A Claire McCardell Bolero UFO has landed, just in time for International UFO Day!

Do you ever have that experience where you’re rooting through your stash, and you find some fabric pinned to a pattern piece that’s already cut out? And then you think, “what the heck is this?”

In honor of “International UFO Day,” (on Thursday, and thanks for the heads up about that, Instagrammer “mesewgood”) here’s a report about a Claire McCardell bolero, cut out in October, finished in June!

I don’t have a lot of UFO’s (Unfinished Objects) because I don’t have a lot of space during the winter, and my sewing things are constantly coming in and out of a closet. The only exception is my husband’s “Christmas Tie,” renamed his “Birthday Tie,” then his “Father’s Day Tie,” and now, his “Next Christmas Tie.” Someday I’ll be feeling it.

But back in the fall, when I made this Claire McCardell dress for my sister:


(Here’s the post about making that dress.)

I had also cut out some pieces for the matching bolero, but ran out of time to put it together.

So that’s what was sitting in my stash. Already cut out? Why not finish it?

Well, one reason is that the exterior “fashion” fabric is the wool jersey that I used for the dress, and right now, this guy is Public Enemy #1:


But I figured I could keep the pieces in a plastic bag when I wasn’t sewing, to stop Morris Moth and his many, many friends from munching my delicious merino. Mmmmm…

Reason #2, which I’d forgotten about since I’d made the Edith Head bolero, (here’s that post) is that a lined bolero is every bit as tricky as a lined jacket. Fortunately, this one has cut-in sleeves, as many McCardell designs do, so I didn’t have to set in sleeves four times.

So I forged ahead.

For lining, I used knit jersey from International Silks and Woolens in L.A., which has vintage fabrics on the third floor. This is some kind of acrylic from either the 50s or the 80s, but it feels like cotton jersey.


I bought it because it reminds me of the “Modern Masters” fabrics, issued in the 50s, which used designs from famous artists like Picasso and Chagall. McCardell designed a number of garments made from that fabric. Here’s some info about Modern Masters fabric from the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York. Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler has also written about Modern Masters.

The bolero pattern is cut as just one piece that connects via a center back seam, goes over the shoulders and is sewn under the arms. It’s a very clever pattern draped in McCardell’s unmistakeable style.

And did I mention that it has piping? Sandwiched between the layers? “Hunker down over that ironing board and start pinning, sister,” I heard a little voice (Karl) say.

Actually, it’s pretty easy to make piping with this Bulky Overlock foot, so I stuck some cording in a 2″ strip of fabric and got going. Since this a knit that will stretch, I didn’t bother putting it on the bias. I read recently that you should make the stitching by the piping loose while you’re making it, then closer when you attach it, to keep the seam along the piping smooth.


I made the piping in loops to attach to the neckline/front/back and the sleeves.


So far so good. Then, looking at the directions…la, la, la…whaaaa?!


This early 50s pattern is telling me to “bag” the lining? And look at those directions. Clear as mud! (“Bagging” a lining is a method where you attach most of the lining to the exterior by machine, and work on parts through a little hole, and it’s kind of like a Mobius strip, and yiiii!)

Fortunately I’d read about bagging linings in the past and then got a headache and drank a glass of wine. But I knew the piping would look better if I bagged it, so I gave it a go.

First I connected the neckline, center front and sides by machine, sandwiching the piping inside. I used lots and lots of pins for this nervous-making endeavor!


I graded (trimmed the seam allowances at different levels) the four layers of seam allowances between the exterior, piping and lining, and pressed.


I was a happy girl!

Then the tricky part…figuring out how to get the sleeves and lining put together, with the piping inside, without hollering at everyone in the family, who were stopping by frequently to find out whether they would ever be fed.


Not for the faint of heart, but it did work! So I graded and pressed the sleeve edge seams, then decided to make a burrito.


Sadly for my family, the burrito was not for dinner. I used a “sorta” version of the “burrito method” that’s used to make shirt yokes, where you roll everything up and stick it between the exterior and lining, so it looks like a burrito, then stitch it up and pull it right side out through the neckline.

In this case, I stuffed the sleeves and piping inside the bolero and closed up the back lower edge by machine, leaving a 4″ opening. Then I pulled everything out of that opening, and hand-sewed it closed.



It did dawn on me then that I could have done a better job of matching the pattern on the center back seam, as this bolero is reversible. Which of course I never thought of. So if you run into me wearing this inside-out, please don’t bust me. You know our non-sewing peeps will never notice.

The original bolero was black and red, to be reversible with the black dress. McCardell wanted all her pieces to be versatile. Lovely design, Claire!

As for the dress I made my sister, here’s Janet’s daughter, Madeline, modeling it…IMG_2436

My sister is tall and Maddy is petite, so you can see that this design fits a variety of body-types. After Madeline put it on, she said, “Mom, do you think it’s too hot for me to wear this to work this week?”

So I believe the McCardell dress is now “whereabouts unknown.”

As for the bolero, though cut for Janet, it fits me fine, another McCardell miracle…so Janet and Maddy, don’t be looking for it under the Christmas tree. And Mr. Jet Set, I wouldn’t be holding my breath about that tie, either.

