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

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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:

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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.)

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A number of Ceil Chapman patterns by Spadea:

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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.

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Here’s a rare Charles James skirt pattern:

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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:

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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.”

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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)…

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

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

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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:

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(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.

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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:

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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?

In The Mood: L.A. Fabric Stores

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Oooo, let’s go to fabric heaven, shall we?

I know, it’s pretty tough to beat Janssens et Janssens in Paris, (Fabric Shopping in Paris and…Steampunk Chanel?) but the sticker shock of getting there and buying there can only be pulled off once in awhile. I’m still in awe of Mary from the Cloning Couture blog, who took her husband to browse at Chanel first, and then over to Janssens after she’d convinced him how much money she’d save making her own. (Mary, yours is made better anyway.)

One morning in L.A., I announced to the boys that I was going to the fabric store, and not hearing any response, I grabbed my purse and ran. I drove south on LaBrea to Wilshire to hit the new giganto outpost of Mood Fabrics (645 S. LaBrea Ave.). (Mood Fabrics Website)  I had been to this location a year ago soon after they’d opened, so I knew it was huge, but now they had twice as much stuff.

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Gianormus.

Fashion fabrics on one side, leather and home dec on the other.

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Pretty much anything you’re looking for, they’ve got it. Knits, suiting wools, tweeds…

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Designer roll-ends, particularly printed silks…

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And gorgeous fancy stuff…

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I had almost convinced myself to get some of that blue and black tweed with sequins (at the bottom), even though I know sequins are a bitch to sew with. But when I came back to get it, it was gone! (I was secretly relieved.)

Here’s what really made me jealous…

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A bunch of women sitting around in muslins enjoying one of Mood’s FREE sewing classes. (Sewing classes at Mood Fabrics L.A.) Behind that wall of fabric rolls is another class of cute grade-school age kids learning to sew. The L.A. Mood location offers a mind-boggling array of sewing/draping/patternmaking/designing classes for free, often taught by professional designers and costumers. Every time I get one of their emails, I want to immediately decamp for L.A. and make up a little bed for myself among the linens and raw silks.

You know what they say, give someone a fast-fashion T-shirt, they have clothes for three washes…but teach someone to sew, and… (they soon have an overwhelming pile of fabric stash?)

As much great stuff as they had at Mood, the size of my stash was on my mind, so I decided to drive up LaBrea a few blocks to The Fabric Store, which is in a stretch of high-end hipster vintage and home dec stores around 2nd St (136 S. LaBrea Ave.).  I’d read that this New Zealand company had opened their first U.S. location, and wanted to check it out. (The Fabric Store’s U.S. website)

In complete contrast to the “packed to the rafters” feel of Mood, the Fabric Store is in an open-plan store front with wooden tables and shelves, and sedate zen-y music playing.

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I chatted briefly with the young, hip, soft-spoken manager, who told me that the New Zealand owners source the fabrics from their home office and ship them to L.A. What I found was a beautifully curated selection of mostly natural fabrics, including gorgeous silks and cottons…

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and tempting linen tweeds…

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But The Fabric Store’s claim to fame is their high-quality New Zealand merino wool jersey, which come in a range of weights, colors, and designs.

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They were really something, and most were under $20 a yard for a hugely wide swath of jersey (up to 62″ width), all of it smooth, itch-free stuff.

I’m a Claire McCardell freak, and in the past year I’ve managed to track down, outbid, and over-pay for about 12 of her original sewing patterns. So I’m now starting to make them up. McCardell and Chanel were basically the original proponents of using wool jersey for sportswear, so I knew that quality merino jersey like this would work well for my McCardell “makes.”

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I ended up buying some lightweight black New Zealand 100% merino jersey, a periwinkle/royal blue Italian wool/viscose jersey and some “tie” silk, all pictured above, and believe me, I could have gone home with more. I have since machine washed and air-dried swatches of both wool jerseys and they came out perfectly. I’ll definitely be stopping by The Fabric Store on my next trip to L.A.

The one L.A. store I didn’t get to this time, but highly recommend, is International Silks and Woolens at 8347 Beverly Boulevard, less than a mile from The Fabric Store and Mood. (International Silks and Woolens Website) When I visit, I go straight to the little room on the 3rd floor where they have authentic vintage fabrics that look like they go from the 30s to the 80s. They’re not cheap (usually around $40/yard), but you can find unique retro fabrics like the one I used to make this Madeleine Vionnet bias scarf. If you do buy any vintage fabrics, inspect them carefully as they may be faded at the fold, so you’ll need more yardage.

