Tag Archives: sewing

Making a Parisian Jacket, Part 1

Another title for this post could be “Sewing with Professional Instruction – the Parisian Jacket.”  One of the advantages of having a subscription to Susan Khalje’s online Couture Sewing Club is exclusive access to videos which take the viewer, step-by-step, through the process of making one of these jackets.  

When this pattern was released a few months ago, I was immediately interested in making one.  There are several details in this jacket which I find especially appealing.  The first – and salient one – is the cut-on sleeve, also called an all-in-one sleeve. This is a design feature which was prevalent in the 1950s, but no longer often seen.   Usually sewn with an underarm gusset to enhance moveability, this sleeve forms its own crease lines below the shoulder at the front and back.  You can see that detail in the diagram on the pattern envelope above.  Take a look at this magazine cover from November 1956.  You can see both the crease line and the coat’s gusset.  

I suspect at least one of the reasons this particular type of sleeve fell out of favor is that the pattern pieces do take a sizeable amount of fabric to accommodate the width of the attached sleeve.  I also suspect sewing in those gussets demanded a certain expertise to be finished successfully, adding time to both home sewing and to ready-to-wear.  But I love the look of the cut-on sleeve.  It really is a classic style, and one which I am happy to have the opportunity to incorporate into my sewing.  It is worth mentioning here that this sleeve is similar to a “kimono” sleeve, but it is not cut as full under the arm.  (This seems like a good time to show the pattern piece for the jacket’s gusset.  Rather than diamond shaped, it is a triangle with a curved top edge.  Pretty clever!)

Another design feature of the jacket which appeals to me is the prominence of the buttons.  The jacket is shown with just two buttons, although certainly a third one could be added.  However, with two larger ones, it is really possible to use showcase buttons, if desired.  And if you follow my blog, you already know that vintage buttons – and unique new ones – are one of my weaknesses.  I am always looking for opportunities to use beautiful buttons.

A third construction detail I find appealing is the center back seam.  This allows the opportunity for lovely shaping and more precise fitting than if the back piece were cut without a seam. 

With all this in mind, I was anxious to get started on this project.  As I already had several lovely woolens waiting for their turn, I decided to use one of them rather than buy new fabric.  And my attention kept coming back to this vintage piece of Linton wool which I purchased from an Etsy shop about a year ago.  

It is entirely coincidental that the jacket Susan is making in her instructional videos is also pink!  Of course, I love pink.  I would describe this particular hue of pink as a “Winter pink.”  It has a bit of a dusty appearance to it, making it ideal for a November project.  The best thing is that I have enough fabric to make a matching sheath dress to go with my jacket.  (Although I feel sure that particular project will have to wait until after the new year.) 

Well, back to Susan’s video instruction…  She is very thorough in what she includes, so much so, that those of us who have taken classes from her already, are able to whiz through the early lessons for the most part.  However, one suggestion she made was to use pins rather than machine sewing to fit the muslin together.  Here is what I mean by that:

The seam lines are pinned together horizontally throughout, and then the muslin is ready to try on. No stabbing occurred during the process!

I found this method far superior to putting the muslin together by machine.  It was much easier to make changes and alterations, and I felt like the “seams” laid flatter, enabling me to ascertain the fit, on me, more precisely.  

Once I had my muslin perfected (as much as possible), I transferred all the markings onto white silk organza, to be used as my underlining and also as the pattern pieces from which to cut the fashion fabric.  I had to move to my dining room table to accommodate the expanse of the wool. 

It is easy to see here the amount of fabric needed for the cut-on sleeves. (I use my candlesticks as weights to keep the fabric from slipping.)

Once I started assembling some of the jacket pieces, I realized I had not perfectly matched the facings.  Although the wool is solid pink, there is that very distinct weave in it which needs to be matched.  Fortunately, because I had left such wide seam allowances, I did not need to cut a new facing.  I just needed to readjust the organza on the one facing which was a bit askew.  

You can see the organza adjusted on the righthand facing, before I had re-basted it.

I still have a long way to go on this jacket, but here are two “work-in-progress” shots, with the seams sewn but nothing trimmed, ironed or catch-stitched yet.  It is fun to see it taking shape, however.  

I have a pink button pinned onto the front to see how it looks, but I have already decided against it.

Two more things need to take shape very soon – namely Holiday dresses for my granddaughters.  Somehow, I think they will be finished before my jacket!  

