Tag Archives: Cocktail Dresses

An A-Line Cocktail Dress

The A-Line silhouette is certainly a very recognizable and common style.  Although there is nothing spectacular about it, it does have a rather interesting origin in modern fashion history.  I had lots of time to think about this style as I worked through my most recent project, and I was surprised with what I discovered.

This entry in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion gives a succinct history:

“Apparel styled close and narrow at the shoulders or waist and flaring gently away from the body to the hem in a line resembling the letter A.  Introduced in 1955 by Paris couturier Christian Dior, the term is used as an adjective in describing a wide variety of apparel with this shape, including coats, dresses, jumpers, and skirts.” (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Third edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003, page 11)

A further entry adds “…Usually made with narrow shoulders, [and] a high neckline…” (Ibid, page 11)

Dior’s “A-Line” collection in the Spring of 1955 featured a “fingertip-length flared jacket worn over a dress with a very full, pleated skirt.” (“A-Line dress,” by Susan Ward; Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, by Valerie Steele; Thomson Gale, Detroit, Michigan, pages 35-36) Fairchild’s Dictionary has a depiction of this very dress which was called “the most wanted silhouette in Paris.”

Obviously the A-Line shape then evolved into a less dramatic, and more ubiquitous style during the 1960s and ‘70s, much closer to  what we recognize today as A-Line.

When I was contemplating which pattern to use for my dress (I had purchased the fabric, 1½ yards, 54” wide,  from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in April of this year), I wanted a style which would showcase the fabric. Although I originally thought I would go with a sheath dress silhouette for this fabric, when I found this pattern, it struck a chord.

The line drawing for the shorter length shows more detail of its seaming and darts. The description on the pattern envelope reads: “Evening or street length, high shaped, slightly A-line dress has short sleeves and scoop neckline with or without slit at center front…”

I liked that center front seam with its notched neckline, even though I knew it might be a little tricky to match the embroidered vines and flowers.  However, I thought  the semi-attached appliqués would be lovely overlapping the seams.

The small slit in the center front neckline.

It took me a full week to finish my muslin.  The bust needed to be dropped so those princess-seamed darts needed a lot of adjustment.  In the shoulder area I had some gaping in the front, and I also needed to reshape the top of the shoulders.  Instead of easing the sleevecaps to fit the armscye, I decided to replace that ease with a shaping dart to the top of the sleeves.  I really liked the fluid look that gave to the shoulder line. I drafted three-quarter sleeves as I was contemplating that change to the original pattern.

It is difficult to see in this black fabric, but this is the top of the sleeve with its shaping dart.  If you look closely, you can see some loose edges of the larger appliqués.

Can you guess what is coming next?  As is often the case when I purchase fabric first and then choose a pattern, I created a challenge for myself.  It was almost immediately obvious to me that I would not be able to work on the lengthwise grain of fabric, as I could not begin to fit the pattern pieces onto the fabric and do any matching whatsoever. As luck would have it, I preferred the appearance of the meandering of the vines and flowers on the crossgrain, and I figured out how to stagger the pattern pieces to both fit the fabric, and match the seams.  But those three-quarter length sleeves?  No way were they going to happen!  I could just fit in the original short sleeves, so short they were going to be!

Here are the silk organza underlining (pattern) pieces laid out on my fabric. I had to stagger the four main pieces to fit it on the fabric. Fortunately I was still able to match the pattern of the vines and flowers. Whew! (I took pictures on my iPad to help with the matching.  You can see it in the upper right corner.)

I ended up basting by hand every single seam on this dress.  Even with great care, it was incredibly easy to catch corners of those loose appliqués by mistake, so it was much easier to make adjustments in basting rather than in the finished machine-sewn seams.  The basting also showed me I needed to take out a small bit of the width of the skirt from the waist down, about an inch total.  When is an inch more than an inch?  In this dress!  That one inch made a huge difference in its final appearance.

Because I was sewing this dress using couture techniques, the neck facing was eliminated, with the black crepe de chine lining fell-stitched to the edge of the neckline.  When I under-stitched the lining to secure it in place, I used an off-white silk buttonhole twist. It was so much easier to see light thread on the black lining, and also, I think it looks pretty.

I hand picked the zipper, which virtually disappears in this dark jacquard embroidered fabric.

