I sewed for the Oscars again, and lived!

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few years, you know that I am an Oscar widow – meaning that I hand my husband over to the show for several months, and then I get to go!

I’ve worn me-made on the red carpet a couple of times, first this “crushed” boatneck (with a pleat in the neckline) and long skirt:


(I have no idea what happened to the rest of that picture…)

And last year I wore the Madame Gres dress from hell that I wrote about ad nauseum:


But I swore I wouldn’t go down the eveningwear road again without doing a “sit and sew” with Kenneth King or Susan Khalje. You need someone like that to have your back.

However, when Santa brought me these bakelite Art Deco dress clips:


I got to thinking about the gorgeous, houndstoothy black tweed in my stash, waiting around to become the perfect quilted “little black jacket” with three-part sleeves, princess seams and all that jazz. I even had lining and trim.

Yet in my heart of hearts, having made jackets like that before, I knew that going the full Chanel was never, ever going to happen again.

And here’s why:

(Watching this Chanel Haute Couture Video will probably give you anxiety…)

But I needed to use the stash for something, so I started thinking about making a version of this McCardelligan that I’ve made a couple of times from knits. It’s based on an original McCardell jacket in my collection. She often designed similar jackets in wovens, and since the pieces were cut on the bias, the fabric is stretchy under the arms – no gusset needed.


I decided to go for it, because stash-busting is my middle name this year.

I started out cutting out the exterior fashion fabric, joyful that I was cutting out four pieces instead of 13 for a traditional jacket.IMG_5589

I always cut bias pieces in a single layer, and check and double check when pinning and cutting to ensure that they’re going to meet in the center front and center back in a “V”. If both sides end up going in the same direction, the whole thing can twist.

Who else hates thread tracing? That’s the haute couture technique where you baste around the pattern pieces on the seam line to help with construction and fitting.

I decided to fake it with a long machine basting stitch. Because sometimes if you get too bogged down in this stuff, you never get the thing done.


I marked the two darts and started putting the whole thing together.


With only two darts and five seams, it was pretty much smooth sailing. I even had a chain I’d bought, pre-sewn onto a ribbon, that I attached to the hem with a piping foot:


Yee haw! Then all I had to make was…the bias silk lining. Eep!

Now cutting and sewing silk on the bias is a different animal. It slips! It slides! It shifts! It sucks! (But it feels so good when you stop.)

Once again I laid out the pattern in a single layer, pinned it with loads of pins, and started cutting with my Kai serrated shears, which are the only game in town. (FYI, I’m not a Kai affiliate, just an addict.)

Then I kept the pattern pinned to the silk and faked the thread tracing again, with a narrow zigzag.


So far so good, until I goofed up and, noting that the fabric was burbling up as it got to the feed dogs, I started repinning as I was sewing. Big mistake! That works when I’m sewing things on the grain, but since bias fabric will move all around, I should have left well enough alone.

Fortunately, I had cut large seam allowances, so I literally had some wiggle room. I had to move things around as I sewed the lining together (again with a narrow zigzag, which is forgiving when you’re sewing on the bias).


And in the end it looked okay:


When I put the whole thing together, matching the lining seams to the exterior seams on the “wiggly” side was not happening.


But I was able to shift things around and smooth it out.

I attached the neckline (nervous nervous nervous):


By then I’d realized that I just needed to break down and hand-baste to keep the lining stable.

I had thought that I could do some quilting of the exterior and lining at this point, but since the bias was wonky, I stitched in the ditch by hand a little to tamp down the seams, then edge-stitched by hand around the neck and center fronts.


My clever pre-sewn chain was making the hem too stiff, so I trimmed the ribbon.


When I finally got everything stabilized, I pinned the hem, trying on the jacket several times to make sure that everything was lying flat.


Whew! After that, sewing on the trim was smooth sailing. (Even though I was doing most of it the day of the show!)


At the very last minute, I sewed on some brass hooks and eyes (lacking McCardell’s traditional brass shoe hooks and rings) and added the dress clips. Even the backs of the clips were Art Deco.


Then came the hardest part – pressing the crappy ready-to-wear viscose dress I’d bought to go with it on the hotel ironing board. The dress was a simple sleeveless long dress with a big slit and a sort of 30s godet, so get a good picture in your mind’s eye because that’s where it’s going to stay.IMG_5909




I was so excited about wearing a wool and silk jacket in L.A. in February, because I’m usually freezing on the red carpet and in the theater. This time around, though, it was 80 degrees! My husband was walking about 90 miles an hour and for some weird reason was more interested in getting inside to schmooze with people than to photograph me seven or eight times on the red carpet as I was having a hot flash. I tried to pull a Norma Desmond on him but he was not buying it. Consequently, the red carpet picture was awful.

So I’ll stick with pictures from the Governors’ Ball, which was so chilly that I overheard Charlize Theron, in Dior Haute Couture, complaining about the cold.


Next year I’m sure she’ll be sensible and show up in toasty jacket like me.


I did get a peek at Jennifer Garner (tall, in Versace) and Reese Witherspoon (shorter, in Oscar de la Renta) and really wished I could have gotten up closer to inspect the construction of their dresses. I’m sure they would have thought that it was just super-girly and not weird at all.

jennifer-garner-oscars-red-carpet-2016reese-witherspoon-oscars-red-carpet-2016There weren’t a lot of dresses I was crazy about, though I did like that Kerry Washington took a walk on the wild side in Versace:


And Amy Poehler, in Andrew GN, proved that you don’t have to be undressed to be fierce:


Here’s the most important picture – the desserts!


(A tiramisu push-up, creme brûlée on a stick, and a chocolate Oscar. Chomp!)

Oh no! I bit off Oscar’s legs!


And here, at long last, is my official red carpet portrait:


Okay, it’s a bad wall selfie, because my husband is so FIRED as my photographer. (Oops, just remembered that he’s my ride to the Oscars. Just kidding, hon!) But you get the picture on the jacket.

Of course McCardell, being a minimalist, would have put topstitching on the edges instead of that Chanel-y trim. But it’s really comfy, and now after going to all of that trouble, I have something to wear out to dinner, too.

To misquote Scarlett O’Hara, “as God is my witness, I will never Chanel again!”

How’s your sewing going?


26 thoughts on “I sewed for the Oscars again, and lived!

  1. I’ve been waiting for your post from the Oscars. Sounds like another fun night and I wish I could be there too. Wonderful job on the jacket. Your art deco clips accent the trim prefectly. I bet you were a lot more comfortable than Charlize, although she did look amazing. I recognize the fabric from your crushed boatneck top. Maybe I’ll get back to Paris some day soon. Thanks for the inside look.

  2. Love this. Understated and totally chic. Great clips, too. I didn’t like the dresses much this year, either. The women are beautiful but the gowns so predictable. It would be nice to see people take more risks (other than extreme décolleté…yawn), as you noted re. Amy P.

  3. Oh, mais oui, this is the ….essay (blog post sounds digestive) I’ve been waiting for. A little inspiration, a little terror, a push-up tiramisu (swoons). Adventure, excitement, bias success and dessert!
    And now I have another video to watch (complete with Vitruvian woman)! Thanks again, sweetie! You are a solid gold award winning pal! And I needs a jacket like that one.

    Is there a good resource for McCardell?

    • Thanks hon! Yes, we should all get tiramisu after sewing on the bias. As for McCardell resource, the book “Redefining Modernism” by Nolf and Yohanna is really comprehensive, and if you can find the 70s compilation “American Fashion” (released in the 70s by FIT) it’s got the goods on McCardell, Norell, Trigere, Mainbocher and Adrian.

  4. After watching your progress on IG, it’s so great to see the finished product. So beautiful! I just love Amy Poehler’ s dress. Stunning and unique, like your ensemble.

  5. Stunning, as always! When the Oscar dresses made the news over here my husband asked: ‘What was Julie wearing?’ He remembered the epic tale of last year’s dress! European men waiting for your red carpet picture may very well justify a consult with Kenneth or Susan, or your photographer doing his duty for that matter!

    • That’s great, and I’m going to run that comment by my husband to justify a “sit and sew!” He and my son can toast their own bagels for a few days while I pursue haute couture adequacy.

  6. That is a darling jacket and your ensemble looked really nice. I also confess to taking couture shortcuts most of the time. Rather than trying to mark stitching lines with thread (whether machine or hand stitched) I go the route of cutting the seam allowances very accurately and using them to determine placement of seamlines. It works well enough for me.

    • Thank you! Your method is a good way to go when you’re sure of the fit. In my case, I often need to (ahem) widen a few areas… Sewing on the bias I stick to large seam allowances because it shifts all the place and I need the insurance.

  7. Gorgeous! I’ve been waiting for your Oscar post, and this witty post was well worth the wait. Your jacket is lovely. I totally agree with you about Kai scissors, as there are no others comparable, imho. I only thread trace when I’m sewing for other people. So lazy! 🙂

    • I learned my lesson again about thread tracing, though, if you don’t do it on difficult fabric you’ll be soooorry! Next time I work with silk I’ll bite the bullet and thread trace with it lying flat – really.

  8. I had no idea you had such lofty exploits! Very fabulous indeed, and your outfit (if only completed in our minds’ eyes) is sensational. Elegant. Love the trims. And oh those desserts and an Oscar sushi! What a delightful post.

  9. Pingback: Oscars Report: Karl’s Feud With Meryl (and Georgia O’Keeffe, sewing peep) | Jet Set Sewing

  10. Your writing style is informative and yet you bring humour and the hman element which makes your work like eating chocolate cake!

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