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Sleeves, woolens

CocoLand

When one writes a blog such as Fifty Dresses, it can be a dilemma deciding how many personal details to include in one’s narrative.  Because this is a fashion sewing blog, I try to limit going too far afield into other subjects or areas of my life.  But sometimes, it is unavoidable.  Because fashion/couture sewing is so time intensive, my projects and my sewing intentions will necessarily be sidetracked when my time is taken up with other things or family needs.  And then, in order to make sense of my absence or my wandering attention, I feel the need to tell you, my readers, what is going on in my day to day.

Oh, the sewing plans I had in early January!  I was cranking right along with my projects, and I was so excited to think about starting my pink coat.  I mentioned in an earlier post that the start on that coat was delayed because of unexpected, but fortuitous, circumstances.  Well, those circumstances continue to wreak havoc with my sewing, although I can feel a shift back to normalcy somewhat close at hand.

In early March, my husband and I finally, after looking for 4 years, found and purchased a “perfect for us” vacation house in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  It had been a dream for quite a while, but we had certain requirements regarding the size house we needed (not too big, not too small); the location of the house in relation to the town of Jackson, Wyoming; the property (a view of the Grand Teton mountains was a necessity); and of course, the asking price of the house and land.  Because this all happened very fast and very unexpectedly, life was topsy-turvy as we booked last minute flights, negotiated, signed papers and more papers, and then took on all the preparations for establishing a new “vacation/Summer” household.

We drove 2100 miles from our home in Pennsylvania to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, our car completely filled to its top. Our two cats were our traveling companions. It was very exciting when we crossed over into Wyoming!

Oh, yes, I forgot a very important detail.  The house has a sewing room.  Described in the listing as a “study,” I quickly set the record straight, declaring it perfect for my sewing room away from home, and fortunately, Mr. Fifty Dresses agreed!  With built-in cupboards, bright light and a knockout view of the mountains, it is a wonderful and inspiring place to sew.

This is the view out my sewing room window.

I am indebted to a former neighbor who very kindly gave me her mother’s 1951 Singer Featherweight Sewing Machine, the exact same model I use at my home in Pennsylvania. It is so wonderful to have a machine I can leave here in Wyoming.

Built-in cupboards are the perfect place to store fabrics and supplies I brought with me.

Although I have no dress form for my new sewing room, which could prove challenging, I have been gathering supplies and duplicates of many tools, to minimize the challenge of sewing “away from home.”   Which brings me to CocoLand.

At my home in Pennsylvania on the East Coast of the United States, I have a very spacious and beautiful second floor sewing room.  I keep an ironing board up all the time in it, as 1) it’s a necessity for sewing, and 2) being on the second floor, it is not in a highly visible part of the house (I like things to look tidy!).  My new sewing room is right off of our “great room,” making it much more visible.  I knew I needed an ironing surface handy, but I was not keen on having an ironing board set up all the time.  Somehow, I found out about TNT Quilt Boards, and I ordered a  “Studio Table.”  This padded and covered table measures 32” x 21.5” and is absolutely multi-functional, providing both a pressing surface and a working surface in its compact size. It can also be folded up and stored. The icing on the cake was that I had my pick of a wide variety of covers for the board.

And here is where another bit of personal information needs to be shared….  My granddaughters call me ‘Coco,” a name chosen by my daughter, which has proven to be one of the great pleasures of my life.  To hear them call me that cute name and tell others that I am their “Coco” (as if every grandchild has a grandmother named Coco!) is pure happiness to me.  So, when one of the fabric choices for the Studio Table was a cat print, with the description “CoCoLand” running through it – well – of course, that was what I chose.

Two of the cat figures look like sketches of our two wonderful, silly cats….

So here I am in CocoLand. I’ll be doing quite a bit of home decorator sewing (not my favorite thing to do) for our new house, but it seems only fitting that my first sewing accomplishment since we have arrived here is – a dress for each of my granddaughters.  They arrive soon and then I will share these cute confections.  Until then, thank you for reading about my topsy-turvy life.  I promise more fashion sewing to come – and for me it cannot come quickly enough!

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A White Blouse

White blouses (or shirts, if you prefer) seem to occupy a niche all to themselves in the annals of fashion.  There is something both unpretentious and elegant about a white blouse.  A white blouse is almost always noticed and admired, and even the most tailored white blouse has an air of femininity to it.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about the color white when he wrote The Dictionary of Fashion in 1954: “White is pure and simple and matches with everything. For daytime it has to be used with great care because it must always be really white and immaculate…  But nothing gives the impression of good grooming and being well dressed more quickly than spotless white…”  (Published again in 2007 by Abrams, New York, New York; page 120).