I was able to arrange the hem of the skirt so the larger of the semi-attached appliqués would hang just beneath the fold-line.

This shows two of the appliqués at the hemline.

I love the graceful flow of this dress.

The simple look of this dress belies the hours and hours I spent on it!

And I am so pleased that I was unable to make three-quarter length sleeves. These short sleeves are just perfect!

I am quite happy with the way this dress turned out.  I do think its simple lines show off the fabric well – no need for anything too fussy when the fabric is so incredibly lovely!  I love that I can wear this 1960’s A-Line style and somehow feel – and hopefully look – very current.

 

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Fashion history, Formal or fancy dresses, hand-sewn zippers, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

A Sewing Draught

The weather outside is frightful, as the popular Christmas song goes.  It has been too hot and too wet here in eastern Pennsylvania (USA) this summer.  Our family travels, however, took us to areas that were both too hot and much too dry. It was exactly those lengthy travels which helped determine the atmospheric conditions in my sewing room during the past weeks.  There has been a definite draught in that part of the house.  The sewing machines have been huddled under their covers, the fabric has lain folded and fallow, there has not been even a bubble of moisture from the steam iron, nor the slightest snip from the scissors.  It has been a place undisturbed and quite barren.

So, finally, it is time to change all that!  Now I am faced with the question – Do I try to squeeze in the making of one more summer dress (it certainly still feels like summer) – or do I forge ahead with a project which has a mid-October deadline?

If I go with one more summer dress, it will be one made from this vintage Moygashel linen, which has been in my queue for quite some time – and somehow never made it to the top.

Realistically, it would probably be wiser to focus on that mid-October dress, which is going to be a cocktail dress made from this amazing fabric, a lightweight brocade, embroidered and with with lace appliqués.  One of the perks of attending Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School in Baltimore (which I did last April) is the opportunity to see and purchase fabric from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.  Alice Wildes, the proprietress, arrives at the beginning of each week-long class with a car full of her gorgeous, carefully selected yard goods, and that is where I purchased this piece.

The embroidered flower stems are a light gray, and the flowers themselves are a pale pink.

Getting this brocade was actually a last minute decision, as I already had one cotton piece selected – and I was trying to be circumspect in buying more fabric (remind me again of why I ever think this will work?) Anyway, I’m so glad I succumbed as I love it and have determined which pattern to use for its construction:

I will be making the shorter dress, without the jacket.

I like the notched neck detail on the shorter dress. I may make below elbow length sleeves – still to be determined.

Although this dress appears to be a simple silhouette, I have plans to change it up a bit, which will add to its complexity, so it certainly cannot be rushed.

With any luck, the weather will start to change for the better no matter which project I embark on.  The only question is – which one will get the nod?

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, Formal or fancy dresses, Lace, Linen, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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

The Allure of Silk, Part 3: Finishing Touches for a Fancy Frock

In planning for my ‘50s-inspired silk party dress, my original intention was to use a red sash, just as shown on the original dress which I first saw on Pinterest.

Blue taffeta:silk dress - originalWhen I sent off for swatches of silk taffeta from Emma One Sock Fabrics, however, I requested reds and yellows, just in case I might change my mind. When the swatch card arrived, there were clearly two obvious choices – the clear red and the vibrant yellow.Allure of silk - cummerbund picture

Then a funny thing happened. I ordered the red, which was out-of-stock temporarily. The owner of Emma One Sock (who, I might add, is one of the pleasantest and most helpful people from whom one will ever order fabric!), held up the order, at my request, while I thought about it some more. By the time I went to Baltimore to start my dress in Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School, I had just about decided to switch to yellow. With Susan’s hearty endorsement and the additional approval of my classmates, the decision was made: the sash would be yellow, not red.

When the yellow silk taffeta arrived, I knew the decision was the right one. All I had to do then was figure out how to make the sash. Easy, right? With lots of time to think about this while I finished the embroidered organza top and the sapphire blue skirt – and the dress lining – I gradually came up with a plan. I decided a more structured cummerbund and bow would be the best look. First I went in search of a cummerbund pattern, which I found in an early 1960s pattern in my collection:

Allure of silk - cummerbund picture-1

I decided to loosely pleat it instead of gathering it, so it would appear smoother around my waist. Because I had underlined it with silk organza, I had an anchor upon which to secure the soft pleats:

I used a loose catch-stitch to secure the pleats.

