Tag Archives: vintage fashion

A Good Start

Happy December! It seems like a long time since I have been here with a new post for Fifty Dresses. The first thing I want to say, since my forced hiatus from sewing (due to my badly injured left hand), is “Thank You!” to so many of you who gave me encouragement, sent sympathy and healing thoughts, and made me feel like such a valued part of our worldwide fashion sewing community. Your kindnesses meant the world to me at a personally difficult and discouraging time.

Although my heart never left sewing (attested to by the new vintage patterns and a couple of lengths of new fabrics which have somehow found their way to my sewing room over the past weeks!), my hands have finally come back to it as well. While I still have weeks and weeks of “hand therapy” to attend in an effort to restore full use of my left hand, I now can sew at the machine, cut and mark fabric, and even hand sew. Having said that, I wish I had something truly spectacular to show you to prove that point, but alas, I do not. What I can show you is a promise of things to come, things which are now destined to make their appearance in 2017 instead of in November or December of 2016.

I had my heart set on getting this fabric made into a dress to wear during this month of December, even though back in October I still had not settled on a pattern for it.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. It is a wool/silk blend, similar to fabric in a dress I made last Fall.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. It is a wool/silk blend, similar to fabric in a dress I made last Fall.

After searching online through many, many vintage patterns, I finally came across this one, an Advance pattern (a small departure from my normal preference for Vogue):

I still need to do a little research on the exact date for this pattern, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

I still need to do a little research on the exact date for this pattern, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

I could easily see this dress made up in polka dots, with the three-quarter sleeves. I think the back detail with the buttons is so pretty. My muslin is in the process of being completed, and then I will determine if this style looks good on me. I certainly hope so…

Another project I wanted to complete this Fall was a new bathrobe. A while ago I found this vintage Viyella fabric (cotton/wool blend, warm but light-weight, 5¼ yards, 35” wide), and it just spoke “bathrobe” to me.

The paper label is still attached to this length of fabric.

The paper label is still attached to this length of fabric.  Isn’t it lovely that this fabric is washable?

This Vogue pattern seems just about perfect for it, as long as I can match the plaid and still have enough yardage to eke it out. My muslin will tell the story.

I definitely want to make the long version of this robe.

I definitely want to make the long version of this robe. This pattern is from the late 1950s.

But before I can get any further on either of these projects, I have some sewing to do for Christmas gifts. The countdown is on, but I think I have a good start. It is wonderful to be back in my sewing room, which now looks like a cross between a couture atelier and Santa’s workshop, with fabric and wrapping paper and ribbons vying for equal space.  Happy December, indeed!

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Filed under Day dresses, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

“Mrs. Scimpy”

Two years ago I made this dress:

The Year of Magical Sewing

From this pattern:

Perfect Blue - Mattli pattern

Once I had the dress finished, I liked it so much that I decided a coordinating coat, with a lining to match the dress would be wonderful – sometime. I even went so far as to order more of the blue silk blend fabric from EmmaOneSock, while I knew it would still be available.   Tucked away in my fabric closet, it has patiently waited while I searched and searched for the right coat fabric in a coordinating/contrasting color and in silk. I finally found it last Spring, during a online silk sale at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.

Taffeta coat - swatch

The fabric is lightweight silk taffeta, with the weft in persimmon color and the warp in fuchsia pink, giving it a shimmer which changes color with movement. I decided it would be my first project after we returned from our summer travels – with the intention of having it ready to wear with the dress to a September wedding, which happens to be at a location where a light coat or wrap is advisable.

All along I had intended to use the Jo Mattli coat pattern that is shown with the dress. I liked the idea of no buttons and simple lines.

Taffeta coat - Mattli pattern

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

However, when I got the pattern pieces out, here is what I found:

Front and back pattern pieces

Front and back pattern pieces

Yep, that is one voluminous coat! I knew that, even with taking some of the bulk out, I would probably still look like I was wearing a tent. With that slim dress, I am not sure why the coat has to be so full, but I had no qualms about deciding not to go in that direction. However, I still wanted a coat with no buttons or maybe just one button. I dug through my collection and came up with several possibilities, which included this one:

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn't convinced this was the right look.

