Tag Archives: quotes about fashion

The Essential Coat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This evening coat makes my heart skip a beat!

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

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

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

This is a beautiful example of a dressmaker coat.

Another dressmaker coat.

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

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

Click on the image to read its story.

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

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

Here is the neckline, ready to be stitched.

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

And this is the back of the jacket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Met

Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.

The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:

“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.”   These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!

But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:

This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”

Met - Chanel cape copy

Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”

Met - rooster dress

The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”

Met Givenchy Dress

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:

Met - Dior ensemble copy

I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!

Met Chanel suit

After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.

The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!

There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”   But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.

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Filed under Capes, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

A Fine February Finish

Leap Year, with its extra February day, seemed to be custom made for my sewing schedule. I had hoped to have my gray cashmere coat finished by the end of the month, and thanks to those extra 24 hours, I managed to do just that – barely! I will confess to taking out basting stitches, steaming, and adding two bar tacks to the lining on March 1st (gasp), but now my coat is finished.

A Fine Feb Finish

A Fine February Finish

Photos of me in this coat will be in a future post…

Like Claire McCardell, who said “I believe in a collection of coats,” and coats are “revealing, a clue to your taste, and your knowledge of Fashion,” I also believe that one should not “make a coat too basic.” The unique aspect of fashion sewing is that one can start with a basic (or not-so-basic) coat pattern and then make it her own.

The first owner of this Vogue Designer Original pattern, designed by Guy Laroche, which I used for my coat, had obviously used it. (This isn’t always the case – many vintage patterns are still “factory-folded” and in their unused condition.)

When I purchased the pattern, I had already decided to lengthen the sleeves, which are shown on the pattern envelope as “below-elbow” or bracelet-length. I wanted full-length sleeves as a practical matter. Much to my delight, the original owner had decided the same and had added tissue paper inserts into the sleeve pattern pieces. As it turned out, the length she had decided upon was also exactly right for me.

What a nice surprise to find the sleeves already lengthened!

What a nice surprise to find the sleeves already lengthened!

There are really only a few details I chose for this coat which serve to make it “not basic.” Besides the bound buttonholes (which used to be basic but are not so much anymore!), I put emphasis on the buttons, the lining and a couple of the finishing details.

First the buttonholes and buttons: because the cashmere fabric is coat-weight, I needed to make the “lips” of the buttonholes a bit wider than normal. Once again, I used an organza patch on the underside of the buttonholes, which makes a very nice interior finish:

The line of basting stitches is the fold line - the organza patch is on the facing part of the front edge.

The line of basting stitches is the fold line – the organza patch is on the facing part of the front edge.

Here is the patch ready to be sewn onto the back of the buttonhole.

Here is the patch ready to be sewn onto the back of the buttonhole.

I found these vintage buttons in an Etsy shop. Although they appear to be gray mother-of-pearl, they are actually plastic. The iridescent strip through the middle of each one, along with the square detail on the tops, gave me the idea to arrange them on an angle. I think they add just the right amount of interest to the front of the coat.

The "square" detail on the buttons picks up the design in the lining fabric.

The “square” detail on the buttons picks up the design in the lining fabric.

A Fine February Finish

Using the printed wool challis for the lining certainly elevates this coat to a notch above ordinary. The sleeves are lined with gray rayon Bemberg for practicality’s sake.

An inside out view, trying out the lining.

An inside out view, trying out the lining.

This photo shows a good look at the finished buttonholes, too.

This photo shows a good look at the underside of the finished buttonholes, too.

Of course the detail I love the most is the flat piping I added to the front interior edges of the lining.  As I have said before, doing this is so easy and adds so much.

A Fine Feb Finish

A Fine February Finish

Here is the flat piping stitched in place - so easy!

Here is the flat piping stitched in place – so easy!

The final small detail, which helps the collar to keep its shape, is under-stitching (by hand) on its underside.

