40s Beach Jacket finished thanks to useful tutorials, and to Karl, my beloved.


So I persevered to finish the 40s beach jacket, and thanks to some helpful tutorials from other bloggers, (and of course my new beloved, Karl the Bernina 560), I learned some new tricks along the way.


(Actually, I won’t be modeling the finished product, as that would require posting a photo of my bare legs, which ain’t gonna happen.) And here’s why I needed a loose jacket:


(Fresh fishburger and onion rings from Sandy’s Fish and Chips in Vineyard Haven.)

Even though my initial attempt at making the jacket looked like Gertrude Stein’s bathrobe, I stuck with it because Karl the B560 had made such fabulous buttonholes. Since I was using a linen blend from Joann’s Fabrics that barely cost more than muslin, I figured I could test out a few new techniques without worrying about messing up some big project.

I started out with this pattern, which I’m guessing is from the early to mid 40s.


When you open these vintage patterns, you never know what you’re going to find. The pattern pieces were there, but the instructions were falling apart.


There’s always lots labor-intensive information in these patterns:

Vintage edge finishesVintage pattern instructions


All of those instructions talking about marking with chalk and thread or tailors’ tacks, basting and fitting first…it seems like a lot for a simple beach jacket. But this pattern may have been issued during WWII, when fabric was rationed and “Make Do and Mend” was patriotic, so I can see why women would have wanted to make sure they didn’t mess up what little they had.

Since the pattern was unprinted, I chose to use my chalk marker to mark the hole punches and notches.

Chalk marking a vintage pattern

This method worked because the main pattern piece was so huge that I had to cut the two sides in single layers. If it had been a double layer, I would have used tailors’ tacks to mark both pieces at once. As you can see, you would need to be a codebreaker to decipher all of the holes, notches and triangles in this diagram:

Vintage pattern drawing


The front of the jacket is at the bottom, the neckline and sleeve are in the middle, and the back is at the top, by my shoe, so you can see how big it is.

One big piece, easy right?

I started to put it together, and even though it was a vintage size medium, it was HUGE.

vintage jacket pieces

Not only that, but it was cut for those big, round shoulder pads that were popular in the 40s, and had a comeback in the 80s:

Norma Kamali

I loved wearing Norma Kamali back then! So comfortable, but still cool.

I wore plenty of shoulder pads in the 80s, and if you were working then, I bet you did, too. It was a time when the women’s movement had actually gotten recent graduates like me into the workplace in traditionally male fields. We quickly learned that if you showed up in a DVF sexy wrap dress, and then you had to go hand in a request for TV studio time, as I did, you’d have to live through old Ron “elevator eyes” telling you that you looked reeeeal gooooood in that dress before he would do diddly-squat for you. So we all started wearing body armor, and that how shoulder pads and “power suits” became popular.

But as author Thomas Wolfe once said about shoulder pads, “You can’t go home again.” (Or maybe that was Tom Wolfe in “Bonfire of the Vanities,” plenty of shoulder pads in there.) I knew I just could not put shoulder pads in the jacket, because it would look like it had been in my closet since the 80s. So I took the jacket in a whopping four inches on each side and under the arms, and it looked a lot better.

I’d recently read a tutorial about a trick that tailors use to turn collar points, by sewing over a thread and then pulling it through to turn the point. It was written by professional shirtmaker extraordinaire Pam Erny on her blog “Off The Cuff”. I’m going to send you to her blog to learn the technique, but suffice it to say, it worked like a charm the first time out.


Thanks for that great tutorial, Pam!

I was a little disgruntled with the vintage instructions for the jacket, because they neglected to mention stay-stitching around the neckline or reinforcing the collar with interfacing, both of which it really needed. I tried sticking in some fusible interfacing after the collar was on, but it still was looking uneven and dimpled.


I decided to line the inside of the collar with twill trim to reinforce it, so I used the Bernina #5 blindstitch foot to guide my stitching as I “stitched in the ditch” (stitched over a seamline) on the exterior.

I hand fell-stitched the top of the twill trim to the collar, and used the haute couture trick of pulling the stitches a little tight to “shrink” it. That got the collar to stop rippling and stand up better.


“Fake it till you make it,” as they used to say in showbiz (okay, during the Rat Pack era, maybe).

I was fortunate that Bernina USA, in addition to loaning me the B 560 machine, also provided me with a walking foot, which helps feed both layers of fabric evenly under the presser foot. It’s very useful if you’re working with knits, matching stripes or plaids, or combining fabrics of different textures.


This particular walking foot comes with three sole plates, one for regular stitching, one for quilting, and one for edgestitching and ditch-stitching.  Since I was using this project to experiment, I used the walking foot for some edgestitching along the side vents, and it kept the stitching nice and even.

Edge stitch with walking foot

When you learn to sew with a mechanical as I did, you sew by “feel,” and I have to say that this B 560, even with all the computerized bells and whistles, is still is very easy to control using the foot pedal. The stability of the fabric feed is something you can feel as well, and it just takes a lot of the anxiety out of sewing a difficult project.

Well, this jacket was taking a lot longer than I had anticipated, and even though I was over it, I still had to finish the seams. I decided to try a technique I’d seen on Laura Mae’s “Lilacs and Lace” blog, where she uses rayon seam binding to give her seam allowances a pretty vintage look.


Made in the USA! It’s something like $7.50 for 100 yards!

I’ve seen rayon binding, or something similar, reinforcing the seams of an early 1950s Claire McCardell wrap dress that’s in my collection, where it was used to stabilize seams cut on the bias, as well as the waistband.


