Tag Archives: fashion sewing

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

The Last Dress of Summer

Or is it the first dress of Fall?  It depends on your point of view, apparently.  The Autumnal Equinox, here in the Northern Hemisphere, is September 22nd, officially the first day of (Astronomical) Fall.  Meteorological Fall began on September 1st, marking the point in the year when the temperatures begin to fall (pardon the pun.)  Either way one looks at it, I now have a finished dress which is either late for Summer or just under the wire.  I’m honestly just delighted to have it finished!

Although linen is traditionally thought to be a summertime fabric, I have long thought it is also the perfect fabric for early Fall.  Moygashel linen is especially well suited for this time of year.  Its natural fibers keep it cool for those days which continue to warm up, but its sturdy weave and heft give it a substantial enough look for these days of transition.

I purchased this piece of vintage linen from an Etsy shop years ago.

This particular piece of Moygashel, undoubtably a survivor from the mid-1950s, presented me with a couple of challenges.  First, it was only 35” wide.  And I only had 2½ yards.  Laying out pattern pieces on a single layer of fabric always allows me to maximize their placement, improving my ability to do the impossible – get a dress out of too little fabric.  (Here is another Moygashel linen dress which I was able to squeak out of 1 5/8 yards of 35” fabric.)

This vintage Vogue pattern gave me two sleeve options.  If I had opted for the very short sleeves, I would have had ample yardage.  But, for the seasonal reasons mentioned above, I particularly wanted to make this dress with the below-elbow-length sleeves.  So, I fiddled and figured and made it work by utilizing both the straight of grain and the cross grain for the bodice/sleeve pieces.  I was able to do this because of the allover floral design – ie., no directional limitations.

This pattern is dated 1957.

Interestingly enough, this dress with its cut-on sleeves does not have gussets.  Rather, the underarm seams of the dress sections are curved to add moveability.

This shows where the seams join under the arm close to the top of the side zipper.

I underlined this dress with white cotton batiste (from Farmhouse Fabrics) and I finished the seams with Hug Snug Rayon seam binding.

The buttoned upper back bodice is a real focal point of this pattern.  Being 1957, the pattern calls for “fabric buttonholes” – or bound buttonholes.  So that’s what I did.

When it came to buttons, I wanted to use some sort of faceted black buttons.  After searching online and coming up empty-handed for buttons of the correct size and look, I settled on these carved pearl buttons already in my button collection.

I love these buttons, but I still think black ones would be better …  so I will keep searching and switch them when I’m successful.  That will also allow me to use the “leaf” buttons (I have 6 of them) for something which will show them off to better advantage.

The final construction detail of note is the 10” side zipper.  I used a lapped, hand-picked application which lays inconspicuously below the left sleeve.

It is so inconspicuous, you can barely see it here!

I did not leave an opening on either side at the waist for a belt to slip through.  In fact, I did not have enough fabric to make a self-belt!  However, my intention was always to use a contrasting belt.  I think this fabric will lend itself to using belts of varying colors (red or yellow or pink?) as long as I can coordinate with shoes, handbags and/or jewelry.  That will have to wait until I am home from our Summer location.  Maybe I’ll even find black buttons back home!

I could wear this dress without a belt as well. (But I’m not sure I will…)

One final note about this pattern and dress:  it has to go over the head.  It was much more common for dresses from the 1950s and ‘60s to have side zippers and “over the head access”  only.  This can wreak havoc on hair (and make-up)!  So a little pre-planning is necessary – I will need to finish my primping after I have put on the dress.

And everytime I put this dress on, I shall see the original Moygashel linen label which came with the fabric.

I suspect this dress will go right into the cedar closet for the months to come, as I switch out the wool skirts and dresses and coats and sweaters.  But hopefully, in March, at the Spring Equinox, it will creep out from its dark and quiet spot and maybe even actually be worn!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Moygashel linen, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

Almost September

What?  It is almost September and time to assess just exactly what I accomplished the last three months.  I have a friend whose late mother always said, “A flurry of activity at the end of the day does not make up for earlier unfocused, unproductive hours.”  I guess the same could be said for the waning days of a month or a season.  However, despite my nagging feeling that I have not accomplished much this summer, I have actually made some progress on my never-ending list.

