The 50s “Coat Even A Beginner Can Make” (or a Capote even Truman might wear)

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Once in a while I open up a vintage pattern and think “jackpot!”

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I have no idea why I was obsessing about blanket coats during the hottest, stickiest stretch of July. Probably the same reason I order sandals from Zappos in February – because they represent the balmy future instead of the dish-doing now.

A lot of blanket coat patterns are too oversized and 80s for my tastes, though I’ll admit even I went through a “cowgirl rides the range” period wearing Ralph Lauren dirndls with chunky sweaters and cowboy boots. Going back there at this age, however, is a little too “Dale Evans” for my lifestyle.

But when I saw this early 50s “Blancoat” pattern, which apparently was a PR boondoggle released by the North Star blanket company, I had to go for it. It’s a coat that’s “so simple, anyone can do it, even if you’ve never sewn before.”

I think you can see where this is going.

I was delighted to open it up and find a typewritten sheet explaining the pattern. It was “the ideal pattern for the busy housewife of today, either novice or experienced sewer, who has so many demands on her time.” That’s me in a nutshell.

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You, person who had never sewn before, could make a lined coat from velvet! Silk! Satin! Taffeta! All so easy to work with!

The clincher was that “the public knows Blancoat because of a complete and effective national public relations campaign” which included CBS’s “Morning Show.”

Back in the day, I used to write for the grandbaby of that show, CBS Morning News, in the 80s when it was hosted by an actress who was known for Polaroid commercials. It was a great job, even though the show was terrible. I used to go down to the canteen in the basement of West 57th and see Andy Rooney in the lunch line! And I got to talk to big (though fading) stars like Steve Allen and Helen Hayes. But I quickly learned that the true divas (and holy terrors) were the women who did the cooking and craft segments.

I remember one show, a few months before the whole staff got laid off, that was “guest hosted” by lovable but sardonic actor George Segal. He had to do a cooking segment with an author who called herself “Supermom,” and after a few minutes of her saying “George do this” and “George do that” Segal plunked down his spatula and sputtered, “you’re awfully domineering, Supermom.”

So I had a soft spot for this pattern. It was designed “by the Italian couturier, Vincent Dante…an expert when it comes to styling.” Though I’m pretty good at tracking down obscure designers from the 50s, my guess is that Vinnie was the tailor for the president of the White Star blanket company.

The concept of the pattern, though, is much older. It’s based on the “Capote” blanket coats that trappers used make out of Hudson Bay blankets. They didn’t waste a scrap, making it one of the original “zero waste” designs. You can read about the history of the Capote coat here. And this website shows examples of the coats with sample patterns.   The body of the coat is cut in one big piece, and the sleeves are inserted in slashes.

(Though somehow I can’t picture Truman Capote, the author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and man of style, wearing his namesake coat.)

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Wearing History has released a cute 30s version of a blanket coat pattern, which you can find here. It’s not the traditional construction, but it is fun and retro.

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Even though I grew up in the “Grand Traverse” of northern Michigan, I live in East Coast preppy-land now, so honestly you’re not going to see me in anything made from a blanket. Not even an attractive negligee like this:

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(Note to Vincent Dante, Italian Couturier: use a cool iron on that acetate.)

So I decided to sew together several beach towels to make a retro bathrobe instead.

Karl, my fine fine Bernina 560, was having a lovely time overlocking them with presser foot #2A:

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I cut out the massive body pattern piece on the fold, taking up three beach towels:

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I was intrigued by the notion that “practically the entire outfit is put together in a matter of minutes, merely by running one long seam through the sewing machine.”

Then I looked at the instructions.

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That “one long seam” on the top right – I could see that it had at least one pivot.

That’s when Karl, who was reading over my shoulder, shrieked “Merde! Quelle horreur! Not le PIVOT!”

Those of you who have attached non-traditional collars like this have lived through the pivot. It all looks so easy-peasy in the instructions, but what’s really happening is that one piece of fabric is going one way and the other is going another and they really don’t want to go through the feeddogs together, no matter how much you pin, maneuver, clip, or cajole.

Karl started whimpering, “don’t make me do the pivot.”

I reassured him, “but it’s so easy, just look at these super-helpful explanations on the pattern pieces.”

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Karl was not impressed. “It says ‘place sleeves here,’ not ‘prepare to die.'”

But after I had a drink and I gave Karl some oil, we were sufficiently lubricated so we went for the pivot.

I won’t give you the play-by-play of the further shrieking and crying on both of our parts when four seams met at the pivot, but it ended up looking like Mount Vesuvius:

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The construction detail was worth it, though:

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Eventually we calmed down and cleaned up the seams, then finished the hems with Hug Snug rayon binding:

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I covered some snaps with silk:

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And called it done.

 

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Just right for my summer walk across the yard to the outdoor shower! (Try to ignore my bad sewing hair…) We live about 25 feet from an historic site that has walking tours, so this is the perfect thing to keep me from accidentally flashing the tourists. After all, there are only so many relics they can stand to view in one day.

Okay, then it was time to put my makes in the back of the Mini to take to the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair!

