Tag Archives: Mid-Century style

Coming and Going: a Split Personality Dress

Dresses – and garments in general – with back interest have always intrigued me. The addition of a simple back belt can add so much to a coat design, for example, and a yoke in the back of a dress can be the perfect place to add complimentary buttons which might not have a place on the front of the dress. Perhaps it was this reason why I was drawn to this Advance pattern, which I found in an Etsy store.

Thanks to one of my readers, I know that this pattern dates to 1964.

Thanks to one of my readers, I know that this pattern dates to 1960.

I hesitated for quite a while before buying it, as I just wasn’t so sure the gathered back skirt on this dress would look as good on me as it looked on the pattern envelope. I also did not want a “dated” or “too cutesy” look. But finally I gave in and made the purchase. The buttoned back and the dropped back waist were two details which really appealed to me, as well as the sleek sheath look of the front of the dress. I also knew that the right fabric could work wonders, and I bought the pattern with this gray and blue polka dotted wool/silk blend in mind.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City.

Then, there is always that steadfast fall-back, as well – making a muslin (toile) and if it really doesn’t work, then just scrapping it! What could I lose besides a few yards of cheap muslin and a few hours of time?

I had never used an Advance vintage pattern before, so I was interested to see how one would make up. I was impressed! The pattern pieces went together very precisely, and, in particular, the flounce, or gathering, at the back of the skirt was not overdone. The only initial change I made to the pattern before cutting out my muslin was to lower the bust dart, which I always have to do. Once I made the muslin, it was a little snug across the front, so I added ¼” to either side seam. As it turned out, I needed the extra width just across the midriff area, and ended up taking out quite a bit of extra width from the waist down.

Some pictures of my muslin.

Some pictures of my muslin.

Coming and Going

While I was working on the muslin, I was in a quandary over the buttons. I had to have them before I could start work on the fashion fabric because of those pesky, but beautiful, bound buttonholes, which are one of the first things to go in. Nothing I had on hand was right and after a very brief dalliance with the thought of blue buttons (what was I thinking, even briefly??), I knew gray mother-of-pearl buttons were what was needed. As luck would have it I found a set of six 5/8” buttons in an Etsy shop, which were described as blue-gray mother-of-pearl. As soon as they arrived in my mailbox, I knew they were perfect.

Coming and going

By this time I had transposed the muslin onto white silk organza, made my working pattern, basted the fashion fabric and the organza together, and ordered marine blue crepe de chine from EmmaOneSock for the lining.

For those of you who asked, here is a picture of the silk organza being used as the pattern piece. when cut out, the two are basted together by hand along the seam lines, dart markings, and hem lines.

For those of you who asked, here is a picture of the silk organza being used as the pattern. When cut out, the two are basted together by hand along the seam lines, dart markings, and hem lines and then handled as one piece.

I also used silk organza patches for the facings for the bound buttonholes.

I also used silk organza patches for the facings for the bound buttonholes.

Here the facings are turned towards the inside. Proper measuring is essential for this technique to be successful.

Here the facings are turned towards the inside. Proper measuring is essential for this technique to be successful.

The back of the dress during construction.

The back of the dress during construction.

Although the pattern called for lining only the skirt back, I wanted to fully line the entire dress. The pattern for the back skirt lining is shown here in the thumbnail diagram:

coming-and-going-thumbnail-sketch

It was cut narrower than the skirt back, with darts for shaping rather than gathering. I had to make a decision about how to complete the lining – should I attach it to the waist seam at the back and somehow join the front to the back at the side seams, or should I make the lining as a completely free-falling piece? I opted for the latter, with the sleeves, of course, being inserted separately. It worked beautifully. Then, for some extra detail, I added a contrasting flat piping to the edge where the lining meets the facing.

I had this coral colored silk bias tape which I chose to use for this extra detail.

I had this coral colored silk bias tape which I chose to use for this extra detail.

Coming and going

Often facings are eliminated in couture sewing, but in this case, with the buttoned placket in the back, I decided to keep the facings so the buttonholes and buttons would have a firmer foundation.

This dress turned out to be all that I wanted – a classic slim sheath from the front, with surprise back detail which (I think?) is flattering, adding extreme comfort to its wearing, and which sets it apart from the average design.

