Tag Archives: sheath dress

Dress Forms and December Decisions

The quintessential trademark of a dressmaker is undoubtably the figure of a dress form (or dummy, as it is called in some parts of the world). I am not sure why it took me so long to purchase one, but in the past year and half since I have had mine, it has daily reminded me what an invaluable tool it is for fashion sewing. Among its obvious aspects of usefulness are, of course, 1) for fitting, 2) for pinning and sewing of certain seams (like a shoulder seam), 3) for marking hems and making sure they are even, 4) for design and draping (for those fortunate enough to be versed in this art), 5) for displaying of one’s current project, allowing scrutiny of any imperfections which need to be addressed, and 6) for steaming/pressing certain curved seams.

I also have found it to be the perfect medium upon which to “audition” fabrics and styles. I can strategically pin fabric onto the form and get an excellent idea if the fabric is going to look good in the style in which I am envisioning it. Sometimes I have to leave the fabric pinned in place for days or even weeks while I make up my mind. And sometimes seeing the fabric pinned on my form will make other possibilities suddenly become obvious. Such has been the case with my plaid Irish blanket, purchased by me to make into a skirt.

 I wrapped the blanket around myself in the store - as a skirt - to test my theory.  Here it is pinned on my dress form

I thought my mind was set on making a pencil skirt out of this “throw” size blanket. When I pinned the fabric on my dress form in the length of a skirt, however, I was struck by the fact that so much of this lovely plaid wool would not be used. So I repinned the blanket in its full length, minus the fringe on one end, to see if I could make a sheath dress instead.

The blanket pinned onto my dress form.

The blanket pinned onto my dress form.

I got out my favorite sheath dress pattern and placed it on the fabric to determine if I could indeed get a knee-length dress out of the yardage I have. It will be a squeeze, but I am fairly certain I can manage it. So I have just about decided to make a dress instead of a skirt. But I have one looming question: is this going to look too much like a 1920s’ flapper dress? I think not, made out of a plaid wool. I actually think a fringed dress will lend itself to be dressed up or dressed down. Hm-m-m-m, what do you think?

Another look...

Another look…

The color combination of this plaid is one I love. After Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2015 was announced, I realized that certain blocks of this plaid pick up the Marsala color (reddish brown) which is supposed to be so popular in 2015.

Dress forms and December decisions

 

DSC_0356

I must admit, I was disappointed with this color decision by Pantone. Like 2014’s Radiant Orchid, I do not think it is a color with wide appeal for the long haul. 2013’s Emerald Green still has “legs”, and I was hoping for a similar clear and flattering hue for 2015.

Getting back to my blanket/soon to be dress (or skirt): in shades of red and subtle green, this plaid should be equally versatile throughout the winter, but wouldn’t it be especially nice in this holiday month of December?  Well, that’s not going to happen! But that’s okay. If I can get to it in January, that means I’ll have at least one thing complete for December . . . of 2015!

 

 

 

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Filed under Blankets and doll blankets, Uncategorized, woolens

When Enthusiasm Meets Reality

Fashion sewing has it all. Even the making of a simple dress has some or all of these aspects inherent in its construction: color theory, proper fabric selection, proportion and fitting, pattern manipulation and engineering, technical know-how, style sense, intrigue. Intrigue? Yes – Intrigue. I have done it again. I have my heart set on a making a certain style in a certain fabric, and I don’t have very much of that fabric with which to work.

I found this piece of Moygashel linen earlier in the year. (It was sold to me as “probably Moygashel”, and how I determined for certain that is indeed that famous brand of Irish linen required some detective work, which I’ll cover in a future post.)

Enthusiasm meets reality

Freshly laundered, this linen looks and feels like new!

When I first saw it, I immediately thought it would make a cute pair of pants, even though I don’t wear a lot of brown. But I was really drawn to the little explosions of orange scattered throughout the yardage. Actually I should qualify that by saying “scant” yardage. This was only a piece of fabric 1 and 5/8 yards long, which sounds reasonable until the width of the fabric is figured into the equation. At 35” wide, this was not a lot of fabric.   Nevertheless, I certainly figured I could get a slim pair of simple pants out of it. That was my intent until I finished my polka-dotted sheath dress just recently. Cool linen dresses and Summer just seem to go together, and suddenly I decided I did not want a pair of pants – I wanted another sleeveless dress.

