the back – very clever; 3) a full skirt, this one with inverted box pleats which soften the fullness to a considerable degree (although not quite enough for me, as I will explain later); 4) three-quarter length sleeves, which are the most flattering for most women, and which provide the perfect foil for bracelets or gloves.

The middle sketch on the back of the envelope shows the kimono sleeve detail on the back of the dress.

The middle sketch on the back of the envelope shows the kimono sleeve detail on the back of the dress.

I’ve had this pattern for well over a year, but it took me a while to pair it with this fabric which I’ve had forever (well, not that long, but probably close to 10 years – which makes it seem like a baby compared to how long I’ve had some of my Moygashel linen!).

I'm not sure the fine twill weave of this fabric is visible here.

I’m not sure the fine twill weave of this fabric is visible here.

This fabric is a very beautiful wool/cotton blend, lightweight, but with a solid hand and very subtle fine twill weave to it.  It’s 60” wide and I bought three yards, so I obviously had plenty of fabric with which to work.  I’m in love with the color, a deep raspberry pink – I just cannot stay away from pinks of any shade.

Knowing that I would be making this dress in knee-length rather than mid-calf made me reconsider the fullness of the skirt.  In thinking about this, I remembered another pattern in my collection, which shows a full skirt in the front and a fitted, plain skirt in the back.

This is an unprinted pattern, which makes working with its pieces  difficult.

This is an unprinted pattern, which makes working with its pieces difficult.

So – I decided to see if I could combine the two patterns to create the same look, but with less fullness.  The second pattern has a three piece back, which obviously would not work with a center back zipper.

Here is the detail of the skirt back.

Here is the detail of the skirt back.

So I decided to combine the side back and center back pattern pieces, add two darts to achieve a similar fit, and add a center back seam to match the seaming in the first pattern.

This is how I fit the two back skirt pieces together to make one piece.  The "triangle" became two narrow darts, which seemed to work better than one wide one.

This is how I fit the two back skirt pieces together to make one piece. The “triangle” became two narrow darts, which seemed to work better than one wide one.

I took a little more fullness out of the front pattern pieces of the first dress and reconfigured the box pleats.  Then, of course, I made a muslin to see if this would all work.  It certainly seems like it will.  The width of the skirt, according to the pattern envelope, was originally supposed to be about 100”.  The width of my muslin skirt is 56” – which means I removed over a yard in the skirt width!  Sometimes things look and hang a bit differently in the fashion fabric as compared to the muslin, so I am proceeding with cautious optimism.

I am making the dress with couture techniques – and I’m ready to do some serious sewing now that I have silk organza hand-basted to all the pattern pieces.

My pile of basted pieces.

My pile of basted pieces.

In sewing, I am always reminded of this quote from Wilhela Cushman:  “Just around the corner in every woman’s mind – is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or an entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her.”  I do indeed hope this will turn out to be a lovely dress – with enchanting ladylike qualities!

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Filed under couture construction, kimono sleeves, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

Sewing SMART for 2013

The word “smart” has lots of different meanings.  My desktop Webster’s lists 21 different connotations of this short, very effective word.  I particularly like two of the ways this word was used when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s:  those  would be meanings #5: “neat or trim in appearance, as a person or garment”, and #6:  “socially elegant; sophisticated or fashionable: the smart crowd”.  With these definitions in mind, I looked for and quickly found some very pertinent examples of these meanings in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from 1953 and 1954:

The February/March issue of Vogue pattern Book Magazine 1954 gives the reader ideas for a "smart look all through the day, now and through spring."

The February/March issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine 1954 gives the reader ideas for a “smart look all through the day, now and through spring.”

The VPB magazine from October/November 1953 featured "10 smart, new high fashion  Vogue Couturier Designs."

The VPB magazine from October/November 1953 featured “10 smart, new high fashion Vogue Couturier Designs.”

I love this caption from the same issue:  fashions with " a minimum number of pieces to sew and fit ... maximum smartness."

I love this caption from the same issue: fashions with ” a minimum number of pieces to sew and fit … maximum smartness.”

