Tag Archives: Britex Fabrics

Red Letter Day-Dress

Red Letter Day:  “A day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.”  (Cambridge Languages)

Day Dress: “The perfect all-in-one outfit, a day dress is a versatile and fashionable way to look chic and stay comfortable at the same time.”  

Any day I finish a lengthy project (successfully) is definitely a “red letter day.”  This dress just happens to be red, adorned with letters, and “back in the day,” as they say, it would have been considered a “day-dress,” although the apt description above is actually from a current website. (DavidJones.com)  

I found this silk at Britex Fabrics in San francisco.
I used this blouse pattern from 1957 as the basis for the dress, opting for long sleeves and the lower bow. I did not have enough buttons to make French cuffs, so I did plain cuffs.

I go into a little bit of how this dress evolved in my last post.  But of course there were many more decisions to be made along the way.  I had to decide: 

  • Do I underline this crepe de chine? 
  • If I underline it, what do I use for my underlining fabric?
  • Do I also line this dress?
  • If I line it, do I also line the sleeves?
  • The blouse pattern has floating, released darts at the waist.  Do I use that technique for this pattern transformed into a dress?
  • What color and type of buttons will most enhance the fabric?
  • Do I make bound buttonholes or machine-stitched ones?

So, let’s start at the beginning.  Because this was a very soft, fluid, lightweight crepe de chine, I thought it best to underline it.  My normal go-to for underlining – silk organza – would have reduced the fluidity of the silk, so I ruled that out.  Cotton batiste just did not seem the way to go.  When I found a silk batiste on the website for Farmhouse Fabrics, I knew I had my solution.

I believe you can, in this photo, see how lightweight and lovely this silk batiste is.

However, even with the ethereal nature of the silk batiste, I decided not to underline (or line) the sleeves.  I wanted them to retain their uninhibited flow.

I clipped the armscye seam carefully and pressed it to the interior of the dress. Then I fell-stitched the lining to the interior edge.

Once I had the underlining basted to the fashion fabric, I weighed whether or not to line the body of the dress.  I went with my gut feeling about this and decided to line it with a soft and lightweight red silk crepe de chine – almost a perfect match in color, as is evident in the above picture – which I purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.  

In doing so, I eliminated the front and neck facings which were replaced with the solid red lining. 

I eliminated the facings and used the red crepe de chine lining fabric to finish the interior of the body of the dress. Here is the right front edge.

I had worked out the floating dart question in my muslin/toile and decided to use them for the dress.  This left above the waist “blousy” and made it more fitted below the waist.  

This shows the released darts on the back of the dress.
Here is a side released dart on the front of the dress.
The released dart on one side of the dress front.

Buttons are always one of my favorite parts of a project.  I simply love looking for buttons – and I really love finding the perfect ones.  In this case, I knew I needed a large quantity – at least 10, depending on the size I found.  I did not think red buttons would do anything to enhance the dress, and I thought white pearl buttons would be too much of a contrast.  But then I found these buttons on eBay:

They are probably from the 1940s, cut glass, made in Czechoslovakia.  The card held 12 buttons, a good quantity for my purpose.  I think of these buttons as “small, but mighty.”  They provide the right contrast, and the faceted surface picks up the shimmer from the slight jacquard weave in the fabric.  I think they are perfect!

I used ten buttons for the front of the dress. These buttons are small so I was able to space them closely together to get the effect I wanted. I always know I have found the right buttons when they look like they “belong” – they do not steal the show nor are they too weak.
The right top neck edge, with a snap to keep things tidy under the tied bow.
The lone button on the sleeve, showing a bit of shimmer to match the shimmer in the fashion fabric.
The importance of the buttons shows off well in this photo, I think.

And finally, bound or machine-made buttonholes?  I did a sample of each.  I have recently started using my automatic buttonholer for my 1951 Singer Featherweight, and I must say, it is an engineering marvel.  It makes such amazing, precise buttonholes.  And although I do love bound buttonholes, I decided in this instance I would be happier with machine-made ones.  

I haven’t even mentioned the belt! I wanted a self belt, so I knew I would have to make it myself. I found a belt-making kit from the 1960s on eBay and used it for the buckle and the belt canvas.

So that about sums it up.  I had just barely enough fabric to eke out this dress (which seems to be a theme with me!), so I think it was meant to be.  Here’s to Red Letter Days – and the dresses which make them happy.  

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Bows as design feature, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Linings, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

A Fabric Story

Several years ago I found this fabric on the website of Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.  As I have always been intrigued with “alphabet” prints, and I love red, making this purchase was an easy decision.  