I used a loose catch-stitch to secure the pleats.

allure of silk final

And I folded in the two ends, ready for hooks and eyes.

Then I lined it with silk crepe de chine.

Allure of silk final

Now –  I really love a beautiful bow. And I knew just where to go to get the perfect bow pattern. I made this Butterick pattern in the early 1990s, and while I still like the dress I made (I’ll feature it sometime… it’s still in my closet!), I love the bow. I have used this bow pattern numerous times, always successfully.

Allure of silk - bow picture-2

Here is a close-up of the instruction sheet, showing the simple but effective construction of this bow.

Allure of silk - bow diagram-3

I increased the width and length a bit, as I knew it would need to be a focal point of the dress. I attached the bow to one end of the cummerbund, and used a snap to secure it in place on the other end.

All of this took more time than I could have ever imagined! The event for which I made this dress is next week, and I’ll get proper pbotos taken then. But here is a sneak peek, first of the shoes I found which really seem to be the perfect pairing for this dress:

allure of silk final

And here is the dress on my dress form:

Allure of silk final

Allure of silk final

I thought I'd include this photo of the dress lining for anyone interested in seeing it.

I thought I’d include this photo of the dress lining for anyone interested in seeing it.

I am very pleased that I decided to "V" the back of the outer bodice!

I am very pleased that I decided to “V” the back of the outer bodice!

A close-up of the bow.

A close-up of the bow.

One of my favorite fashion quotes is one from Madeleine Vionnet: “The dress must not hang on the body but follow its lines. It must accompany its wearer and when a woman smiles the dress must smile with her.” Will my dress put a smile on my face when I wear it? Yes, if only for the fact that it has been finished just in time!

Details:

Blue silk taffeta:  Britex Fabrics

White embroidered organza:  Waechter’s Fabrics (now out of business)

Yellow silk taffeta:  Emma One Sock Fabrics.

Under bodice and outer bodice pattern:  Vogue 8766

Cummerbund pattern:  Vogue 5234 (vintage)

Bow pattern:  Butterick 3582 (vintage)

Shoes:  Butter, sold by Simply Soles

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

“Cheers!”

Cocktails in our home – and in our family – are always preceded by a toast of some sort. Usually a simple “Cheers!” will suffice, but sometimes the occasion calls for something more meaningful. One of the most memorable cocktail toasts I have ever heard was standard fare for one of my late mother-in-law’s good friends. By the time I met her, she was a little shaky, which made the toast even more charming. She would raise her trembly glass with great ceremony and declare “To our noble selves!”

As I was working on my latest project – yes, a cocktail dress – I thought about all the possible declarations we, as sewers, could add to the vocabulary of toasts. More about those thoughts later… First up is something to wear to that cocktail/dressy party!

This Vogue Designer pattern is from the early 1960s.

This Vogue Designer pattern is from the early 1960s.

The lengthy process of perfecting the muslin (toile) for my blue cocktail dress revealed a few minor changes I needed to make – four of them, to be exact.   You might be able to see on the pattern envelope, that the “overblouse” in the front actually hits about an inch above the waistline. This just did not look good on me, so I extended the length of those two over-lapping fronts an inch so that they would lay directly at my waist. Second, the under-dress, the top of which is not seen when being worn is cut low so that it does not show beneath the “V” of the overblouse. However, it was cut much lower than I needed, so I raised it a bit.

I thought the shoulders of the overblouse extended a little bit too wide, so I cut the top of the armscye in about ¾ of an inch, graduating it down to join the lower part of the armscye. And fourth – I added a slit at the lower back center seam to make walking easier. I seem to do this frequently with vintage patterns.

The pattern called for the fashion fabric to be underlined, but not lined.   I wanted to line the dress – and actually felt it was a necessity with the fabric I was using. Because of the unusual construction of the dress, I knew that this was going to be interesting – and that I was going to have to make it up as I went. To see what I mean about the unusual construction, take a look at the pattern instructions. The front of the “underdress” is sewn to the back of the dress at the side seams only to the waistline. The bodice part of the front “underdress” hangs loose while the two sections of the overblouse are first sewn to the dress back. Then that bodice is hand sewn in place.