Well, in thinking about some of my sewing goals and aspirations for 2013, I kept coming back to this word – SMART – and decided it would be very useful to use as a  guideline, with each letter of the word reminding me of some of what I hope to accomplish.   SO …

is for SKILLS.  This year I am concentrating on learning new ones, practicing and perfecting ones that I have and taking advantage of at least two classes to help me develop my skills as a dressmaker.  So far, I am enrolled in Craftsy’s “Sewing with Silks: The Liberty Blouse” on-line course (not started yet), and I will be spending a week in Baltimore with Susan Khalje for The Classic French Jacket Class.  Perhaps other classes will wiggle their way into the year as well!

M is for MARKING AND MEASURING my progress and accomplishments, my mistakes (hopefully not too many!), and my plans and intentions.  This is, of course, where “Fifty Dresses” comes in.  Writing this blog helps me focus more on the process than I would normally – and that’s both instructive and rewarding.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who follow along, make comments, give me encouragement, and share your sewing insights and ideas through your own blogs or other online presence. Thinking, reading and writing about sewing is almost as much fun as sewing itself.

A is for ART.  Sewing is so much more than a “hobby” or a way to build a wardrobe (albeit slowly!).  It really is an art form, and the more I sew, the more I realize and appreciate this fact.  Some of my creations will no doubt be like simple sketches – quick and easy to make and even easier to throw on for a trip to the grocery store –  while one or two others perhaps will rise closer to “masterpiece” level (I can dream) – made with finest fabrics and specialized techniques, intended for special occasions.  Good art should be taken seriously and seriously enjoyed, don’t you think?

R is for REALISTIC, as in having realistic goals of what I can and cannot accomplish in a set amount of time.   This is the part I have trouble with.   I always think I can sew faster than I can.  Although I am sure I will always plan more than I can possibly accomplish, I am going to try to set more realistic goals (keeping a separate, working list of intended projects to help me focus) in the context of what I know will be a busy year in other aspects of my life.

T is for TIMELESS.  This may be my favorite part of the acronym.  Timeless is the look that I am always striving for in the clothing I make.  Using vintage patterns for the most part allows me to choose styles that really have stood the test of time – and which often have a restrained classicism to them that suits my sensibility.

Sketches in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1956 show styles which look very au courant, from the clothing to the hair to the shoes and accessories.  I'd like to be that lady in red!

Sketches in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1956 show styles which look very au courant, from the clothing to the hair to the shoes and accessories. I’d like to be that lady in red!

How stylish are these looks from the same magazine?

How stylish are these looks from the same magazine?

And a box-jacket suit is always in vogue.

And a box-jacket suit is always in vogue.

It’s fun to see current color and style trends, which harken back to 40, 50, or 60 years ago.  Then to make them, using vintage patterns, with newfound construction knowledge, in some of the beautiful fabrics available today, is the best of many worlds. Not only SMART, but lucky, too, in 2013!

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Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

A Newly Defined ‘50s’ Frock

I have finished making a new dress from an old pattern, which isn’t anything too unusual for me.  What is unusual is the spell which this pattern cast over me from the time I first saw it last January, and then purchased it from an Etsy shop.

The length of this dress as shown on the envelope is very 1950's.  I'll be making it in knee-length.

The back of the envelope, showing the back yoke detail.  Don't you love the handbags that the artist included?

The back of the envelope, showing the back yoke detail. Don’t you love the handbags that the artist included?

Copyright 1957, this pattern has intrigued me for both how modern it looks, and how quintessentially “1950s” its various details are – such as:

1) Kimono sleeves in three-quarter length.  Cut in one with the bodice, kimono sleeves were common in the ‘50s, and now seem to be making a comeback.  Three quarter length is extremely flattering for most women, and was popular then and now.

2) Side zipper.  This dress goes over the head and needs that side zipper to accommodate the wiggle room needed to accomplish this method of dressing.  A back zipper would completely ruin the effect of the four-buttoned back yoke.

3) No pockets.  While pockets are lovely inventions, this dress would lose some of its slim and flattering line should pockets bulge out from the side seams.

