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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!