Sewing a retro mermaid skirt (McCalls 7386), a 20s-vibe sweater coat (Vogue 8930), and a 50s McCardell bolero; but still it was all downhill until I made a pink hat…

Oh hey! Remember the good ol’ days? Like, in June?

If you’re a U.S. reader, it’s entirely possible you’ve been experiencing a bit of anxiety lately. I know I have. Personally, I blame a major Italian fashion house for my slide into bad karmaland.

There I was in late July, wearing my not-terribly-tatty workout clothes and carrying a completely acceptable non-It bag, cutting through the mall to get to Star Market for groceries, when I spotted this dress in the middle of a store:


Well, of course I had to take a picture for Instagram, because I’d seen 70s Halston dresses that are just like it. Here’s one from the excellent Yves Saint Laurent + Halston exhibition  that was at the Museum at FIT a couple of years ago (on the left):


So I dashed in, and the minute I got out my phone to take a picture, the security guard streaked to the back room of the store.

Suddenly a very officious and nervous young manager came speedwalking out, insisting that I had to stop taking pictures and leave! I don’t know if my non-Bedazzled workout clothes were disturbing the shopping zen of the overdressed foreign tourists taking selfies right next to me, but clearly I had to go.


Anyway, I guess he figured I wasn’t in the market for a $1,300 cotton dress that you or I could make on a Tuesday for 50 bucks tops, with a pattern like Butterick 6446.

b6446_aNext I cut through Lord and Taylor, and, because I still had blanket coats on the brain after making the The 50s “Coat Even A Beginner Can Make” (or a Capote even Truman might wear), I snapped a pic of this easy-to-hack wool jacket by St. John:


Fortunately, the nice ladies at L&T didn’t give a hoot that I was taking a picture of this $1,300 “putty melange” wrapper.


Seriously, you put it on, one of your friends does a red wine “spit take” on you and you’re on the floor crying.

Even though my sewing machine, AKA Karl, was still mad at me from making him do “le pivot” on my last make, I decided that stitching up a retro shawl-collar jacket was in the stars. They were everywhere!



I decided to make one from  Vogue 8930, as people were waxing poetic about the pattern on Pattern Review. Another blogger skillfully explained the mania you can get from thinking about this pattern, along with the naughty alternate name that it has: Vogue 8930 review with hilarious naughty name.

By then it was August, and it was so hot in my charming-yet-non-air-conditioned sewing shed that all I felt like doing was making muslins, believe it or not (in this case, a tracing-paper test version of the pattern). Even the thought of fitting actual fabric gave me a hot flash.


I knew from the get-go that this was an oversized pattern, so I went down a size to make a Medium, when I’m normally a retail L or XL. But the first version, upper left, still had a lot of volume. The dropped sleeves were oversized and a little 80s as well, so I took them in a couple of inches under the pit, shown top right. Then I chopped 4″ off around the collar and hem, shown bottom right, but it still seemed big to me.

Meanwhile, I was showing my progress via Instagram and getting a lot of good advice from sewing people all over the world. In the end, I took a total of 8″ off the collar and hem to get the silhouette I was looking for (bottom left).

There are two ways to sew this pattern in the instructions: either unlined with overlapping  unfinished seams, or completely lined. However, as I have never encountered a pattern that I can’t make more difficult if I really put my mind to it, I decided to only line half of it around the collar.

When I start cutting the wool for the exterior, once again I heard “MERDE! NOT LE PIVOT” from Karl, my Bernina. Then I told him I was doing French seams, which means you sew the seam once, then flip it and sew it again to give it a nice finish.

You know those Grumpy Cat memes? Karl was giving me that look.


I knew he could do it! Though I did find it was too bulky when I tried to cross together two French seams, so I kind of chopped that part and you’ll never see a picture of that. (The fabric is a pretty doubleknit wool that I bought from Emma One Sock.)

To line and face the collar, I used some silk crepe de chine I’d had printed up by My Fabric Designs. They’d offered me a credit to try their printing service, so I’d uploaded some original Art Deco fashion graphics from my collection. It’s good quality silk, and the printing is nice and crisp.