Coming and going

Coming and Going

Coming and going

 

Coming and going

Coming and going

Coming and going

Coming and Going

Coming and going

coming and going

Coming and going, it feels like a good way to start off the new sewing year .

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Filed under Advance vintage patterns, bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, Day dresses, Linings, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

Because We Can’t Spend Every Waking Hour Sewing . . .

Or can we? If you are like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about sewing even when you aren’t actively engaged in the process. And how fortunate, for those of us who also enjoy a good read, to find a novel which speaks the language of couture fashion sewing.

The Pink Suit, by Nicole Mary Kelby, was published in April of 2014, so it is not a particularly new book – it took me a while to decide to read it. I knew it was about the iconic “Chanel” suit which Jackie Kennedy wore the day her husband was assassinated in November of 1963. Although I am truly a fan of historical fiction, for some reason I had my doubts about the supposed story line of this book. Could an author really convey the emotional and professional commitment that a “dressmaker to the Famous” would have to have? Well, yes. I finally succumbed to reading this novel and I am so happy I did. This is a wonderful story, on three important levels – as a narrative story, as a lesson in fashion history from a very specific period of the 1960s, and as an appreciation of couture sewing.

The Pink Suit - book cover

The heroine of the story is Kate, an Irish immigrant dressmaker who works for the prestigious Chez Ninon boutique in New York City. Extremely skilled at couture sewing, Kate is always responsible for the creation of the fashions which First Lady Jackie Kennedy orders. Although Mrs. Kennedy’s tastes gravitate towards French style, she is savvy enough to realize that her clothes must be American made. So it is that Chez Ninon and Kate endeavor to provide her with the finest French styles, American made. As talented a dressmaker that Kate is, she balances between two worlds – that of the rich, famous, and beautifully dressed – and that of the “working class.” We do not find out until close to the end of the novel that Kate is exactly the same age as Mrs. Kennedy, which, for me, emphasized this dichotomy. (There is a parallel love story, in which Kate finally marries Patrick, who has a butcher shop business in Manhattan.) However, even though Kate is part of the “working class,” this does not mean that she does not want to dress as beautifully as those for whom she sews. I do not want to give away more of the narrative, but there is a wonderful scene where Kate is dressed in a couture suit and finds herself in the Carlyle Hotel where she deftly opines to herself “A woman in a beautiful suit can go anywhere.”

I love that the back cover of the book shows a hat and gloves - two essential ingredients to being well dressed in the early 1960s.

I love that the back cover of the book shows a hat and gloves – two essential ingredients to being well dressed in the early 1960s.

As a lesson in fashion history, The Pink Suit is beautifully composed. I learned things I never knew – such as Coco Chanel allowing line-by-line “copies” of her jackets and suits under certain circumstances. The pink boucle, the trim and the buttons for the First Lady’s suit were actually supplied by Chanel herself to Chez Ninon – at a hefty price, of course. Although Oleg Cassini was the “official” fashion designer to the White House, Mrs. Kennedy obviously had the ultimate say over what she wanted to wear – and what she wanted to have made for herself. There are hints in the book at the professional snobbery and envy, which certainly circled around some of her decisions. The inner workings of Chez Ninon are described with great detail, with especial emphasis placed on the two sisters who were the owners and “manipulators” of French fashion, done American style. (I was certainly thrilled to see a Chez Ninon gown in the Exhibit at Drexel University which I attended a few weeks ago. Although from a later period of time – and certainly not my favorite – simply the inclusion of such a gown speaks to the importance of this fashion boutique in the history of dress:)

Drexel - red Chez Ninon dress

How I would love to see the inside of this dress!

One of the more charming aspects of the novel is the inclusion of a “fashion” quote at the beginning of each chapter. For example:

From Diana Vreeland: “A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, & the sort of life you had lived before, & what you will do in it later.”

From Karl Lagerfeld: “Fashion is a language that creates itself in clothes to interpret reality.”

From Oleg Cassini: “To be well dressed is a little like being in love.”

From Yves Saint Laurent: “Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”

From Coco Chanel: “Adornment, what a science! Beauty, what a weapon! Modesty, what elegance!”