Readers, what UFOs do you have in your stash? Confess!

And happy Independence Day to all of you who are stateside with me. What a glorious weekend so far!


34 thoughts on “A Claire McCardell Bolero UFO has landed, just in time for International UFO Day!

  1. What a fun post! The McCardell dress is just gorgeous and I know that bolero would be perfect with it. I had no idea about the vintage fabric at Beverly Hills Silks . I haven’t been there in years and must stop in sometime soon!

    • Good luck making up that McCardell! I’ve seen several mock-ups of the Futuristic or Future dress online, but I don’t think anyone’s quite nailed it yet. I’d love to get a close-up view, with my tape measure in hand, of the one in the Met.

    • I never had UFO’s either when I was young. Two hours after that fabric came home, I was on the floor cutting it, and a couple of days later it was finished. Now if a UFO hangs around too long, I admit I’m ambivalent and ditch it. Except the tie, of course.

  2. The bolero is beautiful! I have a UFO in the sewing drawer right now – you have inspired me to get back to it. It is a vintage blouse from the 50s – with a pretty good instruction sheet.

  3. Your sewing is always so impeccable. I laughed at the comment, bagging, i got headache and had a glass of wine. I have a small bottle of wine when i am working on a sewing project with a tv movie going so i can sit down and take a break from it. The dress you made for your sister is .. just beautiful.

    I think i asked this before, how long do you get to keep your swiss intern? I just purchased a gently used Bernina Sewing machine with extension table, 20 presser feet, knee lifter over 400 plus stitches and can do embroidery from a pfaff dealer of all places. It was a marriage for me that was meant to be.

    • Nice to hear from you, Corey. Looks like my “Swiss Intern” is here to stay for another year at least. Which is great, because I don’t know what I’d do without him! Your new machine sounds fantastic. Enjoy!

      • Maybe they will let you keep him or they will let you have it at a very reduced price. Whatever the option, I would take it. I have sewing projects – home dec for my bedroom, my white pjs, bathrobe in white polar fleece for winter. my own fall clothing line, and summer wrap dress for my mom. The fabric is all lined up and ready to go, so one project at a time.

  4. Loved your comment about bagging, headaches and wine! What a great dress, again. And that bolero is wonderful. I have one UFO…. Marfy 2922. It’s been cut out and ready to sew for probably two years. I just don’t need it in my wardrobe, and therefore, don’t really feel an urgent need to finish it. So it sits in my sewing room, balefully glaring at me…..

    • Yeah, the thing about bagging is that it’s completely counterintuitive, so you need to check it at each step or the thing won’t turn right side out (don’t ask me how I know). As for UFOs, it can be hard to get going after the first flush of passion is gone!

  5. Beautiful bolero and so clever to have it reversible. Funny how the old pattern instructions assumed you had some knowledge of sewing. I’m trying to keep my UFO’s to a minimum but you never know when one will surface.

    • It is funny about those sewing instructions, because with the old mail order patterns, they had to squeeze all of the instructions on one sheet, so they can be pretty brief and mind-boggling.

  6. That bolero is fabulous, and such a funny post. My new sewing adventure is off to a roaring thud, so it’s great to know that humor keeps the projects going smoothly. Must say, my new Bernina is a dream, in spite of my clumsiness.

  7. Gosh. I have a bunch of UFOs. One needs hemming and a waist band – that’s all!!! And because that’s all, it’d been taking me forever to finish. Plus it’s silk so I’m like ohhhh the worrrrrk. Silly me. Another is a dress design I’m trying to perfect but for now I will probably turn the fabric into a skirt. *sigh*

    On another note, I was at ISW on Friday and was going to say I didn’t know they had a third floor but now I recall seeing a staircase in the back near the trims and notions. Next time..

    • Yes, definitely sneak up there and nose around. I found the oldest fabrics on the shelves along the walls. Be sure to inspect whatever you buy, because some of the bolts are faded on the end and the crease. I’ve gotten some lovely wool challis, and they have nice tweeds, too.

  8. I have two blouses waiting for button holes. I get to the buttonholes and freeze up, especially if the project has gone well…fear of the unfixable mistake at the very end of the project….argh!

    • I know what that’s like. After you’ve put so much heart and soul in a project, that anxiety can put brakes on things. Just remind yourself that most people have no clue what a proper buttonhole looks like, and go for it!

  9. A very beautiful UFO, love the little touch of colour the piping adds to the bolero.
    And I think the dress works pretty well without the bolero, don’t tell her they belong together, maybe she won’t miss it 😉
    My UFOs? An 18th ct. printed cotton round-robe, that hilarious 40ies crochet jacket you advised me not to throw in the bin and, seems to be the fate of mates, a wool gabardine waistcoat I promised my boyfriend to sew two years ago.

  10. I have one UFO I can think of- a linen blazer which I cut out and began to put together a few years ago. I now don’t think I’ll ever wear it, so although it’s almost finished, I’ve never gotten around to putting the second sleeve in.

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