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(“Please don’t wrinkle! Please don’t wrinkle! Please don’t wrinkle!”)

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Nice score on my Claire McCardell dirndl and sash hack! The “Blancoat” got a blue ribbon, too.

Will I ever attempt a blanket coat again? Well, maybe, but shhhhh…. don’t mention it to Karl!

How’s your sewing going?

 

 

(To learn more about how Karl came into my life, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

 

I sewed for the Oscars again, and lived!

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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:

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(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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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).

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And in the end it looked okay:

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

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

I attached the neckline (nervous nervous nervous):

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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

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Showtime!

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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.

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

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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:

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

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Here’s the most important picture – the desserts!

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

Oh no! I bit off Oscar’s legs!

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

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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?

 

Never Too Old for a Toga Party (or–Cotton Jersey, never again!)

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Can a middle-aged woman pull off a toga? (Figuratively of course, though I went to my share of toga parties in college…)

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For Pattern Review’s Historical Fashion contest, I was raring to go with a pattern by a famous 50s designer–fabrics, notions, everything I needed. Then I read the rules…nothing later than 1929! Eeeeek! Darn you contest committee! (Actually, though, not knowing the rules until a few days before the contests start makes them more fun.)

I still wanted to be a part of the contest, because making garments with a history is what I do. But I wasn’t taking it too seriously, what with all of those Regency, Renaissance, Downton Abbey and reenactor sewing people out there. I knew someone would be ripping down the drapes and coming up with an antebellum outfit that would put Scarlet to shame, so my chances of winner were low. I wanted to join the fun, though.

Rooting through my stash, I saw that I had a nice length of lightweight cotton jersey that I’d bought at The Fabric Store in L.A. I’d been wanting to make my own version of the Claire McCardell dress that I’d made for my sister last fall. Here’s my niece modeling the dress:

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Though McCardell first introduced a version of the “monastic dress” (loose and belted, like a monk’s robe) in the late 30s, it morphed into a more Grecian toga-like style in the 40s. This design was so popular that I remember women wearing cheap nylon nightgown versions of it (and those pink plastic hair rollers) in the 60s, several years after McCardell’s death. The design is gathered tightly at the neckline, and then either gathered at the waist with a belt, or gathered under the bust with McCardell’s famous “spaghetti strings” that wrap three or four times around to the waist.

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But the origins of this design are earlier–the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century–when wearing a toga-style gown was an act liberation for women. In the late 1800s, the “Aesthetic Dress Movement” encouraged women to lose the corsets and dress in a more bohemian way, in loose, simple dresses with a more Renaissance look. Here’s an example from the 1880s, by Liberty and Co., in The Metropolitan Museum’s online collection:

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The style caught on in the U.S., as women began performing amateur theatricals with “tableaux vivants” that resembled the artwork on Grecian urns. In the vaudeville halls, Ruth St. Denis was performing dances evoking ancient cultures, though nothing about the dances was particularly culturally accurate. (Apparently she got the idea for one dance when she saw an Egyptian illustration on a pack of cigarettes.)

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In Europe, people performed “Eurythmy” in togas (a form of movement to music):

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And Isadora Duncan’s performances popularized this free-spirited look throughout the world.

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Soon, this style of toga-like design, worn without much in the way of undergarments, showed up in the day and evening clothes of the time, one example being the form-fitting pleated “Delphos” gowns by Fortuny:

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The toga look was part of the “Physical Culture” movement in the U.S., which encouraged women to get out of the corset, get out of the house, and exercise for health.

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“That’s going to be meee in the backyard!” I shouted. My husband and son looked up briefly, nonplussed, and then went back to their iPads. McCardell herself was a fan of Fortuny, and she owned one of the Delphos dresses, which were so highly pleated they were kept coiled up in what looked like a small hatbox. So I figured  this was the right pattern to mimic the toga style.

Having made this dress before. (here’s the scoop on that) I learned a few things:

1. Don’t put the pocket in upside down:

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It’s a big dress. You can get lost! This time I used chalk to mark the pieces so I could keep track of where I was.

2. Do the piping and other details before the dress is assembled to avoid this:

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3. Gather and assemble the neckline before doing the side seams, because the dress below it is so big that the fit can be modified during the construction. I was able to use the same size pattern that fits my size Medium sister, though I’m a retail XL, because most of the fit takes place in the underbust gathering.

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The most challenging part of remaking this dress was working with lightweight cotton jersey. Those little roll-y edges! I had worked with wool jersey plenty, but if you press those edges before sewing, they’ll stay put for awhile. All I had to do was breathe on the cotton jersey and the edges rolled back up again, making the seams very difficult to sew. (I don’t use a serger.) Grrrr! I finally ended up using Steam-a-Seam to stabilize the seams and hems, because it’s what I had around.

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It does give you nice hems on knits!

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This dress has a very similar structure to the bodice of Marilyn Monroe’s “Seven Year Itch” dress, designed by William Travilla, which starts with pleats at the neckline and is gathered again under the bust.

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The good thing about all of the volume in the gathers, though, is that jersey doesn’t cling to your lumps and bumps.

