Tag Archives: Britex Fabrics

A Frivolous(?) Decision

When inspiration strikes, one must seize it, even if it doesn’t really make sense.  You may remember this fabric from a couple of months ago, purchased online from Britex Fabrics:

This is one of those fabrics which has just gotten better and better the more I have looked at it.  I have had it sitting out in my sewing room since it arrived, just pondering its potential.  Then one day I went “shopping” in my fabric closet.  I have my stored fabrics divided according to fiber or usage, with a large “basket” container for each class.  For example, all the silks are together, as are the linens, the cottons, the lining and underlining and interfacing fabrics, with the wools (which take up more space due to their generally bulkier nature) stacked on shelves next to the baskets.   Well, this particular day – the day I went “shopping” – I pulled out the silk fabrics just to reacquaint myself with what exactly I had in that container.    Buried down at the very bottom I found a deep pink, polka dotted silk charmeuse jacquard and INSPIRATION struck!  I had found the perfect complement to my newly acquired floral printed silk twill.  

At that point all I could imagine was a pink silk blouse and a flowing hostess skirt.  My prudent, practical side told me I have no occasion for such an outfit.  But my creative, dreamy side said “If you make it, you will wear it.”  I am stealing the following quote from some unknown sage, but it is speaking to me now:  “The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”  

These two fabrics are meant for each other with their perky polka dots and shared sheen.  And the somewhat amazing thing is I purchased the pink charmeuse probably 10 years ago from – you guessed it – Britex Fabrics!  

Once I had the two fabrics side by side, I really began to “see” the floral twill, all its intricacies, the brilliance of design in having a spacious polka-dotted field for those whimsical flowers, and the color combination where the blues and pinks play off of each other in a color tug-of-war.  In the words of Oscar Wilde, “To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.”  [My italics]

My mental wheels were really turning by this time.  I knew what blouse pattern would be perfect for this two-piece project.  I had made this 1950’s pattern a few years ago in a silk dupioni – and it has continued to rank among my most favorite makes.  

(Well, this could use a good pressing!) I love the sleeves with their French cuffs and the lovely neckline of this pattern.

I will have to search for a skirt pattern, but suffice it to say, it should have uncluttered lines to show off the fabric, and it definitely needs to have a gentle fullness to it.  Decisions still need to be made as to how I underline this fabric.  I believe white cotton batiste will be best, as I will need to block the show-through of the pink blouse fabric.  That, combined with a white crepe  de chine lining, should do the trick.  We will see, as they say.  

Time is, God-willing, on my side.  I envision the start of this project in late Winter or early Spring of 2022.  And buried deep in my head – like that pink fabric buried deep in its lair – is the thought I may just have to HOST some tony party to provide the perfect setting for my elegant hostess skirt and swanky blouse.  Who wants an invitation?  

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Filed under Polka dots, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

And There Went March.

March was not home to much sewing at Fifty Dresses this year.  The reasons were manifold, but suffice it to say, my loved ones and I weathered through the storm. Now sweet April is here, adorned in grace and gentleness and goodness, like a balm to our collective souls.  April is filled with promise.  

And I have given April much to make promises about!  I may have not been able to sew throughout most of March, but that did not prevent me from looking at fabric, patterns, buttons, books, and fashionable inspirations.  Despite my best intentions of not succumbing to new fabric purchases, my discipline failed me and I found two silk fabrics at Britex which I decided were too special to pass by.  They are so different from each other, but each one appeals to certain design penchants I have finally admitted are my weakness.  One is for geometric and linear prints:

This is a silk crepe de chine, blouse weight.

The second penchant is for whimsical, scattered florals, in multi-color.  This one is especially appealing to me as it also has polka dots in its motif.  Polka dots are especially difficult for me to resist.  

This is a silk twill, dress or blouse weight. I’m not sure what I will make with this yet. If I thought I would have occasion to wear a hostess skirt, that would be it, but …. it is all still to be determined.

By this point I have an extensive collection of vintage patterns, so it is rare when I find one which fills a gap for me.  But such was the case with this purchase of a Vogue Paris Original by Pierre Balmain.  I had not come across this pattern before, and I believe it was rightly advertised as “rare.”  

I wanted this pattern for the jacket.  The neckline is lovely with its small, rolled collar, and the lines in the jacket appear to be very flattering.  The corded front edges are an interesting design feature which will require the right weight fabric to be finished correctly, I think.  And the four buttons certainly have a prominent position for a jacket not meant to be buttoned!  I will relish finding buttons for this project.  