This was partly determined by the fact that I have a piece of new orange linen I picked up a couple of years ago from Britex Fabrics, and the thought of pairing this funky, stylized-dot fabric with an orange belt made out of that linen sealed the deal for me in my enthusiastic wardrobe dreams.

Enthusiasm meets reality

Then reality hit. How was I going to manage to squeak a sheath dress out of the amount of fabric in hand? After eyeballing the stretched out fabric, with my sheath dress pattern pieces arranged casually on top, it did not take long for me to know that, NO, this would not work. I would have to figure something else out, but I wasn’t giving up on the dress idea.

The only solution was to get more creative. I have always loved subtle “back” details on dresses, such as unusual closures, V-necklines above a back zippered opening, an embellishment of some sort, that type of thing. And I suddenly realized that if I could section the back pieces (only) of my sheath pattern so that I would have an upper back yoke, then I could probably fit everything on the fabric (knowing it would still be a squeeze, however).

Now I got really excited. One of my favorite patterns (from 1957) features a back- buttoned yoke, which is seamed right above the shaping darts in the back body of the dress. I figured this is exactly the spot where I would need to section the back of the dress to make it fit on my fabric.

The yoke on this dress is obviously part of the kimono sleeve section, but I like the idea of a three-buttoned yoke.

The yoke on this dress is obviously part of the kimono sleeve section, but I like the idea of a three-buttoned yoke.

And then – wheels turning in my head – I seemed to remember I had some orange buttons (vintage, no less!) in my button box.   These seem to me to be a perfect pairing with the linen fabric:

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

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

I have spread out my current working sheath dress muslin a couple of times to determine the viability of my plan. I really think it will work. I am prepared to use narrower seam allowances than I usually like, and I may have to face the hem.

This is how I envision the back of my proposed dress.

This is how I envision the back of my proposed dress.

But – first things first. Initially I will be making a new muslin, with the altered and sectioned back pieces. I am sure my enthusiasm for this idea will keep me focused, and in this case, reality may have sewn the seeds for a much more creative outcome than I originally envisioned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Linen, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

Sometimes It’s All About the Fabric

Great fabric – just like great art – can (and probably should) elicit an emotional response from an engaged viewer and/or potential purchaser. It’s a very individual preference, of course, influenced by sewing knowledge, intended purpose, wear-ability, one’s fashion style, and nostalgia.

I freely admit to being nostalgic about polka dots. I have always loved them. And I have always been drawn to fabrics and fashions featuring dots, whether they be large, jumbo, small, tiny, or medium. In my fashion lexicon, they are never out of style, but it is always particularly rewarding to see dots featured as “fashion forward” – as in the July 2014 Harpers Bazaar.

Linen dotted dress - HB magazine

The dots I have been focusing on the last week or so, however, could tell those new dots a thing or two about fashion trends and durability. My beloved dots are probably celebrating their half-century mark, without a wrinkle to show for it!

Linen dotted fabric

Linen dotted fabric

Each dot is individually embroidered onto the base linen fabric.

When I purchased this vintage linen fabric online, all I had was a photo or two. There was no selvedge marking, no attached label, no sales receipt to give any clue to its origin. However, the photos were clear, the weave of the fabric was visible enough, that I felt fairly confident that I was looking at a mid-century Moygashel linen. At 36” wide, I knew from experience it was prior to 1960. I also knew that Moygashel produced many embroidered dress linens in the 1950s. Here are two Moygashel linen ads which show both printed and embroidered linens:

This ad was on the inside front cover of Vogue Pattern Book magazine from December/January 1953-54.

This ad was on the inside front cover of Vogue Pattern Book magazine from December/January 1953-54.

And this ad was on the inside front cover of Vogue pattern Book Magazine from December/January 1957-58.

And this ad was on the inside front cover of Vogue Pattern Book magazine from December/January 1957-58.

