Tag Archives: love of sewing

The Long and Mysterious Journey of Sandhurst 121

When the piece of linen I had purchased arrived in the mail, I was not sure what to expect. I had bought it with the hope that it was, indeed, a piece of Moygashel linen, but I had nothing to go on except an educated hunch. I knew it was an early piece of fabric, as its width was 35”, a common width for pre-1960’s dress-goods. I liked the design in the photo from which I made my decision, although it was not a colorway to which I normally gravitate. Upon opening the package, I found the only identifying mark on the fabric to be this tag:

Gottshalk's in Fresno, California obviously sold fine fabrics.

Gottschalk’s in Fresno, California obviously sold fine fabrics.

This short length of fabric had been on the remnant table, and, being too good of a bargain to pass by, some home dressmaker in California (USA) scooped it up with all good intentions of making something out of it someday. It must have lived in a dark drawer somewhere, carefully buffered from stains and yellowing. It didn’t even have much of a crease in it. And so, after many years in dormancy, it arrived at my home in Pennsylvania. I knew immediately that it was a Moygashel linen. I could tell by the hand of the fabric, the unique, slightly funky design, and by its amazing survival virtually wrinkle-free.

Sandhurst 121

As I mentioned in a former post, my only dilemma was the scant yardage, combined with the narrow width. So, I stuck it in my fabric closet, to think about another day. One thing nagged at me, however. I really, really wanted to know what year it was from.

Over the past three years or so, I have had some luck in finding copies of old and older (1950-1980) Vogue Pattern Book Magazines. They are fascinating, and treasure troves of mid-century fashion as it relates to home sewing. I have tried to get a good cross-section of magazines from those three decades. One issue, which I tried a couple of times to get – and did not (on eBay) – finally became available to me. I loved the suit on the cover, and those mid-fifties styles are just so chic, even though most Vogue patterns from that time period were unprinted, and therefore, very difficult to use. (By 1957, Vogue was starting to produce many of their patterns in printed and perforated format.)

This is the February/March 1955 issue.

This is the February/March 1955 issue.

Perhaps you can see where I am going with this? I was looking through this particular issue once again in May of this year, and low and behold, a full-page ad for Moygashel linen clearly pictured “my” linen as one of their “new crop”. The colorway was different, but Moygashel was known for producing their fabrics “all in many colors or color combinations.” Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t get so excited about such a discovery, but I was ecstatic! Now I knew, for certain, that the linen I had purchased made its debut in early 1955. (I would be turning 5 years old a little later that year!) I even had a name for it now – Sandhurst 121. I suddenly very much wanted to sew this linen, this Summer!

There is my linen in the upper left hand corner of the full-page advertisement.

There is my linen in the upper left hand corner of the full-page advertisement.

By now, many of you know that I determined to make a sheath dress out of this scant yardage of fabric, and in order to do so, I had to reconfigure my sheath dress pattern to include a back yoke. Here’s the fabric layout, which hopefully will show how sectioning the back enabled me to fit the pattern on the available fabric:

The fabric is shown 35" flat on my cutting table.  The muslin pattern piece for the front of the dress is on the right, and the two shortened back pieces are lined up smack against each other on the left.  The yoke pieces then fit above the dress front.  I did not need facings, as I lined the entire dress in a light weight linen/cotton blend, and finished the neck and armholes all by hand.

The fabric is shown 35″ flat on my cutting table. The muslin pattern piece for the front of the dress is on the right, and the two shortened back pieces are lined up smack against each other on the left. The yoke pieces then fit on the fabric  above the dress front. I did not need facings, as I lined the entire dress in a light weight linen/cotton blend, and finished the neck and armholes all by hand.  I had to face the hem as I did not have enough fabric to do a self hem!

Many of you also know that fortune shone her happy face again on this project when I found three orange vintage buttons, which I knew would help make a back yoke far more interesting. I relied on a Vogue pattern from 1957, which has a back yoke to help me with this reconfigure.

This card of buttons cost 2 cents originally!  They seem to mimic the small orange explosions on the dress fabric.

This card of buttons cost 2 cents originally! They seem to mimic the small orange explosions on the dress fabric.  They may actually be even earlier than the fabric.

The yoke on this dress uses 4 buttons.  I only had three, but their large size still makes the proportions work well.

The yoke on this dress uses 4 buttons. I only had three, but their large size still makes the proportions work well.

A close-up of the back of the dress.

A close-up of the back of the dress.  I made bound buttonholes – very 1950-ish!

And then, another classic 1950s’ design detail worked right into this dress: I would need to move the zipper to the side in order for the back yoke to look correct. Now I will be the first to tell you that a side zipper is not as convenient as a back zipper, but it is a small sacrifice when everything else is enhanced by this placement.   After these obeisances to ‘50s’ style, I slipped right into 2014 with a bright orange, newly made belt, a widened jewel neckline, slightly cut-in shoulders, and a back slit to enhance comfort. I like to choose the best from the ‘50s, but I really don’t want to look like the 1950s.

I sent new orange linen to Pat Mahoney of Pat's Custom Belts and Buttons  and this lovely belt came back to me in the mail.