4) Mid-calf length.  This length looks great in the pattern illustration, but not so much on me.  One of the beauties of these vintage patterns is adapting them for current wear – so I opted for knee-length instead.

5) Bound buttonholes.  Although this pattern is called “easy to make” on the back of the envelope, it still calls for bound buttonholes.  And, oh, they add such a nice detail.

Now to the specifics.  I found this black and white herringbone alpaca wool (made in the USA) on Britex Fabrics’ website, and purchased it on sale a few months ago, specifically for use with this pattern.

This is the swatch I ordered from Britex sometime over the Summer.

This is the swatch I ordered from Britex sometime over the Summer.

I wanted to make the dress using couture techniques (learned in the online Craftsy course The Couture Dress taught by Susan Khalje.)  This meant that I would 1) make a muslin for fitting and pattern tracing; 2) underline the entire dress with silk organza; 3) eliminate the separate neck facing; 4) finish all the interior seams by catch-stitching them to the underlining; and 5) line the entire dress, which I did using Bemberg instead of china silk (more on that in a bit).

There were a number of decisions/problems/successes involved in making this dress. First, the nature of the fabric is that there are slight imperfections in the weave, and it is quite loosely woven, making it quite susceptible to raveling.  When I laid it out to cut it, I wanted to avoid any obvious imperfections front and center.  Patterns with kimono sleeves demand large expanses of fabric and thus do not allow a lot of jiggling of their placement.  I can honestly say that I had JUST enough fabric and not an inch more than I needed!

One of the first problems I realized I was going to have concerned the buttonholes.  I quickly discovered that the loose weave of the fabric meant that I was not going to be able to make bound buttonholes using self-fabric for the “strips”.  I considered using a plain black wool for these strips, but I thought that would be too much of a contrast.  Well, now I know why I save all kinds of scraps from previous projects – you never know when one of those random pieces of fabric will come in handy.  I spied a scrap in my fabric closet and quickly decided that one part of the weave would be perfect to delineate those buttonholes:

I used the "gray"portion of this windowpane check for the buttonhole "strips".

I used the “gray” portion of this windowpane check for the buttonhole “strips”. Click on the photo to see this up close.

An inside look at the buttonholes in progress

An inside look at the buttonholes in progress

And an outside look...

And an outside look…

When it came to deciding on buttons, I could not find any I liked.  But I remembered some buttons I had sewn onto a RTW jacket several years ago (to replace the ones that came on it.)  They have a “herringbone” look to them – it’s very subtle, but effective.  The jacket is one I haven’t worn in a couple of years, so I just robbed the cuffs of their buttons and used them on my dress.  (Now I guess I know for sure I won’t be wearing that jacket again!)  But – the buttons are perfect for this dress.

My buttons of choice!

My buttons of choice!

Choosing to use couture techniques was a “dress-saver”.  The larger seam allowances took away the panic I might have felt, once I realized the fabric frayed so easily.  And finishing off each interior seam with catch-stitching controlled the fraying and helped the seams to lay perfectly flat.

Eliminating the separate neck facing was also a bonus to ease construction.  First of all, I wanted to widen the neckline, which I worked out in my muslin.  Using the seam allowance and hand-applied, under-stitched lining for the neck facing made it lay flat, and of course, it’s not itchy either!

The "couture-constructed" neckline, before the lining is attached.

The “couture-constructed” neckline, before the lining is attached.

Even though I did not have “plaids” to match, I needed to pay close attention to the rows in the herringbone weave, so that none of them were crooked.  This is where Clover two-pronged pins (recommended by Susan Khalje in The Couture Dress class) came in handy and helped me keep those rows lined up evenly.

Clover "fork" pins

Clover “fork” pins

Finally, I decided to use Bemberg lining fabric instead of China silk because I thought it might be a bit more substantial for this somewhat heavy weight wool.  When I was deciding what color to make the lining, I considered ivory, black, and even a bright color, such as red.  But I settled on deep gray, and it seems just right.

In fact, everything about this dress seems just right.  It is delightfully rewarding when a pattern does not disappoint – and when it turns out to be a complete winner, well, that is reason to make it again (which I will)!

I can wear this dress as a sheath, unbelted, but I love it with this Coach black belt.

