Sorry Coco, but I made a McCardellgan…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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



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


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.


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


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, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston


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.


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

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:

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.

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.


Then I cut the big neckline hole:


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.


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


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:

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!

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.)

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.

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

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


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.

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


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, but since the frickin’ Madame Fred gown took until mid-February to finish, there was no time to lose.


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


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:


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.


(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!):
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:


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


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…


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.


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


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

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.

George Clooney
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:


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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


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:


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).


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.


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 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:


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.


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:

Evening dress

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”).


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:


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:


(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).


Then I pinned the drape on the dress.


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.


(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.


Now we were up to four feet of snow!


When the next storm hit:


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:



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.


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


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:



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


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:


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?



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:

IG Oona

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, 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


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…


(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.)


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…).


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:


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


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:


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.)


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.


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


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:


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.


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


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


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

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


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.


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.


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.


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:


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


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

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



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:


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


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


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


(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.


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


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


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):


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, 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:



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


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


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.


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.


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!


(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.


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


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


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.


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


They were ready for Jungle January big time!



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?


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:


(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:


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:


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


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!?!


Now I was sure there was a breach in security at, 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!


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.



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.

Claire McCardell-Inspired Free Downloadable Pattern, and a couple of hacks.


I hope you all had happy holidays, and I wanted to mention that my new free downloadable pattern with tutorial is available on Bernina’s website. Aren’t you ready for some post-holiday #selfishsewing? I certainly am, and I didn’t even finish my husband’s tie! (It’s now officially his “birthday tie.”)


When I created this pattern, I was inspired by a 1947 Claire McCardell design (lower right) for a knit shoulder wrap, though the concept was around long before that. This wrap is snug enough to stay on the shoulders, but can still be worn around the neck like an infinity scarf. It’s lined and reversible, and the tutorial takes you through step-by-step. It’s not difficult at all, so I hope you’ll give it a try!

Carmen of the CarmencitaB blog tipped me off that this type of wrap is known as a “liseuse” in France, (the loose translation is “girl reader”) and that it used to be worn while reading in drafty French country homes (similar to what was known as a “bed jacket” here in the U.S.). So then it was eeek! down the internet rabbit hole again, to learn more about this style.

First of all, who knew that there were so many works of art featuring women reading? Which makes perfect sense, because after a certain point, just about any woman is going to say, “I don’t care if you are Picasso, if I’m going to sit for you, gimme something to read!”

image (That’s Picasso’s “La Liseuse” from 1920. Doesn’t it look like she’s texting?)

The earliest example I found shows a high-born woman (who could read!) wearing a cape-like wrap, in a painting by Hans Memling from the 1470s:


Then in 1888, Vincent Van Gogh captured this woman wearing a chic wrap, in “Une Liseuse de Romans” (which I think means “reader of novels.” No wonder she’s so engrossed.)


In terms of fashion, in the early 20th century, this style of short jacket was interpreted for evening by Madame Vionnet:

image (Another great save by the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.)

And that may very well have been where McCardell picked up the idea. She studied fashion in Paris in the 20s, and in her letters home she complained about the French being “thrifty” with the heating. While she was there, she spent a lot of time deconstructing Vionnet garments, which is how she got hip to the bias cut.

During her career, McCardell designed a number of evening dresses made of warm wool, with wraps, shrugs, and cropped jackets to wear to dinner parties in drafty U.S. country houses as well. Here’s one example, a strapless wool evening dress with a jacket, again from the  Metropolitan Museum’s online collection:


More recently, this type of wrap was shown in the 2013 collection from Celine:


When I was in France I saw several similar wraps:

(I don’t know what the furry thing is on it, or why she’s wearing a hat over her head…)
And this one from French cult brand Agnes b., made from a light sweater knit:

To make a wrap similar to the one from Agnes b., download the free pattern, which looks like a triangle with the top chopped off. Add several inches to both the top and bottom of the pattern.


(That’s a highly skilled sketch from the JetSetSewing graphics team. They’re a couple of chipmunks who live in my kitchen.) Extending the pattern at the top and bottom will make it longer, like a poncho, with more of a funnel neck.

I’ve seen wraps like these in the U.S. as well. American designer Eileen Fisher offered this asymmetrical wrap in her fall collection, which immediately made me think “I could hack that.”


To make a “muslin” version, I took my pattern and set it on the diagonal, putting the left on the fold, and adding triangles to the top and bottom. I sewed it up and it looked okay, so I moved on to the real thing.


I decided to use this Missoni-ish wool blend I got in France. I prepped it by throwing it in my dryer’s steam cycle. (Do as I say, not as I do, always test a swatch first!)


Since I wasn’t lining this version, I decided to use a French seam on the side to finish the raw edge. With wrong sides together, lining up the design on the fabric with double quilt pins, I overlocked some clear elastic into the seam, using the Bernina Bulky Overlock foot. (The same foot that made all of that piping on the McCardell dress…it’s very useful!)


(You could also use a narrow zigzag to attach the elastic to the seam, if you’re using a vintage machine.)

Then I turned the wrap wrong-side out to put right sides together, and pinned it to encase the seam I just sewed.


I sewed that seam with a narrow zigzag, which covered up the overlocking and elastic.

Oo la la, I love zee French seams!

When I tried it on, the length plus the retro pattern on the fabric was looking way too “hippy poncho” to me:

So I chopped about 5 inches off of the bottom.

At the top and bottom, I overlocked more clear elastic along the edge, turned under the raw edge about 1/2 inch, then turned it under again about 3/4”, and sewed the edge with a narrow zigzag, like topstitching. If you pick the right color thread, the stitching’s not that obvious, and there are no raw edges showing on the inside.

You can wear it with the point on the side, or in the back.


(I think the chipmunks took that picture, too.)

Here’s how the final pattern looked (more or less). The grainline goes along the bottom:


(I’m going to fire those chipmunks…)

Now that I’ve made myself a liseuse, I need to find time to read!!

Happy New Year’s sewing!

(For details about how Bernina USA is loaning a B560 machine to to assist with vintage projects like this, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. At some point, Karl and I are going to set that disclosure to music, to make it more pleasant for all of us…)


Holiday “Bests” (and don’t try to make a tie at the last minute).


First of all…

Darcy's card

From me and “Karl.” We have appreciated your visits and comments so much here at Jet Set Sewing this year. Thank you!

(And thanks to my longtime TV pal, and fellow midlife re-inventor Darcy Corcoran, for sketching up this card for To see more of her custom cards, click here.)

Before my Swiss intern, Karl (seen below), took off for a ski holiday with his family in Zermatt (don’t worry, he’ll be back for second semester), we put our heads together and came up with this list of “Bests” for 2014.


Bwwwwaaaaaaa! I’m going to miss you sooooo much, Karl!!!! (Sometimes I think I’m getting a little too close to my intern. For details about how Bernina USA is loaning a B560 machine to Jet Set Sewing, click the Bernina Collaboration tab. And Happy Holidays to Bob and Betty at the FTC, who have so lovingly created the guidelines for these clunky blog disclosures.)

Here goes!

Best group advice from readers:


Pick the buttons in the middle!



Best project to avoid trying to figure out three days before Christmas?

Tie nub

Making a tie! You think it’s all nice angles and straight seams and then you have to make some nib thing and roll the facing yiiiiiii!!!!

Tie liningTie tip

Who knows, it could still happen. I found these websites useful: and Seven Fold Ties.

Best book to order if you don’t like your Christmas presents:

Little Black Dress Book

The new “Little Black Dress” book, found here. It includes patterns for a number of classic designs, and the patterns are cut for C-cup women with curves. Here are some of the other looks in the book:

Little Black Dress 30sLittle Black Dress Angelica Dress

I actually bought the book because I liked that pattern on the right, inspired by Angelica Huston with a side of Halston. There’s a classic wrap dress pattern in it, too.

Best gate-crashing by Jet Set Sewing?

imageChanel on staircase

Ha ha, got ya, Coco!

Best photo-bomb? Well, I was having brunch with old friend Sam Moore of “Soul Man” fame…


And then…

Nancy photo bomb

Excuse me, you may be the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and (just as impressive) a mother of five, but could you get the hell out of my photo?!? Okay, it’s a long story, but the Congresswoman was rocking what appeared to be a very classy asymmetrical Armani jacket, which could be knocked off with this Vogue pattern…

V8932, Misses' Jacket and Vest

Vogue 8932 Hm, nice pattern!

Best erotic gown? (No, not something from the vintage burlesque gals following JetSetSewing on InstaGram…though they are awesome…)

Millicent Rogers in Charles James

This Charles James gown, shown in the Charles James Exhibit. Look real closely, and you’ll find the man in the boat.

Best way to put off blogging: sew something.

Best way to put off sewing: blog something.

Best way to avoid making dinner: both of the above. And InstaGram.

Most hilarious vintage pattern?

70s tunic pattern

After I posted it, my sister informed me that the guy on the left is my brother-in-law. And it is! (I didn’t recognize him because in this picture, he has hair).

Scariest iron?


(Cue the screeching violins from Psycho.) Never attempt to press any of your makes in an L.A. hotel, even when you’re desperately finishing it for an event. It’s right up there with “no wire hangers, evvvveerrrrr!”

Best comments? Well there have been plenty of great comments, but the ones Karl and I truly enjoy are from the spam filter. Here’s one of our favorites:

“Ferragamo Fake Belts” writes: “I get pleasure from, result in I discovered just what
I was having a look for. You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.

Dude, you have a nice day, too. How’s the weather in North Korea?

And now for the “Best Conversation about Sewing” I had this year:

I went to see my doctor, who is a brilliant guy, gifted physician, and devoted family man. I expected to get raised eyebrows as I described throwing my back out hunched over an ironing board during my Edith Head/Claire McCardell sewing marathon.

But instead, we launched into a conversation about how, as a young man in Argentina, he didn’t have access to good mountain climbing gear, so he himself had learned to sew, under the tutelage of a traditional tailor. Let me tell you, I was the one with raised eyebrows!

Then he started talking about how the doctors who are really into sewing are the surgeons, which makes perfect sense, since that’s a critical part of their work.

He went on to describe one colleague in particular, who is descended from the indigenous people of Chile. He said that this surgeon had learned traditional handsewing techniques from the women in his family, and had incorporated these ancient stitches while sewing up the hearts of newborns (whose hearts are about the size of a walnut) at Boston’s world-class Children’s Hospital. In doing so, he revolutionized infant heart surgery.


So my friends, my New Year’s wish to you is that you keep sharing your love of sewing, because who knows where it will lead.

Well, Karl and I were going to wrap things up by singing a holiday medley, but his father’s limo just showed up so he’s on his way to the airport. Instead, here’s an old recording of Charles Brown and Bonnie Raitt, wishing you a “Merry Christmas, Baby.”

Enjoy the holidays!

***And I’m adding a quick update to the post today… my Claire McCardell-inspired 50s Wrap pattern and tutorial has just been posted on the Bernina website It’s a free download, that’s a lot of fun for some #selfishsewing. If you make one up, please let me know!***