Tag Archives: Unprinted patterns from the 1950s

Saying YES to a Ladylike Dress

What is it exactly that makes a particular dress elicit the description “ladylike”?  Is it primarily the fabric – or the color – or the style – or, as most would suggest, a combination of all these things?  And why, exactly, am I asking this question??

As one who generally is attracted to tailored, usually unfussy “frocks”, I had to answer this question for myself about this pattern, which, although still unfussy, with simple lines, just seems to be such a ladylike look:

Dated 1958, this pattern shows the influence of Christian Dior.

Dated 1958, this pattern shows the influence of Christian Dior.

This is what I’ve decided.  I definitely think you start with the style – or the pattern – and this one has it.  There are four elements which work together to make this a ladylike look: 1) a defined waist, here further delineated with a purchased belt (or, as the pattern calls it, a “novelty” belt); 2) a soft shoulder line, which in this pattern consists of a set-in sleeve on the front bodice, but kimono in the back – very clever; 3) a full skirt, this one with inverted box pleats which soften the fullness to a considerable degree (although not quite enough for me, as I will explain later); 4) three-quarter length sleeves, which are the most flattering for most women, and which provide the perfect foil for bracelets or gloves.

The middle sketch on the back of the envelope shows the kimono sleeve detail on the back of the dress.

The middle sketch on the back of the envelope shows the kimono sleeve detail on the back of the dress.

I’ve had this pattern for well over a year, but it took me a while to pair it with this fabric which I’ve had forever (well, not that long, but probably close to 10 years – which makes it seem like a baby compared to how long I’ve had some of my Moygashel linen!).

I'm not sure the fine twill weave of this fabric is visible here.

I’m not sure the fine twill weave of this fabric is visible here.

This fabric is a very beautiful wool/cotton blend, lightweight, but with a solid hand and very subtle fine twill weave to it.  It’s 60” wide and I bought three yards, so I obviously had plenty of fabric with which to work.  I’m in love with the color, a deep raspberry pink – I just cannot stay away from pinks of any shade.

Knowing that I would be making this dress in knee-length rather than mid-calf made me reconsider the fullness of the skirt.  In thinking about this, I remembered another pattern in my collection, which shows a full skirt in the front and a fitted, plain skirt in the back.

This is an unprinted pattern, which makes working with its pieces  difficult.

This is an unprinted pattern, which makes working with its pieces difficult.

So – I decided to see if I could combine the two patterns to create the same look, but with less fullness.  The second pattern has a three piece back, which obviously would not work with a center back zipper.

Here is the detail of the skirt back.

Here is the detail of the skirt back.

So I decided to combine the side back and center back pattern pieces, add two darts to achieve a similar fit, and add a center back seam to match the seaming in the first pattern.

This is how I fit the two back skirt pieces together to make one piece.  The "triangle" became two narrow darts, which seemed to work better than one wide one.

This is how I fit the two back skirt pieces together to make one piece. The “triangle” became two narrow darts, which seemed to work better than one wide one.

I took a little more fullness out of the front pattern pieces of the first dress and reconfigured the box pleats.  Then, of course, I made a muslin to see if this would all work.  It certainly seems like it will.  The width of the skirt, according to the pattern envelope, was originally supposed to be about 100”.  The width of my muslin skirt is 56” – which means I removed over a yard in the skirt width!  Sometimes things look and hang a bit differently in the fashion fabric as compared to the muslin, so I am proceeding with cautious optimism.

I am making the dress with couture techniques – and I’m ready to do some serious sewing now that I have silk organza hand-basted to all the pattern pieces.

My pile of basted pieces.

My pile of basted pieces.

In sewing, I am always reminded of this quote from Wilhela Cushman:  “Just around the corner in every woman’s mind – is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or an entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her.”  I do indeed hope this will turn out to be a lovely dress – with enchanting ladylike qualities!

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Filed under couture construction, kimono sleeves, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

Season for Shopping and Sewing

Well, every season is the season for sewing, and shopping, too, for that matter, especially for fabric.  But somehow, the holiday season seems to take both activities to a new level for the year.   Somehow, knowing how to sew makes one very susceptible to feeling like at least one or two of your planned gifts to family or friends be hand-sewn by YOU.  I, of course, am one of these people.

Remembering some of the gifts I have made over the years came into sharp focus this week.  I went into a storage box (acid-free, of course) where I have some family textile heirlooms in safe-keeping.  I was in search of a Christmas item, but what caught my eye were two aprons which I made the first Christmas my husband and I were married.  It was 1973.  I wanted to do something special for my new mother-in-law and my husband’s aunt, and since they were both “apron-wearers” I thought they might like hand-made aprons.  I designed  a simple pattern, which had two pockets and rick-rack trim.  Gingham was widely available, so I chose colors I knew they each liked.   Most of the sewing on them was by hand, and I still remember furiously working on them to get them finished on time.  I also remember the true delight that both ladies showed upon opening them. I obviously had made just the right thing!

This was the apron I made for my mother-in-law.

This is the apron I made for my mother-in-law.

