Is it okay for feminists to sew? Or: Want a man? Get a sewing machine.

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Can you sew and still be a feminist? Oh honey, I’m a feminist from way back.

My mom taught me to sew in the 60s, because every woman in the midwest needed to know how. At some point, your daughter was going to come home from Girls Choir with a mimeographed sheet instructing “Mom” to come up with a red corduroy jumper with a zipper up the front from a Simplicity pattern, and you just had to do it. Sewing was right up there with cooking as a life skill.

These were the women who had flexed their muscles as Rosie the Riveter during WWII, or were co-eds like my mom. Then the men came back, and the women were expected to go home, be quiet, and raise a passel of kids while secretly reading “The Feminine Mystique” and pounding back Excedrin. We’re talking Betty from Mad Men.

My mom wisely got out of the house as a teacher, assigning Robert Frost and Kurt Vonnegut then moving on to Marshall McLuhan and “the medium is the message.” My Dad was the director of the school, so on top of all that she had to entertain as part of his job. I remember her sewing — rather than buying — a maxi dress of washable teal doubleknit to wear at the parties she was catering and hosting, because my parents were wisely choosing to spend the family money on college for us three girls.

I knew if I wanted to wear anything the least bit fashionable up there in Northern Lower Michigan, I had to make it myself, with patterns by Betsey Johnson or Kenzo. Imbued by the overconfidence of Cold War America, I thought everything I made was great.

The Girl Scout leaders knew we had a big job ahead of us too, so we learned to hike and camp with a pack, build a campfire and cook a “one pot” meal using a #10 can for the pot. We’d eat off of a table we’d made by lashing branches with twine, while sitting on our hand-woven (from newspaper) “Sit-Upons.” After dinner we’d sing “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” with hand motions, then bury all the trash.

But since we were training to be women, another night we had to cook and serve a “dressed up” fondue dinner party for our dads. I remember sewing a maxi wrap skirt out of wool houndstooth to wear. I was 12.

Pretty soon Ms. Magazine started showing up at our house, and my mom was going to feminist “consciousness-raising” meetings. My dad, who believed in fairness and lived in a house with four females, stuck up for her, which was a highly unpopular position for a man to take back then. He started cooking, and would invent casseroles from ground beef and giant zucchini from his garden. One of them was called “How To Stuff a Wild Zucchini,” but after a couple of nights it became “Baseball Casserole” because, as he said, “three times and you’re out.”

My mom was finally freed from sewing by then because I, the youngest, knew how. I could knit and embroider, too, and one summer in the 70s, my sister, who now is the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, came home from Juilliard and taught me to macrame plant-hangers.

In college during the recession, I was part of the first generation of “thrifters” who lived in vintage fashion and army surplus, inspired by the book “Cheap Chic.”

That’s me in a 40s “Popover” wrap dress.

Too broke for retail when I started in TV in Ohio, I sewed myself a velvet dress to wear when I got an award at the Waldorf.

Then I moved to New York, where my love life replaced my sewing machine. Power suits from Anne Klein II. Nights at the Plaza in Norma Kamali. Marriage to a guy with custody of three kids. Cooking Christmas dinner for his teens (who decided the night before to become vegan). Yards of curtains sewn. Parties for 40 with a rock band crashing at our house. Doing the rock band’s laundry because I didn’t know any better. Wearing vintage haute couture from Didier Ludot in Paris. Fifteen years of writing and producing for television. Ten years raising our boy — a much wished-for but exhausting surprise. Then menopause, which is as bad as puberty — but in reverse. By the time I was through, I had skills for days and was restless.

I took a $25 online course about French haute couture sewing, and made a Chanel-style jacket. I remembered how much fun it was to sew. It was more fun than shopping, which has been ruined by fast fashion. And lots of people were online chatting about sewing, of all shapes, sizes, hues and ages — women, men, gay, straight, trans. They were posting proud pictures of themselves in their “makes.”

It was all so much more fun than thinking about test prep for my eleven-year-old’s four-hour middle-school admission exam — an incredibly anxiety-producing thing that was meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I now realize. I started blogging about recreating vintage fashion by famous designers here at JetSetSewing.com, and it took off. Sewing kick-started my career again.

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(Speaking of which, three kick pleats in this Charles James “Dorothy” skirt! And a shrug by Claire McCardell.)

Here’s the deal: feminist or not, domestic crap is a part of life. I sew for fun and cook under protest. I drive my son to stuff and try to figure out what’s on his mind. I’ve cleaned up plenty of puke and poop, and checked for pinworms (don’t google it). My husband’s put up shelves, done the dishes, and decorated the house. We’ve hauled umpteen pieces of furniture up and down stairs, swearing at each other. I’ve made up five million beds. My husband’s done a lot of varnishing. We’ve both dustbusted a major portion of the East Coast.

I’ve read young bloggers agonizing about whether “crafting” is anti-feminist, and here’s what I think, now that I’m in my 50s: go ahead and get good at sewing, cooking, woodworking, small engine repair, whatever floats your boat. You have no idea how many freaking skills you’re going to need over the next 30 years.

As the Dalai Lama noted recently in a New York Times Op-Ed, a lot of western anxiety can be traced back to the feeling of not being “needed.” I really can’t stand a lot of the housework I do, but I do feel useful.

Now for the part about “getting a man” (or whatever gender “rings your chimes,” as they used to say in the 60s), which is feminist too, because, trust me, your family ties will outlast your career. Even though the shimmering blonde hair on the next girl over may be temporarily blinding, once a guy does the math about how much it costs to touch up those roots every three weeks, an engaging, independent and industrious gal like you with a sewing machine can start to look mighty good. Because in the end, you two are going to be spending a lot more time keeping house and eating dinner together than you will fooling around.

(Just don’t show him your sewing stash closet until after the honeymoon.)

Sewing a retro mermaid skirt (McCalls 7386), a 20s-vibe sweater coat (Vogue 8930), and a 50s McCardell bolero; but still it was all downhill until I made a pink hat…

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Oh hey! Remember the good ol’ days? Like, in June?

If you’re a U.S. reader, it’s entirely possible you’ve been experiencing a bit of anxiety lately. I know I have. Personally, I blame a major Italian fashion house for my slide into bad karmaland.

There I was in late July, wearing my not-terribly-tatty workout clothes and carrying a completely acceptable non-It bag, cutting through the mall to get to Star Market for groceries, when I spotted this dress in the middle of a store:

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Well, of course I had to take a picture for Instagram, because I’d seen 70s Halston dresses that are just like it. Here’s one from the excellent Yves Saint Laurent + Halston exhibition  that was at the Museum at FIT a couple of years ago (on the left):

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So I dashed in, and the minute I got out my phone to take a picture, the security guard streaked to the back room of the store.

Suddenly a very officious and nervous young manager came speedwalking out, insisting that I had to stop taking pictures and leave! I don’t know if my non-Bedazzled workout clothes were disturbing the shopping zen of the overdressed foreign tourists taking selfies right next to me, but clearly I had to go.