What could be a better example of being well dressed than this white blouse featured in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine (page 28)?  With its tucks and French cuffs, it is both demure and sophisticated.

Now this is an elegant blouse!

Timeless is another description that could be given to the classic white blouse.  Here is one featured in the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, page 49.  “In suburbia, nothing has as much unstudied elegance as a classic neat, white shirt…”

By the 1970s, collars look like they had overtaken the world, but even with its outsized points, the white blouse gives this velvet suit its focal point:

This is an advertisement for Crompton velvet, featuring a Vogue pattern (Yves St. Laurent evening suit), page XVI of the October/November 1971 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

The Wall Street Journal had a full-page feature on The White Shirt in the Weekend Section of March 26-27, 2016.  “Always timely and the quickest shortcut to chic,”  says the caption. Part of the feature is shown here:

Although the article fixated on RTW white shirts, a small section was absolutely apropos for those of us who make our white shirts. Finding your Match maintains that there is a certain chemistry involved in finding the perfect shirt for oneself, and it emphasized the importance of choosing the right fabric.  While cotton is usually the preferred fabric, even it is subject to an appropriate quality and weave.  Choosing a pure cotton fabric will necessitate a commitment to laundering and ironing.  Quoted from the article, “You can throw it in the machine, but for a finished look, Ms [Carolina] Herrera (who has made the white shirt her style signature) recommends hand-washing with a splash of starch for a crisp finish.  The white shirt, remember, is about contradictions – it may be easy, but it has good manners.”  (Oh, yes!)

Well, I can’t say I was thinking about chemistry and laundering and manners when I purchased this white cotton shirting fabric from Britex a few years ago.

I just thought it was so lovely with its woven stripe and scalloped detail.  I am happy to say it has been brought to fruition as a classic white blouse.

While the woven stripe IS lovely, it presented some definite considerations when I was laying out my pattern.  For example, what reveal of the stripe did I want to show on the collar and cuffs.  What about the back yoke?   How should the buttons line up on the design on the center front?  The following pictures detail my decisions as I worked through each component.

I chose to use the plain white band as the center portion of the cuffs.

I chose to position the stripe on the collar in the middle.

I decided to interface the yoke, as the cotton is lightweight, and the facing of the yoke would have shown through without it. I always use a woven, sew-in interfacing when I am making blouses. It works beautifully. I evenly balanced the placement of the stripe on the yoke, with just a slight plain reveal noticeable at the lower edge.

And then, what buttons should I use?   It is so easy – and often appropriate – to choose a simple white pearl, two-hole button to accompany this style of shirt. I was prepared to do that until I came across this card of vintage buttons in my collection:

My first thought was, “How perfect!  The incised stripes on the buttons mirror the stripe in the cotton.  And, to seal the deal, they were also the perfect size, at 3/8”.

I used the same 1970s’ Simplicity pattern (with my many alterations to it) that I used for the two gingham blouses I made over the summer.

It is always satisfying to use a fabric which had been purchased – in the past, shall we say? It reinforces my thought that there is a time for all those lovely pieces of silk, wool, cotton and linen still waiting for their destination.   Perhaps it really is about chemistry, after all.

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons

An Early Lesson in the Connoisseurship of Fabric

Like so many children who grew up in the 1950s, I wore, for the most part, clothes made by my mother. For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in Asheville, North Carolina.  Although decades have passed since last I lived there, it is those early homemade clothes that infuse my memory of those years and that place. I had an early interest in fabric and sewing and loved to help pick out selections from which my mother would make dresses and play clothes for my older sister and me.

We lived on a very steep road, dotted with houses on either side of it.  Two houses away from ours lived an older couple, whose names I cannot remember.  The wife worked in the fabric department at Ivey’s, a large store in the city of Asheville. She knew that my mother sewed, and one day she told my mother that the sewing department was getting ready to dispose of some of its older fabrics, which would be free for the taking by employees. She wanted my mother to have a couple of these pieces, completely free of cost. My mother was quite excited, and she told my sister and me that perhaps it would be something she could use to make us new dresses.

The December/January 1953-54 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine had this clever feature, Resort Fabric Story (“taste the pleasures”), showing some of the fabric choices for the upcoming Spring and Summer. Perhaps my mother was hoping for something similar to a few of these prints.

We anxiously waited for the day when we could go to our neighbor’s house and pick up our promising parcel.  Then – finally – Mrs. Neighbor-two-doors-away called to say she had the fabric for us.  I remember well my feelings of anticipation and excitement as the three of us practically skipped down our road to her house.