At first glance, it appears to be just that – an alphabet print.  But if you look closely, you start to realize that the letters represented are not all the alphabet.  In fact, only 7 letters of the alphabet are represented.  They are indeed only the letters in the surname of the manufacturer, Marcel Guillemin et Cie.  The manufacturer’s name is in the selvedge.  

I decided to buy two yards, thinking I would one day make a blouse.  A couple of years went by and I had occasion to visit Britex while on one of my trips to California.  By this time I had started making Classic French Jackets, and I was always on the lookout for potential lining fabrics for a future jacket.  To my great surprise, the bolt of this exact fabric was on the silk table, which gave me the opportunity to purchase another yard “just in case.”  (I’m not sure why I didn’t buy another two yards.)  This one-yard length joined its sibling in my fabric closet.  I thought about it a lot, and often got it out to admire it, still not committing to its actual use, however.  

Fast forward several years – to 2020, to be exact.  A plan started to form in my mind for this fabric.  And it all had to do with this blouse pattern from 1957.  I envisioned this blouse made into a dress, and that was that.  Decision made!

I used View B for a blouse several years ago, and have always loved it. Why not a dress?

Sitting in my sewing queue over the summer, this fabric kept talking to me.  Although at one time, most fabric manufacturers proudly included their name on the selvedge (and even sometimes provided labels), it is somewhat rare to find this selvedge notation now.  So, I wanted to know “Who is Marcel Guillemin?”  

I was able to find a little bit of information online, but only enough to raise more questions.  The most valuable information came from my personal “library” of fashion/fashion history books, which not only provide me with inspiration but also background information.  Although I still have many blanks to fill in, this is what I discovered – and what a surprise it has been!  

  1. Marcel Guillemin et Cie was a “wholesaler established in Paris in 1930; manufactured silk and synthetic fabrics; still active today.”  I found this entry in Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, by Lesley Ellis Miller, V&A Publishing, London, 2007. 
  2.  The company provided “ribbons, silk and velvet” for Balenciaga (ibid) and silks for Christian Dior.  Each couturier had a list of textile purveyors whom they used for their creations, and it was exciting for me to find Marcel Guillemin among the listed.  Anyone who knows of the post-World War II efforts to revitalize the devastated fashion industry can appreciate what Guillemin and other textile concerns faced at that time. “The French luxury textile industry was a fragile one throughout the postwar period.  To assist manufacturers, the French government gave a subsidy to couture houses if they used 90 percent French textiles in a collection.”  Christian Dior: History and Modernity 1947-1957, by Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2018., p. 69.
This well-known dress from the House of Christian Dior, 1947, was made in silk from Marcel Guillemin et Cie. (Ibid., p. 107)

3. The company also produced silk scarves. A number of silk scarves which I have found pictured online appear to be from the early years of the company.  But it also appears that Guillemin became known for its scarves at least through the 1960s.  

This advertisement from the 1950s with an illustration by Rene Gruau features “Les Echarpes de Marcel Guillemin”

A few vintage scarves with the Guillemin name printed on them are currently available for sale in various online shops and sites.  This one appeared in an Etsy shop a few weeks ago, and I was quick to purchase it. 

 The seller listed it as “probably 1980s,” but I believe it to be from the 1960s when Marcel Guillemin et Cie produced a number of scarves in bold geometric designs.  This one is quintessentially 1960s’ “flower power.”  And the silk is lustrous, of the best quality.  

When I found this scarf, I knew it would be perfect to pair with my recently completed linen dress.

The fabrics we use in our sewing is of such importance to a successful outcome.  I have treasured this opportunity to learn more about this fabric and the storied history of Marcel Guillemin et Cie. 

Of course, every story benefits from a happy ending.  I have still to finish writing – or should I say, sewing – the ending, but with any luck, it will be the successful completion of my red silk dress.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Classic French Jacket – Number 5

Never did I imagine that when I last wrote about the progress on this jacket, it would be an entire month before I could declare it “finished.”  But such is a fact of life with the construction of one of these jackets.  They always seem to take much longer to complete than ever imagined.  (I should remind myself that during that month, I also made a wool skirt and I was away twice on short trips, but still…)

As this is the fifth one I have made, I can safely say that I have developed my own set of tips for working my way through the lengthy construction process.  Of course, it all has to start with a pattern which is a perfect fit.  Fortunately my muslin pattern is from a Jackets Class I had with Susan Khalje over five years ago. With this pattern, I can go right to my boucle and get started.