A Fine February Finish

So what else did Claire McCardell say about coats? To quote from her book, What Shall I Wear, page 69, “… you can take another step and get a coat and dress that go together—never to be separated, never to be worn with any other dress or any other coat, and always with a special feeling of satisfaction. If you take a little trouble, you may be able to manage a heavy fabric skirt to go with the coat.”  I plan to take that little bit of trouble – a skirt out of the gray cashmere, and a blouse from the printed challis – to complete the outfit, and I will hope for that “special feeling of satisfaction.”

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, Quotes about sewing, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Can a Coat be Glamorous?

And what exactly is glamour? A recent quote by Carolina Herrera – “It’s important for women to feel glamorous and feminine but always themselves” – prompted me to look up the definition of the word “glamour” – and I was surprised by what I found. Here is how Webster’s defines it in its noun form: 1) the quality of fascinating, alluring, or attracting, esp. by a combination of charm and good looks 2) excitement, adventure, and unusual activity, like the glamour of being an explorer 3) magic or enchantment; spell; witchery. And then there is the definition of “glamorous”: 1) full of glamour; fascinatingly attractive; alluring 2) full of excitement, adventure , and unusual activity: to have a glamorous job.

Glamour was the last thing on my mind when I started out on my current coat project. Making a muslin (toile) can be time-consuming and tedious, especially when it shows you that some serious alterations need to be made. Fortunately, my coat muslin revealed only some small changes to the shoulder of my raglan sleeve coat, compensating for my square shoulders. My go-to book to guide me through these complexities is Fitting and Pattern Alteration, by Liechty, Rasband, and Pottberg-Steineckert (recommended to me by Susan Khalje.)

I highly recommend this book.

I highly recommend this book.

One of the things I love about this book is that it covers all sorts of situations. Square shoulders for Raglan sleeves? Not a problem.

The diagrams take the guess work out of alterations to patterns.

The diagrams take the guess work out of alterations to patterns.

Once I had my muslin adjusted, my silk organza interlining marked and cut (to be used as the pattern for the wool), I felt like I was off to the races. Not so fast. A careful steaming of my wool fabric revealed three small “thin” areas (not holes, but thin enough that I would need to work around them). This is not unusual for vintage fabric, and is one of the reasons why a careful pre-steaming or pre-pressing of any fabric is important, but especially so for vintage goods.

I marked these small imperfections with yellow chalk.

I marked these small imperfections with yellow chalk.

And then double-marked the areas with orange post-its when I was arranging the pattern pieces.

And then double-marked the areas with orange post-its when I was arranging the pattern pieces.

After untold hours of basting the layers of silk organza and fashion fabric together, I was finally ready to sew.   And this is when I think it began to get glamorous. The first major details to be completed were the pocket plackets. I thought I might faint when I had to make that first cut into one of the side panels of the coat front. But bravery saw me through!

I have the placket catch-stitched temporarily so it does not get caught on something while I finish the remainder of the coat.

I have the placket catch-stitched temporarily so it does not get caught on something while I finish the remainder of the coat.

Here is the inside of the pocket and placket.

Here is the inside of the pocket and placket.

With the first pocket and pocket placket successfully completed, the second pocket placket was simply fascinating and alluring, my progress encouraged by the charm and good looks of the first one. Definitely glamorous!

Progress - both pockets/plackets finished!

Progress – both pockets/plackets finished!

More seams ensued, each one carefully pinned, sewn, pressed and catch-stitched. Particularly rewarding were the shoulder seams of the raglan sleeves. Properly clipped, pressed and catch-stitched, the seams lie beautifully and look good, too.

The benefits of a silk organza interlining (or underlining) are manifold, but not least of which is a foundation upon which to secure the seams.

The benefits of a silk organza interlining (or underlining) are manifold, not least of which is a foundation upon which to secure the seams.

A view of the back of the coat (in progress.)

A view of the back of the coat (in progress.)

Although I have many more hours to go with the construction of this coat, I can’t help but feel that not only is this coat going to be glamorous, with its elegant gray cashmere, its vintage sensibility and all its hidden, inside secrets used to tame those seams, it is also going to be feminine and definitely me.

