More “Faking Vintage Looks with Modern Patterns”


To continue my series on “Faking Vintage Looks with Modern Patterns” (Vintage Schmintage), here’s a look at recent pattern releases that could be used to create vintage-style garments without the hassle of working with a vintage pattern. I’ve chosen these from the summer catalogs of the major commercial pattern companies.

You can find all of these patterns, and more, on my pinterest page Vintage Pattern Re-releases.

Claire Shaeffer’s new Chanel-style cardigan jacket pattern for Vogue has a nice cut with narrow sleeves that could easily work for a 1950s-60s look.

Shaeffer Chanel Jacket Pattern (Claire Shaeffer jacket pattern)

The mandarin-style collar is similar to the collar on this 60s Chanel pattern in my collection:

Chanel pattern

and you can see a number of similar jackets from this era in the online collection of the Metropolitan Museum’s costume institute.

1958 Chanel Suit 1958 Chanel Suit

Another thing I like about this pattern, looking at the technical drawings:

Shaeffer Technical Drawings

is that the side panel appears to meet the front panel over to the side, away from the bust point, (rather than over the bust point, which more typical of modern patterns with princess seams) so this pattern may avoid awkward plaid matching over the bust. And there’s no side seam, which should simplify construction. I just ordered this pattern, and I’m eager to see it in person.

If you’re interested making this pattern using Claire Shaeffer’s well-researched and very precise method, her book  The Couture Cardigan Jacket comes with a DVD that explains her style of construction step by step.

Gretchen Hirsch of “Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing” has come up with a new lingerie pattern for Butterick, which is vintage in feel, though it’s drafted for knits, rather than the traditional bias-cut wovens that were used in these kinds of slips from the 20s through the 60s.

Gertie PatternGertie Lingerie

(Butterick Lingerie Pattern)

I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, as knits are easier to manage than slippery charmeuse-type fabrics cut on the bias.

Something else that’s nice about the pattern is that it comes with separate bodice bust pieces sized in A through D cups, making it much easier to fit. Gretchen is currently doing a sew-along of this pattern, and in this post she demonstrates how to modify the pattern for an even larger bust: (Sew-along). Since many original vintage patterns are sized for the tiny people who lived several generations ago, having this kind of fit flexibility is one of the benefits of using a modern pattern to make vintage looks.

When you’re done, you’ll either have a sexy “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” full slip:

Liz Taylor (there she is again…)

or a more 70s undies and cammie set.


Sort of like that, anyway. The pattern looks cute.

As for true vintage reproductions, I think the companies under the Simplicity umbrella in the U.S. (Simplicity, Burda Style, and New Look) have done the best job lately of re-releasing patterns reflecting the wide range of vintage sewing styles I’m seeing in sewing blogs. Much of current vintage sewing can be lumped into the following groups:

* Medieval through Downton Abbey: costumers who are pretty much in their own high-level sewing time zone;

* Flapper through Film Noir: People who re-create 20s, 30s, and 40s daytime and cabaret-type looks, including the WWII reenactors (many of them women). You can frequently find this style on blogs like We Sew Retro and Lucky Lucille, who’s running a 40s Sew For Victory Sew-along this month.

* 50s/60s Rockabilly meets “I Love Lucy”-style vintage, with crinolines, beehive hairdos and atomic attitude thrown in (Check out Sew Retro Rose); you’ll also see sleek “wiggle” dresses in the style of Joan from “Mad Men.”

* 50s/60s Sweet or Mod Twiggy-style dresses, often with Peter Pan collars and a thick frosting of “Twee.” Several indy companies make patterns for this group, including Colette Patterns.

*A new group of 70s-style boho psychedelic looks, thanks to Mad Men’s latest season;

* Steampunk and Cosplay, which you’re just going to have to google (as I’ve already gotten in enough trouble with my new Steampunk pals thanks to this post (Steampunk Chanel?);

*And finally, a group of sewing and vintage style mavens who are zealously researching and/or sewing particular garments that stand out in fashion history, including The Vintage Traveler, CarmencitaB, American Age Fashion, and patternmaker Studio Faro. And to that group I would add haute couture sewing enthusiasts, such as Cloning Couture, because there’s a lot of crossover between vintage and haute couture.

Now that I’ve completely stereotyped my fellow vintage sewing enthusiasts, I know you’re ALL going to be mad at me!

While you get over it, check out the “Mad Men Challenge” on Julia Bobbin’s blog to see some great takes on style from the 50s through the early 70s: Julia Bobbin’s “Mad Men Challenge”. Excellent job, everyone!

Here are some vintage-style patterns recently released by Simplicity and Burda Style:

Simplicity boatneckBardot in Breton  Simplicity Boatneck Pattern

This basic version of the 60s boatneck top has French darts (starting low on the bodice near the waist then going up toward the bust point) and dropped shoulders, which is very wearable and “Bardot” in my book. I used French darts when I made this similar crushed boatneck top and I liked how they curved the bodice in from the bust to the waist. Though cut for a woven, I think the pattern would work with a stable knit as well. It’s fun to see the “Jiffy” patterns again, and they’re easy to make. (To see more patterns in this style, check out my pinterest page: The Breton Shirt)

Bombshell suit Monroe in BikiniBombshell suit

I don’t know about the wrap, but the retro suit is cute, particularly the Marilyn Monroe bikini.

Halter tops 2Kristy-McNichol-kristy-mcnichol-10827210-376-500

I’ll admit I’m guilty of having worn 70s Halter Tops like these back in the day, but I don’t know, too Kristy McNichol?

Burda halter Burda palazzo pantsValley-of-the-dolls(Burda Halter pattern) (Burda Palazzo Pants)

I think I could actually pull off this “Valley of the Dolls” style. (Not the hair, though.)

Burda coat patternBrando in bomber jacketBurda coat pattern

For the men, I like this classic coat and bomber jacket. You could be a contender.

Burda bohoBurda Hippy Skirt(Megan Mad MenBurda hippy-wear)(Burda Style Boho Skirt)

And having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I can’t go back to the Age of Aquarius, but for someone younger, these patterns will give you that Mad Men “Megan” look.

