Yves St. Laurent, The Birth of Vintage, and Listening to Records and Kissing

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I’ll admit that attending the Yves St. Laurent + Halston exhibit (at the Museum at FIT) threw me right into a disco pit of nostalgia, thinking about the early days of vintage fashion in the 70s. Unfortunately, this frisson led to ill-advised vices such as listening to Kenny Loggins on YouTube, remembering old boyfriends, and coming this close to buying UltraSuede yardage.

Here are some photos from the exhibit, which compares YSL’s romantic costumes, culled from cultural history, to Halston’s streamlined, expertly-cut modern fabric columns.

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(In both cases, Halston is on the left, and YSL is on the right.)

But here’s what cranked up the nostalgia machine: a timeline in the exhibit, which compared what was going on in the careers of YSL and Halston in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

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I hadn’t realized that while we 20-something girls in the U.S. were combing the thrift stores for what was just starting to be called “vintage,” Yves St. Laurent was being influence by retro looks from fresh faces like Paloma Picasso. Here she is with Andy Warhol, dressed in 40s chic.

Paloma Picasso and Warhol

YSL’s collections from that era were inspired by 1930s Chanel designs, La Belle Epoche, Russian peasant gear, the Ballets Russes and Chinoiserie, among other things.

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It was a thrill to see his iconic Safari jacket and Le Smoking:

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His “Forties” collection, in 1971,  was a critical flop, but it captured the vintage zeitgeist.

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And here are the kinds of things we were wearing during that time in the U.S.:

Wearing vintage in '75

That’s me on the right with my roommate in our “co-ed dorm” (still a bad idea) at SUNY Purchase in 1975. We’re wearing original 40s dresses that I’d bought at one of the first true “vintage” stores. I think she’s wearing Kork-Ease platform sandals, too, which looked retro and were great for spinning around on the dance floor.

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And that’s me the same year, wearing a “long-line” bra that I’d dyed orange, with a man’s white dinner jacket, black tie and elbow-length gloves, all thrifted. I can’t believe how modern everyone looks, 40 years later.

All I can say about our nostalgia for 30s and 40s styles was that it sprang from an intense desire to forget the decade before. The late 60s and early 70s in the U.S. were such a roller coaster. Vietnam combat on TV! Man on the Moon! Peace and Love! My Country, Love It or Leave It!

My husband, more than a decade older than I am, went from a Kennedy idealist to a drafted army lawyer, heading to Southeast Asia in an ill-fated war marriage. He was tasked with explaining the Geneva convention to a bunch of nice guys from small towns who, like him, really didn’t want to be there.

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Even as a teen I could sense how quickly the country had devolved from an “ask what you can do for your country” mentality to “what the hell happened here?” By the time the troops withdrew and Watergate was over, we were exhausted.

When things started to calm down in the mid-70s, we just wanted to get on our feet again, and now the baby boomers were inheriting the place. And boy, were we tired of dressing like hippies.

So we went back in time. Bette Midler put on 40s rags and sang the Andrews Sisters.

Bette Midler

Manhattan Transfer put on 30s drag and revived a cappella.

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After years of seeing scruffy, angry comedians in jeans and army jackets, Steve Martin put on a tailored suit and joked about “happy feet.”

When an older grad student boyfriend and I were watching that bit on Saturday Night Live, he turned to me and said, “you think that’s funny?” I knew immediately the relationship was over.

My late-70s peers and I really were the first group of women who weren’t expected to find a husband and get married right out of college. So we put on wrap dresses and went dancing.

We were so glad when the guys cut their frizzy hair.

The book “Cheap Chic” became my bible, because it explained how to put together thrifted outfits, raid the men’s department for a menswear look, and use the army/navy store as a resource for retro/chic pieces like button-front navy pants.

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What great news that Cheap Chic has been rereleased! I just saw it on Amazon.com.

It even included an interview with Yves St. Laurent, talking about how his designs were being shaped by late 60s anxiety in France, which he was feeling in his visits to New York:

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We were sewing, too. During that time, you could buy really hot current patterns by DVF, John Kloss, Willi Smith, Halston, Clovis Ruffin, Kenzo and Betsey Johnson. Here I’m wearing one of her looks that I sewed at 18, and my roommate’s wearing a maxi-skirt I made:

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Back then, Betsey Johnson was a star of the kicky-youthful-vintage inspired look, and though her clothing wasn’t available in my northern Michigan hometown, her patterns were. So basically, we were creating a new generation of style out of thrifted clothes and Qiana fabric.

Here are some of those early vintage/boho Yves St. Laurent patterns released in the 70s, cut from his retail designs.

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(Why yes, that is Yves St. Laurent himself holding those patterns, with the help of a beautiful 70s fashion model, who is also a “Halstonette.” Did I mention that the Jet Set Sewing Graphics Team, AKA the chipmunks that live in my kitchen, are back? I know they were fired via the fire escape, but my son let them in the window accidentally, and they said they could book YSL so I said what the hell.)

So how does Kenny Loggins fit into this whole thing? Somehow I got his hit “Heart To Heart” stuck in my head, which is from the early 80s, but is still part of this era. I must have heard it blasting in the grocery store, which completely galls me because I don’t want to listen to music I used to make out to while I’m buying yogurt.

Even though it’s embarrassing to admit that I like this song, it is a great example of “blue-eyed soul” record producing in my view, so when it got to that crescendo, right when he’s singing in his head voice: “this is our final chance to touch each other’s–” I did not appreciate having the store public address system suddenly break in with “SEAFOOD! YOU HAVE A CALL HOLDING! SEAFOOD!”

But it got me thinking about how important both going out dancing and “listening to records” were to us while the country was recuperating. This was before the internet and cell phones, so listening to records was how we hung out.

I tended to date record nerds, so a summer afternoon with one of them would usually start with a couple of hours of browsing through dusty bins of vinyl in a college town record store, housed in some damp basement. Most likely, I was dressed like Annie Hall, after Diane Keaton, one of the original thrifters.

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Then we’d probably stop for a bagel, and the day would end with me hugging my knees on his apartment floor, next to the stereo that was perched on an orange crate. He’d light the candle that was stuck in one of those orb-like Mateus wine bottles (which we’d probably drunk), and do something like this:

(Just click it. When you hear the hiss at the needle drop, you’ll go right back. Though it is missing the nervous running commentary from the guy you’re with, explaining about who wrote it, who’s playing on it, who’s singing backup, who wrote the liner notes…and the whole time you’re thinking, “aw, shut up and kiss me.”)

Seriously, this is what we did back then. You 20-somethings outta put down your phones and try it. You’d probably have more sex.

So the country got back on its feet, and in the late 80s, I married a guy with a true appreciation for vintage style and a great big record collection.

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As for the UltraSuede yardage, I’ll be back with more about the Halston section of the exhibit, which is the better part I think, and photos of some classic Halston designs turned inside out, found digging around in my sister’s closet.

Hope your sewing’s going well.

Burda Vintage, Simon Doonan, and Winter Get the Hell out of Here!

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I’ll admit I’ve been cheating on winter by visiting warmer climes, and now that I’m back, I’m hoping a quick wrap-up post will get l’hiver to leave here. (By making it run from multi-lingual puns, apparently.)

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While I was away from home and my dear Karl (once again he was really ticked not to come along), I did some quality beach reading, as you can see.

I’d been contacted by BurdaStyle about reviewing their new (to the U.S.) Vintage Burda Patterns Kit, with 11 downloadable patterns for vintage styles from their archives.

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Some great designs, n’est pas? I decided to go for it, because when this collection was released in magazine form in Europe last fall, there was a great deal of on-line hubbub about it among my European sewing peeps. So much so, that I ended up ordering the English-language version of the Euro mag from GLP News.

The magazine is a fun read, giving background on the designers and fashion icons who inspired the collection:

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Since the articles were written for a German audience, I have to say that reading an article about a 1950s German family driving through the mountains to go to Italy on holiday was a cultural eye-opener as an American. Basically we think we own the 50s, and we tend to picture post-war Europe as this sad, depressed place with old dresses and no rock ‘n’ roll.

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As some of my pals in Europe started making up the patterns this winter, I could see what a great collection it was. Here’s Carmen, of the CarmencitaB blog, and winner of the French sewing bee show Cousu Main, with three of the makes from this series:

The “Fiore” Prom Dress, with skinnier straps and without what she called the “mother-of-the-bride” frou frou on the shoulders:

Carmen's dress frontBurda Fiore

(Here’s Carmen’s blog post about making the dress, which is a super rockabilly girl design, don’t you think?)

Here’s her hack of the “Kim” coat, which she turned into a hoodie for her Breton climate:

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And finally her version of the “Rosa” balloon jacket, inspired by Balenciaga.

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Here’s a completely different version of the Rosa jacket, by Claudine of the Rolling in Cloth blog. She’s always pushing the envelope with her beautiful makes, and she really scored with this one:

Claudine's jacket frontClaudine's jacket back

Unfortunately, the downloadable version of the collection available here in the States doesn’t include the fun and funky articles from the magazine. But it does includes a lot of great designs. As to the $29 price tag, for a collection that was available in Europe for less than $10, I’ll leave that math up to you. $29 is still a pretty good price for 11 patterns of this quality.

The downloadable version includes a photo, instructions, and pattern for each design. You can check it out here: Burda Vintage Collection. Here are some more looks from the collection:

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My thanks to BurdaStyle for giving me access to this online collection so I could share this info with you.

My other beach reading was the hilarious book The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion by fashion maven Simon Doonan, another writer of which I’m completely jealous.

In a series of essays, Doonan explains why models start dumb and stay dumb, talks about how he got cult Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo to spend time at Fredericks of Hollywood, and illuminates why the Queen of England is always frumpy, because it’s impossible to be both “kind” and “chic.”

That concept is borne out in the new Disney movie “Cinderella,” which everyone must go to immediately, whether or not you have a child to go with, because the costumes are a tour-de-force of color and design. Costume designer Sandy Powell is a genius. I want to go sew on snaps for her.

Here’s Cinderella. Though she’s beautiful and “kind,” I’d argue that she’s not chic:

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(There’s enough tulle in that dress to crinoline the entire rockabilly Hall of Fame.)

Cate Blanchett as the stepmother is most definitely “chic,” wicked, wicked chic:

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Soft and kind/taut and chic.

There are a few exceptions to the chic/kind tradeoff, for example, Audrey Hepburn was both chic and kind. But there aren’t many.

Audrey Hepburn UNICEF

And speaking of chic, Karl Lagerfeld says that his pampered, social media savvy cat Choupette made THREE MILLION EUROS last year!

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For that kind of money, I’d sit on Lagerfeld’s lap and purr, too. (Not that he’d be into it…)

Lastly, I wanted to say hello and welcome to the new readers who have joined Jet Set Sewing in the past several months. I get such a huge kick out of everyone’s visits and comments, so thanks to all of you for dropping by!

And I did finally get a chance to attend two exhibits featuring designs by Halston…the YSL/Halston exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the surprising “museum of Halstons” in the back of my sister’s closet! More on that later!

How’s your sewing going?

 

Sorry Coco, but I made a McCardellgan…

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Here’s some info on how I put together this McCardell-meets-Chanel cardigan jacket during my two-week sew-jo-pumping sewing blitz last month.

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About 18 months ago, I’d made a muslin version (a test version in cheap fabric) of the jacket in this 1958 McCalls playsuit pattern by American look designer Claire McCardell.

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In all my time trolling the internet for McCardell patterns, I’ve only seen two copies of this one, and I’d managed to get my hands on one of them.

The pattern has the archetypical “McCardellisms” as she called them: cut-in sleeves, large, low darts, and a bias cut that makes a chevron at the center front and back.

She used this particular cut for years, and my take is that it was as much for ease of manufacturing as it was for looks; the cut-in sleeves are much faster to cut and sew than set-ins, and the bias cut gives the underarm more give, so you don’t need to insert a gusset. And it looks great!

Here’s a similar early 50s McCardell jacket, from the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection:

McCardell Jacket

After I made the muslin, my machine died on me (this was before I had my beloved Bernina 560, Karl) so the project got shelved.

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So I got the muslin out again, and compared the size to Chanel Jacket #2 which has cut-in sleeves and a panel under the arm. It fits well and is very comfortable.

I took up the underarm curve considerably, though, to make the jacket look more like the McCardell jackets of the 40s and 50s. The pattern is cut to be more of a bat-wing than the originals, and since it was released around the time of McCardell’s death from cancer, I suspect the design may have been modified by the patternmakers.

Also, since the design is meant to be a young woman’s playsuit, the waist is short and comes in considerably, so I lengthen and widened the waist somewhat to resemble more of a contemporary Chanel jacket. (And to fit my middle-aged body.) After fitting the muslin, I took a Sharpie pen to the seams to mark the final seamlines.

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With no time to lose, I laid out the fitted muslin, now taken apart and ironed to become pattern pieces. You have to be really careful cutting for a chevron, to ensure that you don’t have the bias going the same direction on both pieces. It needs to be laid-out at opposing angles to meet in the middle. Fortunately, this bonded wool sweater knit I used had stripes that didn’t need to be matched exactly in the middle, which saved time.

 

I laid out the front piece, drew around it with chalk, then flipped it and pinned it, checking that in both pieces the stripes came down in the middle. Then I did the same for the back.

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Then I cut it out with wide seam allowances (in case I needed to make it larger, gulp), and marked the seamlines on the back with a tracing roller and wax sheets.

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I sewed the darts, top shoulder/sleeve seams, and bottom side/sleeve seams, using a narrow zigzag that would be easy to pick out to fit it. But it fit! So I finished those seams with a lingerie stitch and trimmed them.

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In the original pattern, you’re supposed to put a facing on the neckline and center front, but I wanted to give it more of a finished, Chanel jacket feel. Also, I have a similar knit jacket by Claire McCardell, which has a binding that looks like piping as a finish, something she used frequently in her designs.

Here’s the Claire McCardell original, part of a knit suit that I have in my collection:

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Isn’t it sweet? Too bad it’s so small it would only fit a modern 11-year-old.

Hm, where was that piping foot?

I used a bulky overlock foot (#12C) on my Bernina to whip up some quick piping, leaving a large edge. I was using some Eileen Fisher rayon/lycra and piping cord to make it.

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Then I attached the piping to the outside of the jacket at the seam allowance (using the same bulky overlock foot), leaving the large edge sticking out.

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I graded the seams, turned the edge to the interior, and then stitched in the ditch between the piping and the fabric on the outside to hold the piping in place.

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Then I quickly fell-stitched the large edge down by hand on the inside to give the neckline a clean finish.

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I decided that it would be easier to just put binding on the sleeves, so I attached a circular strip of the same fabric at the seam allowance of each sleeve.

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I turned the binding under and stitched in the ditch again to secure it.

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Nice!

A quick blind hem at the bottom, and the machine sewing was done.

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I used an antique brass shoe button at the neckline, and hand made a thread loop to attach it. During World War II rationing, McCardell was known for her clever use of fasteners like shoe hooks and buttons like these in her thoroughly American designs.

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A cardigan jacket that’s this easy to make? Hm…what else have I got in my stash for something like this?

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When I put the finished product up on the Instagram international sewing bacchanal, Charlotte Witherspoon of the clever blog Seam Ripped dubbed it a “McCardellgan,” so that’s what it is.

Since then, me and my McCardellgan have been seen around town and on Amtrak, heading for the Yves St. Laurent/Halston Exhibit in The City That Never Sleeps (though, alas, at this age I need to).

How’s your sewing going?

(For details of BERNINA of America’s support of vintage reconstruction projects on JetSetSewing.com, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston

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After three tricky projects in a row, the Edith Head reverse bolero, the Claire McCardell dress, and the Madame Gres gown, (AKA Madame Fred), I knew I needed to banish the fiddly and bring on the funk to keep from losing my “sew-jo.”

As much as I hate to think of patterns I made in my youth as “vintage,” it can’t be denied that the 70s are now reflected in that disco ball of nostalgia. I wrote about some of my favorite patterns from that era in this post: (“American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns”) .

Halston pattern #2Betsy Johson patternDVF Wrap Pattern

Though people generally have a cheesy boho image of 70s fashion, and think of the 80s as twee Laura Ashley/Princess Di or Club Kid day-glo, there was a brief period of time straddling the two decades when fashion became modern and streamlined in the U.S., and that was in large part thanks to Halston.

Plenty has been written about Halston, who started out designing hats for the ladies who lunch (including Jacqueline Kennedy’s famous pillbox) and moved on to creating easy-to-wear designs for the budding feminist, who had embraced her sexuality and was being encouraged to “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan,” as the old “Enjoli” perfume ad jingle emoted:

It sounded so hot back then, didn’t it? Now somebody else can go the grocery store and fry the hippie bacon equivalent we’re all eating now as far as I’m concerned. And there’s certainly no way that either guy in my household will “forget he’s a man,” with all of that scratching and farting going on.

Here’s a Halston Biography from Vogue U.K. His mother taught him to sew!

Now Halston’s designs are getting a second look via two exhibits of his simple, expertly-draped designs. The exhibit “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede” will be running from March 7th – June 14, 2015, at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina. And the exhibit “Yves St. Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s” is running now through April 18, 2015, at the Museum at FIT in New York City, so I’ll be checking that out soon.

Many of his designs just seem like “classics” to us now, but in truth, Halston and designers like Yves St. Laurent, Diane Von Furstenberg and Donna Karan (designing at Anne Klein) were inventing the modern woman’s wardrobe.

Halston

One night when I was aimlessly scanning vintage patterns on Ebay, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this one:

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The pattern includes one of Halston’s classic jackets (usually made in UltraSuede, a faux suede that’s machine-washable), a gathered straight skirt with pockets, a pair of pants (to create a pants suit) and a simple jersey tee to wear with the outfit. Wearing a knit tee with a jacket was a lot less common back then, so this really was a working woman’s wardrobe, with various pieces to mix and match on different days.

I recognized the pattern right away, because in the late 70s, I had sewn that tee a number of times to wear to work at a TV station. It’s such a unique cut:

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It’s all one pattern piece, with cut-in kimono sleeves, no shoulder seams, and a graceful U-shaped neckline that’s cut-in like a big hole and faced. The sides are loose, but then taper in quickly at the hip to keep it from hanging loose. And it’s cut on the bias (even though I’ve pinned it on the grain here, to conserve fabric, which works fine with a knit). It’s a great design.