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn’t convinced this was the right look.

I have another Jo Mattli coat and dress design which I love, but I think the coat would make up much more attractively in wool rather than silk taffeta, so I ruled this one out:

Taffeta coat - 2nd Mattli pattern

Then I came across this one: View B shows it with no button/buttonholes down the front. I also like the three-quarter sleeves, with the cuff detail.

The pattern description reads: "Striaght coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.

The pattern description reads: “Straight coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.”  I knew this coat would take on an appropriate dressy look when made up in silk taffeta.

Now –  I try to buy vintage Vogue patterns in sizes with a 32” bust and 34” hip measurement; however, that is not always possible, so I will go up or down a size if it is a pattern I really want to have. When I make my muslin (toile) for such a pattern, I try to include adjustments for the size issues so that my final alterations will be easier. However, the handwritten note on the front of this pattern gave me pause: “too scimpy” it reads. She obviously meant “skimpy,” but those two words spoke volumes to me (no pun intended!) Maybe I would just follow the pattern exactly (except for lowering the bust which I always have to do), and see if the size is okay.

Taffeta coat - pencil notes

And that is exactly what happened! Little did Mrs. “Scimpy” know that her simple pattern review, circa 1961, would save me both time and effort in 2016!

It looks like Mrs. Scimpy made her coat out of red wool, with a matching skirt. Her pencil notes on the yardage required indicate such, along with the cost of the fabrics: $22. I certainly hope she figured out that the coat was too skimpy in time to make adjustments, as a red wool coat with matching skirt would be lovely indeed!

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Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Théâtre de la Mode

 

The third week of our vacation led us to the Columbia River Gorge, about an hour east of Portland, Oregon, but on the Washington state side of the River. When we made our travel plans, the Théâtre de la Mode was the last thing I expected to see. But knowing that this famous exhibit resides in a museum in “a remote, out-of-the–way” part of Washington state, I looked it up a few weeks before our departure. To my great surprise, I realized we were going to be only about an hour west of the Maryhill Museum, home to this Exhibit since 1952. I never expected to see any part of this Exhibit in person, so I was elated to know I was going to have the opportunity to view it.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this collection of post-WWII fashion, here’s a brief history. At the end of WWII, France was left economically bereft, the population experiencing severe shortages of every kind. The fashion industry in Paris had been decimated by the German occupation, but it was still alive and anxious to make a comeback. The idea for a miniature traveling “theatre of fashion” was conceived by Robert Ricci, the son of the couturier, Nina Ricci. It’s intent was two-fold: to provide a platform for the well-known fashion houses to showcase their designs, with the intent of re-establishing French domination of high fashion, and as a fund-raiser for the French survivors of the war. It was decided to use mannequins of approximately 1/3 the scale of humans (27.5 inches tall), in order to conserve precious materials. It was also decided to construct the mannequins out of wire, making them distinct from actual dolls, and to maximize the effect of the clothing, which they would model.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a "naked" mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and "petit mains" were working with while dressing them.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a “naked” mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and “petit mains” were working with while dressing them.

Joining the fashion houses in this endeavor were milliners, hairstylists, jewelers, handbag makers and shoemakers. Fifteen sets, within which to show the dressed mannequins, were created by noted artists and showcased Parisian street scenes, as well as Parisian interiors.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

And here is another view of it.

And here is another view of it.

When the Théâtre de la Mode was ready to tour, almost 200 mannequins had been dressed. Its first opening was at The Louvre on March 28th, 1945. In its first month of exhibition, 100,000 visitors went to see it, raising one million francs for the efforts of war relief. From Paris, it went to London, Leeds, Barcelona, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Vienna, eventually traveling to the United States. Its final showing was in San Francisco, where the collection was mysteriously stored, post-exhibition, in the basement of a local department store. An interested patron of the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington (USA), Alma de Bretteville Spreckles, spearheaded its acquisition by the Museum in 1952. Although the jewelry worn by the mannequins had already been returned to France, and the sets were lost, the majority of the fashions and models were intact.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.  The drawing is by Jean Cocteau.