I’m going to send you over to Lilacs and Lace to see Laura Mae’s very clear and useful tutorial on this seam finish. You end up with a nice clean seam allowance, similar to a Hong Kong finish, but less work. I’ll admit that this being my first time around with the technique, my seam finishes look a little wonky, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.


The last thing I did was use the walking foot again to top stitch the outside of the jacket following the line of the stripe, to keep the front facing from flapping around:


Mmmm, nice buttonholes, Karl!

Yikes I’m out of thread!


Right under the wire!

I am happy that I stuck it out with the jacket, and I learned a few new things along the way.


Now I can get to the beach!

Dorothy Parker’s bracelet, Gertrude Stein’s bathrobe, and more fun with Karl


So my lovefest with my Bernina 560 sewing machine, AKA Karl my Swiss intern, was interrupted this weekend by houseguests from Boston, leading me to have to sneak around to spend more time with him. I knew if I got out my ironing board, I’d be busted, so I just went in the shed and played with his knobs.

You can put your own message on the very top line of the welcome screen, so we had some fun with that:

image (“What would Coco do?”)

image (“Help me, Obi Wan Khalje“)

image (“It’s good to be Kenneth King“)

It was at about the same level of maturity as photocopying your behind, but Karl and I thought it was hilarious.

I was also stalling because, honestly, the 40s beach jacket I’ve been working on, which I thought was going to be this hot Barbara Stanwyck film noir look:


…really was turning into Gertrude Stein‘s bathrobe:


Seriously, I was hoping it would look more like the Mao jacket that the painter Sir Francis Rose is wearing behind her.

This is not to say that Gertrude Stein didn’t pick up some style hanging out with Picasso, Fitzgerald and the “new moderns” in her early 20th century Paris salon.


That jacket looks similar to the 30s Chanels I’ve seen in the Met Museum’s online collections, and the tweed hat is a cool accessory.

And how about this hat?



I was frustrated with the fit of the beach jacket, despite Karl’s fabulous buttonholes. Honestly, I thought it was on a midnight train to Wadder-town.

Of course, all weekend long I was blabbing about Karl to my literary and somewhat acerbic friend, who feigned interest as long as I listened to her cryin’ about turning 50. (Been there, done that, had the hot flashes.) I told her there was an alphabet function on the B 560 and she quickly suggested a few phrases I could stitch up that probably shouldn’t be repeated on a “general audiences” blog.

That gave me an idea, though. Could I stitch a phrase on some fabric and make it into something? And have it look classy?

Since I was doing it for my friend, and neither one of us is the “daily affirmation” type, I picked one of my favorite quotes from jazz-age humorist Dorothy Parker, who wrote for the New Yorker Magazine, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and was known for her biting wit.


Whenever the phone would ring, Parker would quip “What fresh hell is this?”

Not being a phone person, I can completely relate to that, particularly when the number that pops up is from my son’s school.

So, using the memory function with the B 560′s alphabet, I input each letter, and separated the words with a straight stitch. I took a linen remnant I had, stuck on some fusible interfacing, and then Karl got going with the lettering.


I sewed it up like a tube, turned it right side out, finished the ends, and then Karl did that buttonhole thing that makes me weak in the knees. I hand-sewed on a couple of brass antique shoe buttons from my stash, and my friend had a “cuff” bracelet she would actually wear.


After that, I calmed down about the 40s beach jacket and took it in a couple of inches on each side. I tried it on and thought, you know, it doesn’t look so bad. I was trying to rush through it, when really, I just needed to step back and take a break.

Meet my new Swiss intern, and Willkommen, Bienvenue to Club Bernina


I walked into my summer “sewing shed” this morning, and there he was. Meet my new Swiss intern, Karl.


I believe he said something like this:

Hey Girl ryan gosling scissors (find more “Hey Girl” here at the site I snitched it from)

How did Karl come into my life? Like most love stories, it was kismet.

I’ve written in the past about how I came back to sewing, after having learned on and sewed with a straight stitch Singer through the 60s and 70s:

Singer 15

It was great machine for it’s time. When I resumed sewing, it was on a Big Box store mechanical that was fine, and then I found a Bernina Bernette on eBay, which was also a nice machine.

I strive to give my projects an authentic vintage look, but to be honest, they were becoming too labor intensive, and I was avoiding vintage patterns with details like buttonholes because they were just taking way too long.

I knew I was going to need to upgrade to continue my obsessive vintage designer reconstruction quest. And I knew that would require talking my husband into it. So I decided to go a different route.

Researching new machines on sites like patternreview.com, I saw that people had good things to say about a lot of brands, but people were passionate about Bernina, particularly about the quality of the stitch and excellent handling of a variety of fabrics, which is what I need when sewing garments from expensive, delicate fabrics. More than once I’ve seen beautiful Italian wool get sucked in the abyss of the stitch plate, and I was done with that.

I was familiar with Bernina’s WeAllSew.com website, because I won a Threads Magazine/WeAllSew.com competition in the spring of 2013, for this Schiaparelli Wrap project:

My Spring Wrap

So I decided to get in touch with the people at Bernina USA. I asked them to have a look at my website, to see if they would be willing to help me out with my reconstructions of vintage designer garments.

In my email, dear readers, I referred to all of you brilliant, witty and accomplished garment sewing enthusiasts who have been hanging out with me at Jet Set Sewing, as proof that my new website was getting somewhere. I thank you so much for spending time here and participating in the conversation.