I made McCardell’s famous “spaghetti strings” using some scraps of vintage fabric to create more than 5 yards/meters of piping:

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I stitched it twice, then trimmed close to the stitching:

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So comfortable to wear! The volume of the gathers really gives it movement.

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Here’s Writer/Actress Mindy Kaling, wearing a similar look in InStyle Magazine a few months ago.

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It never goes out of style! Now out to the backyard, to thoroughly embarrass my family with some Isadora Duncan dance moves! Tra la! How’s your sewing going?

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

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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:

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(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:

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Baby!

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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!

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An Interview with Susan Khalje, Halston Inside-out, and The Battle of Versailles!

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More pics below from the Yves St. Laurent + Halston exhibit, and the 70s patterns you can find to recreate them… but first a heads up about an interview just posted with haute couture master teacher Susan Khalje.

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I’m a huge fan of Susan and her practical approach to sewing haute couture. In fact, it was Susan’s “Haute Couture Dress” course that elevated my technique from the “Michigan Basement with Mom School of Sewing” and gave me the courage to tackle the high-flyin’ projects I attempt now.

I had a ball interviewing Susan in her studio last summer, and found her warm and affable in person. She’s now launching her own video series, the first of which, “The Couture Cocktail Dress” is available on her website. Her Classic French Jacket course will be launching soon! I’m really looking forward to that.

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Part One of our interview has just been posted on Bernina USA’s website WeAllSew.com, and you can find it here. In it, we dish about haute couture sewing, how to approach the vexing issue of fitting, and why it’s important to MAKE A MUSLIN, people! (Even if it is like eating your spinach.)

The interview is part of Jet Set Sewing’s collaboration with BERNINA USA, and you can learn details by clicking the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. Once again I have to give a shoutout to Alice, Jeanne, and all of the other nice folks at Bernina who are making this possible. I never could have pulled off the projects I’ve done this year without my B560, Karl, (who’s over there right now tapping his presser foot and saying, “less writing, more sewing, sister”).

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Now, back to the YSL + Halston exhibit that was at the Museum at FIT during the winter…

I wrote about Halston’s background in this post, but it wasn’t until I saw the dresses up close that I got a clear picture of the genius of his draping.

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Like Madeleine Vionnet and Claire McCardell, two influences mentioned in the exhibit, Halston created simple, elegant dresses, many cut on the bias, with clean lines and few visible closures. Those of us who sew know how difficult it is to wrangle a bias cut, which can easily pucker and shift. That his simple designs fell properly, and yet made a statement, was a testament to his skill.

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During the 70s, McCalls Patterns released a number of Halston patterns, which appear to be cut directly from his designs. At the exhibit, I saw several dresses that could be recreated using those patterns:

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(Yes, Yves Saint Laurent and that glamorous 70s fashion model/Halstonette are back to show off more patterns!)

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(You need a Bedazzler for that one.)

There were examples of his “working women” clothes made from UltraSuede, a washable microfiber that’s still being sold:

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The funny story about Halston and UltraSuede is that he learned about it from Japanese designer Issey Miyake, who’s known for his pioneering work with engineered fabrics. There was a language miscommunication, so when Miyake told Halston that UltraSuede was machine washable, Halston thought he meant waterproof. So Halston used it to design the highly impractical trench coat seen on the right.

When I informed my sister that I was coming to New York to crash on her sofabed, something I’ve been doing for, oh, 40 years, she casually mentioned that she had “some Halstons” from the 70s in the back of her closet. Whaaaattt?!

But it’s true…here are some closeups of an UltraSuede jacket of hers, with cut in sleeves and an underarm gusset. No seam finishes needed…easy to cut, sew and wear!

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Even after 40 years, the buttons were still sewn on nice and tight.

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They don’t make ’em like they used to.

I’ve mentioned before that Janet is the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and back in the 70s, she was one of their big stars. She danced a number of the classic Graham roles, and Martha even choreographed a version of “The Scarlet Letter,” featuring Janet as Hester and Rudolf Nureyev as a pretty dishy Dimmesdale.

During that period, as I mentioned in this post about the Museum at FIT’s “Dance and Fashion” exhibit, Halston was very involved in creating costumes for the Graham company, and dressing elderly Martha herself. You didn’t always have to be young and lithe to pull off a Halston design.

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(That’s Martha on the left, looking good with Betty Ford, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor, and Liza Minelli.)

Since this was dance and not Hollywood, the dancers weren’t making a fortune, and on the weeks they weren’t rehearsing or performing, they would go on unemployment. So when the big galas and events would come up, Halston would give Janet and the other dancers gowns to wear.

Here are pictures of a knit cashmere maxi dress and giant cape wrap that Halston gave Janet for the premier of Scarlet Letter:

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It takes up the entire bed! The outfit is similar to the sweater-knit dress and long cardigan on the left of this photo:

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You can use this Halston pattern to approximate that big luxurious wrap; the cut is very similar:

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Here’s Martha Graham looking smashing in a similar wrap, again with Liza Minelli and Halston:

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So, digging further into my sister’s closet, out came this uniquely cut Halston made of chiffon and crepe backed satin.