I sent new orange linen to Pat Mahoney of Pat’s Custom Belts and Buttons and this lovely belt came back to me in the mail.

Cool and summery-looking, don't you think?

Cool and summery-looking, don’t you think?

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Sandhurst 121

Not every dress can have a story, nor should it. But this fabric, which began its life in Ireland, no doubt entered this country through New York City, ordered by a store in Fresno, California, purchased and squirreled away for decades by persons unknown – has now found a starring role in my wardrobe almost 60 years later. Sewing is just so much fun!

 

 

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, hand-sewn zippers, Linen, Love of sewing, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, side-placed zippers, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Thoughts on Fabric

One theme I often see in New Year’s sewing resolutions is an emphasis on sewing from one’s “stash” rather than purchasing more new fabric.  I don’t know too many serious sewers who don’t harbor at least a little guilt about all the fabric they have squirreled away (the word “stash” actually does imply something put away, usually in a secretive place!).  I used to feel a lot more guilt about all my fabric than I do now, and here’s why.  First, I don’t consider my fabric a “stash” of anything.  I look at it as a collection, to be used, admired, and taken care of like any valuable thing.  And second, I believe having a selection/collection of beautiful and inspirational fabric adds to the creative process of sewing.

As with the selection and collection of any worthwhile genre, it’s usually best to buy the best you can afford.   There used to be much more stated emphasis on “quality” in fabric than there is now.   It is so interesting to me that fabric manufacturers used to advertise their products by name, obviously with great pride in their newest line of designs.  Some of the manufacturers were almost household names, with tag lines such as  “A fabric you can lean on – that’s Klopman”.  Woolens were known by their manufacturer’s name, such as Forstman and Anglo, to mention just two.  The same was true for cottons, linens, silks, and synthetics. So many of the full-page advertisements in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s were from fabric manufacturers (whereas now there are virtually none).  Here is a quick look at some from each of those decades:

Moygashel Linen advertised heavily in VPB Magazine during that 30-year span of time.  Here is an ad from the inside front cover of the December/January 1953/54 issue:

Thoughts on Fabric - 54

“The first name in linen… The last word in quality”

Moygashel was also one of those fabric companies which supplied labels with purchases of their linens.  Here is a string of labels, which came with a recent purchase I made of vintage Moygashel:

Thoughts on Fabric - Moygashel w: tag

Many new synthetic fabrics were being developed in the post-war era, as evidenced by the many ads from manufacturers of these yard goods.  Here is an ad for acetate, made by the Celanese Corporation of America.  It appeared in the February/March 1957 issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Thoughts on Fabric - 57

In the same issue was this full page ad for Wamsutta cotton prints.  Now known primarily for sheets, Wamsutta once had the tagline “it has to be WAMSUTTA!” which many a home sewer knew as a sign of quality.

Thoughts on Fabric - 57-2

European fabrics also found their place in VPB.  Here is an ad from February/March 1964 for Boussac screen-printed cottons.  “A collection of rich designer fabrics used by the haute couture of the world.”

Thoughts on Fabric - 64

I want to show you something else in that same issue.  Although there was not a dedicated ad for American Silk, Vogue pattern #6105 was sewn in American Silk, as stated in its accompanying caption.

How I would love to find a piece of this silk tucked away in some drawer!

How I would love to find a piece of this silk tucked away in some drawer!

Twelve years later, in 1976, I attended a fashion show featuring the various dress silks made by this company for the home sewing market, another example of the effort put into marketing by specific fabric manufacturers.

By 1972, the look of VPB Magazine was becoming more sophisticated, but those full-page fabric ads were still abundant.  Here is an ad in the October/November issue devoted to Qiana, a nylon made by DuPont:

Thoughts on Fabric - 72

And – Crompton is velvet appeared a few pages further in the same issue:

Thoughts on Fabric - 72-2

In September/October 1976, Diane von Furstenberg was featured on the cover, and Ernest Einiger had a full-page color ad for “The Great American Wools”.

Thoughts on Fabric - 76-3

In the same issue, Britex Fabrics in San Francisco offered a buy-by-mail offer for Ultrasuede, the “it” fabric of the decade!

Thoughts on Fabric - 76-2

I can really only think of a few current fabric lines that still retain the distinction of being “known” by their names: Liberty, Pendleton, and Linton Tweeds come to mind.  (Linton Direct advertises in the current VPB magazine, but it is a small column ad, not a full-page “look at me” type of statement.) Then, of course, there are designer fabrics, but the manufacturers of these “name” goods are generally not listed.  For the most part, unless you ask, when you are buying yard goods, the names of the manufacturers are virtually unknown.  It is really kind of a shame, as there are so many exquisite fabrics of the highest quality still being woven in certain parts of the world.  These fabrics (and others, some vintage) make it difficult to say “no” to the opportunity to add to one’s fabric collection.  Here are two such fabrics I could not resist:

This is a linen and cotton blend I purchased from Mood Fabrics a while ago.  It is patiently waiting to be cut and sewn . . .

