Tag Archives: fashion sewing

The Mystery Dress

The last thing I need is more fabric for Spring and Summer dresses, but try telling that to my rational side.  She doesn’t listen. So last Fall, when I saw a cotton sateen in a large navy, orange and white floral print in the Etsy Store of Promenade Fabrics, and it was the last yardage on the bolt, I decided I had better act fast and put it in my “cart.” I certainly was not disappointed when it arrived, as it was beautiful quality, with a slight stretch to it, and the colors were just as dramatic as I had hoped they would be.

I forgot to take a photo of the fabric, so here is the finished dress instead.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and I was scratching my head as to what pattern to use for it After washing and drying the fabric, I had about 1 5/8 yards.  Fortunately it was 54” wide.  I originally thought I would make a shirtdress with three-quarter sleeves, but I quickly determined I did not have enough yardage for that.  Then I thought about a skirt, but that did not excite me too much.  I kept coming back to the idea of a sleeveless wrap dress, and enough yardage or not, I was determined to try to make it work.  I pulled out this pattern which I had made a few years ago (and it is still one of my favorite dresses to wear.)

The Simplicity “version” of the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. Obviously, I intended to make this sleeveless.

I had a very workable muslin for it, and as this particular wrap dress pattern is for woven, not knit, fabrics, I knew it would be appropriate.  I also knew I was going to have to be creative in my layout.   I almost always cut things out single layer, and of course, positioning your pattern on a single layer of fabric gives you much more flexibility and what I call “wiggle room.”  Also to my advantage was the fact that there was no right side up for this fabric, so I could arrange the pieces upright or down, without regard to the design on the print.  After much head-scratching and  many calculations, I  made a list of the changes I needed to make, thus solving the mystery of whether I could, indeed, make a wrap dress out of this fabric:

1)  reduce the flare of the skirt by about 9 inches.

2) eliminate the facings and, instead,  line the bodice.

3) forego pockets, which were not original to the pattern anyway

and the big concession, 4) reduce the length of the sashes by about 8 inches AND make the sashes with one side in the fashion fabric and one side in a dark navy blue cotton broadcloth (which I happened to have in my fabric closet, fortuitously!)

Fortunately, I was able to fit the collar pieces in!  Here’s what my pattern layout looked like:

The lined bodice, with that snap I always have to add to the front closure of wrap dresses!

The two-toned ties!

The shortened length of the ties means I cannot tie a bow, just a knot, but that’s okay!

I was so glad I managed to squeak out the collar!

Back to my story – with my fabric all cut and ready to sew, one would think this dress would speed right along. And it would have, except that about this time we were getting our porch furniture out of storage in our garage. I had forgotten that our porch cushions and pillows had looked so awful last year that I didn’t even want to use them.  This was the year I needed to do a major home sewing job and recover those cushions and pillows. So that’s what I did.  By the time I got back to my wrap dress, my momentum was definitely lacking speed, and then the mystery was just how I was going to get excited about completing it!

I have to say the only thing which kept me focused on finishing this dress was the fact that I have so many other projects in my queue.  Now that it is finished, I am so glad I pushed through!

Such a windy day – a good test for a wrap dress!

This is a good basic Summer dress!

One thing that is not a mystery – I think I am finished with making wrap dresses for a while!

 

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Filed under Wrap dresses

Gingham and Pearls

Way back at the beginning of our just-past long winter, I was on the hunt for fresh cotton gingham to pair with some Liberty cottons for dresses for my granddaughters’ birthdays. Always having been a fan of gingham, I couldn’t help but notice the offerings of shirting gingham in the Etsy shop where I was making purchases.  Of course, I ordered two pieces.  (Why wouldn’t I?!)  One piece in lavender has been tugging at me and I knew it would be next to make after finishing my purple boucle coat.

What I did not realize when I purchased this fabric is that it is a printed, rather than woven, gingham. However, the quality is lovely and silky soft.

In the meantime, I came across this spread in the April (2018) issue of Harper’s Bazaar:

There in the lower left hand corner is – yes – a lavender gingham blouse.

Now at this point in my life, I do not sew to save money, although I am always happy to have that as an added bonus.  But in this instance, once I looked at the listed price of that blouse ($375!!!) I felt quite pleased with myself, knowing I could make this  knock-off, for well less than 10% of the cost of that shirt:

The feature I really liked about the “$375 blouse” was the spread collar.  A spread collar, of course, has a wide division between the points in front, as opposed to longer pointed ends.  I determined to alter my pattern to make my shirt look like the one in the magazine.