Currently, the Maryhill Museum exhibits one-third of the entirety of the Théâtre at a time, on a three-year cycle. This meant, of course, that I would only see one-third of the mannequins during my visit, but I could live with that! My only regret is that none of the designs by Balenciaga were currently on display. (I might have to figure out a way to go back in future years??) But there were plenty of other notable fashion houses represented, as well as some I had not previously known about. Here are some of my favorites (taken with an I-phone, and no flash, making the quality less than desired in some instances):

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Not all the fashions were ball gowns, however,  Here is a sports ensemble by Hermes:

Hermes copy

Honey suede jacket with black wool crepe skirt. The shoes are honey suede platform oxfords!

Day dresses and suits were in abundance:

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Now this certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it feaur=tres a navy wol cat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

Now this is certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it features a navy wool coat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

One of my favorite dresses is shown in one of the street scenes above.  Here it is shown in the catalogue:

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with a white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

And although not among my favorite fashions, this evening dress by Schiaparelli is not to be missed:

Mode Schiaparelli copy

The catalogue was for sale in the Museum Store (and it is also available on Amazon.) It not only gives a complete and extensive history of the Exhibit, it also includes a Catalogue Raisonne and many detailed images. Definitely worth your while if you are interested in finding out more about this amazing chapter in the history of Haute Couture, of which I have here barely scratched the surface.

There was much of other interest to see in the Maryhill Museum as well, including an extensive collection of early Native American art and artifacts, and some beautiful early blankets which complemented our earlier visit to the Pendleton store:

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

And who is this?

It's never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens' Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I Exhibit=gazed!

It’s never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens’ Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I exhibit-gazed!

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Filed under Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

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

Blame It on the Buttons

It can be a little overwhelming to look at my (growing) collection of beautiful summer linens, and then try to make a decision on which piece to select for my next project.

Fortunately, a random purchase of buttons helped me make up my mind this time around. I found these buttons at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco last year, and purchased them on a whim, not knowing when or how I would use them. I also don’t know what possessed me to purchase 6 of them, but that’s what I did.

Yes, those are interlocking "a la Chanel" Cs.

Yes, those are interlocking “a la Chanel” Cs.

When I got them home, I realized they were a perfect match with a length of vintage, pale yellow, Moygashel linen in my possession. I tucked the fabric and the buttons away together, confident that the perfect pattern would also be found amongst my many vintage Vogue patterns.

It was a bit of a trick finding a pattern that needed 6 (or fewer) ¾” buttons. This one kept surfacing as the most ideal candidate:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

Ideal, except for the yardage needed, that is. Many of you know by now that being a “little shy” of the prescribed fabric usually does not keep me from my desired goal! After making a fitting muslin and making the necessary adjustments, I cut out my underlining (light weight linen/cotton blend) and used that as my pattern. It was immediately evident that I did not have enough of that 35” width linen.

Or did I? I figured if I eliminated the center back box pleat and replaced it with just a slit in the back center seam, I’d save a bit of yardage requirements. I could make the sleeve hem facings out of the underlining, saving a bit more. And if I cut the collar on the horizontal straight of grain rather then the vertical, I could just fit the pattern pieces onto my yardage. It was a good thing I had already decided to eliminate the chest pockets (a little too 1950s.) And a self-belt?   Out of the question!

A belt turned out to be a perplexing question. I had been fortunate enough for a few years to have my belts and covered buttons custom made by Pat Mahoney, but since her retirement last year, I have found no replacement for her services. I was dreading the prospect of making my own belt. The only good thing was I knew I had a piece of vintage Moygashel linen in a medium navy blue (see the button photo above) which would be a good contrasting color for the yellow dress. I decided I would think about actually making the belt after I had the dress itself finished.

For a simple shirtwaist dress, there were a number of time-consuming details, like the gussets I covered in my last post. There were also six bound buttonholes to work.

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

It always amazes me how long these buttonholes take to make!

