Tag Archives: vintage fashion

A Fine February Finish

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

A Fine Feb Finish

A Fine February Finish

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

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

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

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

What a nice surprise to find the sleeves already lengthened!

What a nice surprise to find the sleeves already lengthened!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fine February Finish

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

An inside out view, trying out the lining.

An inside out view, trying out the lining.

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

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

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

A Fine Feb Finish

A Fine February Finish

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

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

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

A Fine February Finish

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

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

Can a Coat be Glamorous?

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

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

I highly recommend this book.

I highly recommend this book.

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

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

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

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

I marked these small imperfections with yellow chalk.

I marked these small imperfections with yellow chalk.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the inside of the pocket and placket.

Here is the inside of the pocket and placket.

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

Progress - both pockets/plackets finished!

Progress – both pockets/plackets finished!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Sewing Make Us Smarter?

Could it be that while we are planning, fitting, pinning, cutting, stitching, (and re-stitching), we are also using skills that can enhance the ability of our brains to process information and solve complex problems?

I have always loved the fact that sewing demands so many different skills and abilities, but I never thought of it as “brain-enhancing” until I read an article with the intriguing title “Which Professions Can Make You Smarter?” (by Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2015: search here.) The author identified five criteria that indicate the activity or job you are doing, can, according to some neuro-scientists, enhance the “elasticity” and cognitive ability of the brain. One by one, as these criteria were listed, I thought of how apropos they are to sewing. See what you think:

1) “You work at tasks that are difficult enough that you make some mistakes.”

As we all know only too well, mistakes are part of sewing. Why else would seam rippers have been invented?  Have you ever sewn a sleeve in backwards or failed to match a plaid? I immediately thought of this blouse which I made a couple of years ago; while sewing the collar/tie to the front of the bodice, I made the same mistake over and over until I finally got it right.

The Necessary Blouse

2) “You have a job [or avocation] that is continually challenging.”

Whether the challenge comes from the pattern you have chosen, the fabric, the fitting issues you are facing, your time constraints, or any other myriad of potential hazards or goals, sewing is inherently challenging. A good example of a sewing challenge is the use of Marfy patterns. With no written instructions, minimal marking on the pattern tissues, and often complex (but very exciting) designs, Marfy patterns are definitely for the dressmaker who relishes a challenge.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

3) “Your work lets you progress to higher skill levels, but you are never able to master it.”

I am always amazed at people who, knowing that I have  taken numerous couture-sewing classes, comment to me that I “must know everything there is to know about sewing.”  I find that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Just take a look at the Table of Contents of this special Designer edition of Threads Magazine from Summer 2014.   So much to learn, and while every piece we finish expands our sewing knowledge – and abilities – we are still humbled by some of the amazing techniques that would take more than a lifetime to master.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques

Click on the image to read the text.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques - 2

4) “Improving your skills is rewarding enough that you want to keep trying to do better.”

I believe this is one of the most important aspects of sewing. The reward of using – and improving – your skills is something you can wear! Although I love a Classic French Jacket, and want more of them because of their wearability, style, and enduring appeal, I have to confess that after making my first one in a class with Susan Khalje, I immediately wanted to make another one to see if I could improve on the first one. Now I have two more in my queue – and yes, it does have at least some small part to do with making each one better than the one before.

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes on my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes to my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

5) “You have to pay attention to details while solving more complex problems.”

The details in sewing are legend! The darts, the seams, the proper alignment of your fabric, using the correct thread, choosing buttons, marking – well, the list goes on and on and on. We do all of this as a matter of course in our sewing, but we also know that if one of these details is not done well, it can affect the outcome of the entire garment. So, for example, while I am working my way through some complex instructions such as the sheet below, I have to be completing each detail, no matter how simple, with mindfulness and skill.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

One of the sewing quotes I love so much is from the great American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“It is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their hearts than while so occupied.”

It seems we are also at home with our minds while stitching away the hours.

 

 

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Love of sewing, Marfy patterns, Quotes about sewing, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized

Something Old, Something New – and Pulling It All together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Collection of Coats

When the weather turns wintry, warm coats become a wardrobe staple. One or two “practical – wear everywhere” coats are a must. (I just added years to the life of a 2+ decades-old cashmere, classic, double-breasted coat by having the tattered lining replaced by a local tailor – and I will continue to wear this coat often!) But how delightful to have a collection of coats – and how much better if they are not only warm, but also stylish. If you were sewing in the 1950s and 1960s you were fortunate to have many, many coat styles and patterns available to you – and if you are sewing now, you are also fortunate to have access to many of these same patterns through the internet – and they are just as stylish now as they were 50+ years ago. I am, of course, speaking of “dressmaker coats.”