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It has a silk underslip, and on the overdress, there’s a large circle of satin that starts right below the waist, goes to the bottom of the dress and creeps up the lower back, creating a bubble hem.

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In the middle of the circle is an erotic slash that you put your legs through to walk.

Here’s a little Botticelli angel who floated down from the sky to model the dress:

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(Actually, it’s my sister’s daughter, but same difference. What a gene pool!)

The waist is secured with a six foot long chiffon scarf.

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Mackie the dog, what are you doing getting into the act?

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When I looked at the design, it seemed unusual for Halston. It reminded me of Charles James, who consulted with Haston in the early 70s. (To take a look at the skirt I recreated last year from a 50s Charles James pattern, check out this post.)

Looking on the inside of the dress, I was amazed at the amount hand stitching involved:

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It’s a gorgeous dress.

The last piece of history dug out of my sister’s closet was one of Halston’s famous “Sarong” dresses, shown here in the Museum at FIT exhibit:

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Halston had given Janet one of these dresses in black velvet, which she wore after she performed at the White House during the Ford administration. First Lady Betty Ford had studied dance with Martha Graham, and became one of the champions of the Graham Company during that era.

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That Betty Ford was First Lady at all was completely accidental, as Gerald Ford became President after Nixon resigned in disgrace. Yet she used it as a platform for great social progress; telling people about her battles with breast cancer and drug addition way before anyone else was talking about those things publicly.

According to the book “Halston and Warhol, Silver and Suede,” the sarong dress was invented by Halston one afternoon on Fire Island, when he draped and tied a big bath towel on model Chris Royer.

So here’s the thing about this dress that my sister learned the hard way. You’d better tie it tight.

After Janet’s dance performance, she put on the Halston sarong dress and joined the party. President Ford himself asked her to dance.

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They were having a lovely time. Then her dress started slipping down!

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“If you’ll excuse me Mr. President, I think I need to make a little adjustment…” Luckily, it didn’t land on the floor.

As you can see, when she wore the dress at the Carter White House a few years later, she tied it good and tight!

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Once I got my hands on the dress, I turned it inside out. It looks like a long column, but actually, it’s cut on the bias, and constructed like a corkscrew.

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At the top, there were small pleats with binding at the cleavage, where the ties would meet:

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The ties themselves were part of a self-facing that was cut into the top of the dress. The wearer would fold the top facing inside, around the high bust line, and then tie those ties tight, because nothing else was holding it up!

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The dress itself has a hand-sewn blind hem:

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The silk lining was cut from all one piece as well, hand-hemmed.

And here’s the thing from the interior that really killed me:

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The Independent Ladies Garment Workers Union Label. Made in the U.S.A. Remember the 60s commercial where the women from the union sang “Look for the union label, when you are buying a coat, dress or blouse…”? Well, in hindsight, they were absolutely right.

Okay, we’ve been stranded far too long in the 70s, I know, but I did want to add how much I thoroughly enjoyed the new book The Battle of Versailles by Robin Givhan, fashion critic for the Washington Post. It covers a rare moment in fashion history when five American designers, Halston among them, were invited to show their collections in a “battle” with five French designers, including Yves St. Laurent, in 1973.

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(Yes, I was reading it in the car during school pick-up time…)

Givhan does a masterful job of describing the thrown-together nature of what became a watershed event in fashion. The thing went on for hours, and included Liza Minelli, Nureyev, and Josephine Baker! For those of us who get nerdy about fashion history, there’s plenty of background and dish about the players and egos in the garment industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

She also talks about how the African American models at the event, along with designer Stephen Burrows, broke new ground in the industry through the Versailles event, while saving the bacon of the other U.S. designers by pulling the whole thing off.

My thanks to Stephanie of the blog Ernie K Designs for tipping me off about this great book!

Here’s New York Times Style section photographer Bill Cunningham’s reminiscence about attending the event:

Here are a few more photos from the Yves St. Laurent + Halston exhibit, by both designers.

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(Looks a lot like Claire McCardell, Halston…)

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And here are a few more Halston patterns. They’re not too hard to find on eBay and etsy.com:

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So long, Funkytown! Hm, where should we go next?

Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston

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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”) .

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Then I cut the big neckline hole:

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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.

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

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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:

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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!

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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.)

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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 PatternReview.com, but since the frickin’ Madame Fred gown took until mid-February to finish, there was no time to lose.

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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?

Boston’s “Hollywood Glamour” Exhibit, and Step Away from the 20s Chanel, Ma’am.

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I wanted to share a few pictures from a beautifully-curated “jewel box” of an exhibit I attended recently at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen” features gowns by Chanel, Edith Head, Travis Banton, Schiaparelli and other famous designers and costumers from the 20s through 40s, along with some big flippin’ ROCKS of jewelry…okay, I may be getting a little overexcited, but trust me, if you saw them, you’d have a hot flash, too.

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Let’s start with what, to me, is the best, most beautifully preserved vintage dress I’ve ever seen in person, and that’s saying a lot, as I’ve attended a number of the big fashion exhibits over the past couple of decades.