This is a loosely woven linen and cotton blend I purchased from Mood Fabrics a while ago. It is patiently waiting to be cut and sewn . . .

This is a vintage linen, newly acquired by me.  Although there is nothing printedon the selvedge, I believe it is a Moygashel linen from the 1950s.

This is a vintage linen, newly acquired by me. Although there is nothing printed on the selvedge, I believe it is a Moygashel linen from the 1950s.  I plan to make a sheath dress from this fabric sometime during the Summer of 2014.

William Blake notably said “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”  I must confess I never knew what that meant until I applied it, somewhat sheepishly,  to collecting fabrics.  It seems the more various and beautiful fabrics I can look at and choose from, the more I am able to determine the perfect pattern with which to pair them.  If I own the fabric already, so much the better!  Sometimes the fabric dictates the sort of garment I should make and sometimes I have a pattern which leads me to my (excessive?) fabric collection, where I can admire anew and oftentimes choose a long-before purchased length of the perfect silk, linen, cotton, or wool.  It is a back and forth process, one filled with visual and tactile components, demanding – and developing – sewing wisdom.  It is one of the reasons I love to sew.

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Filed under Liberty cotton, Linen, Love of sewing, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, woolens

Cookie Cutter Fashion

One thing that might get me out of the sewing room and into the kitchen is the thought of making “fashionable” cookies.  It must be the thought of producing numerous Little Black Dresses in one day, or of attaching sugary flounces onto the skirts of many ball gowns, or dreaming of more shoes than I could possibly wear, that makes this activity so enticing.  Add the ambience of Paris to that – and suddenly baking is almost as much fun as sewing.

What suddenly took my thoughts away from sewing  – and to flour, sugar, butter and rolling pins?  An image of the newest cookie cutters from Ann Clark recently arrived in my Inbox – and among the offerings is this lovely ballgown:

Cookie cutter fashion - gown

I can’t wait to add it to my small collection of other fashionable cutters, shown here:

Cookie cutters

The Little Black Dress is a must for any dressmaker’s wardrobe – and kitchen:

LBD cookie cutter

The tags which come with the cutters are as charming as the cutters themselves! (All images copyright by Ann Clark Ltd.)

The tags which come with the cutters are as charming as the cutters themselves! (All images copyright by Ann Clark Ltd.)

Think of the possibilities for the High Heel Shoe: polka dots, sparkles, stripes, plain and simple or fancy evening slipper:

High heel cookie cutter

Cookie cutter fashion - shoe

And what fashionable kitchen is complete with out the Eiffel Tower for stylish ambience?

Eiffel Tower cookie cutter

Cookie cutter fashion - Paris Recipes are included with each cutter, although I always use a tried and true shortbread concoction  that never fails me.  The decorating is the fun part – probably because it is creative, like sewing.  (I am hoping that a “Kelly” handbag cookie cutter might be the next addition to Ann Clark’s selection!)

Now, to be a little more serious about fashion sewing . . .  I’ve added another “page” to my blog – Favorite Products and Resources  (see up top).  This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ll add to it as I discover more treasures to share.

But – back to baking.  Should anyone be hosting a “Fashionable Feast,” I’ll bring dessert.  Cookies, of course!

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Filed under Little Black Dress, Uncategorized

Love, Luck and What I Sewed

Many years ago I ran across this little book:

This book was published in 1995 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.  All illustrations are copyright 1995 by Ilene Beckerman.

This book was published in 1995 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All illustrations are copyright 1995 by Ilene Beckerman.

I don’t remember how I found it or where I saw it, but I bought a copy for my mother-in-law, which she loved.  I finally gave in a few years later and bought one for myself.  It’s a very straightforward kind of book, with un-fancy writing and unsophisticated, but charming, drawings by the author.  Within the book’s simple demeanor, however, is an expressive, and touching tribute to the power of what we wear and how we remember – and measure – our lives.

The contents are divided according to decades, starting with the 1940s and continuing into the first part of the 1990s.  The author was born in 1935, so her recollection of clothing and fashion begins when she is a child.  She had the great fortune, as did so many from that era, of having a mother who sewed – beautifully and extensively – for her and her sister.  Here are a few examples:

Love, luck, etc - 1

About this dress which she wore to her cousin’s wedding, Beckerman wrote: “ My mother made this pink, green, and black iridescent-metallic plaid taffeta gown.  We bought the material at Macy’s at Herald Square [New York City].  They had a whole floor for selling patterns and fabrics.”

One of the author’s sister’s dress is featured here:

Love, luck, etc - 2 “My mother made this sexy red dress for my sister.  It had a . . . peplum and was accented with hand-sewn gold sequins.”  This prompted the memory of her mother sewing sequins on printed silk scarfs, which served as Christmas gifts for the author’s teachers.

Here is another dress made by the author’s mother – this one for her sister to wear to their cousin’s wedding.

Love, luck, etc - 3 By the 1950s, the author’s mother had died, and with her death came the end of the joy of wearing her sewn creations.  However the author and one of her best friends ventured into some sewing themselves with the making of these cotton circle skirts:

Love, luck, etc - 4 “It took forever to hem them” – says Beckerman, a statement with which any home dressmaker can identify!