I used a Simplicity pattern from 1972, which somehow survived all my now-regrettable purges of sewing patterns over the last 40-some years.  I had to make several alterations to it in addition to the shape of the collar, but its basic lines – with a yoked back, single button cuffs, slightly fitted body, and a long shirttail – lent itself to my vision.

The pattern art here is so dated! I actually used this pattern once before for a silk blouse.

To me, buttons are always an important component of any style requiring them.  I went through my button collection to see what I could find, knowing that what I really wanted would be simple mother-of-pearl, two-hole buttons.  When I came across this card of “Lucky Day” buttons, I knew they would be perfect.

These buttons date from the 1940s!

These 2/3″ buttons are in good proportion to the 1/4″ gingham.

What is it about gingham that makes it so fresh and happy – and timeless, as the tag line in Harper’s Bazaar, states?

I added an inverted pleat to the center back below the yoke. I may eliminate that the next time I make this pattern.

Because the fabric is a printed gingham, when I roll up the sleeves, as I am wont to do, the reverse white of the fabric shows. This doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it might.

Well, I am quite certain my “Gingham Style” looks just as good as the much more expensive “Gingham Style” detailed above.  All the more reason to wear it with pearls!

 

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

A Coat For Many Reasons

When I started planning this coat, I could not then have known the many reasons why I am now so happy to have made it.

The journey – and yes, it has been a journey – started with the fabric, offered for sale to me by a reader several years ago.  Simply the provenance of the fabric  – a piece of stamped Ernest Einiger wool, from one of the great mid-century American wool manufacturers, now sadly long gone – was reason enough to give it some extra thought.  I knew I had to wait for the right time to put pattern and scissors to it. When the Pantone Color of 2018 – “Ultraviolet” – an orchid shade of purple – was announced, I knew the time had arrived!

In the meantime, I had given it much thought and the more I looked at it, the more I thought I would be wise to get some construction advice on it.  Happily I was able to go to Baltimore in mid-April for one of Susan Khalje’s week-long Couture Sewing Schools, during which everyone works on their own project.  Usually one is expected to arrive with a pattern selected, and a marked muslin (toile) of her project ready for fitting.  This time was no different, which meant that all my thinking about the best pattern to use for this coat was ready to come to fruition.

Because the fabric is a very heavy coat-weight boucle, I originally looked for a pattern which either did not include buttons and buttonholes (traditionally more difficult to do well on a fabric of this weight), or had slot-seam buttonholes. I thought I had the perfect pattern in this Vogue from 1962. However, when I actually opened out the pattern pieces, I realized it was not going to work.  The kimono sleeves would surely produce drag lines in this heavy fabric, and a double layer of the wool in the shawl collar could be quite bulky.

Then I pulled out two more patterns which I thought were possibilities:

The single slot-seam buttonhole in the Mattli pattern was ideal, but all the intersecting seams could be a problem to do well, so I eliminated that one.  The simple lines of the Christian Dior design were lovely, but then there were more buttons, in addition to my evolving thought that this fabric would work well with a pattern which did not have such a narrow silhouette. It was then that I went to a pattern which I had already used:

View A with the longer sleeve for this coat, although I originally made it with the shorter sleeve here.

I love the simple lines of this coat and its well-turned collar, and I especially love my addition of a half belt to the silk coat I made.  I still wasn’t sure what I would/could do about buttons and buttonholes.  Advice from Susan would be very valuable!  As it turned out, she helped me determine that I could do bound buttonholes even on this very substantial wool.  Another fortuitous finding was that this pattern lent itself to showing off the interesting windowpane weave of the boucle, which became much more apparent the further away from it we got.

Other of Susan’s recommendations included:

1) Making the coat dress length rather than coat length.  The intensity of the color, used with this pattern, looks better in a shorter length.

2) Cutting the belt on the bias.  This was brilliant and gives a nice subtle focus to the back of the coat.  She also recommended that I line the belt with the silk charmeuse lining fabric rather than using the boucle .  It reduces bulk and makes the belt lay much more nicely.  I sewed one side of the belt by machine and then hand-stitched the other side, making for a nice crisp turn of the charmeuse to the underside.