I can wear this dress as a sheath, unbelted, but I love it with this Coach black belt.

The back view

With a touch of emerald green for the holiday season

With a touch of emerald green for the holiday season.

With green gloves for a '50s' look!

With green gloves for a ’50s’ look!

And another back view.

And another back view. Alpaca is a very warm wool – so this dress is very cozy.

For now, however, my sewing room is “gift-wrap central”.  The colorful ribbons, paper and tags are cheerful tokens of a season of blessings and family and home.  To all of you celebrating the season, may it be a time of great peace and love for you and yours. And, as I  take a couple of weeks “off”, I send a heartfelt Merry Christmas from me to you…

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, kimono sleeves, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, woolens

Season for Shopping and Sewing

Well, every season is the season for sewing, and shopping, too, for that matter, especially for fabric.  But somehow, the holiday season seems to take both activities to a new level for the year.   Somehow, knowing how to sew makes one very susceptible to feeling like at least one or two of your planned gifts to family or friends be hand-sewn by YOU.  I, of course, am one of these people.

Remembering some of the gifts I have made over the years came into sharp focus this week.  I went into a storage box (acid-free, of course) where I have some family textile heirlooms in safe-keeping.  I was in search of a Christmas item, but what caught my eye were two aprons which I made the first Christmas my husband and I were married.  It was 1973.  I wanted to do something special for my new mother-in-law and my husband’s aunt, and since they were both “apron-wearers” I thought they might like hand-made aprons.  I designed  a simple pattern, which had two pockets and rick-rack trim.  Gingham was widely available, so I chose colors I knew they each liked.   Most of the sewing on them was by hand, and I still remember furiously working on them to get them finished on time.  I also remember the true delight that both ladies showed upon opening them. I obviously had made just the right thing!

This was the apron I made for my mother-in-law.

This is the apron I made for my mother-in-law.

Season for sewing - apron

And this apron was for my husband’s aunt.  If I made this apron for myself, I would add a “bib” to it.

I added a label with my name on it!

I added a label with my name on it!

Twenty years earlier, in 1953, Vogue Pattern Book magazine had a multi-page feature on “Merry Christmas Gifts and Fashions.”  I must say those 1950s’ home-sewers must have been very ambitious, as this is only part of what was suggested as gift projects:

1)  Lots of sequin-embellished ornaments and decorations.

There were sevben apages of projects like this in the December/January 1953-54 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

There were seven pages of projects like this in the December/January 1953-54 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine, c1953, The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.

2)  Doesn’t everyone make ties, shirts, jackets, and pajamas for husbands and grown sons?  “The tailoring is not hard with Vogue’s step-by-step, clear sewing directions.”

This is one of two pages of things to make for men.

This is one of two pages of things to make for men.

3)  Of course you’ll sew for your little ones (which I did a lot of when my own children were young….)

Everything from petticoats to overcoats were featured for children.  Lacking from all these suggestions in this feature were dolls' clothes, surprisingly.

Everything from petticoats to overcoats were featured for children. Lacking from all these suggestions in this feature were dolls’ clothes, surprisingly.  Maybe Vogue Patterns had not yet started making patterns for doll clothes.

4)  Now we’re getting into my favorite ideas – “something special for the girl who loves pretty, unusual  things…”

The two tops shown on this page would be very stylish today.  And the grouping of accessories just happens to from a pattern which i own.

The two tops shown on this page would be very stylish today. And the grouping of accessories just happens to be from a pattern which I own.

Here is the pattern, which includes patterns for other accessories, as well:

The curved belt (not the one with the spikes!) attracted me to this pattern even though it is an unprinted one.

The curved belt (not the one with the spikes!) attracted me to this pattern even though it is an unprinted one.

And here are more suggestions for stylish women:

I can do without the jacket with the ball fringe, but I love that wrap blouse featured in the red triangle on the right!

I can do without the jacket with the ball fringe, but I love that wrap blouse featured in the red triangle on the right!

5)  It seems appropriate that the section ended with a feature on aprons and clothes to wear at home.