This one’s called “The Death of Love” (in French) and, geez, haven’t we all been there after a breakup, floating comatose down a cold river, boob hanging out, but still miraculously wearing our “kiss me” (or something) pumps?

I cut the collar lining, then it was back to Instagram. Does this pattern make my headlights look like lowlights?


Sewing people are nice and polite on IG, but like true friends, they wisely advised me to re-cut it.

I had chopped so much off the hem that the pockets were going to stick out the bottom, so Karl and I added ponte binding. It’s a nice finish for knits.


I did a little hand pick-stitching to secure the edge of the newly-cut collar, as topstitching would have been “meh.”


Then it was off to the Boston Symphony to drown out the cacophony of the election.


I went to bed on election night hoping to wake to a celebration of the first American woman president. Instead I found myself sentenced to four years of my husband kvetching about politics at the breakfast table.

At that point, there was only one thing I could do with all of that agita. Go hide somewhere and make something.

I needed a long black skirt for an event, and had bought some mysterious “athe-lounge” “anti-pill” ponte type stuff at JoAnn’s that had a lot of body and magical lycra. I’d liked the retro mermaid-type cut on McCalls 7386, and since it was a “Learn To Sew For Fun” pattern, I figured it would be doable on a day when I really couldn’t be trusted with sharp objects.


Three seams and some elastic later I had a nice skirt. It’s a very easy and well-drafted pattern. The fabric was so artificial that I skipped sewing the bottom hem and gave it a smooth finish by gluing it with Lite Steam-a-Seam 2, because it just seemed like a day to throw all sense and tradition out the window.

A couple of weeks later, half the country was still driven to distraction, as was I. I decided that the only sewing I had the patience for was the “One Yard Wonder” contest on Pattern Review, where you took a yard or meter from your stash and made something creative.

I used some vintage Savile Row suiting wool to whip up a 50s Claire McCardell bolero pattern, as it’s cut on the bias to create a pretty chevron with striped fabric.


As a single woman in her early 30s, McCardell bought a drafty farmhouse a stone’s throw from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where the Algonquin Round Table crowd had decamped to escape New York’s cafe society. She thought of her designs as “solving problems” for herself and the modern woman, so she created eveningwear with jackets and shrugs like this from wool – often men’s suiting fabrics – to stay warm at dinners in cold country houses and ski resorts.

This pattern uses one unusually-shaped pattern piece that’s doubled. I cut the first side in a single layer, then flipped the cut piece, still pinned to the pattern, and lined up the stripes to cut the second piece, to make sure that the stripes would meet in the middle in a chevron.


Then I used Wonder Tape to match the stripes before I sewed.


At this point I was joking on Instagram that I was making a giant bra, and other guesses were a one-armed top or large manta ray stuffed toy.


I lined it with some silk crepe de chine that My Fabric Designs printed up with photos I’d taken in Paris. (The lining didn’t count toward the one yard/meter in the contest.)


I got in the true McCardell spirit by topstitching the edges (she pioneered putting topstitching from work clothes on womenswear in the 40s). I was so not in the mood for more hand pick-stitching.


Karl did an awesome job as usual. I was pleased with the results.


Those Pattern Review contests are tough, and even though I didn’t win, it’s always fun to be in the gallery with so many talented peeps.

For my last anxiety-relieving project, well, several million of my women friends and I kept hearing about how our president-to-be was fond of cats or something, and since he’d spent a great deal of his life in a big, gilded tower, we decided to welcome him to the People’s House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a little parade. And to make sure that he knew we were girls, we decided to knit, crochet and sew attractive pink hats. Little did we know how popular this particular crafting project would be. Details and patterns are here: Pussy Hat Project.

I hadn’t knit for years, but decided to switch to the dark side for this project. I noticed that the patterns were similar to a pattern floating around for a version of Elsa Schiaparelli’s 30s “Madcap,” a soft hat that could be worn number of ways. Here’s that pattern: Madcap Pattern. There’s a cute sewn version of the pattern on Kate’s blog Fabrickated.

And here’s one of the original Schiaparelli Madcaps in the Metropolitan Museum‘s online collection:


How I adore the thousands of images of fashion history on!