My addition of a belt to this pattern is an excellent example of what is known as a “dressmaker detail.”

Here the bias cut of the belt is quite apparent.

The entire coat is underlined in silk organza, including the belt, shown here with one side sewn by machine.

And here is the silk charmeuse belt lining almost ready to be applied by hand.

3) Underlining the collar with charmeuse (again to reduce bulk) and then under-stitching the underside, to make it turn beautifully.

The collar on this pattern is beautifully designed to sit perfectly on the neck.

4) Clipping the long back center seam, even though it is on the straight of grain.  Clipping it reduces strain on that seam and allows a much more fluid movement of the back of the coat.  (I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, but it is certainly not rocket science, just common sense.)

5) Tips for matching the woven windowpane design in the wool, the weave of which was difficult to see close-up.  Forked pins and a walking foot  helped to keep the layers – even basted ones – from shifting.

Other procedures I used to help “tame” this fabric were:  lots of judicious trimming of seams and corners; clipping, clipping and more clipping; lots of steam and pressing; lots of basting of seams.

I even trimmed the edges of the bound buttonholes to reduce bulk down the front of the coat. I am not completely happy with the buttonholes (which were difficult to do on this fabric), but once I finished them, they looked better than I thought they would.

I found these buttons in an Etsy store. From the 1960s, they are a nice fit with the fabric and the pattern. And I like their wobbly edges!

By the time I returned home from my class, I had the coat about half finished, but I felt completely confident in my ability to finish it competently.   Here are a few more details:

The sleeves feature a turned- back vent which is secured by a button through all layers.

I used the pockets for this version of the coat (which I had eliminated for my silk version.)

The belt is attached to the side seams just about an inch below the armhole. This placement allows it to fall right at the center back waist.

It is always rewarding to get to the point in the construction of a coat when you are ready to put the lining in.  And to make it just a little more fun, I added flat silk piping on the inside front facings – which will match one of the dresses (still to be made) I intend to wear with this coat:

I ended the piping at the shoulder seam on either side. (I see a basting thread which is peeking out from the piping!)

So my “coat for many reasons” allowed me 1) to use treasured fabric which had been in my collection for a few years; 2) to take advantage of the focus of this beautiful purple color during the year of  “Ultraviolet;” 3) to use a coat pattern which I really wanted to use again after making it once; and 4) to have experience in working – successfully – with such a heavyweight wool.

But the most important reason?  I need another coat. I always need another coat.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Dressmaker details, Mid-Century style, piping, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

The Never-Ending Winter

One advantage to this never-ending Winter we are having in the Northeastern part of the United States is the focus – and extra time – it has given me in finishing my Winter projects. After completing my recent Classic French Jacket, I did some “birthday dress” sewing for my granddaughters (still to be shared) and made two baby gifts, and only then did I come back to making a matching sheath dress for that jacket.

I had thought long about how this dress should be constructed, and not having the advantage of taking a class in such a project, I knew I would have to figure it out on my own. I decided I would combine classic couture construction with the techniques used for making a classic French jacket.

First, I underlined the three pieces of the dress (front and two back panels) with black silk organza, and I anchored all the darts with a catch-stitch. (I always go back to that sound advice from Susan Khalje – couture is about control – and I know how this extra step helps to keep everything in its rightful place.)

Then I machine quilted the two back panels and the dress front just as I would quilt the separate pieces of a French jacket. I ended the quilting about two inches from the tops and bottoms of the pieces and tied off each line of quilting inside between the two layers. I figured the quilting did not need to be as closely placed as it is with a French jacket, so my quilting lines are about 2 inches apart. This following photo shows the quilted channels on the inside (they are virtually invisible on the fashion fabric):

The three pieces were sewn together as a Jacket would be sewn with the edges of the lining loose and then finished by hand with a fell stitch. At this point I felt fairly confident that the dress was going together as I had hoped. And yes, there is a lot of handwork involved! Next I inserted the long back zipper by hand and then finished the neckline and lining with a fell stitch.

Because I wanted to apply a length of trim above the bust – to match the trim placement on my jacket – I did the armholes last, as the trim needed to be attached before they were finished.

 

Finally, the hem. The length had to be precise, as there will be no lengthening nor shortening of this baby! The final step was to sew the hemline trim on by hand. I delineated the back vent with the trim to give it some extra interest. Also, although it is not visible here, I angled the edges of the vent slightly to the inside so that when the dress is on, the vent will not gape, but rather hang straight. This is another one of those lovely couture tricks I learned from Susan Khalje!

I must say this dress is a dream to wear, with that quilted silk interior.

And – I am quite happy with how it looks with my jacket.

Br-r-r-r-r!

As warm as this dress and jacket are, I was freezing when these photos were taken!

I have faith that Old Man Winter – who is truly ancient by now – will soon leave us, but not without a fond farewell from Fifty Dresses who appreciated his extra encouragement on seasonal sewing!

 

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Filed under Boucle for French style jackets, classic French jacket, couture construction, Linings, Sheath dresses, Suit dresses, Uncategorized

Reflections on the Couture Legacy of Norman Norell

It was my distinct pleasure and good fortune to visit the current Exhibition on Norman Norell at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) in New York City last week. For those of you not familiar with this mid-century American designer, you may be surprised to learn of his enduring influence on, and remarkable contributions to American fashion and glamour. He also, in his extensive and versatile body of work, employed the finest couture techniques, making his clothes still the envy of designers and those of us who strive for excellence in our fashion sewing.

Norell: Dean of American Fashion opened on February 9, 2018 and will close on April 14th. Guest Curator and designer Jeffrey Banks and Deputy Director of MFIT, Patricia Mears, collaborated on this Exhibition. Included are examples from his entire career; however, the Exhibition focuses for the most part on his final, spectacular 12 years, from 1960 – 1972. Norell (1900-1972) left his native Indiana to pursue his interest in illustration and fashion design in New York. He worked under Hattie Carnegie, and then at the beginning of World War II he began a partnership with Anthony Traina, the label for which is the well-known Traina-Norell designation. It was in 1960 that Norell started his own eponymous line of clothing, and it was during this period, up to his untimely death in 1972, that he set his real mark on American fashion.

To all of you I commend the MFIT Exhibition website for learning more about Norell’s life and the evolution of his body of work, including a fascinating video presentation by Exhibition Curator Jeffrey Banks. (Be sure to click on “explore the Exhibition website” which will lead you to some excellent content.) It was with this background knowledge that I entered the Exhibition, knowing I wanted to view it on two levels – 1) as a dazzling display of some of the most beautiful fashions ever assembled, and 2) as an opportunity to see up close some of the construction details, style lines, and elegant touches in his fashions, serving as inspiration for my own fashion sewing.

The Exhibit is physically divided into two areas, the first of which serves as a guide to his trademark themes, each with a small grouping of fashions. I was immediately smitten with this selection of LBDs:

All of these dresses have a timeless appearance, making them as stylish today as when they were designed. From left to right, #1 Label: Norman Norell New York. Black sleeveless bodice with skirt and satin sash, 1963. wool jersey, wool twill. Lent by Kenneth Pool [a major lender to the Exhibit.];
#2 Label: Traina-Norell New York. Black cocktail ensemble, 1950. silk chiffon, silk satin. MFIT, Gift in memory of Miriam Abrams; #3 Label: Norman Norell New York. Black dress with belt, 1962-1963. Wool, leather. MFIT, Gift of Mortimer Soloman.

As a way of illustrating the impeccable couture construction for which Norell fashions are known, this “inside-out” dress was displayed.

Click on the photo for a closer look.

It was all I could do to keep from reaching over to see more of it. Noted on the caption were ”the hand-picked zipper and extra wide seam allowance, the deep hem … edged with bias-cut silk so that it is softly defined yet sturdy. Furthermore, the neckline and armholes are minimally interfaced to give shape without impeding movement, and they are under-pressed in order to hide the seams.”

The larger gallery of the Exhibit practically took my breath away when I entered. The large center stage is resplendent with examples of his famous eveningwear, including his sequined “mermaid” dresses.

The low light in the Exhibition gallery only added to the ambience and allure of these creations.

Around the perimeter of the gallery were featured many, many of his glorious coats, capes and dress suits, as well as dresses. I snapped this photo of one of his trademark sailor dresses to show the hand-picked zipper and the large patch pockets applied by hand (note the provenance on this dress in the caption):

Label: Traina-Norell New York. Off-white sailor dress with navy collar and red tie, circa 1957. Linen. MFIT, Gift of Lauren Bacall.

There were so many terrific examples of Norell’s vibrant use of color, including this coral cape from 1962.