Lo and behold, a few weeks later, the folks at Bernina USA offered to loan me this FABULOUS B 560 machine for a year, to aid me in my quest for nice buttonholes and expert finishes on those Claire McCardells and Chanel jackets that are coming up in my project queue.

So before long, I was getting on the boat leaving Martha’s Vineyard:


(yes, I was the crazy lady with crafting rolling bag taking selfies at 6:45 a.m.)

I headed to the Bernina dealer Ann’s Fabrics outside of Boston, in Canton, Massachusetts, where my new machine was waiting for me. Having never “driven” a modern high-end machine, I had no idea what to expect.

They unwrapped my heavy, solid, and pretty groovy-looking machine, and then the very knowledgeable Nancy Hoell gave me a tour. Nancy is one of their educators, who is a fellow garment-sewer and sewing instructor, and she gave me a great rundown of what to expect. She told me that the Bernina 560 has the solid mechanical engineering that Bernina’s famous for, merged with a computer that controls a lot of the sewing and tells you everything you need to know about sewing the fabrics you’re working with.


Do I look happy? Oh, yeah, cue Pharrell Williams:

I also met Andy Bates, the new owner of Ann’s Fabrics, and Cheryl Aldrich, the store manager, and was reminded again of how incredibly nice people are in the world of sewing.

So then it was time for Karl and me to head home (and yes, I know, the real Karl Lagerfeld is German, but this Karl is all heavy Swiss engineering.)

We took the freight boat together, and I showed him some of the sights.



(The boat on the right with the black hull is the recently renovated whaling ship the Charles W. Morgan, which was visiting the Vineyard from Mystic, Connecticut.)

When we got home, Karl and I immediately went in the sewing shed and started fooling around. Even though I thought the B 560 was going to be complicated, after trying things out, I found that it was pretty intuitive using the computer screen. So I decided to test out my personal Waterloo, which is buttonholes.

We didn’t have a buttonholer when I was a kid, but I made plenty of buttonholes, all by hand. When I put buttonholes in Chanel jacket #2, they were kind of a disaster, though I refer to them now as “funky.” I’ve avoided buttonholes since.

So I played around with the various buttonholes, and after looking through the very clearly laid-out paper manual (there’s also an on-screen manual), I tested a few out. They were easy as pie.

I tried out this “heirloom” buttonhole, made to look like hand-worked buttonholes (but better than mine, obviously) and really liked it, but thought I would use it later on a project with more delicate fabric:


I decided to use more traditional buttonholes on the 40s beach jacket I’m making, sewn with viscose embroidery thread so they would stand out. No guts, no glory! After fooling around with Karl some more (he has a lot of stamina) I created a sample buttonhole in the length I wanted. Nancy had told me that each subsequent buttonhole would sew itself at exactly the same length and width.

We can’t go totally high-tech here at Jet Set Sewing, so I used this old-school buttonhole spacer I found on eBay to mark the buttonhole placement.


I love that thing!

Having marked the buttonholes, I put the jacket on the machine, and threaded a cord of hand-embroidery thread around the buttonhole foot to make a buttonhole that’s sewn over the cord.


The foot itself has a sensor that tells the machine what’s going on with the buttonhole, and displays what’s happening while the buttonhole’s sewing. For each buttonhole, I hit the pedal, and sat back and watched while it sewed itself.


In about 20 minutes, I had seven perfectly-matched corded buttonholes.


I cut them open using this Japanese buttonhole cutter I ordered recently from the Sew Maris shop on Etsy.com. It’s super sharp and very precise.


Not long after, my husband and son wandered in, saying something about making dinner. But how could I think about eating, when I was so entranced with Karl!

I’d just like to say how much I appreciate Bernina USA’s assistance with my reconstruction projects. In exchange for this generous loaner, each month I’ll be demonstrating some of the ways a modern machine like the Bernina 560 can aid vintage and haute couture garment sewing enthusiasts like us. These posts will come under the heading of Club Bernina.

And soon you’ll be seeing some of my projects and tips on Bernina’s We All Sew website. I’m pretty excited about that!

I’m sorry, but I must go now. Karl is calling me again.

Hello Sailor! Breton Top patterns shove off…


Okay, I’ll admit it; I’m a Breton top abuser. Right now in my drawers and closet there are at least 10 shirts in this classic style in various colors and fabrics. Walking around the grocery store, I see that I’m not alone. You put one on, and it’s not like you’re wearing a T-shirt, right? You’re not a slob–you’re Audrey!

So it’s no surprise that patterns for boatneck tops like this have been among the most popular releases this year.

The latest is this pattern from Tessuti for the “Brigitte” Top, which I like because it has a high boatneck line, and four options for sleeve lengths:

Tessuti Brigitte pattern

I’m assuming the Brigitte it’s named after is Bardot:


(Love it with the red pants, red shoes, red car…)

Another pattern released this spring is the “Coco” pattern from “Tilly and the Buttons,” for both a Breton top and dress:

Tilly Coco pattern

She always manages to get her dimple lit just right.

And I’m assuming that the “Coco” this pattern is named after is Mademoiselle Chanel, who stole this look from the boys in the 30s, and basically started the “girl in a jersey shirt” thing.


(At the end of the post, you’ll find a pinterest page with links to all of the patterns shown in this post, saving me hours of cut and paste…)

Those of you hanging out at Jet Set Sewing over the winter already know that I have a thing for this style, as I wrangled with making a 60s “crushed boatneck” pattern for about six weeks. The resulting knit version, with matching Chanel-style bag, looks like this:

Crushed boatneck top and 2.55 bag (Details of how I made it are here.)