While it is often recommended to cut out just the body of the jacket, minus the sleeves (the variegated weave of which is then checked with the constructed jacket body before cutting them out), I have developed enough confidence that I cut out my sleeves along with the body of the jacket.  This allows me to make the sleeves first.  For me there are two advantages to doing this: 1) there is a psychological benefit in knowing that the sleeves are lined, linings are fell-stitched in place, trim is on, and the sleeves are as finished as they can be before setting them into the body of the jacket, and 2) I like to trim the sleeves first, as a way of testing the trim I have chosen.  If I do not like it, I only have trim on one, or two, sleeves which must be removed.  It is also much easier to sew trim on a sleeve which is still separate from the jacket.

Another tip I have learned is to use my walking foot not only for the channel quilting of the lining and fashion fabric (a must), but also for all the seams.  I pin profusely, but the walking foot helps to keep the fabric from slipping, crucial when matching all those lines and plaids prevalent in a typical boucle weave.

I chose this navy and white silk charmeuse from Britex Fabrics for my lining fabric. The boucle is from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.

I really went round and round with the trim for this jacket.  I knew I wanted to use self-fringe, but I also knew it would need some definition added to it.  After trying several colors of velvet and Petersham ribbon in the trough of the fringe, I realized I would have to go to a bright orange as an underlay for the navy twisted braid I wanted to place on top.

The trim was applied in three steps. Here the fringe is attached as the first step. Not too exciting all by itself.

The next step was to apply this bright orange velvet ribbon, also from Britex. It was really a leap of faith to use this very demonstrative color. It looks fairly garish like this! (I sewed each edge of this ribbon separately, so twice around for this part of the trim.)

But once the navy twisted braid is on, step number three, that bright orange underlay is fine.

One thing I have done with all my jackets – and this is a tip from Susan Khalje – is to add about 1/2 inch in length to the center back of the jacket, curving it up gently to the side seams. I love the effect that this little bit of extra curve gives to the back of the jacket.

I always wax and iron the thread which I use for applying the trim.  It adds strength, but also is easier with which to work.  For this jacket, I also carefully ironed each “level” of trim as I applied it.

A detail of the right pocket. Of course, and this is preaching to the choir, the pockets absolutely cannot be cut out until the body of the jacket is completed. Their placement is a visual determination which really depends upon the fit and appearance of the finished jacket.

I found these vintage buttons in one of my button boxes.  I knew I wanted to use dark blue buttons, and I kind of liked the appearance of these.

The only hesitation I had is that they are plastic!  It seems a bit of a sacrilege to put plastic buttons on one of these jackets, but I actually think they look okay.  If I find other navy blue buttons in my future travels, I might switch them at some point.  But right now, they work.

Because I had only 8 buttons, I was limited to two pockets, and three buttons on each sleeve. I probably would not have put four pockets on this jacket anyway, so that was not really a compromise.

I have enough of the boucle left over to make a simple straight skirt, I think.  However, that will not happen this year!  I am so ready to move on to my next project.  In fact, it may be well over a year before I plunge into another one of these jackets.  I have but one other boucle lurking about in my fabric closet right now, and I am content to let it stay there for a while.

It was much too cold for outdoor pictures, so these will have to do!

I like the jacket worn closed …

… or open.

The curve of the back hem is apparent here.

Now it’s time to tiptoe ever so quietly into the lighter shades and fabrics of early Spring, despite the snow that is currently falling. I am so happy to have this jacket in the “finished” column.

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, classic French jacket, couture construction, Linings, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

A White Blouse

White blouses (or shirts, if you prefer) seem to occupy a niche all to themselves in the annals of fashion.  There is something both unpretentious and elegant about a white blouse.  A white blouse is almost always noticed and admired, and even the most tailored white blouse has an air of femininity to it.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about the color white when he wrote The Dictionary of Fashion in 1954: “White is pure and simple and matches with everything. For daytime it has to be used with great care because it must always be really white and immaculate…  But nothing gives the impression of good grooming and being well dressed more quickly than spotless white…”  (Published again in 2007 by Abrams, New York, New York; page 120).

What could be a better example of being well dressed than this white blouse featured in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine (page 28)?  With its tucks and French cuffs, it is both demure and sophisticated.

Now this is an elegant blouse!