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Here’s the post about how I made that scarf:  (How To Make The 30s Madeleine Vionnet Scarf)

There are a number of other great fabric/sewing/costuming stores in L.A., and if you have been to any of them, let us know what you think!

Now to make a dent in my stash so I can go fabric shopping again.

Vintage, Schmintage; faking vintage looks with modern patterns

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I love vintage sewing. It’s the high-maintenance aspect of using the original patterns that gives me a pain. Fortunately, there are a number of vintage pattern reproductions and homages in current release that can keep you busy without the hassle of working with an old pattern.

Surprisingly, many of my favorite vintage-style patterns are not from the “vintage” or “retro” collections. Those can turn out looking costume-y or kitsch, and I’m just too old to pull it off without looking dotty. And pattern reviewers often find that the fit of these patterns has been modernized and made too roomy.

The patterns I like tend to be from the main collections of Big-4 or small commercial companies, or from indy companies that re-release vintage patterns.

Here’s one example. If I wanted to reproduce a Norman Norell “Mermaid Dress” seen here:

norell-mermaid-sheathNorell Mermaid Dress

I could modify this Vogue Badgley Mischka pattern that’s currently in release.

Mermaid Dress PatternVogue 1374

(First thing I’d do is take up that armscye.) The sequins on the original Norells were each hand-sewn on twice to make them lay flat, so I’m not going to be taking on that project on anytime soon.

With any of these patterns, you need to look beyond the photos and use your imagination to see how they can be modified for a vintage look. For example, View A (right photo) of this typical boho pattern can be easily modified to create this 40s Claire McCardell “Hostess Dress”, made of wool jersey. She basically invented the peasant dress we all wore in the 70s.

New Look 6096McCardell Hostess Dress FIT

New Look 6096McCardell Hostess Dress at FIT

Here are a few pattern suggestions for my favorite bloggers, chosen from patterns that are commercially available now. You can see details on my Pinterest page: Favorite Vintage Re-releases.

Many of these patterns come in a range of sizes, with modern instructions, and can be easier to deal with than actual vintage patterns.

For Carrie from Apricot Adventure blog, who looks like Megan from Mad Men, adjusts the fit on her dresses perfectly, and is a scientist to boot, I’m seeing this Burda repro of a late 60s glam girl dress: Burda Glam Dress. What do you think, Carrie? Maybe for your bachelorette party?

burda pattern

Put some chiffon sleeves on it, and you can do your own version of “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

Megan Zou Bisou Bisou

For Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler, who just did a post on Winter Olympic Uniforms through the years, featuring the Unfortunate Christmas Sweater:

Unfortunate Christmas Sweaterand the Awesome Peacoat: Ralph Lauren Peacoat

how about this fab 30s blanket coat from Wearing History?

Blanket Coat blanket coat pattern

For Red Point Taylor, who stitches up lovely jackets (see her beautiful French Jacket here), a cropped jacket for her next Chanel adventure:

Cropped JacketButterick 5859.

I like the 30s-style high-waist pants and “naughty secretary” blouse in the pattern, too.

And for Carmen, of the Carmencitab blog, who whipped up this fab Yves St. Laurent Mondrian Dress from an original 60s Vogue pattern:

mondrian dress

Maybe a Schiaparelli Wrap from Decades of Style for chilly nights in Paris?

5006-web-picHere’s my review of that pattern: Schiaparelli Wrap Review

Then there’s Peter of Male Pattern Boldness, who’s making us all jealous recounting his experiences studying menswear at FIT. He could really get his Gable on with this 40s pattern from Eva Dress:

Robe

There’s also a shorter “Smoking Jacket” version in the pattern, to wear when he gets those vintage sewing machines of his smokin’. The shorter jacket won’t get in the way of the knee lift.

For Patricia of Notes from High Road blog, who enjoys projects from Japanese pattern books and international magazines, how about a Vietnamese Ao Dai from Folkwear, a company that carries patterns for traditional ethnic garb from around the world, as well as a number of vintage styles.