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The dress was created in the mid-20s by Chanel, and it was worn by actress Ina Claire in a photo for Vogue by Edward Steichen.

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The dress appears to have a black silk bias underslip, and over it is a mesh dress with the most exquisite sequin and beaded flowers. It’s so Chanel and ahead of the curve. The preservation is just pristine.

Though photos without flash are allowed in the exhibit, as I leaned in to get a closeup of the beading, a loud BEEEEEEPPPPPP rang out through the hushed room, and I was suddenly worried the “authorities” from Casablanca would come bursting in. Readers, these are the risks I take for you.

The dress is from the collection of U.S. Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles. In previous posts, I’ve written about my extreme jealousy of his writing prowess and large couture collection. Hamish, invite me over to look through your closet anytime; your articles are always favorites of mine.

The exhibit has a number of dresses and outfits from 30s and 40s movies, with a clever film loop running in the back, showing them in the films:

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I loved this dress, created by the costume designer Gilbert Adrian, which Greta Garbo wore in the movie “Inspiration”:

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I’m already trying to figure out how I can hack that pattern.

And how about this dress, created for Mae West by Schiaparelli?

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The exhibit also features the special platform shoes Mae West had made up to wear in films, to give her a few inches of extra height:

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And there was this Vionnet-inspired gown, designed by Edith Head, for a young Betty Grable:

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The exhibit also includes costume design sketches, like this one by Travis Banton, created for Marlene Dietrich.

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Then I moved on to the bling, and sadly I was too dazzled to take many notes. Can you blame me?

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(Those are Mae West’s gigantic aquamarines…)

This excellent exhibit was put together by Michelle Tolini Finamore, Curator of Fashion Arts, and Emily Stoehrer, Curator of Jewelry at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; two jobs I’d like to have in another life. The exhibit runs through March 8th, so if you’re in the Boston area, check it out!

Here’s more about the exhibit from National Public Radio, journalists who are far less lazy than I.

I always enjoy wandering around the Boston MFA (particularly now that their new addition includes a huge atrium and restaurant), and even though the museum seems big on the outside, it always has a nice flow and intimacy.

For example, on my way to the exhibit, I stopped for awhile at the top of a grand staircase, to sit in one of the club chairs provided and ruminate on a small collection of hand-woven Persian rugs.

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A little later, walking down a hallway, there was a mini-exhibit of vintage advertising from WWI:

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Then I went around the corner to a modern installation and found:

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My fabric stash!! I knew I left it somewhere!

Actually, it’s a work by artist Shinique Smith, (but it really does look like my stash):

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Now that I’ve found my fabric…back to work!

And just a quick reminder, if you’re stuck in the snow in the Northeastern U.S… I have a couple of free downloadable patterns available on Bernina’s WeAllSew.com, which can be sewn up quickly using pieces from your stash. The first is a Midcentury Claire McCardell-inspired Infinity Wrap/Scarf made from knits:

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The second is an authentic 50s design for a scarf with tucks and a buttonhole, known as The Hepburn Scarf:

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Both projects are part of a vintage project collaboration between Jet Set Sewing and Bernina USA. For details, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. And if you give either pattern a try, please let me know!

Hope your sewing’s going well!

 

Claire McCardell-Inspired Free Downloadable Pattern, and a couple of hacks.

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I hope you all had happy holidays, and I wanted to mention that my new free downloadable pattern with tutorial is available on Bernina’s WeAllSew.com website. Aren’t you ready for some post-holiday #selfishsewing? I certainly am, and I didn’t even finish my husband’s tie! (It’s now officially his “birthday tie.”)

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When I created this pattern, I was inspired by a 1947 Claire McCardell design (lower right) for a knit shoulder wrap, though the concept was around long before that. This wrap is snug enough to stay on the shoulders, but can still be worn around the neck like an infinity scarf. It’s lined and reversible, and the tutorial takes you through step-by-step. It’s not difficult at all, so I hope you’ll give it a try!

Carmen of the CarmencitaB blog tipped me off that this type of wrap is known as a “liseuse” in France, (the loose translation is “girl reader”) and that it used to be worn while reading in drafty French country homes (similar to what was known as a “bed jacket” here in the U.S.). So then it was eeek! down the internet rabbit hole again, to learn more about this style.

First of all, who knew that there were so many works of art featuring women reading? Which makes perfect sense, because after a certain point, just about any woman is going to say, “I don’t care if you are Picasso, if I’m going to sit for you, gimme something to read!”

image (That’s Picasso’s “La Liseuse” from 1920. Doesn’t it look like she’s texting?)

The earliest example I found shows a high-born woman (who could read!) wearing a cape-like wrap, in a painting by Hans Memling from the 1470s:

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Then in 1888, Vincent Van Gogh captured this woman wearing a chic wrap, in “Une Liseuse de Romans” (which I think means “reader of novels.” No wonder she’s so engrossed.)

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In terms of fashion, in the early 20th century, this style of short jacket was interpreted for evening by Madame Vionnet:

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And that may very well have been where McCardell picked up the idea. She studied fashion in Paris in the 20s, and in her letters home she complained about the French being “thrifty” with the heating. While she was there, she spent a lot of time deconstructing Vionnet garments, which is how she got hip to the bias cut.

