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

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.

My intentions were good…I had a 1925 pattern, loosely-based on a Schiaparelli design, that I’d been dying to try.


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:


(Details here from Metropolitan Museum’s Online Collection)

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


(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:


(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…


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

So anyway, so far so good:


(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!)


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.)


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:


(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.


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:


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.


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.


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:


(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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.)

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

  1. I have to agree that the vest doesn’t cut it. A very apt description of what a vest is (hot flash with frozen elbows)! Your jacket however is a winner. I need to get a bulky overlock foot for my Bernina; looks like it does a multitude of wonderful things.

  2. Lovely post – thank you! Particularly liked seeing the Lobster Dress, which I’d read about but not seen. Also enjoyed all the details on ponte. Question: Any suggestions or recommendations, perhaps from Mood, for moi who can’t forget the horrible 70s knits, and hasn’t a clue what to look for in a ‘good’ bit of ponte? Thoroughly agree with you on vests & love your description!

    • Hi Del, I’ve had good luck with Eileen Fisher ponte and knits when I can find them. I got this ponte on JustMakeItSew.com. Otherwise I like working with knits that have wool in them, because they’re not terribly slippery and they respond to steam. I got the jacket fabric from EmmaOneSock.com, and I’ve bought merino wool jersey from The Fabric Store in L.A.

      • Thank you sooo much for those references, Julie! You reminded me of some stashed blue knit I got from TFB in LA, and I’ve looked from time to time at EOS’ things, but not purchased. Yet. JustMakeItSew.com & Eileen Fisher are new to me. Will go check ’em out!

  3. Tried and true is always a good way to go (your new jacket is a winner!), but trying something new has its own thrills, doesn’t it!? You never know – it could have been a winner, too. Hopefully next time!

  4. I love the Mc Cardellgan. Great pattern creation. Perfect fabric. Unfortunately I have now found the use of those weird vest type garments older women wear. Now I am older, I realise they are coming into use in my wardrobe, as quick warmer uppers over a sweater, to be discarded as soon as their purpose is achieved. Sadly you may find out eventually too!

  5. Love that jacket. Handbag from vest? Alas, I am becoming addicted to down vests at home, over Mom Jeans (well, I am a mom, and I did make them, so that much is true). I am just grateful that sewing down clothing is not a practical activity in a home setting, and I’m not renting myself out for the afternoon at Pacific Down to learn how.

    I have my limits!

  6. Love, love, love your jacket! As for the vest, I have a similar knit in my stash. Tough stuff. It looks like the Schiaparelli style pattern needs the belt for shaping. Maybe in wool jersey?

  7. I do love your finished jacket! As for vests….not only do the elbows get chilly, but unless you have great arms, ugh. As I do not have great arms mine shall remain ensconced in sleeves. And your first timed selfie made me laugh, what a great post!

  8. Pingback: Swan Dive into the “Crap Ditch?” Wonder Tape Can Help. | Jet Set Sewing

  9. Pingback: Golden Girls Go Zen and “Claire McCardell’s Gay New Hostess Sash” | Jet Set Sewing

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