I knew the real “proof of the pudding” – to authenticate the linen as Moygashel – would be in how it laundered.  Moygashel linen was known for its resistance to wrinkling! Months went by after the fabric arrived in the mail, but a couple of weeks ago, I retrieved it from my fabric closet, put it in a gentle wash cycle (with Woolite detergent), tumble dried it on medium heat, and out it came, as I had hoped, crisp, clean, and looking like new. All it needed was just a quick ironing on high heat to make sure the fabric would lay flat for marking and cutting.

Yes, I knew I had an authentic Moygashel linen in hand, and I wanted to make a dress that would be all about the fabric. I envisioned a simple sheath, whose look could be changed so easily with different color accessories. Knowing I already had a sheath dress pattern that fit me well, I made my sewing life simple (for a change!) and went with it.

One can't get much simpler than this classic sheath design!

One can’t get much simpler than this classic sheath design!

First, a few details and precautions about sewing with embroidered linen:

1) All ironing must be done on the wrong side of the fabric, in order not to squash the embroidered details.

2) All ironing must be done on top of a towel, also for the same reason.

3) It’s best to sandwich paper under seam allowances before pressing to prevent “impressions” from going through to the right side of your fabric.

4) Because cut embroidery details have a tendency to fray along the edges of seam allowances, it is best to finish them with either a Hong Kong finish or with rayon (Snug Hug) hem tape. I used Snug Hug as it did not add any extra bulk to the inside of my garment.

Side seams finished with Snug Hug.

Side seams finished with Snug Hug.

I did not want to underline my dress (as in silk organza), as I wanted to preserve the lovely breathability of the linen fabric. However, I did want to line it, so I used a very light, almost gauzy, cotton/linen blend.

I actually catch-stitched all the seams and dart edges on the lining, to help it mold as nicely as possible with the interior of the dress.

I actually catch-stitched all the seams and dart edges on the lining, to help it mold as nicely as possible with the interior of the dress.

I decided to make the lining entirely separate and then attach it to the dress at the neck, armholes, zipper and back hem slit using a fell stitch. However, once I had my seam allowance folded back at the neck and armholes, I noticed a little bit of “shadowing through” of some of the colored dots along those edges.

Perhaps you can see the shadowing of the dots underneath the crossed pins?

Perhaps you can see the shadowing of the dots underneath the crossed pins?

To remedy this, I cut 5/8” wide strips of bias lining fabric and basted them onto the seam allowances in those areas. That was just enough to take care of that problem.

This narrow strip of lining fabric prevents the color of those dots from showing through.

This narrow strip of lining fabric prevents the color of those dots from showing through.  This is the wrong side of the fabric.

Once the dress and lining were attached, I under-stitched the neck and armhole edges by hand. It really makes a lovely interior!

Linen dot dress

A close-up of the bodice.

A close-up of the bodice.

The back of the dress, with its hand-picked zipper.

The back of the dress, with its hand-picked zipper.

And one more view of the full dress.

And one more view of the full dress.

I finally (as of July 1, 2014) got some pictures taken!

I finally (as of July 1, 2014) got some pictures taken!

Polka dotted linen sheath

Polka dotted linen sheath

I love this dress!

I love this dress!

Moygashel linen is, sadly, no longer manufactured, about which I have written previously. One of its tag lines was “The first name in linen – The last word in quality”. I might change that to read “… The lasting word in quality.” Of course, there are some beautiful linens being manufactured today, but none will ever command a dressmaker’s imagination in quite the same way that Moygashel linen did for decade after fashionable decade.

 

 

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Filed under hand-sewn zippers, Linen, Moygashel linen, Polka dots, Uncategorized

A Simple Sheath?

One of the most enduring dress styles in the last 60 years is undoubtably the classic sheath.  According to the definition in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, a sheath can be one of two constructions:  without a set-in waist or with a set-in waist.  In either case, the silhouette is straight, narrow, and fitted, “shaped to body with vertical darts”, with ease of movement facilitated by a slash at back or an inverted pleat.  “Both styles were popular in 1950s and early 1960s.  Revived periodically.”

