Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston

After three tricky projects in a row, the Edith Head reverse bolero, the Claire McCardell dress, and the Madame Gres gown, (AKA Madame Fred), I knew I needed to banish the fiddly and bring on the funk to keep from losing my “sew-jo.”

As much as I hate to think of patterns I made in my youth as “vintage,” it can’t be denied that the 70s are now reflected in that disco ball of nostalgia. I wrote about some of my favorite patterns from that era in this post: (“American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns”) .

Halston pattern #2Betsy Johson patternDVF Wrap Pattern

Though people generally have a cheesy boho image of 70s fashion, and think of the 80s as twee Laura Ashley/Princess Di or Club Kid day-glo, there was a brief period of time straddling the two decades when fashion became modern and streamlined in the U.S., and that was in large part thanks to Halston.

Plenty has been written about Halston, who started out designing hats for the ladies who lunch (including Jacqueline Kennedy’s famous pillbox) and moved on to creating easy-to-wear designs for the budding feminist, who had embraced her sexuality and was being encouraged to “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan,” as the old “Enjoli” perfume ad jingle emoted:

It sounded so hot back then, didn’t it? Now somebody else can go the grocery store and fry the hippie bacon equivalent we’re all eating now as far as I’m concerned. And there’s certainly no way that either guy in my household will “forget he’s a man,” with all of that scratching and farting going on.

Here’s a Halston Biography from Vogue U.K. His mother taught him to sew!

Now Halston’s designs are getting a second look via two exhibits of his simple, expertly-draped designs. The exhibit “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede” will be running from March 7th – June 14, 2015, at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina. And the exhibit “Yves St. Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s” is running now through April 18, 2015, at the Museum at FIT in New York City, so I’ll be checking that out soon.

Many of his designs just seem like “classics” to us now, but in truth, Halston and designers like Yves St. Laurent, Diane Von Furstenberg and Donna Karan (designing at Anne Klein) were inventing the modern woman’s wardrobe.


One night when I was aimlessly scanning vintage patterns on Ebay, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this one:

The pattern includes one of Halston’s classic jackets (usually made in UltraSuede, a faux suede that’s machine-washable), a gathered straight skirt with pockets, a pair of pants (to create a pants suit) and a simple jersey tee to wear with the outfit. Wearing a knit tee with a jacket was a lot less common back then, so this really was a working woman’s wardrobe, with various pieces to mix and match on different days.

I recognized the pattern right away, because in the late 70s, I had sewn that tee a number of times to wear to work at a TV station. It’s such a unique cut:

It’s all one pattern piece, with cut-in kimono sleeves, no shoulder seams, and a graceful U-shaped neckline that’s cut-in like a big hole and faced. The sides are loose, but then taper in quickly at the hip to keep it from hanging loose. And it’s cut on the bias (even though I’ve pinned it on the grain here, to conserve fabric, which works fine with a knit). It’s a great design.

Well, I had to have the pattern, and I started wondering if a style that was a TNT (Tried and True) in my mid-20s could return to it’s TNT glory in my mid-50s. I had some Donna Karan wool jersey in my stash, so I decided to give it a shot.

In the interest of banishing the fiddly, rather than doing any kind of muslin, I held up a t-shirt (that I knew fit me) to the pattern to see how I would need to alter it.

I decided to use the cutting line as the seamline to give it more room, and then (okay, this is a little fiddly, but it was good fabric) I marked the seamline on the wrong side of the fabric using a tracing wheel and wax sheets, and cut a large seam allowance. That way I’d have a little extra room to adjust the fit.


Then I cut the big neckline hole:


I attached some knit fusible interfacing to the facing piece, using a trick I read about recently. You put a paper towel on the ironing board, put the facing on top, then fuse the interfacing on top of both the facing and the paper towel.


When you trim around the edge of the facing, the paper towel falls right off!


It gives you a lot more control so the facing doesn’t become misshapen when you fuse it.

I had been reading on the blog Made by Rae about Maxi-Lock Stretch Thread, which is a soft, yarn-like thread that allows you to create a stretchy seam with a straight stitch, without the stitches breaking. So I picked some up from Wawak.

I attached the facing to the seam, and saw that this kind of thread is very strong and does have more give, though the stitches are thicker and more noticeable. (It helps to use a longer stitch with this thread.) Here’s how it looked when I understitched the neckline facing:

Though the directions call for invisibly tacking the facing to the neckline, I decided to just topstitch it and get it over with. Anti-fiddly!

Then I sewed the seam that goes under the arm and down the side using a narrow zig-zag to give it a little more stretch. After that I used a stretchy lingerie stitch on Karl, my Bernina 560, to reinforce the seam. (Everyone, sing along with me, “to learn more about how Karl came into my life, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above…by the light of the moon.” I’ll do anything to make that disclosure more pleasant.)

Hmm, how’s it looking? When I tried it on, the neckline was great and the hips fit, but unfortunately the unique curve on the side, which worked great in my 20s, was giving me extra love-handles. And I have plenty, thank you.

I took the side seams in a couple of times so that they’re straight, and now it’s a lot more flattering.

To hem the bottom and sleeves, I used the lingerie stitch again to attach light clear elastic to the edge.


Then I turned the hem up twice and secured it with a straight stitch again. I really recommend using elastic like this on hems that can get stretched out. It makes them so much more springy and stable.

Holy smoke, it was finished already?
Hmmm, nice!


And when I wear it backwards, it’s a ballet-neck, adding to the versatility.

Well, that dusted off the cobwebs and got me going on three more anti-fiddly makes. I had been planning to enter the Travel Wardrobe challenge on, but since the frickin’ Madame Fred gown took until mid-February to finish, there was no time to lose.


Somehow I managed to finish them all in eight sewing days, despite plenty of household whining. (Details in the next post–about the sewing, not the whining.) It’s not an easy contest by any means, and all of the wardrobes in the Contest Gallery are great; put together by a very creative group of sewing peeps representing all levels. Nice job, fellow tired sewists!

Now that I have my Halston done, I can go to the FIT exhibit!

How’s your sewing going?

27 thoughts on “Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston

  1. Dating myself by saying this,

    DVF 70’s wrap dress, I made this for my mom when I was in grade 7 after learning how to sew. She bought me a Kenmore sewing machine. I learned to sew stretch fabrics by using a narrow zigzag stitch and how the stretch stitched worked on the sewing machine. Yeah that puts me in my 40’s AND yes, being a guy, I am the only one in my family that knows how to sew, everything.

    The Halston, I have the exact pattern and was going to make it up from my mom. I would update the skirt to make it shorter, and pants, more on the skinny side. My mom who is in her 70’s still continues to dress “hip and youthful” and of all things: I found a Halston outfit at the Salvation Army for 5 dollars in Ultrasuede in ORANGE which inspired me to look at this late70’s pattern.

    and .. thank-you for showing the tips/tricks in this post, i am definitely going to try the paper towel and clear elastic in some knit projects. All the best!!!

    • Hi Corey, your comments just totally made my day! As the mother of a 7th grader, I am sure that one of your mom’s proudest moments was donning that dress. I think the jacket in that pattern is great, and I would love to make it up sometime. They still sell Ultrasuede!
      If you still have that DVF pattern, hang onto it, because it’s worth a lot on Ebay (not to mention the sentimental value.) As for the Halston patterns, many of them would work in a modern wardrobe, as they’re so beautifully designed.

      • Thanks, no problem, i am totally self taught from craft projects for school learning on my grandmom’s vintage white sewing machine to my first sewing machine that my mom got me. I learned very quickly how to knock off garments, and reproduce things for my mom, wrap skirts, wrap dresses, summer outfits .. knickers when they were pop .. and sewing for myself thru highschool. My work has always been “professional” i strive for high end rtw look in all my work. and I so appreciate watching and seeing new techniques like you showed here.

        The Halston, I will make in either brillant red wool stretch crepe .. also have halston’s pattern for the cape and bias cut skirt which i will do in white wool crepe, and team the whole look with white gogo boots and big gold ear rings. I guess it is nice that my mom loves all these looks. I am going to combine donna karan meets halston .. in a truly modern look.

        btw how do you ‘LOVE THAT BERNINA SEWING MACHINE’ ???