Here’s another place I’m not going again:

Burda wedding dress (Burda 50s Wedding Dress)

Burda 60s wedding dress (Burda 60s Wedding Dress)

The 60s pattern would make a nice cocktail dress, though, and I like the horizontal pintucks on the 50s gown bodice.

Simplicity has also released some cute retro clothes for baby:

Simplicity babyBooties (Layette and baby booties)

And Barbie…

Barbie (Barbie clothes pattern)

The green coat with scarf collar is pretty great, and you could also make Barbie a Chanel jacket!

All of these major companies have issued so many wonderful patterns over the past 100 years. I would love to see more re-releases of classics like these:

Diane Von Furstenberg’s original wrap dress patterns for Vogue:

DVF Wrap Patternvogue15491976Christian Bale;Amy Adams (Amy Adams wearing one in “American Hustle”)

Butterick’s late 60s- early 70s “Young Designer” patterns by Betsey Johnson, Kenzo, Mary Quant, John Kloss, and Willi Smith.

Betsey Johnson Bateau-neck patternKenzo PatternMary Quant patternJohn Kloss PatternWilli Smith

I remember making that Kenzo double-wrap skirt as a teen; it’s very clever design.


Vogue Paris Original patterns from the 50s and 60s, like these by Schiaparelli and Yves St. Laurent:

imageMondrian dress pattern

50s McCalls “Black Line” patterns by Claire McCardell, Givenchy, and Pauline Trigere…

imageMcCalls GivenchyMcCalls Trigere

How about it, readers, are there any vintage pattern you’d like to see re-released?


Chanel Jacket #1, or how I came back to sewing


I realized the other day that I’d never really told the story of making Chanel Jacket #1, which, thanks to Susan Khalje’s online presence, is the story of how I re-embraced sewing.

Here’s a look at the finished jacket:


Do I look like the cat who ate the canary? Well, that’s how I felt.

I’ve talked a little about the sewing I did in my teens and twenties in this post (American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns), and I did make a lot of my school and work wardrobe back then, including the velvet funnel neck sheath I wore to the Waldorf to pick up a TV award at 25. (TV did not pay very well back then.)

I had been taught to sew as a child by my mom and my sisters in our northern Michigan basement, on a straight-stitch Singer 15-91 like this:

Singer 15

If you’re looking to buy one of these elegant workhorse machines, it’s listed here on Etsy: Singer 15. You can sew knits on a machine like that; just stretch them a little bit as they go under the needle.

When I moved to New York City in in 1983, a sewing machine was not in one of my seven boxes.

In the interim, I’ve had a career, gotten married, been a stepmother, and then became a mother myself. I occasionally broke down and made curtains on a borrowed machine, and always thought, gee, I used to love to sew.

A few years ago, when being a non-working hausfrau and modern mom was becoming really old, (because in the U.S. it means schlepping your kid around and doing a lot of anxious “parenting”), I bought myself a little Janome mini to do hems and basic mending:

Janome mini Janome Mini at Home Depot

It was about $60, and I thought it was going to be little more than a toy, but it actually sewed really well. I’d recommend it for people who want to try sewing, but don’t have a lot of money or space. Janome is a good manufacturer.

After I made my money back hemming three pairs of jeans, I bought a few patterns and made some tops and a French terry sheath to wear across the yard to the outdoor shower in Martha’s Vineyard. I thought, “wow, this zigzag really helps when you’re sewing knits.”

I got some Missoni-ish fabric and knocked off a favorite shirt by Vince:


(I know, the grain’s a little off.) Why was I paying $200 for these things?

I was a fan of vintage clothes from my 20s on, and during my marriage I’ve acquired a number of vintage haute couture gowns, which I wrote about here: (Vintage Couture Heaven).

Here I am in a 1957 haute couture gown from the house of Patou, designed by Lagerfeld:

Late 50s Jean Patou Dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld.

Late 50s Jean Patou Dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld.

As I was looking around for fabric online a couple of summers ago, an ad from popped up, telling me that I could learn to sew haute couture clothing myself, for $25. (Susan Khalje’s “The Couture Dress” on

What a deal–sign me up!

Well, about a hundred hours and roughly $500 later, I had finished a Chanel-style jacket using haute couture methods, and was completely hooked on sewing again.

The Couture Dress course on is 10 hours long, and covers just about everything you need to know about taking a pattern and turning it into a garment using haute couture methods. In it, Susan Khalje covers getting the stuff you need, including what types of pins, needles, thread, machine (straight stitch only–I got a bigger Janome), tracing paper, chalk marker etc.; prepping a pattern; marking, making and fitting a muslin; picking and prepping fabric, underlining, and lining; using the muslin as a pattern; cutting, basting and sewing the fabric; matching plaids; cutting and sewing on the bias, hand-picking a zipper, sewing a variety of hand-stitches; frankenpatterning and hand-setting a sleeve; lining a dress; sewing different types of hems; hand-stitching on closures; and about eight million other things I can’t even remember. And Susan is such a great teacher that she keeps you from freaking out about the whole thing. I wrote about Susan being one of the “Godmothers of Haute Couture” in this post.

For the course, Susan chose this dress pattern:

Vogue 8648 Vogue 8648

which she uses to illustrate all of those techniques, but as I started to watch the series in our non-air conditioned summer cottage, I kept thinking that a three-layer wool and silk dress was just going to give me hot flashes, so I decided to make a jacket using her methods instead.

At that point I had started obsessively looking through vintage patterns on eBay and Etsy, and was stumbling across patterns by the Spadea company, a mail-order company from the 50s and 60s that sold patterns drafted from designer retail garments, as well as patterns “designed” by celebrities like Patti Page, Dinah Shore, and the Duchess of Windsor believe it or not (of course by then, what else did she have to do?). I’ve written more about Spadea patterns here.

So I chose this pattern “by” Dinah Shore:

Jacket pattern cover

(Dinah Shore was singer who had a variety show in the 50s and 60s and a daytime talk show through the 70s. I used to get to watch her show on days that I was home sick from school, and sometimes she would have her titillating younger boyfriend, Burt Reynolds, as a guest. At the end of the show, she would blow the audience a big kiss and say “MMMMwah!”)

Here’s clip of Dinah Shore doing a cooking segment with Frank Sinatra and rocking some fab 70s fashions: (Dinah’s Place)

The pattern was very simple and nice, with bust and shoulder darts, which were more common in the 60s, and 3/4 sleeves with elbow darts. This style of jacket, originally designed by Chanel, had been embraced in the upscale American market during the 50s, and popularized by Jackie Kennedy in the 60s.

I found some beautiful French wool and novelty yarn tweed from and silk crepe de chine for lining on I ordered silk organza for the underlining.

Following Susan’s instructions, I took the unprinted 60s Spadea pattern and marked the seamline, darts, grainline etc.

Jacket pattern tissue


Then I used a tracing wheel and tracing paper to put the pattern onto the muslin. I sewed the muslin version together, tweaked the fit, then took it apart. The muslin pieces were now my pattern.

Jacket muslin

As you can see by the many marks and cross-outs on the muslin, this simple pattern took a lot of fitting.

I used the muslin pattern to cut out the exterior fashion fabric, organza interlining, and crepe de chine lining, and started to assemble the jacket using Susan’s instructions, though I’ll admit I did skip the thread tracing and thread basting step (you’re supposed to baste it all together first).

Jacket interior

I underlined the entire jacket with the organza, and since I’d been reading about Chanel quilted jacket construction, I decided to give quilting a go by using a walking foot on my machine to quilt the exterior fabric to the organza. I also finished the seam allowances and hem by hand catch-stitching them to the organza, and put some lambswool sleevehead (ordered from under the sleeve caps.

Then, as I’ve learned, just when you’re really tired of making a jacket, you get to make another one for the lining. Here I’m attaching the lining to the jacket by hand, using fell stitches:

Jacket, attaching lining

Even though this isn’t the “traditional” way of making a quilted jacket, I like this method because the organza gives the jacket a soft body, and the lining covers up a multitude of sewing sins.

I was quite pleased with the way the jacket was turning out, and the countdown was on to finish it, because I wanted to enter it into the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a crafting bloodsport.

The morning I needed to get it to the Fair, I was still stitching away at that frickin’ chain, which takes forever to hand-stitch on.

Jacket chain

My husband clipped off the end the chain with wire-clippers, and I hauled it out to the fair.

The next day, I was thrilled to discover that my jacket had won the blue ribbon, which came with a check for a whopping five bucks.

Jacket, blue ribbon

Since then, I’ve worn that jacket to a number of big events, stuffed it in my carry-on to D.C. and Paris (they don’t wrinkle), and enjoyed every minute of wearing it. Retail jackets just do not compare.

And I’ve kept right on sewing.

Happy “Mad Men” Day!


Just a quick post this time, to wish all of my U.S. sewing friends a happy to return to the deliciously twisted vintage dream that is Mad Men. Now that they’re moving out of the 1960s, will the look be more psychedelic “Laugh-In”?


Laugh-in was a great show and groundbreaking in both comedy and fashion, known for its fast-moving vignettes and Austin Powers look. When I studied comedy writing with Laugh-In’s producer, George Schlatter, he told me that the official lunchboxes alone bought him a house in Beverly Hills.

Laugh in lunchbox

Did you check out blogger Julia Bobbins’ “Mad Men Challenge” this year? Click on that link and you’ll see seriously impressive costume knock-offs, sewn by vintage fans like you and me. Fellow Bostonian Carrie of Crafted By Carrie did a particularly good job of a Megan “Zou Bisou Bisou” dress.

Megan Zou Bisou Bisou

(That’s Megan. You’ll have to click on the link to see Carrie’s version from a vintage Vogue pattern. Nice job, Carrie!)

Check out this link at the official Mad Men website to see a sneak preview of this season’s costumes; and you can make yourself into a vintage glam Mad Men Avatar by clicking here–no sewing required. Here’s a link to an interview with Mad Men Costumer Janie Bryant, talking about how the costume design goes beyond vintage styles to reveal the inner lives of the characters wearing them. (Janie Bryant interview)

I didn’t have time to participate in the Mad Men Challenge this time around, though I made plenty of 70s designs when it actually was the 70s, including this Betsey Johnson tank dress, which is so timeless it could be worn today:

Betsy Johson pattern

I wrote about other 70s patterns by Halston and Diane Von Furstenberg in this post about American Hustle: (Wrap Dress Patterns and American Hustle)

And quickly, I need to give props to the woman who just stitched up the most fabulous Charles James ballgown in what was a mind-boggling feat of vintage re-creation. The “we’re not worthy” sentiment has been ricocheting throughout the sewing blogosphere, and well-deserved. Just click on this link to the Charles James dress and you won’t be disappointed.

Better get that dinner on and the dishes done in time to watch Mad Men!

Finding a “Fitting Shell” to fit those !$%#! vintage patterns


In the past couple of years, I’ve become the proud owner of some pretty fab vintage designer patterns that I’m dying to make up. Here are a few examples:

A 1930′s Schiaparelli bias-cut dress pattern with label:


A 1962 Officially licensed Chanel Jacket pattern:

Chanel pattern

I did make that one up, and here’s the finished product: (And here are my posts about how I made it.)


A number of Ceil Chapman patterns by Spadea:


Laura Mae from “Lilacs and Lace” has been blogging about making that “Skylark” style pattern in the middle, and it looks mighty tricky. (Lilacs and Lace blog)

Here’s an example of an original Ceil Chapman “Skylark” dress, with a narrow inner skirt and an over-skirt in the back:

Ceil Chapman Skylark dress

No wonder Chapman was a favorite designer for stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. The dress played up the bust and made the wearer look like a beautiful bird. As an aside, here’s a link to the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer tune that was popular in that era: “Skylark” sung by Ella Fitzgerald

And here’s the true Skylark dress pattern by Spadea, drafted from the dress above (I’d really like to find this one):

Ceil Chapman Spadea Skylark pattern

I’ve also been snapping up patterns designed by Claire McCardell, released by Spadea, McCalls, and Folkwear. Now I have more than a dozen.


Here’s a rare Charles James skirt pattern:


The inner workings of these skirt patterns show his genius for garment shaping through structure. There’s going to be a Charles James retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art starting this May 2014, which I’m now scheming to attend (waving my pattern…). (Charles James exhibit info)

Not to mention several boxes of patterns by Pauline Trigere, YSL, Diane Von Furstenberg, Halston, Kenzo, Tiziani (by Lagerfeld) and a number of more obscure designers from the 50s and 60s such as Claire Potter, Jane Derby, Norman Hartnell (the Queen’s couturier), Tina Leser (the original Boho designer), Joset Walker, Jo Copeland, Vera Maxwell, Biki (friend and designer for Maria Callas), and Toni Owen:


Also patterns by Hollywood costumers such as Edith Head, Charles LeMaire, and William Travilla, who designed the iconic pleated dress Marilyn Monroe wore over the grate in “Seven Year Itch.”


I’ll be the first to admit that I have a pattern problem, and my husband will be the second to admit it.

Most of these patterns are way too small for me, and cut for the different body shapes that were popular at the time. For example, many of the 50s patterns assume that you’re wearing a girdle (which was basically Spanx crossed with a Michelin tire) and a bullet bra that raised the bust point by several inches. It was all about boobs and hips with a tiny short waist, like Elizabeth Taylor in the era.

Elizabeth Tayler

In contrast, the 70s DVF and Halston patterns basically assume that you might possibly be wearing slinky bikini underwear but probably not a bra (because you burned it at a feminist rally before you went to the disco), and the look was super-skinny with a small chest and hips, long torso and really long legs. Nobody worked out (it was pre-Jane Fonda aerobics) and a lot of women smoked and did coke, so the ideal was skin and bones. Here’s Lauren Hutton in that era:

Lauren Hutton

In the picture, she’s wearing a dress by Halston that’s very similar to this late 70s pattern:

Halston pattern #2

Of course a woman’s body can’t morph into new shapes to fit the fashions of the times, so we mainly just beat ourselves up over it.

I’ve gotten tired of starting from scratch in terms of fitting every time I take on a vintage pattern, particularly because my middle-aged body has fit issues of it’s own. So I’m going to see if making a “fitting shell” will help.

If you’re obsessively combing the internet for sewing fun facts (as I do to procrastinate about pinning and cutting fabric), you will see the terms “block,” “sloper” and even the haute couture “moulage” (Kenneth King’s Moulage book) bandied about to describe a basic pattern that is used by a designer to create new patterns.

I didn’t want to get my terminology wrong, so I consulted Kathleen Fasanella’s excellent blog about professional design and manufacturing, Fashion Incubator. There, I found out that patterns without seam allowances, called  “slopers” or “blocks” in the sewing enthusiast world, are generally not used in the industry, and if you use those terms in a pro environment, you’ll be snickered at. She refers to the thing I want to make as a “fitting shell,” so that’s what I’m going to call it.

Basic fitting shell patterns have been available from pattern companies as far back as the 40s or 50s from what I’ve found online, and you can still buy them today. The idea behind these patterns is that if you make up the Vogue Patterns Fitting Shell and get it fitted closely to your body, then you can compare the fitting shell pattern pieces to any other Vogue pattern and easily adjust the fit.

Vogue patterns fitting shell

I want to make myself a fitting shell so that I have a basic flat pattern pieces, fitted for me, to compare with the pattern pieces of the vintage patterns I own. That way, I can ballpark how much I need to increase the dimensions of the smaller pattern to fit my shoulders, bust, waist and hips.

Sounds great in theory, we’ll see how it goes in practice.

I looked at the modern fitting shells released by the Big 4 pattern companies, but nowadays modern patterns tend to have more ease built in, particularly in the armscye, and I want those high and tight vintage Chanel armholes.

So I decided to buy some fitting shell patterns from the 50s and 60s, to see if they would work better. Here’s one from the late 60s, judging from the hairdo and squared-off pumps:



And here’s one that looks like late 50s:


This one in particular is for half-sizes, which nowadays I think would be referred to as “Petite Plus.” The “half-size” range is described in Connie Crawford’s current Grading Workbook as cut for a “more mature, short-waisted woman with a shorter, heavier body-type.” I can’t say I was terribly happy with that description, but at least now I know I have a “half-size” body with “full-size” legs.

And I was very excited to find out what “The Bishop Method” (written on the back of the pattern) might be.


I eagerly looked throughout the instructions but was bummed to discover that there was no mention of The Bishop Method inside.

After a quick google, I found “Bishop Method” books all over the internet, and discovered that they were Home Ec manuals from the 50s and 60s. People were raving about them on Amazon! So of course I ordered one, because I need more sewing stuff.


Holy smoke, The Bishop Method is the best flippin’ bible of vintage sewing techniques for the novice that I’ve ever seen! It takes you from square one (learning about the machine and making an apron)…


(that looks like the straight-stitch Singer 15 sewing machine I learned on.)


and goes all the way through making a tailored and lined suit with bound buttonholes and a hand-picked, lapped zipper.


It’s filled with clear, comprehensive instructions and a whole bunch of pictures. If vintage-style sewing with wovens is your thing, it’s worth getting a copy for your library.

There’s a lot of fitting info in The Bishop Method, and also in modern books like this:


(Threads “Fitting for Every Figure” book), which is extremely comprehensive and pretty text-heavy and labor-intensive, if that’s what you’re into, which I’m not.

With all of the schmancy sewing books in circulation right now, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that my favorite book on basic fitting is this one by Nancy Zieman (of “Sewing with Nancy” fame), as it gets right to the point and illustrates the “pivot and slide” method of pattern fitting, which, though based on solid pattern-grading principles, is easy and fast and doesn’t require you to cut up your pattern.


She starts out by explaining the importance of finding a pattern that fits in the shoulders, and gives you the formula you need to figure out the proper size pattern to buy. (This helps if you use vintage patterns because even though the sizing varies, you can choose a pattern by bust measurement.) Then she shows you how to modify that pattern to fit the rest of your body by moving it around and tracing parts of it based on your measurements. There’s also specific fitting info, with illustrations, for dealing with issues such as broad shoulders, sway back, and bust adjustment.

So this is the method I’ve been using to fit paper pattern to muslins, and then I eyeball it from there. Since most commercial patterns are cut for someone with a “B” cup (I’m a “C”) and my waist and hips are a larger size than my shoulders, this method has worked well for me.

I recently read a review of Nancy’s life story, Seams Unlikely, on Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing (Review from Gertie’s New Blog…). The book talks about how Nancy embraced sewing in 4-H, and started her business from home back the bad old days when a woman was expected to get her husband to co-sign a business loan for her–even if he wasn’t involved in the business. It’s an inspiring story.  Gretchen, thanks for giving us the heads up on that book.

Back to my fitting shell quest. In the end, I got lazy and decided to spring for a pattern drafted directly from my measurements, by String Codes.  They take the five basic measurements you input and a create custom a fitting shell pattern for you.

Seemed easy enough, but when I placed the order and asked them to modify the bust measurement for a “C” cup, I was told that the patterns are only available as a “B” cup and that I would have to do a full bust adjustment myself. They did email me instructions with photos for an FBA, and it was a bit of a hassle, but not a deal-breaker. I’m going to make a muslin of the final pattern, and we’ll see how it fits. The pattern comes without seam allowances, so the exterior line is the seamline. You can see where I put in the bust adjustment below, following the directions from String Codes:



I ordered the “torso” pattern with a sleeve with a dart, since I often make jackets and tops, and also ordered the skirt pattern. I can overlap them if I’m making a dress.

As soon as I have it made up, I’ll do a little “show and tell” to let you know how it worked out.

And I’ll try to remember Nancy Zieman’s advice to avoid over-fitting, because “it can be exasperating and can take the joy out of sewing.” Amen, sister!

How’s your sewing going?

Sewing in Paradise? Sign me up!


If you were to dream up a sewing business, would it be along the lines of sewing the summer away at the seashore in France, then cruising through the winter selling your wares on a Caribbean island? I’ve seen for myself that it can be done.

Let’s start this story at the spring break way-station that separates the hoi polli from the high cotton, Princess Juliana airport on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.

princess juliana airport st maarten

Here plane loads of Americans, Canadians and French coming off the big jets get sorted into the commuter puddle-jumpers going to the “All-Inclusive” islands (like Antigua), the “Do We Know You?” expensive islands (like Anguilla), and the “We Don’t Care If We Know You or Not, We’re French” island of St. Barthelemy, (or St. Barts to Americans and St. Barth to Euros).

We were on our way to St. Barts, so we got culled from the waiting area filled with Americans sprawled around in day-glo tank tops and white cutoffs, to enter a stairwell holding upscale families leaving for spring vacation, where the reigning multitasking travel/beach bag is apparently the Louis Vuitton tote.


Scanning the Americans waiting, I noted style statements ranging from the willowy Upper East Side blonde in a wispy white Calypso St. Barth tunic, high-maintance long cashmere cardi and some boot/sandal contraptions; the “Seven Sisters” gal from the D.C. suburbs with “honest” salt and pepper unkempt hair, mid-calf black skirt, comfort Mary Janes and a Vuitton Speedy bag (you’re not fooling anyone, honey); the 70-something woman whose face was both pulled back and puffed out, with orange hair, white pants and lots of gold on the neck, wrist and ears; and finally me, trying to be the karma chameleon in my default camel jeans, Saint James tee, bag from the Cole Haan outlet near Legoland, and the canvas Toms shoes I knew I’d need to get the Suzuki into first gear on a 45 degree incline in hilly St. Barts.


My one retro style statement was a favorite early 40s Mexican silver cuff, known as the “River of Life” design by William Spratling.

William Spratling "River of Life" cuffimage

Oh, how I love that thing.

As we were all sitting on the steps, bags and behinds on the gritty floor, one of the commuter airline workers came in to take a roll-call of people getting on the plane, because even if you have a seat on a specific flight, it’s still pretty much first-come, first-served.  He called out a few names and then said, “Jagger?” Pause. “Jagger, party of four?”

Well, the Jagger party never did arrive, but as we boarded the bus to the plane I caught a glimpse of the most chic woman in the place; a 70-something old-school French grand-mere, a little round in the middle and face unworked, in a classic navy linen shirt-waist dress, Hermes scarf folded expertly at the neck, Frey Wille enamel bracelet on her wrist, and ivory linen beach hat on her head. There was no room left on the bus for her and her party, so the bus driver called out that he’d come back to get them, and soon after the plane left with four empty seats.

I don’t take anything fancy when I go to St. Barts. Despite what you may have seen in the U.S. tabloids about celebrities boat-hopping and partying, that’s pretty much just during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, though here’s a picture of a famous corporate raider’s yacht that pulled up near the Grande Saline beach one morning while we were there:



It anchored there for an hour or so with only staff in white polos running around, and I pictured the kingpin owner sitting his cabin on a satellite phone yelling at minions in New York, while his yacht’s guests remained trapped off-shore waiting for him to decide if he wanted to do anything.

After the holidays, most of the celebrities just come here to hide (like the talk show host who looked away as he jogged by us), so the rest of the time it’s boho-casual and (God forbid) not gaudy. A few simple bathing suits, tunics, tops and casual pants or skirts, maybe a dress to go out, and you’re good.

Unlike most of the Caribbean, St. Barts is officially part of mainland France, so when you go in the Super U grocery (or Super Ooo as we refer to it) the place is all French products: great wine, stinky cheese, fermier chicken, chevre-flavored cheese balls, Badoit bubbly water etc. When I went in there looking for the European sewing magazine Burda, I found the crafting journaux intermingled with the nudie magazines.


The currency is the Euro and the locals are mostly French nationals. As soon as I get there, I put that French look on my face: pursed lips and raised eyebrows.

The beaches are open and unspoiled, the restaurants and take-out are great, and there’s not much to do, so for the most part we sit on the beach and then eat a lot.

But you can’t sit around looking at this view forever:


So I decided to do some shopping. Most things in the shops tend to be French beach boho, with a lot of tunics cut for someone “tall and tan and young and lovely,” and apart from occasionally pulling off “lovely,” that doesn’t describe me anymore. Here are a few by French designer Isabel Marant:


Unfortunately, my return to sewing has ruined shopping for me, because now I walk around thinking, “I’m not paying $250 for something that easy to make.” And I knew my husband would not be happy if I spent $300 on a Vanessa Bruno “Cabas” bag, which is basically an L.L. Bean canvas “Boat and Tote Bag” with sequins.


Wandering around the port town of Gustavia, which is duty-free and therefore has an Hermes, Cartier and a number of other high-end stores (though how much you “save” in taxes is relative, considering that luxury accessories can have a mark-up as high as 90%), I stumbled upon this charming shop:


And when you spot a shop full of clothes made from Liberty of London and French toile de Jouy fabrics, you need to check it out.

The warm, soft-spoken Popie was sitting outside, and as I looked around at the hundreds of items made of tana lawn cotton, silk prints and French linen, she politely explained that she made them all herself.


I have to admit that I did a double-take on that, because the place was jammed with flowy silk tops like this:


Liberty cotton tunics and dresses:


men’s and boys button-down shirts, and old-fashioned little girl’s dresses. There were bathing suits, big beach bags, hats, hair scrunchies, even thin bracelets made from the scraps. It was pretty impressive.

My photos don’t do justice to how cute these things were, but you can see more on her website: (Popie’s Mode website)

She told me that she lived on the beach in Bordeaux, France, where her house was also her workshop and shop. She has four children, and they live in France from April through October, during which she makes this massive amount of stuff, and then they all decamp for St. Barts to ride out the winter and sell her wares in her shop.

She also sells her items in Cap Ferret on the Mediterranean, which led to more jealous qvelling on my part as that’s the setting of one of my favorite novels about Jazz-Age ex-pats, Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is The Night.” (“Tender Is The Night”) The main characters in that book were loosely based on Sarah and Gerald Murphy, wealthy Americans whose house on the Riviera became party central for the the lost generation in the 1920s. (Sarah and Gerald Murphy biography)


If the internet is to be believed, this is a picture of Gerald Murphy, Genevieve Carpenter, Cole Porter, and Sarah Murphy, back in the day. I really want to make that striped outfit, second from the left.

Popie explained that in the spring and summer, she spends the first month developing and making patterns for that year, in all sizes, creating simple styles that are easy to sew. She orders most of her fabrics directly from Liberty of London, using either their silk (which is machine washable) or their tana lawn cotton. She also make items for the Toile de Jouy museum (out of the classic French fabric) which is in the town of Jouy en Josas near Versaille. (Toile de Jouy Museum website)

Toile de jouy bag

After she’s finished making the patterns, she spends the next month cutting out all of the pieces using a laser-cutter, which she said works fast, but if you make a mistake, the thing you’re cutting is trashed.

Then she gets going on putting them together using her industrial sewing machine, and during that period she can make up to 50 garments a day. Having looked at the garments inside and out, I’d say that apart from a few threads needing to be clipped, they’re very nicely made, with even top stitching and serged seam finishes. Here’s a look at the interior of a little girl’s dress, which has a contrasting lining on the placket:


Popie told me that though she doesn’t have formal design and patternmaking training, her mother was seamstress who taught her eight children to sew, knit and embroider, so she learned her craft there. This whole story reinforced my observation that French women, whom Americans tend to think of as sort of laconic, are actually extremely energetic and productive with domestic arts.

So of course I had to pick up a few things, including this adorable little girl’s dress with fabric-covered buttons (which Popie makes using a press that creates fabric-covered pins):


and a man’s shirt for my own beach attire, made from this pretty William Morris Liberty Print:


(A note to all of those style-challenged and shlumpy American men, European men will wear a fitted shirt with flowers on it, and not worry that someone will think they’re gay! And they look hot!)

No doubt it’s easier for a mother to start and maintain an entrepreneurial business like this when backed by a social system with easily available healthcare, child care and education. I hope as things go that direction in the U.S., there will be more women like Popie earning a living at their sewing machines on U.S. shores.

When we landed back in Boston, it was freezing cold with more snow in the forecast. I’ve decided that  the only way to bring on spring is to start sewing for it.  If Popie can sew 50 garments a day, I can certainly get a cotton dress done by May, don’t you think?

How’s the sewing going in your part of the world?

In The Mood: L.A. Fabric Stores



(A quick note; I’m updating this post on April 10, 2014 to let you know that due to the recent earthquake, the Mood Fabrics location in Los Angeles has sustained damage and is closed until further notice. If you’re finding this post at a later date, please check their website, (Mood Fabrics Website) or call them to see if they’re reopened. If you scroll down, you will see recommendations for some other fabric stores in L.A.)

Oooo, let’s go to fabric heaven, shall we?

I know, it’s pretty tough to beat Janssens et Janssens in Paris, (Fabric Shopping in Paris and…Steampunk Chanel?) but the sticker shock of getting there and buying there can only be pulled off once in awhile. I’m still in awe of Mary from the Cloning Couture blog, who took her husband to browse at Chanel first, and then over to Janssens after she’d convinced him how much money she’d save making her own. (Mary, yours is made better anyway.)

One morning in L.A., I announced to the boys that I was going to the fabric store, and not hearing any response, I grabbed my purse and ran. I drove south on LaBrea to Wilshire to hit the new giganto outpost of Mood Fabrics (645 S. LaBrea Ave.). (Mood Fabrics Website)  I had been to this location a year ago soon after they’d opened, so I knew it was huge, but now they had twice as much stuff.





Fashion fabrics on one side, leather and home dec on the other.


Pretty much anything you’re looking for, they’ve got it. Knits, suiting wools, tweeds…


Designer roll-ends, particularly printed silks…


And gorgeous fancy stuff…


I had almost convinced myself to get some of that blue and black tweed with sequins (at the bottom), even though I know sequins are a bitch to sew with. But when I came back to get it, it was gone! (I was secretly relieved.)

Here’s what really made me jealous…


A bunch of women sitting around in muslins enjoying one of Mood’s FREE sewing classes. (Sewing classes at Mood Fabrics L.A.) Behind that wall of fabric rolls is another class of cute grade-school age kids learning to sew. The L.A. Mood location offers a mind-boggling array of sewing/draping/patternmaking/designing classes for free, often taught by professional designers and costumers. Every time I get one of their emails, I want to immediately decamp for L.A. and make up a little bed for myself among the linens and raw silks.

You know what they say, give someone a fast-fashion T-shirt, they have clothes for three washes…but teach someone to sew, and… (they soon have an overwhelming pile of fabric stash?)

As much great stuff as they had at Mood, the size of my stash was on my mind, so I decided to drive up LaBrea a few blocks to The Fabric Store, which is in a stretch of high-end hipster vintage and home dec stores around 2nd St (136 S. LaBrea Ave.).  I’d read that this New Zealand company had opened their first U.S. location, and wanted to check it out. (The Fabric Store’s U.S. website)

In complete contrast to the “packed to the rafters” feel of Mood, the Fabric Store is in an open-plan store front with wooden tables and shelves, and sedate zen-y music playing.


I chatted briefly with the young, hip, soft-spoken manager, who told me that the New Zealand owners source the fabrics from their home office and ship them to L.A. What I found was a beautifully curated selection of mostly natural fabrics, including gorgeous silks and cottons…


and tempting linen tweeds…


But The Fabric Store’s claim to fame is their high-quality New Zealand merino wool jersey, which come in a range of weights, colors, and designs.



They were really something, and most were under $20 a yard for a hugely wide swath of jersey (up to 62″ width), all of it smooth, itch-free stuff.

I’m a Claire McCardell freak, and in the past year I’ve managed to track down, outbid, and over-pay for about 12 of her original sewing patterns. So I’m now starting to make them up. McCardell and Chanel were basically the original proponents of using wool jersey for sportswear, so I knew that quality merino jersey like this would work well for my McCardell “makes.”


I ended up buying some lightweight black New Zealand 100% merino jersey, a periwinkle/royal blue Italian wool/viscose jersey and some “tie” silk, all pictured above, and believe me, I could have gone home with more. I have since machine washed and air-dried swatches of both wool jerseys and they came out perfectly. I’ll definitely be stopping by The Fabric Store on my next trip to L.A.

The one L.A. store I didn’t get to this time, but highly recommend, is International Silks and Woolens at 8347 Beverly Boulevard, less than a mile from The Fabric Store and Mood. (International Silks and Woolens Website) When I visit, I go straight to the little room on the 3rd floor where they have authentic vintage fabrics that look like they go from the 30s to the 80s. They’re not cheap (usually around $40/yard), but you can find unique retro fabrics like the one I used to make this Madeleine Vionnet bias scarf. If you do buy any vintage fabrics, inspect them carefully as they may be faded at the fold, so you’ll need more yardage.


Here’s the post about how I made that scarf:  (How To Make The 30s Madeleine Vionnet Scarf)

There are a number of other great fabric/sewing/costuming stores in L.A., and if you have been to any of them, let us know what you think!

Now to make a dent in my stash so I can go fabric shopping again.

Chanel 2.55 “Tribute” bag: stunt or status sewing?


Let’s talk about fashion and status. And making yourself a Chanel(ish) bag. I just did.

Chanel 2.55 style bag

You can’t walk half a block down tony Newbury Street in Boston without practically getting hit by a Chanel 2.55. 

Chanel 2.55 leather bag

In the U.S., our culture is less “melting pot” and more cheerleading pyramid.

Vintage Cheerleading

You know that blonde’s going to get thrown off of the top of the heap at some point. They always are.

For those who came here via Ellis Island, or in my great-great grandfather’s case, on a “coffin ship” from the Irish potato famine to the east coast of Canada, then somehow, without a cent, to Detroit, the U.S. was a place to completely reinvent yourself.

If you grew up in Michigan in the 50s and 60s, as my husband and I did, the wealth of the auto industry made it possible for whole generations to elevate their status in giant leaps, so that my grandfather, son of blacksmith, could send my mother to college by selling wall-to-wall carpeting to soldiers returning from WWII.

C & C Carol's Grad Jan 44 - 005 My gorgeous Mom and handsome Dad in the 40s.

In these culturally shifting sands, the things that were signifiers of wealth and class in the old countries were completely out the window, so everybody had to grab onto new ones. I think this created a herd mentality when it comes to style that has gripped the U.S. for a lot of years. Having recognizable products that people know the cost of (a Cartier Tank watch would be a current upper-middle class example) demonstrates where you stand in the U.S. social system.

Cartier Tank Watch

You have no idea how many of these I see at the beach in Martha’s Vineyard. (Meanwhile, I’ve been running around wearing a Timex from Target because I like the style.)

The only problem with status dressing is that everyone’s style gets really boring, because people will buy something highly recognizable to show off their wealth (like a Chanel bag) or to fit in with their clan (earth mama, power-suiter, goth chick) instead of picking out something really interesting and different. So then the stuff in the stores is boring.

I was tired of boring, so I started sewing again. Now my closet’s pretty zesty.

My Closet

So anyway, I was looking Chanel ads, and even though I’m not a fan of their bags (because, let’s face it, they are pretty repetitive and boring and “rich chick at the country club”) I noticed that lately they’ve been made of festive things like painted canvas with unfinished seams.

Chanel canvas bag For $5,000.

I saw this one in particular and thought, “I could totally make that.”

Chanel 2.55 bag original

I was making a Breton shirt anyway, from the frankenpattern muslin (Muslin Madness) for the crushed bateau-neck I just made (Bateau-neck Top, fait accompli). Speaking of boring style statements, I have a tendency to default to Breton shirts and jeans about 90% of the time when I’m kicking around, as I’m in the “boomer gal who likes France” clan. So I figured I’d ought to start making my own. If you want to see a lot of old Hollywood types in Breton shirts, as well as some good Breton shirt sewing patterns, check out my pinterest page (Breton Shirt Pinterest Page).

I ordered some fabric made by the French brand St. James, who make and export the traditional Breton shirts, or Marinieres, to groovy middle-aged Americans like me. I’ve had a bunch of St. James shirts and they last for years. I found the fabric at Hart Fabrics ( . This fabric is medium weight viscose/poly, and though it’s not the typical heavy cotton jersey, it’s easy to wash and sew.

I thought making the shirt would be a breeze. Then I remembered that I had to match all of those stripes.


I got a little obsessive, but it worked. You can match the stripes part way up the sleeve cap, but when you get to the top half, forget it.


I think that’s why a number of these shirts have white at the top instead of stripes.

For those of you who expressed interest in how the shoulder tuck is constructed in the crushed bateau-neck design, here’s a look at the inside:


and the outside. image

You make the front shoulder seam about an inch longer than the back seam, and make a tuck in the middle of the front shoulder. Then the neckline goes straight across from one shoulder seam to the other. (If you add an extension of about 1 1/2 inches to the top of the neckline, it folds inside to become a self-facing.)

I also decided to try “tailors’ tacks” on this project, a vintage method of marking fabrics without chalk or tracing paper. I thought it would be a pain, but it was fast and easy.

I doubled a long thread on a needle (do you have one of these automatic needle-threaders from Clover? I’d be blind without mine…)


I sewed large thread loops through the muslin pattern and both layers of fabric, at places that I had to mark things like gathers and dart points:


Then I gently separated the layers of fabric and clipped.


Now I had precise markings on both sides of the fabric, but didn’t have to worry about the fabric being discolored.


To finish the seams, I decided it was time to get out of the 50s and use the stretch stitch on my Bernette 20. It worked fine and didn’t pucker, so I made another row of the stitches 1/4 away and then trimmed the seam.


So I had enough fabric left over to make a bag, and this crazy pattern that Vogue released for about two seconds in the early 2000s.


Make your own Chanel 2.55, Hermes Kelly or Birkin? We’ll show you how! (I love the notes I get from sellers when I buy patterns on Ebay.)

I measured out the pattern pieces and saw that they were the exact dimensions of the Chanel 2.55′s I saw online. So did the Vogue pattern editor put a Chanel, Kelly and Birkin bag in her budget to draft the pattern? Somebody get legal on the phone!

I thought that it would be a lark to make a knock-off, and put on the chain and hardware and blog about it, and how hard would it be to make a bag, right?

So I headed down to Winmil Fabrics in Boston’s Chinatown to get the “fusible fleece” required, and ordered hardware on Ebay to look like the rectangular “Mademoiselle” toggle closure that was on the bags before Karl tarted them up in the 80s with the tacky double “C”s. I even got a grommet-setter so the chain could go through grommets.

Chanel Bag Elements I was pumped!

There are all sorts of design legends surrounding this bag, which I read about in this blog: (history of the Chanel 2.55 bag); that the chain handle was inspired by the key chains carried by the nuns at the orphanage where Chanel lived as a child, that the garnet color of the lining was the same as her school uniform, that the zipper pocket was where she kept her love letters, that the interlaced “double C’s” of the logo were taken from a church window, and blah-dee-blah-dee-blah. For more on the Chanel mystique and why it’s creepy, check out my recent post: Chanel/Vionnet Smackdown! My only pattern modification was to bring the edges of the front flap down on either side to look more like a 2.55 bag.

An hour or two into cutting fabric, lining, fusible fleece, and an interlining of fusible hair canvas, I started thinking maybe this wouldn’t be so easy.

You’re supposed to fuse the fleece onto a 26″ x 26″ square of fabric, and then quilt it into diamond shapes, coming up with perfectly spaced 45 degree lines that cross. But they don’t tell you how to mark the lines. I couldn’t use tracing paper or chalk, because it would show. So I cut out the pieces, and used this quilter’s ruler and painter’s tape to mark the lines and then quilt them.


This was tedious, but I’d already cut the stuff out and fused it, so I wasn’t quitting. When it came time to quilt the sides, I decided to go in parallel lines in the style of the quilting on a Chanel jacket, because there was no way I was marking off any more diamonds.

As I quilted, I thought a lot about the people in off-shore factories who sew the same seam on a “fast fashion” hoodie or bag, day after day, twelve hours a day, for maybe $35 a month. A lot of them are scarcely older than my 12-year-old. Apparently factories that make black market bag knock-offs are even worse.

I got the fusing and quilting done, and stuck fusible hair canvas on the back of the fleece.


Then I realized that I had to match the stripes to put it all together. AAAyyyyyeeeeeiiiiii! First of all, the fusible fleece, which is one of the most disgusting and artificial things known to man, was completely gumming up my needle and making my machine skip stitches. And I wouldn’t be able to see the stripes to match them as I sewed anyway. And I was completely over the whole thing.

Reader…I resorted Steam-a-Seam. That’s right, I glued my Chanel bag together. I was turned on to Steam-a-Seam Lite 2 watching a class with Sandra Betzina, which had a lot of helpful hints about sewing on the bias that I’ll be using in my constantly upcoming Claire McCardell projects.

As I was watching her throw stuff together and thinking “she’s the laziest gal in town” I also thought, “I should get me some of that Steam-a-Seam.” It’s a fusible webbing that you can use to line up your seams, then glue them for good with a steam iron. It works well to secure bias hems without puckering, and in this case, those stripes matched up like a dream. I stitched through after that to reinforce the seams, stopping frequently to scrape the fusible crud off my needle as I went.

Chanel Bag Construction

At that point, I started thinking, “this looks kind of good,” so I decided that rather than go full jokey knock-off, I would make the bag into something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to use. I lined it with quilting cotton, and rather than the Ebay hardware, put on a vintage label (with Steam-a-Seam).

The bag turned out pretty well, don’t you think? (Please note the matching stripes in this lousy picture taken by my crabby husband.)

Chanel Bag and Breton Top

I’m never doing THAT again.

I still can’t see spending $5,000 for a bag that’s made from jersey or canvas (or leather, for that matter), but you can make your own for about, oh, thirty bucks. I have some gold Tyvek in my stash…maybe a Birkin?

After I first posted this, I heard from fellow blogger Karin of “Karin’s Chamber” about her own “re-make” of the Chanel 2.55. Take a look; she did a great job and managed to figure out the design and pockets through internet research. (Karin’s Chanel 2.55 Bag)

And lastly, here’s a take on the whole Chanel international marketing juggernaut, from designer Jeremy Scott’s Autumn/Winter collection for Moschino:


Big Mac, anyone?