Quoting from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, (Third Edition, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora; Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, copyright 2003) a dressmaker coat is: “A woman’s coat designed with softer lines and more details than the average coat. May have a waistline and unusual details, e.g., tucks or pleats.” Such coats are so-called because they are styled more like a dress.

It doesn’t take very long to find examples of such coats in the Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from those two decades. The sheer numbers of patterns for such coats – and coat and dress ensembles – make me believe that home dressmakers from that period of time did not shy away from such sewing challenges. And why should we when so many gorgeous coats are waiting to be sewn?

Here are a few examples to tempt you:

“The Rectangle Coat: New Fashion Geometry” was a feature in the December 1958/January 1959 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Dressmaker coats - rectangle #1

Both of these coats feature fur collars “added by your furrier.” The one on the left has a “slight oval to the back” – and a half belt.

Suggestions for suitable fabrics are given for each of these designs.

Suggestions for suitable fabrics are given for each of these designs.

Continuing with the theme of “New Fashion Geometry,” the following pages of the same Vogue Pattern Book Magazine show examples of “the triangle coat.” Other terminology for this style of coat is the A-line coat. First introduced in 1955 by Christian Dior, this coat was “made close and narrow at the shoulders, flaring gently from under the arms to hem; shaped like letter A, made in single-or double-breasted style with or without a collar,” according to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, page 85.

Dressmaker coats - triamgle coat #1

The coat on the right has unusual princess seaming.

The coat on the right has unusual princess seaming.

A few years later, the December 1962/January 1963 issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine featured “7 new ways to keep warm and look wonderful.”

Dressmaker coats - 7 coats 1

Several of the coats in this section feature "fullness" in the body of the coat.

Several of the designs in this section feature “fullness” in the body of the coat.

For me, however, it is the “ensembles” that make the ultimate fashion statement when speaking of coats. Christian Dior succinctly sums up their allure in The Little Dictionary of Fashion (Abrams, New York, New York, copyright 2007), page 40: “A very elegant way of dressing is to have a coat and dress matching together, making an ensemble… The frock should be fairly simple and the coat can be either fitted or loose, according to your taste. It can also be either long or short.” Vogue Patterns had no shortage of offerings for such ensembles. Here are four wonderful Vogue patterns – which are part of my pattern collection – and which are “ensembles.”

Note the "fullness" in this coat as well.

Note the “fullness” in this coat as well.

The princess seaming on this coat is similar to the red one mentioned above.

The princess seaming on this coat is similar to the red one mentioned above.

Somehow, this Guy Laroche pattern shows better in this photograph than in its drawing.

Another view of this  Guy Laroche pattern; it seems to show better in a photograph than in its pattern illustration.

This pattern was featured in that same VPB Magazine issue from December 1962/January 1963.

This pattern was featured in that same VPB Magazine issue from December 1962/January 1963.

And here it is in black and white in that issue. Stunning, isn't it?

And here it is in black and white in that issue. Stunning, isn’t it?

I love the knee length coat, although I may substitute another pattern for the coordinating dress.

The neckline on this coat is lovely and perfectly suited for a coordinating dress.

I actually have fabric for three of these patterns – with plans to sew them of course.  (Can you guess which one is the fabric-less orphan?)   However, all of them will remain part of my sewing dreams until after the holiday season – which “officially” begins this week with our American Thanksgiving celebration. I have festive attire and a few homemade gifts to fill my sewing days through December. Building my collection of coats will just have to wait.

Happy, Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers – and my heartfelt thanks to my loyal readers worldwide in this season of gratitude.

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Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

Sweet November

The trickery, which defined my October sewing, finally floated away with the leaves and the goblins, leaving sweet November with her welcome reward, a new dress for Autumn and Winter.