During her career, McCardell designed a number of evening dresses made of warm wool, with wraps, shrugs, and cropped jackets to wear to dinner parties in drafty U.S. country houses as well. Here’s one example, a strapless wool evening dress with a jacket, again from the  Metropolitan Museum’s online collection:

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More recently, this type of wrap was shown in the 2013 collection from Celine:

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When I was in France I saw several similar wraps:

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(I don’t know what the furry thing is on it, or why she’s wearing a hat over her head…)
And this one from French cult brand Agnes b., made from a light sweater knit:
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To make a wrap similar to the one from Agnes b., download the free pattern, which looks like a triangle with the top chopped off. Add several inches to both the top and bottom of the pattern.

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(That’s a highly skilled sketch from the JetSetSewing graphics team. They’re a couple of chipmunks who live in my kitchen.) Extending the pattern at the top and bottom will make it longer, like a poncho, with more of a funnel neck.

I’ve seen wraps like these in the U.S. as well. American designer Eileen Fisher offered this asymmetrical wrap in her fall collection, which immediately made me think “I could hack that.”

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To make a “muslin” version, I took my pattern and set it on the diagonal, putting the left on the fold, and adding triangles to the top and bottom. I sewed it up and it looked okay, so I moved on to the real thing.

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I decided to use this Missoni-ish wool blend I got in France. I prepped it by throwing it in my dryer’s steam cycle. (Do as I say, not as I do, always test a swatch first!)

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Since I wasn’t lining this version, I decided to use a French seam on the side to finish the raw edge. With wrong sides together, lining up the design on the fabric with double quilt pins, I overlocked some clear elastic into the seam, using the Bernina Bulky Overlock foot. (The same foot that made all of that piping on the McCardell dress…it’s very useful!)

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(You could also use a narrow zigzag to attach the elastic to the seam, if you’re using a vintage machine.)

Then I turned the wrap wrong-side out to put right sides together, and pinned it to encase the seam I just sewed.

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I sewed that seam with a narrow zigzag, which covered up the overlocking and elastic.
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Oo la la, I love zee French seams!

When I tried it on, the length plus the retro pattern on the fabric was looking way too “hippy poncho” to me:
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So I chopped about 5 inches off of the bottom.

At the top and bottom, I overlocked more clear elastic along the edge, turned under the raw edge about 1/2 inch, then turned it under again about 3/4”, and sewed the edge with a narrow zigzag, like topstitching. If you pick the right color thread, the stitching’s not that obvious, and there are no raw edges showing on the inside.

You can wear it with the point on the side, or in the back.

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(I think the chipmunks took that picture, too.)

Here’s how the final pattern looked (more or less). The grainline goes along the bottom:

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(I’m going to fire those chipmunks…)

Now that I’ve made myself a liseuse, I need to find time to read!!

Happy New Year’s sewing!

(For details about how Bernina USA is loaning a B560 machine to JetSetSewing.com to assist with vintage projects like this, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. At some point, Karl and I are going to set that disclosure to music, to make it more pleasant for all of us…)

 

Dance & Fashion exhibit at FIT, among other things

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So I hightailed it down to New York to see my sister swanning around in that Claire McCardell dress I whipped up (details here), and got a quick peek at the Dance & Fashion exhibition going on through January 3rd, 2015, at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

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Those are the “emerald,” “ruby” and “diamond” costumes from George Balanchine’s old war-horse…oops, I mean…much-loved ballet “Jewels.” They’re as gorgeous up close as they are on stage.

I don’t have many photos to share, since just as I discretely lifted my camera for a pic of those Ballets Russes costumes snuggling up with designs by Paul Poiret and Yves St. Laurent, a polite “no pictures” came out of the dark. Those museum guards are on top of it!

The exhibit compares actual dance costumes with related designer streetwear and gowns, and also features costumes that were created for dances by fashion designers. It covers everything from the romantic era of ballet into modern dance and beyond to post-modern collaborations. For example, there are several of the costumes created by the designer Halston in the 70s for the Martha Graham Dance Company, like this one:

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(Some night I’m going to borrow that to wear around the house, just to see if anyone notices…)

Since I was there as a guest and not a journalist, I’m going to send you to this excellent article from the Wall Street Journal, written by Laura Jacobs, for a play-by-play of the exhibit. (Where The Body Can Dance With The Soul)

I will say, though, after looking at these Louboutine fetish shoes, and having been on my feet all day, I silently gave thanks that there’s no chance in hell I’ll ever have to get back in a pair of pointe shoes.

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After executing a few “pas de bourrees” around the room (not really, mercifully for the others there) I headed to the auditorium where my sister (Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Company), along with designer Doo-Ri Chung, were speaking about the collaboration of Dance and Fashion.

I was surprised to hear, even after the many years I had seen Janet perform with the Graham Company, and having studied modern dance for a summer with “Miss Graham” myself, that Martha Graham actually did much of the draping of her costumes herself, and was inspired as a choreographer by the properties of the fabric she was using.