To our sewing selves - pattern diagram

To line the dress, I first sewed the lining to the front underdress at the neck and the armscyes by machine. I under stitched these sections by hand, leaving about an inch free on either end.

Cheers

Next I lined the two front overblouse sections, stitching only the front armscyes by machine; I attached the rest of these linings by hand, using fell stitches.  Then I joined the overblouse sections to the (unlined at this point) dress back.

The front overblouse sections are attached to the side seams, but the front underdress is hanging loose, which does not show in this photo.

The front overblouse sections are attached to the side seams, but the front underdress is hanging loose, visible at the lower left.

I had pieces of dress and overblouse and lining hanging every which way! Any of you who have made a “Chanel” type jacket know how unruly the process is before the lining is seamed in place by hand. This reminded me of that. Somehow I would have to make order out of chaos!

To line the back dress section, I pinned the lining to the armscyes and neck and fell stitched in place by hand. Then I was able to sew each side seam on the machine. The shoulder seams were the final ones to finish, which I did by hand. Then it was only a matter of fell stitching the lining to the hand-picked zipper and understitching the neck and arm sections.

The shoulder seam encloses two finished layers in front.

The shoulder seam encloses two finished layers in front.

It worked! The lining fit perfectly and made for a pretty “insides”!

An inside look at the underdress and the overblouse.

An inside look at the underdress and the overblouse.

The pattern called for tacking the front overblouse sections to the underdress, but I decided to use snaps instead. Ironing this dress will be so much easier with the overblouse sections opened up. However, I did permanently tack the looped tie in place, as indicated in the pattern directions. There was much more hand sewing involved in this dress because of the added lining, but the process was so rewarding in the end.

DSC_1374

Cheers

I anticipate this dress being perfect for not only cocktails, but also weddings and other dressy occasions (particularly if I get the coat made, too!).

Cheers

DSC_1369

 

DSC_1362

Although I doubt I’ll be clinking my cocktail glass with many other dressmakers, I like the thought of a “virtual” toast with my fellow sewing enthusiasts. Some possibilities I have come up with are “To needle and thread” – or “To weft and to warp” – or “To scissors and seams” – or the one I think I prefer, with thanks to a lady from the past – “To our sew-able selves!”

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

The World of Couture Sewing

Excitement abounds in the world of couture sewing! The long-anticipated debut of Susan Khalje’s video series has arrived with the release of “The Cocktail Dress”.

Many of you are familiar with the Craftsy Class by Susan in which she guides one through the process of making a dress adhering to the fine and precise construction methods of “The Couture Dress”. Susan’s own video series promises to be more expansive, as she includes patterns, which she has designed and developed, with each video.

The three views of the Cocktail Dress pattern feature partial lace construction, one with an asymmetrical neckline and hemline insert, and what looks to me to be a (gorgeous!) Balenciaga-inspired bow at the shoulder. The feminine sheath styling, princess lines and Susan’s precise fitting advice are sure to make this dress a classic in one’s wardrobe.

Here is the pattern which comes with your enrollment in The Cocktail Dress.  The three variations of the dress each have their own charms!

Here is the pattern which comes with your enrollment in The Cocktail Dress. The three variations of the dress each have their own charms!

For those of you unfamiliar with Susan’s exceptional teaching style, her video series provides a wonderful opportunity for you: she includes two Free Videos on her website. Check out “Things to Bear in Mind When Choosing Fabrics” and “Choosing the Right Pattern Size” for a small preview of Susan’s friendly, easy-going, informative approach to fashion sewing.

Other courses planned in Susan’s video series are:

  • The French Couture Jacket
  • The Lace Class
  • The Couture Notebook
  • The Little Black Dress
  • The Corset
  • The Skirts Class

Finally – one thing I know, both from completing Susan’s Craftsy course, and from taking classes with Susan in person, is that you will grow as a dressmaker as you make your way through the couture process taught by her. Yes, it takes patience and tenacity, but the finished product is more than just a dress or a jacket (or whatever!) – it is art and craft and style all rolled into one. I am so looking forward to getting started on my Cocktail Dress — care to join me??

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Filed under couture construction, Love of sewing