Her living room was dark, despite the large picture window framing one side of it.  None of the furniture looked like it would be comfortable to sit on.  I was struck by the appearance of one rocking chair, the wooden arms of which were in the shape of swans’ heads.  Everywhere were china figurines and plastic flowers in vases.  The room smelled like last night’s supper.  On the sofa, which she called a davenport, was a package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

Our neighbor ceremoniously announced that this was the fabric, and she motioned to my mother to open the package.  It contained two pieces of cloth.  One was a non-descript dark tan, heavy and dull, certainly nothing that could be used for dresses.  The other piece was a very large floral print in pink, drab olive green, and smudgy brown – yards and yards of it.  It was hideous.  My mother very graciously thanked her and told her what lovely pieces they were, and off we went with our weighty cargo.

This ad in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features Bates “disciplined” fabric. “It’s like magic how beautifully your sewing dreams materialize with Bates Disciplined fabric,” proclaims the caption.  Obviously, what we received from our neighbor was more nightmare than magical dreams!

When, on our trudge back home up our mountain road, I asked my mother if she liked the fabric, she only said that it was very kind of Mrs. Neighbor-two-doors-away to give us these pieces.  I wanted to say that I really didn’t like either piece very much, but I kept quiet.  I could see my mother was disappointed, and it made me feel so badly.  What good was something that was free, if you did not like it, I wondered? I also wondered what my mother would do with it.

It did not take long to get the answer to that question.  My mother had grown up during the Great Depression, when no one wasted anything, ever.  Nor would this dubious gift go to waste.  Out of the heavy tan fabric, she made shorts for us.  I so disliked  wearing them as they were scratchy and stiff.  I must have thankfully grown out of them quickly, as I don’t recall wearing them very often.

I was more worried about my mother’s plans for the pink floral fabric.  Looking back now, I think it must have been very poor quality cotton or heavy rayon.  My mother made a play dress out of it for me, with matching bloomers. It, too, was scratchy, and although I would not have known the concept of drape at my young age, I noticed that it did not move with me, but rather hung as a tent from my shoulders.  I remember unhappily wearing this outfit, but at age four or five, I did not have much say in the matter.   It was so unlike the other cute play clothes and pretty dresses made by my mother; I suspect she thought so, too.

Occasionally I think back on those days so long ago, and I recognize how much they shaped me as a dressmaker.  My love for, and my insistence upon using beautiful, fine quality fabrics – once I began sewing for myself – certainly were born during those years.  I learned the value in seeking out fabrics worthy of my time and effort, those which would give me enjoyment in their wearing, and which would impart a sense of refinement and style in their tactile and visual qualities.

I love this ad on the inside back cover of the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, with its declaration that “fine fabrics are the foundation of fashion.”

Sometimes the best lessons, and the ones remembered so well, are those illustrating the worst example of something.  I did not know it at the time, but that brown paper package, with its ugly fabric inside, gave me an unexpected and invaluable life-long lesson in the connoisseurship of beautiful fabric.

 

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Filed under Love of sewing, Quotes about sewing, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

Gingham and Pearls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These buttons date from the 1940s!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pondering Some of Sewing’s Mysteries and Curious Happenstances

The act of sewing and dressmaking gives one ample time to think, and sometimes when I am squirreled away in my sewing room, I reflect on some of these questions to which there seem to be no exacting answers – such as:

Is it really necessary to buy an extra button? I find that the buttons I sew on rarely come off. It is just the buttons on RTW* that seem to go missing. So – is that extra button really necessary just for the sake of insurance? Is that how so many random single buttons have found their home in one of my button boxes? What does one do with an extra button that is not needed?  *Ready-to-Wear , for my non-American readers!

Why is beautiful fabric so addictive? Why do I suddenly decide I need another cocktail or elegant dress just because I find a gorgeous silk that I can’t resist?

I just could not resist this silk charmeuse on Mendel Goldberg's website. I immediately decided I needed it for a new dress to wear to fancy parties. However, it will have to wait patiently until I can get to it.

I just could not resist this silk charmeuse on Mendel Goldberg’s website. I immediately decided I needed it for a new dress to wear to fancy parties. However, it will have to wait patiently until I can get to it.

What does one do with all those little scraps left over from a sewing project? Should I save them or throw them away? Somehow it seems sacrilegious to get rid of even small pieces of beautiful, fine fabric, but really, how many of these little bundles can I keep on storing?

Here is a little pile left over from my recently completed dress and cocktail jacket. Not much remains - what should I do with it?

Here is a little pile left over from my recently completed dress and cocktail jacket. Not much remains – what should I do with it?