The two Graham solo dances that were performed during the event highlighted this: Lamentation, which is performed enveloped in a tube of jersey, and Spectre-1914, about the onset of World War 1, performed in a giant skirt that spreads several yards in all directions beyond the dancer’s feet.

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During this performance, dancer Blakeley White-McGuire expertly manipulated the yards and yards of black fabric, lined in red, conjuring images like the flames of war, the wings of death, flowing blood, or the shroud of a coffin.

Here’s picture of the panel, consisting of moderator Melissa Marra from the Museum at FIT (left), Janet in her McCardell (middle), and Doo-Ri Chung (right). They’re looking at a picture of Janet dancing back in the day, in the Martha Graham ballet…er…help me out, Janet…”Seraphic Dialogue”, about Joan of Arc?

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During the discussion, Janet talked about how Martha Graham created costumes by pinching and draping the fabric, and in one instance, she came up with a costume made entirely from one uncut piece of  fabric. Janet remembered how, when she was dancing with the company in the 70s, Halston would collaborate with Graham, and make costumes from fabric that was far more expensive than the normal dance company budget. In one case, he used silk jersey for costumes that were like long palazzo pants, but with each performance, the drape of the fabric would “grow” and the pants would be pooling around the dancers feet! They had to trim off several inches at the hem during the course of the tour.

Doo-Ri Chung, who is known for her expertise in draping jersey, had some interesting points to make about the challenge of working with that kind of knit. She mentioned that in terms of ready-to-wear, jersey often lacks “hanger appeal” (meaning it doesn’t look that enticing to consumers on a hanger) and said that jersey also needs volume in the design, to keep it from being too form-fitting. I found that point particularly interesting, as the McCardell dress I made for Janet has loads of volume and gathers, but doesn’t feel heavy or bulky on when worn.

Here’s the report from Janet on what it feels like to wear an original McCardell design, made from new fabric: “The McCardell dress is a pleasure to wear. Getting dressed up has never been so comfortable! I’ve discovered that the wool jersey drapes itself just beautifully, no matter what I am doing. I just throw it on, wrap the bodice cords according to my comfort level of the day (hope they are long enough to accommodate Thanksgiving) and make an entrance!”

There was a spirited discussion of designer McCardell as well, who, along with designer and life-long friend Mildred Orrick, popularized the leotard-style bodysuit in the 40s, to be worn under a jumper. The idea was that the modern college girl could layer and stay warm in drafty WWII-era classes.

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I was excited to see that the exhibit itself included a pair of the ballet flats invented by McCardell, in collaboration with the ballet shoemaker Capezio, which gave women comfortable cloth shoes to wear during WWII rationing. She designed them to be worn at home, then was surprised to start seeing them in the subway!

As the panel’s Q & A was wrapping up, my awesome sister, who, as you’ve probably guessed, is no shrinking violet, jumped up and said, “no one’s asked who I’m wearing! Well, I’m related to JetSetSewing.com, who made this original Claire McCardell dress for me from a 50s pattern.” You go girl!

Janet at FIT

Needless to say it was pretty exciting as a home-sewing maven to get a shoutout at FIT! You looked great, Janet!

Then the following week, I saw on Twitter that Janet was back at FIT in the dress again.

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It made me glad that Twitter wasn’t around when I was younger, as I’m sure I would have been busted frequently for borrowing my big sisters’ clothes.

Don’t forget that the Martha Graham Dance Company’s New York Season is coming up in February! It’s a mix of classic Graham works and pieces by current choreographers.

After I got back, I was pleased to see that Marianne, of the blog Foxgloves and Thimbles in the Netherlands, had downloaded and stitched up a beautiful holiday version of my 5os “Hepburn” scarf pattern, using silk dupioni. Thanks Marianne; it looks gorgeous!

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(I snitched that picture off of InstaGram.)

The pattern is available as a free download on the Bernina U.S.A. website WeAllSew.com. It’s quick and easy for holiday sewing! For details about JetSetSewing’s collaboration with Bernina, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.

And lastly, I was thrilled to see the official list of BurdaStyle’s 50 favorite bloggers, where Jet Set Sewing was nestled right below Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing. Loads of great blogs on the list; check it out:

http://www.burdastyle.com/pdf/BurdaTopBloggerPDF_v3.pdf

 My thanks to BurdaStyle!

As for me and my Swiss intern, Karl the Bernina 560, it’s time for a little rest and stash closet cleaning (still waiting for you to get on top of that, Karl), as well as packing my bags for an epic sewing meetup…in Paris!

(No, Karl, I’m sorry, you’re far, far too heavy for my carry-on…please, no tears…)

Hollywood Costume Exhibit Report (Finally…)

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Well, The Hollywood Costume Exhibit, in L.A. through March 2nd, 2015, is a whole lot of fun.

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Housed in the soon-to-be renovated site of the new Academy Museum, there really is something for everyone. Dorothy’s ruby slippers! Superhero costumes! Indiana Jones’ jacket, hat, whip, and (an interesting detail to me) pants made of wool twill, rather than the cotton khakis I had envisioned.