Timeless is another description that could be given to the classic white blouse.  Here is one featured in the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, page 49.  “In suburbia, nothing has as much unstudied elegance as a classic neat, white shirt…”

By the 1970s, collars look like they had overtaken the world, but even with its outsized points, the white blouse gives this velvet suit its focal point:

This is an advertisement for Crompton velvet, featuring a Vogue pattern (Yves St. Laurent evening suit), page XVI of the October/November 1971 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

The Wall Street Journal had a full-page feature on The White Shirt in the Weekend Section of March 26-27, 2016.  “Always timely and the quickest shortcut to chic,”  says the caption. Part of the feature is shown here:

Although the article fixated on RTW white shirts, a small section was absolutely apropos for those of us who make our white shirts. Finding your Match maintains that there is a certain chemistry involved in finding the perfect shirt for oneself, and it emphasized the importance of choosing the right fabric.  While cotton is usually the preferred fabric, even it is subject to an appropriate quality and weave.  Choosing a pure cotton fabric will necessitate a commitment to laundering and ironing.  Quoted from the article, “You can throw it in the machine, but for a finished look, Ms [Carolina] Herrera (who has made the white shirt her style signature) recommends hand-washing with a splash of starch for a crisp finish.  The white shirt, remember, is about contradictions – it may be easy, but it has good manners.”  (Oh, yes!)

Well, I can’t say I was thinking about chemistry and laundering and manners when I purchased this white cotton shirting fabric from Britex a few years ago.

I just thought it was so lovely with its woven stripe and scalloped detail.  I am happy to say it has been brought to fruition as a classic white blouse.

While the woven stripe IS lovely, it presented some definite considerations when I was laying out my pattern.  For example, what reveal of the stripe did I want to show on the collar and cuffs.  What about the back yoke?   How should the buttons line up on the design on the center front?  The following pictures detail my decisions as I worked through each component.

I chose to use the plain white band as the center portion of the cuffs.

I chose to position the stripe on the collar in the middle.

I decided to interface the yoke, as the cotton is lightweight, and the facing of the yoke would have shown through without it. I always use a woven, sew-in interfacing when I am making blouses. It works beautifully. I evenly balanced the placement of the stripe on the yoke, with just a slight plain reveal noticeable at the lower edge.

And then, what buttons should I use?   It is so easy – and often appropriate – to choose a simple white pearl, two-hole button to accompany this style of shirt. I was prepared to do that until I came across this card of vintage buttons in my collection:

My first thought was, “How perfect!  The incised stripes on the buttons mirror the stripe in the cotton.  And, to seal the deal, they were also the perfect size, at 3/8”.

I used the same 1970s’ Simplicity pattern (with my many alterations to it) that I used for the two gingham blouses I made over the summer.

It is always satisfying to use a fabric which had been purchased – in the past, shall we say? It reinforces my thought that there is a time for all those lovely pieces of silk, wool, cotton and linen still waiting for their destination.   Perhaps it really is about chemistry, after all.

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons

A Surfeit of Sewing

Do you ever have so many sewing plans that you don’t know where to begin?  Do you find yourself at a loss of how to prioritize your projects?  Do you look at the calendar and find yourself in disbelief that there are only two months left in the year?  How did that happen?

My answer to those first three questions is Yes, Yes, and Yes.  (My answer to the last question above is “I have no idea,” but that’s my reaction every year when the calendar is about to turn over to November.)

It is very unlike me to have more than one project going at a time.  I like to finish what I start before moving on to something else. However, four different “sewing adventures” are vying for my attention right now, so I think they are going to have to share space and time.

The first item is the one about which I am least concerned.  That is the skirt I am making as a member of the newly minted Susan Khalje Sewing Club (SKC Sewing Club).   Inaugurated in September, this online couture sewing club is by subscription only, but open to all who may already employ couture techniques in their fashion sewing or those who want to learn more about this remarkable method of creating beautiful apparel.  As a way of creating dialogue and offering fitting advice, Susan sent all members a copy of her “skirts” pattern.

This pattern is available in Susan’s online store (see link above.) It is a beautifully drafted pattern, and very versatile. I will be using it often!

Those who choose to follow along (Susan posts video lessons online) are working through the process with their own choice of fabric.  I have chosen to use this lightweight wool herringbone tweed for my skirt:

With my skirt fitted, basted and underlined in silk organza, with darts and seams sewn, I am currently on hold, awaiting our next step.  Bit by bit, this skirt will be finished forthwith, of that I am confident.

An item I had every intention of getting to this Fall is another Classic French Jacket.  I am currently in the process of laying out the pattern on my boucle.

Here is a small swatch of the boucle I am using for the jacket, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.