For one thing, I tackled the alterations on my silk floral dress about which I wrote earlier in the summer.  I took out the hand-picked, lapped zipper to see if resetting it would give me enough ease over the tight bust and uncomfortable back.  There was much to take out and then put back in:  the lining, part of the neck ruffle, the understitching of the neck facing, and of course the entire zipper, in addition to reattaching the silk organza underlining back to the fashion fabric.  Thank goodness for the ample seam allowances which, in true couture fashion, enabled me to add just enough extra across the back.  Yes, it worked, and I am so much happier with the fit and the look of the dress.  Now I can wear it or hope to wear it! (Someday?)  I still think I will tweak the neckline a bit if I make this pattern again, but I do feel I salvaged this dress.

Well,  these are not the shoes I intend to wear with this dress. They happen to be the only heels I have with me this summer.

This dress fits so much better… I’m so happy I did not put off “fixing” this dress until … who knows when!

Several weeks of the summer were devoted to home decorative sewing, including pillows, cushions, and a tailored bed skirt.  I won’t bore you with that! But it was all very time-consuming, as those things tend to be.  More weeks were spent, happily, with welcoming  family for visits and extended stays and even some sewing for my granddaughters. I have never known two little girls who enjoy “playing dress-up” more than my two.  In a weak moment a couple of years ago I purchased this amazing vintage pattern of the Chiquita Banana Señorita’s dress in girls’ size 6-8.

The Chiquita Banana copyright for this costume is from 1947. The pattern is undated, but it is undoubtably from the 1950s.

I knew this was the summer to make these dresses, so I was off to the races on them.  I opted for rick rack rather than bias tape as the decorative trim. I ordered the fabric from Farmhouse Fabrics – a cotton/poly blend which was lovely, and in equally lovely colors.  As the dresses got heavier and heavier as I worked on them, I decided to eliminate the third row of ruffles.  As it turned out, the dresses were amply sized.  My 5-year-old granddaughter reassured me that it was so good to have dresses with room to grow.  And so, these fiesta dresses will serve them for at least a couple of years.

I wanted the girls to have different colored dresses, and I got creative with the colors, as I really think of these as “fiesta” dresses rather than Chiquita Banana. Lots of twirling ensued!

And then last week – yes the last full week of the month – I was finally able to focus on what will be my last make of Summer. Here is the pattern:

This pattern is dated 1957.

And here is the fabric:

I was fortunate to find this vintage piece of Moygashel linen several years ago. It is also from the 1950s.

And so my last minute flurry of sewing activity is well underway.  Happy September!

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Filed under hand-sewn zippers, Moygashel linen, Ruffles, Sewing for children, sewing in silk, Sheath dresses, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

“You Can’t Have Too Many Blouses”

My sentiments, exactly!  Whenever I start to question if I really need another blouse for casual wear, I remember this feature in the February/March 1954 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And while both casual and dressy blouses are shown in this 2-page spread, it just gives me more reason to love making blouses.  One of the aspects of a crisp cotton blouse which really appeals to me is how tidy they look, even when slightly wrinkled.  Knit tops, while comfortable and easy to wear (no ironing!) can, over time, sag and pull and cling.  Not so with fine quality cotton wovens.  They keep their shape, and they wear and wear and wear without looking worn out.  So is it any wonder I have added two more classic blouses to my summer wardrobe?

It always seems the process of making one of these blouses begins with Farmhouse Fabrics.  I see a fabric on their website I can’t live without, or one which is so classic, it begs my attention.  I know the quality will be superb, as that is what Farmhouse does.  So – two fabrics, which produced two very different looks from the same (old) pattern I have been using for quite a while.

The uneven plaid of the green and blue fabric posed some layout questions for me.  I even thought, briefly, of using the cross grain in order to balance that strong blue stripe, but once I saw a photo of it, I went back to the straight of grain.

Taking a photo of something always helps me make decisions. Those bold blue stripes on the horizontal made the fabric look completely different. The photo helped me determine which orientation would be best.

At that point it seemed logical to use that bold blue stripe for the center front and center back.

I used a spread collar for this blouse. I positioned the collar so the green blocks of the fabric would “point” to the green stripes to the right and left of center front.

The only way for the back yoke to look good was to place it on the bias.  I interfaced it so its stability would be intact.  I think this was a good solution for a situation where it would have been impossible to match plaids.

I will confess I had been looking for a narrow candy stripe, cotton shirting fabric (to pair, one day, with another fabric waiting its time!)  Peppermint stripe is another description often used for red stripes on white.  Both names tell you exactly what they are – red and white stripes of some variety.  There are a lot of wide candy stripes, or candy stripes with alternating widths of the red lines, but I had some difficulty finding a narrow-striped cotton.  So I grabbed it when I found it.