Wearing a retro in-your-face hat seemed appropriate, since during World War II the Parisiennes took to wearing bizarre hats as a way to show that someone could take their city, but not their fashionable souls.

I mixed together the 30s pattern and a Loopy Mango knitting pattern to create a dark aubergine-pinkish chenille topper, suitable for madcap parties and protest marches.


I used size six chenille super-bulky yarn, size 15 needles, and cast on 33 stitches. Stockinette stitched until I thought it was tall enough (about 8″). Folded it over and sewed the top and side (I’m wearing it purl side out). And that officially got knitting out of my system for another five years.

After the ladies’ Welcome Wagon marched through a major portion of the world, many of us in the U.S. had the hope that our new public servant would get the message, as it takes a lot to be named “Employee of the Month” around here. Time will tell, but it’s not looking good so far.

Play it, Bonnie. (Bonnie Raitt “Sugar Mama”)

Now that Karl has hidden my knitting needles, it’s time to get back to sewing! How’s your sewing going?




38 thoughts on “Sewing a retro mermaid skirt (McCalls 7386), a 20s-vibe sweater coat (Vogue 8930), and a 50s McCardell bolero; but still it was all downhill until I made a pink hat…

  1. I don’t know about that yooubg manager, he probably thought you were casing the joint for an over 40’s robbery. We all have that hardened prson vibe. If it happens again, give the little twit the excuse that your husband wants to know what you want for your birthday, anniversary etc., and you need to give him explicit directions, otherwise you wind up with a fishing rod.
    Nice make on the pink hat. I live in Canada, I was very proud to find out that 60,000 (mostly) female protesters came out to New City Hall on the 21st. Considering the temperatures in Toronto, and our traditional laid back temperaments, this was unheard of. Trump is unpopular everywhere.

  2. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good” because my favorite creative bloggers are adding political comments to their posts. Keep it up!

  3. I have a long term bet about yodeling with the manager of Archie MacPhee (go check them out, I’ll be here), but my voice just goes when I walk in the door. My father taught me how; is that child abuse? As for the dirndl, Burda can always be relied on for said dresses, loden coats and lederhosen. Two of which are on my to-do list, but not in leder.

    So many puns come to mind. Back to the Burda sewing. Keep the pink hat faith, sweetie.

  4. At least you canalized your rage by making gorgeous garments! I’ll keep your McCall’s skirt in mind for last minute invitations to formal events. May copy that one, glued hems and all.

  5. I had such a great laugh reading your post, thanks for the laugh. Of course your political situation is no laughing matter so as mentioned above, a sense of humour will need to be found wherever you can get it. Love the little jacket and the printed views of Paris on your fabric. I must remember that.

  6. I love your pussy hat!

    It warms my heart somewhat to see sewing bloggers I love being part of the Womens March, I have been hearing / watching all the horror unfold from the other side of the world, even from a distance, it’s terrifying. Solidarity! We have a long tradition of women marching to get sh*t sorted out there too (though, we STILL have to protest?!).

    Also, your method for assembling the bias chevron is helpful, I have a couple of projects I’d like to incorporate a chevron into.

    Thanks for sharing, love your work as always.

  7. Glad someone else thinks the pussy hat looks like Schiaparelli’s design! After the protest, you can tuck in one corner, tilt it at a jaunty angle and go for cocktails!

  8. Pingback: Is it okay for feminists to sew? Or: Want a man? Get a sewing machine. | Jet Set Sewing

  9. Just found your site and I love it, especially this attitude about 45. I went into my sewing room and have been sewing constantly since. Nightgowns and a robe. More in the pipeline. Will be reading from now on.

  10. Wow, you have been busy! I hope it helped to distract you from all the stories from the White House in the end, though it seems as if there will be endless sequels for quite some time.
    Love the idea of using lining printed with personal photos. I know there are companies like My fabric designs in Europe as well, maybe I should try it sometime.

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

  12. Pingback: Outfit for a Party at Museum of Modern Art (Versions 1 through 5) and scenes from their “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” Exhibit | Jet Set Sewing

  13. Pingback: A Steamy Post on a Pressing Matter: Making the Papercut Patterns “Sapporo Coat” | Jet Set Sewing

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