Why is one spool of thread never enough? It seems I am forever going to the local JoAnn’s to pick up one more spool of the Gutermann’s thread I love.

Why don’t manufacturers of fabric advertise in pattern magazines anymore? Today we rarely buy fabric “by brand” whereas “back in the day” one looked for specific brands to buy, based on their reputation for quality. (Pendleton Wool still sells by name, but I rarely see their “fabrics-on-the-bolt” advertised.)

Why does the bobbin always run out of thread at the most inopportune time?

Why does time go so fast when I am sewing?

Where do all those pins go? Those ones that drop on the floor and somehow never get found? (Perhaps they are pinning up all those socks – those ones that go missing in the laundry – onto some invisible lost and found board somewhere?)

How much information should I offer when someone compliments me on what I am wearing? I am always flattered to receive a compliment – and receive it graciously, I think – but usually I do not offer the fact that I have made what I am wearing unless I am asked where I purchased it. What do you do when faced with this situation?

Why do I always misjudge how long something will take to complete? I am an experienced dressmaker at this point, and I NEVER estimate correctly! I should have a better sense of time, don’t you think? I suspect I am unconsciously and deliberately fooling myself, for if I really knew how many hours would be involved in a new project, I might not want to start it.

How many coat patterns does one really need? Oh, this is no mystery – one can never have too many patterns – or coats!

this is my "newest cant pattern, which happens to look a lot like several of my other coat patterns. I wonder how that happened?

This is my “newest” coat pattern, which happens to look a lot like several of my other coat patterns. I wonder how that happened?

What are your sewing mysteries and curiosities? What perplexing questions does your sewing present to you?  What have I forgotten?

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Filed under Coats, Love of sewing, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

“To the Most Imaginative Woman in the World”

“You see her leafing through pattern books – picking out a collar here, a cuff there, a new way of pleating a skirt . . . You see her fingering a tiny swatch of fabric, Yet she’s seeing it as a whole dress, or a blouse, or a jacket . . . Who is she – this lady with the limitless imagination? She’s the woman who sews. YOU . . .”

Most imaginative woman - Burlington-2

This is just one of many ads placed by manufacturers of fabric in the April-May 1950 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine. Ordinarily I would not have purchased this issue, as most Vogue patterns available before 1955 were not printed, and I rarely buy a vintage pattern which is not printed! My particular interest in these vintage magazines is the opportunity they provide to identify dates for patterns, fabrics and style trends, making the experience of sewing with vintage patterns (and fabrics) even more enjoyable.  However, when this issue was available in an Etsy store, I succumbed. I was born in May of 1950, and my curiosity just got the better of me.

I find the haughty expression on the cover model somewhat amusing.

An early haughty expression on a  model!

Looking at this issue made me realize how old I am… NO, NO, NO! Just kidding, I think. Actually, what really popped out at me was how exciting it must have been to be a home dressmaker at this point in time, with the home sewing business booming, post-war, and fine fashion – and the desire to look wonderful – such important aspects of a woman’s life.

And then, as I was leafing through the magazine, I found an unexpected surprise. Tucked in between two pages was Vogue Patterns April 15 Collection, an 8-page flyer, available at pattern counters and easily something that could be tossed away. I find it remarkable that this slim printed piece survived.

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-5

The format is larger than what I am used to seeing in later Vogue pattern flyers from the 1960s and 1970s.  When one looks at the fashions and patterns detailed, it is easy to imagine the woman who picked this up, looking at it again and again.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

This is one of the inside pages of the flyer.

Not only that, also tucked in with this flyer was this page from Harper’s Bazaar, March 1st, 1950.

Most imaginative woman - Harpers Bazaar

How many of you save pictures of dresses/blouses/coats you would like to copy? Pinterest, anyone? I certainly do!

Clearly she had in mind making the dress pictured on the back cover of the flyer:

"Consider them two by two - the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result." Timeless advice!

“Consider them two by two – the pattern and the fabric, and you will always have a happy result.” Timeless advice!

Some of my favorite pages in this, my “birthday” issue? I was delighted to find an ad for Moygashel linen, for which I have a particular passion:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-1

A lover of polka dots makes me partial to this gorgeous blouse:

Most imaginative woman - flyer cover-3

This blouse is very similar to one I made a few years ago.

And how can I resist this stunning “moulded sheath dress with a draped cascade”?