This blouse was very straightforward.  The only change I made from most of the previous blouses I have made from this old, altered pattern was to revert back to a pointed collar.

Here is the pattern which I have altered and used so many times.

I used 3/8” vintage pearl buttons for both blouses.  One really can’t go wrong with those.  And I used woven, non-fusible interfacing in the collars, cuffs, front facings and yokes.

I love this small 1950s silk neck scarf paired with this blouse.

Now I am thinking it is time to move on to another style of blouse and retire this pattern for a while.  Although I doubt I will ever have too many of these “men’s style” blouses, there are other ways of looking tidy and neat in a casual way.  Think I can do it?

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

Unfinished Business

What happens when an unavoidable interruption takes you away from the depths of a sewing project for more than a couple weeks of time?  Well, if you are me, you forget exactly where you were in the process.  And, when you finally get back to work on it, you assume, incorrectly, certain fitting steps have already happened.  Recipe for disaster?  Well, not quite that bad, because this dress can be saved.  It is just going to take some time.

The dress in question is the one for which I used this colorful floral silk.

Although I was so certain in May I would finish this dress before we departed our home on the East Coast (USA) for our Summer home in Wyoming, it did not happen.  So I brought it with me to finish.  When I finally picked it up again, I needed to reacquaint myself with all the steps yet to be completed.  I had the hand-picked lapped zipper sewn and the sleeves inserted.

I love a hand-picked lapped zipper…

I was working on the narrow ruffle I had decided to add to the V-neck edge.  I consider this to be the focal point of the dress (in addition to the fabric).

I used the same vintage pattern for this dress as I did for a blue silk dress late in 2019. This fabric, to me, was begging for a narrow neck ruffle.

As luck would have it, the most recent issue of Threads Magazine included an article by Susan Khalje on Couture Gathering.  Now, I have done a lot of gathering of fabric in my life, but this article is illuminating in all the tips it offers for an excellent result.  It could not have been more timely.  As it turns out, there is lot more to gathering than I ever considered.

Among the concepts covered in the article are:  gathering ratio, fabric grain, underlining, stitch length, preparation of the piece to be ruffled, forming the gathers and attaching the gathered fabric to the body of the item.  As with so much of couture sewing, each step builds on the one before it.

Three of the tips in the article, so helpful to me in completing this detail, were:  1) cutting the piece to be gathered much wider than I would have thought was necessary.  This gives one much more control than with a narrower strip.  2) using three lines of gathering rather than the customary two, and 3) once the gathers are formed, using an iron to set them in place, stopping just short of pressing the ruffle.

I decided on a 5/8″ wide ruffle. I cut my piece to be gathered 5″ wide, folded to 2.5″. I used three rows of gathering stitches.

For those of you with subscriptions to Threads Magazine, I highly recommend this Essential Techniques article.  It has forever changed the way I will do gathering/ruffles.  And although not all features in Threads are as useful, it is offerings like this which make me a fan of this sewing magazine.  (These are my opinions;  I have no relationship with Threads.)

Well, back to where I left off.  After picking up work on this dress again, I proceeded to go through all the steps necessary to complete it.  When I thought this dress was finally finished, I put it on to take pictures, and to my surprise, it did not fit correctly.  It pulls across the bust and forms drag lines on the V-neck.  Ugh.

The pulling across the bust and at the V-neck is clearly noticeable in this photo.

I can only guess I thought I had tried it on for fit after the zipper was basted, but I must not have done that.  Unknowingly, I proceeded with the finishing of the interior – the facing of the V-neck, the hem, and the insertion of a green crepe de chine lining.

Normally with couture sewing, neck facings are eliminated and the lining is brought right up to the neck edge and then understitched to secure it. However, with a V-neck, a facing is necessary. I then cut the lining about 3/4″ below the neck edge and fell-stitched it into place.

I believe removing the zipper and taking some of the center back seam allowance to add to the width of the back will correct this glaring mis-fit. This is not a dress which I will have occasion to wear  this summer – so do I dig in and make the corrections now, or do I wait?  I have quite a bit in my summer sewing queue, and perhaps a tried and true project like a blouse will put me in a better frame of mind.  Regardless, this “unfinished business” will one day be finished, hopefully successfully.