Fairchild's illustration of a sheath dress.  copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

Fairchild’s illustration of a sheath dress. copyright 2003, The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion 3rd Edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York.

It doesn’t take very long looking at current fashion magazines and websites to see that the sheath dress is enjoying one of those revivals right now.  And why not?  It is an infinitely versatile style, going from casual to dressy just by choice of fabric.  Earlier in the Summer when I was shopping at Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC with Susan Khalje’s  “Classic French Jacket” class, I succumbed to purchasing 1½ yards extra of my lining fabric, with the express intention of making a sheath dress out of it.  The fabric is definitely a demonstrative print, so I thought the simpler the style of dress, the better.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

My lining and dress fabric, still on the bolt.

I have to admit I had a few moments when I wondered if that fabric, which I loved as the lining in my jacket, might not be a bit too much for a dress.  Well, too late for any misgivings – this dress was going to happen!  Then suddenly I started seeing photos of more and more sheath dresses, many of them made out of very bold and colorful fabrics.  Two fashion websites I often visit for inspiration and ogling each featured such dresses:

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress can be found on the Lee Anderson Couture website.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta's Ready-to-wear line.

This dress is from Oscar De la Renta’s Ready-to-wear line.

Encouraged with this affirmation of my idea, I chose my pattern, ordered china silk for the lining (I already had black organza underlining), purchased the zipper and proceeded to plan my dress.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using the third view without the neck and hem bands.

I decided to adapt this simple pattern, using view A (on the right) without the neck and hem bands.

First, of course, I once again sewed up the muslin I had already made for this pattern earlier in the summer.  Here are the changes I made:

1) I sewed the neckband onto the body of the dress and treated it all as one.

2) I eliminated the facings, as I was making this dress with couture techniques.

3) I tweaked the fit a little more, to make it more fitted than my earlier dress (which was belted and needed a little more ease).

4) I adjusted the shoulder to be cut a little higher on the arm.

5) I dipped the neckline a little bit, to match the neckline on my jacket.

6) I added a slit in the back seam for ease of movement.

While I love the look, sheen and feel of silk charmeuse, I don’t think it is the easiest fabric to work with.  I thought I could make my job easier if, when laying out the fabric for pattern (muslin) placement and cutting, I was able to control the slipperiness of it somehow.  I decided to use  half of my dining room table, covered with heavy drapery flannel (which is what I use under tablecloths for cushioning).   The flannel “anchored” it beautifully.

Then I was faced with a design element quandary.  Before I cut out my jacket lining in Susan Khalje’s class, she and I had looked at the fabric with my dress in mind –and had determined that one of the gold “cross” lines in the design should hit at about my breastbone.  However, once I had the fabric remaining from my jacket laid out, I realized that was not going to work.  I tried every which way, and, with the fabric I had available to me, I simply could not match up the pattern in the fabric across the front and two side backs of the pattern and still “cross” my breastbone.  It took a couple of hours, but I finally was able to come up with a new plan – this one to have one of the “cross” details at my waist.  This allowed me to have a shoulder detail I really liked, a black field  (with cherries) at my neckline, and the slimming effect of a “cinched” waist, effected entirely by the design in the fabric!

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

Here are the organza underlining pieces laid out on the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

This photo shows exactly how I determined where to position the design in the fabric.

Then I was off and sewing!

Zipper and neck details.

Zipper and neck details.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

I stabilized the shoulders with a bit of selvedge from the organza underlining.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

A close-up of the hand-picked zipper.

The dress turned inside out!

The dress turned inside out.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

A detail of the shoulder and neck edge.

Finished!  What do you think?  Too demonstrative or just right?

Finished! What do you think? Too demonstrative or just right?

A back view.

A back view.

A side view

A side view

And, of course, I have to show the dress with its Chanel-inspired jacket:

A simple sheathA simple sheath

A simple sheath

This project is complete!

This project is complete!

Once again, I underestimated just how long it takes to make a dress using all couture techniques – even a simple (?) sheath dress.

Was it worth it?  Absolutely!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, underlinings