Most imaginative woman - cascade dress-4

I am so struck by the sophistication of the styling of the fashions and illustrations, the emphasis on Designer offerings, and the exciting abundance of piece goods being sold by manufacturer’s name to the home sewing population. Times and fashions change, but I believe we have much in common with these mid-century home dressmakers plotting their wardrobes with creativity and skill – pairing fabric and pattern. We are the women who sew – and are still the ones with the limitless imaginations!

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Filed under Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Pattern Art, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

The Silky, Shimmery Colors of Spring

Just as with the elusive answer to “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?,” those of us who sew can try to answer “Which comes first, the fabric or the pattern?” The answer, at least as I see it, is “It depends.” And sometimes, even, it is a little of both.

When I saw this fabric on the website of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics last Fall, I really did not stop to think about a pattern. It was a “bolt end,” 1 3/8 yards of 58” wide Italian silk. With that width, I wasn’t particularly concerned about the length being under 1 and ½ yards. I just ordered it as soon as I could.

The colors of Spring

Upon arrival, the fabric was even prettier in person, shimmery with “polka dots” woven in, fluid as only silk can be, and the picture of Spring. At that point, I was up to my ears with my Winter sewing, so I thought about it only casually until just a few weeks ago. I already had this pattern in my collection, and in the back of my mind, I had paired that fabric with the dress in View B on the right.

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

One interesting thing about vintage patterns is the yardage requirements are often given for widths that are narrower than many modern fabrics are produced in. For that reason, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much fabric is needed for a particular design. I’m getting better at sensing what I need, so I just assumed that I would have enough fabric to make that dress.   I had my heart set on it, actually. So much so, that when Britex Fabrics announced an upcoming sale of silk fabrics, I sent off for swatches for coordinating silk for the short jacket (in view A) and lining for the dress.

The green is a lightweight silk/cotton blend. The goldenrod yellow is silk taffeta from Italy, without the stiffness that taffeta so often has.

The green is a lightweight silk/cotton blend. The goldenrod yellow is silk taffeta from Italy, without the stiffness that taffeta so often has.

Dutifully ordered, the fabric arrived from California, and it, too, was even prettier in person! I was in love, and really could not wait to get started, first on the dress, and then on the jacket.

DSC_0036

The green for the lining . . .

The colors of Spring

… and the yellow for the short jacket in View A.

Then reality hit. When I took out the pattern pieces, here is what I found for that unusual flounced skirt:

This skirt piece uses almost a yard in length, and the diagonal shaping on it uses more fabric than normal.

This skirt piece uses almost a yard in length, and the diagonal shaping on it uses more fabric than normal.

My heart sank as I knew immediately I did not have enough fabric. There was going to be no Rumplestiltskin to help me with this one.   I went back to my pattern collection and pulled out two more possibilities.

I love this dress, but I thought it might be too tailored for the fabric. Also, the seaming detail would be lost entirely with the busy design of the silk.

I love this dress, but I thought it might be too tailored for the fabric. Also, the seaming detail which adds so much to this dress would be lost entirely with the busy design of the silk.

I felt like Goldilocks evaluating this pattern for my fabric. Just not right...

I felt like Goldilocks evaluating this pattern for my fabric. Just not right…

With both these dresses I would have to rethink the jacket, as the styles would not compliment each other. I stewed over this, re-measured, re-thought, and left it all in a heap in my sewing room. There was something about that shimmery silk that kept telling me that a dress made from it needed to have some movement to it –  like the flounced half-skirt pictured in the pattern. And then it hit me. If I made the front part of the skirt the same as the back, I could probably just squeak it out.

I did a quick diagram to consider this option.

I did a quick diagram to consider this option.

My completed muslin verified this for me, and, not only that, I loved the look, at least done up in muslin. Once again, using the couture technique of laying out and cutting each pattern piece individually enabled me to manipulate the pieces to make the most of the fabric I had available to me. Fortunately, there was no matching to be done, although there is a specific up and down to the design.

Now this is what is called making the most of one's available fabric!

Now this is what is called making the most of one’s available fabric! This shows my silk organza underlining pieces in place, ready to cut.

As far as the jacket – losing the diagonally shaped flounces on the skirt, makes the effect of the jacket not quite as dramatic, but I think it will still be very flattering – and appropriate. (The jacket has a million pieces to it, so it will be quite the project…!)

Well, I can’t leave this post without sharing another color of Spring, although this one is not silk and not shimmery. Pink cotton gingham is the picture of Spring, especially in a little dress for a little girl! When I made a crib quilt for my younger granddaughter, Carolina, I backed it in pink gingham, appropriately called “Carolina Pink.” I ordered enough so that I would be able to make her a dress for her first birthday (earlier in April) and here it is:

The colors of Spring

The colors of Spring

The bodice is lined in soft white cotton, which makes a lovely finish.