I have revised my expectations now to have, at the very least, the jacket cut out, the outline basting complete, and the lining pieces quilted onto the jacket pieces.  Actually finishing this jacket will no doubt happen in 2019.

For some reason, I have it in my mind to make a white cotton blouse.  Where that came from, I don’t know, but that’s what I want to do. I found this woven-in-stripe Swiss cotton at Britex Fabrics several years ago, and it keeps surfacing in my fabric closet.  I think it is time to make this blouse!

And then there are Christmas dresses for my two granddaughters, to be ready in time for December’s many pre-Christmas activities.  There is no negotiating on these.  They must be finished on time.  I have ordered fabric (kindly through Mulberry Silks and Fine Fabrics, which I had the pleasure to visit on a very recent trip to North Carolina.) Oh, the many (still secret) plans I have for these!

The last two months of 2018 are going to be . . . well . . . very busy indeed.

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Filed under Blouses, classic French jacket, couture construction, woolens

Wearing Dots

From this …


To this…


How did that happen?

After my purchase of that pattern a couple of years ago, I definitely had second thoughts.  While I loved it when it was first available back in the 1970s – and at that time I was of the age when I probably could have actually worn it – I immediately realized it would not be appropriate for a 60-something-year-old! I tucked it away in my pattern file where I knew I would come across it occasionally and indulge a long-ago dream.  Little did I know it would play a major roll in the realization of this polka-dotted dress.

It took almost eight years for me to come up with a plan for this polka dot silk fabric.  I kept envisioning a waisted, sleeveless dress with a “flowy” skirt, but I could not find a pattern I liked, either vintage or new.  I wanted to avoid darts as much as possible (that’s a story in itself for someday), which meant I needed a princess style bodice.  Many princess line bodices have side seams, but I wanted one without side seams, and with princess line seaming on the bodice back as well.  Pondering all this, I again came across my Belinda Bellville pattern above and thought maybe it would work, with a few changes. But then I noticed that the bodice was supposed to be cut on the bias. 

This pattern detailing from the instruction sheet shows the thee bodice pieces at the top of the picture. The bias is clearly marked.

After not having any success in finding any other suitable pattern, I gave it another look.  Why not cut it on the straight of goods?  It was at least worth a try in muslin, so that’s what I did.  The changes I made to it included; 1) lowering the bust line, 2) eliminating the short-waisted front of the dress and restoring it to waist level, 3) placing the front center part of the bodice on the fold, eliminating the center seam, 4) lowering the neckline just a little, 5) making the waist larger, and 6) adding some ease across the back and shoulders.  With all those changes, I had a bodice I really liked.

But then I needed to make a skirt to complement the bodice.  When I looked at the skirt pattern, I knew I needed to divide it in thirds (for one half of the width of the skirt) and match the seam lines to the seams in the bodice.  Here is what I came up with:

On the left is the one-piece tissue pattern for the skirt. Using the dart lines on that pattern helped me determine the angles I needed for my skirt.

It was about this time I got the idea to make this dress in a longer skirt rather than knee-length, which is where I usually wear my dresses.  The only question I had was – did I have enough fabric to do this?  My silk was 45” wide, and I only had two yards.  I spent at least an hour laying out and eyeballing my muslin pieces on the silk, on the floor, just to see if I could possibly accomplish this task.  I found one combination that would allow this, and took a photo so I could remember how to do it!

It literally took an entire week to work out the pattern and perfect the muslin, but then the sewing began!

As soon as I completed the construction of the bodice, including its silk organza underlining, its catch-stitched raw seam edges, with the seam allowances around the neckline and armholes appropriately tacked in place, I knew I had a bodice which was just what I had envisioned.

Somehow the skirt seams all matched up perfectly with the bodice seams and the center front inverted box pleat, which I added, looked wonderful, I thought.  I made the lining out of navy blue crepe de chine, purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

When it came to under-stitching the neckline and armholes, I decided to do it in white.  It mimics the white polka dots in the fashion fabric and also was much easier to see while doing all that handwork.

Instead of a box pleat in the lining, I did two side pleats to reduce bulk in that critical tummy region!

Fortunately, for the belt, I had silk taffeta left over from two previous projects, which turned out to be a perfect match.  I did not want the belt to take away visually from the rest of the dress, so I made it a modest 1.5 inches wide.  I think it is enough to complete the look, but not overpower it. And OF COURSE I wanted to finish it off with a tailored bow.  (I am planning a post on making this tailored bow belt, so I will not go into the details of it right now.)