Blame it on the buttons

 

There were separate front bodice facings, and a front skirt placket with separate facings. There were sleeve hem facings (as mentioned above), and lots of trimming, clipping, and grading of seams! And then the dress was done.  Except for the belt, of course.

After giving myself a pep talk, I took out one of Pat’s belts and studied it, vowing to duplicate as closely as possible her techniques and precision. Fortunately I had a belt buckle from long ago, which I had saved. It was for a 1.25” width belt, which is exactly what I wanted.  I plunged ahead and this what I made, working the eyelets by hand (which fortunately don’t show much on the dark linen!):

Blame it on the buttons

The underside, just in case you are curious!

Although not my favorite dress of all time, I think I’ll get good use out of it, and I do love its pairing with “summer” blue.

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

Blame it on the buttons

The clutch is a perfect match with the belt – how lucky is that?

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Cool linen for a hot summer!

Best of all, the buttons add just the right, somewhat mysterious, touch.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Day dresses, kimono sleeves, Linen, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Gazing at Gussets and Fashion Exhibits

We are almost halfway through the sewing year! Time for me to just keep plugging along, being grateful for any hours I can spend sewing – or dreaming about sewing. Lately it seems I have spent more time dreaming about it than actually accomplishing anything. But that’s not quite true. I have actually done a lot of sewing (I call it necessary sewing) – just not anything worth sharing. But that is about to change.

I am working on a yellow linen shirtdress, using this pattern:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

I am making the short sleeve version – but a little shorter!

I am really getting to be a fan of kimono sleeves. They were incredibly popular in the 1950s (and early ‘60s), and their construction varies according to the type of gusset used. The dress in this pattern has a gusset that forms part of the sleeve, itself.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

The instructions for inserting the gusset are quite explicit and interesting, I think. The first step is to work a “bar” across the point on the bodice where the matching point of the gusset is placed. I have actually never seen this done, but it makes sense as it reinforces that stress point.

Gazing at Gussets 1st diagran

I also like the double stitching on the interior seams of the gusset as shown in this section:

Gazing at Gussets 2nd diagram

Here is how the finished short sleeve is diagrammed:

Gazing at Gussets 3rd diagram

And here are some photos of the finished gussets on my dress:

Gazing at Gussets

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the underpart of the sleeve.

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the under-section of the sleeve.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

I managed to tear myself away from my sewing room for a few hours this week to go to see an exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (USA). Entitled Philadelphia In Style, the exhibit featured fashions either made, worn or purchased in Philadelphia, PA over the course of about 100 years (1880-1980).

Duskin - Exhibit title

All are part of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a veritable treasure trove of designer, haute couture and ready-to-wear dresses, coats, ensembles, shoes, handbags, and accessories of all types. The Exhibit has special meaning for those of us with Philadelphia ties, but universal meaning for lovers of fine fashion anywhere.

Although the clothing on display was fascinating and, for the most part, lovely, it was the numerous fashion illustrations, framed and lined up one after the other, which really caught my attention. They had all been done in 1954 for a specialty ladies’ shop in Philadelphia, called Nan Duskin. The most amazing thing is that each one had a swatch of the intended fabric taped in the corner of each drawing. Here is a sampling:

Duskin sketch - purple dress

The buttons were still in question for this dress – note the line in the upper right side “buttons?”

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

I love the saucy pose in this sketch - and the posy perched on the shoulder!

I love the saucy pose in this sketch – and the posy perched on the shoulder!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

Here are a couple of the fashions represented in the Exhibit:

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table "Irene for Nan Duskin." This was Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA.

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table “Irene for Nan Duskin.” (Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA)

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. the fabric is s ilk and wool brocade.

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. The fabric is silk and wool brocade.

The Exhibit did manage to include one of the most unattractive Chanel suits I think I have ever seen.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

But it was still fascinating to look at the cuff detail:

Duskin Chanel suit detail

One of the most charming displays in the Exhibit was a collection of hat boxes from the stores in Philadelphia which were the purveyors of so many fine fashions over the decades.