The bodice is lined in soft white cotton, which makes a lovely finish.

In my tins of buttons, I found these little ceramic ones, purchased years ago when Carolina’s mommy was my little girl. (Well, she is still my little girl, but you know what I mean.) How appropriate to use them for one of her daughter’s dresses.

The colors of Spring

These buttons, with their delicate cross-hatch design, were just waiting for this dress.

And with this dress –  the fabric absolutely came first!

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Formal or fancy dresses, Heirloom sewing for children, Mid-Century style, Sewing for children, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

A Practical Decision

A practical decision, made out of desperation, that is! It is a rare occurrence that I stop working on a project before it is completed, but that’s what I decided to do with my cashmere coat, skirt and blouse ensemble. Quite simply, life got in the way, without asking me first! Robbed of sewing time for one reason or another, I had to make a decision: should I quietly and gently fold my unfinished skirt and blouse away for a summer sleep, and get busy on my Spring sewing? Or should I plow through and continue work on this wool ensemble as the allure and charms of Spring sewing beckoned me on? Well, Spring’s charms won, especially as I am now facing middle-to-late May deadlines for a silk dress to wear to a wedding and another fancy event.

But I had promised photos of my coat, so before everything goes in the cedar closet until next September, I thought I should share the progress I did make. Even on a cool Spring day, this Cashmere coat felt glorious to wear, even briefly.

A Practical Decision

A Practical Decision

I am very happy with the lining!

I am very happy with the lining!

A Practical Decision

A Practical Decision

This coat is very warm and buttery soft.

This coat is very warm and buttery soft. These photos confirm for me that I need to reset the working buttons, making longer thread shanks, to accommodate the bound buttonholes.

The skirt is a six-panel slight A-line style.  Because the fabric is heavier than I would normally use for a skirt, I wanted to eliminate darts and a waistband, to help control the bulk. I decided to make a waist facing made out of wool challis (used for the coat lining and the blouse), and attach it to a skirt lining made of Bemberg rayon. The skirt is completed except for the hem.

This shows the waist facing, with the Bemberg lining attached to it.

This shows the waist facing, with the Bemberg lining attached to it.

Making a blouse out of wool challis demanded some special considerations. The fabric is finely woven and lightweight, making me hesitant to use waxed tracing paper to make any markings on it. So, I decided to thread trace all the seam lines and markings. This is, of course, the process one uses for the construction of a classic French jacket, so I am comfortable with it. It sounds time-consuming, but it goes fairly fast, and is fool-proof.

This shows my muslin pattern, cut on the seam lines, and with the darts cut out, so that I could tread trace along all sewing lines.

This shows my muslin pattern (with the changes I made to it), cut on the seam lines, and with the darts cut out, so that I could tread trace along all sewing lines.

Click on this for a close-up look at the thread tracing of seam lines and darts.

Click on this for a close-up look at the thread tracing of seam lines and darts.

I got as far as having both sleeves completed, the body of the blouse put together, and the collar pinned in place. I am feeling good about my progress, and I know I can pick this up again, knowing that I really am in the home stretch on this particular project.

The pinned collar, placed along the neckline.

The pinned collar, placed along the neckline.

One of the sleeves pinned in place.

One of the sleeves pinned in place.  The sleeves are three-quarter length.

Good-bye to Winter and Hello to Spring!  Right now it feels wonderful to be focusing on silks and linens, bright colors and feminine fancy things. I am “desperately” happy with my decision!

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Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, Part I

Those of us who do fashion sewing sometimes have difficulty identifying what we do in a single descriptive word. A “sewer” (not those stinky things that go underground that happen to be spelled the same way) can be one who sews many different things, right? The term “sewist” is a somewhat new word, made up of sew + artist, which really doesn’t describe anything specific to my way of thinking. Most of us are not “designers” (and not all designers can sew), although most of us use some design techniques in our fashion sewing.   Some of us may be “sewing professionals,” a term which covers a broad range of endeavors, such as being a custom clothier, a sewing teacher, a writer about sewing, or even a retailer involved in the sewing industry. The term “seamstress” implies one who sews on a machine, as in a factory; although this person may be very talented in certain techniques, her job does not leave room for innovation or creativity. And that is why I like the term “dressmaker” so much. In one word it expresses many things explicit and implied. And although it is a term much used until the 1960s and not much since then, I consider myself a Dressmaker; maybe you do, too?

This wonderful Vogue book, copyright 1957, still used the term "Dressmaking" in its title.