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Anyway, I guess he figured I wasn’t in the market for a $1,300 cotton dress that you or I could make on a Tuesday for 50 bucks tops, with a pattern like Butterick 6446.

b6446_aNext I cut through Lord and Taylor, and, because I still had blanket coats on the brain after making the The 50s “Coat Even A Beginner Can Make” (or a Capote even Truman might wear), I snapped a pic of this easy-to-hack wool jacket by St. John:

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Fortunately, the nice ladies at L&T didn’t give a hoot that I was taking a picture of this $1,300 “putty melange” wrapper.

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Seriously, you put it on, one of your friends does a red wine “spit take” on you and you’re on the floor crying.

Even though my sewing machine, AKA Karl, was still mad at me from making him do “le pivot” on my last make, I decided that stitching up a retro shawl-collar jacket was in the stars. They were everywhere!

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I decided to make one from  Vogue 8930, as people were waxing poetic about the pattern on Pattern Review. Another blogger skillfully explained the mania you can get from thinking about this pattern, along with the naughty alternate name that it has: Vogue 8930 review with hilarious naughty name.

By then it was August, and it was so hot in my charming-yet-non-air-conditioned sewing shed that all I felt like doing was making muslins, believe it or not (in this case, a tracing-paper test version of the pattern). Even the thought of fitting actual fabric gave me a hot flash.

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I knew from the get-go that this was an oversized pattern, so I went down a size to make a Medium, when I’m normally a retail L or XL. But the first version, upper left, still had a lot of volume. The dropped sleeves were oversized and a little 80s as well, so I took them in a couple of inches under the pit, shown top right. Then I chopped 4″ off around the collar and hem, shown bottom right, but it still seemed big to me.

Meanwhile, I was showing my progress via Instagram and getting a lot of good advice from sewing people all over the world. In the end, I took a total of 8″ off the collar and hem to get the silhouette I was looking for (bottom left).

There are two ways to sew this pattern in the instructions: either unlined with overlapping  unfinished seams, or completely lined. However, as I have never encountered a pattern that I can’t make more difficult if I really put my mind to it, I decided to only line half of it around the collar.

When I start cutting the wool for the exterior, once again I heard “MERDE! NOT LE PIVOT” from Karl, my Bernina. Then I told him I was doing French seams, which means you sew the seam once, then flip it and sew it again to give it a nice finish.

You know those Grumpy Cat memes? Karl was giving me that look.

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I knew he could do it! Though I did find it was too bulky when I tried to cross together two French seams, so I kind of chopped that part and you’ll never see a picture of that. (The fabric is a pretty doubleknit wool that I bought from Emma One Sock.)

To line and face the collar, I used some silk crepe de chine I’d had printed up by My Fabric Designs. They’d offered me a credit to try their printing service, so I’d uploaded some original Art Deco fashion graphics from my collection. It’s good quality silk, and the printing is nice and crisp.

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This one’s called “The Death of Love” (in French) and, geez, haven’t we all been there after a breakup, floating comatose down a cold river, boob hanging out, but still miraculously wearing our “kiss me” (or something) pumps?

I cut the collar lining, then it was back to Instagram. Does this pattern make my headlights look like lowlights?

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Sewing people are nice and polite on IG, but like true friends, they wisely advised me to re-cut it.

I had chopped so much off the hem that the pockets were going to stick out the bottom, so Karl and I added ponte binding. It’s a nice finish for knits.

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I did a little hand pick-stitching to secure the edge of the newly-cut collar, as topstitching would have been “meh.”

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Then it was off to the Boston Symphony to drown out the cacophony of the election.

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I went to bed on election night hoping to wake to a celebration of the first American woman president. Instead I found myself sentenced to four years of my husband kvetching about politics at the breakfast table.

At that point, there was only one thing I could do with all of that agita. Go hide somewhere and make something.

I needed a long black skirt for an event, and had bought some mysterious “athe-lounge” “anti-pill” ponte type stuff at JoAnn’s that had a lot of body and magical lycra. I’d liked the retro mermaid-type cut on McCalls 7386, and since it was a “Learn To Sew For Fun” pattern, I figured it would be doable on a day when I really couldn’t be trusted with sharp objects.

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Three seams and some elastic later I had a nice skirt. It’s a very easy and well-drafted pattern. The fabric was so artificial that I skipped sewing the bottom hem and gave it a smooth finish by gluing it with Lite Steam-a-Seam 2, because it just seemed like a day to throw all sense and tradition out the window.

A couple of weeks later, half the country was still driven to distraction, as was I. I decided that the only sewing I had the patience for was the “One Yard Wonder” contest on Pattern Review, where you took a yard or meter from your stash and made something creative.

I used some vintage Savile Row suiting wool to whip up a 50s Claire McCardell bolero pattern, as it’s cut on the bias to create a pretty chevron with striped fabric.

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As a single woman in her early 30s, McCardell bought a drafty farmhouse a stone’s throw from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the Algonquin Round Table crowd had decamped to escape New York’s cafe society. She thought of her designs as “solving problems” for herself and the modern woman, so she created eveningwear with jackets and shrugs like this from wool – often men’s suiting fabrics – to stay warm at dinners in cold country houses and ski resorts.

This pattern uses one unusually-shaped pattern piece that’s doubled. I cut the first side in a single layer, then flipped the cut piece, still pinned to the pattern, and lined up the stripes to cut the second piece, to make sure that the stripes would meet in the middle in a chevron.

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Then I used Wonder Tape to match the stripes before I sewed.

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At this point I was joking on Instagram that I was making a giant bra, and other guesses were a one-armed top or large manta ray stuffed toy.

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I lined it with some silk crepe de chine that My Fabric Designs printed up with photos I’d taken in Paris. (The lining didn’t count toward the one yard/meter in the contest.)

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I got in the true McCardell spirit by topstitching the edges (she pioneered putting topstitching from work clothes on womenswear in the 40s). I was so not in the mood for more hand pick-stitching.

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Karl did an awesome job as usual. I was pleased with the results.

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Those Pattern Review contests are tough, and even though I didn’t win, it’s always fun to be in the gallery with so many talented peeps.

For my last anxiety-relieving project, well, several million of my women friends and I kept hearing about how our president-to-be was fond of cats or something, and since he’d spent a great deal of his life in a big, gilded tower, we decided to welcome him to the People’s House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a little parade. And to make sure that he knew we were girls, we decided to knit, crochet and sew attractive pink hats. Little did we know how popular this particular crafting project would be. Details and patterns are here: Pussy Hat Project.

I hadn’t knit for years, but decided to switch to the dark side for this project. I noticed that the patterns were similar to a pattern floating around for a version of Elsa Schiaparelli’s 30s “Madcap,” a soft hat that could be worn number of ways. Here’s that pattern: Madcap Pattern. There’s a cute sewn version of the pattern on Kate’s blog Fabrickated.

And here’s one of the original Schiaparelli Madcaps in the Metropolitan Museum‘s online collection:

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How I adore the thousands of images of fashion history on metmuseum.org!

Wearing a retro in-your-face hat seemed appropriate, since during World War II the Parisiennes took to wearing bizarre hats as a way to show that someone could take their city, but not their fashionable souls.