Duskin - hat box display

As a lover of pretty boxes and bags, I found this vignette not only delightful, but also evocative of the thought and care inherent in buying and wearing beautiful fashions. They reminded me of the same little thrill I get when a piece of beautiful fabric which I have purchased shows up in the mail, elegantly presented in crisp tissue and tied with silky ribbons.   It makes it oh-so-easy to fall in love immediately!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Coco Chanel, Day dresses, Dressmaker suits, Fashion Exhibits, Gussets, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

“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

An Evening Jacket for the Ages

“Very up and coming” for the Fall of 1962, according to Vogue Pattern Magazine, was “the striking medium between a straight line and a bold curve – the gentle convex ‘barrel’ shaping of this coat:”

An Evening Jacket for the Ages - picture

It is from this time period – perhaps a year or two later – that this Designer Pattern comes:

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

I don’t know many of us who want to look like they are in a barrel, so it was my intention to take the best parts of the design of the evening jacket and then adapt it to a more current look, or at least to one that did not scream 1963/64

The details I loved about it were: 1) the shaped, two-part collar, which doesn’t really look like a collar, rather as an extension of the body of the jacket, but with more definition to it:

Evening jacket for the Ages

2) the dipped back hem of the jacket:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

I purchased the yellow silk taffeta from Britex Fabrics, while the dress fabric, also silk, is from Mendel Goldberg.

Evening Jacket for the Ages

3) the below-elbow length, kimono sleeves with their clever built-in gusset, and 4) the prominent, offset buttons:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

The top buttonhole is a slot-seam one, while the other two are bound buttonholes.

Less attractive to me was the fullness of the body of the jacket.

My muslin (toile) showed me that I needed to eliminate quite a bit of that fullness from the pattern pieces. I took 2 inches right out of the back of the jacket, making for much less to be gathered into the collar:

Even with two inches removed from the center back seam, there is still enough to gather nicely into the collar.

Even with two inches removed from the center back seam, there is still enough to gather nicely into the collar.

I also took a large wedge out of the each side of the back:

The dark blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line. the original seam line is marked in red.

The dark blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line. The original seam line is marked in red.

Then to add a little more shaping, I re-drew the side seams in the side underarm sections:

Again, the blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line.

Again, the blue line on the left is my re-drawn seam line.

Because the buttons are such a prominent feature of the jacket, I knew I had to find the right ones. The pattern called for them to be 1¼” in diameter. That is a big button! I also knew they had to be a bit fancy or elegant, and I envisioned mother-of-pearl as the ideal composition. It took a while, but I found these buttons on eBay, and they looked just about perfect to me: right size, beautifully carved mother-of- pearl with a swirl design which I thought would add just the right contrast to the silk taffeta of the jacket. As it turned out, they were also the right price (always a welcome surprise!), and more beautiful when they arrived than I had anticipated:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

These buttons have a substantial heft to them, making them well suited for their application on this jacket.

After getting the body of the jacket together, I tried it on to look at the length of it. Fortunately I had cut my pattern with about an extra half-inch in the length, and I used it, plus another ¼ of an inch, as it just looked better a little longer.

Another plus to lengthening the jacket is that the sleeve length lined up more attractively, something I didn't realize until I saw these photos!

Another plus to lengthening the jacket is that the sleeve length lined up more attractively, something I didn’t realize until I saw these photos.

I did my usual flat applied piping along the edge of the lining:

Here is the piping sewn in place.

Here is the piping sewn in place.

The green piping picks up the green in the dress. I opted for an off-white lining, which is a little boring but that's okay!

The green piping picks up the green in the dress. I opted for an off-white lining, which is a little boring but that’s okay.

And I added the label I had:

Evening Jacket for the Ages

Evening Jacket for the Ages

Evening Jacket for the Ages

A few wrinkles left over from the jacket’s first wearing!