This stylish coat was purchased by Ilene, and when shown to another best friend’s mother, Miriam Landey, who happened to be a dress designer/dressmaker, Mrs.Landey told her daughter to go and buy one as well.  Such a compliment!

Love, luck, etc - 5 Mrs. Landey, according to Beckerman, “would go to Europe in the summer to buy fine and fancy fabrics…”

The 1960s are marked by only two fashions, one of which is a maternity dress.

Love, luck, etc - 6 Six pregnancies during the decade surely are the reason for the dearth of fashion memories from that period of time.  Or perhaps the death of one of those children made the memories too painful.

The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are lumped together, and are set off most dramatically by this Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress from the ‘70s.  While wearing this dress, the author came to the decision to end her marriage.  How could one not remember what she wore at such a time in her life?

Love, luck, etc - 7 As the story ends, grown children marry and have children of their own.  But at night, says Beckerman, she reflects on her mother and the dresses she made.  “I like to think I got my fashion sense from my mother and from Dora’s mother [Mrs. Landey].”  Thus is a life remembered by what she wore, and so many of those memories have their foundation in home-sewing.

It had been a while since I had looked at this little book, but I had occasion to dig it off the shelf recently, right after I finished my Chanel-inspired red jacket.  I went to it after a difficult life event, which I know I will now always associate with that jacket.

I was happily expecting to finish all the final hand-work on my jacket within a day or two (okay, maybe three!), when, as the saying goes, “life is what happens when you are making other plans”.  After a fairly routine diagnostic medical test, my husband and I unexpectedly found out he had to have open-heart surgery for a triple coronary by-pass.  I was still in shock (my fit, active, healthy husband?), when the surgery was quickly scheduled for the following morning at 6:30 AM.

Suddenly I was relieved that I still had much to complete on my jacket.  Facing what I knew would be some of the longest hours of my life – the 5 to 6 hour operation – I packed up my unfinished jacket, thread, pins, etc. in the very still and long, lonely hours of the night preceding the surgery.  And so – the next morning, sitting in the hospital, I sewed and sewed and sewed as the hours slipped by, the time punctuated by phone calls and, blessedly, by occasional good reports from the Operating Room.  My needle and thread kept me calm – I equated every stitch with repairing my husband’s heart.  And so it was  – beautifully, successfully repaired . . .

The following days took on a life of their own, as I shuttled back and forth to the hospital, spending hours every day by my husband’s bedside.  And then one day, on a whim, I brought in the as-yet-incomplete pockets for my jacket.  I sat and sewed the trim on to the top edge of each one (much to the delight of my husband who did some bragging about my sewing skills), arousing much curiosity among the doctors, nurses, staff, and visitors.

Here are the four pockets, in various stages of completion.  I decided to add silk organza interfacing to them (suggested by Susan Khalje, but optional).

Here are the four pockets, in various stages of completion. I decided to add silk organza interfacing to them (suggested by Susan Khalje, but optional).

It seems that construction of parts of a Chanel-inspired jacket was a first for the Intensive Care Unit and then the Progressive Care Unit!  By the time my husband came home a week after the surgery, he had made tremendous progress.  I had made progress on my jacket, too, but most importantly, sewing on it had given me a sense of normalcy during a time of great uncertainty.

So many people have told us how lucky we are, and it is difficult to express how very correct they are.  Instead of “loss”, we have, indeed, been abundantly blessed with love and luck.

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Filed under Book reviews, Chanel-type jackets, Uncategorized

Paris in Baltimore – Part 1

It might be stretching a point to compare our Classic French Jacket Class, taken with Susan Khalje at her workspace just outside Baltimore, Maryland (USA), to spending time in Paris, France.  However, I could not help but feel that the twelve of us in the class were a small part of a continuum of dressmakers dedicated to haute couture, even if we were all sewing for ourselves!  Certainly the outstanding instruction we received and the techniques we learned are consistent with the standards associated with such fine custom sewing  – and with timeless, classic fashion.

A classic French jacket (or Chanel-inspired jacket) has certain characteristics and sewing techniques which are specific to it. Among these are:

1) These jackets are usually cardigan style, with the front edges abutting rather than over-lapping.

2) The fabrics of choice for these jackets are boucles or sometimes loosely woven tweeds.

3) The lining is machine quilted to the fashion fabric, but does not show because of the nature of the fabrics which are traditionally used.

4) The interior structure and integrity of the garment depends on this quilting and on extra-generous seam allowances (common in haute couture).  The only interior interfacing is a small section at the shoulder, front and back, extending down just to the lower armscye.

5) Shaping of the garment is accomplished by vertical princess seams which form the fullness for the bust line.  Darts are rarely used, but sometimes necessary (as several of my classmates discovered).

Here is Vogue 7975, which is the "go to" pattern for one of these jackets.  (However, as Susan says, the pattern is just a starting point.)  The vertical princess seams can be seen on these drawings.