 

An oyster-colored clutch helps to complete the look.

This is a very comfortable dress to wear!

No attempt was made to match any dots, as the pattern was completely random. This is the hand-picked zipper. I love the fact that the navy thread shows up on the white and coral dots.

And should I need a dress coat, this one matches the belt!

While this dress was firmly in my queue for summer sewing, at the time I did my planning I was not making it for any special occasion.  However, as good fortune would have it, two unforeseen occasions are now approaching in late summer for which this dress will be perfect.  I am definitely looking forward to wearing these dots!

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Linings, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, sewing in silk, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

Seeing Dots

Who doesn’t love a polka dotted motif?  The term “polka dot,” dating from 1880-85, is of American derivation, and of course it immediately conjures up a mental picture of a field of spots forming a pattern on a textile.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about Dots in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, first published in 1954:  “I would say the same about dots as about checks.  They are lovely, elegant, easy, and always in fashion.  I never get tired of dots…  Dots are lovely for holiday clothes … and for accessories.  According to their color, so they can be versatile…  Black and white for elegance; soft pinks and blues for prettiness; emerald, scarlet, and yellow for gaiety; beige and gray for dignity.”  (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior; Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 34.)

“Lovely, elegant, easy and always in fashion.”  That is quite an endorsement, and one with which I completely agree.  I also have to agree with these quotes, the first one  from Marc Jacobs: “There is never a wrong time for a polka dot,”  and this one from the American actress, Anna Kendrick, “You can’t have a bad day in polka dots.”

While images of polka-dotted dresses, blouses, ensembles, and sportswear are in abundant supply from many sources, it’s always inspiring to look at a few select examples, many from the 1950s.  The following two images were part of a feature in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  Although pictured in black and white the first example is described as “Tiny white polka dots on red crepe. A soft day-long dress.”

The next image is titled Gigantic Dots:  “Bold black dots on hot pink surah.  A dramatic sheathed bodice dress.”

Can you imagine how beautiful this dress was in hot pink with black dots?

The June/July 1957 VPB Magazine featured “the most romantic dress of the season – a pouf of black-and-white silk polka dots.”

Less than a year later, in the April/May 1958 VPB Magazine, an entire feature was on Polka Dots and Patent Leather:  “Exciting goings-on in polka dots: fresh new arrangements – at their most polished in black and white silk surah, spruced with gleaming black patent leather.”

Below is the dress of this description: “Dots blown up to impressive sizes – a look for relaxed but festive evenings.”

This two-piece dress could easily be worn today and look very current.

And here is the image for “Classic polka dots – square cut blouse [with] reverse-dot cummerbund:”

One of my favorite outfits from the show Mad Men was this white linen dress with a built-in silk polka dot sash. The two-color sash makes this dress a standout:

Image from The Fashion File; Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of MAD MEN, by Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel; Grand Central Life & Style, New York, New York, 2010, page 8.

This famous – and stunning – 1958 dress and coat ensemble by Arnold Scaasi, an American couturier, was featured prominently in the retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, September 25, 2010 – June 19, 2011:

Now this is an exhibit I wish I had seen.

And finally, this is a Carolina Herrera ad which I plucked out of some magazine a while ago. The ad is for the handbag, but the polka-dotted dress, with its bright red sash steals the show:

So why all my focus on polka dots?  They have been much on my mind lately, as I have finally begun the many-step process of making a couture dress, using this vibrant silk, purchased seven or eight years ago:

This is a crepe de chine which I purchased from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. Smaller irregular dots are woven into the design.

The background color is navy blue.

Now my hope is that one cannot have a bad sewing day when working with polka dots.

 

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, Day dresses, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Classic French Jacket – Number Four

Many of you, no doubt, are familiar with the “10,000 hour” theory. In a nutshell, it purports that to master something, artistically or technically, you must devote at least 10,000 hours to that endeavor (assuming you have a proclivity for it in the first place.) Well, cognitively I know I have a long way to go towards having 10,000 hours devoted to these Classic French Jackets, but it sure seems like I just devoted at least half of those hours to my current, just-finished jacket!

That said, I was aware of an interesting phenomenon as I plugged away on this project. I felt more confident in the process on this one – and more confident in my ability to execute it well. I noticed this especially when I got to the point of inserting the sleeves. The sleeves are, as many of you know, inserted entirely by hand. In previous jackets this has always been my least favorite part. For one thing, you are working within the confined area of the armhole, with lots of very wide seam allowances and “flapping” fabric. It is messy, but precision is necessary to get a beautiful shoulder line and a sleeve that fits well and feels comfortable.   This time it did not feel like an imperfect process; I actually felt like I knew what I was doing!