As with most of my vintage patterns, where I am never quite satisfied until I am able to assign a copyright/production date to them, such was the case with this pattern.   Being a Designer pattern made it easier to narrow my search through my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines.  Also, at this point I have developed a “decade” sense for styles, so I instinctively started with the mid-1960s.  Bingo – the second issue from the mid ‘60s through which I looked featured this pattern.  It was included in an article “Just Arrived – 33 Great Imports” in the October/November 1965 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

I like this image of the pattern (on the far right) as I believe it shows the lines of the jacket in a more flattering way than on the pattern envelope.

What made it especially rewarding for me was that my pink Dior coat pattern is included in the same feature.  It must have been a good year.  

The caption for my pink coat pattern, top and center in the same feature of “33 Great Imports”, reads: “DIOR: The ensemble to wear all year – a dirndled dress and a coat that’s shaped high and narrow.”

Pink was on my mind (well, truth be told, pink is always on my mind) during the waning days of March as I zeroed in on making “birthday” dresses for my granddaughters.  (Time and looming dates have a wonderful way of getting me back on the sewing track.)  And yes, they are pink.  However, they are also under wraps – and wrapping paper – to be opened by the birthday girls next week.

Hopefully April will not hurry away, as these months are wont to do.  There are promises to keep and there is more sewing to happen at Fifty Dresses.    

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Filed under Mid-Century style, Polka dots, silk, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Visionary or Illusionary? Sewing in 2021

Every January I take some time to think about my sewing plans for the year ahead.  I make my “project” list, which usually includes at least one or more items which never made it to the cutting table in the previous 12 months and simply transfer from last year to this year.  My list includes those things which are “traditions” such as Christmas dresses and birthday dresses for my two granddaughters.   It includes any home decorator sewing I’d like to accomplish, and it usually includes at least one project that is “just for the fun of it,” meaning I have no occasion in sight for it or no need for it, but I just want to make it.  The rest of the things on my list are pieces I know I will wear and which will be good additions to my wardrobe.    So, I guess one could call this list my sewing vision for the year.  

What has me tripped up this year is the fact that several of the dresses I made during 2020 sadly have yet to be worn.  When there is no occasion to dress up, it is difficult to justify making more such dresses.  I would like to think 2021 will become a year of parties, and dinner parties and cocktail parties, but this may be illusionary thinking.  Because everything still seems to be in limbo, I have resorted to the tried and true for much on my list.

These include: 

  • At least six blouses!  I know I posted last summer about “too many blouses,” but the fact is that I love to wear blouses, and as long as I keep finding blouse fabric I love, I will keep making blouses, as boring as that may seem.
  • Dresses for my granddaughters.  Although 2020’s Holiday/Christmas dresses were “scrubbed,” as they had no place to wear them, I already have fabric selected for these 2021 dresses.  I did, however, sew Christmas gifts for my girls in 2020, making American Girl doll clothes for one and this dress for the younger one:
I have to say my granddaughter looks adorable in this dress!
I found this finely woven cotton fabric at Britex Fabrics several years ago, and I was saving it for a special reason. The pink rick rack is vintage, all cotton, and the buttons are also vintage. The collar and cuffs are in a linen cotton blend.
  • Linen pants???  I rarely make pants, but I think I will attempt a pair this summer.
  • A skirt out of Liberty Lawn, to wear with a white blouse.
  • Two wool sheath dresses, about as fancy as I dare to get this year, with the hope that I’ll find a reason to wear them.
  • Two … aprons!  Why not?  They are fun to make and certainly useful. And I can use some excess fabric left over from past projects for these.
  • Whatever else strikes my fancy, which leaves a lot of options.  
From left to right: pink cotton for a blouse, Liberty Lawn for a skirt, Liberty Lawn for a blouse
From left to right: Boucle for I’m not sure what yet, Herringbone weave wool cashmere for a sheath dress, vintage Forstmann wool also for a sheath, vintage Viyella for a winter blouse, checked flannel, also for a winter blouse.

As always, I am planning to restrain from purchasing too many new fabrics, hoping instead to use  fabrics from my stored collection. (Wish me luck on that!)  Indeed, my first make, a “Jaron Shirt” made in support of fellow dressmaker, Andrea Birkan, who tragically lost her son last year, is constructed with two fabrics several years in my fabric closet.  Details on this shirt can be found on my Instagram page @fiftydresses.  

I will end this post with a postscript to my last post on a piece of vintage Forstmann wool (which, as noted above, will be one of my two sheath dresses in 2021.)  The story continues, as identical examples of the label accompanying my fabric have surfaced, all with a date from the late 1940s.  When I look at my wool, I have a difficult time envisioning it as being as early as the late ‘40s.  Although I have no reason to believe the label does not belong to the piece of wool I have, this discovery has initiated more questions than answers.  That is not unlike my expectations for 2021 sewing – it is a mystery whose ending has yet to be written. Whoever knew sewing could be so full of intrigue? 

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Filed under Liberty cotton, Sewing for children, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, woolens

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