Sweet November

So what made vintage Vogue 1395 such a tricky dress to make? I documented my efforts to get a workable muslin (toile) in a post from early October. Once I had my adjusted muslin pattern, I transferred it onto black silk organza to use as my cutting guide. It was then I realized that, because the design on the fabric, a silk and wool blend, was printed on it, not woven into it, I needed to work from the right side of the fabric in order to match the horizontal “lines.” This meant that I had to flip every piece that I cut out and then exchange the organza with its opposing side. (I hope this makes sense.) It added a bit of uncertainty to the process and I was fanatical with flipping and checking to make sure I kept the design in line. Something told me I should delay cutting out the sleeves until I had the body of the dress together – my sewing godmother at work, I guess – and I am glad I did, as I’ll detail in a bit.

I had made the decision at the beginning of the project to cover the dress’s two buttons in the plain gray “wrong” side of the fabric. But once I “semi-made” a covered button, and tried it out, it was DULL. It added nothing to the dress. I went to my button box and all I could find was a small gray pearl that was close in color. But I loved the iridescence of it and determined that gray pearl buttons were what I needed. I seem to have such good luck with buttons from Britex – even though I am ordering online – and found 1” gray pearl buttons with a rhinestone in their centers. Although I am not a rhinestone-y type of person, something about them spoke to me. I remembered what Susan Khalje said in one of the classes I have taken with her – that couture often has a bit of “whimsy” to it. Well, I ordered those buttons as as fast as I could! I think they are just what was needed!

Sweet November

I had also made the decision to make the “dickey” part of the dress out of the side of the fabric with the printed design – so that the horizontal line would be uninterrupted across the bodice. Here is what it looked like once I had it done:

Sweet November

There was not enough definition between the dress and dickey to make it interesting.

I cut some scraps to see what it would look like with a play gray insert – and it was so much better!

Sweet November

So – I took the dickey all apart and flipped it over so it would be out of the plain gray “wrong side.” By now I was enjoying the versatility of this fabric (which I bought online from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics) and appreciating the serendipity of having this fabric for this pattern, giving me options.

However, the fabric posed another challenge when I got to the point of finishing the front opening in the bodice. This fabric frays enough that I was not comfortable following the directions given in the pattern instructions:

The instructions directed me to just turn back the seam allowance, but because of the ravel-ly nature of the fabric, I was certain it would pull out with wear.

The instructions directed me to just turn back the seam allowance, but because of the ravel-ly nature of the fabric, I was certain it would pull out with wear.

Instead, I opted to make a “facing” for the opening out of black organza. It is situations like this that make me feel so fortunate to have enough “sewing sense” to be able to recognize potential difficulties and then have the ability to work out creative solutions to them.

Sweet November

Silk organza pinned in place.

And here it is sewn in place.

And here it is sewn in place.

I took some pictures at this point to show the inside of the body of the dress:

Yes, those are pockets hanging on the front.

Yes, those are pockets hanging on the front.

This shows those darts with their slanted orientation.

This shows those bust darts with their slanted orientation.

The zipper is inserted by hand, as usual! Once I had it basted in place, I tried the dress on for fit and determined I had to take it in a bit at the waistline.

Then I tackled the sleeves. I had quite a time determining how to place the sleeve patterns on the remaining fabric. Some of those horizontal lines of “paintbrush strokes” change color across the fabric! And my adapted sleeve pattern has two elbow darts, which changed the horizontal line. I had to make a decision about where I wanted the best match to be, as I determined I could not match it across and up and down as I would normally want to do. I opted for a match across the shoulders – and I now believe that was the best decision.

DSC_0924

I also added a soft “cigarette” sleeve heading to each shoulder seam.

Next to the lining – and bless those vintage Vogue patterns – the lining for this dress included separate and distinct pattern pieces. I made the sizing and dart changes to the lining (in keeping with the dress) and it went together effortlessly. When I got to the point of inserting the lining by hand, I just could not resist adding silk piping to the inside neck edge. I know I am the only one who will ever see it, but it makes me happy!

Sweet November

I used a bias strip of lightweight silk for the piping.

I used a bias strip of lightweight silk for the piping.

How wonderful to have this dress completed!

Sweet November

The buttons really show in this picture.

The buttons really show in this picture.

Sweet November

Sweet November

Sweet November

There was one more aspect of serendipity to this project. Those of you who follow my blog know that part of my fascination with vintage Vogue patterns is making connections between the past and the present. I love to “place” a pattern in its correct year – and then wonder in amazement at how classic fashions are so enduring. It was my great good fortune to have this Vogue Pattern Fashion News from November 1964 in my collection of vintage fashion magazines:

Sweet November - flyer cover

Inside on page 3 is, yes, my dress!