Evening Jacket for the Ages

Evening Jacket for the Agea

Evening Jacket for the Ages

I have to say, I really love this evening jacket. I have decided it is going to have another life – with another dress, this one constructed with the double, slanted flounce on it (see pattern above).  It would look fairly fabulous with a black and goldenrod printed silk – or navy, white and goldenrod printed silk…   I’ll be on the search.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, piping, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Wedding Ready

Why is it that we so often think every wedding to which we are invited means we need a new dress? Sometimes it is warranted; maybe we really do need a new dress! Maybe what we already have in our closet isn’t right for the season or the “ambience” of the wedding site. Maybe the couple getting married is very dear to us, and it just seems right to celebrate this event with something new and special. Maybe the wedding season is busy enough that we really cannot wear the same dress to multiple events where we will probably see many of the same friends and people. But maybe, just maybe, a wedding invitation is exactly the perfect excuse we need to indulge our love of fancy, dressy clothes.

Fortunately, I have not only a wedding to attend, but also, the following weekend, another elegant evening of “cocktails, dinner and dancing,” so it just seemed appropriate – necessary even! – to make a dress/ensemble that could suffice for both. Well, the dress is done, but not the jacket.

Front . . .

Front . . .

. . . and back

. . . and back

Wedding Ready

This is, of course, the pattern I had to alter in order to fit it onto my available fabric.

Oh the things we can learn, no 10

I made a couple more small changes to the dress. I broadened and lowered the neckline by a small amount, to make it more pleasing on me. I eliminated the neck facing and used the couture method of finishing that edge, with the dress lining brought up to the edge, fell-stitched in place, and secured with small back stitches. I also decided to make the center back zipper a focus when I found a vintage spool of green silk buttonhole twist in my collection. Using an idea I had seen one of my readers do (thank you, Cissie!), I pick-stitched the zipper with the twist, leaving a little trail of bright green dots along the center back.

In the Department of “Nothing is Easy,” I ran into a problem with the fullness of the “half-skirt” on the front of the dress. You may recall from my last post, that I doubled one of the back skirt sections to use for the front skirt (replacing the diagonally shaped flounces as shown on the pattern which required more fabric than I had.) When I made my muslin (toile), I did not realize that the front skirt was fuller than the two back skirt sections. I had all three sections of the fashion fabric sewn together, with the seams all catch-stitched, and the lining attached too (in order to treat both pieces as one in the ruffling process.)  I was half way through basting the skirt onto the body of the dress when I realized there was too much fullness in the front. I had to take it all apart, and figure out where I had made the mistake. It turned out that the front section of the dress was narrower than the two back sections sewn together. So I had to do some calculations, coming up with the fact that I had to take 4.5” off the width of the front skirt. That took a whole afternoon of sewing to take care of that adjustment!

The skirt was attached to the bodice in an rather unusual way as you can see in this photo and the instruction sheet below.

The skirt was attached to the bodice in an rather unusual way as you can see in this photo and the instruction sheet below.

Wedding ready - instruction sheet

I also had to figure out how to line the top part of the dress. I finally decided to leave the top part of the lining hanging loose inside the dress – and it actually works beautifully!

Wedding ready

The skirt lining is not attached to the bodice lining at all.

The skirt lining is not attached to the bodice lining at all.

Two small interesting design notes on this pattern are worth noting. First, if you look at the pattern envelope, you see small neckline darts on the back of the dress.

Wedding ready - pattern thumbnailWhen I studied the pattern, those darts were not there! Either the artist made a mistake, or the darts were eliminated when the pattern was drafted.

Another interesting design aspect is the center back seam in the skirt. Usually center back seams are there because there is an opening that the seam needs to accommodate. That is not the case in this dress, as the zipper does not extend into the skirt. However, even though it is very subtle, it just looks better to have a seam in the skirt that matches up with the center back seam of the bodice section.

That center back seam which is picked up in the skirt.

That center back seam which is picked up in the skirt.

It has been rainy and cold all week so no photos outside. I need a dress like this to remind me that it is actually May.

It has been rainy and cold all week so no photos outside. I need a dress like this to remind me that it is actually May.

Wedding Ready

Wedding Ready

Wedding Ready

Another back view

Another back view

Wedding Ready

I have decided I am “wedding ready” even without the jacket. However, if I get the jacket finished, I’ll be very happy!

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Formal or fancy dresses, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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