Here is Vogue 7975, which is the “go to” pattern for one of these jackets. (However, as Susan says, the pattern is just a starting point.) The vertical princess seams can be seen on these drawings.

6) Hand sewing is used extensively in the construction and finish work on these jackets.

Our instruction began the day after our whirlwind trip to NYC to buy our boucle, charmeuse lining, trim and buttons.  Looking back on the week, it seems to me that the process can be divided into specific sections:  (1) preparing and fitting the muslin, and cutting out the fashion fabric and lining, (2) quilting and assembling the body of the jacket, (3) fitting, cutting out, and sewing the sleeves, and (4) all that finish work.  Although none of the techniques is difficult, it is all very time-consuming, and it can not be rushed.

To start the process, we all came to class with pre-prepared thread-traced muslins.  (I believe we were all using the standard Vogue 7975 pattern, details of which are shown above.)  The fitting process began with the body of the jacket, minus the sleeves.  (I quickly lost count of how many jokes were made during the week about our “vests”.  But on about Friday, the thought of making vests instead of jackets was beginning to appeal!)  Susan meticulously and expertly fitted each of our muslins, which was fascinating to watch.  When it came to deciding preferred hem lengths, we usually had a group consensus – collective thought for something like this is incredibly helpful!

Susan making adjustments in Diane's muslin.

Susan making adjustments in classmate  Diane’s muslin.

After marking and adding all the fitting changes onto our muslins, part of the uniqueness of the construction of these jackets became apparent.  Why?  Susan instructed us to cut out our muslins on the sewing line – and these pieces became our new pattern.  The extra-generous seam allowances would be added as the pieces were cut out.

Here are some of my trimmed muslin pieces.

Here are some of my trimmed muslin pieces.

Some of my muslin pattern pieces laid out on my boucle.  Notice the wide spaces between the pieces.  This allowed for very generous seam allowances.

Some of my muslin pattern pieces laid out on my boucle. Notice the wide spaces between the pieces. This allowed for very generous seam allowances.

A close-up of the same.

A close-up of the same.

Then we used our cut fashion fabric pieces as the guidelines by which to cut out the charmeuse lining fabric.  With these two fabrics held carefully together with pins, we were ready to machine quilt each separate piece, another technique (with lots of do’s and don’ts to it) which was new to most of us.

Getting ready to cut my lining.

Getting ready to cut my lining.

Sewing the pieces of the body of the jacket together had its own set of rules, especially as the loose edges of the quilted linings had to be avoided in that stitching frenzy!  Those loose edges were finally tidied up and joined together by hand, using  a fell stitch, which helps to make a lovely and soft interior.

Here is a side seam in my jacket, partially closed using the fell stitch.  Machine quilting can be seen on either side of this  seam.

Here is a side seam in my jacket, partially closed using the fell stitch. Machine quilting can be seen on either side of this seam.

By this time, it was late Thursday afternoon, and I was wondering how I would ever get sleeves put in my jacket by Sunday…  This was s-l-o-w sewing, but fascinating and fun and clever and precise.  I was loving every minute of it  (well, almost every minute.)

And those sleeves?  Part 2 will cover those little lovelies.  To be continued . . .

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Uncategorized, Vogue patterns

Sewing SMART for 2013

The word “smart” has lots of different meanings.  My desktop Webster’s lists 21 different connotations of this short, very effective word.  I particularly like two of the ways this word was used when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s:  those  would be meanings #5: “neat or trim in appearance, as a person or garment”, and #6:  “socially elegant; sophisticated or fashionable: the smart crowd”.  With these definitions in mind, I looked for and quickly found some very pertinent examples of these meanings in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from 1953 and 1954:

The February/March issue of Vogue pattern Book Magazine 1954 gives the reader ideas for a "smart look all through the day, now and through spring."

The February/March issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine 1954 gives the reader ideas for a “smart look all through the day, now and through spring.”

The VPB magazine from October/November 1953 featured "10 smart, new high fashion  Vogue Couturier Designs."

The VPB magazine from October/November 1953 featured “10 smart, new high fashion Vogue Couturier Designs.”

I love this caption from the same issue:  fashions with " a minimum number of pieces to sew and fit ... maximum smartness."

I love this caption from the same issue: fashions with ” a minimum number of pieces to sew and fit … maximum smartness.”

Well, in thinking about some of my sewing goals and aspirations for 2013, I kept coming back to this word – SMART – and decided it would be very useful to use as a  guideline, with each letter of the word reminding me of some of what I hope to accomplish.   SO …

is for SKILLS.  This year I am concentrating on learning new ones, practicing and perfecting ones that I have and taking advantage of at least two classes to help me develop my skills as a dressmaker.  So far, I am enrolled in Craftsy’s “Sewing with Silks: The Liberty Blouse” on-line course (not started yet), and I will be spending a week in Baltimore with Susan Khalje for The Classic French Jacket Class.  Perhaps other classes will wiggle their way into the year as well!