Getting ready to insert one sleeve.

Voila! It’s in.

Perhaps another of the clues to my feeling more confident in the process of this jacket is the fact that I felt I could take it in a little bit of a new direction. The most obvious departure from the norm is the fact that it has no buttons. Having seen some of the real Chanel jackets in my Pinterest feed that are embellished with bows instead of buttons, gave me the idea to change up this jacket. I really like bows, and I thought using bows would be the perfect foil to this rather regular, non-whimsical hounds-tooth boucle.

I also decided I would eliminate the sleeve extensions and go for curved hems, set off by the trim alone – no bows even for this professed lover of them, as I thought that would be just too much.

Before the trim is applied.

Here is what it looks like on the inside.

Another guiding principle I used for the embellishment of this jacket is the fact that I am planning a matching sheath dress for it. Obviously I want the two pieces to complement each other beyond the shared fabric, so the dress will be trimmed in a manner coordinating with the jacket. (These details will be shared in a future post when I have the dress underway. Eternally optimistic here!) Anyway, envisioning the jacket and dress worn together led me to add both the waistline trim and the trim above the bust (which is across the front only.)

First some details on the waistline trim: I set the pockets to follow this line; the trim is continuous across the top of the pockets (which pick up the curved hems of the sleeves.) I gradually dipped the back edge of the jacket by ½ inch in the center back (a couture technique I picked up from Susan Khalje) and had the waistline trim follow that contour, which I think adds a very graceful look.

I sewed the pocket linings by machine, as that gave the curved dip a better turn. I sewed first along the stitching lines and then cut the curve.

The slightly curved back of the jacket.

Second, I decided I needed the trim across the upper bust as an anchor for the bow I had planned. Obviously I had to set this trim in place before I inserted the sleeves.

The left sleeve pinned in place, the trim already applied.

It was a difficult decision for me to forego a printed lining for this jacket, but I am so glad I did. The black charmeuse has been tiring to work on for my blurry eyes, but it just seems right in this application. And just think – now I have an entire dress to concoct using more black lining!

The boucle is from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics; the trim is from Britex Fabrics, and the black silk charmeuse lining is from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

Until the matching dress is finished, a black sweater and black skirt will have to do.

A red handbag is just what this rather dark and dreary day needs.

I will definitely be ready for some bright Spring colors when this entire ensemble is finished.

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Bows as design feature, Chanel-type jackets, classic French jacket, couture construction, Linings

A Rosy Sewing Year

It seems that every new sewing year – at least for me – does not start right on time, as I am always finishing up a project from the month of December. Such is the case in this early January of 2018. However, that does not keep me from planning and dreaming about the coats and jackets, dresses and blouses to come. I can’t help but think of the new year at hand as a “rosy sewing year,” because the fabrics that are in my queue right now share a common theme – so many are predominantly red or pink or peach or floral, a bouquet of colors and textures.

First up is this red and black “hounds tooth” boucle which I found at Mendel Goldberg. Yes, it will be a Classic French jacket, with a sheath dress to match.

I am planning some variations in detail and trim for this jacket and dress, about which I am excited. It is a big project, so I hope January gives me lots of sewing time! No doubt this will spill over into February…

As I mentioned in one of my December posts, I hope to make a coat from this vintage purple boucle I am so fortunate to own.

A few years ago I found this silk charmeuse (also at Mendel Goldberg) which I intend to use for a coordinating dress with the coat.

Other silks I would love to concentrate on this year are purchases made several years ago from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco:

This is a French crepe de chine.

This silk helps satisfy my penchant for polka dots.

Then there are two linens I never got to in 2017, one a geometric red and the other a ecru and black floral. I assume they are waiting patiently for me. Add to all this my determination to sew for my two little granddaughters and – there’s the year! (And can I possibly finish another classic French jacket next Fall?  We will see.)

But let me complete 2017 first. Whatever made me think I should start (and could possibly finish) another dress for myself in December I will never know. But that’s exactly what went through my head. I had plans to make taffeta “Cinderella” dresses for my granddaughters for Christmas presents, but thought I would sneak in some personal sewing time before I started on that project. Perhaps it was the pattern that made me do it? Or was it the fabric?

When I purchased this pattern at the end of last summer, I really had no idea when I would be using it; I just did not want to miss the opportunity to own it, knowing that I would surely use it someday. Little did I know that someday would be just a couple of months later.