I mixed together the 30s pattern and a Loopy Mango knitting pattern to create a dark aubergine-pinkish chenille topper, suitable for madcap parties and protest marches.

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I used size six chenille super-bulky yarn, size 15 needles, and cast on 33 stitches. Stockinette stitched until I thought it was tall enough (about 8″). Folded it over and sewed the top and side (I’m wearing it purl side out). And that officially got knitting out of my system for another five years.

After the ladies’ Welcome Wagon marched through a major portion of the world, many of us in the U.S. had the hope that our new public servant would get the message, as it takes a lot to be named “Employee of the Month” around here. Time will tell, but it’s not looking good so far.

Play it, Bonnie. (Bonnie Raitt “Sugar Mama”)

Now that Karl has hidden my knitting needles, it’s time to get back to sewing! How’s your sewing going?

 

 

 

The 50s “Coat Even A Beginner Can Make” (or a Capote even Truman might wear)

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Once in a while I open up a vintage pattern and think “jackpot!”

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I have no idea why I was obsessing about blanket coats during the hottest, stickiest stretch of July. Probably the same reason I order sandals from Zappos in February – because they represent the balmy future instead of the dish-doing now.

A lot of blanket coat patterns are too oversized and 80s for my tastes, though I’ll admit even I went through a “cowgirl rides the range” period wearing Ralph Lauren dirndls with chunky sweaters and cowboy boots. Going back there at this age, however, is a little too “Dale Evans” for my lifestyle.

But when I saw this early 50s “Blancoat” pattern, which apparently was a PR boondoggle released by the North Star blanket company, I had to go for it. It’s a coat that’s “so simple, anyone can do it, even if you’ve never sewn before.”

I think you can see where this is going.

I was delighted to open it up and find a typewritten sheet explaining the pattern. It was “the ideal pattern for the busy housewife of today, either novice or experienced sewer, who has so many demands on her time.” That’s me in a nutshell.

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You, person who had never sewn before, could make a lined coat from velvet! Silk! Satin! Taffeta! All so easy to work with!

The clincher was that “the public knows Blancoat because of a complete and effective national public relations campaign” which included CBS’s “Morning Show.”

Back in the day, I used to write for the grandbaby of that show, CBS Morning News, in the 80s when it was hosted by an actress who was known for Polaroid commercials. It was a great job, even though the show was terrible. I used to go down to the canteen in the basement of West 57th and see Andy Rooney in the lunch line! And I got to talk to big (though fading) stars like Steve Allen and Helen Hayes. But I quickly learned that the true divas (and holy terrors) were the women who did the cooking and craft segments.

I remember one show, a few months before the whole staff got laid off, that was “guest hosted” by lovable but sardonic actor George Segal. He had to do a cooking segment with an author who called herself “Supermom,” and after a few minutes of her saying “George do this” and “George do that” Segal plunked down his spatula and sputtered, “you’re awfully domineering, Supermom.”

So I had a soft spot for this pattern. It was designed “by the Italian couturier, Vincent Dante…an expert when it comes to styling.” Though I’m pretty good at tracking down obscure designers from the 50s, my guess is that Vinnie was the tailor for the president of the White Star blanket company.

The concept of the pattern, though, is much older. It’s based on the “Capote” blanket coats that trappers used make out of Hudson Bay blankets. They didn’t waste a scrap, making it one of the original “zero waste” designs. You can read about the history of the Capote coat here. And this website shows examples of the coats with sample patterns.   The body of the coat is cut in one big piece, and the sleeves are inserted in slashes.

(Though somehow I can’t picture Truman Capote, the author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and man of style, wearing his namesake coat.)

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Wearing History has released a cute 30s version of a blanket coat pattern, which you can find here. It’s not the traditional construction, but it is fun and retro.

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Even though I grew up in the “Grand Traverse” of northern Michigan, I live in East Coast preppy-land now, so honestly you’re not going to see me in anything made from a blanket. Not even an attractive negligee like this:

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(Note to Vincent Dante, Italian Couturier: use a cool iron on that acetate.)

So I decided to sew together several beach towels to make a retro bathrobe instead.

Karl, my fine fine Bernina 560, was having a lovely time overlocking them with presser foot #2A:

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I cut out the massive body pattern piece on the fold, taking up three beach towels:

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I was intrigued by the notion that “practically the entire outfit is put together in a matter of minutes, merely by running one long seam through the sewing machine.”

Then I looked at the instructions.

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That “one long seam” on the top right – I could see that it had at least one pivot.

That’s when Karl, who was reading over my shoulder, shrieked “Merde! Quelle horreur! Not le PIVOT!”

Those of you who have attached non-traditional collars like this have lived through the pivot. It all looks so easy-peasy in the instructions, but what’s really happening is that one piece of fabric is going one way and the other is going another and they really don’t want to go through the feeddogs together, no matter how much you pin, maneuver, clip, or cajole.

Karl started whimpering, “don’t make me do the pivot.”

I reassured him, “but it’s so easy, just look at these super-helpful explanations on the pattern pieces.”

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Karl was not impressed. “It says ‘place sleeves here,’ not ‘prepare to die.'”

But after I had a drink and I gave Karl some oil, we were sufficiently lubricated so we went for the pivot.

I won’t give you the play-by-play of the further shrieking and crying on both of our parts when four seams met at the pivot, but it ended up looking like Mount Vesuvius:

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The construction detail was worth it, though:

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Eventually we calmed down and cleaned up the seams, then finished the hems with Hug Snug rayon binding:

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I covered some snaps with silk:

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And called it done.

 

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Just right for my summer walk across the yard to the outdoor shower! (Try to ignore my bad sewing hair…) We live about 25 feet from an historic site that has walking tours, so this is the perfect thing to keep me from accidentally flashing the tourists. After all, there are only so many relics they can stand to view in one day.

Okay, then it was time to put my makes in the back of the Mini to take to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair!

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(“Please don’t wrinkle! Please don’t wrinkle! Please don’t wrinkle!”)

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Nice score on my Claire McCardell dirndl and sash hack! The “Blancoat” got a blue ribbon, too.

Will I ever attempt a blanket coat again? Well, maybe, but shhhhh…. don’t mention it to Karl!

How’s your sewing going?

 

 

(To learn more about how Karl came into my life, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

 

Golden Girls Go Zen and “Claire McCardell’s Gay New Hostess Sash”

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You know how it goes…I got a little busy with outside things, and maybe I neglected my stash closet just a little too long. Before I knew it, my fabric, patterns, UFOs and other items had started acting out like naughty teenagers.

For example, When I looked up on the top shelf, I caught Yves St. Laurent and Halstonette in flagrante delicto under my dressform, AKA “Debbie Reynolds.” And they don’t get along at all!

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You two! Well, something had to be done.

I knew the cause of it all was the evil UFO (unfinished object) from before the holidays, the 50s “Opera Coat” renamed “Bea Arthur’s Spa Robe.” I had to finish it, because all hell was breaking loose in my stash closet.

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My fatal mistake had been rushing through and not taking time to fit it. By the time I’d lined it and understitched, it was too late.

So I dug it out of the closet and finished the two remaining shoulder seams, while looking longingly at the fab fake fur that I really wanted to be cutting out:

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After that, I tried fiddling around with it to make it presentable, and even considered giving it some Issey Miyake pleats and folds to update it. But then, instead of looking like “Grandma Goes Trekking in Thailand” it had that air of “Grandma Goes Off Her Meds,” so I went to plan B.

I ended up crossing it over in front and sewing on a big covered “fur” hook and eye. I was going to do a row of them, but quickly lost interest.

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Ohm MG! Right up there with the “Schiaparelli Mom Jeans Vest” from last fall.

By then I was about to call the Ghostbusters to straighten things out in my stash closet, but decided to make a last-ditch effort to improve my sewing karma.

I had been wanting to hack “Claire McCardell’s Gay New Hostess Sash” from this 50s ad for the longest time.

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You would send in $2 and a boxtop from Modess Sanitary Napkins to get an apron with pockets and double-wrapped sash. It was designed for the woman who did her own cooking but had to look good to entertain, based on McCardell’s “Kitchen Dinner Dress” concept from the 40s.

I found some fun retro quilting fabric, cut a long bias sash, and gathered the apron part using dental floss. You can find my tutorial about that trick here: Gathering with dental floss tutorial. #mintyfresh !

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Rock n’ roll, Karl!

I stitched in some pockets, and used the “burrito method” (where you wrap something up like a burrito, then sew it) to attach the sash and avoid most of the dreaded handsewing:

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Eek! My apron gave birth on the cutting table! My stash really was possessed.

That “Alien” maneuver seemed to have calmed things down, though, and this “make” turned out A-OK.

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Well then I “needed” more unpossessed stash, so I met up with a bunch of local sewing peeps at the Pattern Review Boston Area Meet-up – this time at Gather Here Stitch Lounge. I hardly ever cross the Charles River to mingle with the hoi polloi and Harvard swells in Cambridge, but I did have fun getting together with these groovy girls:

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(That’s Jenny from Cashmerette Patterns and Deepika from Pattern Review. Deepika organizes these lovely shindigs, so keep an eye on Pattern Review for details if you’re in the area.)

I was about to be good and leave empty-handed, until Deepika helpfully pointed out the remnant rack. Come to Mama!

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(For some reason that picture’s sideways, so just turn your head a little to the right to get the idea.) I feel another apron coming on!

I also whipped up a 70s retro beach wrap in the false hope that it might actually make summer arrive:

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(Since “Debbie Reynolds” is modeling it in front of the fireplace, you can probably guess that it was still 35 degrees and hailing when I finished it.)

I defrosted my hands and typed up a quick tutorial for the beach wrap, which is super easy to make and modify for all sizes. You can find it here on WeAllSew.com: Retro Beach Wrap Tutorial.

It’s a free tutorial that’s part of JetSetSewing.com’s partnership with BERNINA of America, and you can find out all the details by clicking the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.

I have to thank them again for loaning me my fab B560, Karl, who is the only thing in my entire sewing area that hasn’t been acting up in recent weeks.

So now that things have calmed down in my stash closet, it’s time for me to try out a few tips I picked up when I had a recent audience with the King:

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I knew my luck had changed for the better when I got to meet the Elvis of haute couture, Kenneth D. King! More details about that will be coming up soon.

Hope your sewing’s going well!

Fabric Hunting in Buenos Aires and Eating Big Hunks of Beef

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Sing it with me… “don’t cry for me Argentina!” (I apologize in advance for the earworm.)

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Eva Peron (AKA Evita), the working-class first lady who’s been described as Princess Di and Jackie Kennedy rolled into one, used to hang out of that balcony under the flagpole of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. (Or was it Madonna in “Evita?”) It’s the executive mansion and president’s office, right in the middle of the city.

The “Pink House” is plenty pink, but looking at the color of that sky, I thought it must be the inspiration for the light blue and white of Argentina’s flag.

My husband and I, being ancient parents, decided long ago that we don’t want our son looking back on school vacation with visions of Orlando. So we cashed in our miles to leave  chilly New England “spring” behind and step off the plane into the late Argentine summer.

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People from the U.S. tend to ignore South America, or think of it as a place where there’s a giant rain forest with deadly snakes, Rio where Carnival is happening 24/7, Mayan ruins with too many steps, and a bunch of drug lords acting like the Godfather. (Which just goes to show how provincial the U.S. can be.) When I was in school, I think we learned about it in geography once, and that was about it.

We tend to be surprised to learn that Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America,” could look like this:

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Most of the city looks very European, but the architecture tends to be super-sized.This building was based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, with hell on the bottom and paradise on the top. IMG_6664

(Hm, hell’s a lot bigger than paradise, isn’t it?)

Though Buenos Aires was once a Spanish colonial backwater, from the 1880s through the 1930s it became a country of immense wealth from meat and grain exports. So the rich families built up the city in a mix of faux Paris, belle epoch, Art Nouveau and Art Deco style. Back then if you had loads of money, in Europe they would say you were “rich as an Argentine.”

Visual art is everywhere – with huge paintings on the sides of buildings:

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And unusual mosaics in the old buildings and the subway, which is clean and relatively safe:

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This is the floor of the Teatro Colon, the 1908 opera house that hosted the great performers of the 20th century.

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And here’s the rest – it rivals the Garnier in Paris and La Scala in Milan.

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I really liked the Art Nouveau velvet curtains leading into the orchestra seats:

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And the modern textile art on the curtains, a mixture of appliqué and embroidery:

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Check out the Art Nouveau detail at the entrance:

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And how about this ornate movie house, converted into a bookstore?

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The Portenos are sophisticated like Europeans, but not as, um… well I know I have a lot of European readers, so how can I say it – brusque? There’s a certain New World friendliness, and people were extremely helpful to someone like me who’s walking around with no Spanish other than the words I picked up watching “Dora The Explorer” with my son. (Note to Dora – middle-aged women are watching. Teach us how to say “where’s the bathroom?”)

I had read about the fabric shopping in B.A. being so-so, from Melanie of the blog Poppykettle and Sarai from Coletterie.  When I got to the small fabric district in a not-so-great neighborhood, it was filled with small shops, many just too jumbled for me to pick through.

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(With as much fleece as JoAnn’s.)

There were a number of shops selling lace and notions made in Argentina, but most were wholesale only.

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About to give up, I went into the one store with more of a modern “retail” environment, called “Don Boton” (2611 LaValle St.). And I’ll admit I went a little crazy. Beaded trims:

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Ruffled elastic:

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Leather and faux leather trims and cords:

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Pompoms:

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Fake fur and feathers, for when I pioneer “Old Babe” burlesque:

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And lots of buttons! So this happened:

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(I’m going to be consulting Kenneth King’s “Smart Sewing with Fake Fur” DVD to figure out how to sew that retro faux fur. It’s really soft and backed with a knit.)