 

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Filed under couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, Linings, Ruffles, Sheath dresses, silk, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Dreaming in Color

Way back in January of this year – which seems like a lifetime ago now – making plans for my 2020 sewing was an exciting exercise.  I was eagerly looking forward to some upcoming events, including one in early May which was going to require at least two new dresses.  One of these dresses would be worn to a “fancy” evening.  In this casual world, what dressmaker does not relish the idea of making a dressy frock?  It was definitely going to be a fun trip and a varied multi-day event.

C         A        N        C        E        L        L        E       D

Needless to say, that trip and all its events were cancelled.  Other special occasions were also cancelled, along with many that were not so special.  I looked anew at my sewing plans.  I shifted some things around, eliminated others.  But I kept going back to the thought of that dressy dress.  The fabric was so cheerful, the colors so bright I could not abandon the idea of making it, even without an occasion for its wearing. So in early May I decided to go ahead with my original plans, albeit without a deadline.

I had purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City several years ago.  It reminded me of fabric which one might see in a design by Christian Dior, due to its “Impressionistic” appearance.

The subtitle for this informative book is The Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior.

When I unfolded the fabric to give it a press, I saw it was actually a Pierre Cardin design.  It struck me as somewhat unusual for Cardin, so of course I wanted to know if there had ever been any connection between the two couturiers or their fashion houses.  I went to my St. James Fashion Encyclopedia.  Well, yes, as a matter of fact there was:  “From his earliest work for the House of Dior up to the 1950s [my italics],Cardin displays an interest in the sculptural qualities of cut and construction that are still his trademarks in the 1990s.” (p. 87, The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan, c1997.)

It may be a bit of a stretch to suppose this fabric does indeed have a Dior connection, but still, I wonder.  Could Cardin – now at his advanced age of 97 – and his fashion house still be influenced by those early days with Dior?  Of Dior’s style direction in the early 1950s, Christian Dior himself wrote ”…Colors were inspired by the pictures of the Impressionists and evoked the fields of flowers dear to Renoir and Van Gogh.”  (p. 5, Dior Impressions, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2013.)  It is fascinating to ponder.

Now back to topic:  I started my dress.  I got the silk organza underlining marked and cut, I cut out the fashion fabric, I basted the two layers together, ready to start the actual construction.  Then I had a bad day.  It had nothing to do with my progress or the process, which was going along fine.  I just had this dismal feeling this was all for naught.  Why would I need such a lovely silk dress?  Where would I wear it?  Were all these hours I was spending in my sewing room just a waste of time? What purpose do all these pretty clothes serve without any social gatherings and occasions to which to wear them?  I think it is fair to say I was having a serious existential sewing crisis.  It was dispiriting and discouraging to say the least.  It made me question my otherwise passionate commitment to couture sewing.

That night I had a dream – in vivid color.  I saw myself in a fancy restaurant which was bustling with people – and I was wearing the very dress I had started – now completed and quite notable in its floral print of bright greens, and pinks and reds and purple.   I was seated at a table with three friends and we were lunching. (Not sure this dress is quite the thing I would wear to a midday lunch, but that’s dreams for you.)   The four of us were having the best time. We were laughing and totally engaged in our conversation and in our friendship. It was lovely and it was memorable.

And there was not a facemask in sight.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, Formal or fancy dresses, Love of sewing, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized

Give Me Liberty – Again

It was not planned this way.  Not much so far this year has been planned in the way it is going, truth be told. Which makes my most recent make both tinged with nostalgia and hopeful.  Mostly hopeful, I think.

For over thirty years I have had this length of Liberty Lawn surface time and again from its storage basket in my fabric closet.  I never had the right pattern for it, not when I purchased it on the island of Bermuda back in the 1980s, nor over the ensuing years – that is, until this year.  After making my wool challis shirtdress earlier in the year, I realized that same pattern was how I had subconsciously – for years – envisioned this fabric being used.

It has been satisfying to use this fabric, finally, as it deserves to be used.  Liberty is one of the world’s famous manufacturers of cotton.  Did you know it has its own entry in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion?   Actually two entries – one under Liberty and another under Liberty Print.  Here is the latter entry: “Trademark of Liberty, London, for wide range of printed fabrics.  The best known are small multicolored floral designs.” (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Third Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, c2003.) I wrote about Liberty cotton way back in 2012 when I was still pondering the use of this red and green floral print.  But voila!  Now I have used it!

Enough of the blah, blah, blah, here are the details:  I underlined the fabric with a very lightweight white cotton batiste, purchased from Farmhouse Fabrics.  Then I finished the raw edges of the seams with Hug Snug rayon seam binding.  I love this finish for garments which are underlined, but not lined.