Sweet November - flyer illustration

Just imagine – 51 years ago this month, this dress made its debut. Happy Sweet November Everyone!

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, Day dresses, hand-sewn zippers, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

A Notable Exhibit of Twentieth Century Fashion

Fascination with international high-styled fashion really knows no boundaries when it comes to audiences. Last past week I had the opportunity to see “Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection” at Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA). This is the first time that any of Drexel’s extensive fashion collection has been exhibited – and judging from the crowded gallery, interest in it abounds. Besides students with sketch pads, other attendees were intrigued with the history of “famous” ownership of many of the items (including Babe Paley, Mrs. Walter Annenberg, Princess Grace of Monaco – to name just a few), some were there as students of fashion history, others had just a casual interest in clothing and fashion, and then there were those like me, who look at everything through the eyes of a dressmaker.

Although the Exhibit spans a period of three centuries, the majority of the items on display are mid-nineteenth century, and include not only dresses, but also shoes, handbags, hats and other accessories. I will share some of my favorite selections, some of which are inspiring to me for a number of reasons. Although I was allowed to take photos, “flashes” were not permitted, so the quality of my pictures is somewhat compromised.

The fabric in this Elsa Schiaparelli gown, from her Zodiac Collection, 1938-1939, positively shimmers. This gown, cut on the bias, is a wrapped design, with a wide sash tied on one side.

Drexel - Schaparelli dress

One of my favorite items in the exhibit is a wool suit by Gilbert Adrian, an American, circa 1947. The “slashed” detailing as shown in my photo still has me scratching my head, trying to figure out how this was achieved so successfully.

Drexel - black and white suit

I guess no fashion exhibit with highlights from the twentieth century is complete without a Charles James gown. Dating from 1948, this gown, a gift from Mrs. William S. (Babe) Paley, is absolutely serene.

Drexel - Charles James gown

The gown that struck me as the most amazing feat of construction is a coral-embroidered dress owned by Princess Grace of Monaco and given by Her Serene Highness to the collection at Drexel. Dating to 1964, the dress, which was designed by Hubert Givenchy, was executed by Marie Therese of Nice, who must have been a remarkable dressmaker!

A detail of the bodice of this gown is featured on the cover of the Exhibit catalogue, shown further down in this post.

A detail of the bodice of this gown is featured on the cover of the Exhibit catalogue, shown further down in this post.

This Exhibit does not disappoint when it comes to a classic Chanel suit. Having made two Chanel-type jackets myself, one under the tutelage of Susan Khalje and one on my own, I am always excited to see pocket and trim details on a “real” Chanel. These are the techniques which we, as dressmakers, can mimic.

Drexel - Chanel suit 1

Drexel - Cahnel suit 2

Having just finished a 1960s’ Madame Gres-designed coat, using a Vogue Designer pattern, I was excited to see this Madame Gres coat from the early 1970s. I am a fan of her unusual seaming and reserved elegance.

Drexel - Madame Gres coat

Nowhere is elegance more in focus than with this quintessential gown, also by Madame Gres, circa 1980. From across the gallery, this gown was recognizable as a Gres design, with its petite soft pleats and Classically-inspired demeanor.

Drexel - Madame Gres gown - 2

Drexel - Madame Gres gown

Heralding from the 1990s is this Carolina Herrera sequined jacket, a gift from the designer to the collection. Deep yellow and black are not colors one usually associates with “evening wear;” enhanced with pave sequins, these colors make this a striking ensemble.

Drexel - Carolina Herrara jacket

I can’t leave my short synopsis of this exhibit without showing one of the beautiful pairs of shoes on display. Evening shoes by Ferragamo – what a delight to see these beauties!

Drexel - Ferragamo shoes

The curator of the Exhibit is Clare Sauro. She is also co-author of the catalogue accompanying the Exhibit, entitled: Immortal Beauty.

Drexel - Catalog

The final display in the Exhibit is an ethereal ball gown by Chado Ralph Rucci. Dating to just 2006, it is remarkable for its complex fabric and simplicity of form. Unable to do any justice to it with a photograph, I refer to the catalogue for excellent views of it and other of the beautiful fashions on display, too many to detail here.

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Filed under Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

Shopping in My (Cedar) Closet – Again!