Finally, I cannot give the author of this novel enough credit for her understanding and interpretation of the thrill of couture sewing and appreciation of beautiful fabrics. One can feel the stress that Kate experiences when she is working on her “assignments” – the tremendous time involved in intricate, custom sewing, the dedication to excellence she feels for each piece. And when beautiful fabrics come into the boutique, the reader can almost feel the luxurious hand of each one, see the perfect color and imagine the beauty of it made up into an exquisite dress. There is one scene where Kate is given a piece of the Linton Tweeds “Chanel” pink boucle – and I could fully feel her overpowering emotion at receiving such a gift.

This book has actually been featured in Threads Magazine’s “Great Gifts” feature in the current January 2016 issue:

The Pink Suit - Threads

So – I suggest that if you have not already read this book, you do so. Give yourself a gift, or put it on your list – along with some pink boucle!

22 Comments

Filed under Book reviews, Coco Chanel, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

The Magic of Memory

The small box looked familiar. I came across it recently as I was emptying my mother’s apartment following her transition into nursing care at the retirement community, where she has lived for many years now. It was tucked in among her “Christmas-things storage box”, and was marked by its plainness.

This small label is the only   identifying aspect on the box.

This small label is the only identifying aspect on the box.

But when I opened it, I saw myself as a very young child – no more than 4 or 5 – standing in a Woolworth’s Five and Dime store, captivated by the tiny figures, six of them, arranged in their segmented box.   Six little musician figures, made out of cardboard, pipe cleaners, spun cotton, and paper mache.

The magic of memory From that Christmas in 1954 or ’55 on, they were always part of our magical Decembers. I used to look forward to having them reappear each holiday season, with their whimsical faces, their sparkly coats and golden instruments. They were a child’s joy.

But then, in my early twenties, life took me elsewhere, to another state and another part of the country. I no longer went “home” for Christmas, because home had become my own house and my own family. And so it was, that for over 40 years, I had not seen these little men, these tiny musicians with their constant smiles and happy demeanors. In fact, now I realize, with the passage of so many years, I had forgotten about them, never realizing that they had continued to be part of my mother’s holiday every year. But then – I found them, not much worse for the wear of so many years. Their little cone-shaped hats now all had a wrinkle at the top, the top of the bass violin was missing, and one head was a little askew. But to me they looked perfect.

The little guy in blue doesn't look too worried about his broken instrument!

The little guy in blue doesn’t look too worried about his broken instrument!

The accordion player looks a little mischievous!

The accordion player looks a little mischievous!

The confident conductor is on the right, while the little guy with the cymbals looks a bit shy.

The confident conductor is on the right, while the little guy with the cymbals looks a bit shy.

This little band of elfish musicians now have a new home here in Pennsylvania. I am struck by the knowledge that they share a decade provenance with so many of my vintage patterns; they are contemporaries, frozen in time but completely at home in this decade 60 years later.

I like to think these petite musicians are happy with the thought that there are now new children to delight within our growing family. They certainly look happy! I suspect they are playing a traditional Christmas Carol with great gusto and with sound loud enough never to be forgotten again.

The magic of memory

Joy to the World!

Joy to the World!

And now, with two weeks to go in December, it is time to bid adieu to 2014.   I wish you, all my readers, a most blessed Christmas and holiday season. 2015 will find us in a new sewing year, full of promise and excitement. I do hope you will join me in early January. . .

 

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Filed under Mid-Century style

Figuring It Out

Having completed my first Marfy dress, I now have the pleasure of reflecting upon its creation. Unlike my “Ghost Dress” which caused me so much angst (but turned out okay in the end), this ‘60s-inspired design went together without a hitch, although it definitely took some “figuring it out” along the way.

First I’ll cover the four changes I made to the dress, based on my muslin (toile). Initially I had to lower the apex of the bust darts, an alteration I am now used to making. Second, I decided to lengthen the sleeves by about 2 inches. I did this mostly to make the dress more comfortable to wear in the cold winter months. Even covering bare upper arms just a little bit more is helpful. I was hoping this would not detract from the lines of the dress otherwise. I made a tracing to try it out on paper first:

Marfy Dress

Somehow, the longer sleeves did not look good with the very distinct A-line silhouette of the dress. I thought they would look better with more of a straight skirt. I knew from the muslin that the front detailing had a built-in kick pleat, so narrowing the skirt was entirely doable. I would still be able to walk in it!

Alteration number four was the neckline. I widened it a bit, as I think that looks better on me. Then I widened it again later in the process (I’ll get to that in a bit.)