M is for MARKING AND MEASURING my progress and accomplishments, my mistakes (hopefully not too many!), and my plans and intentions.  This is, of course, where “Fifty Dresses” comes in.  Writing this blog helps me focus more on the process than I would normally – and that’s both instructive and rewarding.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who follow along, make comments, give me encouragement, and share your sewing insights and ideas through your own blogs or other online presence. Thinking, reading and writing about sewing is almost as much fun as sewing itself.

A is for ART.  Sewing is so much more than a “hobby” or a way to build a wardrobe (albeit slowly!).  It really is an art form, and the more I sew, the more I realize and appreciate this fact.  Some of my creations will no doubt be like simple sketches – quick and easy to make and even easier to throw on for a trip to the grocery store –  while one or two others perhaps will rise closer to “masterpiece” level (I can dream) – made with finest fabrics and specialized techniques, intended for special occasions.  Good art should be taken seriously and seriously enjoyed, don’t you think?

R is for REALISTIC, as in having realistic goals of what I can and cannot accomplish in a set amount of time.   This is the part I have trouble with.   I always think I can sew faster than I can.  Although I am sure I will always plan more than I can possibly accomplish, I am going to try to set more realistic goals (keeping a separate, working list of intended projects to help me focus) in the context of what I know will be a busy year in other aspects of my life.

T is for TIMELESS.  This may be my favorite part of the acronym.  Timeless is the look that I am always striving for in the clothing I make.  Using vintage patterns for the most part allows me to choose styles that really have stood the test of time – and which often have a restrained classicism to them that suits my sensibility.

Sketches in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1956 show styles which look very au courant, from the clothing to the hair to the shoes and accessories.  I'd like to be that lady in red!

Sketches in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1956 show styles which look very au courant, from the clothing to the hair to the shoes and accessories. I’d like to be that lady in red!

How stylish are these looks from the same magazine?

How stylish are these looks from the same magazine?

And a box-jacket suit is always in vogue.

And a box-jacket suit is always in vogue.

It’s fun to see current color and style trends, which harken back to 40, 50, or 60 years ago.  Then to make them, using vintage patterns, with newfound construction knowledge, in some of the beautiful fabrics available today, is the best of many worlds. Not only SMART, but lucky, too, in 2013!

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Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

Missing in Action – or – Doesn’t everyone shop for fabric on vacation?

You may have noticed that I’ve not posted anything for almost two weeks.  Mr. Fifty Dresses and I have been away on the West Coast, enjoying some time with our grown son, and seeing some of the majestic scenery in the states of California and Oregon.  Of course, one of the best places to enjoy colorful scenery is always in Britex Fabrics on Geary Street in San Francisco.  My husband and son know by now that no trip to California is complete without fabric shopping!

I am all smiles with my newly-made purchase! I am wearing “my very styish pants” and was delighted to get complimented on them in the store.

You may recall that I have been looking for a skirt-weight fabric to coordinate with this wool:

This fabric will be a jacket, and I want to make a pink skirt to make it into a “dressy suit”.

That pink is a tricky color, I’ve discovered.  I’ve ordered many swatches, thinking one of them will be “it” and it never was.  So I tucked that pink and black houndstooth- checked wool sample into my carry-on bag so that I could enlist the experts at Britex to assist me.  The bolted wools and silks and designer fabrics are on the first floor, and it did not take long for me to accept Douglas’ kind offer of help.  We looked first at the wools, one beautiful bolt after another, but none that totally complimented the pink.  Next we moved to the silks – and there we struck gold – or perhaps I should say pink gold.  As soon as Douglas pulled out this silk shantung, we knew the color was right.

Just what I was looking for!

We carefully checked the color inside and then took it outside on the steps to check it in sunlight.  Perfect, both places.  Being shantung, it has the correct heft to accompany the wool, but it is light enough to be used for attached trim if I choose to add it around the collar, down the front, and at the bottom of the sleeves.

I am probably going to use this 1970s’ pattern for this outfit.

Next we selected a lining fabric, enough for a narrow skirt and the jacket.   Those of you who know Britex, know that the store is on 4 levels, so to accommodate the need to move between floors, I was provided this card with swatches of my newly selected fabrics attached.

The lining is the lighter-colored fabric.

Off I went to the third floor to find buttons.  Oh, the choices!    That little bit of sparkle in the wool – and the sheen in the silk shantung – seem custom made for buttons with a bit of sparkle, too.  I kind of felt like Goldilocks looking at the buttons which the savvy “button lady” pulled out for me.  Some were too frou-frou for me, some were too round (and fought with the angles in the weave), some were too sparkly…  but these were perfect!

When I actually sew these buttons onto the jacket, I promise I’ll have them on straight!