Perhaps the next question to ask is “Can sewing be glamorous?” It is “fascinatingly attractive, full of excitement, adventure and unusual activity.” It is magical and enchanting, too. The answer would have to be, “Yes, sewing most definitely can be very glamorous!” Even when we are in our bedroom slippers and blue jeans, covered in threads and pins, if we are sewing, I say we are glamorous.

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Filed under Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, underlinings, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Something Old, Something New – and Pulling It All together

Every once in a while, a unique opportunity comes along in the form of fabric. We all know those times – when the end of the bolt is just the amount you need, or a single bolt of one-of-a-kind designer fabric comes to your favorite store, or a long-awaited re-order makes possible your dream of owning that exact piece. For me, it was an offer from a reader of my blog. She had two pieces of vintage wool which had belonged to her aunt, dating from probably the late 1950s or very early 1960s. Once I saw swatches of both fabrics, I immediately saw the possibilities inherent in each one, and the colors were not only yummy, but also ones that I can wear well (a fact which was correctly noted by my dear reader.) I purchased both pieces well over a year ago, and ever since, I have been dreaming about sewing with them, starting with this gray (what I believe to be) coat-weight cashmere.

The top part of the photo shows the right side of the fabric. It has a soft, luscious nap to it. The contrast of the weave on the underside is hopefully discernible.

The top part of the photo shows the right side of the fabric. It has a soft, luscious nap to it. The contrast of the weave on the underside is hopefully discernible.

As luck would have it, I had already picked up some swatches of (new) wool challis and various dress-weight silks one of the last times I was at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City. It did not take me long to pair this Swiss challis with the gray wool.

The gray in each little square is a perfect match to the cashmere.

The gray in each little square is a perfect match to the cashmere.

Both fabrics lend themselves to be beautifully complimented by a further pop of color as demonstrated by this silk bias ribbon:

I will definitely be accenting my outfit with something like this.

I will definitely be accenting my outfit with something in this color.

Before I go into patterns and process, I want to share the thoughts of Christian Dior on the color “gray” as written in his The Little Dictionary of Fashion, Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 50:

“The most convenient, useful, and elegant neutral color. Lovely in flannel, lovely in tweed, lovely in wool. And, if it suits your complexion, there is nothing more elegant than a wonderful, gray satin evening dress. For day frocks, suits and coats, it is ideal. I would always advise it. And many people who cannot wear black, can wear a dark gray. (Remember that if you are big you must choose a dark gray and if you are petite a light gray is better for you.)

“It is the most convenient color, too, for people who live half in town and half in the country because, with different accessories, a gray suit or coat may be equally suitable for both. It is a good color for accessories, too – almost anything goes with gray. White is perhaps the freshest and sweetest contrast but it is safe to say that whatever your favorite color is, you can safely wear it with gray.”

 Armed with this send-off, I immediately began to look in earnest for a coat pattern. I did not want to purchase the wool challis before I had a pattern, but my thought was to line the coat (except for the sleeves, of course) with it, and then make a coordinating dress or blouse as well. When I found this Guy Laroche coat (and dress) pattern, it seemed to be just what I was looking for, even though when I purchased it, I knew that the pocket flap pattern piece was missing. I was confident, however, that piece would be easy to recreate.

Early Guy Laroche (1921-1989) patterns are somewhat difficult to come by. A Parisian, he worked for Jean Desses (eventually becoming his assistant) from 1949 to 1957, at which time he opened his own atelier. In 1961, his fashion house was known as Guy Laroche Couture. It seems to be about this time that Vogue Patterns began to feature his designs in their Couturier Designer line (Jean Desses designs are also in this line of Vogue patterns). He was one of the featured designers in the 1963 New Vogue Sewing Book, which included “profiles of Europe’s great designers.” This gorgeous suit by him is shown on page 128 in that book:

The collar of this jacket extends so that it can be looped.