With no written and illustrated instructions to follow, I relied on my sewing knowledge and experience to execute the seaming on the front left of the dress. I was able to sew the seam by machine from the sleeve down to the lower angle of the point. From there down to about 8” from the hemline, I sewed the seam by hand.

An inside look at the this seam stitched by hand

An inside look at the this seam stitched by hand

There is a pleat hidden beneath the dress here, and sewing by hand seemed to be the only solution.

Showing the built-in kick pleat

Showing the built-in kick pleat, before the hem is sewn

And here is the finished kick pleat.

And here is the finished kick pleat.

When it came to the sleeves, they are shown in the illustration with a contrasting band. However, no band was included with the pattern. I did a muslin mock-up to test the visual appearance of the width of the band.

Marfy Dress

Because I had cut the sleeves with a slight curve to the lower edge, I had to make a muslin guide for the bands, which included the same curve.

The sleeves with bands attached

The sleeves with bands attached

With sleeves, hand-picked zipper and all seams complete, I turned my attention to the lining. Instead of cutting the lining with the same angled detail as in the dress, I chose to cut a symmetrical front, thus reducing bulk at that critical waist area. However, I needed to add a kick pleat to the front lining to coincide with the built-in kick pleat of the dress. Here is how I did that:

First I marked where I wanted the pleat in the lining to be.  By the way, the lining is Bemberg rayon.  I usually like to use crepe de cine for my linings, but I had this Bemberg in the right color, so I decided to use it.

First I marked where I wanted the pleat in the lining to be. By the way, the lining is Bemberg rayon. I usually like to use crepe de chine for my linings, but I had this Bemberg in the right color, so I decided to use it.

I centered a triangle of the lining fabric  (about 10" x 8") on top of the marked line.

I centered a triangle of the lining fabric (about 10″ x 8″) on top of the marked line.

I stitched on either side of the marked line, graduating up to a point at the top.

I stitched on either side of the marked line through both layers of lining, graduating up to a point at the top.

I cut along the marked line and turned the placket to the wrong side.

I cut along the marked line and turned the placket to the wrong side.

I sewed another piece of ling fabric (10" x 8") to the wrong side of the turned placket.  It is stitched around the edges - a little difficult to see.

I sewed another piece of ling fabric (10″ x 8″) to the wrong side of the turned placket. It is stitched around the edges in a 1/2″ seam.

After securing these stitched together pieces across the top through all layers, I had a kick pleat!

After securing these stitched-together pieces across the top through all layers, I had a kick pleat!

Back to the final part of the dress: the neckline. I still wasn’t sure I had a pleasing neckline, so I got out my French rule and re-chalked one with a little wider stance and depth.

Marfy Dress

For the top-stitching around the neck and around the angled detail on the front, I did what I did with my jacket out of the same fabric: I hand-picked it. I am so happy with how it looks. It’s very subtle, but adds just the right emphasis. The buttons are smaller versions of the (concealed) buttons on my jacket.

Marfy Dress

I set the lining in by hand, under-stitched the neck-edge by hand, and finally the dress was complete.

Marfy Dress

Marfy Dress

Marfy Dress

And of course I have to show it with the coat!

And of course I have to show it with the coat!

Fifty Dresses

Marfy Dress

It is probably unfair to do an assessment of Marfy patterns after just one make, but I’m going to anyway! The things I really like, so far, about using a Marfy pattern are 1) its preciseness, 2) the individually sized patterns, 3) the pattern pieces without seam allowance added. And is there anything I dislike about Marfy so far? Yes, one big thing! I really miss having a pattern envelope with an illustration, variant views and back views. I am so accustomed to vintage patterns, most of which sport envelopes which are like small works of art. There is so much pertinent information on them (fabric suggestions, zipper sizes, garment descriptions, thumbnail pattern piece diagrams, etc.) and even wearing suggestions. The illustrations show outfit styling suggestions (hats, handbags, shoes, etc.). I love studying them. So, yes, it’s true – I feel like something is lost without a pattern envelope for this dress which I like so much.

I won’t be waiting long to wear this dress. Our American holiday of Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and Marfy will be one of my dining companions. To my fellow citizens, may the day be as meaningful and blessed for you as it always is for our family. To all my readers around the globe, my thanks to you for sharing your love of sewing with me!

 

 

37 Comments

Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, car coats, Color blocking, couture construction, Marfy patterns, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, woolens