Since I was there at an event as a guest, and we were asked not to take photos, I can only give you a few impressions of this comprehensive exhibit, and show photos I’ve found here and there. I encourage you to attend the exhibit yourself if you get a chance!

It is just packed with famous costumes, but it also goes beyond fashion to explain the types of collaborations inherent in costume design, in particular the interplay between a designer and director. After having labored through making this Edith Head bolero (which a woman at the exhibit told me she had just seen Chloe knock off):

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I was thrilled to see an archival interview with Edith Head, talking about what it was like to work with director Alfred Hitchcock. And I absolutely loved eyeballing this costume from Vertigo:

Vertigo

As well as this suit from The Birds:

The Birds

Here it is in a still from the movie:

The Birds Still

It’s very much of that era, with cut-in kimono sleeves, an attached collar, and patch pockets. It made me think of another Edith Head/Hitchcock costume, from the movie “Rear Window,” and this vintage pattern that’s almost identical:

Rear Window

It’s a great look. I think I’m putting that pattern a little higher up on my sewing bucket list.

There are some amazing costumes from early film history as well, such as Marlene Dietrich’s gender-bending white tie and tails from the 1930 film “Morocco.”

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Long before Yves St. Laurent made this look de rigueur for decadent disco queens, costume designer Travis Banton created his own diminutive version of “Le Smoking” for Dietrich, which worked on her thanks to a tiny cinched waistline.

Another Travis Banton creation was this costume from Cecil B. de Mille’s 1934 “Cleopatra,” starring Claudette Colbert:

Cleopatra

I don’t think it’s historically accurate, but it is a killer dress.

And there were a number of culturally iconic dresses in the exhibit, including this one:

Dorothy

Apparently the designer, Gilbert Adrian, known as “Adrian”, had it made on an old-fashion treadle sewing machine, so it would look like Auntie Em had made it. Nevertheless, apparently he couldn’t resist jazzing it up with bias-cut bindings and straps.

And then there was probably the most famous dress in movies, housed in it’s own little climate-controlled case:

Seven Year Itch

Yep, that’s the one! It’s from the movie The Seven Year Itch, and it was designed by William Travilla. It was made of ivory rayon crepe, for a petite Marilyn Monroe who looked to have a tiny waist in that voluptuous figure.

Seven Year Itch on Marilyn

You would think that this dress is constructed with a waistband going up to the bust, and halter bust pieces attached to that band, with a separate pleated skirt. That kind of pattern is available in the book “Famous Frocks”:

Famous FrocksFamous Frocks Marilyn

But in truth, the dress appears to have pleats that radiate down from the neckline, which are cinched from the underbust to the waist with long one-inch wide straps, below which the pleats open out again over the hips. So the pattern that’s in the book “Sew Iconic” is a little closer to the original:

Sew iconicSew Iconic Marilyn

But you know, the structure of the design really reminds me of this:

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Hmmmm…

So after really enjoying the exhibit, it was time to hit the bar! My husband is part of the Academy team working on the exhibit, so we were included in a dinner for the people who had generously loaned items from their collections to display. I looked over at the next table, and there was George Takai! I have no idea why!

Dinner menu

Let’s eat!

I struck up a conversation with the people next to me, costume designer Mark Bridges, and his associate, Kristin (who’s last name unfortunately has escaped me, as I was on my second glass of wine at the time).

Mark was responsible for the beautiful 20s costumes for the period movie “The Artist,” as well as costumes for “The Fighter” and a number of other films. I really enjoyed hearing his take on the costume design process, and how he researches period design by doing things like looking at vintage 70s GQ magazines, for example. Then he talked about the importance of using the costumes to reveal information about the character, and support the movie’s story.

Well, in any conversation with someone of that stature, I almost feel sheepish bringing up my blog. But of course I do it anyway! And to my surprise, he was well-aware of the sewing blogosphere. His eyes lit up and he said, “I love this blog…”

And I’m thinking me, me, me! But he continued…

“Male Pattern Boldness! It’s about his projects, and how he’s sewing them, and what’s going on in his life…” And on and on!

Truthfully, I wasn’t really all that jealous, because I’m a fan of Male Pattern Boldness myself, and have stolen plenty from Peter’s friendly blogging style (I prefer to think of it as an homage). Actually it was great to know that the world of home sewing blogs is now stretching beyond people like us, and can be appreciated by professionals like Mark Bridges.

But for me, sneaking away to something like this is a bit like being Cinderella. Midnight hits, your glass slippers start to pinch, and the next thing you know you’re in that 5:00 a.m. cab to LAX.

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Then it’s back pumpin’ Auntie Em’s treadle machine in Kansas.

I’m updating this post to give a little shoutout to the blogger Not Dead Yet Style, about staying stylin’ when you’ve hit those middle years (and you know who you are). Her “Visible Monday” link-ups feature women of a certain age making style statements. I’m always inspired, when I’m in France, to see that the middle-aged women there don’t throw in the towel in terms of taking style risks, and those of us in the U.S. shouldn’t either. So I’m joining in the link-up this time around!

I’ll be back soon with a report from the Museum at FIT’s Dance and Fashion exhibit event.