After that, I needed some refreshment at the legendary Cafe Tortoni, from the 1860s.

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When my husband and I were here 30s years ago, there was a much more “lost in time” feeling to Buenos Aires, and a big afternoon cafe society. It’s nice to see that this cafe still exists.

On Sunday, we visited the antiques fair in the old square in the San Telmo district, with a mixed bag of antiques vendors, tango dancers, and fairly touristy “Becky Home-Ecky” handicrafts.

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We were about to leave empty-handed, until my Art Deco husband dove headlong into a booth of vintage buttons:

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Good going, hon!

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We stayed in a classy and modern boutique hotel, Fierro Hotel, in the “Palermo Hollywood” area, a quiet part of town with a number great restaurants within walking distance. Their staff found us an excellent English guide who took us walking around the Recoleta cemetery, which is full of “mini-mansion” marble crypts. IMG_6612IMG_6598

(At 19, the girl above went into a catatonic state and then was mistakenly buried alive. Just in case you’re looking for a subject for a creepy Edwardian novel.)

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(I like how that architect made sure he had a wine glass on his Deco crypt.)

Even Eva Peron’s grave:

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The Recoleta is quite a sight, and a great way to creep out any 14-year-old you might be traveling with.

Our guide was telling me that the previous Argentine president had forced international companies like Ralph Lauren and Chanel to plow their profits back into Argentina, so they up and left. Which actually benefitted someone like me who was looking for locally-made products to take home. It’s almost impossible to find souvenirs anywhere that aren’t made in China anymore.

At the store called “Ayma” in the Palermo Soho district (1565 Armenia St.), there are weavers in the workshop upstairs, using 18th century looms to make gorgeous, soft fabrics out of Argentine llama, alpaca and merino.

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As tempting as the fabrics were, handwovens are very difficult to sew (they tend to unravel – and fast), so I went the lazy route and bought a pre-made wrap in the traditional asymmetrical Argentine style. The fabrics were a little more modern and not as rough-hewn as I’d seen in other shops.

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(Believe me, we were enjoying the strong dollar to Argentine peso throughout the trip.)

You can find things made with Argentine leather all over the place, But I liked the goods at the polo/gaucho store Arandu (1920 Ayacucho St. in the Recoleta district).

IMG_6653They carry traditional silver, woven ponchos and sashes, and bags from soft, waterproof “carpincho” leather that looks like a combination of ostrich and nubuck. (They tell you it’s “otter,” but it’s actually from a giant indigenous furry rodent and that’s about all you really want to know.)

As for the huge slabs of beef, they exist in the traditional restaurants, so it’s a good thing that my doctor is an Argentine ex-pat who’ll understand the spike in my cholesterol. But B.A. is full of modern hipster restaurants as well. My foodie husband said he liked most of the meals we had there, which is the equivalent of giving a Michelin star in his world.

And as for my son:

IMG_6453The gelato ruled! Meanwhile, I was checking out the pattern magazines from Argentina and Spain.

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There’s one “textile” memory I’ll take with me from this pleasant trip. One night, we were having dinner at a traditional parrilla (a restaurant with the aforementioned slabs of beef cooked on a fire), sitting outside at a sidewalk table. The “Fair Winds” of the city’s name, which I experienced as balmy breezes, were a little more refreshingly cool than usual, so I was offered a thickly-handwoven alpaca blanket that I put on my lap. A minute or two later, it started sprinkling rain, so the staff hustled our table under a canopy. Sitting there in cool, damp air, but feeling the warmth of that soft, natural fiber so skillfully woven, I almost felt like I was holding hands with the artisan who made it.

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I most certainly will be back!

Hope your sewing’s going well.

 

I sewed for the Oscars again, and lived!

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If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few years, you know that I am an Oscar widow – meaning that I hand my husband over to the show for several months, and then I get to go!

I’ve worn me-made on the red carpet a couple of times, first this “crushed” boatneck (with a pleat in the neckline) and long skirt:

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(I have no idea what happened to the rest of that picture…)

And last year I wore the Madame Gres dress from hell that I wrote about ad nauseum:

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But I swore I wouldn’t go down the eveningwear road again without doing a “sit and sew” with Kenneth King or Susan Khalje. You need someone like that to have your back.

However, when Santa brought me these bakelite Art Deco dress clips:

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I got to thinking about the gorgeous, houndstoothy black tweed in my stash, waiting around to become the perfect quilted “little black jacket” with three-part sleeves, princess seams and all that jazz. I even had lining and trim.

Yet in my heart of hearts, having made jackets like that before, I knew that going the full Chanel was never, ever going to happen again.

And here’s why:

(Watching this Chanel Haute Couture Video will probably give you anxiety…)

But I needed to use the stash for something, so I started thinking about making a version of this McCardelligan that I’ve made a couple of times from knits. It’s based on an original McCardell jacket in my collection. She often designed similar jackets in wovens, and since the pieces were cut on the bias, the fabric is stretchy under the arms – no gusset needed.

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I decided to go for it, because stash-busting is my middle name this year.

I started out cutting out the exterior fashion fabric, joyful that I was cutting out four pieces instead of 13 for a traditional jacket.IMG_5589

I always cut bias pieces in a single layer, and check and double check when pinning and cutting to ensure that they’re going to meet in the center front and center back in a “V”. If both sides end up going in the same direction, the whole thing can twist.

Who else hates thread tracing? That’s the haute couture technique where you baste around the pattern pieces on the seam line to help with construction and fitting.

I decided to fake it with a long machine basting stitch. Because sometimes if you get too bogged down in this stuff, you never get the thing done.

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I marked the two darts and started putting the whole thing together.

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With only two darts and five seams, it was pretty much smooth sailing. I even had a chain I’d bought, pre-sewn onto a ribbon, that I attached to the hem with a piping foot:

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Yee haw! Then all I had to make was…the bias silk lining. Eep!

Now cutting and sewing silk on the bias is a different animal. It slips! It slides! It shifts! It sucks! (But it feels so good when you stop.)

Once again I laid out the pattern in a single layer, pinned it with loads of pins, and started cutting with my Kai serrated shears, which are the only game in town. (FYI, I’m not a Kai affiliate, just an addict.)

Then I kept the pattern pinned to the silk and faked the thread tracing again, with a narrow zigzag.

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So far so good, until I goofed up and, noting that the fabric was burbling up as it got to the feed dogs, I started repinning as I was sewing. Big mistake! That works when I’m sewing things on the grain, but since bias fabric will move all around, I should have left well enough alone.

Fortunately, I had cut large seam allowances, so I literally had some wiggle room. I had to move things around as I sewed the lining together (again with a narrow zigzag, which is forgiving when you’re sewing on the bias).

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And in the end it looked okay:

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When I put the whole thing together, matching the lining seams to the exterior seams on the “wiggly” side was not happening.

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But I was able to shift things around and smooth it out.

I attached the neckline (nervous nervous nervous):

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By then I’d realized that I just needed to break down and hand-baste to keep the lining stable.

I had thought that I could do some quilting of the exterior and lining at this point, but since the bias was wonky, I stitched in the ditch by hand a little to tamp down the seams, then edge-stitched by hand around the neck and center fronts.