With my tasks accomplished, I decided to check out the remnants on the fourth floor, and took a quick look at the cottons on the second floor, but then I headed back down to the first floor to look at the woolens again.  Britex has a very large selection of wools suitable for “Chanel-type” jackets, including some actual Chanel fabrics.  I am trying to buy only what I can’t live without (which isn’t as limiting as it should be, unfortunately), so I carefully considered all the selections in front of me.  You can probably guess by now that I did indeed find one I deemed necessary for continued life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I can just imagine this wool in a jacket trimmed in an orangey-red something – all yet to be determined, which is, of course, part of the creative intrigue of sewing.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

So – what about the rest of the trip?  Lots of driving those great distances out West, lots of laughs, fun, and brews with husband and son, wonderful days at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, hiking without a fabric store in sight.  When one is in such a place as Crater Lake, the great expanse and passage of time is ever in one’s presence.  However, I couldn’t help but think about another passage of time, this one personal: the last time I was at Crater Lake was in 1962 when I was twelve years old.  It just so happens that Britex Fabrics celebrated their tenth anniversary that very same year.  Happy 60th Birthday, Britex!

One more smile before closing hour!

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

Flights of Fashion Fancy

Having returned just a couple of days ago from a short Summer trip, I still seem to have airplanes and airports on my mind.  Although it wasn’t practical to take any sewing (hand-work, that is) along with me, that doesn’t mean I have not been thinking sewing, fabrics, patterns and fashion.  In fact, while I am still physically (and mentally) working away on my “couture dress”, another part of my brain is thinking about Fall and Winter, getting my projects listed in some sort of order.  I’ve started envisioning them all lined up on the “runway” – kind of like planes all queued up and waiting for take-off.  Some big, some small, some already late, others sneaking in before their time!  Which ones will have to return to the gate?  Which ones will be smooth flying – and which ones will hit that proverbial turbulence?

After finishing my current Summer projects, I am thinking the first one to “take off” will be an addition to a suit I made last winter.  I have enough fabric left of this lovely checked wool to make an overblouse:

Paired with the suit skirt, an overblouse in this fabric will make a variation on the “little black dress” – just in two pieces instead of one.

I recently found this pattern, view D, which I intend to use for this blouse.  I am so fond of the “Dior darts” which give a lovely silhouette to a bodice.

I’ll definitely make a muslin of this pattern to check the fit.

After that, I know I’ll be working on a dressy suit, which I need for a wedding and another event mid-Fall.  I found this wool at B and J Fabrics which I’m about to order   to use for the jacket.  I am still on the hunt for a slightly orchid-colored pink in light- weight wool or heavier silk to coordinate with it for the skirt.

This fabric, a wool/lurex blend, has a bit of sparkle to it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love pink – and here is another one:

I have a lot of yardage of this fabric, so I have flexibility in choosing a pattern.

I’ve had this fabric for several years.  It is a wool/cotton blend with the perfect weight for a Fall dress.  However, I can’t decide on what style I should make it in:  shirtdress, sheath, tailored or not?  If I can’t decide, then it may just have to go to the back of the line.

This is a recent purchase from Britex Fabrics:

This is actually alpaca – and very, very soft!

I bought this fabric to be made up in this dress, view A, with the below-elbow length sleeves:

The length of this dress as shown on the envelope is very 1950’s. I’ll be making it in knee-length.

The back of the envelope shows the versatility of the belt, which can be included – or not.  Think of the endless possibilities with changing the belt on this dress, especially with a basic black and white herringbone weave:  it would look great with red, pink, orange, black, green, or even bright blue.  This pattern will give me more practice on the couture techniques I’ve been learning, too.

I love that the drawings include the handbags!

Finally, here is another fabric from Britex:

Another subtle windowpane, this one in navy with deep red and ivory intersecting lines.

This is a pure cashmere wool which I purchased last year in the store.  There is no way to describe how soft and luscious this fabric is.  And here is the pattern I know I am going to use for it:

This pattern is circa 1970.

Well, if all I had to do between now and December is sew clothes, I might get most of this done.  However, interspersed amongst this fashion sewing will be  several “gift” sewing projects, which are going to sneak their little wings into line, along with holidays!  No matter – among other things, sewing encourages flexibility and, like flying, can take us to places of great adventure and quiet reflection.  No wonder I – and so many, many of you –  love to sew!

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Filed under Dior darts, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

A Stitch in Time

I’ve been doing a lot of hand stitching as I work my way through “The Couture Dress” online class on Craftsy.  It’s mostly been basting (and more basting and even more basting) so far, but I’m now in the “catch-stitch” phase (controlling the raw edges), and that’s always been one of my favorite stitches to do.  All this hand stitching got me thinking about how I learned to do certain stitches – and I think I just taught myself by following directions on pattern instructions and from diagrams in sewing books and magazines.  There were lots of articles on perfecting one’s hand stitches when I was growing up, such as this representative page from Vogue Sewing Book, c1958, The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.:

Sewing in 1958: including tips and new ideas even for the experts!

This is just one page of many detailing stitches and seam finishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five years later, another article in Vogue Sewing Book, c1963, The Butterick Company, Inc., featured the same basic stitches.

The introduction to this page gives this advice: “If it’s the custom-look you’re after, hand-stitch all details including zippers. But keep your stitches fairly loose or you’ll end up with that unhappy, puckered home-made look.”

It seems there can never be too much of a good thing, as evidenced by a February/March 2008 article in Threads magazine, by Kenneth D. King, entitled “Master the Hand Stitch: Learn the fine, invisible stitches that are the hallmarks of couture sewing.” This article is especially informative, with photographs and expert tips, all of which serve the modern amateur dressmaker so well.