"At home clothes for serious work or lazy-lounging."  I doubt too many home sewers are doing lazy lounging this time of year - or ever!

“At home clothes for serious work or lazy-lounging.” I doubt too many home sewers are doing lazy lounging this time of year – or ever!

So – am I making/sewing any gifts this year?  I have just one very simple thing planned (still in my head).  But – along with the Christmas decorating, the shopping, the wrapping, the cookie-making, the cards, the parties and all the other wonders of the season – I am hoping to finish my current work-in-progress (a wool dress for me) and start and finish (?) a pair of wool pants – also for me.  Yes, for me.  Should I feel guilty about this??

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Filed under aprons, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

Who is Mrs. Exeter?

And the more important question is – Can she sew?  Yes, she can – and she does!  But first, let me tell you who she is – or actually who she was.  She was a fictional character – a “woman of a certain age” – who started appearing in The Conde Nast Publications’ Vogue magazine in 1949 (as best as I can determine).  She was the focus of a regular style column, which was meant to appeal to older fashionable women –  with the emphasis most definitely  on fashionable.   She must have proved to be an appealing figure to readers, because in 1954, the front cover of the October/November issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine announced:  Introducing Mrs. Exeter patterns.

Top billing for the new feature!

Suddenly Mrs. Exeter had discovered the joy of sewing beautiful, classic fashions for herself.  Obviously, Vogue patterns, which already had its own Couturier line of patterns, and its very popular Designer pattern series, knew that its audience included these “older” women who had the time, the talent, and the inclination to sew beautiful fashionable clothes for themselves. The copy accompanying the sketches and photos clearly played into the idea that Mrs. Exeter was very sure of her fashion sense:

Here we learn about Mrs. Exeter’s “experienced way of knowing the ‘right’ neither-too-young, nor too old fashions for herself…”

She also had color sense, knowing how to play up her features, and showing she was not afraid to branch out from neutrals and basic black.

Yes, red can definitely enhance silver hair!

She sounds like she was a fun grandmother, too, as this sketch attests:

The caption reads: “Mrs. Exeter takes her grandchildren to town for a Saturday movie treat.”

The Mrs. Exeter feature appeared sporadically  throughout the year in the issues of Vogue Pattern Book magazine,  continuing through the decade of the 1950s.  The October/November 1957 issue had this feature:

The reader was instructed to “sew jet buttons on the short, fitted jacket and flap pockets” of the gray suit on the right.

That same issue used a real model for the Mrs. Exeter section:

It seems Mrs. Exeter favored white gloves and classic handbags.

And another real model appeared in the February/March 1958 issue:

I think this Mrs. Exeter looks a bit insipid!

By the fall of 1958, Mrs. Exeter must have been very popular, as this was the cover of the magazine:

10 pages for Mrs. Exeter patterns!

The Mrs. Exeter appearing here suddenly looked a little less grandmotherly:

Now this is a lovely woman!

Again, the accompanying text was very flattering to the expertise of the older woman:

“Mrs. Exeter knows what she likes… how to look right on all occasions.”

And the texts made frequent reference to Mrs. Exeter’s civic and social obligations and interests. One two-page spread showing suits, declared:  “For Mrs. Exeter’s busy calendar of civic and social events, a suit wardrobe is almost a necessity.  Her choices, admirably combining chic, distinction, and flattery – with perhaps a shade more emphasis on flattery.”

She also apparently wore shirtwaist dresses with great aplomb, being careful “to avoid thickness at the waist.”

“For all day, every day, the shirtwaist dress is indispensable…” which could be true for 2012 as well!

The Mrs. Exeter feature continued into the early 1960s, but then succumbed to the burgeoning emphasis on youth, disappearing from the magazine by the mid-‘60s.  Indeed, in 1970, Vogue Pattern Book magazine introduced a new feature, this one called “Miss Vogue” in an obvious appeal to the younger generation.  The description of Miss Vogue?  Well, she must have been raised  by Mrs. Exeter:

“She’s the girl with the fabulously fresh smile.  She loves life.  She has fun.  She is active and her versatility knows no bounds.  …She is a sewing expert…  She loves a good challenge.  She’s got talent.  She’s got finesse…  She’s a winner!”