Some dresses – and patterns – just keep giving and giving. As the date approached for a “black tie/ masquerade” ball which my husband and I planned to attend, I decided I had better start to think about what I was going to wear. I reluctantly admitted that the fancy dress I made this past Summer was really too summery to wear to a mid-October event, so I went into my cedar closet in search of another party dress. Still looking like the day I made it 22 years ago was this dress, made from a Butterick pattern:

DSC_0904

And here is the pattern.

Here is the pattern.

The thumbnail drawings shoe the process lines in the bodice. The description explains the construction of the skirt. I made it in the ankle length version.

The thumbnail drawings show the princess lines in the bodice. The description explains the construction of the skirt. I made it in the ankle length version. And yes – it has a side zipper.

Although I have actually made just one dress from this pattern, I have used the bow pattern (or some “sized-up” or “sized-down” variation of it) again and again. My most recent use of it was for the waist bow on my Summer dress:

 I enlarged the pattern a bit to make this bow.

I enlarged the pattern a bit to make this bow.

With a black velvet bodice, the dress from my cedar closet is definitely more suitable for cooler weather, and I didn’t think it looked too dated to wear.

GD Ball 3

I like the dropped front waistline – a detail not often seen in current patterns – at least to my knowledge.

Black and pink fancy dress

The pink fabric is polyester, although it certainly resembles silk. I never forgot the “name” of this fabric – it was called “Eyelash”! It has a crinkled effect to it, but is soft and wrinkle resistant.

This is a view of the back of the dress.

And, as luck would have it, several years ago I made a mask to wear to some other event, the purpose of which now is lost to the ages! Fortunately I had used some left over fabric from my “cedar closet” dress – so it matched perfectly.

Mask Pink

I love a mask on a stick – it doesn’t muss one’s hair! I added that vintage flower to give it extra allure. The stick is just that – a skinny dowel which I covered with ribbon.

Those are sequins around the eyes!

Those are sequins around the eyes!

When I made the dress back in the 1990s, I found this evening bag to use with it, so, of course, I wanted to use it again. How times do change! I tried every which way to fit my smartphone in it, and no amount of “schmushing” or angling allowed me to do so. Fortunately, my husband’s tux has lots of pockets, so he toted my phone for me!

Black and pink fancy dress

The final touch to my outfit was long black velvet gloves. I adore long gloves; they are elegant, fetching and … warm! I did not see another pair of formal gloves the entire evening, which to me is a little sad. Accessories like that add so much to our attire and to our “presentation” and unfortunately are one of those fashion niceties being lost in an increasingly casual world.

GD Ball 1

Click on the photo for a closer look…

GD Ball 2

Some of the people in attendance at the Ball were in costume, but I loved the fact that I could get one more wearing out of a formal dress made so long ago. Back into the cedar closet it has gone – sharing space with other out-of-season or “too sentimental-to-give-away” pieces. It is anybody’s guess whether I will ever have another opportunity to wear it. But those gloves? I am keeping those handy!

 

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Formal or fancy dresses, side-placed zippers, Uncategorized

Scrap

This particular word seems to sum up my experience – so far – with my new project of the month. I have had to “scrap” three complete muslins – as in “throw away” and “discard.” I rather like one of the other definitions for this particular word to sum up my past week of sewing – “a fight or quarrel.”   Yes, it’s been a battle, but I believe I am winning! It all started with this fabric – a soft, lovely, light-weight wool and silk blend – from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics.

Scrap

Here it is draped over my dress form.

Here it is draped over my dress form.

Although I knew I wanted to make a dress with a slim profile – to minimize the fabric’s horizontal design – it took me a while to find the right pattern. I started with one that had curved lines in its bodice and “scraped” that idea after my muslin (toile) revealed many fitting issues. I took that as a sign that the pattern wasn’t the best one to use anyway (which I suspected all along. It’s really important to listen to one’s intuition in things like this!) After another search in my pattern collection, I settled on this dress.

Gray painterly dress - Lanvin pattern

However, I want below-elbow length sleeves so I did a little sketch to try out the look:

Gray painterly dress - sketchAfter finding a sleeve pattern from another dress which sports two elbow darts, I figured I was in business. Ah, the battle was just beginning. The first muslin I made revealed bust darts that were two inches (two!!) too high. And although I wanted a slim profile, I do have to be able to move in the dress!  I figured I needed to add two inches in total width from the lower armscye down.  Here is a diagram of the pattern pieces. The angle of the bust darts is vital to the fit of the dress so I could not just pivot the apex of the bust. I had to reposition the entire dart, which was getting it awfully close to the pocket.