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My clever pre-sewn chain was making the hem too stiff, so I trimmed the ribbon.

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When I finally got everything stabilized, I pinned the hem, trying on the jacket several times to make sure that everything was lying flat.

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Whew! After that, sewing on the trim was smooth sailing. (Even though I was doing most of it the day of the show!)

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At the very last minute, I sewed on some brass hooks and eyes (lacking McCardell’s traditional brass shoe hooks and rings) and added the dress clips. Even the backs of the clips were Art Deco.

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Then came the hardest part – pressing the crappy ready-to-wear viscose dress I’d bought to go with it on the hotel ironing board. The dress was a simple sleeveless long dress with a big slit and a sort of 30s godet, so get a good picture in your mind’s eye because that’s where it’s going to stay.IMG_5909

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Showtime!

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I was so excited about wearing a wool and silk jacket in L.A. in February, because I’m usually freezing on the red carpet and in the theater. This time around, though, it was 80 degrees! My husband was walking about 90 miles an hour and for some weird reason was more interested in getting inside to schmooze with people than to photograph me seven or eight times on the red carpet as I was having a hot flash. I tried to pull a Norma Desmond on him but he was not buying it. Consequently, the red carpet picture was awful.

So I’ll stick with pictures from the Governors’ Ball, which was so chilly that I overheard Charlize Theron, in Dior Haute Couture, complaining about the cold.

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Next year I’m sure she’ll be sensible and show up in toasty jacket like me.

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I did get a peek at Jennifer Garner (tall, in Versace) and Reese Witherspoon (shorter, in Oscar de la Renta) and really wished I could have gotten up closer to inspect the construction of their dresses. I’m sure they would have thought that it was just super-girly and not weird at all.

jennifer-garner-oscars-red-carpet-2016reese-witherspoon-oscars-red-carpet-2016There weren’t a lot of dresses I was crazy about, though I did like that Kerry Washington took a walk on the wild side in Versace:

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And Amy Poehler, in Andrew GN, proved that you don’t have to be undressed to be fierce:

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Here’s the most important picture – the desserts!

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(A tiramisu push-up, creme brûlée on a stick, and a chocolate Oscar. Chomp!)

Oh no! I bit off Oscar’s legs!

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And here, at long last, is my official red carpet portrait:

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Okay, it’s a bad wall selfie, because my husband is so FIRED as my photographer. (Oops, just remembered that he’s my ride to the Oscars. Just kidding, hon!) But you get the picture on the jacket.

Of course McCardell, being a minimalist, would have put topstitching on the edges instead of that Chanel-y trim. But it’s really comfy, and now after going to all of that trouble, I have something to wear out to dinner, too.

To misquote Scarlett O’Hara, “as God is my witness, I will never Chanel again!”

How’s your sewing going?

 

More ideas for “Faking Vintage Looks With Modern Patterns”

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The spring patterns are coming out, so it’s time once again to show the new releases, “vintage” or not, that will work for a retro look.

Not like I actually need to buy patterns–I have hundreds of vintage patterns that are making me feel guilty right now. I love finding them. I love looking at them. But when I open their fading, ripping envelopes to gingerly unfold little scraps of unprinted tissue crumbling into dust, I often think “boy, that looks like a project.”

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Sometimes it’s fun just to fake it, and the big commercial companies have released some inspiring patterns recently.

First–“Panic At The Disco”

If you’re around my age (and you know who you are), you made this pattern, right? Admit it!

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The apron dress was such a huge deal in the early 70s. Of all the patterns, I think I’d make this again to wear with a tee on a hot day. It looks comfy and not too kitschy.

Here’s McCalls 7366, a chic disco jumpsuit:

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Fellow disco chicks, you remember wearing jumpsuits, right? And you remember having to pull the entire top off to go to the bathroom at a crowded club, right? If you’re young, go ahead and wear a jumpsuit–you’ll look hot and you’ll never forget it. As for me at this age, ease of peeing takes precedence.

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Ditto the Simplicity 8095 jumpsuit that can be wrapped a variety of ways. It reminds me of those 70s knit designs pioneered by Halston and John Kloss. Not an easy look to pull off if you weren’t flat. Cute pattern, though.

(Sorry I’m not putting the links to the patterns in this post. If I did, I’d never make it to the hairdresser at 11:00.)

This surplice dress, McCalls 7350, also reminds me of Halston and is universally flattering:

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That would be fun to wear to a formal wedding.

Let’s go back to some earlier eras, shall we?

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Eek, not that far back! (Does he look like Borat to you?)

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I’ll stick to this doll pattern for pre-20s historic sewing.

For a 30s look, how about this bias-cut “flutter” dress from Vogue (9168), with an underslip and sheer overlay?

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I had a boyfriend in college who knew I was into vintage, and he gave me a dress like this from his aunt’s attic. Long story short, I dumped him and gave away the dress. But later I was filled with regret–I should have kept the dress.

The dirndl became very popular in the 30s as well, and you could use this pattern to make a longer vintage version.

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Moving on to the 40s, how about this “Agent Carter” look? I like View A, with the trim.

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Super cute romper and skirt!

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(Though, let me tell you, my granddaughter wouldn’t wear it, because, as she said of the Liberty dirndl I made her, “It doesn’t have a princess on it.”)

Loads of 50s-style patterns out there, and I know people love that “I Love Lucy” #pinup look, I do. But I remember when crinolines were the itchy things we wore to school, and aprons were a symbol of pre-feminist drudgery. So I’m pretty picky.

Nevertheless, here are a few that caught my eye.

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The striped one on the right has a timeless 40s into 50s “Peggy Guggenheim in Venice” look that’s still workable today.

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I’d use this to make a 50s Norell Mermaid/Chanteuse type dress. (Though I would underline it with power mesh, like I did last winter when I was struggling through the WORST winter in Boston history and trying to make the dress from HELL by Madame Gres and…) Oops, had a flashback. I like Mimi G’s designs. They’re more “retail”-looking than a lot of the commercial patterns.

Two companies are doing versions of the “Walk-Away” dress/cobblers’ apron that are cute:

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(Mother/daughter patterns from McCall’s Archive Collection, M7354.)

Here’s a classic 50s/60s shirtwaist dress that comes in a range of sizes and skirt/sleeve options–very Grace Kelly meets Betty Draper:

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(Butterick 6333)

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A fun “wiggle” skirt with a high waist, also Butterick (6326).

And a classic tunic pattern, a style that really hasn’t changed much since the 60s:

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(McCalls 7360)

CUTE BABY ALERT!!!!

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(It’s not super-retro, but it does make me want to go find a baby to snuggle. Must be the toxic chemical hair product on his widdle head.) But don’t make these unless you sew really fast, because the kid will grow faster. As the nurse said to me when she looked at the 9 1/2 pound baby I’d just popped out, “I guess you can return those newborn-sized onesies.”

Lots of fun patterns to choose from ! What’s on your sewing agenda for the next season?

 

The Tale of making a 40s Swishy Skirt (yesss!) and a Golden Girls Spa Robe (noooo!)…and fabric shopping in Paris

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Who else is thrilled that the holidays are over? Despite being covered with tinsel for weeks, I’ve managed to get some sewing done.

Before Christmas, I thought I’d try this vintage pattern I’d been hoarding for several years.

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I think these were called “Dusters” or “Opera Coats” back in the day. I wanted to see if it would work as an evening wrap, since I’m always freezing at fancy events. Plus my upper arms are no longer ready for prime time, if you know what I mean.

And I had some nice stash that I had no idea how to use–gold viscose/wool suiting (I am not the gold suit type) and some gorgeous Carolina Herrera panel silk that has been making me feel guilty for years.

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The tissue fit was huge, so off I went! (Because I could always take it in, right?)

Tailors’ tacks for some big release darts at the neckline:

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The gold was supposed to be the exterior until:

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Does this look like Bea Arthur waiting for a facial to you too? Jeez, another classic design that’s peaked and pitched into Art Teacher Chic territory. (Just like the Schiaparelli Mom Jeans Vest) So maybe the blue would be better as the outside?

But rather than take the time to fit it better, I just plunged into making the lining which was now the outside. Clearly I just wanted to get that stash out of there.

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I was proud of myself!

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My Bernina 560, Karl, whispered to me, “you took the time to understitch, but not the time to fit? Is that wise?” (He was doing such a beautiful job that I just lost my head.)

Then, it looked like this for awhile…(bagging the lining was very confusing).

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So I know you’re waiting for the big reveal, but when I got most of it done, it was screaming “summer drinks with hippy friends in the Vineyard” more than “winter evening at the ballet.” So it’s in the closet waiting for two shoulder seams and for me to give a hoot.

But that fabric’s out of my stash…time to get more!

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Back to Paris. Did we go to the Grand Palais to catch the Chanel couture show? Mais non, when you travel with a 14-year-old, you’re going to the amusement park they put in there during the holidays.

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Of course I felt so sad after the terrible things that happened in Paris. But having been nine months pregnant in Washington DC when the Pentagon was hit on 9/11, and having lived in Boston during the marathon bombing (fortunately we were out of town when it happened), I know how important it is for visitors to come back. It’s a painful time, and it helps to have friends in your midst. Even if it’s just people who love your city.

While I was in France, I started reading Elsa Schiaparelli’s biography. Her atelier was in Paris at the start of WWII.

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(I was looking for divine inspiration about what to do with those vintage Bakelite dress clips my husband found for me.)

I remembered an article Schiaparelli wrote for Vogue in the 40s, about the first days of the French occupation. She, Lucien Lelong and other couturiers decamped from Paris to Biarritz with what little they had; their staff of petites mains got there however they could, and then they attempted to keep the French fashion business alive in spite of being under the thumb of the Nazis. In a plot as riveting as Casablanca, Schiap was able to escape via the Azores to get to the U.S. for a tour to promote French fashion. But soon the boats to the U.S. stopped, and most of the couturiers were forced out of business for the rest of the war.

I really admired how those couturiers and their staff fought to keep their culture from getting trampled by the Nazis, even over something that could be considered frivolous, like fashion. So though I’m usually a big scaredy-cat, I realized that it was important not to be afraid to go back to Paris, despite what had happened.

The ladies at Janssens et Janssens were as nice as ever, and the fabrics were as beautiful (and expensive) as ever:

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It was quiet in there right before Christmas, so they were very kind to give me a deal on some beautiful silks and wools on the “coupon” (remnant) table.

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Then I made my annual Pointless Pilgrimage of Fashion. In the past I’ve stood outside of what was Madame Vionnet’s atelier, and done a selfie on the Chanel staircase.

This time, I went to the address in the Place des Vosges where Claire McCardell, Joset Walker, and Mildred Orrick (all friends and fellow designers) spent their year abroad in the 20s, as flapper girls, while they were studying at what is now Parsons School of Design.

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We went to the Musee D’Orsay, where I stumbled on this stunning view:

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Yep, everything in Paris was still there.

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And when I got to the Tuileries, I spotted one of my favorite things:

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(A buff naked guy.)

When I got home, I decided to make another of the Claire McCardell 40s dirndls that I wrote about here. It’s so swishy! It’s not like those 80s skirts. It flows when you walk.

I’d bought some gorgeous lightweight silk lame’ at Janssens that the saleslady said was Lanvin. So I put in some pockets, gathered yards and yards of it at the waist, and attached it to wide, ventilated corset elastic. (Sure you laugh, but you don’t need Spanx!)

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I was wandering around Saks, bored, and saw a similar skirt:IMG_5524

For $700! (Note: Mine is not size zero.)

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Plus I can both sit and eat in my version, and it feels great to wear! Here’s a video to show just how swishy it is:

Not exactly Ginger Rogers, but it was “backwards and in heels.”

Hope your sewing’s going well in the new year!

My Passion for Wide Elastic and Dental Floss! And Edith Rears Her Ugly Head

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Karl and I have been putting in overtime around here…because after you make a 20s Schiaparelli that turns into a fugly Mom Jeans vest, you’d better get back on the horse right away.

First thing we came up with was a new version of the asymmetrical sweaterknit wrap I designed last year. I wanted another one, because during Boston’s epic winter (2 yards/meters of snow!) we were all bundled up in our massive puffer coats, then we’d go inside and either freeze or roast. So I kept the wrap in my bag and used it all the time in theaters and restaurants.

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This new version uses French seams to finish the innards, and foldover elastic to bind the edges. The pattern and tutorial are free free free on the website WeAllSew.com.

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Yeah, I’m getting my Judy Jetson on.

It’s part of Jet Set Sewing’s partnership with BERNINA of America. Details are above in the Bernina Collaboration tab. I can’t thank them enough for helping with all the vintage reconstructions going on around here.

And speaking of which, isn’t there a little part of all of us that wants to be a Hitchcock blonde? Even though she’s put in danger, hacked up, or obsessed about by Jimmy Stewart (and Hitch himself)?

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Edith Head did the costumes for most of the Hitchcock movies, including the ones that fashion people obsess about, such as “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” and “Vertigo.”

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(That’s the “Nile Green” suit from The Birds, from last year’s Hollywood Costume exhibit.)

Edith Head released a series of patterns during that era from Advanced, all very Hitchcock in nature. You can hear my travails of making a bolero from one of the patterns in this post: “Long Live Edith Head”

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All’s well that ends well.

As a little pick me up, I decided to do a quick make of this “turban” in another of the Edith Head patterns:

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What could be so hard about making a hat? It’ll be fun!

(Does anyone else hear ominous music playing in the background? Like the theme from “Psycho” where the violins go EE EE EE!?)

Just two pieces for the exterior, cut on the grain.

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I made it from some leftover jacket fabric–a stable knit–and it was a quick go. The main part of the hat is gathered with some release darts of various shapes and sizes, then is attached to a round crown.

But you know that part of a Hitchcock movie when Mr. Everyman’s just going through his day, and then everything gets weird?

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When I went to cut the lining, out of leftover silk crepe de chine, it was (EE EE EE!) on the bias!

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(If you’ve ever cut and sewn silk on the bias, then you know that deep foreboding you have when every move you make could lead to a massive wadder…)

I knew I would need industrial-grade shears, just in case Norman Bates was coming to hack away at the silk with a kitchen knife.

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(Kai Serrated Shears. The best ever for silk. Just go get some.)

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Asymmetrical wobbly darts! EE EE EE!

Honestly, I’d rather go up to the top of that clocktower with Jimmy Stewart:

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…than SEW A CIRCLE OF SILK TO A BIAS TUBE!!!

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Sometimes sewing is so suspenseful.

Well, what do you think? Tippi Hedron, or Eleanor Roosevelt? I’m still on the fence:

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So then I moved on to a skirt I’d been thinking about making, based on 40s Claire McCardell dirndl skirt I have in my collection. The dirndl was her first runaway design hit in the 30s, based on traditional dress that she saw in Austria. During that era, she’d bought a funky farmhouse across the river from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where people from Broadway, fashion and journalism were hanging out on weekends. Their houses were rustic and freezing, so she created warm, comfortable eveningwear, made out of wool jersey or tartan. She also pioneered stretch waistbands on skirts during World War Two rationing, using chest bandages.

So I put together a big skirt with a couple of deep McCardell pockets:

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(Neither one of them was upside down this time!)

Then I decided to use a gathering technique I’d read about somewhere (the source of which, sadly, my brain refuses to cough up…):

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You zigzag over a string of dental floss (unflavored, unless you want to smell minty) then pull it up. I was skeptical, but…

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Goal! I sewed it with a zigzag onto a band of 3″ wide knit elastic, which comes under the heading of “where have I been” because it’s so soft and stretchy. I had already sewn the elastic into a circle and then enjoyed annoying my teenager by snapping it at him before I attached it. Once I had it sewn on, I took out the dental floss so the waistband would stretch.

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Well, that’s pretty sweet! But do I really want to, um, reveal that I’ve gone “fully elasticized?”

Thanks to a nine-foot by 13″ remnant of raw silk hiding in my stash, no one will every know!

McCardell Dirndl with Obi Belt

Bring on the holidays; I’m ready to eat!

How’s your sewing going?

Epic Sewing Fail! Anyone want a 1925 Schiaparelli meets Portlandia “Mom Jeans” Vest?

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Every now and then, we all have a make that’s better in theory than practice, right? So let’s just put this one in the UFO closet of shame without showing it on my middle-aged middle.
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My intentions were good…I had a 1925 pattern, loosely-based on a Schiaparelli design, that I’d been dying to try.

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I say “loosely-based” because back in the 20s, most Paris-designed patterns and garments released in the U.S. were watered down versions of the originals. They were either licensed copies dumbed down for manufacturing in the States, or out and out thefts of the designs. The U.S. garment companies would hire young fashion school “sketchers” to memorize the designs at the Paris fashion shows, who would make quick sketches of the designs afterwards, and then put them on the fast boat back to the States to be knocked off. A number of famous designers from that era (Elizabeth Hawes is one example) got their start as sketchers.

Elsa Schiaparelli is perhaps best remembered for her surrealist designs, sometimes created with artist Salvador Dali. For example, the hat that looks a shoe:

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(Details here from Metropolitan Museum’s Online Collection)

And her famous “Lobster Dress” (which was included in that tart Wallis Simpson’s trousseau):

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(More info here from the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

This “cracked egg” design in the pattern was avant-garde and beautiful in it’s time:

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(More about this much-better version at MetMuseum.org)

But jeez, I should have known it was a little too ubiquitous now. And, having grown up in the north woods knitting and crocheting with “chunky” yarn in the 70s, I was not ready to rock that look post-millennium in this preppy East Coast metropolis. (One journey through the zeitgeist of pullover granny-square vests is more than enough for one lifetime.)

No, it was one of those things where I’d bought this fabric for a wrap, but it wasn’t drapey enough because it had a stable backing, but it would work for a jacket, but there wasn’t enough for sleeves and well…

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Plus I don’t get vests! To me they’re a hot flash with frozen elbows.

So anyway, so far so good:

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(Some nice seam finishes with a stretch overlock stitch that looks like a blanket stitch, using the Bulky Overlock foot. Karl, my Bernina 560, was on fire, baby!)

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A little binding made of ponte, my new favorite thing… (After you stitch in the ditch, you flip it over and trim off the excess.)

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But then I tried it on and thought NOOOOOOOO! No No NOOOOO! It was supposed to have buttonholes and cute lobster buttons along the lines of Schiaparelli’s bug buttons:

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(More on those buttons from the Met Museum here.)

But at that point I was too over it to dig out the buttonhole foot.

And that was that. Elsa Schiaparelli, I am so sorry. I’ll make this pattern again with lighter fabric and sleeves and then we’ll talk.

But I did have success with a different project a few weeks earlier. In the spring, I’d made what was dubbed a “McCardellgan”: a version of Claire McCardell’s famous cardigan jacket design.

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I’d worn the jacket a lot, but thought the design needed tweaking to be more authentic. So I went back to the drawing board and drafted a new pattern from two McCardell jackets in my collection.

The first is this sweater knit jacket, part of a sweet suit that would fit a modern 11-year-old:

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And the second is a woven McCardell jacket, cut on the bias with big French darts and tapered sleeves. (No pictures as it’s buried in my closet somewhere…)

The edges of the jacket are finished with expertly-sewn bias binding, and how the 50s garment workers pulled that off on a knit–using straight-stitch machines–is a mystery to me.

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In my last post, I talked about how I finished the inside of my new jacket with French seams. I decided to use ponte to make piping on my jacket, to give it some soft structure around the neckline. McCardell often used piping in designs.

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I overlapped the fabric a little, so the raw edge of the piping could be turned inside to become facing, and sewed the seam a little bit away from the piping cord. Then I sewed the piping on the front of the jacket, this time with a seam a little closer to the piping cord. It looks smoother that way:

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(Bulky Overlock foot 12C again. It’s very useful!)

I flipped the seam allowance of the piping to the inside of the jacket and stitched in the ditch on top, close to the piping.

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Then I fell stitched the seam allowance to the inside, making a facing. The raw edge of the ponte doesn’t need to be turned under, which makes the finish less bulky.

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I finished the hem and sleeves with binding, with the help of Karl and Wonder Woman.

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Then it was picture time! Fellow bloggers, you know that look you get when you ask your Significant Other to take your blog photos for the umpteenth time? Well I got that look from my husband, so I decided to use the self-timer to do it myself.

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Oh forget it! I went to my son’s soccer game, then tried it again when I was in a better mood:

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Ahhh, another deceptively simple, yet sophisticated, modernist design from Miss McCardell. This jacket is already in heavy rotation, and another is in my “make” queue.

Hope your sewing’s going well, and that you’re avoiding epic fails this season!

(For details about how the nice folks at BERNINA of America are loaning me Karl, the wonder B560, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)