Label: Norell. Coral double breasted cape, 1962. Wool melton. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

And I could not take my eyes away from this combination of off-white evening gown with a red bolero jacket and peacock blue sash from 1968.

The beautiful shape of the jacket, with those amazing buttons and bound buttonholes, sets off the sash to perfection. Label: Norman Norell New York. Off-white evening gown with red bolero jacket and peacock blue sash, 1968. Cotton organdy, wool, silk taffeta. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

Another brilliantly hued ensemble is this pink evening coat with matching skirt and blouse from 1964. Note the rhinestone buttons, the beautiful bound buttonholes, the angled pockets, and the lovely seaming detail of the high yoke on the coat which descends into the sleeves.

Label: Norell, Norman Norell New York. Pink evening coat with matching skirt and blouse, 1964. Wool, rhinestone buttons. MFIT, Gift of Lauren Bacall.

Norell was known for his cone and wedge-shaped coats, of which this purple one is an excellent example.  Note the spread of the descending buttons on this coat:

Photography was permitted, although flash photography was not, so my pictures do not do justice to many of these fashions. Label: Norell. Purple cone shaped double breasted coat with Peter Pan collar, 1966. Wool melton. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

This coat and pants ensemble from 1970 is set off beautifully by its wide belt:

Label: Norell. Coat and pants ensemble, 1970. Wool herringbone, leather. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

The collar is absolutely stunning. And those bound buttonholes are a work of art in that heavy wool herringbone weave.

Norell used the talented stitchers of the garment worker’s union to make his clothing.

While I am writing about coats (one of my favorite subjects!), I want to show you details from two which help to illustrate the quality and finesse for which Norell’s fashions are known. First is this pocket detail from an off-white coat with black collar, 1962-1965.

Label: Norell. Off-white coat with black collar, 1962-1965. Wool and velvet. MFIT, Gift of Mrs. Jane Albert

The right edge of the flap is angled slightly to follow the side seam line, a subtle touch which gives it a graceful appearance.

Second is another pocket detail on a beige coat with pilgrim collar from 1968:

Label: Norell. Beige coat with pilgrim collar, 1968. Wool. MFIT, Gift from the collection of Margery J. Davidson, lovingly donated by her son Harold S. Graham.

The pocket is an extension of a princess seam, beautifully angled. And more shaping is apparent to the left of the full-length seam, giving this coat such elegant and refined lines.

Seeing this following grouping of dresses and jackets gave me a new appreciation of the concept of “less is more.” According to the caption, Norell “chose to trim his day and evening wear with mink, fox, and sable. The judicious use of this expensive and sensuous material elevated the glamour quotient of his restrained daywear.”

From left to right: #1 Label: Norell. Pale oatmeal midi dress and bolero jacket, 1967. Wool, crystal fox. Lent by Kenneth Pool. #2 Label: Norell. Pale peach jacket and black gown, 1966. Brushed wool, fox, sheer jersey. Lent by Kenneth Pool. #3 Label: Norell. Red and black check suit, 1962. Wool, black fox, leather. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

One more Little Black Dress has the most beautifully placed buttons:

Label: Norman Norell New York. Black dress with jeweled buttons, 1965. Wool crepe. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

I loved the caption which (partially) stated: “Deceptively simple, Norell’s dresses were visually quiet but strategically constructed… to enhance a woman’s body.”

I could go on and on as there is so much more to celebrate about this remarkably talented “Dean of American Fashion.” Fortunately, the Exhibition is accompanied by a book, titled: Norell: Master of American Fashion, by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle.   Published by Rizzoli, the book is lavishly illustrated and beautifully presented, both in content and inspiration. I commend it to you.

In closing, on a personal note, I cannot help but think back to 1972, the year I graduated from college and the year Norman Norell died. So much has changed in the world of fashion and fashion sewing since those heady years. Seeing an exhibition like this one is a lovely reminder of the true timelessness of quality and restrained elegance, providing endless inspiration to those of us who dream and sew.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Capes, Coats, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Day dresses, Dressmaker coats, Dressmaker suits, Fashion commentary, Fashion Exhibits, Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Suit dresses, Uncategorized

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

The Essential Coat

How many coats do you own? (Not enough?) How many do you need? (More than you know!) Putting need aside, how many should you have? (Plenty!) In your sewing and in planning your wardrobe, do you give as much thought to your coats as you do to your dresses or pants or blouses? My guess is that you do not.