Here is a detail of the cuff. I did not underline the sleeves.

As I mentioned in my post on the wool challis shirtdress, I added shoulder darts to the back of the bodice, and instead of using an eased-in sleeve, I converted the necessary fullness into a dart at the very top of the sleeve.  The button placement guide for this pattern indicates using 8 buttons.  I think next time I make this pattern (and I’m sure there will be a next time), I am going to increase that number to nine.  I think the distance between buttons on the bodice is just a bit too much, now that I have it finished.

Speaking of buttons, I found white pearl, metal shank buttons in my collection, and they seemed just perfect for this fabric, which has such a fresh appearance.  The only substitution I made was the button on the collar band, where I used a button which was 3/8” rather than 1/2”.  Fortunately I had a card of 4 buttons in this size which mimics the appearance of the other buttons.

A detail of one button on the bodice.

For the belt/sash, I got my inspiration from RTW which I detailed back in January.  My first thought was to use a red grosgrain ribbon sash.  But it just didn’t look right.  Fortuitously, in looking in Promenade Fabrics Etsy store for ribbons that might work, I came across a white Seersucker-look 2 ½” wide light weight ribbon which I thought looked wonderful.  I ordered three yards, and it was just as wonderful as it looked online.  However, in holding it up to my fabric, there was enough “show-through” to be problematic.

The ribbon was not opaque enough to cover sufficiently the print of the fashion fabric.

To remedy this, I used a fusible interfacing for the middle section of the sash which would be the initial circling of my waist.  (I rarely use fusible interfacings, although I keep some on hand for some of the sewing I do for my granddaughters, but this time it came in handy.)  This did the trick and also added just a bit of stiffness to that section of the sash.  Then the un-faced end sections of the sash are still soft and flowing.

This shows the sash with fusible interfacing applied to the mid-section of the length of the sash, but not to the top layer nor bow. It adds just enough coverage to minimize the appearance of the fashion fabric beneath it.

After I took photos, I got the idea to fold the interfaced part of the sash in half lengthwise to make it narrower and maybe a bit more flattering.  Here it is on my dress form:

One of our few warm, sunny days allowed me to get these following photos.


While I was making this dress, I could not help but remember the fun trip my husband and I took to Bermuda when I purchased this Liberty cotton.  I still remember trying to decide which piece of Liberty print to purchase (so many from which to choose), how many yards to get (it was still manufactured in 35” width at that point), and being delighted to get a label with it.  Those were the times when one dressed for dinner, had breakfast served in one’s room , and tea in the afternoon.  Yes, I could not help but be nostalgic.  But then I had so much fun bringing this fabric to life, I could not help but feel hopeful.  It was a lovely way to spend the hours in my sewing room. And how fitting to sew with fabric which perfectly expresses my sentiments right now.  Please, give me Liberty!

 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Liberty cotton, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, Vogue patterns

From Ready-to-Wear to No-Wear

Is a dress really complete if one has nowhere to wear it?  Well, yes, I think it is. Otherwise, I fear, I never would have finished this dress.

Its inspiration came from a ready-to-wear dress I spied on the Halsbrook website.

My original intention was to make a wool dress using this vintage royal blue-and-black houndstooth boucle I found several years ago.

After deciding it was just a bit too hefty to use for a dress, I switched gears and ordered this boucle from Linton Tweeds in England.

It is a cotton, silk and viscose blend with a lovely hand and a beautiful luster to it.  The colors look like the woven manifestation of Spring, and once it arrived, I was feeling very grateful that I was moving on to some warmer weather sewing rather than being stuck in a Winter project.  Below is the vintage pattern I had chosen to recreate the look of the ready-to-wear dress.

I used this pattern once before and knew it would work beautifully for this purpose.

All was not so merry, however, once I had my silk organza underlining cut out.  While positioning it onto the boucle fabric, I had a rude realization that the boucle, despite its very even grid, was an uneven plaid, in regard to color.  There was no way I was going to be able to balance the colors evenly across the width of this dress.  I had to make a decision how I wanted to treat the center front seam (which helps with the shaping of the dress).  I also had to determine which of the colors was dominant in the grid and then try to fixate on getting that evenly spaced.

After much debate, I decided to use the yellow as the dominant color, and I decided to “railroad track” the center seam, disrupting the even windowpane grid in that spot.

This picture shows how I tried to balance the yellow on the front of the dress, which I was able to do by narrowing the windowpane in the center seam.

I guess I have looked at this dress just a bit too much, as I am still second-guessing myself.  Sometimes it looks okay to me and other times, all I see are the unevenly spaced pink and green grids.

I decided to line the dress in pale-ish yellow crepe de chine, ordered from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

When it came time to finish the inside neck edge with understitiching, I was completely out of matching yellow thread.  Of course, with all the non-essential stores closed (since when I ask, is a sewing supply store considered non-essential?), I had to choose another color for that task.  I went to my supply of vintage buttonhole twist and found coral pink, a nice substitute.

I machine-sewed strips of silk organza interfacings onto the edges of the sleeves and hem, so that I could fray them confidently.   Then I finished the interiors by hand.  Somehow, most vexingly, I lost my pictures of this process.

I actually used the reverse side of the fabric for the double-wide fringe several inches up from the hemline.  It gave me another “railroad track” detail which I thought would help make sense of that center front seam.

This is the reverse side of the fabric.

And here is the double-sided fringe attached to the skirt. The “railroad track” motif is visible in the center of the fringe.

Can you tell I was consumed by this uneven color scheme?  I think it is still playing games with my head, but the good news is, once I did the final try-on of the dress, I thought it looked okay!

I’m not looking back any more on this one!

Well, from Ready-to-Wear to No-Wear to currently No-Where to Wear anything pretty, the only way to go is towards the time, hopefully soon, when we can all be thinking,”So many places to go, so many new dresses to Wear.”

 

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Filed under couture construction, Day dresses, Hem facings, Hems, Linings, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Sewing, Silence, and Solitude

It was exactly two years ago I first started this post.   It must have been a cold, snowy day – the sort when it is best to stay in and settle down with a sewing project – for me to be prompted to write about this subject.   Then I must have gotten distracted – or maybe I just ran out of things to say – but I never finished writing it.  Now seems like a good time to do so…

A dear friend of mine who spends her sewing hours making beautiful quilts once lamented to me, “It’s a shame sewing is such a solitary activity.”  She certainly has a point.  There is just no way around the fact that most of us spend hours and hours alone with our sewing; it is just the nature of the enterprise, being for the most part not a collaborative effort, but one in which each of us is the main decision-maker and craftswoman.

Sewing takes space, preferably a separate space, removed from the hustle and bustle of a normal household, where that inevitable sewing mess can be tolerated.  Being removed, despite its inherent joys, usually means being alone (except for pet visits – what is it about sewing that is so inviting to pets?)

Despite the hours and hours of time I spend by myself in my sewing room, I never really feel lonely.  Granted, I do listen to the radio or music most of the time, so that the silence is muffled by other voices or melodies.  But I am still definitely alone – with only my thoughts for dialogue.

That self-dialogue can be demanding – solving problems, perpetual decision-making, irritation with oneself when things go awry, and continued re-dedication towards a specific, often time-consuming goal.

I feel so fortunate to have this collection of French Milliner’s Heads, assembled over many years, to keep vigilance over me in my sewing room. What tales they could tell if only they could talk…

Then, of course, it is not just the active process of sewing to consider; hours of thought, effort, and planning often go into your project long before the first stitch is taken.  And did I mention daydreaming?  What dedicated dressmaker does not devote lots of her personal daydreaming thoughts to this outfit, including what shoes will work with it, what handbag to carry, what jewelry will complement it?

And now – here we are in March of 2020.   Strangely, this solitude that is self-imposed, this solitude that we, who choose to be alone and sew, are accustomed to – is suddenly almost universal and mandated.  It is a strange phenomenon.  And also now, in such a visceral way, I do feel lonely – but so grateful to have this exceptional interest and passion which helps me while away the hours.  I am so grateful for the expansive global sewing community which connects with one another across so many online platforms.  But most of all, I am so grateful to have this blog and you, my lovely readers – many of you have become my dear friends, confidantes, advisers, and sewing soulmates.  Many a silent hour in my life is devoted to thinking of you as I plan what to share and write here at Fifty Dresses, always hoping it will be interesting and worthwhile to you.  Thank you, thank you for adding so much focus, joy, fun and friendship to my solitary and silent sewing life, and especially now when the world is so topsy-turvy.

This little lady has the most endearing expression on her well-worn face. Her tiny secret smile seems to be one of gentle reassurance.

I fervently wish you all good health and perseverance at this difficult time as we stitch our way through our shared loneliness to better times, filled with optimism – and lots of places to wear our newly-made pretty frocks.

 

 

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Filed under Love of sewing, Uncategorized