Charles James, Charles JAMES, CHARLES JAMES!

A couple of great messages popped in my in-box this week.

The first had “Charles James” in the subject and was from my apparently psychic sister inviting me to be her guest at the members-only preview of the “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, opening in May. Here’s a short bio of Charles James from the Met Museum’s website: (Charles James Biography)

After jumping around going “woo hoo!” and informing certain high-maintenance family members that they would have to live without me for two whole days, I got out this American Weekly mail-order pattern from the 50s:


I decided to get cracking on view “B”, a version of the Charles James “Dorothy” skirt, which is in the Costume Institute’s collection:

Charles James Dorothy Skirt Charles James “Dorothy” Skirt

If you look closely at the top, you’ll see that the back piece has a triangular extension at the waist that wraps toward the front, and my pattern has that as well. The pattern also has three vents, which are actually low pleats, at the two sides and the back.

View A of this pattern is his “Tulip” Skirt, also in the Metropolitan Museum:

Charles James Tulip Skirt(Charles James “Tulip” Skirt)

It’s on my wishlist to make as well, though I’m more of a “Dorothy” than a “Tulip.” This pattern has small sewn-in interfacing panels all around the bottom to make the hem flare out.

Charles James was a draping and design genius who made iconic gowns for many of the British and U.S. society “Swans” from the 30s until the 70s. This is probably his most famous dress:

Charles James Four Leaf Clover Gown Charles James “Four Leaf Clover” Gown on Austine Hearst

Like many true artists though, his perfectionism ultimately did him in, and he ended his days working with a single patternmaker in New York’s famous artists’ fleabag, the Chelsea hotel.

There’s a great article in the New York Times today by writer Elaine Louie, who describes knowing Charles James in the 70s, and wearing one of his gowns to an exhibit: (“Charles James and Me” article) It’s a fun read.

I better get going on grading (sizing) up that pattern–it’s cut for a 24″ waist!

And thanks again to my sister…Janet, I’m so looking forward to you taking a day off from running the Martha Graham dance company to be the photographic intern for Jet Set Sewing. What a gal!

The second fun thing that popped up in my in-box was a nomination for a “Liebster Award” from Carrie of Crafted By Carrie. Carrie is a scientist by day and sewist by night, who is putting together her trousseau and gifts for her wedding party and a bunch of other stuff while I’m sitting around across town procrastinating about tracing my vintage patterns.

The Liebster Award is bestowed by bloggers onto other bloggers to help spread the word about new blogs. I really appreciate being nominated and Carrie, you are a Liebchen for sending me the Liebster.

I learned from working in TV to always accept a nomination, because it often comes with free dinner. But this one comes with questions to answer (provided by Carrie) so here goes:

What is your favorite garment you’ve made?

Do you think the answer is one of my Chanel jackets? Au contraire, it’s this one-sleeve Schiaparelli wrap I made from Decades of Style pattern #5006 and printed wool fabric from Janssens et Janssens (lined in silk). It’s so unique, lightweight and wearable:

My Spring Wrap

Do your friends and family know about your blog?

Yes, I won’t shut up about it.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Somebody asked me this once in a job interview for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Audio/Visual Department, and I said “inefficiency.” Wasn’t that a great answer? (I could only stand nine months in that job.)

Share five things about yourself that others don’t know:

You know, at this age, discretion is the better part of valor.

What is your favorite period in fashion, and why?

Well, I could write a blog about this, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m a fan of 1920s through early 70s designer fashion, though the cuts from 1950s and 60s suit me the best.

What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?

Jeez, I’m been around so long, it’s tough call. Raising a son (in progress) and step-children, staying married 25 years, being successful in a career, learning French well enough to have French people willing to actually speak with me, getting dinner on the table some 5,000 times…

What quality in a friend is most important to you?

We’re all so busy that if they “like” my posts on Facebook it’s pretty exciting.

Carrie, thanks again! And since the word “Liebster” keeps reminding me of Madeleine Kahn’s hilarious performance as the German saloon singer in the classic Mel Brooks comedy “Blazing Saddles,” I’ll leave you with this link of her singing “I’m Tired.”

Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles.”

Happy trails!

19 thoughts on “Charles James, Charles JAMES, CHARLES JAMES!

  1. O, please tell us all about the exhibition! What a surprise to read your sister is the artistic director of the Martha Graham dance company. We have a principal dancer of the Dutch National Ballet in the family and love to see our share of classical and contemporary dance. Can’t wait to see your finished skirt!

    • I’ll definitely be reporting from the exhibition, wearing my skirt (I hope). I used to study dance and am something of a “dance nerd” myself. Fortunately, my husband likes to go to the ballet!

  2. Whoa! I just finish reading the Charles James article and open up your mail! You lucky duck! Vicarious living for everyone! I will do my happy dance for you! And please, a virtual postcard!

    • I’m hoping against hope that they’ll let us take pictures. If so, I’ll definitely be posting them. There are already a number of photos on I love searching their online catalog of fashion.

    • I think people are very excited about it; I know I am. I’m always happy to see innovative designers like this get their due.
      There was another article in the Times about how the men coming to the Costume Institute gala are required to wear white tie and tail (with medals) this time around. That’s going to be something!
      (Sadly, my invitation to the Met Ball appears to be lost in the mail…)

  3. Thanks very much. (Now that I’ve figured out what TDF means…) The pattern is not very difficult and fun to sew. I’ll have to find my pictures and write a post about it.

  4. I love vintage clothes:)…and I really like that wrap:) TDF as the comment above says ( it took me a sec to figure this one as well)

  5. Can’t wait to hear what you think of the exhibit! And how exciting to find a Charles James pattern – what a learning experience that must be!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Laura Mae! I’m learning a lot putting the skirt together, and it’s given me a real appreciation for Charles James’ draping genius. Wish I could get my hands on the other two Charles James American Weekly patterns I know of: a day dress with a bolero and a ball gown. They’re out there somewhere!
      I hope my readers will take a look a some of the fabulous creations on your blog, in particular the Ceil Chapmen Skylark dress you just completed from a 50s Spadea pattern: . It’s beautiful!

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