Karl was getting on my nerves with his “knock knock” jokes.
“Okay, Karl, who’s there?”
“So, d’yo wanna fool around?”
I’ll admit it had been awhile since I’d touched my Bernina. You know how it is, when you’re busy, and tired, and just – not in the mood?
I had put Karl in his carry-on bag for our summer drive to the island sewing shed, and then left him there for a couple of weeks.
So I don’t blame him for getting testy. (If you’re new here, “Karl” is my sewing machine – with a mind of his own, and a “sew-jo” is like a mo-jo – the feeling that compels you to sew.)
“Phone call for you.”
“Who is it, Karl?”
“Your Sew-Jo. With your Blog-Jo. They went to L.A. to crash with Pin ‘n’ Cut-jo, and I think they’re lost.”
Fortunately for me, last time Karl’s software was updated, they added some kind of “Find My Sew-Jo” app. So I cranked it up, and sure enough, Sew-Jo and Blog-Jo were wandering around southern California looking forlorn and crashing on people’s sofas.
“I’m not flying them back, Karl.” I was so not in the mood for their shenanigans.
But I knew I couldn’t blame my lack of sew-jo on this anymore:
At that point, I was absorbed in about my third hour of “research” on the Metropolitan Museum’s website. If you go to metmuseum.org and type your favorite designer’s name in the search box, you too will be lost in the vintage twilight zone. (I recommend searching Schiaparelli and Elizabeth Hawes for starters.)
I was looking at this Claire McCardell sundress from 1944, when Karl said, “bet you can’t hack that.”
Well, that did it. The minute he said it, Sew-jo and Blog-jo came wandering in the door, not contrite at all.
I needed them, so we didn’t say anything and just got back to work.
Looking at the Met photos, and having studied the construction of the McCardells in my vintage collection, it looked like the dress was constructed from a front bodice piece attached to a gathered skirt, with the back “flaps” made up from one piece of fabric that started on one side, wrapped around the neck, and came down the other side, which is typical of McCardell’s genius manipulation of humble non-rationed fabric during World War II.
Then long bias sashes were attached to the back flap, allowing the dress to be wrapped with a low back and a hint of skin between the skirt and the back. Her famous utilitarian sex appeal.
(As you can see, the Jet Set Sewing Graphics Team, AKA the chipmunks that live in my kitchen, have not improved their drawing skills at all, despite my having signed them up for an online course you apply to by drawing Bambi.)
I thought I could do an “in the style of” hack using this Simplicity pattern, which is familiar to many of you who learned to sew in “Home Ec” in the 70s:
This is a cute pattern that’s very easy, and I’ve seen a nice version of it made up on PatternReview.com. If I had done my usual fitting adjustments and followed the directions, it would have been fine.
I’d convinced myself that I could hack the McCardell by using this pattern, and just adding a wide bias (diagonally cut) sash in place of the binding that goes along the sides and makes the ties. Even though the construction is quite different.
I put on my kneepads from the hardware store, and Sew-jo and I got busy pinning and cutting on the floor.
I used my favorite fitting method, which is to take something out of my closet and throw it on the pattern to see if it matches.
I decided to cut it a little big because I use large seam allowances when I sew on the bias.
I stitched up the dart and sides, and did some seam finishes I won’t bore you with:
Then I cut and pieced the 13 foot (4 meter) x 10″ (what is that – maybe 20 cm.? Can I help it if we never went metric here?) bias sash.
I actually love working on the bias, inspired by Madeleine Vionnet and McCardell, because it makes wovens fluid and stretchy. But it presents challenges for cutting and sewing. I learned a lot good tricks from Sandra Betzina’s Sewing On The Bias class on Craftsy.com, and I recommend it.
For one thing, sewing the bias with a narrow zigzag helps to keep it from getting wavy. I staystitched the sash with a zigzag first to help keep it from stretching.
I used Wonder Tape (tape that temporarily sticks seams together, then washes out) then “wondered” why I hadn’t been using this before. It sticks the seams firmly, but you can move it around. It really helps with fitting, and after you sew the seam, you can yank it out.
By then I could tell I had made the front piece way too big, so I did a Hail Mary by chopping three inches out of the front with a French seam. This “make” was quick moving into “wearable muslin” territory.
(You can see my tutorial for French seams in this post: Retro Beach Wrap.)
I folded over the sash and pinned it to wrong side of the bodice, and then…
Well, I guess I could have seen that coming. I suddenly had extra fabric slings on each side, which would only be helpful if I spontaneously sprouted some additional boobs. At that moment, I knew this project was toast.
“Looks like a one-way ticket to Waddertown.”
“Give me a break, Karl.”
But I have to say, as I get older, I’ve learned that it’s actually good practice to fail, as ridiculous as that sounds, because you start getting over it. Having taken spectacular swan dives into the “crap ditch” several times this year (1925 Schiaparelli meets Portlandia “Mom Jeans” Vest anyone?), I’ve come to find that spending a little time in the ditch, as much as it stinks, gives you some room to think a project over. (Because, trust me, no one wants to get in there with you.)
A lot of people are better at this than I am. My husband, who works a lot on the phone, probably fails three or four times a day. I’ll hear him bomb out in a conversation, then he comes to me and whines, while I say sage things like “yeah,” “that’s tough,” and “why don’t you call Bob.” Then he calls Bob with his newly-refined pitch, and Bob can’t help him but tells him to call Joe. At this point I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, but usually by the third or fourth call he’s nailed it. Though I’ve seen him work on projects for years sometimes, failing, and then refining, and lots of times succeeding in the end. And when he doesn’t succeed, he has a sad face for about five minutes and then says, “what’s for dinner.”
Even though it’s disappointing to realize that something’s on its way to being a wadder, it doesn’t mean it’s died in vain, or there’s something wrong with you. It just means you need to rethink it.
And though your Sew-jo may be stuck hitching in Bakersfield, she’ll be home soon.
In the meantime, here are a couple of things to check out:
The nice gals who do the Vintage Pattern Pledge annual competition/show-n-tell are doing a “July Extravaganza” with posts from vintage sewing bloggers (including one from me on July 2nd). All the details are here: A Stitching Odyssey Blog.
They’re on Instagram, too!
And my long-lost interview with “The King,” (you know him as Kenneth D. King, the “Elvis of Haute Couture,” “The Master Overcaster,” and other names I’m thinking up on the fly) is posted on WeAllSew.com right now. Thanks again, Kenneth King!
As for now, my penance in the Crap Ditch over, it’s time to celebrate summer! Happy Fourth of July to everyone Stateside!