      • Corey, the outfit sounds awesome, and so does your mom! She’s lucky to have you sewing for her, as most RTW is awful these days. As for my Bernina…I just couldn’t live without “Karl, my Swiss intern.” Good luck with that Halston.

  2. Yes! I do remember those shirts! Lately I realised that a lot of styles I liked when I was in my mid twenties are still working thirty years later. Okay, some adjustments needed for the effects of gravity and too much cookies, but DVF wrap dresses, cropped jackets and fit and flare shirt dresses are in my closet again. And now you made me remember my UltraSuede pants again! Will I? Should I?….. No! Your Halston shirt looks great, pretty colour and lovely neckline!

    • Hi Marianne! I’m not going down the Ultrasuede pants road again, unless they’re black and really stretchy. But the concept of UltraSuede was that it was “wash and wear,” so it freed women from the laundry (sort of) to go to work. I do think that 70s styles get a bad rap, when all of those styles you mentioned have become wardrobe staples these days.

  3. How wonderful, it looks so good. I hope in the future I can sew something from a pattern I’m using now in my 20s! And thanks for the tip about the FIT exhibit. I’ll have to go next Sunday, I think it is my only chance to get out there.

  4. You are a fashion historian who sews her research! I have really enjoyed this journey through the past via patterns. In my view, McCardell takes the cake.

    • Hi Lynn! My real motivation was looking at vintage fashions and thinking “if only…” I’m such a McCardell nut that it’s really gratifying to do these reconstructions.

  5. I am new to your blog, but very glad I found it! I really like this top you made. Glad you fixed the sides looks so modern.

  6. This Halston pattern is one of my all-time favorites! Like you I loved the unique and flattering shape of the one-piece top. I also made the jacket, in a rusty brown wool, and wore it all through high school and college. In fact . . . I loved it so much I still have it and occasionally out it on my display mannequin 🙂 Brilliant top with the paper towels – thanks!

      • Isn’t it a great pattern, Jo? I’m very tempted to make that jacket come fall, and wool is a good idea. I’m very impressed that you still have it! My sister told me that she still has an original UltraSuede Halston in her closet, which I’m going to check out this month.

  7. I love your detailed posts, Julie: both the historical context and the techniques are so informative and interesting. (That’s Anjelica Huston in the front row of the photo with Halston, right?) Late to the party, I know, but I wanted to tell you that we watched the Oscars while vacationing with my mom in Baja, California, this year, and I looked for you on the red carpet. (No tins of caviar, sadly, but at least we had margaritas and fish tacos, and also the time zone was a lot more convenient than usual).

    • Hi Patricia, I think you’re right…that is Anjelica Huston, back during her modeling days. I’m glad you were somewhere out of the snow during Oscar weekend! It’s always fun to go, though during that last hour of the show everyone in the audience could really use a margarita and fish taco.

  8. Oh I have just found your blog… it’s great. I have block fused my interfacing like this for about 25 years but I use newspaper… I think paper towel would be much better. I love the tip to use the clear elastic on hems and will try this on some fine knits I plan on using soon.

    • Fusing with a paper towel is such a good trick. I wish I could remember where I read about it! I’m now a fan of clear elastic, and apparently having a teflon foot helps when you’re using it, though “Karl” didn’t have any problems at all.

  9. Love the paper towel tip…it works! Now I need to try the clear elastic trick. The last time I tried to hem a light weight knit I used a double needle and at least three different stabilizers. None of them worked…after every attempt I cut off the hem and tried again…good thing it was plenty long.

    • Hi Kathy…the paper towel trick is great. Wish I could remember where I read about it! The elastic makes for really stable hems, and I’ve also had luck fusing knit hems with Steam-a-Seam Lite 2, then flipping them up again and stitching. It works really well on curved hems in particular, like giant drape on the Madame Gres dress I made this winter. It’s a far cry from ye olde “Stretch and Sew” we learned in the 70s.

  10. This is where I have to admit that I return to this post frequenly when I’m pondering knit wear and Halston. And I finally bought this pattern on Etsy today. I should pay you a commission; I will just have to pay you in compliments.

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