Now it just so happened that I had draped this fabric, below, over my dress form so I could admire it while I worked on other things. I purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg fabrics in 2016 as an end cut, three yards in length.

I knew with three yards I would be able to use a dress pattern which called for more than normal yardage, and I had found a pattern in my collection which I thought I would use:

My idea was to lengthen the sleeves to three-quarter length.

But something just did not seem right. I could not get excited about that pattern in that fabric, even with three-quarter sleeves. Well, I had one of those proverbial light bulb moments when it occurred to me to use the Guy Larouche pattern for the champagne-colored, floral silk. It seems to be a perfect match. The bodice of the pattern is cut on the diagonal, and the meandering flower and vine motif in the fabric lends itself to both straight of grain and diagonal placement. I made my muslin (with quite a few alterations) and was really quite excited about the draped back, shown here in muslin:

And here is the front, minus one sleeve. The front neckline is a bit unusual and I think it will be flattering.

I got as far as transferring the markings onto the silk organza underlining, cutting out the fashion fabric, and basting the two layers together, all ready to start sewing. Then reality hit like a sledgehammer! I had to get those dresses for my granddaughters finished in time for Christmas (which I did, after some frantic sewing – and they love them, which made it all worthwhile!)

Just in case anyone would like to see these dresses, here they are. Big bows in back, and the sleeves are adorned with little bows. Very girly!

So that’s how I am now at this point, finishing up 2017, with the hope of starting the new sewing year one of these days – with my Guy Laroche dress perched in my closet, awaiting its debut. May the New Year be rosy and kind to all of us, and may it end with many sewing dreams fulfilled!

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Linen, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, Sewing for children, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

A Three Piece Outfit for the Holidays, Part 3: The Sash

The sash started it all. After finishing this silk taffeta coat last year, I was left with about 1 and ½ yards of that luscious coral fabric.

I just could not stand the thought of having that yardage sitting in my fabric closet, unused, as I found it so delightful to sew and to wear. That is when I got the idea to combine this fabric with the Guipure lace, also sharing space in that closet of wonders. However, my first thought was to make a blouse from the fabric and also use it as the fashion fabric for a lace skirt, knowing I would need at least one more yard to accomplish this plan. I contacted Britex Fabrics, from whence the fabric came, and to my dismay, they were sold out, with no more available to special order. Undeterred, I then came up with the idea of coordinating fabrics for the blouse and skirt, and using the coral silk to tie it all together. After receiving swatches of several silks from Britex, I settled on the bronzy brown and the apricot colored fabrics for the skirt and blouse, respectively.

A sash should really be straightforward, right? Well, yes; however, I thought it would be good if the sash had a slight curve to it to follow the curvature over the upper hip. That’s when I went to my closet and pulled out a silk sash that I purchased from J. Crew years ago. I had remembered correctly that it had a slight curve to it:

I often think of the tip in the book 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School, page 86: “When in doubt, look in your closet.” Looking at something that is “Ready to Wear” will often help you with construction methods or design ideas.

The J. Crew sash is 72 inches long. A trial tying of the bow proved to me that I needed to add more length to the sash if I wanted to tie a full bow at the waist, which was my intent. I determined that adding 12 inches would do the trick. Then I used that sash as a template to make a pattern, not quite knowing how sewing that long, slow curve was going to work (the sash has one long seam on the concave side of the curve, meaning that some give would need to be worked into that seam.) As it turned out, ironing was the trick to get it to behave correctly, as is so often the case!

84″ proved to be the perfect length to tie a complete bow.

I had to piece the sash in the center back, but I knew that ahead of time and it really does not bother me.

After trying on this completed outfit for the photos, I know that I need to somehow tighten up the interior waist of the skirt (you many recall from my last post, that I added what turned out to be unnecessary width to the circumference of the waist.) My blouse is not going to stay tucked in if I don’t, and the skirt feels like it is drooping on me. I am going to try adding interior waist elastic to straddle the side seams and see if that might do the trick. I am not about to take the skirt apart and remake it! And the sash should help conceal any bobbles in the waistline.

The “concealed zipper.”

It was cold and blustery when I took these photos! I could not wait to get back inside for a cup of hot tea!

Sewing for the holidays is such an anticipatory activity, and one that I love to do. There is already a festive feeling in the air here in late November, and so much more to sew…

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Filed under Blouses, Bows as design feature, Fashion commentary, Lace, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized