Tag Archives: women’s dress suits

Suited for Spring

Last Fall when I found emerald green matka silk on Waechter’s website, I quickly purchased 3½ yards.  At 45” wide, I knew that amount would be enough for a Spring suit although I really did not know which pattern I would be using.  It seems I often  purchase fabric and then end up not actually using it for a year – or more.  But with emerald green so front and center in fashion this year, I definitely decided to make this project a top priority.

This is the silk I ordered from Waechter's Fine Fabrics

This is the silk I ordered from Waechter’s Fine Fabrics.

I envisioned what is known as a “dressmaker suit.”  Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion (3rd edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc, New York, New York, 2003) gives this definition:  “Woman’s suit made with soft lines and fine details, as contrasted with man-tailored styles that have the sharply defined lines of a man’s suit made by a tailor.  Fashionable in 1950s and revived in the mid-1980s.”  Specifically, I envisioned a straight skirt (aka pencil skirt in today’s fashion parlance), a short-ish, dressy jacket with some neat detail on it, and adorned with buttons to compliment the sheen and slubby texture of the silk.

First step was to go to my pattern box, brimming over with vintage patterns (and a few new ones).  I quickly had my selection narrowed down to two possibilities, but one was actually a sheath dress with coordinating jacket, not a jacket and skirt. (Yes, there is a definition for this category as well, according to Fairchild’s:  “Suit dress:  Used in 1960s to refer to a jacket and dress ensemble that resembled a tailored suit.”)

Is it the hat that makes this ensemble so appealing - or just good styling?

Is it the hat that makes this ensemble so appealing – or just good styling?

I hashed over the two reservations I had about using this pattern:  1) I was a little short on yardage – about a quarter of a yard – and just not completely confident that I would be able to cut this pattern out with the generous seams that I have come to like so much, and 2) I have a RTW (gasp!) silk shell top which will look stunning, I think, paired with an emerald green silk skirt and matching jacket.  So in the end, I decided to go with a dressmaker suit to be made from this pattern:

I'll be making View B, which just happens to be shown in emerald green!

I’ll be making View B, which just happens to be shown in emerald green!

And then, the bonus!  Actually three of them . . .  I had forgotten that tucked inside the pattern envelope were two clippings obviously placed there by the original owner of the pattern.  She was doing some “comparison shopping” for styling.

The first clipping is for another pattern – a Spadea, available through mail order from the newspaper.  Fortunately, the date of 1964 shows up on one corner.

Dressmaker suit - 3

The second clipping is from Vogue magazine, showing a fashion from 1968.

The jacket of this suit, just like the Spadea pattern, is very similar to the Vogue pattern.

The jacket of this suit, just like the Spadea pattern, is very similar to the Vogue pattern.

Perhaps the original owner was trying to decide between a striped fabric and a plain one?  Maybe she was really undecided about making this style suit?  I’d love for her to sit down with me over a cup of coffee so we could discuss this pattern!  As it turns out, she never made the jacket, as its pieces were still in factory folds when I obtained it.  The skirt pattern shows signs of having been used, however.  I’ll never know why,  after all her thought about this suit, she never made it.  However, her decision afforded me the third bonus – the original pattern label – pristine after so many years.

I am looking forward to sewing this label into my green silk suit.

I am looking forward to sewing this label into my green silk suit.

I’ve made my initial adjustments to the pattern and am now making the muslin.  Like my “pattern predecessor” I am dreaming of a certain look.  Now it’s up to me to finish what she started.


Filed under Dressmaker suits, kimono sleeves, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

Sewing SMART for 2013

The word “smart” has lots of different meanings.  My desktop Webster’s lists 21 different connotations of this short, very effective word.  I particularly like two of the ways this word was used when I was growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s:  those  would be meanings #5: “neat or trim in appearance, as a person or garment”, and #6:  “socially elegant; sophisticated or fashionable: the smart crowd”.  With these definitions in mind, I looked for and quickly found some very pertinent examples of these meanings in two Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from 1953 and 1954:

The February/March issue of Vogue pattern Book Magazine 1954 gives the reader ideas for a "smart look all through the day, now and through spring."

The February/March issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine 1954 gives the reader ideas for a “smart look all through the day, now and through spring.”

The VPB magazine from October/November 1953 featured "10 smart, new high fashion  Vogue Couturier Designs."

The VPB magazine from October/November 1953 featured “10 smart, new high fashion Vogue Couturier Designs.”

I love this caption from the same issue:  fashions with " a minimum number of pieces to sew and fit ... maximum smartness."

I love this caption from the same issue: fashions with ” a minimum number of pieces to sew and fit … maximum smartness.”

Well, in thinking about some of my sewing goals and aspirations for 2013, I kept coming back to this word – SMART – and decided it would be very useful to use as a  guideline, with each letter of the word reminding me of some of what I hope to accomplish.   SO …

is for SKILLS.  This year I am concentrating on learning new ones, practicing and perfecting ones that I have and taking advantage of at least two classes to help me develop my skills as a dressmaker.  So far, I am enrolled in Craftsy’s “Sewing with Silks: The Liberty Blouse” on-line course (not started yet), and I will be spending a week in Baltimore with Susan Khalje for The Classic French Jacket Class.  Perhaps other classes will wiggle their way into the year as well!

M is for MARKING AND MEASURING my progress and accomplishments, my mistakes (hopefully not too many!), and my plans and intentions.  This is, of course, where “Fifty Dresses” comes in.  Writing this blog helps me focus more on the process than I would normally – and that’s both instructive and rewarding.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who follow along, make comments, give me encouragement, and share your sewing insights and ideas through your own blogs or other online presence. Thinking, reading and writing about sewing is almost as much fun as sewing itself.

A is for ART.  Sewing is so much more than a “hobby” or a way to build a wardrobe (albeit slowly!).  It really is an art form, and the more I sew, the more I realize and appreciate this fact.  Some of my creations will no doubt be like simple sketches – quick and easy to make and even easier to throw on for a trip to the grocery store –  while one or two others perhaps will rise closer to “masterpiece” level (I can dream) – made with finest fabrics and specialized techniques, intended for special occasions.  Good art should be taken seriously and seriously enjoyed, don’t you think?

R is for REALISTIC, as in having realistic goals of what I can and cannot accomplish in a set amount of time.   This is the part I have trouble with.   I always think I can sew faster than I can.  Although I am sure I will always plan more than I can possibly accomplish, I am going to try to set more realistic goals (keeping a separate, working list of intended projects to help me focus) in the context of what I know will be a busy year in other aspects of my life.

T is for TIMELESS.  This may be my favorite part of the acronym.  Timeless is the look that I am always striving for in the clothing I make.  Using vintage patterns for the most part allows me to choose styles that really have stood the test of time – and which often have a restrained classicism to them that suits my sensibility.

Sketches in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1956 show styles which look very au courant, from the clothing to the hair to the shoes and accessories.  I'd like to be that lady in red!

Sketches in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine from October/November 1956 show styles which look very au courant, from the clothing to the hair to the shoes and accessories. I’d like to be that lady in red!

How stylish are these looks from the same magazine?

How stylish are these looks from the same magazine?

And a box-jacket suit is always in vogue.

And a box-jacket suit is always in vogue.

It’s fun to see current color and style trends, which harken back to 40, 50, or 60 years ago.  Then to make them, using vintage patterns, with newfound construction knowledge, in some of the beautiful fabrics available today, is the best of many worlds. Not only SMART, but lucky, too, in 2013!


Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

A Timely Arrival

Last week, as I was putting in some final hours on a suit I have been sewing, I was  thinking about some of the “creative” solutions I had to come up with to make the jacket turn out successfully.  I had, unbeknownst to me, made a “bad” decision about the fabric. Even though I (still) love the color and design of the black and pink hounds-tooth wool blend, it turned out to be a very heavy, bulky fabric to sew.  Well, my newest Threads magazine arrived in the mail last Friday – and right there on page 56 is an article entitled “Better Sewing Habits”.  Number 4, by Claire Shaeffer, is:  Choose fabrics appropriate to the garment design.  Printed in bold is this line:  “Select a fabric that is recommended for the pattern”. 