This wonderful Vogue book, copyright 1957, still used the term “Dressmaking” in its title.

A dressmaker is one who makes custom clothing for women (oneself included.) She usually works from a commercial pattern, and then uses all her creative, design, and technical skills to create a one-of-a-kind dress, blouse, skirt, coat, etc. I have devised this ABCs of DRESSMAKING to define some of the important aspects and practices of dressmaking, especially in the couture sense.

D is for Design. This seems like it should be common sense, but it cannot be said too often that you should choose a design that is going to work for you. Unlike ready-to-wear that we get to try on, when we sew, we are working from patterns that we think will be flattering, but we really will not know until it is finished (a muslin takes some of the guesswork out of this, but not entirely.) Most of us have our own personal style that we know is flattering to us. Even if you want to diverge a bit from it (which is fine), it’s probably best not to go too far afield. Also, beware of trends that may not be flattering. (An example of this from a couple of years back is the revival of the peplum, a look that not too many of us can wear very successfully.)  When it comes to Design, choose one that is “smart for [many] seasons” rather than “one that’s soon outdated.”

The first page of the book pictured above tells the reader why she should be using Vogue patterns, but it also suggests some of what it means to be a "Dressmaker."

The first page of the book pictured above tells the reader why she should be using Vogue patterns, but it also suggests some of what it means to be a “Dressmaker.”

R is for Risk. Let’s face it, fashion sewing can be risky. We can be sewing with really expensive or “difficult” fabric or vintage fabric, which is now no longer available – or sewing with a complicated design/pattern – or making something for a very special occasion – and the outcome is entirely in our hands! It takes bravery, confidence in one’s skills, patience, and a willingness to take a risk to grow in our dressmaking, but the rewards are manifold.

One of the Dressmaking signs I have hanging in my sewing room.

One of the Dressmaking signs I have hanging in my sewing room.

E is for two things: Engineering and Embellishment. I have said this before, but it bears repeating – sewing is engineering. I love to read pattern instruction sheets, especially for something that is complicated, and I bet many of you do, as well. It’s fascinating to see how patterns go together, how different fabrics demand specific approaches to that process, how the pattern pieces need to be manipulated to fit one’s particular form. A well-engineered pattern is a beautiful thing, and it takes a sewing-engineer’s mind to know how to best bring that pattern to life in a stylish and successful fashion. It takes a dressmaker.

Another one of my signs, the first one I purchased and still my favorite!

Another one of my signs, the first one I purchased and still my favorite!

Embellishment is almost synonymous with the term dressmaker. “Dressmaker Details” include such things as ruffles and frills, ribbon, or braid, but also those little touches that add so much to a successful garment, such as well-chosen buttons, interior trims, non-boring linings, covered snaps, bound buttonholes (when appropriate), and the creative manipulation of, or addition to, a pattern to get the effect you want. A creative dressmaker can start with something basic and make it unique – and couture – by adding just the right embellishments or details.

S is for Seams. This is about as basic as it gets, but those seams must be sewn well and finished well for a successful finished garment. One of the techniques I learned in the couture sewing classes I have taken with Susan Khalje is, for me, the method to achieve successful seams. That is – thread basting along seam lines to use as your sewing guide, rather than relying on the seam allowance markings on one’s sewing machine.   This is the building block for successful dressmaking.  And then, finish those seams on the inside to control bulk and add to the wearability and durability of your garment.

S is also for Steam. As in ironing. A good steam iron is worth its weight in gold! Steam is useful in so many ways – here are just a few:   1) When sewing with wool or most dry-cleanable fabrics, a good place to start is steaming your fabric before you begin to lay out your pattern pieces. Even if you have pre-washed cotton or linen fabrics, a good initial steaming of your yardgoods will insure a better outcome. 2) Steam newly sewn seams flat to set your stitches before spreading the seam open for its second pressing. 3) Contours can be set beautifully with steam, especially when using a pressing ham and/or a seam roll, or draping your work-in-progress on a dress form.

Te Vogue Dressmaking Book has an entire section on pressing, with guidelines still appropriate almost 60 years later. Click on the image to read the page.

The Vogue Dressmaking Book has an entire section on pressing, with guidelines still appropriate almost 60 years later. Click on the image to read the page.

And then, S + S  is for Sewing Sense, which is what every successful Dressmaker must develop. This subject is so vast it warrants its own blog post sometime in the future!

So now I am halfway through the ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G. Part II is yet to come…

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Filed under couture construction, Dressmaker forms, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Vogue patterns