So – how did our grandmothers and great-grandmothers learn the stitches and sewing techniques that are so readily available to us?  Many of them made their own sewing/stitching “example” books in “finishing school”.  My husband’s grandmother was one such young woman.  I am so fortunate that her “Sewing” book, dated November 1, 1907, is in my possession now.  She would have been fourteen years old in late 1907.

There is a label inside the book which tells me that she purchased this book of blank pages at L. B. Herr, Bookseller, Lancaster, PA.

Ethel filled her book with 35 pages of examples of stitches, types of seams, and sewing techniques. Every example was made by her, with a brief description in her handwriting.   Here are a few pages from her remarkable book (click on the photos to see them up close).

Some of the stitches represented are:

Basting stitches – three kinds!

Overcasting.

Running and a back stitch – notice that she spells it “stich”.

All buttonholes were made by hand in 1907 – and Ethel had to learn how to make them as well.  She finally spelled “stitch” correctly – although it looks like it was struggle!

She has examples of many types of seams:

Here is a gathered seam.

And numerous sewing techniques:

Here is Ethel’s example of Honey-combing or smocking.

She even learned how to make a gusset!

Although Ethel died before I had the opportunity to meet her, I understand that she was not a particularly great fan of sewing, but nevertheless, she thought enough of her sewing book to save it.  In learning her “stiches”, she was quite clearly carrying on a tradition that generations before her had also done.   Consider this quote from Catherine  E. Beecher’s A Treatise on Domestic Economy, 1843:  “Every young girl should be taught to do the following kinds of stitch, with propriety [my emphasis]. Overstitch, hemming, running, felling, stitching, back-stitch and run, button-stitch, chain-stitch, whipping, darning, gathering and cross-stitch.”

Although I know not every young girl now would be interested in learning such things – I suspect there are lots who would proudly make their own “sewing” book if given the opportunity.  (Maybe without the darning stitch – does anybody darn anymore?)

One interesting omission in Ethel’s book:  that catch stitch I like to do so much.

Here is one of my seams in my “couture dress” with the seams properly catch-stitched!

No matter what stitch you are doing – may it  look happy, unpuckered and definitely not home-made!

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Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, underlinings

Parlez vous français?

Unfortunately I do not – yet.

It is undeniable that French is the universal language of fine sewing.  I have found myself often going to my copy of The Vogue Sewing Book (copyright 1970 by Vogue Patterns, New York, New York) to check translations and pronunciations of certain French fashion terms in the list at the back of the book.

A few weeks ago I picked up a paperbound copy of this Vogue Sewing Book from 1963:

Notice the price on this paperback book: $1.00!

I was intrigued by the teasers on the front, such as “High Fashion Sewing with Professional Skill”, “Profiles of Europe’s Great Designers” and especially by “How to Become America’s Best-Dressed Woman.” (I figured that was one tutorial I did not want to miss!)  What I didn’t know was that the final page of this book is a “Glossary of French Fashion and Sewing Terms.”

One page – full of information…

I just assumed that this list would be the same as the one in the hardbound book I already owned.  Not so!  While there is certainly some crossover of terms (such as the common ones:  au courant, boutique, couturier and couturiere, chic, haute couture, vendeuse, volant, etc.), other terms appear on only one list, such as amincir (1963 book, meaning “to make thin, look slender”), gens du monde (1963 book, meaning “people of fashionable society”), and chemise (1970 book, meaning “blouse or style with manshirt details”).  At least one term is two variations on the same meaning – and very much in our vocabulary today:  confectionne (1963 book, meaning “ready-to-wear”) and prêt a porter (1970 book, meaning “ready to wear”, but with this addition: “more current than ‘confection’”).

I like to think that I began my “French lessons” last summer, when I purchased this silk neck scarf from a vendor at The Vintage Fashion and Textile Show in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  (I blogged about this fun day with my daughter back in January):

French for beginners!

Of course, this scarf has its own share of fashion and sewing terms featured on it:

It’s quite appropriate that the needle and the hand are side by side.

A stylish green dress.

A diamond and a fan to complete your outfit!

I guess I must be attracted to alphabet-related textiles –  like this one, which I purchased online from Britex last Fall:

A lustrous crepe de chine.

The tell-tale selvedge edge.

A design by the house (“chez” in French!) of Marcel Guillemin, Paris, it very subtly spells out that name in the letters.  I have two yards of this beautiful fabric, and I keep seeing it as the lining in a Chanel-type jacket…

It is plans like this and some of those beautiful French fashion/sewing terms that help to inspire me to become a better dressmaker.  Something else, too, is inspiring me to dare to think of myself as being my own “couturiere”: my enrollment and active participation in The Couture Dress, on online Craftsy course taught by Susan Khalje.   I am currently working on my muslin (also known as “toile”) for my version of the class-suggested “fourreau” (fitted or semi-fitted, sheath-like dress).   I may not be thinking in French yet, but I am definitely dreaming in it!

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Filed under Scarves, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s