In our very casual world, coats seem to have taken on the essence of “practical” or “function over form.”   To me, this is such a shame, as I believe coats have an aura to them unmatched by any other garment. They are, after all, so often a significant part of the first impression you make when arriving at an event or party – or anything for that matter. A fantastic coat can also leave a lasting impression when departing such an event.

In her iconic book, What Should I Wear, Claire McCardell devotes an entire chapter to coats. Here is just a small snippet of her thoughts on the impression that your coat can make: “…Remember that a first impression often comes when you are wearing a coat. When you are interviewed for a job, you keep your coat on. Your future employer’s first impression of you may be based on the coat you are wearing.

When you walk down the aisle of a theatre, you are wearing a coat … your audience has already judged you and the most beautiful dress in the world cannot alter that first impression. Coats ride buses and subways and taxicabs…. A coat is not something to be dismissed lightly.”   (The Rookery Press, New York, New York, 2012, pages 61- 62.)

In The Little Pink Book of Elegance: The Modern Girl’s Guide to Living with Style, by Jodi Kahn, she writes: “Many an elegant look is spoiled by throwing on a coat or a wrap that is anything but . . . [I]f you think about the most elegant women you know, or those in the pubic eye, you’ll probably realize they have fabulous outerwear. In the ‘60s, Jacqueline Kennedy asked her designer of the day, Oleg Cassini, to pay special attention to what she wore over her clothes since she was always being photographed coming and going. Even if you don’t have to worry about getting your picture snapped around every corner, a few great coats will transform almost any [look.]” (Peter Pauper Press, Inc., White Plains, New York, c2005, pages 29-30.)

A beautiful coat can also hint at what is beneath it. One of the most elegant looks one can wear (and make for herself) is a matching coat and dress ensemble, where the two pieces are intended only to ever be worn with each other. Such a coat and dress often share similar style lines.   This Vogue Couturier Design by Mattli of London is an example of this:

Another example of a coat and dress with complementary style lines is this Vogue pattern:

And although the style lines of the dress and the coat in this Vogue Paris Original by Madame Gres are not matching, clearly the coat and dress featured in blue on the pattern envelope are intended as such an ensemble:

Here is an example of a formal dress and matching coat, sharing seaming details and clearly designed to go together. Would this dress be anywhere as exciting without its matching coat?

This evening coat makes my heart skip a beat!

Not every coat needs to match a dress, however. Here is a small sampling of coats, both dressy “dressmaker” coats and classy, more tailored coats, the prototypes of which have their rightful place in your coat wardrobe:

This is my original pattern from which I made the featured coat when I was in my mid-twenties. I loved this coat and only wish I still had it!

I am very anxious to make a coat from this pattern.

This is a beautiful example of a dressmaker coat.

Another dressmaker coat.

A coat better suited for everyday wear, but still beautiful.

One of the many catalogs we receive here at our home is the catalog from the J. Peterman Company. It is so creatively conceived and presented, with each entry reading like a mini story, and often evocative of other times and places. The “Owner’s Manual” (as the company’s catalogs are called) arriving during this past holiday season was no exception. Imagine my delight when turning the page to this entry for a “French Coat with timeless Parisian style.”

Click on the image to read its story.

But what really caught my eye was the caption at the top of the page: “I want to know the woman in that coat.” In a nutshell, that sums up the power of a beautiful coat. What fun to know that, as ones who can make our coats, we can also be the woman who made that coat!

And now, in deference to some of my readers who want progress reports on my Number Four Classic French Jacket, here are a few photos – and a short quiz for those of you who have never made one of these jackets, but hope to one day.

Here is the neckline, ready to be stitched.

I call this the “vest” stage. This is the front of the jacket . . .

And this is the back of the jacket.

It is always fun to pin the sleeves on quickly just to see a jacket taking form!

As you can see, all the machine quilting is complete. I’ve finished the interior seams as much as I can at this point. The next step is to insert the sleeves. Then I can complete the finishing work on the interior seams and the hems and get to work on the trim and the pockets.

QUIZ: How much more will I be using my sewing machine to do this work?

  1. a) only for the insertion of the sleeves
  2. b) only to make the pockets
  3. c) both for the insertion of the sleeves and to make the pockets
  4. d) not for anything

Back to Coats:  Are you ready to make one after reading this post? I hope so!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Coats, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s