The collar of this jacket extends so that it can be looped.

Another one of his suits was shown in Vogue Printed Pattern News from March 15, 1961:

The Laroche design is in the lower lefthand corner. I have never seen this pattern available for purchase...

The Laroche design is in the lower lefthand corner. I have never seen this pattern available for purchase…  (Click on the image to read the caption.)

And a coat and dress ensemble was part of the “French Dressing” section of Vogue Pattern Fashion News from April 1965:

The diagonal direction of the weave in the jacket is a lovely foil for the dress.

The diagonal direction of the weave in the top part of the coat is a lovely contrast for the rest of the ensemble.

I believe the pattern I am using for my gray cashmere coat is from 1962 or 1963. (The patterns from 1961 were priced at $3.00 while my pattern and the ones I have found from 1964-65 were priced at $3.50. That’s one way to help determine a date, although my intuition suggests to me that my pattern is not as late as ’64.)

Once I had my pattern, I ordered the wool challis from Mendel Goldberg (still in stock, thank goodness!) Now, at this point, I did not know exactly how much to order. The body of the coat will be lined in the challis, while the sleeves will be lined in gray Bemberg. I couldn’t go by the yardage on the envelope for the lining since I was “mixing it up.” I think I may have enough of the gray cashmere to make a skirt, but the fabric might be too heavy for a skirt. I’ll know more once I start to sew with it. The rambling on in my head told me that I needed to get enough of the challis to either make a long-sleeved blouse to go with a “maybe” skirt – or enough challis to make an entire dress, as well as the coat lining. So – I ordered PLENTY!! Now I have options.

For some reason I always find coats to be a little intimidating – at least at the beginning. However, when you look at the few pattern pieces that go into this design, it seems to look more complicated than it really is (I hope I am not jinxing or deluding myself):

The main body of the coat really has just 8 pattern pieces (the facings you see are for the dress included in the pattern.) Of course, the lining adds more, but compared to the number of pieces in the coat I made two years ago, this is minimal!

The main body of the coat really has just 8 pattern pieces (the facings you see are for the dress included in the pattern.) Of course, the lining adds more, but compared to the number of pieces in the coat I made two years ago, this is minimal!

I am currently working on my muslin, and I am so excited to be starting this project. Thank you, EG, for allowing me to purchase this beautiful vintage fabric. I feel a great responsibility to honor this “something old” wool in a coat worthy of its quality and provenance.

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Filed under Coats, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Oh, The Things We Can Learn!

When is a pattern envelope not just a place to keep a tissue pattern? When it is a mini lesson in sewing, style, history, elegance, and story-telling. Of course, I am thinking primarily of vintage pattern envelopes – and because I primarily sew from Vogue patterns, those are the focus of my thoughts.

I am also limiting my short exploration of these topics to the course of about ten years, from approximately 1956 until 1966. Most of the pattern art from this time period was in illustration form rather than photography. There were exceptions, such as this classic polka-dotted dress and coat ensemble from 1959:

The reverse of this envelope has very precise sketches of the fronts and backs of the dress and coat. This is one of the few envelopes from this period - 1958 - that I have seen that features photography rather than illustration art.

The reverse of this envelope has very precise sketches of the fronts and backs of the dress and coat. This is one of the few envelopes from this period – 1958 – that I have seen that features photography rather than illustration art.

It was up to the fashion illustrators and artists to represent the pattern accurately. Darts, seams, buttons, belts, pockets, etc. all had to be clearly indicated in the illustrations on the fronts of the envelopes and in the thumbnail sketches on the back of the envelopes. Home dressmakers wanted to know these things about a pattern before purchasing it – we still do! Here is a great example of the clarity of these pattern illustrations in regard to these items:

The darts, seams, and buttons are clearly delineated in this artwork.

The darts, seams, and buttons are clearly delineated in this artwork.