Gray painterly dress - pattern diagram

Making changes in that first muslin was just a study in frustration, so I scraped it and made a new one. My second one was better, but still had some kinks in it. The armscye seemed to be off kilter, the reason for which I could not figure out. I’m telling you these are the things that keep me up at night. At this point I went to JoAnn’s and bought more muslin. I was determined to win this fight! A whole new muslin and finally I had one that fit. I was even happy with my mish-mash sleeve (after making a few minor adjustments.)

Scrap

Scrap

I have now progressed to the silk-organza underlining stage of construction.   Matching the horizontal design of the fabric across the various components of the pattern will take concentration, but that’s a task that always intrigues me.

Scrap

A decision about those two buttons, such an important focal point of the dress, is still to be made. The wrong side of the fabric is plain gray, so I might end up using that side for covered buttons. Suggestions, anyone??

DSC_0900

Other than these challenges, I am feeling fairly confident that my next post will not have to be entitled “Scrap – Continued.”

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Saddle Up!

Western style (as in American cowgirl and cowboy) is not something that regularly occupies my mind – until I see something that is quintessentially Western fashion, and then it grabs my attention. I have often wondered if the styling on the pattern envelope for my color-blocked coat, featuring the model in a Western-style cowboy-inspired hat, may have been added to my great predilection for this coat!

Coats of certain length - 7

Because I knew I was going to be spending a good bit of my 2015 Summer in Wyoming (in the American West), I thought it might be fun to see if I could find Vogue patterns (or anything else) featured in any of my vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines, that were clearly Western style.  Well, there is no doubt about the Western theme of this decorator fabric pictured in an ad in the February/March issue of VPB Magazine:

What little cowboy - or cowgirl - in 1958 would not love curtains made of this fabric?

What little cowboy – or cowgirl – in 1958 would not love curtains made of this fabric?

And what could be more Western than cowboy and cowgirl shirts? The July/August 1974 issue of VPB Magazine clearly met my challenge:

Western style - shirts, no 1

Western style - shirts, no 2

Somehow, however, I just can’t see myself making a cowgirl shirt. Out here in Wyoming, it would look like it belongs. Wearing something like this at home in Pennsylvania might get heads turning for the wrong reason. So my search continued for something else that evoked the West without screaming it. Who would have ever thought I was going to find it in the same Vogue Pattern Book Magazine that featured Diane von Furstenberg on its cover?

Sure enough, this September/October 1976 issue featured a coat constructed out of an American-made blanket. (Anyone who reads my blog will perhaps remember the jumper I made from an Irish blanket last year. When one can’t find yardgoods, buy a blanket and see what happens!)

Western style - coat-1

Accompanying the picture in the magazine were these instructions for making a “blanket coat” using Vogue pattern 9329:

Western style - coat instructions

Forty years later the same thing is being done with Pendleton blankets. I never miss the opportunity to look at the handsome Western and Native American-inspired Pendleton blankets in the Pendleton Store in Jackson, Wyoming. Hanging on one of the clothing racks in the store was this custom-made coat:

This particular coat was made for a very large lady, which just goes to show that a twin size blanket is sufficient for all sizes of coats.

This particular coat was made for a very large lady, which just goes to show that a twin size blanket is sufficient for all sizes of coats.

The back of the coat.

The back of the coat.

Made, as stated above, from a twin-size blanket, the coat can be made in long, medium or short lengths, with hood or without hood, with pockets or without them – and it is reversible, too. Customers in the store pick out the blanket they like, measurements are taken: both are sent off to a coat-maker, with whom the store has a relationship, and returned about 6 weeks later. The construction is very much the same as what is detailed in the instructions above; however, the coat-maker removes the narrow wool binding from the blanket before cutting into it. Then she uses that binding for all the edges of the coat.

The lovely staff in the Pendleton store pulled out this blanket to tempt me:

The grey, white and periwinkle blue color way would definitely compliment me, I think.

The grey, white and periwinkle blue colorway would definitely compliment me, I think.

So far, however, I have resisted the urge to make a blanket coat, although it might be a fun project with just the right blanket – sometime. But for now I am saddling up to head East, home to beloved Pennsylvania, back to animals and pets I love, back to my by-now-overgrown gardens, and back to my snug little sewing machine who must be wondering where I have been!

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Filed under Coats, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens