Claire McCardell and Martha Graham

47

After I got back from L.A., I meant to spend some time testing methods for constructing this Claire McCardell dress, from an early 50s pattern by Spadea:

IMG_0567

I intended to sew it up back in August for my sister, who is the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, to wear to an event at the “Dance & Fashion” exhibit, (now running through January 3rd, 2015, at the Museum at FIT in New York). To have a flashback to that whole explanation, click this link. (Cue the Twilight Zone-y flashback music)
I thought Claire McCardell was a good choice for this event, because McCardell and Martha Graham are often mentioned together in books and articles as being similar in their pared-down artistic style. They did meet on at least one occasion, when they both received the Women’s Press Club award in 1950, a very big deal back then.

IMG_0583

Here they are with President Truman (looking dapper in a tuxedo), along with a foreign affairs expert, an educational reformer, and a Hollywood actress (Olivia de Havilland), all in old-school tulle-centered eveningwear. Martha Graham is on the far left looking very chic and modern in her spare little black dress. And Claire McCardell, on the far right? Well, she’s got on one of her wrapped-bodice evening dresses of sari silk, slouchy leather gloves, no bra, no girdle, the ballet flats she invented, and a big American grin on her face. That outfit was so far ahead of its time!

I was doing a lot of thinking about making the dress, as August became September, but now it was October, and little voice inside me (either the spirit of Claire McCardell, or more probably, my Bernina, Karl) whispered, “you better get crackin’ on that dress.”

So, I chose a mid-weight black New Zealand merino knit that I got this spring from The Fabric Store in L.A. (here’s that post), because McCardell was one of the first American designers to popularize wool knits, and Martha Graham often used jersey in her costumes. This fabric is very soft and drape-y, and the quality is wonderful. The Fabric Store now has an online gallery, and will do mail order if you call them. (Here’s The Fabric Store’s USA website)
I washed the wool in cold water, tumble-dried it low, and laid it out.
image
As I was pinning, I was thinking a lot about Martha Graham, and how she often manipulated fabric in her dances to help tell the story.
This long piece of jersey reminded me of a moment in the dance “Cave of the Heart,” which is based on the Greek legend of Medea, and deals with revenge. It’s a favorite dance of mine, particularly now that I’m a “woman of a certain age.” Martha Graham herself designed the costumes, which makes her a “triple threat”: dancer, choreographer, and draper. The dance premiered in 1946.

In the dance, Medea learns that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman, a princess no less, who flits around the stage being innocent and adorable while she’s followed around by the besotted big lug.

Of course Medea, who’s been around the block a few times, is not happy that her husband is having a mid-life crisis, and she gets REALLY mad. Another dancer, representing the “chorus” from classical Greek theater, tries to stop Medea from exacting revenge, to no avail.

In this photo, you can see the Chorus’s robe and skirt, which remind me in particular of a 20s design by Madeleine Vionnet, shown here in the Betty Kirke book “Vionnet”:

141010_MarthaGrahamCo_CaveoftheHeart_QueensTheatre_Christopher Jones_102 (2)image

In a fit of vengeful rage, Medea gives the little homewrecker a poison crown, which of course the princess puts on right away, because she’s a princess, and it’s a crown! For a couple of minutes she’s skipping around really really happy, and then she grabs her head and eeeeeek!

After that, Medea does an intense solo about vengence, where she’s twisting, twirling and even eating a long “snake” of fabric she pulls out of her bodice, so it’s like she’s “eating her heart out.”

141010_MarthaGrahamCo_CaveoftheHeart_QueensTheatre_Christopher Jones_082

A while later, Medea walks regally across the stage wearing a long train of fabric, and when her macho husband (see below) pulls back the train, the dead princess is inside!

141010_MarthaGrahamCo_CaveoftheHeart_QueensTheatre_Christopher Jones_113

In the end, even though Medea has clearly gone mad, she still looks kind of, well, let’s say satisfied. And that’s what I love about Martha Graham’s dances; they really get to the emotional core of these classic stories. Seeing them is so cathartic!
(Okay, I know I’m in trouble with my sister for being flip about this great Martha Graham work, but Cave of the Heart is prime example of how Graham was inspired by fabric and costumes, and used them to advance the story of her dances.)

Just FYI–the Martha Graham Dance Company New York season will be running February 10-22, 2015, at the Joyce Theater. Tickets can be purchased here: (Link to Martha Graham Company tickets). The Graham photos above are by Christopher Jones, and the dancers are:  Medea: PeiJu Chien-Pott, Jason: Ben Schultz, Princess: Xiaochuan Xie and Chorus: Natasha Diamond-Walker.

When it came time to construct the dress, I looked inside an original McCardell that I have in my collection, to see how the seams were finished. I was surprised to see that the finishes were different in different parts of the dress, leading me to believe that several different people worked on the dress using their own methods.

The center back seam allowances were folded under and sewn:

image

The pockets edges were finished with pinking shears (kind of sloppy, too):

image

The armscye seams were double-sewn on the inside, but not top-stitched.

image

Several seams were reinforced with bias tape, which is typical of McCardell dresses, as they are often are cut on the bias and need the tape to stabilize the seam.

image

Meanwhile, the “let’s get crackin'” concept was still in my head, so my Bernina 560, AKA Karl, whispered, “how about forgetting the seam finishes and using the overlock stitch, sister?” This would have been heresy to me as a vintage purist, except I had recently read this post by The Vintage Traveler talking about how overlock stitches were used on sportswear as early as the 1910s. That was my “Get Out of Jail Free” card!

Using the 2A foot, and the #10 overlock stretch stitch, I got cranking. The foot shoves the edge under the needle, so you don’t need a serger for a finished edge.

image

Looks great, no? The wool jersey sewed like a dream.

The great thing about these 50s and 60s patterns released by Spadea, is that they were not taken from designs developed for the home sewing market. These patterns were drafted in reverse: a retail garment was given to the patternmaker, who took apart the garment, drafted the pattern from the pieces, graded the pattern for different sizes, then wrote up the instructions for the home-sewer.

So by sewing from a Spadea pattern now, you truly can recreate designer clothing from that era that look just like the retail garments being sold at the time.

Generally instructions in the Spadea patterns are great, but this one was little backwards in some ways.
The beginning of the instructions tell you to construct the back and side seams of the entire dress, so as you’re doing the more difficult parts, such as attaching piping to a 7″ neckline slash, you have the entire four yards of dress sitting in your lap. I began to feel like I was doing my own version of Martha Graham’s iconic work “Lamentation,” surrounded as I was by what was basically a tube of jersey.

imageimage

I made the piping for the neckline using Bernina Bulky Overlock foot number 12C.

image

That foot absolutely saved me during this project! After I made the piping, I hand-basted it to the neckline slash (which I reinforced with knit fusible), then used the foot again to sew it on.

imageimage

I used silk strips to face the armholes, to make it smoother by my sister’s arms, and to keep the armholes from stretching.

image
I was so proud of how I had inserted and edgestitched the two famous McCardell pockets in the dress (because McCardell wanted to free women from relying on evening bags), then discovered that I had put one in upside down! The dress was so big at this point, it was hard to keep track of what was the top and what was the bottom.

image
After a quick hack, Frankenpocket was born!

image

Then I cut another strip of fabric for the neckline, which was to function as both neck binding and cloth ties.

I used this little thingy to turn the ties right-side out. You put a big tube in the casing and use a smaller tube to push it through.

imageimage

At this point, I tried on the dress, and in the silhouette, I saw this:

IMG_0368.JPG

That’s Claire McCardell herself, in a dress known as the “futuristic dress.” One of these dresses is in the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection. The dress I was making had a very similar cut, so I had an “aha” moment about how the futuristic dress was constructed.

Now I really had to crank to get the dress done in time for my sister’s event. I gathered the dress in the front and reinforced the gathering with Hug Snug rayon bias tape.

image

 

Then I looked at these instructions. Eeeek!

image

It would probably work, but I was running out of time. Instead, I used the bulky overlock foot again, and basically made the ties by running an overlock stitch over the piping and then trimming it, so I didn’t have to turn anything right side out.

image

I used the same foot to attach the ties to the front of the dress, rather than hand sewing. It saved me so much time!

image

I threw on a blind hem, pressed and defuzzed the whole thing, and then right before I put it in my suitcase to New York, I tried it on one last time.

image

Why am I giving this to my sister!?!?! (Actually, I would adjust the fit for myself anyway, so let’s just say I’m giving Janet a “wearable muslin” for my dress. Shhhh!)

I put the dress in my bag and headed to New York, where I was attending a memorial service for legendary jazz singer and family friend, Jimmy Scott. While seated in the pews at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, I handed my sister a bag with the dress in it. Would she like it? I was sweating that one.

We parted ways after the service, and not long after, a picture popped up on my phone with the caption “It’s mine now!”

image

Score another one for stunt sewing! Looks great on her, doesn’t it?

It was such a great experience to recreate this piece of fashion history. The only other version of this dress I’ve seen is here, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute collection. I was so glad I’d found that Spadea pattern, because I learned so much about the construction of this classic McCardell design.

In my next post, I’ll be writing about the event where she wore it, and give a report about the Dance and Fashion Exhibit at the Museum at FIT, as well as (finally) details of the Hollywood Costume exhibit.

Hope your sewing’s going well. I’m cooked!

 

 

Hollywood Costume Exhibit and what I’m making for it…

30

Here’s a piece of good news…later this month, my husband and I are invited to a soiree celebrating the opening of the “Hollywood Costume” exhibit, featuring a number of classic movie costumes that I am very eager to eyeball.

So of course my first thought was, what am I going to make? I’ll get to that.

The exhibit is presented by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who bring you the Oscars), and it will be held at the historic art deco Wilshire May Company building in Los Angeles, soon be the location of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The exhibit runs from October 2nd, 2014, to March 2nd, 2015. (Here’s more info about the exhibit, from the Academy’s website.)

There will be more than 150 movie costumes to ogle, by revered designers such as William Travilla, Gilbert Adrian, and of course, Edith Head.

Yes, I’m excited.

In my overflowing stash of patterns, I have a few that were released by the better known costume designers, some of whom had their own ready-to-wear lines at the time.

This pattern, released by Spadea:

image

was designed by movie and television costumer Travilla, creator of Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Seven Year Itch” dress.

Seven Year Itch dress

Marilyn’s dress, which became part of Debbie Reynolds’ costume collection, was recently auctioned for $4.6 million, according to the L.A. Times blog.

Another Spadea I have in my collection is this pattern designed by Charles LeMaire, known for costuming movies such as “All About Eve.”

image

On the pattern it says “Katherine Hepburn wears it in a film, but it has a place in everyday life.” It appears to be this dress from Desk Set.

deskset

Katherine Hepburn could make a librarian look chic. I wonder if I have enough of that gold Tyvek in my stash to pull it off?

The designer known as “Adrian” released at least one pattern in the 50s, which is on sale on Etsy now, for $175! (Pattern by Adrian) At that price, you can see why I’m reluctant to share details of my rare patterns.

The ruby slippers that Gilbert Adrian designed for Wizard of Oz will be featured in the exhibition as well. A girl knows she’s not in Kansas anymore, when she’s got those glitzy pumps on her feet.

rubyslippersstillcopy

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo DiCaprio helped the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures acquire the shoes for their permanent collection.

Several costume designers created patterns for an obscure mail order line called “California Couture,” including Jean Louis, who designed Marilyn Monroe’s dress in which she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK:

220px-Marilyn1962image

That pattern would make a good “Megan” dress for next year’s “Mad Men Challenge” hosted by blogger Julia Bobbin.

And Helen Rose, who designed, among many other things, wedding dresses for both Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, released several patterns for Spadea and California Couture:

Helen Rose Spadeaimage

There’s lots of information about Hollywood costume designers such as Adrian, Helen Rose and Jean Louis in this fun book about the vintage California look (I think I found it on Amazon):

image

I’ll admit, having grown up in snowy northern Michigan, watching “Wonderful World of Disney” and dreaming of sunny California, I have a highly romantized view of vintage Cali style.

And, of course, no costume exhibit would be complete without the diva of Hollywood costume design, Edith Head.

edith-head-vogue-28oct13-rex_b

She put out a number of sewing patterns from the 50s through the 80s, like these “Hitchcock Blonde” suits:

imageimage

Ooo, I’m going to make that turban!

Among those patterns is this fab “reverse shrug” with a pointed fold-over collar and buttons in the back, which I’m going to attempt to make for the event, to wear with a little black dress.

image

I’m torn between using this 50s-looking raw silk I bought from Mood in L.A., underlined with 60s silk organza, (requiring seam finishes, grrrr) or some drapey gold Italian wool-viscose from Elliott Berman Textiles, lined with something or other. The wool might be too hot for fall in L.A., though.

image

Whatever way I go, I’ll be busting my stash, and I get to pick out buttons!

More to come on this exciting exhibit!

 

 

What to wear to a Martha’s Vineyard wedding

13

I went in the sewing shed after what I thought was a brief hiatus, and my Swiss intern, Karl, met me with this:

image

So after a little back and forth about our relationship being so new, and Massachusetts beach days numbering on two hands, and it being difficult to drag a 35 pound hunka-hunka burning love to the beach, I could tell that Karl was getting over it, when he said:

image

So, to make him happy, I whipped up this 50s scarf, professionally photographed here by my husband, who was standing around in a wet bathing suit.

image

(The car is my husband’s 1950 Willy’s Jeepster. I refuse to drive it.)

The scarf is from a 50s pattern, and it has lots and lots of what I call “tedious tucks,” so Karl was happy as a clam making them. I used Bernina Blindhem Foot #5, with the needle all the way over to the left, to make 24 nice, even interior tucks:

image

(A Bernina #10 Edgestitch presser foot works better for this job, but off-shore as I am, Karl and I made do with the #5 foot that I had with me.)

That big, beautiful Bernina 560 also made me a large corded buttonhole to pull the scarf through, so the finished muslin looked like this:

image

I made the final version out of some beautiful silk I bought at the L.A. outpost of The Fabric Store. (More info on L.A. fabric stores here.)

You’ll be hearing more about this pattern in the future, so “stay tuned” (as they used to say in old media). For details about the partnership between JetSetSewing.com and Bernina USA, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.

Since President Obama and his family are here on Martha’s Vineyard, (not that we’re hanging out or anything), I’ve been giving some thought as to what people should wear to events here, specifically weddings.

“What should we wear” is the second question I get from off-islanders regarding weddings, the first being: “how many beds do you have for our extended family?” (My official answer, “Our septic system can’t handle any guests, and you don’t want to find out why.”)

To tell you what to wear to a Vineyard wedding, I need to know two things: who is it, and where is it?

If the wedding is “up island,” (in rural, expensive Aquinnah or Chilmark), then the next question is: Hippy or Hollywood?

If it’s Hollywood, you can count on gorgeous views:

image

Tons of charm, great food, lots of well-organized assistants and heavy security. I recommend that L.A. “wealthy boho” look you can find at Calypso St. Barth.

LEONE DRESS

It costs a fortune, but you know you can make something like that. Please note that the wedding will probably take place under a tent in a field something like this:

image

So wear flat shoes that won’t sink in the grass and that will protect you from ticks and manure. And make sure that your dress can be pulled up easily in a porta-potty, because there’s going to be one.

If it’s a hippy wedding, odds are good you’ll be peeing in a field, so dress accordingly. If they ask you to bring food, do it. As a matter of fact, I’d eat first and bring a flask of Chardonnay. Seriously, you can wear anything, even this:

image

 

(Doesn’t that rope thingy look like something mid-century sculptor Isamu Noguchi would have designed for a Martha Graham dance about yachting? It was about as expensive as a Noguchi, too.)

There’s a lot of poison ivy up island, so again, your footwear should be flat, disposable, or hose-able. Bedazzled Crocs would be good. During one particularly bad October deluge, the bride resorted to wearing her garden clogs down the aisle.

And for any wedding in a tent, you need good bug spray with Deet to ward off the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and a WARM wrap or jacket for after the sun goes down.

Now let’s head “down island” for a wedding either in Edgartown (permanent host of the Preppy Olympics) or any place with the word “Club” in it.

Let’s look at Edgartown. Beautifully manicured Captain’s houses:

image

Gorgeous New England seaside gardens:

image

And ample places to buy the Preppy uniform of whale pants, polo shirts, breton shirts etc…

imageimage

For this type of wedding “weekend,” bite the bullet and fit in. If you just landed from planet “not preppy,” you could go to this store and be all set:

image

A pretty teal dress for an afternoon wedding, white jeans and Breton shirt for whatever lunch/brunch comes your way, and a featherweight lavender cardigan for anything outdoors.

As for the khaki shorts on the left, at my Vineyard wedding 26 years ago (at an inn with an outdoor wedding venue but indoor plumbing, thank you very much) a plus-one guy from Edgartown showed up in an oxford-cloth shirt, docksiders, the ubiquitous preppy navy blazer and khaki linen shorts. Shorts! At a wedding! Mercifully for him, I can’t recall his name.

On that same afternoon, the power went off all over the island, including at the hairdresser, sparing me from looking at wedding pictures with a giant 80s bouffant hairdo. It was fate! (Note: between the salt air and the wind, everyone’s hair looks terrible on the Vineyard, so don’t worry about making an effort.)

As for weddings in the other regions and cultures of the island, where the wedding could be in the tin-roofed Tabernacle:

oak-bluffs-massachusetts-martha-s-vineyard-view-of-methodist-tabernacle

Or in the sand:

image

Best to call the mother of the bride and ask. She’s probably dying to vent.

One last question about Edgartown. Is the wedding at the Whaling Church?

image

It’s gorgeous, historic, either too hot or too cold, and has the most uncomfortable seats on the planet.

For your sake, I hope the wedding looks like this:

image

Okay, that wasn’t actually a wedding. It was the Official Blues Brothers Revue, doing a fundraiser for the Vineyard Playhouse. The gorgeous trompe l’oeil painting on the back wall was done by talented Vineyard muralist Margot Datz.

While I was at the concert, sitting with boomer-age friends who, in the 70s, toured as recording artists, lived with famous musicians, and spent quality time alternately crashing in Teepees or on lumpy NYC futons, ALL we could talk about was how happy we were that the Whaling Church had new, thicker cushions for our aging bums! And even with better cushions, my sitz bones were killing me! So bring a wrap, even if it’s hot, because you’re going to need to sit on it.

And enjoy the Vineyard. Really, there’s a reason why presidents have been coming here for more than a century.

image

Ooo, my husband’s out sailing…I’ll be right there, Karl!

 

An Epic Road Trip and Meeting Susan Khalje!

22

Okay, despite the title, there was only one thing truly epic about my road trip to Maryland, and that was meeting haute couture sewing expert and master teacher Susan Khalje!

When I contacted Susan, she graciously invited me to visit her studio, north of Baltimore, where her popular haute couture sewing classes are held. I wanted to hear about her recently-launched online video series, which includes “The Cocktail Dress” course (now available), and a number of other courses in the pipeline. (Find details here on SusanKhalje.com)

Susan has given me access to the Cocktail Dress course for review, and I’m very eager to have a look. Here’s the pretty pattern that goes with the course (which comes in a range of sizes, up to a 50″ bust):

image

Susan even gave me a sneak peek at the French jacket pattern she’s currently tweaking, which will be released in conjunction with her highly-anticipated “French Couture Jacket” online course:

image

Between you and me, I think it will be the go-to pattern for a lot of sewing enthusiasts, so if making a Chanel-style jacket is on your bucket list, you may want to hold off until that course launches in the fall.

Susan and I talked about the sleeve alone for about 20 minutes, during which I learned its little secret… (Shhh…I’ve taken a vow of silence on that subject until the course is launched.)

Susan very nicely allowed me to interview her for a whopping two hours, giving me enough material for about 10 articles. So in the coming weeks I’ll be going over my notes and writing an article to be featured on Bernina USA’s website WeAllSew.com. (For details about the collaboration between Bernina USA and JetSetSewing.com, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab at the top of this post.)

I’ll let you know when that post goes up. Many thanks to Susan Khalje for taking the time to meet up with me!

While I was on the road, I decided to join Instagram, and discovered that most of you sewing peeps were already having a party there without me! So I’ve started daily posts featuring my favorite vintage patterns, using the hashtag #patterndujour.

image

You can find me on Instagram under the name “jetsetsewing.” Let me know if you’re a reader, and I’ll be happy to follow you!

Though I was torn away from my dear Bernina 560, “Karl,” for a week, sewing was still on my mind, so I visited G Street fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, which is right outside of Washington, DC.

image

I’ll admit that I’m a little spoiled having shopped for fabrics in L.A. and Paris this year, but I did find a few fun things among the fabrics rolls.

imageimage

I really liked this selection of vintage-style oilcloth yardage, but just couldn’t get in the mood to make a tablecloth.

image

They do have a nice selection of fabrics for both basic garment sewing and high-end dress-making, as well as some quality suit fabrics and designer fabrics, like this brocade from Anna Sui.

image

While I was there, I picked up supplies for my next project, which is to make a Claire McCardell dress and bolero jacket from this 50s Spadea pattern.

image

This style of Grecian-inspired design, with long adjustable strings cinching the waist, is a recurring theme in McCardell’s collections, and in fact there’s a black rayon version in the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute collection.

image

(Claire McCardell Dress in the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s Collection)

Though this style may look familiar now, the dart-free, adjustable-waist concept pioneered by McCardell was radical in its time.

I’ve written in the past about how the Spadea pattern company took existing garments that were being sold in stores, deconstructed them, and drafted patterns from the pieces. So by using this pattern, I should be able to create a clone of the dress in the Met. Here’s a brief history of the Spadea company, written by Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler blog: (Article about Spadea Patterns)

The pattern has a matching bolero, and in researching McCardell, I found this description of the outfit in an ad: “Evening Elegance: black crinkle-crepe sheath, red and black reversible jacket, $55.” Sounds great, huh? I’ve also seen modified versions of this dress in wool jersey, another McCardell signature.

So if all goes well, I’ll be putting together this dress from black merino jersey bought during my mad dash through The Fabric Store in L.A., (L.A. Fabric Stores), and lining the bolero with the red wool jersey I just bought at G Street Fabrics.

And the dress will be worn by…my sister?!?! No fair!

Well, here’s what we’re cooking up.

I’ve mentioned before that my sister, Janet Eilber, is the artistic director of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, AKA The Martha Graham Dance Company. You can peruse Janet’s impressive bio here.

Like McCardell, Martha Graham knew her way around a length of jersey, and one of her most famous dances, Lamentation, is danced entirely inside a jersey tube. Graham used the fabric to give the feeling of “stretching in your own skin” from grief. Janet also told me that Martha designed many of her own costumes, via draping.

I’ve always thought that Claire McCardell’s designs, which use a recurring set of pared-down “American Look” elements, have a lot in common with Martha Graham’s spare choreography, which uses a recurring language of movement to reveal the emotional core of the dances.

So, when my sis told me that she would be speaking at the upcoming DANCE & FASHION (!!) exhibit held by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and that she needed a dress to wear, I said “have I got a designer for you!”

Here’s a link that describes the exhibit in depth: (Dance & Fashion MFIT exhibit details) The exhibit will feature actual dance costumes as well as dance-inspired designer gowns and streetwear. It sounds fantastic, so I’ll definitely be there!

The exhibit opens at The Museum at FIT on Monday, September 12th, 2014, and runs through January 3rd, 2015. On Tuesday, October 28th, dancers from the Martha Graham Company will be performing Graham’s works “Lamentation” and “Spectre-1914,” to be followed by a panel discussion including Janet, designer Doo-Ri Chung, and Melissa Marra of MFIT.

So we’re going to find out if this ingeniously simple design can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of figures, which was McCardell’s intention. I’ll be making up the dress here, then sending it to my string-bean sister to see if we can fit it via photos and sister mental telepathy. (Or possibly via Skype, as my blogging pal CarmencitaB does with some of her clients in France.)

If the whole thing’s a bust, I have some original McCardell dresses in my collection that I just might be willing to loan to my sister. Considering how many times I raided her closet as a teen, it seems only fair.

Speaking of L.A., the West Coast branch of Mood Fabrics has just reopened, after sustaining earthquake damage in the spring. I’m glad they had the opportunity to work on their roof, as the day I was there (during an early March deluge) there were garbage cans everywhere to catch the raindrops dribbling in from the old skylights.

Phew, that’s it for me! How’s your sewing going?

Charles James, meet Claire McCardell

20

Okay, I’ve had my fling with Charles James, paid homage to Madame Vionnet and gotten in a catfight with Coco Chanel. Now it’s time to give Claire McCardell her due. This red shrug is one of her designs.

image

As a wrap-up to all of the Charles James hyperventilation going on at Jet Set Sewing this month, some details of the completed outfit: with the 50s wool challis I used to line the kick pleats on the Charles James skirt (seen here), I made yet another version of the crushed boatneck frankenpattern I came up with this winter. (Details of that pattern are here and here). This time I made it sleeveless and lined it with silk crepe de chine ordered online from Mood.com.

Since I was getting bored with this project the third time around, I researched how to line a tank top by machine, so I wouldn’t have to hand-stitch the lining to the neckline and armholes. I’ve learned the hard way that your tank will quickly turn into a twisted mobius strip if you don’t do it right.

I decided to go with this method: rather than construct the exterior and the lining and stick them together, you sew the front piece of the fashion (exterior) fabric to the front piece of the lining, right sides together, at the armhole and neckline only. Before you stitch, fold back the lining seam allowance at the shoulder seams by 5/8″. Leave the shoulder seams, side seams, and hem unstitched.

Here’s the front of the armscye (armhole) sewn to the front of the lining armscye.

image

Trim the seams, clip the curves, sandwich press (press as is) then open it up and press the seam allowance toward the lining.

image

“Understitch” about 1/8 inch away from the seamline, on top of the lining, catching the seam allowance in the stitching.

image

Turn the lining under and press, a little back from the edge.

image

Oh yeah! Nice and clean without the dreaded topstitching.

image

You do the same with the back fashion fabric and lining. Then, turn both the front and back pieces right side out and stitch the shoulder seams of the fashion fabric right sides together. (You can see that the lining seam allowance is folded under so you don’t catch it in the stitching.)

imageimage

Clip and press the seam you just stitched, and tuck the seam allowance inside the lining. Then slipstitch the lining together at each shoulder seam.

I wish I had a picture of the rest of the method, but I was in a hurry so of course I forgot. But basically you do the side seams one at a time, sewing the back and front fashion fabric side seam right sides together, passing the underarm seam, and then sewing the back and front lining side seam right sides together, all in one long sew. Then you do the other side the same way. Flip the whole thing right side out and do whatever hem floats your boat. I decided to hand catch-stitch up the fashion fabric hem, then slip stitch the lining over it, leaving a little room in the lining so it wouldn’t pull up the hem.

image

Silk crepe de chine is the best, most decadent lining, and worth every penny.

And now to my fashion girlcrush, Claire McCardell.

McCardell with modelsMcCardell in Chair

Though McCardell is no longer a familiar name in fashion (due to her untimely death in the late 50s), she was one of the top American designers of the 40s and 50s, and the primary inventor of the style known as the “American Look.” Her spare, sporty, architectural clothes were designed so the modern woman could move around and have a life while wearing them.

McCardell windowpane dress Claire McCardell SundressClaire McCardell evening dress

If you’ve worn any of the following items recently, you have Claire McCardell to thank for either designing or popularizing them:

ballet flats,

McCardell ballet flats

jersey hoodies,

McCardell hoodieMcCardell hoodie bike

wrap dresses,

McCardell Popover Dress

peasant dresses,

McCardell Hostess Dress FIT

fitted bathing suits,

McCardell bathing suit

fashion sunglasses…

McCardell sunspecs

The real appeal, for me, is how incredibly modern and wearable many of her designs remain.

Here’s a brief bio of Claire McCardell from “Voguepedia”: Claire McCardell bio

And a bunch of McCardell eye-candy from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s online collection: (Met Museum McCardell collection)

I’ll get into more of McCardell’s history in upcoming posts, but long story short: it was my desire to make myself a Claire McCardell that got me into this crazed vintage re-creation jag.

The shrug is taken from this 1951 Spadea pattern:

image

featuring one of McCardell’s famous wrap “popover” dresses, which was designed for ease of donning and wear. Since this is a halter version of the dress, the shrug covers the bare back.

Though we’re accustomed to seeing shrugs like this nowadays, this simple design was revolutionary in it’s time, as it’s made from one pattern piece (doubled) with one center back seam and two short seams under the arms creating the sleeves.

image

McCardell was the first American designer to use jersey to make dresses and separates, so I used lightweight wool jersey, again from Mood.com, to make the shrug.

After cutting the jersey on the bias (and giving my thumb a nice slice with those Kai shears I’m always raving about) I stabilized the seam allowances using stretch stitch #9, which gives you a seam that almost looks like a straight stitch, but still has some give:

image

Here’s how the stay-stitching turned out:

image

Where the edge would be exposed, I folded it under and stitched again to finish it:

image

I decided to use old school French seams to finish the interior seams, since the fabric is so lightweight.

I started out by sewing the seam wrong side together, then trimmed the seam allowances.

image

I pressed open the seam, turned it so the pieces were right side together, then stitched the seam again, enclosing the raw edge of the first seam.

image

A nice clean finish for a nice clean design.

More to come on Claire McCardell, but right now I have to start packing up my sewing projects, tools and machine to decamp for Martha’s Vineyard for the summer.  I hope you’ll join me there for some stitching at the beach!

Charles James Exhibit: Fashion! Art! Tailoring! And, of course, the gift shop.

34

Well, well. That Charles James is something. Train, auto, DC-3, oceanliner, dirigible…just get on it and go!

At this point, you can read plenty of elegant musings about the architectural, sculptural, sexual and haute coutur-al aspects of the Charles James garments on display right now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, including this comprehensive article by Roberta Smith in the New York Times Arts section today: (Article on Charles James).

I want to take you on the sewing-nut tour. Let’s go!

Charles James Met Exhibit

If you read the articles, there’s a big focus on the design and construction of 15 of Charles James’ most famous ballgowns, which are being showcased in the special-exhibition galleries on the Met’s main floor. But personally, it was the day dresses, cocktail dresses, and archival materials displayed in the galleries of the Anna Wintour Costume Center downstairs that gave me a better feel for the Charles James who worked with fabric.

When you walk in the dark, hushed space, lit by pools of light, your first encounter is with this amazing piece:

Charles James cloakCharles James quote

Thank you for that new mantra, Charles. Next to it was his “Ribbon Dressing Gown”: Charles James dresses

…hard to imagine swanning around the house in that gorgeous robe with the rows of subtly-shaded satin molding the gown to the body. Would you need a maid to sweep the floor in front of you anywhere you walked?

The dresses, suits and coats are arrayed on “islands” that the viewer can circle around, allowing you to see them from all sides. It’s a very smart layout, as all of the garments have surprising seams, contours and closures on the fronts, sides and backs. You can get within 3 to 6 feet of many of the designs, making it easy to see the details through the plexiglass. Here are a few examples of Charles James’ masterful tailoring, which, as we sewing enthusiasts know, is something that’s very difficult to do right, and very easy to screw up. On his designs, the seams are never where you expect them to be.

Charles James coatCharles James CoatCharles James coatsCharles James suit

I want that green suit.

I took two trips through this part of the exhibit the day I was there, and good thing, because I almost missed this small bright room (the Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery) displaying items from Charles James’ archives. The custom dressforms he designed:

Charles James dressforms

Scrapbooks and sketches, like this one of his famous “Taxi Dress”:

Charles James sketch

Some of the hats he designed early in his career:

Charles James hats

And this famous wowza piece, a 1937 satin evening jacket, filled with down:

Charles James Down JacketCharles James Down Jacket

There was also a film showing clips of Charles James in the 1970s, prepping young models to wear his classic designs for a retrospective. I generally think of Charles James as an effete, tailored man of the 40s and 50s, but here he looked like so many of those aging lotharios I used to bump into in 80s New York, with the chin-length swept-back hair and groovy attire, trying to hang out with the club kids. That was an eye-opener.

Heading back into the main room, I saw a number of Charles James futurist 50s dinner dresses, like these:

Charles James dresses Charles James dress

And two versions of his La Sirene dresses from the 40s and 50s, with horizontal release tucks shaping the front.

Charles James Sirene dresses

Some of my personal favorites were his 1930s cocktail dresses, including this prototype of his “Taxi Dress,” so named because a girl could put it on in a taxi…

Charles James Taxi Dress

A precursor to “fast fashion,” the Taxi Dress was available in two sizes in the accessories department of Best and Co., wrapped in cellophane packaging. Now I’m thinking that Diane Von Furstenberg didn’t just come up with her wrap-dress idea out of the blue by looking a ballerina sweaters. Here’s a version of the Taxi Dress with a zipper spiraling around the side:

Charles JamesCharles James dress with spiral zipper

You can see the Madeleine Vionnet influence in those designs.

His ballgowns are works of art, but these garments, without the layers of tulle and boning, truly showcase Charles James’ legendary draping prowess.

I’ll talk more about the ballgown part of the exhibit in an upcoming post, but in the meantime I wanted to report that, yes, the skirt I was making from this 1950s Charles James home sewing pattern:

Charles James sewing pattern

did get completed in time to make it into my case for the train trip to New York, with a few minutes to spare to clean up my ragged sewing nails. I wrote about making the muslin for this skirt in this post.

I’ll admit I was beginning to waver about wearing it, thinking that walking around New York in a pencil skirt and heels would be uncomfortable and hurt my feet and a whole bunch of other lazy middle-aged excuses. Then I read this post by Laura Mae of the blog Lilacs and Lace, a sewing enthusiast who makes and wears gorgeous mid-century confections, giving her readers a pep talk about the importance of dressing up and wearing our beautiful, stylish “makes” out to events, concerts and exhibits. (Lilacs and Lace “Classic Glamour” post)

By the time I was through reading that call-to-arms, I felt like it would be darn un-American not to wear that skirt, and that I should be tap dancing around like Vera Ellen tossing flaming batons to boot!

Wearing the Charles James skirt at the Met Exhibit

Wearing the Charles James skirt at the Met Exhibit

Laura Mae, you were SO right! Without that skirt I would have felt underdressed around all of that fine, fine Charles James design. The thing I love about this skirt is that it’s shaped inward down toward the knee to look like a pencil skirt, then it flares out below the knee in a very flirty way at the side pleats (like a “mermaid” skirt), but the back is not clingy at all, so it’s very easy to walk in.

I’m wearing the skirt with the vintage Hermes scarf every gal should have in her travel bag.

My excellent sister, whom I mentioned before as having invited me to this shindig, played hooky from work to see the exhibit and fill in as the Jet Set Sewing staff photographer, then she managed to bumped into someone she knew from work…oops! Thanks again, Janet!

Of course, all good things must end at the gift shop, where I picked up this gorgeous commemorative of the exhibit: a silk scarf with sketches by Charles James.

I’ve also been gifted the book from the exhibit, “Charles James Beyond Fashion” by Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder. I highly recommend it if you can’t attend the exhibit. It’s filled with large, detailed photos showing the dresses, coats, gowns, and archival materials.

Charles James Koda-Reeder book

It’s so big, once it arrives, you may need to purchase a separate coffee table to hold it.

For those of you who can’t make it to New York to see the exhibition, most of the Met’s Charles James collection is on their website here.

More to come on the Charles James exhibit. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Charles James, Charles JAMES, CHARLES JAMES!

19

A couple of great messages popped in my in-box this week.

The first had “Charles James” in the subject and was from my apparently psychic sister inviting me to be her guest at the members-only preview of the “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, opening in May. Here’s a short bio of Charles James from the Met Museum’s website: (Charles James Biography)

After jumping around going “woo hoo!” and informing certain high-maintenance family members that they would have to live without me for two whole days, I got out this American Weekly mail-order pattern from the 50s:

image

I decided to get cracking on view “B”, a version of the Charles James “Dorothy” skirt, which is in the Costume Institute’s collection:

Charles James Dorothy Skirt Charles James “Dorothy” Skirt

If you look closely at the top, you’ll see that the back piece has a triangular extension at the waist that wraps toward the front, and my pattern has that as well. The pattern also has three vents, which are actually low pleats, at the two sides and the back.

View A of this pattern is his “Tulip” Skirt, also in the Metropolitan Museum:

Charles James Tulip Skirt(Charles James “Tulip” Skirt)

It’s on my wishlist to make as well, though I’m more of a “Dorothy” than a “Tulip.” This pattern has small sewn-in interfacing panels all around the bottom to make the hem flare out.

Charles James was a draping and design genius who made iconic gowns for many of the British and U.S. society “Swans” from the 30s until the 70s. This is probably his most famous dress:

Charles James Four Leaf Clover Gown Charles James “Four Leaf Clover” Gown on Austine Hearst

Like many true artists though, his perfectionism ultimately did him in, and he ended his days working with a single patternmaker in New York’s famous artists’ fleabag, the Chelsea hotel.

There’s a great article in the New York Times today by writer Elaine Louie, who describes knowing Charles James in the 70s, and wearing one of his gowns to an exhibit: (“Charles James and Me” article) It’s a fun read.

I better get going on grading (sizing) up that pattern–it’s cut for a 24″ waist!

And thanks again to my sister…Janet, I’m so looking forward to you taking a day off from running the Martha Graham dance company to be the photographic intern for Jet Set Sewing. What a gal!

The second fun thing that popped up in my in-box was a nomination for a “Liebster Award” from Carrie of Crafted By Carrie. Carrie is a scientist by day and sewist by night, who is putting together her trousseau and gifts for her wedding party and a bunch of other stuff while I’m sitting around across town procrastinating about tracing my vintage patterns.

The Liebster Award is bestowed by bloggers onto other bloggers to help spread the word about new blogs. I really appreciate being nominated and Carrie, you are a Liebchen for sending me the Liebster.

I learned from working in TV to always accept a nomination, because it often comes with free dinner. But this one comes with questions to answer (provided by Carrie) so here goes:

What is your favorite garment you’ve made?

Do you think the answer is one of my Chanel jackets? Au contraire, it’s this one-sleeve Schiaparelli wrap I made from Decades of Style pattern #5006 and printed wool fabric from Janssens et Janssens (lined in silk). It’s so unique, lightweight and wearable:

My Spring Wrap

Do your friends and family know about your blog?

Yes, I won’t shut up about it.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Somebody asked me this once in a job interview for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Audio/Visual Department, and I said “inefficiency.” Wasn’t that a great answer? (I could only stand nine months in that job.)

Share five things about yourself that others don’t know:

You know, at this age, discretion is the better part of valor.

What is your favorite period in fashion, and why?

Well, I could write a blog about this, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m a fan of 1920s through early 70s designer fashion, though the cuts from 1950s and 60s suit me the best.

What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?

Jeez, I’m been around so long, it’s tough call. Raising a son (in progress) and step-children, staying married 25 years, being successful in a career, learning French well enough to have French people willing to actually speak with me, getting dinner on the table some 5,000 times…

What quality in a friend is most important to you?

We’re all so busy that if they “like” my posts on Facebook it’s pretty exciting.

Carrie, thanks again! And since the word “Liebster” keeps reminding me of Madeleine Kahn’s hilarious performance as the German saloon singer in the classic Mel Brooks comedy “Blazing Saddles,” I’ll leave you with this link of her singing “I’m Tired.”

Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles.”

Happy trails!

More “Faking Vintage Looks with Modern Patterns”

16

To continue my series on “Faking Vintage Looks with Modern Patterns” (Vintage Schmintage), here’s a look at recent pattern releases that could be used to create vintage-style garments without the hassle of working with a vintage pattern. I’ve chosen these from the summer catalogs of the major commercial pattern companies.

You can find all of these patterns, and more, on my pinterest page Vintage Pattern Re-releases.

Claire Shaeffer’s new Chanel-style cardigan jacket pattern for Vogue has a nice cut with narrow sleeves that could easily work for a 1950s-60s look.

Shaeffer Chanel Jacket Pattern (Claire Shaeffer jacket pattern)

The mandarin-style collar is similar to the collar on this 60s Chanel pattern in my collection:

Chanel pattern

and you can see a number of similar jackets from this era in the online collection of the Metropolitan Museum’s costume institute.

1958 Chanel Suit 1958 Chanel Suit

Here are the technical drawings of the pattern:

Shaeffer Technical Drawings

though what they don’t show clearly is that front of the jacket has a center-front panel that curves into the neckline, which may make matching plaids difficult. (If this is your first time at the Chanel jacket rodeo, take my advice and don’t pick a plaid. This post explains why: Chanel Jacket #2: Blood, Sweat and Tears.)

The instructions in the Shaeffer pattern are quite comprehesive, outlining her well-researched and very precise haute couture method. For more information, Claire Shaeffer’s book  The Couture Cardigan Jacket comes with a DVD explaining her style of construction step by step. Just a heads up that her method is extremely labor-intensive with lots of hand-basting and hand-stitching, and this pattern is no exception. Typically it takes more than 70 hours to make a Chanel-style quilted jacket, and in truth 100+ hours is more realistic.

Gretchen Hirsch of “Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing” has come up with a new lingerie pattern for Butterick, which is vintage in feel, though it’s drafted for knits, rather than the traditional bias-cut wovens that were used in these kinds of slips from the 20s through the 60s.

Gertie PatternGertie Lingerie

(Butterick Lingerie Pattern)

I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, as knits are easier to manage than slippery charmeuse-type fabrics cut on the bias.

Something else that’s nice about the pattern is that it comes with separate bodice bust pieces sized in A through D cups, making it much easier to fit. Gretchen is currently doing a sew-along of this pattern, and in this post she demonstrates how to modify the pattern for an even larger bust: (Sew-along). Since many original vintage patterns are sized for the tiny people who lived several generations ago, having this kind of fit flexibility is one of the benefits of using a modern pattern to make vintage looks.

When you’re done, you’ll either have a sexy “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” full slip:

Liz Taylor (there she is again…)

or a more 70s undies and cammie set.

charlies-angels-header

Sort of like that, anyway. The pattern looks cute.

As for true vintage reproductions, I think the companies under the Simplicity umbrella in the U.S. (Simplicity, Burda Style, and New Look) have done the best job lately of re-releasing patterns reflecting the wide range of vintage sewing styles I’m seeing in sewing blogs. Much of current vintage sewing can be lumped into the following groups:

* Medieval through Downton Abbey: costumers who are pretty much in their own high-level sewing time zone;

* Flapper through Film Noir: People who re-create 20s, 30s, and 40s daytime and cabaret-type looks, including the WWII reenactors (many of them women). You can frequently find this style on blogs like We Sew Retro and Lucky Lucille, who’s running a 40s Sew For Victory Sew-along this month.

* 50s/60s Rockabilly meets “I Love Lucy”-style vintage, with crinolines, beehive hairdos and atomic attitude thrown in (Check out Sew Retro Rose); you’ll also see sleek “wiggle” dresses in the style of Joan from “Mad Men.”

* 50s/60s Sweet or Mod Twiggy-style dresses, often with Peter Pan collars and a thick frosting of “Twee.” Several indy companies make patterns for this group, including Colette Patterns.

*A new group of 70s-style boho psychedelic looks, thanks to Mad Men’s latest season;

* Steampunk and Cosplay, which you’re just going to have to google (as I’ve already gotten in enough trouble with my new Steampunk pals thanks to this post (Steampunk Chanel?);

*And finally, a group of sewing and vintage style mavens who are zealously researching and/or sewing particular garments that stand out in fashion history, including The Vintage Traveler, CarmencitaB, American Age Fashion, and patternmaker Studio Faro. And to that group I would add haute couture sewing enthusiasts, such as Cloning Couture, because there’s a lot of crossover between vintage and haute couture.

Now that I’ve completely stereotyped my fellow vintage sewing enthusiasts, I know you’re ALL going to be mad at me!

While you get over it, check out the “Mad Men Challenge” on Julia Bobbin’s blog to see some great takes on style from the 50s through the early 70s: Julia Bobbin’s “Mad Men Challenge”. Excellent job, everyone!

Here are some vintage-style patterns recently released by Simplicity and Burda Style:

Simplicity boatneckBardot in Breton  Simplicity Boatneck Pattern

This basic version of the 60s boatneck top has French darts (starting low on the bodice near the waist then going up toward the bust point) and dropped shoulders, which is very wearable and “Bardot” in my book. I used French darts when I made this similar crushed boatneck top and I liked how they curved the bodice in from the bust to the waist. Though cut for a woven, I think the pattern would work with a stable knit as well. It’s fun to see the “Jiffy” patterns again, and they’re easy to make. (To see more patterns in this style, check out my pinterest page: The Breton Shirt)

Bombshell suit Monroe in BikiniBombshell suit

I don’t know about the wrap, but the retro suit is cute, particularly the Marilyn Monroe bikini.

Halter tops 2Kristy-McNichol-kristy-mcnichol-10827210-376-500

I’ll admit I’m guilty of having worn 70s Halter Tops like these back in the day, but I don’t know, too Kristy McNichol?

Burda halter Burda palazzo pantsValley-of-the-dolls(Burda Halter pattern) (Burda Palazzo Pants)

I think I could actually pull off this “Valley of the Dolls” style. (Not the hair, though.)

Burda coat patternBrando in bomber jacketBurda coat pattern

For the men, I like this classic coat and bomber jacket. You could be a contender.

Burda bohoBurda Hippy Skirt(Megan Mad MenBurda hippy-wear)(Burda Style Boho Skirt)

And having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I can’t go back to the Age of Aquarius, but for someone younger, these patterns will give you that Mad Men “Megan” look.

Here’s another place I’m not going again:

Burda wedding dress (Burda 50s Wedding Dress)

Burda 60s wedding dress (Burda 60s Wedding Dress)

The 60s pattern would make a nice cocktail dress, though, and I like the horizontal pintucks on the 50s gown bodice.

Simplicity has also released some cute retro clothes for baby:

Simplicity babyBooties (Layette and baby booties)

And Barbie…

Barbie (Barbie clothes pattern)

The green coat with scarf collar is pretty great, and you could also make Barbie a Chanel jacket!

All of these major companies have issued so many wonderful patterns over the past 100 years. I would love to see more re-releases of classics like these:

Diane Von Furstenberg’s original wrap dress patterns for Vogue:

DVF Wrap Patternvogue15491976Christian Bale;Amy Adams (Amy Adams wearing one in “American Hustle”)

Butterick’s late 60s- early 70s “Young Designer” patterns by Betsey Johnson, Kenzo, Mary Quant, John Kloss, and Willi Smith.

Betsey Johnson Bateau-neck patternKenzo PatternMary Quant patternJohn Kloss PatternWilli Smith

I remember making that Kenzo double-wrap skirt as a teen; it’s very clever design.

 

Vogue Paris Original patterns from the 50s and 60s, like these by Schiaparelli and Yves St. Laurent:

imageMondrian dress pattern

50s McCalls “Black Line” patterns by Claire McCardell, Givenchy, and Pauline Trigere…

imageMcCalls GivenchyMcCalls Trigere

How about it, readers, are there any vintage pattern you’d like to see re-released?

 

Finding a “Fitting Shell” to fit those !$%#! vintage patterns

33

In the past couple of years, I’ve become the proud owner of some pretty fab vintage designer patterns that I’m dying to make up. Here are a few examples:

A 1930’s Schiaparelli bias-cut dress pattern with label:

image

A 1962 Officially licensed Chanel Jacket pattern:

Chanel pattern

I did make that one up, and here’s the finished product: (And here are my posts about how I made it.)

10597356983_069525009b_z[1]

A number of Ceil Chapman patterns by Spadea:

image

Laura Mae from “Lilacs and Lace” has been blogging about making that “Skylark” style pattern in the middle, and it looks mighty tricky. (Lilacs and Lace blog)

Here’s an example of an original Ceil Chapman “Skylark” dress, with a narrow inner skirt and an over-skirt in the back:

Ceil Chapman Skylark dress

No wonder Chapman was a favorite designer for stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. The dress played up the bust and made the wearer look like a beautiful bird. As an aside, here’s a link to the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer tune that was popular in that era: “Skylark” sung by Ella Fitzgerald

And here’s the true Skylark dress pattern by Spadea, drafted from the dress above (I’d really like to find this one):

Ceil Chapman Spadea Skylark pattern

I’ve also been snapping up patterns designed by Claire McCardell, released by Spadea, McCalls, and Folkwear. Now I have more than a dozen.

image

Here’s a rare Charles James skirt pattern:

image

The inner workings of these skirt patterns show his genius for garment shaping through structure. There’s going to be a Charles James retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art starting this May 2014, which I’m now scheming to attend (waving my pattern…). (Charles James exhibit info)

Not to mention several boxes of patterns by Pauline Trigere, YSL, Diane Von Furstenberg, Halston, Kenzo, Tiziani (by Lagerfeld) and a number of more obscure designers from the 50s and 60s such as Claire Potter, Jane Derby, Norman Hartnell (the Queen’s couturier), Tina Leser (the original Boho designer), Joset Walker, Jo Copeland, Vera Maxwell, Biki (friend and designer for Maria Callas), and Toni Owen:

image

Also patterns by Hollywood costumers such as Edith Head, Charles LeMaire, and William Travilla, who designed the iconic pleated dress Marilyn Monroe wore over the grate in “Seven Year Itch.”

image

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a pattern problem, and my husband will be the second to admit it.

Most of these patterns are way too small for me, and cut for the different body shapes that were popular at the time. For example, many of the 50s patterns assume that you’re wearing a girdle (which was basically Spanx crossed with a Michelin tire) and a bullet bra that raised the bust point by several inches. It was all about boobs and hips with a tiny short waist, like Elizabeth Taylor in the era.

Elizabeth Tayler

In contrast, the 70s DVF and Halston patterns basically assume that you might possibly be wearing slinky bikini underwear but probably not a bra (because you burned it at a feminist rally before you went to the disco), and the look was super-skinny with a small chest and hips, long torso and really long legs. Nobody worked out (it was pre-Jane Fonda aerobics) and a lot of women smoked and did coke, so the ideal was skin and bones. Here’s Lauren Hutton in that era:

Lauren Hutton

In the picture, she’s wearing a dress by Halston that’s very similar to this late 70s pattern:

Halston pattern #2

Of course a woman’s body can’t morph into new shapes to fit the fashions of the times, so we mainly just beat ourselves up over it.

I’ve gotten tired of starting from scratch in terms of fitting every time I take on a vintage pattern, particularly because my middle-aged body has fit issues of it’s own. So I’m going to see if making a “fitting shell” will help.

If you’re obsessively combing the internet for sewing fun facts (as I do to procrastinate about pinning and cutting fabric), you will see the terms “block,” “sloper” and even the haute couture “moulage” (Kenneth King’s Moulage book) bandied about to describe a basic pattern that is used by a designer to create new patterns.

I didn’t want to get my terminology wrong, so I consulted Kathleen Fasanella’s excellent blog about professional design and manufacturing, Fashion Incubator. There, I found out that patterns without seam allowances, called  “slopers” or “blocks” in the sewing enthusiast world, are generally not used in the industry, and if you use those terms in a pro environment, you’ll be snickered at. She refers to the thing I want to make as a “fitting shell,” so that’s what I’m going to call it.

Basic fitting shell patterns have been available from pattern companies as far back as the 40s or 50s from what I’ve found online, and you can still buy them today. The idea behind these patterns is that if you make up the Vogue Patterns Fitting Shell and get it fitted closely to your body, then you can compare the fitting shell pattern pieces to any other Vogue pattern and easily adjust the fit.

Vogue patterns fitting shell

I want to make myself a fitting shell so that I have a basic flat pattern pieces, fitted for me, to compare with the pattern pieces of the vintage patterns I own. That way, I can ballpark how much I need to increase the dimensions of the smaller pattern to fit my shoulders, bust, waist and hips.

Sounds great in theory, we’ll see how it goes in practice.

I looked at the modern fitting shells released by the Big 4 pattern companies, but nowadays modern patterns tend to have more ease built in, particularly in the armscye, and I want those high and tight vintage Chanel armholes.

So I decided to buy some fitting shell patterns from the 50s and 60s, to see if they would work better. Here’s one from the late 60s, judging from the hairdo and squared-off pumps:

image

 

And here’s one that looks like late 50s:

image

This one in particular is for half-sizes, which nowadays I think would be referred to as “Petite Plus.” The “half-size” range is described in Connie Crawford’s current Grading Workbook as cut for a “more mature, short-waisted woman with a shorter, heavier body-type.” I can’t say I was terribly happy with that description, but at least now I know I have a “half-size” body with “full-size” legs.

And I was very excited to find out what “The Bishop Method” (written on the back of the pattern) might be.

image

I eagerly looked throughout the instructions but was bummed to discover that there was no mention of The Bishop Method inside.

After a quick google, I found “Bishop Method” books all over the internet, and discovered that they were Home Ec manuals from the 50s and 60s. People were raving about them on Amazon! So of course I ordered one, because I need more sewing stuff.

image

Holy smoke, The Bishop Method is the best flippin’ bible of vintage sewing techniques for the novice that I’ve ever seen! It takes you from square one (learning about the machine and making an apron)…

image

(that looks like the straight-stitch Singer 15 sewing machine I learned on.)

image

and goes all the way through making a tailored and lined suit with bound buttonholes and a hand-picked, lapped zipper.

imageimage

It’s filled with clear, comprehensive instructions and a whole bunch of pictures. If vintage-style sewing with wovens is your thing, it’s worth getting a copy for your library.

There’s a lot of fitting info in The Bishop Method, and also in modern books like this:

image

(Threads “Fitting for Every Figure” book), which is extremely comprehensive and pretty text-heavy and labor-intensive, if that’s what you’re into, which I’m not.

With all of the schmancy sewing books in circulation right now, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that my favorite book on basic fitting is this one by Nancy Zieman (of “Sewing with Nancy” fame), as it gets right to the point and illustrates the “pivot and slide” method of pattern fitting, which, though based on solid pattern-grading principles, is easy and fast and doesn’t require you to cut up your pattern.

image

She starts out by explaining the importance of finding a pattern that fits in the shoulders, and gives you the formula you need to figure out the proper size pattern to buy. (This helps if you use vintage patterns because even though the sizing varies, you can choose a pattern by bust measurement.) Then she shows you how to modify that pattern to fit the rest of your body by moving it around and tracing parts of it based on your measurements. There’s also specific fitting info, with illustrations, for dealing with issues such as broad shoulders, sway back, and bust adjustment.

So this is the method I’ve been using to fit paper pattern to muslins, and then I eyeball it from there. Since most commercial patterns are cut for someone with a “B” cup (I’m a “C”) and my waist and hips are a larger size than my shoulders, this method has worked well for me.

I recently read a review of Nancy’s life story, Seams Unlikely, on Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing (Review from Gertie’s New Blog…). The book talks about how Nancy embraced sewing in 4-H, and started her business from home back the bad old days when a woman was expected to get her husband to co-sign a business loan for her–even if he wasn’t involved in the business. It’s an inspiring story.  Gretchen, thanks for giving us the heads up on that book.

Back to my fitting shell quest. In the end, I got lazy and decided to spring for a pattern drafted directly from my measurements, by String Codes.  They take the five basic measurements you input and a create custom a fitting shell pattern for you.

Seemed easy enough, but when I placed the order and asked them to modify the bust measurement for a “C” cup, I was told that the patterns are only available as a “B” cup and that I would have to do a full bust adjustment myself. They did email me instructions with photos for an FBA, and it was a bit of a hassle, but not a deal-breaker. I’m going to make a muslin of the final pattern, and we’ll see how it fits. The pattern comes without seam allowances, so the exterior line is the seamline. You can see where I put in the bust adjustment below, following the directions from String Codes:

image

 

I ordered the “torso” pattern with a sleeve with a dart, since I often make jackets and tops, and also ordered the skirt pattern. I can overlap them if I’m making a dress.

As soon as I have it made up, I’ll do a little “show and tell” to let you know how it worked out.

And I’ll try to remember Nancy Zieman’s advice to avoid over-fitting, because “it can be exasperating and can take the joy out of sewing.” Amen, sister!

How’s your sewing going?

Too Cool for School: Patterns for The Varsity Jacket and Duffle Coat

10

Recently the New York Times featured some new designer takes on an American classic style, known as the bomber jacket or varsity jacket. Here’s Elletra Weidemann sporting what the Times calls a “statement piece” (no kidding–look at all of that beading) by Giambattista Valli, with jackets by other designers such as Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim:

Elletra WeidemannNY Times Style Article

Talk about someone who’s hit the genetic lottery; her mother is Isabella Rossellini and her grandmother is Ingrid Bergman. (Love her short bob.)

Suddenly I’m seeing these jacket everywhere. At J. Crew (an American mall brand) I saw what looked like a sweatshirt-meets neoprene version, and then later I had to restrain myself from ordering this silk crepe de chine homage from the UK’s Pure Collection:

Silk jacketSilk Jacket

If you’re a certain age in the U.S., you’ll remember when this jacket was a “varsity jacket” with a wool body and leather sleeves, and ribbing on the cuffs and hem. When you borrowed your boyfriend’s jacket in high school, the oversized fit made a statement that you and the guy were a couple. They were warm, comfy and cute.

Here’s a picture from the 40s:

varsity-jacket-1946

I cadged that picture from this blog full of Made in America stuff: (Check out the nice leather goods in this blog)

In the 80s this style morphed into a “tour jacket” which was the hot thing you got to wear if you were working on a rock and roll tour.

Michael_Jackson_Smooth_Criminal_Roadie_Tour_Jacket(If you’re really into Michael Jackson collectibles…)

The logo of the artist would be embroidered on the back, and if you were really cool, your name would be embroidered on the front, a kitch-y reference to 50s bowling team shirts. After awhile, this style moved from rock tours to TV crews, and then everybody had them.

Here’s an Oscars jacket in my personal collection, from more than 20 years ago:

image

As to how I got it, well, as the old Rodgers and Hart song says, “if they asked me, I could write a book…”

Now that I’ve recovered from thumb tendonitis from hand-stitching Chanel jacket #4, I’m thinking that this kind of jacket might be a nice change of pace.

To make one, I’m looking at the recently released pattern created by Kathleen Fasanella, whose popular blog, Fashion Incubator, has a wealth of deep and broad information for the fledgling designer and serious home-sewing nut. Her book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing has gotten great reviews on Amazon. (Kathleen Fasanella’s Book)

This jacket pattern may look simple in the prototype, yet her instructions and construction photos are a whopping 59 pages long. Though sized for men, the pattern could be used by a woman as the base for making an oversized designer-inspired version.

Bomber jacket patternBomber Jacket Pattern link

Here’s another classic design many of us grew up with: the duffle coat. In one of the earliest examples of dressing “vintage,” the Beat Generation writers and artists embraced this style, getting the coats from the Army/Navy surplus.

Beats-in-Duffle-coats

In a recent post from the Vintage Traveler, I saw that one element of the Canadian Olympic uniform is the duffle, designed by the Hudson Bay company:

Sochi-2014-Uniforms-Team-Canada

And the upscale skiwear manufacturer Bogner came up with this rockin’ version for the Germans: Sochi-2014-Uniforms-Germany

You would never get lost in a white-out skiing in that thing.

Somehow in the past 50 years in the US, duffle coats have become preppy, and now preppy has become a parody of itself (thanks a lot Ralph Lauren and you “Official Preppy Handbook” people…(Review of the book “True Prep” by Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd), but the duffle coat remains cool. Hipster cool.

Here’s a couple of modern hipsters, Bob and Betty Walden, wandering about what appears to be the woods outside of “Portlandia,” modeling coats from Colette Patterns’ new “Walden” line.

albion-62240eca32ee9bf80908b5af71e940df

(The last time I drove by the turn-off to the real Walden Pond, outside of Boston, it was near a mini-mart and state prison.) Here’s a link to the original hipster/hippy go-back-to-the-land-and-gaze-at-your-navel book, Thoreau’s Walden: (Or Life in the Woods) If you like it, let me know. As a college freshman during the disco era, I read the Cliff Notes for American Lit because I was far too busy to get through it.

Kidding aside, this duffle coat pattern looks authentic and well-drafted. (Albion Duffle Coat Pattern)

The line also has a pattern for three vintage-style satchel/backpack-type bags that I’ve been coveting:

Cooper Bag Pattern(Cooper Bag Pattern)

You can also buy an in-depth construction guide for this pattern, with more than 400 photos, so this would be a good project for a beginner. Gentlemen, start your sewing machine engines.

As for the rest of you kids, I’ll meet you in the woods after school for a ciggie.