Season for sewing - apron

And this apron was for my husband’s aunt.  If I made this apron for myself, I would add a “bib” to it.

I added a label with my name on it!

I added a label with my name on it!

Twenty years earlier, in 1953, Vogue Pattern Book magazine had a multi-page feature on “Merry Christmas Gifts and Fashions.”  I must say those 1950s’ home-sewers must have been very ambitious, as this is only part of what was suggested as gift projects:

1)  Lots of sequin-embellished ornaments and decorations.

There were sevben apages of projects like this in the December/January 1953-54 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine.

There were seven pages of projects like this in the December/January 1953-54 issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine, c1953, The Conde Nast Publications, Inc.

2)  Doesn’t everyone make ties, shirts, jackets, and pajamas for husbands and grown sons?  “The tailoring is not hard with Vogue’s step-by-step, clear sewing directions.”

This is one of two pages of things to make for men.

This is one of two pages of things to make for men.

3)  Of course you’ll sew for your little ones (which I did a lot of when my own children were young….)

Everything from petticoats to overcoats were featured for children.  Lacking from all these suggestions in this feature were dolls' clothes, surprisingly.

Everything from petticoats to overcoats were featured for children. Lacking from all these suggestions in this feature were dolls’ clothes, surprisingly.  Maybe Vogue Patterns had not yet started making patterns for doll clothes.

4)  Now we’re getting into my favorite ideas – “something special for the girl who loves pretty, unusual  things…”

The two tops shown on this page would be very stylish today.  And the grouping of accessories just happens to from a pattern which i own.

The two tops shown on this page would be very stylish today. And the grouping of accessories just happens to be from a pattern which I own.

Here is the pattern, which includes patterns for other accessories, as well:

The curved belt (not the one with the spikes!) attracted me to this pattern even though it is an unprinted one.

The curved belt (not the one with the spikes!) attracted me to this pattern even though it is an unprinted one.

And here are more suggestions for stylish women:

I can do without the jacket with the ball fringe, but I love that wrap blouse featured in the red triangle on the right!

I can do without the jacket with the ball fringe, but I love that wrap blouse featured in the red triangle on the right!

5)  It seems appropriate that the section ended with a feature on aprons and clothes to wear at home.

"At home clothes for serious work or lazy-lounging."  I doubt too many home sewers are doing lazy lounging this time of year - or ever!

“At home clothes for serious work or lazy-lounging.” I doubt too many home sewers are doing lazy lounging this time of year – or ever!

So – am I making/sewing any gifts this year?  I have just one very simple thing planned (still in my head).  But – along with the Christmas decorating, the shopping, the wrapping, the cookie-making, the cards, the parties and all the other wonders of the season – I am hoping to finish my current work-in-progress (a wool dress for me) and start and finish (?) a pair of wool pants – also for me.  Yes, for me.  Should I feel guilty about this??

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Filed under aprons, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

What Do a Chanel Jacket and a Chicken Have in Common?

Not much – unless you were in my sewing room last week.

When we were out in California very recently, my son’s girlfriend, Rachel, showed me a Chanel jacket she had found at a store which sells vintage clothing.  Sadly, she had never been able to wear it because it had very prominent shoulder pads, which screamed 1980s.  Otherwise it was a very wearable cropped jacket with petite convertible collar, in a creamy white wool with just a hint of  a sparkly windowpane weave.  Rachel asked me what I thought could be done with it.

Hm-m-m-m, I looked inside it, felt around those shoulder pads hidden inside the lining, and guessed that I could easily remove them and replace them with a much more reasonable sleeve header.  Of course, I’d need to bring the jacket home with me, so in the suitcase it went, landing in my sewing room.

I carefully removed the stitching from the lining at the right shoulder and took a peek.  The shoulder pad had been attached with hand stitches, easily snipped.  Out it came.  I cut a piece of French sleeve heading tape, called Cigarette, which I had purchased from Susan Khalje’s website. (I had used this in my Craftsy course The Couture Dress.)

The shoulder pad is in plain view in this photo.

The jacket has top-center seams on the sleeves, so with that extra fabric bulk, I determined that the simple sleeve heading would be enough shaping.  Here is the jacket with just the side on the left fixed:

Can you see how bulky the shoulder on the right is?

Here I have placed the shoulder pad on top to show some perspective on its bulk.

And here is the jacket with both shoulders complete and all sewn up inside (with itty-bitty stitches):

The padded hanger helps to simulate the shoulder line.

Of course, I had to guess a little on the final fit as I did not have Rachel here to try it on.  But I am sure, once it completes its return trip to California, that it has a better chance of being worn now than before!

It was interesting for me to be able to see inside a Chanel jacket – I discovered some details I thought I might find – such as 1) the wool fabric was totally underlined in what looks like silk organza; and 2) hand-sewing was evident in quite a few areas.  However, the seams were not catch-stitched to the underlining, which I thought they might be.  The most amazing thing was actually seeing those shoulder pads – as their construction was almost exactly like view C of Vogue 7503, my vintage pattern from 1953. How cool is that?

Two authentic Chanel shoulder pads!

View C is right in the middle.

So that was Chanel.  But what about the chicken?  Another project I wanted to finish last week was an auction item for my garden club’s annual fundraiser.  As I am the only one in my club who has a backyard flock of chickens (yes – can you believe it?), I like to put together what I call a “Little Red Hen” basket to add to our auction selection every year or so.  Besides the main attraction of a couple dozen of our farm-fresh eggs, I add other items with a chicken theme.  Some examples are egg poachers, an egg timer, cocktail napkins with chickens on them – things like that.  Of course, as one who sews, it is impossible for me to do a project like this without adding something handmade. So this year, I made a tea cozy with a matching chicken potholder.  I had already completed the tea cozy a couple of weeks ago, but the potholder  – well, it had to take its place behind Chanel.    It did not take long for me to fashion this little hen (in red, of course) to match the cozy. Here she is, ready to perch on the handle of any hot pan:

She is interlined with several layers of heavy cotton flannel.

She’s pretty underneath it all, too!

Here is the little red hen in front of the tea cozy.

Tthe bottom of the tea cozy can be folded out to fit a higher pot.

So what was more fun – and what did really come first– Chanel or the chicken?  Now there are two questions for the ages!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, couture construction, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Uncategorized, underlinings, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue pattern 7503 for shoulder shapes, woolens

Lessons from 1953

When I first discovered vintage Vogue patterns on eBay last Spring, I was delighted to find that most of the patterns from the 1950s were dated, usually with a line which stated, for example, Copyright 1956 The Conde Nast Publications, Inc..  It took me a couple of weeks to realize that I should also be looking for another important bit of information on the pattern cover: the words Printed Pattern.  I discovered this the hard way;  I purchased a pattern, dated 1953, that was not printed.

I've always liked Asian-inspired dress designs, and I thought this one from 1953 was so pretty. Do you see the size on this pattern? Yes - it's a 14! That's the size one wore in 1953 to fit a 32" bust and 35" hip.

 

I remember my mother mentioning how difficult unprinted patterns were to use – and I was about to find out why! The tissue pattern pieces were only marked with small holes of varying sizes;  to try to make sense of these markings, I had to look at the instruction layout sheets and translate if they were for a dart,  a stitching line, a pivot point, or some other detail.

These particular pattern pieces had never been used – and I must admit I felt a little guilty taking them from their envelope where they had quietly lived for so many years and pinning them onto my fabric, but pin I did.  I cut that baby out, marked that nebulous galaxy of pattern holes as best I could with chalk, and proceeded to sew, following the directions precisely.

The first thing I realized was that the bust darts were a little too high, but that was an easy fix (seam ripper and redrawing the dart lines).  These early patterns say that the dress should be fitted over the proper foundation garments.  (I don’t think they meant just comfy bra and cotton panties.) Anyone who has watched old movies or even Mad Men recognizes that mid-century look of the pointed and properly perched bosom! That’s one mid-century look I’ll forego.   So that was adjustment # 1.

I lowered the bust line by re-placing the darts.

Next, do you see that band that runs the length of the dress?  The pattern pieces for that were shaped to match the curve of the neck and across the chest.  I thought to myself – now why not just use a bias piece of fabric, which I felt would take the curves better and be easier to topstitch without puckers.  But I followed the pattern exactly – and wouldn’t you know, I had exactly those problems topstitching the curved areas.  As if that were not bad enough, when I tried on the partially completed dress, the neck fit too high and tight, rumpling up the shoulders and it looked awful.

I was going to have to re-cut the neckline, to make it larger. In doing that, I knew the neck area of the band, as it was cut out, would no longer match the new neckline.  I was going to have to piece in another section.  This was not fun, and I was beginning to think this lovely blue dupioni silk was going to end up as a skirt instead of a dress.  But I went back to my original thought – and cut a bias piece to fill in that recut section.  It worked!  That was BIG (ver-r-r-ry BIG) adjustment # 2.

Here is the recut neckline. I was able to hide the pieced seam under the front flap.

Here is the back of the neckline after I recut it.

Here is a close-up of the bodice and armhole band.

By now I was sick of this dress.  I still had buttons to cover and attach, armholes to do, interior snaps, the hem, and the cummerbund to complete.  Well, you can see from the photos that I did finish this dress, although it was late summer before I sewed the last stitch.

The completed dress. You can see I shortened the hem from mid-calf (as shown on the pattern envelope) to just below the knee.

Here is a close-up of the covered buttons and button loops.

I’m still not completely happy with it, but it provided me with these valuable lessons:

1)   Stay away from unprinted patterns.

2)   Check the bustline placement before marking and sewing the darts.

3)   When in doubt, trust my instincts (I should have used all bias for that band and those armholes.)

4)   For best results, make the pattern up in muslin first.  If I had done this, I could have made the bust and neck adjustments before I cut the pattern out in the blue and white silk.

I had a chance to wear this dress during the warm September we had here in eastern Pennsylvania – and I am sure no one suspected I was wearing a dress designed in 1953!  Amazing!

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Filed under Asian-inspired dress designs, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns