Claire McCardell and Martha Graham

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After I got back from L.A., I meant to spend some time testing methods for constructing this Claire McCardell dress:

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I intended to sew it up back in August for my sister, who is the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, to wear to an event at the “Dance & Fashion” exhibit, (now running through January 3rd, 2015, at the Museum at FIT in New York). To have a flashback to that whole explanation, click this link. (Cue the Twilight Zone-y flashback music)
I thought Claire McCardell was a good choice for this event, because McCardell and Martha Graham are often mentioned together in books and articles as being similar in their pared-down artistic style. They did meet on at least one occasion, when they both received the Women’s Press Club award in 1950, a very big deal back then.

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Here they are with President Truman (looking dapper in a tuxedo), along with a foreign affairs expert, an educational reformer, and a Hollywood actress (Olivia de Havilland), all in old-school tulle-centered eveningwear. Martha Graham is on the far left looking very chic and modern in her spare little black dress. And Claire McCardell, on the far right? Well, she’s got on one of her wrapped-bodice evening dresses of sari silk, slouchy leather gloves, no bra, no girdle, the ballet flats she invented, and a big American grin on her face. That outfit was so far ahead of its time!

I was doing a lot of thinking about making the dress, as August became September, but now it was October, and little voice inside me (either the spirit of Claire McCardell, or more probably, my Bernina, Karl) whispered, “you better get crackin’ on that dress.”

**Stop the presses! Edith Head and I are finalists in the Threads Magazine SewStylish Fall Challenge! The voting goes through October 31st. Check out this link to see a great group of projects.**

So, I chose a mid-weight black New Zealand merino knit that I got this spring from The Fabric Store in L.A. (here’s that post), because McCardell was one of the first American designers to popularize wool knits, and Martha Graham often used jersey in her costumes. This fabric is very soft and drape-y, and the quality is wonderful. The Fabric Store now has an online gallery, and will do mail order if you call them. (Here’s The Fabric Store’s USA website)
I washed the wool in cold water, tumble-dried it low, and laid it out.
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As I was pinning, I was thinking a lot about Martha Graham, and how she often manipulated fabric in her dances to help tell the story.
This long piece of jersey reminded me of a moment in the dance “Cave of the Heart,” which is based on the Greek legend of Medea, and deals with revenge. It’s a favorite dance of mine, particularly now that I’m a “woman of a certain age.” Martha Graham herself designed the costumes, which makes her a “triple threat”: dancer, choreographer, and draper. The dance premiered in 1946.

In the dance, Medea learns that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman, a princess no less, who flits around the stage being innocent and adorable while she’s followed around by the besotted big lug.

Of course Medea, who’s been around the block a few times, is not happy that her husband is having a mid-life crisis, and she gets REALLY mad. Another dancer, representing the “chorus” from classical Greek theater, tries to stop Medea from exacting revenge, to no avail.

In this photo, you can see the Chorus’s robe and skirt, which remind me in particular of a 20s design by Madeleine Vionnet, shown here in the Betty Kirke book “Vionnet”:

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In a fit of vengeful rage, Medea gives the little homewrecker a poison crown, which of course the princess puts on right away, because she’s a princess, and it’s a crown! For a couple of minutes she’s skipping around really really happy, and then she grabs her head and eeeeeek!

After that, Medea does an intense solo about vengence, where she’s twisting, twirling and even eating a long “snake” of fabric she pulls out of her bodice, so it’s like she’s “eating her heart out.”

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A while later, Medea walks regally across the stage wearing a long train of fabric, and when her macho husband (see below) pulls back the train, the dead princess is inside!

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In the end, even though Medea has clearly gone mad, she still looks kind of, well, let’s say satisfied. And that’s what I love about Martha Graham’s dances; they really get to the emotional core of these classic stories. Seeing them is so cathartic!
(Okay, I know I’m in trouble with my sister for being flip about this great Martha Graham work, but Cave of the Heart is prime example of how Graham was inspired by fabric and costumes, and used them to advance the story of her dances.)

Just FYI–the Martha Graham Dance Company New York season will be running February 10-22, 2015, at the Joyce Theater. Tickets can be purchased here: (Link to Martha Graham Company tickets). The Graham photos above are by Christopher Jones, and the dancers are:  Medea: PeiJu Chien-Pott, Jason: Ben Schultz, Princess: Xiaochuan Xie and Chorus: Natasha Diamond-Walker.

When it came time to construct the dress, I looked inside an original McCardell that I have in my collection, to see how the seams were finished. I was surprised to see that the finishes were different in different parts of the dress, leading me to believe that several different people worked on the dress using their own methods.

The center back seam allowances were folded under and sewn:

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The pockets edges were finished with pinking shears (kind of sloppy, too):

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The armscye seams were double-sewn on the inside, but not top-stitched.

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Several seams were reinforced with bias tape, which is typical of McCardell dresses, as they are often are cut on the bias and need the tape to stabilize the seam.

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Meanwhile, the “let’s get crackin'” concept was still in my head, so my Bernina 560, AKA Karl, whispered, “how about forgetting the seam finishes and using the overlock stitch, sister?” This would have been heresy to me as a vintage purist, except I had recently read this post by The Vintage Traveler talking about how overlock stitches were used on sportswear as early as the 1910s. That was my “Get Out of Jail Free” card!

Using the 2A foot, and the #10 overlock stretch stitch, I got cranking. The foot shoves the edge under the needle, so you don’t need a serger for a finished edge.

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Looks great, no? The wool jersey sewed like a dream.

I was having problems with the pattern instructions, though. The blessing and curse of these early patterns released by Spadea is that they were not taken from designs developed for the home sewing market. These patterns were drafted in reverse: a retail garment was given to the patternmaker, who took apart the garment, drafted the pattern from the pieces, graded the pattern for different sizes, then wrote up the instructions for the home-sewer. I soon discovered that these instructions didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The beginning of the instructions tell you to construct the back and side seams of the entire dress, so as you’re doing the more difficult parts, such as attaching piping to a 7″ neckline slash, you have the entire four yards of dress sitting in your lap. I began to feel like I was doing my own version of Martha Graham’s iconic work “Lamentation,” surrounded as I was by what was basically a tube of jersey.

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I made the piping for the neckline using Bernina Bulky Overlock foot number 12C.

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That foot absolutely saved me during this project! After I made the piping, I hand-basted it to the neckline slash (which I reinforced with knit fusible), then used the foot again to sew it on.

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I used silk strips to face the armholes, to make it smoother by my sister’s arms, and to keep the armholes from stretching.

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I was so proud of how I had inserted and edgestitched the two famous McCardell pockets in the dress (because McCardell wanted to free women from relying on evening bags), then discovered that I had put one in upside down! The dress was so big at this point, it was hard to keep track of what was the top and what was the bottom.

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After a quick hack, Frankenpocket was born!

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Then I had to cut another strip of fabric for the neckline, which was to function as both neck binding and cloth ties. The patternmaker must have just been ball-parking the measurements, because the strip was way too narrow to get over the neckline gathering. So it took another hack to fix that!

I used this little thingy to turn the ties right-side out. You put a big tube in the casing and use a smaller tube to push it through.

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At this point, I tried on the dress, and in the silhouette, I saw this:

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That’s Claire McCardell herself, in a dress known as the “futuristic dress.” One of these dresses is in the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection. The dress I was making had a very similar cut, so I had an “aha” moment about how the futuristic dress was constructed.

Now I really had to crank to get the dress done in time for my sister’s event. I gathered the dress in the front and reinforced the gathering with Hug Snug rayon bias tape.

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Then I looked at these instructions. Eeeek!

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Well, there was no way I was making the 15 feet of corded string ties I needed using that crazy method! Instead, I used the bulky overlock foot again, and basically made the ties by running an overlock stitch over the piping and then trimming it, so I didn’t have to turn anything right side out.

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I used the same foot to attach the ties to the front of the dress, rather than hand sewing. It saved me so much time!

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I threw on a blind hem, pressed and defuzzed the whole thing, and then right before I put it in my suitcase to New York, I tried it on one last time.

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Why am I giving this to my sister!?!?! (Actually, I would adjust the fit for myself anyway, as it’s a little tight in the ta-tas, so let’s just say I’m giving Janet a “wearable muslin” for my dress. Shhhh!)

I put the dress in my bag and headed to New York, where I was attending a memorial service for legendary jazz singer and family friend, Jimmy Scott. While seated in the pews at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, I handed my sister a bag with the dress in it. Would she like it? I was sweating that one.

We parted ways after the service, and not long after, a picture popped up on my phone with the caption “It’s mine now!”

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Score another one for stunt sewing! Looks great on her, doesn’t it?

In my next post, I’ll be writing about the event where she wore it, and give a report about the Dance and Fashion Exhibit at the Museum at FIT, as well as (finally) details of the Hollywood Costume exhibit.

Hope your sewing’s going well. I’m cooked!

 

 

Long Live Edith Head!

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Well, Edith Head and I made it to the Hollywood Costume Exhibit dinner with only minutes to spare.

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(I believe that’s Faye Dunaway doing a photo bomb in back of me.)

***Stop the presses! I just found out that Edith Head and I are finalists in the Threads/SewStylish Fall Fashion Challenge. The bolero was chosen to be among five fabulous “makes.” Here’s where the voting’s taking place through October 31st: Sew Stylish Fall Challenge Finalists ***
After I finished wrangling with the difficult neckline on this #$&?! pattern, I got a comment from reader Mary Ann Kiefer about how she’d made this pattern back in the day, and her mother had had to help her with the bolero because it was so tricky. So that made me feel a little better about my struggle with the extremely brief instructions. Mary Ann, I wish your mother had been around to help me!

Once I completed construction of the exterior, I tested the fit again, and saw that my muslin fitting had been correct. Phew!

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Godzilla! (Oh Gawd, you can see my bellybutton.)
At this point it dawned on me that what I was making was not a simple bolero, but was actually a backwards lined jacket. So I had to get moving!
There were several points that had to be turned on the jacket, so I used a technique I think I read about on the Sew Maris blog, which is full of handy tips. Once you’ve sewn the corner, you clip it, then put a needle and thread through the inside of the point, pull the thread through for a couple of inches, and put the needle back in again.

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IMG_3683.JPG Then you take both ends of the thread from the inside, pull them at the same time, and the point comes popping out!

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So much cleaner and easier than trying the shove the point out from the inside.
I was mystified as to why the bottom of the bolero was finished with a facing, rather than a turned up hem. But once I made the facing, I saw that it was because the facing needed to curve outward to accommodate the extension at the bust. Very clever!

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After I attached it, I understitched the facing to the seam allowance to keep the facing from popping out.

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When it came time to make the buttonholes, I used a feature on my darling Karl, the Bernina 560, which automatically sets the buttonhole length by measuring your button. I just hold up the button and twist the knob until it matches the size of the button.

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(For details about how Bernina USA is supporting my reconstruction projects, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.)
I spaced the buttonholes using this vintage “Slimflex” expandable sewing gauge I got from Ebay. The box looks like it’s from the 50s or 60s. Recently I’ve seen modern versions of this gauge on websites such as RichardTheThread.com and Nancy’s Notions. Same thing and same brand after all of these years!

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Karl was good to go, so we (actually he) made corded buttonholes.

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Then it was time for my least favorite part of any jacket project, the lining! Since I was using slippy-slidey rayon challis, I used my Bernina walking foot to keep the layers from sliding around.

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Then it was time to pack Edith up, still full of pins, (ignoring the sniffling and blubbering coming from Karl’s direction, where I heard “don’t take Edith, take MEEEEEE!”).

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How do you like my classy Ziplock hand-sewing kit? I managed to get more of the lining sewn in on the plane.

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Then I finished the rest of the handsewing at the hotel, looking out over this film noir view of L.A.

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(The hotel iron was something out of “Psycho,” which was costumed by Edith Head, by the way.)

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After I put on the buttons, I realized that I needed one snap. My excuse to go to a fabric store! I high-tailed it to International Silks and Woolens on Beverly.

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It’s one of those completely overwhelming places with a lot of everything, and it takes patience.

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(Look on this table if you want “Liberty (like)” fabrics.)
There are also a lot of pictures of marginal stars on the walls. Is that Prince? No wonder they had so much metallic purple spandex.

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Don’t get me wrong, you can find good things here. They have a good notions department, where I got my snaps:

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And on the third floor, they have a very eclectic collection of vintage fabrics, some of which appear to be from as early as the 40s.

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During the spring, I used some vintage wool challis from this store to make a crushed boatneck shell. When we got to L.A., I wore it over to the Academy Museum when I was tagging along with my husband. I’m always amazed at how things made out of quality wools, lined with silk crepe de chine, literally jump out of my carry-on without a wrinkle.

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With the snap in place, the bolero was finished! For those of you who weighed in on the button choice, I went with the overwhelming favorite of the green buttons.

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I got ready to go, put on the bolero, and everything was copacetic. After we walked up the red carpet, the first thing we saw, upon entering the exhibit, were all of Edith Head’s Oscars lined up in a row.
As for the other thrilling pieces of Hollywood fashion history I gawked at in this comprehensive exhibit, that will have to wait for next time. No photos allowed, but I have plenty to tell you.

50s Scarf Free Downloadable Pattern, and my nemesis, Edith Head

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I have some fun news to share! I know it looked like I was just sitting around at the beach for the latter half of the summer, but in truth, I was in my sewing Batcave (occasionally) cooking up a 50s scarf pattern, which is now available as a free download on WeAllSew.com. Here’s where you can find it: Hepburn Scarf Pattern

The pattern’s based on an authentic 50s design, and it holds it’s shape with some little tucks and a big buttonhole that you tuck one end through to make the knot. You can cut the pattern on either the lengthwise or crosswise grain, so it’s easy to make from a remnant.

Here’s the glamour shot:

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And here’s how the scarf looks laid out:

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It’s quick and easy, so I hope you’ll give it a try! If you’re a beginner, you can make it without the tucks, and it will still look fine. The pattern is part of my collaboration with Bernina USA, and once again I have to thank them for the generous support of my vintage reconstruction projects. I couldn’t do it without you, Karl! (For details, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.)

If you end up trying the pattern, please send a photo my way so I can post it here at Jet Set Sewing. I’d love to see how it turns out.

As for current sewing, I’m still plugging away on this Edith Head bolero:

IMG_0540 (details of the muslin version I made of it are here.)

I was still a little unsure of the fit, so rather than cutting the pattern at the cutting line, or thread tracing (baste loosely to mark the seamline on the fabric, a technique used in haute couture), I went with a method known in France as “Le Rig de Jerry” (or jerry-rig in English, probably named after Jerry Lewis), which is to say I faked it.

I was inspired by this recent post by sewing penpal Carmen of the CarmencitaB blog, about how there’s no absolutely “right” way to sew any given thing. Carmen is currently competing in the French sewing bee show called “Cousu Main,” which I’ve been watching on the sly here in the States (via an internet jerry-rig). Go Carmen!

So I used large sheets of wax tracing paper and my tracing wheel to mark the seamlines and darts along the back of the fabric. You can find this big tracing paper at RichardTheThread.com and SusanKhalje.com. It helps to have several different colors for different fabrics.

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Big caveat here (that’s legalese for “Warning, Will Robinson”), the wax tracing paper marks can become permanent on the fabric, so only try this if your fabric is thick, and only mark it on the wrong side. (The white tracing paper will come off easily with an iron, but it wouldn’t show up on this fabric.)
Once I was done marking the fabric, I machine-basted just outside of the tracing marks, so I would see the seamline on the right side of the fabric. This stitching will also function as stay-stitching (I hope).

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The reason I went through this whole rigamarole was so that I could cut the fabric with large seam allowances, leaving room beyond the seamline to make the bolero bigger if I needed to.
After that, the construction was pretty much smooth sailing with this study, easily sewn and formed silk.

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The easing in the shoulder went smoothly, the darts stitched up nicely, and I cheated and used fusible for the interfacing instead of organza (because I knew it would be fine, and the fusible was higher up on the stash pile than the organza). I’m using Pro-Weft Supreme Lightweight Fusible interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply, which is a high-quality fusible with some loft. It works well for soft tailoring on Chanel-style jackets or something like this.

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La la la down the primrose path, and then…

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Looks easy, right? Except the collar edge is straight, and the neckline is curved, Edith Head!!! True, the straight edge is on the bias and stretches, but just to be safe, I hand-basted the two edges together before I stitched. Worked like a charm:

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So, there I was, back on the primrose path, la la la…until:

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So perfectly clear and not all that complicated, I kept telling myself during Shavasana at yoga, when I was supposed to be meditating but was grinding my teeth instead.
And here’s how it looked in real life:

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(When I posted that photo on InstaGram, the hashtag was #seeyouinhelledithhead.)
But this is why we’re doing these hard projects, right? To understand how they’re done? So after quite a bit of monkeying around, revisiting the instructions, and visualizing the construction, the design started to make sense and I was able to tame the beast:

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See, docile as a lamb. And such a beautiful design.
Tomorrow I’ll cut and construct the lining, which I’ll probably be hand-sewing in on the plane to Los Angeles at this rate. But I feel like the major problems have been solved. (Famous last words.)

Edith Head Bolero Getting Ready for Its Close-Up, Mr. DeMille

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So I got going on that Edith Head bolero I’m making to wear to the Hollywood Costume exhibit in L.A.

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First I prepped the silk (which feels like a heavy silk duppioni) by throwing it in the bathtub.

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My experience is that it’s better to handwash silk first, so you don’t have shrinkage issues or nasty spots when your iron spits, but it’s a personal preference. I always test wash a 4″ x 4″ swatch first, with any fabric.
I went back and forth about what lining to use, because, though my first choice is usually silk crepe de chine, it could be 80 degrees F in L.A., and I didn’t want to have a hot flash in front of my husband’s clients. In the end I ordered a vintage rayon challis from Etsy.com, which I think will be comfortable and cool. The print has that late 50s/early 60s Doris Day vibe I’m going for (Karen of the blog Fifty Dresses brought that reference to my attention).

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My adorable Bernina 560, AKA “My Swiss Intern, Karl,” has settled into his new Boston digs, in what I shall refer to as the sewing “nook,” as basically only me, Karl and a squirrel could fit in it.

IMG_3515.JPG That’s urban sewing for you! (For details about the Bernina USA/Jet Set Sewing arrangement, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.)
(As an aside about this post’s title, it refers to Billy Wilder’s dark comedy “Sunset Boulevard” when, at the end, Norma Desmond is led off to the asylum having gone mad from basically not being able to work in Hollywood anymore. Her character is 50. 50!!!!)

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You know the old Hollywood saying, “Better to be nuts with style than to have never had style at all…” Or something like that.
Since this pattern is not that hard to find on eBay and Etsy.com, (I have three copies in different sizes, speaking of being nuts over 50) I decided not to trace it, and just go ahead and cut it. First I used a giant sheet of wax tracing paper and roller to mark the pattern onto my muslin.

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Little Miss In-A-Hurry did a lousy job of telling the cutting line from the seam line (it’s supposed to be the seam line) but I could still tell what was going on.

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Of course these vintage patterns are always full of surprises, and on this one, it was that the roll-collar neckerchief thingy had a straight line that needed to be connected to the curved front neckline. What the what?

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I have been wondering why the collar piece had been cut on the bias (I thought it was just an aesthetic element) but then realized that it gave it some give to go around the neckline. At least the two pieces weren’t curved in the opposite direction, like the Charles James pattern!

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Vrrrroooom!
Kimono sleeves with two darts; be still my heart. I love the attention to detail in these vintage patterns.

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Since the pattern was close to my size, and the sleeves were cut-in, I was happy to see that the muslin didn’t need much fitting.

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Being married to a vintage (literally) man with OCD (Obsessive Collecting Disorder) all I had to say was “Honey, you still got that box of vintage buttons?” and a few minutes later, I had three choices.

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Any opinions on which I should choose?
Right now I’d better get that fashion/lining fabric cut, I need to wear it in a week! How’s your sewing going?

Hollywood Costume Exhibit and what I’m making for it…

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Here’s a piece of good news…later this month, my husband and I are invited to a soiree celebrating the opening of the “Hollywood Costume” exhibit, featuring a number of classic movie costumes that I am very eager to eyeball.

So of course my first thought was, what am I going to make? I’ll get to that.

The exhibit is presented by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who bring you the Oscars), and it will be held at the historic art deco Wilshire May Company building in Los Angeles, soon be the location of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The exhibit runs from October 2nd, 2014, to March 2nd, 2015. (Here’s more info about the exhibit, from the Academy’s website.)

There will be more than 150 movie costumes to ogle, by revered designers such as William Travilla, Gilbert Adrian, and of course, Edith Head.

Yes, I’m excited.

In my overflowing stash of patterns, I have a few that were released by the better known costume designers, some of whom had their own ready-to-wear lines at the time.

This pattern, released by Spadea:

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was designed by movie and television costumer Travilla, creator of Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Seven Year Itch” dress.

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Marilyn’s dress, which became part of Debbie Reynolds’ costume collection, was recently auctioned for $4.6 million, according to the L.A. Times blog.

Another Spadea I have in my collection is this pattern designed by Charles LeMaire, known for costuming movies such as “All About Eve.”

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On the pattern it says “Katherine Hepburn wears it in a film, but it has a place in everyday life.” It appears to be this dress from Desk Set.

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Katherine Hepburn could make a librarian look chic. I wonder if I have enough of that gold Tyvek in my stash to pull it off?

The designer known as “Adrian” released at least one pattern in the 50s, which is on sale on Etsy now, for $175! (Pattern by Adrian) At that price, you can see why I’m reluctant to share details of my rare patterns.

The ruby slippers that Gilbert Adrian designed for Wizard of Oz will be featured in the exhibition as well. A girl knows she’s not in Kansas anymore, when she’s got those glitzy pumps on her feet.

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According to the Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo DiCaprio helped the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures acquire the shoes for their permanent collection.

Several costume designers created patterns for an obscure mail order line called “California Couture,” including Jean Louis, who designed Marilyn Monroe’s dress in which she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK:

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That pattern would make a good “Megan” dress for next year’s “Mad Men Challenge” hosted by blogger Julia Bobbin.

And Helen Rose, who designed, among many other things, wedding dresses for both Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, released several patterns for Spadea and California Couture:

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There’s lots of information about Hollywood costume designers such as Adrian, Helen Rose and Jean Louis in this fun book about the vintage California look (I think I found it on Amazon):

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I’ll admit, having grown up in snowy northern Michigan, watching “Wonderful World of Disney” and dreaming of sunny California, I have a highly romantized view of vintage Cali style.

And, of course, no costume exhibit would be complete without the diva of Hollywood costume design, Edith Head.

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She put out a number of sewing patterns from the 50s through the 80s, like these “Hitchcock Blonde” suits:

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Ooo, I’m going to make that turban!

Among those patterns is this fab “reverse shrug” with a pointed fold-over collar and buttons in the back, which I’m going to attempt to make for the event, to wear with a little black dress.

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I’m torn between using this 50s-looking raw silk I bought from Mood in L.A., underlined with 60s silk organza, (requiring seam finishes, grrrr) or some drapey gold Italian wool-viscose from Elliott Berman Textiles, lined with something or other. The wool might be too hot for fall in L.A., though.

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Whatever way I go, I’ll be busting my stash, and I get to pick out buttons!

More to come on this exciting exhibit!

 

 

Non-Stop Gloating

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Don’t say you haven’t been warned. I was going to do an end of summer, melancholy post quoting Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s “September Song,” but then…

SQUEEEEE!!!!!

(Yes, I’m copying fave sewing blogger and exclamation point abuser OonaBalloona from Kalkatroona, but I’ve decided that this post deserves some (what she calls) bratty behavior. And if you take a look at Ms. Balloona’s mind boggling make matching indescribable fabric featuring spray paint cans, you will yell SQUEEEE!!! too.)

I’m going to start with dessert first. I was wandering around my second visit to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair today, and went into the exhibition hall to admire my 5–count ‘em 5–ribbons for this year’s sewing makes. Then I noticed that a new ribbon had appeared:

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SQUEEE!!!! What was that big-fat Special Award ribbon doing there!!!!! (How’m I doing with the exclamation points, Oonaballoona?) I looked closer, and saw that the jacket was awarded the “most creative” entry in Needlecraft-Fiber Arts Division 112.

Hold it! That’s the division that includes…knitting?

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(Check out those gorgeous sweaters! And the knit lace shawl above it! There are several different Special Awards in this division, and it looks like the garment-makers cleaned up.)

And doesn’t Division 112 also include…quilting?

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Those Vineyard quilters are really something. For a small community, this fair is extremely competitive.

Well, I was pretty darned pleased with myself, until I saw this Chanel-style lined jacket and matching dress in the Junior Division:

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The winner of that Special Award is 12. squee. (Okay, I’m jealous.)

And speaking of talented 12-year-olds, my art-makin’, cake-bakin’ boy picked up his fourth ribbon in as many years, for his killer caramels on the far left.

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(That’s what makes life worth living.)

I also had fun sneaking a look at people checking out my jacket, while trying to resist the urge to shout “DO YOU REALIZE HOW MANY HOURS I SPENT CATCHSTITCHING THOSE FRICKIN’ SEAM ALLOWANCES?!?”

Like this macho-looking guy, with the “Fireworks Crew” shirt on. The Oak Bluffs Fireworks were last night, and it’s organized by the firefighters. This man spent about five minutes thoroughly checking out the construction of my jacket…proving once again that, when it comes to crafting, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

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As for the other ribbons, aw, I thought you’d never ask…

Charles James came through for me with this 50s skirt “make” (click on “Charles James Skirt” under “Categories” for details). As well he should’ve, considering his persnickety ghost was floating around my ironing board making snarky comments the whole time I was making the thing. (You owe me dinner, Charles.)

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And in addition to the Chanel jacket ribbons (click “Chanel Jacket #4″ under Categories), Coco must have been rooting for me in her own ennui-ish, chain-smoking way by bringing a blue ribbon for my Chanel 2.55 bag knock-off attempt (under “Make a Chanel Bag” in Categories). The judges gave me a shout-out for matching stripes. How often does that happen?

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And my fashion girl-crush, Claire McCardell, was represented as well with a blue ribbon for the wool jersey shrug I whipped up from a Spadea pattern. The judges complemented me for the French seams and difficult fabric.

And my last ribbon was for the Frankenpattern crushed bateau-neck top I made with 50s vintage fabric (on the right).

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I got second place because the interior of my hem was uneven, so the judges said. But what the heck do they know?

Did I show the inside of the hem on my blog? No, I did not. Nor will I.

I think my makes got some good luck as well from a quick meet-up, right before the fair, with reader and fellow garment-sewing enthusiast Deb Wilkinson, who was here from Minneapolis visiting relatives.

Deb was telling me about a group of her local sewing pals who get together to fit and stitch, which sounds like a whole lot more fun that a book club to me! Lately, they’ve been testing Style Arc Patterns, which have become a phenom for their cutting-edge style. It was fun to meet you, Deb!

And I need to send props to all of you readers as well. Your blog visits and comments really helped me through some difficult projects during a long, snowy winter. THANK YOU!!!!

And now, the dirge. Dame Oonaballoona, I know you grace the stage at those time when you’re not causing massive clashing fabric collisions that shouldn’t work, but somehow always do. Willst thou join moi in September Song?

“Oh it’s a long, long while, from May to December, buuuuuut…”

I don’t care because I won those freakin’ ribbons! SQUEEEEE!!

 

 

 

What to wear to a Martha’s Vineyard wedding, and Club Bernina, too.

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I went in the sewing shed after what I thought was a brief hiatus, and my Swiss intern, Karl, met me with this:

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So after a little back and forth about our relationship being so new, and Massachusetts beach days numbering on two hands, and it being difficult to drag a 35 pound hunka-hunka burning love to the beach, I could tell that Karl was getting over it, when he said:

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So, to make him happy, I whipped up this 50s scarf, professionally photographed here by my husband, who was standing around in a wet bathing suit.

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(The car is my husband’s 1950 Willy’s Jeepster. I refuse to drive it.)

The scarf is from a 50s pattern, and it has lots and lots of what I call “tedious tucks,” so Karl was happy as a clam making them. I used Bernina Blindhem Foot #5, with the needle all the way over to the left, to make 24 nice, even interior tucks:

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(A Bernina #10 Edgestitch presser foot works better for this job, but off-shore as I am, Karl and I made do with the #5 foot that I had with me.)

That big, beautiful Bernina 560 also made me a large corded buttonhole to pull the scarf through, so the finished muslin looked like this:

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I made the final version out of some beautiful silk I bought at the L.A. outpost of The Fabric Store. (More info on L.A. fabric stores here.)

You’ll be hearing more about this pattern in the future, so “stay tuned” (as they used to say in old media). For details about the partnership between JetSetSewing.com and Bernina USA, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.

Since President Obama and his family are here on Martha’s Vineyard, (not that we’re hanging out or anything), I’ve been giving some thought as to what people should wear to events here, specifically weddings.

“What should we wear” is the second question I get from off-islanders regarding weddings, the first being: “how many beds do you have for our extended family?” (My official answer, “Our septic system can’t handle any guests, and you don’t want to find out why.”)

To tell you what to wear to a Vineyard wedding, I need to know two things: who is it, and where is it?

If the wedding is “up island,” (in rural, expensive Aquinnah or Chilmark), then the next question is: Hippy or Hollywood?

If it’s Hollywood, you can count on gorgeous views:

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Tons of charm, great food, lots of well-organized assistants and heavy security. I recommend that L.A. “wealthy boho” look you can find at Calypso St. Barth.

LEONE DRESS

It costs a fortune, but you know you can make something like that. Please note that the wedding will probably take place under a tent in a field something like this:

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So wear flat shoes that won’t sink in the grass and that will protect you from ticks and manure. And make sure that your dress can be pulled up easily in a porta-potty, because there’s going to be one.

If it’s a hippy wedding, odds are good you’ll be peeing in a field, so dress accordingly. If they ask you to bring food, do it. As a matter of fact, I’d eat first and bring a flask of Chardonnay. Seriously, you can wear anything, even this:

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(Doesn’t that rope thingy look like something mid-century sculptor Isamu Noguchi would have designed for a Martha Graham dance about yachting? It was about as expensive as a Noguchi, too.)

There’s a lot of poison ivy up island, so again, your footwear should be flat, disposable, or hose-able. Bedazzled Crocs would be good. During one particularly bad October deluge, the bride resorted to wearing her garden clogs down the aisle.

And for any wedding in a tent, you need good bug spray with Deet to ward off the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and a WARM wrap or jacket for after the sun goes down.

Now let’s head “down island” for a wedding either in Edgartown (permanent host of the Preppy Olympics) or any place with the word “Club” in it.

Let’s look at Edgartown. Beautifully manicured Captain’s houses:

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Gorgeous New England seaside gardens:

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And ample places to buy the Preppy uniform of whale pants, polo shirts, breton shirts etc…

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For this type of wedding “weekend,” bite the bullet and fit in. If you just landed from planet “not preppy,” you could go to this store and be all set:

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A pretty teal dress for an afternoon wedding, white jeans and Breton shirt for whatever lunch/brunch comes your way, and a featherweight lavender cardigan for anything outdoors.

As for the khaki shorts on the left, at my Vineyard wedding 26 years ago (at an inn with an outdoor wedding venue but indoor plumbing, thank you very much) a plus-one guy from Edgartown showed up in an oxford-cloth shirt, docksiders, the ubiquitous preppy navy blazer and khaki linen shorts. Shorts! At a wedding! Mercifully for him, I can’t recall his name.

On that same afternoon, the power went off all over the island, including at the hairdresser, sparing me from looking at wedding pictures with a giant 80s bouffant hairdo. It was fate! (Note: between the salt air and the wind, everyone’s hair looks terrible on the Vineyard, so don’t worry about making an effort.)

As for weddings in the other regions and cultures of the island, where the wedding could be in the tin-roofed Tabernacle:

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Or in the sand:

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Best to call the mother of the bride and ask. She’s probably dying to vent.

One last question about Edgartown. Is the wedding at the Whaling Church?

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It’s gorgeous, historic, either too hot or too cold, and has the most uncomfortable seats on the planet.

For your sake, I hope the wedding looks like this:

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Okay, that wasn’t actually a wedding. It was the Official Blues Brothers Revue, doing a fundraiser for the Vineyard Playhouse. The gorgeous trompe l’oeil painting on the back wall was done by talented Vineyard muralist Margot Datz.

While I was at the concert, sitting with boomer-age friends who, in the 70s, toured as recording artists, lived with famous musicians, and spent quality time alternately crashing in Teepees or on lumpy NYC futons, ALL we could talk about was how happy we were that the Whaling Church had new, thicker cushions for our aging bums! And even with better cushions, my sitz bones were killing me! So bring a wrap, even if it’s hot, because you’re going to need to sit on it.

And enjoy the Vineyard. Really, there’s a reason why presidents have been coming here for more than a century.

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Ooo, my husband’s out sailing…I’ll be right there, Karl!

 

New(ish) Patterns for the Varsity, Letterman, Aviator or Bomber Jacket

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As a blogger, I can look at my stats and know what’s bringing readers here, and I’ve been surprised lately to see that people are searching for Varsity/Letterman/Bomber/Aviator-style jacket patterns. Thinking of fall sewing already?

During the winter I wrote about how this cut of jacket was becoming a style statement, and included a link to a New York Time Style article featuring designer versions.

Elletra Weidemann

(You can find that post and info here)

While I’m in the sewing shed laboring on a project that’s not ready for prime time (oops, and going to the beach, too, forgot I told you that…) I thought I’d share some of the jacket patterns I’ve found while procrastinating–er– “researching” online.

Even though this basic style is somewhat interchangeable nowadays, the jackets come from two different places in history.

The Varsity or “Letterman” jacket started in the 1860’s at Harvard University (of course, where else, rah rah rah) when athletes had the letter “H” sewn onto their sweaters, and if they did particular well, they got to keep the letter. This started a U.S. tradition of athletes earning “letters” to wear on their wool jackets with leather sleeves.

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Earning a letter allowed these “jocks” to date the prettiest mean girl and beat up the sensitive guys…or at least that’s how it plays out in most American movies about high school. International readers, does this style exist in your country?

The bomber or aviator jacket was developed in the early 20th century for pilots to wear in cold airplane cockpits, and they were often made of sheepskin with shearling on the inside for warmth. During the 30s, the jackets were shortened to waist length to create the A2 style we’re familiar with now.

Brando in bomber jacket

It’s definitely a “bad boy” look.

This style has gone in and out a number of times, but now the jackets are having a moment, so stitch one up fast while they’re still hot!

Here are some patterns for women’s jackets that I found recently on BurdaStyle:

Burda slouchy varsity jacket pattern

I like the 3/4 batwing sleeves and low neckline of this pattern, found here.

 

Burda flowing varsity jacket

This one, found here, has blousy sleeves and slash pockets.

 

Burda collarless varsity jacket pattern

I like the clean neckline, snaps, and zipper pocket detail on the sleeve. You can find it here.

Here’s one for men, cut with raglan sleeves, found here:

Burda coat pattern

As I mentioned in a previous post, Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion-Incubator.com has a men’s bomber-style jacket pattern with in-depth instructions, which can also be used for manufacturing. (Info is here.)

Bomber jacket pattern

Then I found this free downloadable jacket pattern that looks comprehensive, and has a sort of 60s “warm-up suit” cut:

(Free Vlisco Bomber Jacket Pattern PDF)

Apparently that pattern was developed for a contest by a Dutch fabric website, which features modern African ankara wax print fabrics. So then I spent some quality time on their highly-tempting online fabric store…(Vlisco) Beware, they have some gorgeous things for your stash!

Here’s a look at one of their jackets made up. Wowza!

Vlisco Jacket

That’s all the patterns I could find, but if you’re aware of any others, please let us know in the comments. It’s a fun look to stitch up for fall.

Update: After I published this post, I heard from Gabrielle of the Up Sew Late Blog. She told me about the following patterns:

The Papercut Patterns Rigel Bomber, which has a modified “V” neck, and plain raglan sleeves or sleeves with shoulder detail:

Rigel Jacket

And the StyleArc “Sharon Sweat Top” which could be used to make this kind of jacket, or to fake a Lululemon apres yoga jacket. With a wide range of sizes and a princess seam cut, this could work for more pear-shaped women.

SHARON-TOP

Thanks for the heads up on those patterns, Gabrielle!

All of the links to these patterns, and more, can be found on this Pinterest page:  

Enough procrastinating. Back to sewing!

Not about sewing; about not sewing.

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And stopping to smell the…well, you know the rest.

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Even though I had a pattern project to finish, an interview to write up, and a laundry list of things to do (including the laundry), a perfect day like this is too rare to spend on chores.

So we packed up a few sandwiches and drinks, beach towels and a boogie board, and headed to the beach.

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(I’m wearing my 40s beach jacket, which thankfully did not end up looking like Gertrude Stein’s bathrobe, and a pair of Tom’s shoes, needed to hit the clutch in the old manual Jeep Wrangler.)

We headed “up island” to the part of Martha’s Vineyard now known by the Wampanoag Indian name “Aquinnah.” The town changed the name several years ago, but the locals often still call it by the old name, “Gay Head.”

When you’ve turned onto Moshup Trail and can see the water over the windswept shrubs and poison ivy, you know you’re getting close.

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We have access to a beach that has a parking lot you open with a key, but it’s not too far from the public beach called Philbin.

You’ve got to haul your gear over a big hill to get to the beach, so we pack light.

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On the top of the hill is a beautiful view looking out over Aquinnah, with the Gay Head lighthouse in the distance.

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Ahhh, that’s better.

We had our picnic, and I took a little stroll.

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Those rocks get covered and uncovered, depending on whether a big storm has come through in any given year.

I turned and walked toward the multi-colored clay Gay Head Cliffs which have been drawing tourists for a couple hundred years, and were home to the Wampanoag Indians long before that. A number of Wampanoag families still live in the town.

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Big waves today, so my son spent a lot of time surfing into shore on his boogie board, while we were jumping the waves. When I got home, my suit was full of sand and seaweed.

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I love how the Hug Snug rayon seambinding on my jacket glistens in the sun.

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(Oh, come on, you didn’t think I could do an entire post without bringing up sewing, did you?)

An Epic Road Trip and Meeting Susan Khalje!

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Okay, despite the title, there was only one thing truly epic about my road trip to Maryland, and that was meeting haute couture sewing expert and master teacher Susan Khalje!

When I contacted Susan, she graciously invited me to visit her studio, north of Baltimore, where her popular haute couture sewing classes are held. I wanted to hear about her recently-launched online video series, which includes “The Cocktail Dress” course (now available), and a number of other courses in the pipeline. (Find details here on SusanKhalje.com)

Susan has given me access to the Cocktail Dress course for review, and I’m very eager to have a look. Here’s the pretty pattern that goes with the course (which comes in a range of sizes, up to a 50″ bust):

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Susan even gave me a sneak peek at the French jacket pattern she’s currently tweaking, which will be released in conjunction with her highly-anticipated “French Couture Jacket” online course:

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Between you and me, I think it will be the go-to pattern for a lot of sewing enthusiasts, so if making a Chanel-style jacket is on your bucket list, you may want to hold off until that course launches in the fall.

Susan and I talked about the sleeve alone for about 20 minutes, during which I learned its little secret… (Shhh…I’ve taken a vow of silence on that subject until the course is launched.)

Susan very nicely allowed me to interview her for a whopping two hours, giving me enough material for about 10 articles. So in the coming weeks I’ll be going over my notes and writing an article to be featured on Bernina USA’s website WeAllSew.com. (For details about the collaboration between Bernina USA and JetSetSewing.com, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab at the top of this post.)

I’ll let you know when that post goes up. Many thanks to Susan Khalje for taking the time to meet up with me!

While I was on the road, I decided to join Instagram, and discovered that most of you sewing peeps were already having a party there without me! So I’ve started daily posts featuring my favorite vintage patterns, using the hashtag #patterndujour.

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You can find me on Instagram under the name “jetsetsewing.” Let me know if you’re a reader, and I’ll be happy to follow you!

Though I was torn away from my dear Bernina 560, “Karl,” for a week, sewing was still on my mind, so I visited G Street fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, which is right outside of Washington, DC.

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I’ll admit that I’m a little spoiled having shopped for fabrics in L.A. and Paris this year, but I did find a few fun things among the fabrics rolls.

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I really liked this selection of vintage-style oilcloth yardage, but just couldn’t get in the mood to make a tablecloth.

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They do have a nice selection of fabrics for both basic garment sewing and high-end dress-making, as well as some quality suit fabrics and designer fabrics, like this brocade from Anna Sui.

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While I was there, I picked up supplies for my next project, which is to make a Claire McCardell dress and bolero jacket from this 50s Spadea pattern.

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This style of Grecian-inspired design, with long adjustable strings cinching the waist, is a recurring theme in McCardell’s collections, and in fact there’s a black rayon version in the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute collection.

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(Claire McCardell Dress in the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s Collection)

Though this style may look familiar now, the dart-free, adjustable-waist concept pioneered by McCardell was radical in its time.

I’ve written in the past about how the Spadea pattern company took existing garments that were being sold in stores, deconstructed them, and drafted patterns from the pieces. So by using this pattern, I should be able to create a clone of the dress in the Met. Here’s a brief history of the Spadea company, written by Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler blog: (Article about Spadea Patterns)

The pattern has a matching bolero, and in researching McCardell, I found this description of the outfit in an ad: “Evening Elegance: black crinkle-crepe sheath, red and black reversible jacket, $55.” Sounds great, huh? I’ve also seen modified versions of this dress in wool jersey, another McCardell signature.

So if all goes well, I’ll be putting together this dress from black merino jersey bought during my mad dash through The Fabric Store in L.A., (L.A. Fabric Stores), and lining the bolero with the red wool jersey I just bought at G Street Fabrics.

And the dress will be worn by…my sister?!?! No fair!

Well, here’s what we’re cooking up.

I’ve mentioned before that my sister, Janet Eilber, is the artistic director of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, AKA The Martha Graham Dance Company. You can peruse Janet’s impressive bio here.

Like McCardell, Martha Graham knew her way around a length of jersey, and one of her most famous dances, Lamentation, is danced entirely inside a jersey tube. Graham used the fabric to give the feeling of “stretching in your own skin” from grief. Janet also told me that Martha designed many of her own costumes, via draping.

I’ve always thought that Claire McCardell’s designs, which use a recurring set of pared-down “American Look” elements, have a lot in common with Martha Graham’s spare choreography, which uses a recurring language of movement to reveal the emotional core of the dances.

So, when my sis told me that she would be speaking at the upcoming DANCE & FASHION (!!) exhibit held by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and that she needed a dress to wear, I said “have I got a designer for you!”

Here’s a link that describes the exhibit in depth: (Dance & Fashion MFIT exhibit details) The exhibit will feature actual dance costumes as well as dance-inspired designer gowns and streetwear. It sounds fantastic, so I’ll definitely be there!

The exhibit opens at The Museum at FIT on Monday, September 12th, 2014, and runs through January 3rd, 2015. On Tuesday, October 28th, dancers from the Martha Graham Company will be performing Graham’s works “Lamentation” and “Spectre-1914,” to be followed by a panel discussion including Janet, designer Doo-Ri Chung, and Melissa Marra of MFIT.

So we’re going to find out if this ingeniously simple design can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of figures, which was McCardell’s intention. I’ll be making up the dress here, then sending it to my string-bean sister to see if we can fit it via photos and sister mental telepathy. (Or possibly via Skype, as my blogging pal CarmencitaB does with some of her clients in France.)

If the whole thing’s a bust, I have some original McCardell dresses in my collection that I just might be willing to loan to my sister. Considering how many times I raided her closet as a teen, it seems only fair.

Speaking of L.A., the West Coast branch of Mood Fabrics has just reopened, after sustaining earthquake damage in the spring. I’m glad they had the opportunity to work on their roof, as the day I was there (during an early March deluge) there were garbage cans everywhere to catch the raindrops dribbling in from the old skylights.

Phew, that’s it for me! How’s your sewing going?