Although Mrs. Exeter might have been “replaced” by Miss Vogue, there were still plenty of 1970s’-era fashions and patterns, which certainly appealed to “the older woman” as well as a stylish younger one.  One of those patterns is the one I am currently using :

From Vogue’s Designer series, ca 1970.

I have completed the skirt, which incidentally is, to my thinking the perfect “pencil” skirt – as it is narrow, but very comfortable – and it has a shaped, two-part waistband. (I’m an unabashed fan of waistbands!)  I think Mrs. Exeter would approve.  I’ll show you in a future post…

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Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

What Do a Chanel Jacket and a Chicken Have in Common?

Not much – unless you were in my sewing room last week.

When we were out in California very recently, my son’s girlfriend, Rachel, showed me a Chanel jacket she had found at a store which sells vintage clothing.  Sadly, she had never been able to wear it because it had very prominent shoulder pads, which screamed 1980s.  Otherwise it was a very wearable cropped jacket with petite convertible collar, in a creamy white wool with just a hint of  a sparkly windowpane weave.  Rachel asked me what I thought could be done with it.

Hm-m-m-m, I looked inside it, felt around those shoulder pads hidden inside the lining, and guessed that I could easily remove them and replace them with a much more reasonable sleeve header.  Of course, I’d need to bring the jacket home with me, so in the suitcase it went, landing in my sewing room.

I carefully removed the stitching from the lining at the right shoulder and took a peek.  The shoulder pad had been attached with hand stitches, easily snipped.  Out it came.  I cut a piece of French sleeve heading tape, called Cigarette, which I had purchased from Susan Khalje’s website. (I had used this in my Craftsy course The Couture Dress.)

The shoulder pad is in plain view in this photo.

The jacket has top-center seams on the sleeves, so with that extra fabric bulk, I determined that the simple sleeve heading would be enough shaping.  Here is the jacket with just the side on the left fixed:

Can you see how bulky the shoulder on the right is?

Here I have placed the shoulder pad on top to show some perspective on its bulk.

And here is the jacket with both shoulders complete and all sewn up inside (with itty-bitty stitches):

The padded hanger helps to simulate the shoulder line.

Of course, I had to guess a little on the final fit as I did not have Rachel here to try it on.  But I am sure, once it completes its return trip to California, that it has a better chance of being worn now than before!

It was interesting for me to be able to see inside a Chanel jacket – I discovered some details I thought I might find – such as 1) the wool fabric was totally underlined in what looks like silk organza; and 2) hand-sewing was evident in quite a few areas.  However, the seams were not catch-stitched to the underlining, which I thought they might be.  The most amazing thing was actually seeing those shoulder pads – as their construction was almost exactly like view C of Vogue 7503, my vintage pattern from 1953. How cool is that?

Two authentic Chanel shoulder pads!

View C is right in the middle.

So that was Chanel.  But what about the chicken?  Another project I wanted to finish last week was an auction item for my garden club’s annual fundraiser.  As I am the only one in my club who has a backyard flock of chickens (yes – can you believe it?), I like to put together what I call a “Little Red Hen” basket to add to our auction selection every year or so.  Besides the main attraction of a couple dozen of our farm-fresh eggs, I add other items with a chicken theme.  Some examples are egg poachers, an egg timer, cocktail napkins with chickens on them – things like that.  Of course, as one who sews, it is impossible for me to do a project like this without adding something handmade. So this year, I made a tea cozy with a matching chicken potholder.  I had already completed the tea cozy a couple of weeks ago, but the potholder  – well, it had to take its place behind Chanel.    It did not take long for me to fashion this little hen (in red, of course) to match the cozy. Here she is, ready to perch on the handle of any hot pan:

She is interlined with several layers of heavy cotton flannel.

She’s pretty underneath it all, too!

Here is the little red hen in front of the tea cozy.

Tthe bottom of the tea cozy can be folded out to fit a higher pot.

So what was more fun – and what did really come first– Chanel or the chicken?  Now there are two questions for the ages!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Uncategorized, underlinings, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue pattern 7503 for shoulder shapes, woolens