I recently saw a Burberry version of this style, with the boatneck folded out:


For $250! I wouldn’t say that stripe matching is very impressive, either.

What is the enduring appeal of this style?

Well, here’s the original inspiration:

French Sailor

Bonjour sailor, new in town? My sewing pal Carmen (of the CarmencitaB blog), who lives in Breton, France, told me that the original inspiration was the French Navy’s uniform, which included a striped jersey shirt and the traditional red pom pom on the hat. Then Carmen, as I recall, you told me that nowadays French women wouldn’t be caught dead in a bourgeois Breton shirt, unless she was a rich Parisian, right? We Americans are nuts for the look, though, because secretly we want to be as haughty cool as the French.

But like the tunics I wrote about last time, this look has woven (or should I say knit) itself into western culture during the past 100 years, going from a working-man’s uniform, to a modernists’ casual-wear:

Picasso (Picasso)

Morphing to 50s film, both mainstream and new wave:

AudreyJean Seberg (Audrey Hepburn and Jean Seburg)

Going rock ‘n’ roll and pop:

MickMadonna (Mick and Madonna)

And then inspiring designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier to riff on the classic design for years.

GaulthierPrincess Caroline in Gaultier (Princess Caroline of Monaco in Gaultier)

And the look is still a modern girl’s best friend:

Sofia CoppolaDuchess of Cambridge (Sophia Coppola and the Duchess of Cambridge)

Over stateside, this look has become a wardrobe staple, (or default, in my case) so let’s all save roughly $225 and make our own, shall we?

In addition to the “Brigitte” and “Coco” patterns, there are a number of patterns that can be used to create this style. Once you’ve found a favorite, and have it properly fitted, these tops can be easy to crank out (if you have the patience to match those stripes). If you’re not accustomed to sewing with knits, Colette Patterns has just released a new book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, with a lot of up-to-date information.

Here are some other Breton shirt patterns that are out now:

These two are from BurdaStyle. The one on the left has a chic Audrey-like band detail across the top, and the one on the right is fitted for larger sizes, and can be color-blocked:

Burda Jersey Tunic patternBurda Tunic pattern

I’ve tried this pattern from New Look, and it’s authentic and easy:

New Look 6838

This Sandra Betzina pattern, Vogue 1363, can be made with or without darts, making for better fit options if you’re busty. I would bring up and straighten out that ballerina neckline a bit to make it a true boatneck. This pattern goes up to a 55″ bust.

Vogue 1363


And here’s a recently re-released Simplicity vintage pattern, which can be made with a woven:

Simplicity 1364 boatneck pattern re-release

I really like the French darts and dropped shoulders on that one.

Here’s where you can find the links to all of these patterns, as well as pictures of the zillions of celebrities who’ve used this look to pretend they’re not wearing a T-shirt.

In my last post, I found I touched a nerve writing about the history of the tunic, as many readers confessed to having tunic moments in their past.

Some of you are making tunics this summer, and I’d love it if you would send photos to me so I can post them. Lynn, Lizzie and Mary, I’ll be looking for photos from you! If anyone else is making a tunic or vintage-style beach cover-up, please send it my way. My email address is under the “about” tab above.

As for me, seconds before I was going to cut that modern Vogue tunic pattern:

Vogue patterns 8897

to make a Tory Burch “homage” out of striped linen, I had a change of heart, and decided to try to recreate this 40s beach robe instead:


Unfortunately, even though the pattern is a vintage size medium (which usually runs small), it turned out to be enormously wide under the arms. So I’ll be posting pictures when I’ve gotten it fitted and it stops looking like Gertrude Stein’s bathrobe.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for a new arrival in my summer sewing Batcave. (No, not THAT kind of new arrival…good grief, it was bad enough that I had my baby at 44…) I’ll let you in on my new bundle of joy when it arrives next week. Actually, it’s more like dreamy personal assistant that never talks back.

I hope your summer sewing is going well!

It’s not a knock-off, Tory Burch. It’s an “homage.”


I’m thinking about some summer sewing, and in particular how useful a long, loose tunic can be after a month or so of sitting prone on the beach then eating fried fish burgers and fresh onion rings at Sandy’s Fish and Chips. (Not to be missed if you’re on Martha’s Vineyard.)

After having researched the ubiquitous Tory Burch tunic:

Tory Burch tunic

(which, along with Jack Rogers sandals, sprout like dandelions in June as you head north from Vineyard Haven toward West Chop), and having checked out the price of said tunic at Neimans:


(If you look really closely, you’ll see that it’s $325.)

…the thought of making rather than buying has become more appealing to me.

This style of tunic is nothing new, and you can find patterns for them dating back to the 1920s. Here are a few I found:

Miss Conover's 1920s tunic pattern

20s Tunic pattern

(This reproduction is available from Mrs. Depew, and all of the links to the modern patterns and reproductions in this post can be found on my “Beach Tunics” pinterest page here): 

Here’s a Russian version from the 1920s:

Style: "1769395"

For when you do your healthful group calisthenics to be strong on the collective, Comrade.

(Okay, okay, I apologize to my Eastern Bloc visitors for making fun. We Americans have been making jokes about you since the Cold War, and I’ll bet you’ve been doing the same about us.) If you don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at the “Wild and Crazy Guys” from the 70s:

As I’ve aimlessly scrolled through patterns on eBay, I’ve seen tunic patterns from the 50s and 60s:

Early 60s tunic pattern

Followed by a hippie resurgence in the 70s:

70s tunic pattern 270s tunic pattern

(Think the guy in orange is saying, “hey Jude, wanna listen to The White Album while I fondle your rick-rack?”)