Well, I had to have the pattern, and I started wondering if a style that was a TNT (Tried and True) in my mid-20s could return to it’s TNT glory in my mid-50s. I had some Donna Karan wool jersey in my stash, so I decided to give it a shot.

In the interest of banishing the fiddly, rather than doing any kind of muslin, I held up a t-shirt (that I knew fit me) to the pattern to see how I would need to alter it.

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I decided to use the cutting line as the seamline to give it more room, and then (okay, this is a little fiddly, but it was good fabric) I marked the seamline on the wrong side of the fabric using a tracing wheel and wax sheets, and cut a large seam allowance. That way I’d have a little extra room to adjust the fit.

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Then I cut the big neckline hole:

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I attached some knit fusible interfacing to the facing piece, using a trick I read about recently. You put a paper towel on the ironing board, put the facing on top, then fuse the interfacing on top of both the facing and the paper towel.

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When you trim around the edge of the facing, the paper towel falls right off!

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It gives you a lot more control so the facing doesn’t become misshapen when you fuse it.

I had been reading on the blog Made by Rae about Maxi-Lock Stretch Thread, which is a soft, yarn-like thread that allows you to create a stretchy seam with a straight stitch, without the stitches breaking. So I picked some up from Wawak.

I attached the facing to the seam, and saw that this kind of thread is very strong and does have more give, though the stitches are thicker and more noticeable. (It helps to use a longer stitch with this thread.) Here’s how it looked when I understitched the neckline facing:

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Though the directions call for invisibly tacking the facing to the neckline, I decided to just topstitch it and get it over with. Anti-fiddly!

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Then I sewed the seam that goes under the arm and down the side using a narrow zig-zag to give it a little more stretch. After that I used a stretchy lingerie stitch on Karl, my Bernina 560, to reinforce the seam. (Everyone, sing along with me, “to learn more about how Karl came into my life, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above…by the light of the moon.” I’ll do anything to make that disclosure more pleasant.)

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Hmm, how’s it looking? When I tried it on, the neckline was great and the hips fit, but unfortunately the unique curve on the side, which worked great in my 20s, was giving me extra love-handles. And I have plenty, thank you.

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I took the side seams in a couple of times so that they’re straight, and now it’s a lot more flattering.

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To hem the bottom and sleeves, I used the lingerie stitch again to attach light clear elastic to the edge.

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Then I turned the hem up twice and secured it with a straight stitch again. I really recommend using elastic like this on hems that can get stretched out. It makes them so much more springy and stable.

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Holy smoke, it was finished already?
Hmmm, nice!

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And when I wear it backwards, it’s a ballet-neck, adding to the versatility.

Well, that dusted off the cobwebs and got me going on three more anti-fiddly makes. I had been planning to enter the Travel Wardrobe challenge on PatternReview.com, but since the frickin’ Madame Fred gown took until mid-February to finish, there was no time to lose.

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Somehow I managed to finish them all in eight sewing days, despite plenty of household whining. (Details in the next post–about the sewing, not the whining.) It’s not an easy contest by any means, and all of the wardrobes in the Contest Gallery are great; put together by a very creative group of sewing peeps representing all levels. Nice job, fellow tired sewists!

Now that I have my Halston done, I can go to the FIT exhibit!

How’s your sewing going?

Hanging with Madame Fred on the Red Carpet

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So the dress I made from the Madame Gres design (or “Madame Fred,” as autocorrect likes to call her) did make it to the red carpet on time:

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I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille…Sunset Boulevard was only a couple of blocks/drinks away. (You can read about how I slogged through this dress and three blizzards in this post)

Lucky thing I’d made the dress out of merino wool jersey, known for it’s weather-hardy, quick-drying properties, as a deluge during the red carpet arrivals was making everyone into a soggy mess.

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(Those men are trying to stop the rainwater that was pooling on the tent from turning everyone’s haute couture into a wet tee shirt contest.)

I can report that it was truly loads of fun to wear this streamlined, fluid design to stroll among the acres of beads, tulle, trains, boning and other froufrou. Though as froufrou goes, this was definitely the best, most intricate work that I’ll have the opportunity to eyeball outside of a museum.

Take for example the dress worn by Best Actress winner Julianne Moore, by Chanel. Moore always looks classy yet approachable in her red carpet looks, usually opting for jewel-tone colors such as emerald and amethyst to compliment her red hair and pale skin. (Here are some lovely screen shots for you!):
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For this outing, where she was considered pretty much a shoo-in to win, she chose an expertly-fitted sheath by Chanel with rows of black circles of beads that reminded me of open tins of caviar (and I mean that in a good way). Here’s what the L.A. Times reported about the construction of the dress:

“Julianne Moore’s Chanel gown in white organza was embroidered with 80,000 small, white, hand-painted resin sequins and flowers. The dress took 987 hours of work and 27 people to complete, according to Chanel representatives.”

What set this apart from the traditional “sheath with stuff on it” that you see frequently on the red carpet was the fine cut and fit, with the strapless bodice following the line of the torso and a skirt that came in slightly thigh-to-knee, then arched out at the back to give her room to walk. She was elegant and glowing in person.

Marion Cotilliard stayed true to her Frenchy vision of pushing the envelope with this Dior gown:

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It looked a sheath in the front, but when she turned around revealed a rounded pleated back reminiscent of vintage Balenciaga.

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Though one fashion rake in the media wrote that the fabric looked like it had been gone over with a giant hole-puncher, in person the dress, which is covered in white sequins with circular cut-outs, was classy and whimsical at the same time.

The red carpet itself is a bit of a zoo. Here’s Rosamund Pike sashaying by, looking a little “Moulin Rouge” in Givenchy…

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I also got a good look at Zoe Saldana’s draped pale gown by Versace Atelier, which, on top of being classy, was expertly fitted to hug her curves without pulling, a rare occurrence on red carpets lately. She pulled off one of the better “old Hollywood” look of the night.

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Reese Witherspoon’s gown by Tom Ford was equally well-fitted and classy.

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And here’s my old nemesis, Meryl Streep, wearing a feminine tux look by Lanvin:

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It was a good choice for someone who has been to the show frequently; by now she knows it’s freezing in the theater. And her outfit doesn’t look anything like mine! Proving that my graphics team, AKA the chipmunks who used to live in my kitchen, were the ones leaking information to her stylist after all. Good thing I fired them. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this post)

And George Clooney was a no show! So, sadly, no ripping off of my dress to inspect the haphazard interior.

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Sigh. I still forgive you, George. (Here’s the post explaining that in-joke.)

In case you think that the show day is all-glitz all the time, the truth is that for we “normal” women attending, the “beauty” team consists of your own brush, your makeup kit, and the nail place down the street. (Good thing they cancelled “mani-cam.”) And rather than attending that celebrity new age fitness workfarm, known as The Ashram, to take off a few pounds that weekend, I hiked briskly from Cinderella’s Castle to Tomorrowland on a Disney forced march, following a strict diet of burgers and root beer. But this is my real secret weapon:

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The morning of the show, my husband and I went to the red carpet area to have a look around. Media people were already there in black tie, rehearsing for the hubbub later on.

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Then I did some zen meditation over fabrics at The Fabric Store (where I bought the merino jersey I used for the Madame Gres dress), and clearly I had forgotten that there was still six feet of snow at home.

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Security is so tight around the Dolby Theater the day of the show, that to escape it, we always walk over to Mel’s Diner for lunch, where American Graffiti was filmed.

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Glamorous, I know. Believe it or not, the food’s pretty good.

Showtime!

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During the show itself, everyone in the balcony was spending as much time on social media as they were watching the show, with people frequently popping out to partake of the open bar. Since it was chilly up there, I whipped the drape of my dress over my shoulders. I decided that wool jersey was just the ticket for black tie.

During the after party, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who was wearing a sort of dinner jacket/chef’s jacket hybrid, was offering small plates that included baked potatoes in foil with sour cream (a very typical dish in the U.S. while I was growing up), but it was topped with a dollop of caviar, speaking of which.

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The little shot glasses of pea soup were laced with truffle. The ironic high/low food pairings is so American in just the weirdest way.

The whole time I was blabbing away on Instagram, Twitter, and several Facebook pages, proving that I have become the social media freak that I frequently warn my son he might turn into. The next morning, during the 6:00 a.m. airport run, feeling like I had Cinderella’s other shoe in my mouth, I saw that haute couture master teacher and author Kenneth D. King had left this comment on a picture of my dress: “Beautiful, flattering, and fits far better than the borrowed stuff you see in the other photos of the “celebs”…

Sheesh, who needs an gold statuette when you hear that!

Now I’m back sewing some “vintage” garments from…1980 and the year 2000?

How’s your sewing going?

Shoveling Through a Madame Gres Dress and Six Feet of Snow

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So, I managed to kill off Madame Gres before she killed me. It was a war of slidey jersey knits, sticky power mesh, and numerous sharp objects, punctuated by meals on demand for my snowbound and crabby men. The only one I’m still speaking to is Karl!

When we last left off on this project:

Gres pattern

There were merely two feet (less than a meter) of snow on the ground in Boston. You can read about making the muslin by clicking here, and the early stages of construction by clicking here.

The snow was still kind of a novelty after storm number one. People were jovial in the snow, and it looked pretty:

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Then, storm #2 hit, with two more days off from school. My husband was in one room working, and my son was in his room doing homework, which stranded me in my tiny kitchen, laboring to create the large half-circle drape that attaches to the underdress. The diameter of the drape is at least six feet (two meters).

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The first thing was to make and stabilize a slash on the straight edge of the drape, which would attach to the shoulder and then go under the arm. Since I was using lightweight, stretchy wool jersey, rather than hand-roll the edge hem as called for in the instructions (which would have led to hari kari), yeah, I got out the old Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite! I’m not ashamed! For the uninitiated, Steam-a-Seam is a kind of mesh fabric glue with paper backing.

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I glued that sucker down and edgestitched it, and decided I could live with it. Many of us had a long, depressing hiatus from Steam-a-Seam last year when apparently there were production problems with the product. I myself became a hoarder and even bragged about it on InstaGram, which made things worse because people started begging for it. (I refused to share.) But now you can find it again on Amazon, hallelujah!

I learned about Steam-a-Seam from the Craftsy.com course Sewing on the Bias with Sandra Betzina. She recommends laying down the paper strip and tapping it quickly with an iron to get the glue mesh to separate from the paper, which really helps.

I used the Steam-a-Seam again on the long hem of the drape:

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From there, it was easy to flip up the hem again and sew it without pressing or pinning. It avoided the wonky wrinkles you can get on a circular hem like this.

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The great thing about using wool jersey is that even if the edges get a little lettuce-y after they’re sewn, the wool shrinks back with a light steam press, so it’s flat but stretchy.

I know I never got around to profiling Madame Gres and her innovations with jersey (because I was so pissed at her) but you can read all about it here.

Here’s one of her gowns from the same era in the 60s, made of silk jersey, in the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute:

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She hated to cut her fabric. Girl after my own heart!

Another great article about Madame Gres, by Arlene Cooper, is in this special issue of Threads Magazine, released this summer. I wrote about it here: (“$9 Couture Course”).

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It’s well worth downloading a back issue if you’re into vintage couture techniques. The article includes pattern drawings of several of Madame Gres’ knit wraps:

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Here’s a quote from the article, which I wish I’d read more thoroughly before I started: “Her work is known for its prodigious use of luxury fabrics in a personal method that is time- and labor-intensive and virtually impossible to copy.” Hoo boy.

Back to the salt mines:

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(I briefly kicked my son out of his room, then it was back to the kitchen for snow day #4.)

It was time to attach that giant drape. On the underdress, I had hand-basted the jersey to the power mesh underlining, and now I decided to machine-baste it with a narrow zigzag to stabilize it (that’s a big diagonal going down the front and back of the dress).

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Then I pinned the drape on the dress.

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Since I had elected not to put in a zipper, I knew it was going to be dicey sewing the thing on smoothly all the way down the length of the dress. I left the shoulder seams detached and headed in from the top and bottom.

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(I was seriously nervous about that part, but Karl the Bernina 560 pulled it off!)

Ta da! I love how the angle of the drape is exactly parallel to the angle of the French dart on the left.

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Now we were up to four feet of snow!

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When the next storm hit:

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it was time to do the fiddley shoulder seams. After messing around trying to line them up inside out, I decided the only way to finish them was right side out:

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I used a kind of running stitch/fell stitch hybrid to try to mimic machine stitches, and went over it a couple of times to avoid wardrobe malfunctions.

Because…it would be terrible if my shoulder seams unraveled when I was standing next to George Clooney, and he said something like, “Dammit, you should have reinforced those shoulder seams, and by the way, those markings on the power mesh still look like crap!”

George Clooney

Sigh. I forgive you, George.

When it came time to do the hem, the dress was so big I had to put the drape on a chair.

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Okay, maybe I’ve become a little too in love with Steam-a-Seam…

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I hand-basted the jersey to the power mesh at the hemline, trimmed the power mesh, glued up the raw edge of the hem, then turned it up and hand-sewed the hem. Are we there yet?

Last stop…the snap to close the drape’s big slash under the arm:

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Finally!

By then, we were beyond six feet (two meters) of snow! Everyone in Boston was in a horrible mood!

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And then it was time for the trickiest part…getting my design know-it-all and tact-challenged husband to take some pictures. He’s worse than George Clooney.

Picture #1, so far so good:

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Picture #2, well, can you tell by the look on my face that my husband had pointed out that a half sheath/half tent-dress is not flattering from all angles on a middle-aged body?

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I’m not even showing you the angle on the other side…

I briefly considered trying to ratchet in the drape a little bit at the waist, but then I thought, hell to the no. It’s about the design. I set out to make a Madame Gres dress, and I’m not going to mess with it.

Though I don’t thoroughly love the dress, I do like it. And going through the process of re-creating the design has helped me have a deeper understanding of Madame Gres’ genius, which is why I’m sewing up these things.

So Madame Gres and I will see you on the red carpet, George. And now I’m enjoying the day when my husband’s in the doghouse and he knows it. He just made me an espresso.

As I was fiddling away on this irritating project, fave blogger Oonaballoona and I had this brief exchange on InstaGram:

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So Funkytown is exactly where I’m headed next…

Halston-YSL patterns

How’s your sewing going?

(Just a reminder, for details about the machine-loan arrangement between BERNINA of America and JetSetSewing.com, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab. With the exception of this collaboration, Jet Set Sewing does not have advertisers or affiliates. All of those links you see are just good clean fun!)

You’re Really Tedious and Boring, Madame Gres

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Remember how excited I was about trying out this 60s Vogue pattern by Madame Gres, made with thin wool jersey and underlined with power mesh?

Gres pattern

I made up a muslin (info in this post) and got a lot of nice feedback both here and on InstaGram. I was ready to go!

Then I took a closer look at the directions, which include things like making a hand-rolled hem, something that takes the folks sewing Hermes scarves YEARS to learn…

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(Check out this Blogger’s post and you’ll understand why Hermes scarves cost $400.)

Not to mention a side slot zipper that had “hours of hand picking” written all over it. (Oddly, the instructions were printed on the pattern.)

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So I started to think, boy, this is going to be a pain in the ass. An old Monty Python sketch started running through my head, where Michael Palin, an accountant who wants to be a lion tamer, tells John Cleese that his job is “tedious and boring and DULL” and, well, just have a look:

I was thinking, it will be a pain to layout, it will be a pain to cut, it will be a pain to attach the mesh, it will it will be a pain to hem and attach the six-foot drape, it will be a pain to…I was just getting anxious about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, in the next room, my 13-year-old son was complaining about a “take-home” test in American History and stressing about the War of 1812 (anyone?), the Whiskey Rebellion (anyone?), Pinkney’s Treaty (anyone? Except you, Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler, former middle-school history teacher…).

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So I put on my “mom voice” and said, “the stress will go away when you’re done.”

Then I realized that that was what MY mom would have said, so the next day, I got out that fine wool jersey and did a layout that took up the entire length of the bedroom floor:

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Did the alterations that I knew the pattern needed on the sides (from having fit the muslin):

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And figured out a way to hang the big drape, so I could hem it before I put it on the dress. I didn’t think there would be a problem with the bias shifting with a knit, but I did it just in case:

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Then the blizzard hit, so I took advantage of the snow day to cut and mark the powermesh lining, using a marker to speed things up.

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I had already marked the wrong side of the fashion fabric with wax sheets and a tracing wheel. The interior was going to be a little messy, but I got over it.

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I figured if George Clooney and I were somewhere out of earshot of our spouses, and suddenly he got fiesty and ripped off my dress, he would be enough of a gentleman not to say, “boy, you really should have put in some kind of lining, even though it would have made the dress more bulky, because, dammit, those magic marker lines look like crap.”

George Clooney

(I put that picture in for my friends Darcy and Christine, who don’t really sew, but read my blog anyway. Isn’t he dreamy?)

As much as I wasn’t feeling it, I hand-basted (“thread traced”) the fashion fabric to the underlining at the darts and the line where the drape will attach. I’ve just found it’s so much easier to manipulate darts with underlining if you take the time to do this:

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I wasn’t about to thread trace all the way around, so I attached the underlining to the fashion fabric around the edges by using a long, narrow zigzag about 3/8 inch outside of the seamline.

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My Bernina 560, Karl, was so happy to be back in action, his walking foot was jumping up and down! The walking foot kept the layers together and even. (For details about how Bernina is loaning a B560 and walking foot to assist with these vintage projects, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

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Yeah, it was still snowing!

When I went to pin the darts, the thread tracing made it so much easier to line everything up, it was worth the effort.

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I basted the whole underdress together, and saw that the fit wasn’t too bad.

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I also saw that it was time to get back to the gym. But since the dress was stretchy, I knew I could jettison putting in a zipper, which made me delirious with joy.

Then the next day, when the whole town was digging out:

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I decided to use light knit fusible on the neck facings, to speed things up. I turned up the bottom edge by 1/4 inch and edgestitched it.

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So I’m getting there, but I still have a way to go:

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The snow’s not going anywhere anytime soon, either!

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Anyone else’s sewing stuck in the snow? Keep shoveling!

Boston’s “Hollywood Glamour” Exhibit, and Step Away from the 20s Chanel, Ma’am.

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I wanted to share a few pictures from a beautifully-curated “jewel box” of an exhibit I attended recently at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen” features gowns by Chanel, Edith Head, Travis Banton, Schiaparelli and other famous designers and costumers from the 20s through 40s, along with some big flippin’ ROCKS of jewelry…okay, I may be getting a little overexcited, but trust me, if you saw them, you’d have a hot flash, too.

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Let’s start with what, to me, is the best, most beautifully preserved vintage dress I’ve ever seen in person, and that’s saying a lot, as I’ve attended a number of the big fashion exhibits over the past couple of decades.

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The dress was created in the mid-20s by Chanel, and it was worn by actress Ina Claire in a photo for Vogue by Edward Steichen.

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The dress appears to have a black silk bias underslip, and over it is a mesh dress with the most exquisite sequin and beaded flowers. It’s so Chanel and ahead of the curve. The preservation is just pristine.

Though photos without flash are allowed in the exhibit, as I leaned in to get a closeup of the beading, a loud BEEEEEEPPPPPP rang out through the hushed room, and I was suddenly worried the “authorities” from Casablanca would come bursting in. Readers, these are the risks I take for you.

The dress is from the collection of U.S. Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles. In previous posts, I’ve written about my extreme jealousy of his writing prowess and large couture collection. Hamish, invite me over to look through your closet anytime; your articles are always favorites of mine.

The exhibit has a number of dresses and outfits from 30s and 40s movies, with a clever film loop running in the back, showing them in the films:

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I loved this dress, created by the costume designer Gilbert Adrian, which Greta Garbo wore in the movie “Inspiration”:

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I’m already trying to figure out how I can hack that pattern.

And how about this dress, created for Mae West by Schiaparelli?

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The exhibit also features the special platform shoes Mae West had made up to wear in films, to give her a few inches of extra height:

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And there was this Vionnet-inspired gown, designed by Edith Head, for a young Betty Grable:

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The exhibit also includes costume design sketches, like this one by Travis Banton, created for Marlene Dietrich.

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Then I moved on to the bling, and sadly I was too dazzled to take many notes. Can you blame me?

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(Those are Mae West’s gigantic aquamarines…)

This excellent exhibit was put together by Michelle Tolini Finamore, Curator of Fashion Arts, and Emily Stoehrer, Curator of Jewelry at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; two jobs I’d like to have in another life. The exhibit runs through March 8th, so if you’re in the Boston area, check it out!

Here’s more about the exhibit from National Public Radio, journalists who are far less lazy than I.

I always enjoy wandering around the Boston MFA (particularly now that their new addition includes a huge atrium and restaurant), and even though the museum seems big on the outside, it always has a nice flow and intimacy.

For example, on my way to the exhibit, I stopped for awhile at the top of a grand staircase, to sit in one of the club chairs provided and ruminate on a small collection of hand-woven Persian rugs.

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A little later, walking down a hallway, there was a mini-exhibit of vintage advertising from WWI:

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Then I went around the corner to a modern installation and found:

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My fabric stash!! I knew I left it somewhere!

Actually, it’s a work by artist Shinique Smith, (but it really does look like my stash):

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Now that I’ve found my fabric…back to work!

And just a quick reminder, if you’re stuck in the snow in the Northeastern U.S… I have a couple of free downloadable patterns available on Bernina’s WeAllSew.com, which can be sewn up quickly using pieces from your stash. The first is a Midcentury Claire McCardell-inspired Infinity Wrap/Scarf made from knits:

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The second is an authentic 50s design for a scarf with tucks and a buttonhole, known as The Hepburn Scarf:

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Both projects are part of a vintage project collaboration between Jet Set Sewing and Bernina USA. For details, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. And if you give either pattern a try, please let me know!

Hope your sewing’s going well!

 

Paging Madame Gres

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With the holidays over, I decided to get going on this 60s Vogue Pattern by French designer Madame Gres.

Gres pattern

I’ll write more about Alix Gres’ history in a future post, but since she was known for her genius at draping jersey, I thought the dress would look nice made from some dark blue merino jersey that I have in my stash. (Just FYI, I bought this beautiful New Zealand jersey from The Fabric Store in L.A., and the info is in this post.)

The design is actually a straight shift dress underneath, with French darts to give shaping from the bust to the waist, one of my favorite vintage cuts.

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Then a large half-circle of fabric is attached to the front and back of the dress on the diagonal and over one shoulder, and slashed to go under the arm, giving it an asymmetrical flow. As always with these old designs, I know that something that simple is probably going to be tricky.

You never know what you’re going to find when you look at these vintage patterns. In this case, there were still some old tailor’s tacks attached.

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I decided to use some cheap ponte from my stash to do a quick muslin. Even though this pattern is a couple of sizes too small for me, sometimes these 60s patterns are cut somewhat loose, and I also knew that with a knit there would be some extra ease in a pattern cut for a woven.

I’ve been reading this fitting book recommended by Susan Khalje, which is based on analyzing the body for fit, rather than analyzing what’s going on with the garment. It’s very helpful!

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(Sorry the pictures are so lousy this morning…things haven’t been the same since I fired my graphics team.)

I started by comparing the pattern to the fitting shell pattern I made last winter (hope it still fits!), and found that actually, the Gres pattern was pretty close.

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But since I’m making it in a knit, I held the pattern up to a knit dress I have to compare the fit.

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Again, it was pretty close, so I just added a little room on the side seams when I cut it out.

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I put the muslin together, and the fit was quite close. (I’ll have a pic of that next time.) It has a nice flow from the bateau neck, curving in with the darts, and then going straight down.

The pattern calls for underlining, so after consulting with some sewing peeps, I decided to try underlining it with power mesh. The designer Roland Mouret is know for parking that mesh under his form-fitting Galaxy dresses.

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So I ran out to Sew-fisticated! in Cambridge to pick some up.

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They were ready for Jungle January big time!

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I hope to get the sewing going in earnest on this dress next week.

How’s your sewing going?

Golden Globes Me-Mades, and Meryl, may I have a word with you?

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Me-made at the Golden Globes? Leave it to brilliant actress/comedienne Melissa McCarthy to be in-your-face with Hollywood, and show up in something she stitched together from “pieces in my closet” at the Golden Globes:

Melissa McCarthy Golden Globes

She referred to it as a “chop shop” and said, “It’s a little weird, but I like it.”

Having grown up in the Midwest, it makes perfect sense to me that an Illinois farm girl like McCarthy would know how to sew, and apparently in a recent appearance on “Ellen,” she talked about how she’s sewn a lot of her own clothes.

I have an actress friend who, when she was up for an Emmy, ended up spending what you’d pay for a low-end new car on a stylist and dress (not everyone gets them free), so I don’t blame Melissa McCarthy at all for giving it a go with a hack from her closet. She pulled it off, too.

Here’s another rad look from a fellow Midwesterner of a certain age:

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(Where’d they dig Prince up?)

Like many of you, I saw the Golden Globes live from my bed, wearing RTW faded knit pajamas and fuzzy socks. As I was watching, I wasn’t thinking so much about which designer had come up with “best sheath with stuff on it” (Though I think Uzo Aduba in Randi Rahm was the winner):

Uzo Aduba-Randi Rahm

No, I was thinking more about “who’s acting their age?”

Here are a few of the winners in my book:

Pohler-McCartney

Host Amy Poehler at age 43, in Stella McCartney, with sleeves and pockets, in just the right color. I want to hack that.

Jane Fonda-Versace

Jane Fonda, in her late 70s, wearing Vesace, edgy, but with sleeves! I read a quote from her recently, talking about how everyone fears getting older, but once you’re there, it’s not so bad. Thanks for everything, Jane. (Please note, if you don’t remember the 80s, women didn’t even think about working out until Jane came along with videos, leotards and legwarmers.)

Helen Mirren

Dame Helen Mirren, 70-ish, ravishing in red Dolce and Gabbana. (Again with sleeves! We want more dresses with sleeves!)

And on the younger end of the spectrum, people who pulled off the right look for their ages:

Emma Stone Lanvin

Emma Stone in a Lanvin pants “ensemble” with a big floor-length sash, just right for someone in her mid-20s going to a mock-serious event like the Globes.

Quvenzhane Wallis Armani Junior

And Quvenzhane Wallis, looking like an adorable and well-mannered young girl at age 11, in Armani Junior. She was great in “Annie” too.

Kerry Washington Mary Katrantzou

Kerry Washington, mid-30s, in Mary Katrantzou. The look is unique and perfect.

Now, a couple of bones to pick:

Claire Danes-Valentino

Claire Danes, also mid-30s, what is this? I know it’s Valentino, and it has feathers, but ?? I hope the people at your table weren’t allergic.

Lena Dunham-Zac Posen

Lena Dunham, I like this Zac Posen dress on you, I do.

Here’s the thing…I know you’re supposed to be a 20-something anti-heroine from the “failure to launch” generation, but the truth is, you’ve become a successful actress, producer, author and businesswoman. Not to go all Helen Reddy on you, but could you pul-eeze stop doing that twee pigeon-toed thing?

Amanda Peet J Mendel

Here’s gorgeous, 40-something Amanda Peet in J Mendel. I just don’t get the blousy bodice. It’s too old for you. It’s too old for Granny Clampett. Take that dress to a tailor and get three dresses made from it.

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez, mid-40s. Again with the cleavage to the navel? And with all that fabric, it looks like you brought your own VIP cabana.

Keira Knightley-Chanel

Keira Knightley, late 20s…were you planning to go to some kind of Jane Austen cosplay afterparty? It is Chanel, but I suspect that Lagerfeld left the designing to his cat Choupette.

Here were some draping “hits”:

Amy Adams

Amy Adams in Versace, my favorite of all the dresses.

Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt in a Michael Kors goddess gown.

Camila Alves-Monique Lhuillier

And Camila Alves in Monique Lhuillier. Love that 60s bodice drape.

George Clooney was accompanied by his classy and accomplished bride, Amal. She was wearing Dior Haute Couture, the lucky ducky.

Amal Clooney Dior

When someone asked if her gloves were handmade as well, Clooney quipped “she sewed them herself.”

Excuse me, George, but what’s so funny about that?

And then there’s that Meryl Streep.

If you were one of the 8 or 9 people reading my new blog last winter, you’ll recall that both Meryl and I attended an event where a number of Hollywood people go home with gold statuettes as well. You can read my report of that here.

I was in a me-made 60s boatneck top with 3/4 length sleeves and a long black skirt, which I had been blogging about making:

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But then that Meryl Streep showed up in practically the same silhouette:

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One thing led to another and I accused her of copying me and then, well, I called The First Lady of Film a bitch. (Not to her face. On my blog. Which bumped it up to at least 11 readers.)

I hindsight, I figured it was probably just a coincidence. But then I saw what she was wearing last night:

Meryl Streep Golden Globes

Um, didn’t I just post a pattern for that very same asymmetrical wrap!?!

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Now I was sure there was a breach in security at JetSetSewing.com, and Karl and I had to get to the bottom of it.

Meryl’s dress is by the French brand Paula Ka, and you can find a short, pink version of it here for 690 Euros. (Meryl, you didn’t buy off the rack, did you? Why didn’t you just make yourself something like Melissa McCarthy?)

After a thorough investigation and grilling of all employees, Karl happened to remember hearing the fax machine being used in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago.

I looked in the machine, and aha, the pattern was still in it!

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That could only mean one of two things.

1) my husband faxed the pattern in his sleep, during a midnight bathroom break. He’s the only person left in North America who remembers how to use a fax.

or:

2) The CHIPMUNKS!!!

So now the JetSetSewing graphics team, AKA the chipmunks who live in my kitchen, have been fired, via the fire escape. They’re so lucky I didn’t put them in the microwave.

As for what I’m attempting for this year’s Big Kahuna…well, I just made a muslin of this Madame Gres pattern, so we’ll see if I can pull it off.

Gres pattern

How’s your New Year’s sewing going?

Here’s just a quick update to this post to add a couple of articles about the Globes from the New York Times. In “What Happened to Risk on The Red Carpet?” journalist Ruth La Ferla asks the same question as “Smittenness” did in the comments below.

And here’s an article, also by La Ferla, with drawings of some “Modern Red Carpet Looks in a Perfect World” as dreamed up by contemporary designers.