The back of this pattern also gives lots of additional sewing information. The thumbnail sketches clearly show that there is no back zipper. Among the details listed is a 12” zipper. That can only mean that a side zipper is used – which makes sense as it is paired with the front-buttoned bodice.

Oh the things we can learn, no 2

Further scrutiny of the pattern layout shows a gusset, obviously for use under the arm. If you, as a dressmaker, were uncomfortable with putting in a gusset, then maybe you would want to avoid this particular pattern!

It is such an advantage to be able to see the shapes of the pattern pieces in these layouts.

It is such an advantage to be able to see the shapes of the pattern pieces in these layouts.

It was also up to the fashion illustrator to make the pattern look relevant to one’s life. Different views were often shown in varying colors, widening the visual appeal. They were also shown in dressier or more casual renditions, making the pattern attractive to different lifestyles and age groups. These two patterns clearly show this endeavor:

Oh the things we can learn, no 4

The inclusion of accessories in the pattern illustration from this time period shows just how much Vogue and other pattern companies were selling a complete look. They were saying “Start with this pattern, add gloves, a bangle bracelet or two, sunglasses or a hat, maybe a scarf, earrings, high heels, and a handbag, and you, too, can walk out looking like a million dollars!” The great desire in looking well-dressed and chic during this time period is so beautifully reflected in these pattern envelopes.

Gloves, gloves and more gloves! And look at those glasses!

Gloves, gloves and hats and scarves…   And look at those glasses!

This has got to be one of my favorite examples of pattern art: the model in white holding the scarf so casually, the stylish shoes, and the large clutch handbag on the model on the left - lovely and evocative!

This has got to be one of my favorite examples of pattern art: the model in white holding the scarf so casually, the stylish shoes, and the large clutch handbag on the model on the left – lovely and evocative!

One way of dating pattern envelopes is by looking at the hairstyles of the illustrated “models.” After about 1960, Vogue stopped including the copyright date on their envelopes. But it’s fairly clear by the bouffant and flipped hairstyles on the pattern on the left that we are looking at one from the early to mid-‘60s.  The one on the right is a few years later, based on the hairstyles alone.

Note, too, how the Vogue masthead changed during this short time period.

Note, too, how the Vogue masthead changed during this short time period.

Finally, I am delightfully intrigued by the almost universal depiction of “elegance” on the pattern envelopes from this period. From the leopard print hat and lined cape on this suit from 1959:

Oh the things we can learn, no 8

to this reversible car coat from the early ‘60s:

The model in the red version of the coat strikes a chic and elegant pose with her hair tucked under a scarf, her arms casually folded, and with her stylish handbag...

The model in the red version of the coat strikes a chic and elegant pose with her hair tucked under a scarf, her arms casually folded, her stylish handbag looped over one arm …

to this cocktail dress and coat ensemble from the mid ‘60s:

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

the message seemed to be: “These beautiful clothes which you can create are ladylike and elegant (even the casual ones), and you will be, too, when you wear them!” Perhaps Virginia Woolf said it best: “There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they would mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”

And therein lies the intrigue of it all. The story, which begins on the outside of the pattern envelope by way of the artist’s hand, becomes our own to finish when we are creators of our own clothing. How much fun is that?

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Filed under Mid-Century style, Pattern Art, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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

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

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

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

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

Allure of silk - cummerbund picture-1

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

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

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

allure of silk final

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

Then I lined it with silk crepe de chine.

Allure of silk final

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

Allure of silk - bow picture-2

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

Allure of silk - bow diagram-3

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

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

allure of silk final

And here is the dress on my dress form:

Allure of silk final

Allure of silk final

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

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

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

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

A close-up of the bow.

A close-up of the bow.

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

Details:

Blue silk taffeta:  Britex Fabrics

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

Yellow silk taffeta:  Emma One Sock Fabrics.

Under bodice and outer bodice pattern:  Vogue 8766

Cummerbund pattern:  Vogue 5234 (vintage)

Bow pattern:  Butterick 3582 (vintage)

Shoes:  Butter, sold by Simply Soles

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