Here’s singer Francoise Hardy doing the boho tunic as only the French can:

francoise-hardy-voila in tunic

Even Yves St. Laurent got into the act in the 80s, designing kind of a “power tunic”:

80s YSL Tunic

Now thanks to Tory Burch, overly-embellished tunics are back at the beach and summer cocktail parties. The good news is, they’re not that hard to make, and if you fit them right, they work on just about everybody.

A couple of years ago, I made a tunic using this Simplicity pattern:

Simplicity 1718 tunic

What I like about the pattern is that it’s relatively fitted, and the armscye (armhole) is not gigantic, which is common in modern patterns.

I made the tunic out of Chinese LangChou silk, also known as “mud cloth,” ordered from the very sweet Sofia from Crose Fabric (Crose Fabric on Etsy.com), who ships her fabrics from China.


This fabric goes through a weeks-long process, developed hundreds of years ago, where it’s buried in mud with some kind of yam enzymes (or something like that), and when it’s taken out, the silk has become cool to wear and water resistant. It has a pleasant, earthy smell that makes you feel like you’re working with fabric from an ancient culture. It’s very stable and easy to sew. (Though if you order some of the printed LangChou, be aware that it can have large permanent black marks on it that you’ll need to cut around. You’ll need extra fabric, and anything you make will look a little funky.)

Here’s a scarf I made from some of Sofia’s vintage-looking LangChou silk a couple of years ago:

Langchou scarf

(The green cloche was a Christmas gift that the boys picked out at Marie Mercie, the cult hat-maker in Paris: http://www.mariemercie.com/)

Since I was trying to give the tunic a 20s “Egyptian Revival” look, I bought some vintage Art Deco trim from Etsy to put around the neckline and cuffs.


As usual with my projects, I thought it would be quick, but after quite a bit of swearing and hand-sewing, it was finished.


(If you stare really closely at my cleavage, you’ll see that the neckline is slightly uneven. But I don’t really care, because no one’s staring at my cleavage anymore.)

When I came to the island this week, I brought some striped linen with me, though this time I’ll use a different pattern to make a tunic. Here are some of the choices out there now:

Vogue patterns 8897

Vogue 8897, which is very close to the Tory Burch design.

Simplicity 4149Butterick 5465Burda 8501

And some independent patterns:

Sew Liberated tunic patternLekala Tunic pattern

The orange top is from Lekala patterns, which can be custom ordered for download using your specific measurements: (Lekala Tunic Pattern)

Now, I better get going before Tory Burch gets wind of it!


$9 Couture Course


As I was listlessly shlumping through the grocery store yesterday, (because I’m a sewing enthusiast, not a cooking enthusiast) I spotted a new edition of the “Best of Threads Magazine: Designer Techniques” series tucked among the quiltin’ and craftin’ magazines.


As I leafed through it, my eyes bugged out, because it’s FULL of great articles by, first of all, the two Godmothers of Haute Couture I wrote about recently, Susan Khalje and Claire Shaeffer, as well as  numerous other articles about vintage designers and their techniques, all from the Threads Magazine archives.

For example, there’s an article by Susan Khalje giving the play-by-play of her method of constructing Chanel-style jackets, which I used in my research to construct my jackets:


The magazine also includes articles by Susan about making muslins and creating her version of the couture little black dress. (Note: if you’re thinking of making a Chanel-style jacket using Susan’s method, I would hold out until later in the year when she releases her video series.)

There’s a large section about various vintage designers and their techniques, including articles about Scaasi, Galanos, and Valentina, all written by couture expert Claire Shaeffer.


My favorites were two articles about how Madeleine Vionnet and Madame Gres manipulated fabric to create their geometric designs, which included drawings of how Madame Gres’ jersey wraps were constructed:


Let me tell you, I wanted to skip making dinner and run into my studio to muslin the red wrap made with one seam on the right.

Throughout the magazine there are pages of clearly-illustrated sewing tips demonstrating vintage and haute couture construction and finishing methods. So worth the $9 price tag! And it made my trip to the grocery store bearable!

The magazine can be ordered from the Threads website, in either hard copy or PDF download form here: (Best of Threads Designer Techniques: Make It Couture). Check it out!

Before I left Boston, I did a little window shopping on Newbury Street as I was on my to Starbucks to get pastries for breakfast (avoiding the grocery store again). Valentino had just been renovated, and there were a number of interesting fabrics and details in the window:



Love that embroidered fabric. And check this out:


A little black dress trimmed at the neckline and cuffs with multicolored feathers!

In the window of the Italian luxury store Loro Piana, they were showing a short fur Chanel-style jacket, which I guess is what you wear when it gets chilly on the yacht:


In the 70s we used to call that style a “chubby.”

The outpost of the upscale Swiss brand Akris, known for it’s simple designs made from luxury fabrics, had this pretty black knit dress and some of their classic bags in the window:


Chanel was getting festive with a pink boucle 2.55 bag crafted out of tweed (how long is that going to last?):


as well as, shall we call it a “bedazzled” 2.55 bag covered in crystals, along with a plastic cuff bracelet with the “Double C” logo in faux pearls:


Give me a break, Karl.

Also on this high-end street is a new branch of the a vintage-repro company called “Bettie Paige,” named after the 50s cult pin-up. It seems like a strange place for this store, but they do have some cute designs:


Perfect if you need costumes in a hurry for a revival of the musical “State Fair.”

But soon it was time to pack up the car and head for the Martha’s Vineyard ferry. When I got to the island, I saw that the roses were blooming:


The barn swallows have two nests under the eaves this year:


The peach tree we thought had bitten the dust was miraculously budding fruit:


And my summer sewing space was there, patiently waiting for me to unpack:


Boston Museum of Fine Arts Quilts and Color Exhibit


Yesterday I had the good fortune to visit another exhibit celebrating ways that fabric and thread can create works of art. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has been using “color” as its theme this year, and the exhibit “Quilts and Color” celebrates that concept.


When you walk into the spacious gallery with high ceilings, the individual quilts are hung and lit like overscale paintings. Quilts that first appear to be abstract art become marvels of precise stitching upon closer inspection.


The quilts displayed are from the collection of Paul Pilgrim and Gerald Roy. Here’s more information about the exhibit and the collectors from the MFA’s website:

(Quilts and Color Exhibit)

The quilts, which are primarily from the 1800s and early 20th century, are marvels of design, planning, stitch execution, and mostly likely teamwork among the makers. Not being a quilter, I can’t give technical details, but both my non-sewing friend and I were completely floored by the beauty and mastery displayed.









It’s impressive that these (mostly) women artistsans, who had so many other things to do in the pre-mechanized age, could take the time to design, plan, and create such labor-intensive works of art.

Looking at this exhibit, I was struck by the notion that what makes us human is less about how we’ve learned to use tools and weapons, and more about how we’re willing to take some additional time to make a useful item more beautiful. Any of us who have picked up a needle and thread for pleasure know that feeling.

The exhibit runs through July 27th. I highly recommend it.


Charles James, meet Claire McCardell


Okay, I’ve had my fling with Charles James, paid homage to Madame Vionnet and gotten in a catfight with Coco Chanel. Now it’s time to give Claire McCardell her due. This red shrug is one of her designs.


As a wrap-up to all of the Charles James hyperventilation going on at Jet Set Sewing this month, some details of the completed outfit: with the 50s wool challis I used to line the kick pleats on the Charles James skirt (seen here), I made yet another version of the crushed boatneck frankenpattern I came up with this winter. (Details of that pattern are here and here). This time I made it sleeveless and lined it with silk crepe de chine ordered online from Mood.com.

Since I was getting bored with this project the third time around, I researched how to line a tank top by machine, so I wouldn’t have to hand-stitch the lining to the neckline and armholes. I’ve learned the hard way that your tank will quickly turn into a twisted mobius strip if you don’t do it right.

I decided to go with this method: rather than construct the exterior and the lining and stick them together, you sew the front piece of the fashion (exterior) fabric to the front piece of the lining, right sides together, at the armhole and neckline only. Before you stitch, fold back the lining seam allowance at the shoulder seams by 5/8″. Leave the shoulder seams, side seams, and hem unstitched.

Here’s the front of the armscye (armhole) sewn to the front of the lining armscye.


Trim the seams, clip the curves, sandwich press (press as is) then open it up and press the seam allowance toward the lining.


“Understitch” about 1/8 inch away from the seamline, on top of the lining, catching the seam allowance in the stitching.


Turn the lining under and press, a little back from the edge.


Oh yeah! Nice and clean without the dreaded topstitching.


You do the same with the back fashion fabric and lining. Then, turn both the front and back pieces right side out and stitch the shoulder seams of the fashion fabric right sides together. (You can see that the lining seam allowance is folded under so you don’t catch it in the stitching.)


Clip and press the seam you just stitched, and tuck the seam allowance inside the lining. Then slipstitch the lining together at each shoulder seam.

I wish I had a picture of the rest of the method, but I was in a hurry so of course I forgot. But basically you do the side seams one at a time, sewing the back and front fashion fabric side seam right sides together, passing the underarm seam, and then sewing the back and front lining side seam right sides together, all in one long sew. Then you do the other side the same way. Flip the whole thing right side out and do whatever hem floats your boat. I decided to hand catch-stitch up the fashion fabric hem, then slip stitch the lining over it, leaving a little room in the lining so it wouldn’t pull up the hem.


Silk crepe de chine is the best, most decadent lining, and worth every penny.

And now to my fashion girlcrush, Claire McCardell.

McCardell with modelsMcCardell in Chair

Though McCardell is no longer a familiar name in fashion (due to her untimely death in the late 50s), she was one of the top American designers of the 40s and 50s, and the primary inventor of the style known as the “American Look.” Her spare, sporty, architectural clothes were designed so the modern woman could move around and have a life while wearing them.

McCardell windowpane dress Claire McCardell SundressClaire McCardell evening dress

If you’ve worn any of the following items recently, you have Claire McCardell to thank for either designing or popularizing them:

ballet flats,

McCardell ballet flats

jersey hoodies,

McCardell hoodieMcCardell hoodie bike

wrap dresses,

McCardell Popover Dress

peasant dresses,

McCardell Hostess Dress FIT

fitted bathing suits,

McCardell bathing suit

fashion sunglasses…

McCardell sunspecs

The real appeal, for me, is how incredibly modern and wearable many of her designs remain.

Here’s a brief bio of Claire McCardell from “Voguepedia”: Claire McCardell bio

And a bunch of McCardell eye-candy from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s online collection: (Met Museum McCardell collection)

I’ll get into more of McCardell’s history in upcoming posts, but long story short: it was my desire to make myself a Claire McCardell that got me into this crazed vintage re-creation jag.

The shrug is taken from this 1951 Spadea pattern:


featuring one of McCardell’s famous wrap “popover” dresses, which was designed for ease of donning and wear. Since this is a halter version of the dress, the shrug covers the bare back.

Though we’re accustomed to seeing shrugs like this nowadays, this simple design was revolutionary in it’s time, as it’s made from one pattern piece (doubled) with one center back seam and two short seams under the arms creating the sleeves.


McCardell was the first American designer to use jersey to make dresses and separates, so I used lightweight wool jersey, again from Mood.com, to make the shrug.

After cutting the jersey on the bias (and giving my thumb a nice slice with those Kai shears I’m always raving about) I stabilized the seam allowances using stretch stitch #9, which gives you a seam that almost looks like a straight stitch, but still has some give:


Here’s how the stay-stitching turned out:


Where the edge would be exposed, I folded it under and stitched again to finish it:


I decided to use old school French seams to finish the interior seams, since the fabric is so lightweight.

I started out by sewing the seam wrong side together, then trimmed the seam allowances.


I pressed open the seam, turned it so the pieces were right side together, then stitched the seam again, enclosing the raw edge of the first seam.


A nice clean finish for a nice clean design.

More to come on Claire McCardell, but right now I have to start packing up my sewing projects, tools and machine to decamp for Martha’s Vineyard for the summer.  I hope you’ll join me there for some stitching at the beach!

Charles James skirt details and a walk through Boston’s Back Bay


Well, now that I’ve recovered from what was apparently a hot flash brought on by the gowns at the Charles James exhibit, I’d like to share the details of making this skirt:


from this Charles James pattern,

Charles James sewing pattern

which I had to pull off in three days. Cue the stunt sewing music!
I’ve talked about making the muslin for the skirt in this post  and how versions of this skirt are in the MetMuseum.org online collection. Here’s how the completed muslin looked:


Knowing that I had three sewing days to complete a wearable version (interrupted by a weekend of grandchildren invading our home like Cossacks), and that the skirt had to be widened by a whopping eight inches, I had to choose a forgiving fabric that didn’t need lining.
Tucked in my stash were two yards of high-quality stable knit ponte in aubergine (from Eileen Fisher) that fit the bill. Since I spent my 20s sewing Diane Von Furstenberg knock-offs out of a slippery knit called “Quiana” on a straight-stitch Singer 15-91, I have no fear of knits.
I basically chopped the center front and two parts of the back of the muslin open lengthwise, stuck in swaths measuring a total of 8″ straight up and down in both, fitted it quickly and got ready for the “Hail Mary” pass. (For those of you visiting from other cultures, the “Hail Mary” is any last minute desperate play a losing sports team will use to try to win a game in the final seconds.) Rah rah rah!


Two yards of wide ponte should work for a pencil skirt, right? Er, not when the pattern has odd protrusions and three kick pleats. So I quickly took up the pattern by about 4″ in length and as you can see, it just squeaked by.

I started constructing the skirt using a very narrow zigzag, as I wanted a stitch that was easy to pick out if I got in trouble. (No sergers around these parts). Constructing the body of the skirt went smoothly as I had already worked the bugs out on the muslin. With no time to finish the seams, I trimmed them with Kai pinking shears to give them a vintage look. As a reader once commented, super-sharp Kai shears are “all that and a cup of coffee.”

This particular ponte has excellent stretch and recovery, so I was reasonably sure that I wouldn’t need a zipper. But the waistband has an elegant yet tricky shape that arcs up in the front and dips down toward the back, which is critical to the design. I was stumped as to how I could reinforce it enough to hold the shape while having it be stretchy enough to get over my head.
Friends, this is the kind of thing that keeps me up nights.

Cue the cute grandchildren!


Whew, that was exhausting.

When time came to make the waistband, I rooted through my bag ‘o interfacing looking for that knit fusible I thought I might have (desperate times call for desperate measures), and spotted a yard of corset mesh stashed away. Corset mesh is like bathing suit liner meets Spanx on steroids. It’s constructed like mesh, so it’s breathable, but it’s stiff as granny’s girdle. Apparently the designer Roland Mouret used a similar fabric, power mesh, to line his famous “Galaxy” dresses of a few years ago.


I think I once had a notion to knock off a Galaxy dress using Vogue pattern 8280,


so I think I ordered both power mesh and corset mesh (which is stiffer, and I need all the help I can get), and that’s how the stuff got buried in my stash. You can find here: (Corset mesh from EmmaOneSock.com), and they have power mesh as well.

I carefully cut the corset mesh and sewed it into the exterior pieces of the waistband. Then I drew the curved seamline of the waistband onto the pieces and, barely breathing, sewed the exterior pieces to the lining along the curve, which starts down, arcs up, gets flat, and arcs back down again.


I attached the waistband front piece to the back piece, anxiously lining up the seamlines.

I trimmed the corset mesh and seams, then got the waistband aligned and sewed onto the body of the skirt.


I flipped the whole thing over, pressed the lining inside, and lacking time to hand-sew the lining down, took a deep breath and “stitched in the ditch” (top-stitched right on the seamline) where the waistband met the skirt body.


That corset mesh holds the waistband up and holds me in, and now I want to put it in everything I own.

There are three kick pleats (two on the side and one in the back) and rather than lining them with the ponte, I decided to use a vintage wool challis from the 50s that I bought in the third floor vintage fabric room at International Silk and Woolens in Los Angeles. I’m using the rest of the fabric to make a top to go with the skirt. I’m busting so much of my stash this month!

Following the original pattern directions from the 50s, I folded back the “pleat” part of the main skirt pieces and attached the lining rectangle to the two sides. Then I catch-stitched the whole thing to the skirt itself at the top.


Phew, just enough time to give the skirt a blind hem and pack for New York! And you know the rest.

“And what about Me-Made-May?” I’m sure you didn’t ask…
I’m not participating officially, because my projects come along so slowly that most days I’d be running around in a Chanel jacket and my underwear if I had to wear my “makes” for a month. But spring has bust out so beautifully I thought I’d share some photos from around the neighborhood in Boston. Most were taken one morning after I met a friend for coffee on Newbury Street, wearing a version of the crushed boatneck frankenpattern top I wrote about here (when I also attempted to knock off a matching Chanel 2.55 bag).

imageChanel 2.55 style bag

This is the long “mall” of walkways, statues and trees that goes between the two sides of my street, Commonwealth Ave., for about a mile. This part of town is called the Back Bay, because the bay it was built over was filled in and developed in the mid-1800s. A number of the wealthy Bostonians who moved in had been on what was called “The Grand Tour” of Europe, so the area was developed to look like France.

image image image
At the beginning of Commonwealth Ave. is Boston’s famous park “The Public Garden” which is always well-kept and beautiful, but particularly in spring.

In the warmer months, the famous Swan Boats are pedaled like bicycles around the pond, just as they were in the much-loved 1940s children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings.” If you walk through the Public Garden on a warm Saturday, you often see two or three wedding parties having their photos taken.

One day my son and I encountered an unusual wedding party there, where the groomsmen were hanging back cooling their heels, the bridesmaids were hovering around in a concerned tizzy, while the bride was lying prone on her back on a bench, clutching her bouquet on her chest, and bawling her eyes out in what appeared to be a full-on anxiety attack. There’s so much pressure put on brides in U.S. culture now to be skinny and be the star of the show, I figure she hadn’t eaten in weeks. I’ve often wondered what happened to that marriage.
Around the corner is Newbury St., where you can get your Chanel on. It’s fun for window-shopping or grabbing a bite.

image image image image

I like those candy-colored linens and bags in the Max Mara window. I my next life I’m going to be an Italian contessa and dress like that 24/7.

I have been celebrating “Me-Made-My” by stitching up some things to wear with the Charles James skirt, including a Claire McCardell shrug that I’ll share next time. I hope your sewing is going well, too!

More from the Charles James Exhibit


Now I want to share the second part of the Charles James exhibit at the Met Museum in New York, which celebrates James’ most famous works: his ballgowns.


Fifteen of his gowns are displayed like sculpture, each on separate “islands” which allow visitors to circle the gowns and see all sides from up close.

Charles James dress

A number of the displays are equipped with “cameras” moving around the dresses and pointing a crosshatch of light on different areas of the gowns. Then, on a video screen, you see an animated Xray of that part of the dress from the interior, with an explanation of the boning, tulle and other supports holding up the gown from the inside.

Charles James Tulip dress

I noticed that the “Tulip Gown” above had the same triangular piece wrapping forward at the waist as the pattern for Charles James skirt I just made. (Details are in this post (Charles James skirt muslin).

Some videos start by displaying the pattern pieces that make up the gown, then via animation, the pieces assemble themselves to construct the dress.

Charles James naughty dress patternCharles James exhibit digital display

If dress engineering and patternmaking are your thing, you may faint at this point. The architectural firm of Diller Scofidio and Renfro was brought in to design the exhibit, and they did a masterful job.

Here’s an example of one of the pattern animations, from the New York Times’ website: (Charles James animation)

The gowns themselves are stretched onto dressforms, playing up the sculptural and frankly erotic aspects. As my sister helpfully pointed out, “that one looks like a giant (expletive deleted).” Watch your language, sis!


It’s true that many of them look, well, phallic, and this next one in particular is, erm…what’s the opposite? Vulvic?

Charles James naughty dressMillicent Rogers in Charles James

What do you think people said to the socialite wearing this? “Excuse me, Mrs. Rogers, but your dress, it looks like a giant…ummm… Say! Refill on your cosmopolitan?”

Oh my goodness, what has gotten into me?

But of course it’s the Met, so they started to wax poetic about Georgia O’Keeffe’s erotic flowers paintings being a big influence on the gown and blah-dee, blah-dee, blah…

Then as I was walking around the museum, looking for a place to change from heels to flats and put on the knit pants I’d stuffed in my bag (because I like to dress up, but I have my limits), I stumbled on the “American Art from 1905 – 1940″ room. This is one of my favorite periods in art, so as I wandered among the Hoppers and other “guy” paintings, I spotted those O’Keeffe’s.

Georgia O'KeeffeGeorgia O'Keeffe


Unfortunately I was too agog by the whole thing to take many photos of the gowns, so if you’d like to see more of the exhibit, the Met has posted this video on their website, showing a number of the gowns and dresses. It’s in high-definition video, and includes commentary from the exhibit’s curators. I highly recommend it.  (Met Museum Charles James Exhibit Video)

Also Bill Cunningham’s exhibit and Met Ball photos from the New York Times are here: (Bill Cunningham photos)

As for me, clearly it was time to get out of “haughty, naughty, spawty, gaudy” New York and back to Boston proper to calm down. But what a show!