This issue of Threads is packed with all kinds of great advice and ideas!

Sure enough, when I went back to the pattern envelope, there in plain English for the recommended fabrics is:  “Lightweight wool.”  I really felt that sinking feeling, but I tried to console myself by reminding myself that I had made some changes to the pattern and to the construction to accommodate the heavy fabric.  I was trying to feel grateful that I actually have some skills which allow me to make changes and try different approaches to solve sewing problems.  And, actually, now that the jacket is finished, I am happy with it.

This is the pattern I used – from Vogue’s Designer series, Jo Mattli, circa early 1970s.

The completed outfit – wool blend jacket and silk skirt.

Here is what went well:

1) I was able to match the design quite well across seam lines, shoulders, and sleeves.

2) I think I nailed the fit!  Of course, I made a muslin first, so it’s not like that just happened.

3) I reduced the spread of the collar, which actually turned out to be a good decision, when I realized how difficult double layers of the fabric were to work with.

Here is what either did not go well or needed to be “creatively” approached:

1) I really wanted to make bound buttonholes, but the loosely woven, heavy fabric gave me pause.  So I decided to make them out of the silk skirt fabric.  I backed the buttonhole strips with silk organza by fusing them together.  This made the silk stiff enough to stand up to that heavy wool.

The strips attached for the bound buttonholes.

I made the topmost  buttonhole a “blind” one as I determined that I would not be buttoning that top button anyway.  I knew I could never finish the back of the two remaining buttonholes by the normal method, so I “patched” behind them on the interfacing with a lightweight black wool.

Here is a close-up of the bound buttonholes – and the happily matched front!  Click on the photo for a closer-up view.

Before I sewed the front facing, I attached these “patches” to back up to the buttonholes. Then I cut away the heavy fabric underneath, so that I could finish the underneath of the buttonholes somewhat successfully. Click on the photo to see this up close.

2) The neck facing was going to be too heavy using the pink/black wool.  So I used that same lightweight black wool for it instead.

Using a lightweight black wool for the facing made the neckline much more manageable.

3) The back vents were not going to lay flat if I turned in the raw edges as the pattern instructions indicated.  So I bound them with black bias tape instead.

Instead of turning back the facing edge to finish it, I attached this bias binding.

4) Setting in the sleeves was an exercise in sewing terror!  I was sure they would never look good, but somehow they came out unpuckered and pretty well matched.  I only used a sleeve heading to round out the shoulder, even though the pattern called for shoulder pads.

5) I have steamed and steamed, but still feel like the front edge could use some further attention.  I might take the jacket to the dry cleaners and have it professionally steamed….

I actually really liked the engineering of the pattern: with the correct weight fabric, the jacket would go together quite well and the skirt pattern is a winner, with its shaped waistband.

This view of the back waistband shows how it is shaped.

And, of course, I inserted the zipper by hand.

Another look at the finished suit.

And one more…

Interestingly enough, in the same issue of Threads, the winners of the “Make it with Wool” contest were featured.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that the Senior Winner of the Mohair Council of America, Marisa Linton, of Mount Olive, North Carolina, had used either the same fabric or one very close to “my” fabric to make the coat for her entry (which is stunning, I might add!).  She had used a very original and successful technique for her buttonholes, which are part of the details which make her outfit so noteworthy.

Do you think this is the same fabric? (Threads, January 2013, page 52)

So – it seems the past 7 days have been a time of many arrivals, including a huge and destructive East Coast storm – and the first day of November.    May the next 7 days bring the final arrival of power and comfort to so many who lost so much in the storm, and make us all grateful for resilience, whether it be in life – or in sewing .


Filed under bound buttonholes, hand-sewn zippers, sewing in silk, Shoulder shapes (shoulder pads), Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

Who is Mrs. Exeter?

And the more important question is – Can she sew?  Yes, she can – and she does!  But first, let me tell you who she is – or actually who she was.  She was a fictional character – a “woman of a certain age” – who started appearing in The Conde Nast Publications’ Vogue magazine in 1949 (as best as I can determine).  She was the focus of a regular style column, which was meant to appeal to older fashionable women –  with the emphasis most definitely  on fashionable.   She must have proved to be an appealing figure to readers, because in 1954, the front cover of the October/November issue of Vogue Pattern Book magazine announced:  Introducing Mrs. Exeter patterns.

Top billing for the new feature!

Suddenly Mrs. Exeter had discovered the joy of sewing beautiful, classic fashions for herself.  Obviously, Vogue patterns, which already had its own Couturier line of patterns, and its very popular Designer pattern series, knew that its audience included these “older” women who had the time, the talent, and the inclination to sew beautiful fashionable clothes for themselves. The copy accompanying the sketches and photos clearly played into the idea that Mrs. Exeter was very sure of her fashion sense:

Here we learn about Mrs. Exeter’s “experienced way of knowing the ‘right’ neither-too-young, nor too old fashions for herself…”

She also had color sense, knowing how to play up her features, and showing she was not afraid to branch out from neutrals and basic black.

Yes, red can definitely enhance silver hair!

She sounds like she was a fun grandmother, too, as this sketch attests:

The caption reads: “Mrs. Exeter takes her grandchildren to town for a Saturday movie treat.”

The Mrs. Exeter feature appeared sporadically  throughout the year in the issues of Vogue Pattern Book magazine,  continuing through the decade of the 1950s.  The October/November 1957 issue had this feature:

The reader was instructed to “sew jet buttons on the short, fitted jacket and flap pockets” of the gray suit on the right.

That same issue used a real model for the Mrs. Exeter section:

It seems Mrs. Exeter favored white gloves and classic handbags.

And another real model appeared in the February/March 1958 issue:

I think this Mrs. Exeter looks a bit insipid!

By the fall of 1958, Mrs. Exeter must have been very popular, as this was the cover of the magazine:

10 pages for Mrs. Exeter patterns!

The Mrs. Exeter appearing here suddenly looked a little less grandmotherly:

Now this is a lovely woman!

Again, the accompanying text was very flattering to the expertise of the older woman:

“Mrs. Exeter knows what she likes… how to look right on all occasions.”

And the texts made frequent reference to Mrs. Exeter’s civic and social obligations and interests. One two-page spread showing suits, declared:  “For Mrs. Exeter’s busy calendar of civic and social events, a suit wardrobe is almost a necessity.  Her choices, admirably combining chic, distinction, and flattery – with perhaps a shade more emphasis on flattery.”

She also apparently wore shirtwaist dresses with great aplomb, being careful “to avoid thickness at the waist.”

“For all day, every day, the shirtwaist dress is indispensable…” which could be true for 2012 as well!

The Mrs. Exeter feature continued into the early 1960s, but then succumbed to the burgeoning emphasis on youth, disappearing from the magazine by the mid-‘60s.  Indeed, in 1970, Vogue Pattern Book magazine introduced a new feature, this one called “Miss Vogue” in an obvious appeal to the younger generation.  The description of Miss Vogue?  Well, she must have been raised  by Mrs. Exeter:

“She’s the girl with the fabulously fresh smile.  She loves life.  She has fun.  She is active and her versatility knows no bounds.  …She is a sewing expert…  She loves a good challenge.  She’s got talent.  She’s got finesse…  She’s a winner!”

Although Mrs. Exeter might have been “replaced” by Miss Vogue, there were still plenty of 1970s’-era fashions and patterns, which certainly appealed to “the older woman” as well as a stylish younger one.  One of those patterns is the one I am currently using :

From Vogue’s Designer series, ca 1970.

I have completed the skirt, which incidentally is, to my thinking the perfect “pencil” skirt – as it is narrow, but very comfortable – and it has a shaped, two-part waistband. (I’m an unabashed fan of waistbands!)  I think Mrs. Exeter would approve.  I’ll show you in a future post…


Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, Unprinted patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

Missing in Action – or – Doesn’t everyone shop for fabric on vacation?

You may have noticed that I’ve not posted anything for almost two weeks.  Mr. Fifty Dresses and I have been away on the West Coast, enjoying some time with our grown son, and seeing some of the majestic scenery in the states of California and Oregon.  Of course, one of the best places to enjoy colorful scenery is always in Britex Fabrics on Geary Street in San Francisco.  My husband and son know by now that no trip to California is complete without fabric shopping!

I am all smiles with my newly-made purchase! I am wearing “my very styish pants” and was delighted to get complimented on them in the store.

You may recall that I have been looking for a skirt-weight fabric to coordinate with this wool:

This fabric will be a jacket, and I want to make a pink skirt to make it into a “dressy suit”.

That pink is a tricky color, I’ve discovered.  I’ve ordered many swatches, thinking one of them will be “it” and it never was.  So I tucked that pink and black houndstooth- checked wool sample into my carry-on bag so that I could enlist the experts at Britex to assist me.  The bolted wools and silks and designer fabrics are on the first floor, and it did not take long for me to accept Douglas’ kind offer of help.  We looked first at the wools, one beautiful bolt after another, but none that totally complimented the pink.  Next we moved to the silks – and there we struck gold – or perhaps I should say pink gold.  As soon as Douglas pulled out this silk shantung, we knew the color was right.

Just what I was looking for!

We carefully checked the color inside and then took it outside on the steps to check it in sunlight.  Perfect, both places.  Being shantung, it has the correct heft to accompany the wool, but it is light enough to be used for attached trim if I choose to add it around the collar, down the front, and at the bottom of the sleeves.

I am probably going to use this 1970s’ pattern for this outfit.

Next we selected a lining fabric, enough for a narrow skirt and the jacket.   Those of you who know Britex, know that the store is on 4 levels, so to accommodate the need to move between floors, I was provided this card with swatches of my newly selected fabrics attached.

The lining is the lighter-colored fabric.

Off I went to the third floor to find buttons.  Oh, the choices!    That little bit of sparkle in the wool – and the sheen in the silk shantung – seem custom made for buttons with a bit of sparkle, too.  I kind of felt like Goldilocks looking at the buttons which the savvy “button lady” pulled out for me.  Some were too frou-frou for me, some were too round (and fought with the angles in the weave), some were too sparkly…  but these were perfect!

When I actually sew these buttons onto the jacket, I promise I’ll have them on straight!

With my tasks accomplished, I decided to check out the remnants on the fourth floor, and took a quick look at the cottons on the second floor, but then I headed back down to the first floor to look at the woolens again.  Britex has a very large selection of wools suitable for “Chanel-type” jackets, including some actual Chanel fabrics.  I am trying to buy only what I can’t live without (which isn’t as limiting as it should be, unfortunately), so I carefully considered all the selections in front of me.  You can probably guess by now that I did indeed find one I deemed necessary for continued life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I can just imagine this wool in a jacket trimmed in an orangey-red something – all yet to be determined, which is, of course, part of the creative intrigue of sewing.

This fabric is very soft, perhaps due to a certain percentage of mohair wool in its composition.

So – what about the rest of the trip?  Lots of driving those great distances out West, lots of laughs, fun, and brews with husband and son, wonderful days at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, hiking without a fabric store in sight.  When one is in such a place as Crater Lake, the great expanse and passage of time is ever in one’s presence.  However, I couldn’t help but think about another passage of time, this one personal: the last time I was at Crater Lake was in 1962 when I was twelve years old.  It just so happens that Britex Fabrics celebrated their tenth anniversary that very same year.  Happy 60th Birthday, Britex!

One more smile before closing hour!


Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Chanel-type jackets, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, woolens

Flights of Fashion Fancy

Having returned just a couple of days ago from a short Summer trip, I still seem to have airplanes and airports on my mind.  Although it wasn’t practical to take any sewing (hand-work, that is) along with me, that doesn’t mean I have not been thinking sewing, fabrics, patterns and fashion.  In fact, while I am still physically (and mentally) working away on my “couture dress”, another part of my brain is thinking about Fall and Winter, getting my projects listed in some sort of order.  I’ve started envisioning them all lined up on the “runway” – kind of like planes all queued up and waiting for take-off.  Some big, some small, some already late, others sneaking in before their time!  Which ones will have to return to the gate?  Which ones will be smooth flying – and which ones will hit that proverbial turbulence?

After finishing my current Summer projects, I am thinking the first one to “take off” will be an addition to a suit I made last winter.  I have enough fabric left of this lovely checked wool to make an overblouse:

Paired with the suit skirt, an overblouse in this fabric will make a variation on the “little black dress” – just in two pieces instead of one.

I recently found this pattern, view D, which I intend to use for this blouse.  I am so fond of the “Dior darts” which give a lovely silhouette to a bodice.

I’ll definitely make a muslin of this pattern to check the fit.

After that, I know I’ll be working on a dressy suit, which I need for a wedding and another event mid-Fall.  I found this wool at B and J Fabrics which I’m about to order   to use for the jacket.  I am still on the hunt for a slightly orchid-colored pink in light- weight wool or heavier silk to coordinate with it for the skirt.

This fabric, a wool/lurex blend, has a bit of sparkle to it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love pink – and here is another one:

I have a lot of yardage of this fabric, so I have flexibility in choosing a pattern.

I’ve had this fabric for several years.  It is a wool/cotton blend with the perfect weight for a Fall dress.  However, I can’t decide on what style I should make it in:  shirtdress, sheath, tailored or not?  If I can’t decide, then it may just have to go to the back of the line.

This is a recent purchase from Britex Fabrics:

This is actually alpaca – and very, very soft!

I bought this fabric to be made up in this dress, view A, with the below-elbow length sleeves:

The length of this dress as shown on the envelope is very 1950’s. I’ll be making it in knee-length.

The back of the envelope shows the versatility of the belt, which can be included – or not.  Think of the endless possibilities with changing the belt on this dress, especially with a basic black and white herringbone weave:  it would look great with red, pink, orange, black, green, or even bright blue.  This pattern will give me more practice on the couture techniques I’ve been learning, too.

I love that the drawings include the handbags!

Finally, here is another fabric from Britex:

Another subtle windowpane, this one in navy with deep red and ivory intersecting lines.

This is a pure cashmere wool which I purchased last year in the store.  There is no way to describe how soft and luscious this fabric is.  And here is the pattern I know I am going to use for it:

This pattern is circa 1970.

Well, if all I had to do between now and December is sew clothes, I might get most of this done.  However, interspersed amongst this fashion sewing will be  several “gift” sewing projects, which are going to sneak their little wings into line, along with holidays!  No matter – among other things, sewing encourages flexibility and, like flying, can take us to places of great adventure and quiet reflection.  No wonder I – and so many, many of you –  love to sew!


Filed under Dior darts, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Vogue patterns

What would Christian Dior do?

Without a doubt, the two dresses featured above left in my blog heading were inspired by the designs of Christian Dior.  This return to the feminine silhouette was led by Mr. Dior, starting in 1947, and it continues to influence fashion to this day.   In 1954, he published a small book entitled The Little Dictionary of Fashion, which was reprinted in 2007 by Abrams (and available at Amazon.).

Some of the language and expressions in this little book seem a bit old-fashioned, but it contains a wealth of information and advice.

It is really a combination of fashion and sewing terms, accompanied by his philosophy of life.   Here is a sampling of topics:

Bodices:  “… the most important part of any garment….”

Cosmetics:  “… play a very big part in the secret of beauty, but they mustn’t show…”

Emphasis:  “If you have a particularly outstanding feature it is always a good thing to emphasize it….  The whole of fashion is emphasis – emphasis on woman’s loveliness.”  [I think this is very sweet!]

Handbags:  “ A very important accessory and used with not enough care by too many women.”

Jackets:  “…must always be worn with a slim skirt…”

J is for Jacket!

J is for Jacket!

Key to Good Dressing:  “There is no key…  but simplicity, grooming and good taste – [are] the three fundamentals of fashion…”

This Dior outfit is described this way: "simple black suit, matching gloves and muff, and hat and scarf, in vivid cerise." Dressing beautifully, indeed!

Materials:  “You can never take too much care of the materials you choose to make a dress…”  [In this entry, he seems to be addressing the home sewer!]

Pockets:  “… pockets are very useful to help you to do something with your hands if you are embarrassed and don’t know what to do with them.”

The Way You Walk:  “… can make or mar your clothes – cultivate gracefulness.”

And my favorite:

Zest:  “…You have to live with zest — and that is the secret of beauty and fashion, too.”

Although Mr. Dior died in 1957 at the height of his career, his eponymous couture house has, as everyone knows, continued over the years under the direction of many different artistic directors.  Just this week the newest Creative Director for the House of Dior was announced.  Although I am a casual follower of current fashion (mostly to see how the vintage looks influence today’s looks), I was pleased to see that Mr. Raf Simons has been selected to head Dior.  I thought the designs he did for Jil Sander  over the past few years were among the most flattering that have appeared on the runway.  His selection is detailed in a fascinating article by Christina Passariello, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, April 10, page B4.  (By the way, The Wall Street Journal has terrific fashion coverage and advice, specifically in the Thursday and Weekend editions, as well as other times.)

Here is what the cover of Vogue Pattern Book magazine looked like in October, 1957, the month and year of Christian Dior's death.

Mr. Simons’ first designs for Dior will debut in July.   I wonder if he is now asking himself “What would Christian Dior do?”


Filed under Uncategorized

Project complete! Well, kind of…

One day this week I sewed the final stitches on my wool suit.  Yes, doing the skirt hem finished it off, and now it is ready to wear.  For those of you who read my last post and ventured a guess on which pattern I used, you were correct if you chose number three.  As a reminder, here it is.

I made a few small alternations to this pattern, including shortening the skirt to just below the knee.

However, I did not choose it for the reasons you might think.  Here is how I made my decision:

1)   With such a bold plaid fabric, I thought a shorter jacket would be a better look.

2)   I thought the square tabs on the front of the jacket would compliment the windowpane check.

3)   The kimono sleeves are such a classic mid-century look that I couldn’t resist trying them.

4)   And, I love a challenge!  Even though the sleeves are “kimono” type sleeves, which means while there is no sleeve cap to match plaids, they do have seams down the middle of them cut on an angle.  Plus the jacket has side, front and underarm seams, a rounded collar which puts the plaid on a curve, and, finally, the skirt has six seams.  And, I needed to make sure that the check also matched, up and down and side to side, from jacket to skirt.  So, that’s a lot of matching.

The first thing I did was make up the jacket in muslin.  From that I determined that I needed to add a couple inches to its length, and I decided to make the sleeves ¾ rather than below elbow length.  Then I got nervous about the windowpane check looking good in kimono sleeves, so I got out my magic marker and “drew” the check onto the muslin, so I could visualize it.  Okay, I liked it!

Here is my muslin - can you see the magic marker lines I drew on it? I sew my muslins using up bobbin thread that's left over from other projects - and I always baste in leftover contrasting thread.

Then I laid out the pattern pieces, and oh my gosh, what a puzzle of matching notches and checks.  I knew I couldn’t make a mistake, so after I laid it out, I let it sit overnight.  The next day, after cogitating on it overnight, I realized I had not properly matched up the check on the shoulder seams.  I made the adjustment, double and triple checked (pardon the pun), made sure I would have the same reveal at the hem of the jacket as on the skirt, and confidently (actually about 92% confidently) cut it – and the lining –  out.

First, I made the skirt (except for the hem).  I like to put my zippers in by hand, as I just think it makes a nicer look.

Here is the zipper, set in using small back stitches.

And here is how I finished the waistband inside:

I bind the raw edge with a soft seam tape and then catch-stitch underneath to the waistband seam. This makes a nice, unbulky finish.

By the way, have you noticed how it is now almost impossible to find a ready-made skirt or pants with a waistband?  Another reason to sew!

The jacket called for five bound buttonholes: one at the neck, on the two tabs on the front of the jacket, and in the sleeve plackets.  (This, of course, meant that I had to find buttons first.  A trip to the local fabric/craft store produced some, which I immediately recognized as “perfect.”  They are made by La Mode, an old button company still going strong after 125 years.)  Whenever I am making bound buttonholes, I like to make a couple of “practice” ones.  Every fabric handles differently, and with this fabric, I also needed to decide what part of the fabric I would use for the “bands”.  Here is my practice piece, which will help to explain what I mean.

Here were two of the three "trial" buttonholes I made. I decided to use all black bands where the buttonhole would be on a light part and light bands on all black. These trial runs helped me make my decision.

It always strikes me as being “out of sequence” when practically the first thing I have to do is make the buttonholes, but so it is with these bound beauties!

Of course, before the buttonholes comes the interfacing. I cut a small square out of the interfacing on the right side in order to accommodate the bound buttonhole.

Here is the start of the buttonhole on one of the "tabs". The yellow fuzzies are tailor tacks.

Here is the buttonhole at the neckline.

Here is the finished buttonhole on one of the tabs, sporting buttons which I think are perfect for this suit and fabric.

And here is one of the sleeve plackets, all finished!

The rest of sewing the jacket was fairly straightforward, just time-consuming!  The collar was a dream to do because there was a separate pattern piece for the two-piece, bias undercollar.  A bias undercollar makes the top part of the collar finish up with a smooth and neat turn.  Vogue Patterns – I love you!

I lined both the skirt and the jacket in a silk crepe de chine which I ordered online from fabrics.net/The Fabrics Network.  This company, in Spokane, Washington, carries beautiful solid silks and other fabrics.  I got swatch/color cards from them last year and have purchased several pieces of fabric from them, all of them lovely, excellent quality goods, quickly delivered.

So here are some shots of my finished suit:

My suit, laid out on my sewing room floor - definitely prostrate from being worked on for so long!

Here is a close-up of the jacket.

Here is an example of the puzzle of matching the check up and down and side to side. When I am wearing the jacket, I want the collar to match up to the back of the jacket. I think I was fairly successful with my calculations!

And here is a view of the one area which could not be matched, as that seam serves as a dart for the bust. But somehow, it looks okay, I think...

Finally here is a view of inside the neck, showing the lining and just a bit of the collar.

So – why did I say this project was “kind of” complete?   Well, wouldn’t a simple  blouse in that same lining silk be lovely?  I just happen to have enough fabric to make one (!) – and I’m thinking about using this pattern:

I think this simple shell would make up beautifully in that beige silk. What do you think? (I would wear it tucked in.)

Also, when I purchased the wool, I bought plenty to allow for matching those checks, and the wonderful salesperson at Britex cut the piece generously for me as well – many thanks, dear lady! So – I have enough left to make a simple lined  overblouse, which could be worn just with the skirt for a variation on a two-piece “little black dress.”  Memo to self:  move this idea to the top of my “sewing to do” list for next Fall!


Filed under bound buttonholes, kimono sleeves, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, Vogue patterns

Quiz: Match the fabric to the pattern

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that I have promised a “next” post on a suit which I’ve been working on.  Another project (non-sewing) has taken me away from it for a few days, so it’s not quite finished yet.  However, to keep my promise, I’m offering a teaser:  can you pick the pattern which I am using to make my suit?

Here is the fabric, a lovely, finely woven and incredibly soft, windowpane check wool from France, which I purchased at Britex last summer in San Francisco:

The repeat on this fabric is 7", so it's a fairly bold check in soft black and beige

Here is another shot of the fabric, with my tomato pin cushion on it to help you determine its scale.

And here are four patterns.  Which one do you think I selected to make in this fabric?  (Click on the photos to see the patterns in more detail.)

Choice # 1: This pattern is copyright 1958. I featured it in an earlier post.

Choice # 2: Here is another pattern which I have already featured in an earlier post. It is copyright 1959. This pattern includes the blouse pattern, too.

Choice # 3: This pattern is also copyright 1958. It has kimono sleeves rather than set-in sleeves, and the skirt has no darts; rather the seams are curved to fit the hips and waist.

Choice #4: There is no copyright on this pattern, but I judge it to be from about 1962 (the hairdos and the increased pattern price are good clues!) This pattern also includes the blouse pattern.

Keep in mind that this fabric presents significant “plaid matching” challenges, which I had to consider when I decided on the pattern.  The more seams in a pattern, the higher the challenge (usually).  So – was I safe and cautious, or gutsy and daring?


Filed under The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s