Vietnamese drawing

For Lynn of American Age Fashion, a blog that chronicles how older women have dressed throughout the years, and who just wrote this hilarious post about what Coco Chanel wore to a Texas Barbeque:

Coco at a Barbeque

(Fur at a barbeque?), I’m thinking that this vintage pattern repro from Decades of Style would have been a better choice for Coco:

Rodeo shirt pattern

After some pulled pork and a few drinks, who knows? Coco might have gotten up and performed Agnes DeMille’s ballet “Rodeo”. Then she would have gone home with this guy:

Negroni Mr. Negroni from Colette Patterns.

And for the rest of you, how about a 40s film noir nighty?

Film Noir Nighty Film Noir Nighty from Eva Dress

60s Laura Petrie Capris?

Laura Petrie PhotoLaura Petrie CaprisVogue 8886

An “American Hustle” 70s wrap dress?

American Hustle WrapWrap dress70s Wrap Dress Pattern

A 40s sarong?

Dorothy_Lam_3Bombshell SarongBombshell Sarong

I know there are many other favorites I’m missing, particularly from indy pattern companies. If you have suggestions, please jump in!

American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns

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Have you seen the movie American Hustle? Oh honey, in the 70s, I was there. The knit dresses cut down to there. The men with hair everywhere. The whole feeling of “Vietnam’s over, the feminist movement’s started, and we have birth control.  Let’s dress up and have a party!” We would go to the disco and dance for hours. The scene with the two leads in the Studio 54 bathroom stall? Totally could have happened anywhere in the US during that time.

I’m not sure how American Hustle will translate into other eras and cultures, but everything in it resonated with me, particularly the wardrobe.

American Hustle StillAmerican Hustle Wrap

In one scene, Amy Adams tries on an instantly recognizable Diane Von Furstenberg silk jersey wrap dress, which looks like this:

DVF Wrap

DVF’s wrap dress design is now celebrating it’s 40th anniversary. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-designers/dvf-wrap-dress-0214  I was happy to see that the reissue of this dress is made of the original silk jersey, which makes these dresses a cut above the countless polyester knock-offs we’ve seen since.

Seeing that wrap dress reminded me that DVF did a number of patterns for Vogue in that era. So people like me who were living on a shoestring could make their own. That led me to Etsy, where I bought this pattern last night.

DVF Wrap PatternI like how they show the dress as reversible.

A lot of people make fun of 70s, but it was a great time for design and for sewing. In the early 70s, Butterick’s “Young Designer” pattern series allowed teens like me, living in the midwest, to make dresses by new designers like Betsy Johnson, whose clothes we’d only seen in Seventeen magazine.

Betsy Johson pattern

Trust me, no one had done slinky tank dresses like this, and there certainly weren’t patterns for them. I had spent all of my grade-school years in uncomfortable dresses with crinolines and smocking, then freezing cold, constricting mini shift dresses. In junior high, I made this dress out of Quiana polyester with pale roses on it. I LOVED it! The Young Designers line also had patterns by new youthful designers such as Kenzo, Mary Quant, Clovis Ruffin, and Willi Smith. The clothes were fun and comfortable.

By the late 70s, everyone in the country had heard about Studio 54, and what a fabulous, hedonistic place it was. Though in reality, it was probably more like this:

Studio 54

That’s the designer Halston on the left, Bianca Jagger in some odd hoodie next, some other guy, Liza Minelli, and yes, PREPPY Michael Jackson. Were they really having fun? I don’t know. The whole era got to be too much after awhile.

Speaking of Halston, in the late 70s and early 80s, he designed some great patterns for McCalls:

Halston pattern #1Halston pattern #2 Very Amy Adams in American Hustle.

I remember making this knit top and skirt in the early 80s, when I was first working as a television producer:

Halston pattern #3

I wore it on a field shoot, one thing led to another, and the guy I was interviewing and I ended up at the Plaza. Those were the days, my friend.

You can see more Halston patterns on my pinterest page: Make Your Own Vintage Halston. The patterns are not too hard to find on Ebay and etsy.com.

Let’s get back to the wrap dress. Diane Von Furstenberg is known for “inventing” it, but it was around for a long time before that:

McCardell Popover

This rare early 50s Claire McCardell pattern, released by Spadea, was drafted from a retail McCardell dress, like this:

McCardell Popover DressMcCardell Popover in the Metropolitan Museum Collection

The bodice is cut on the bias, a technique McCardell learned by deconstructing Vionnet dresses while she was a student in 1920’s Paris. She had wrap dresses in her line from the 40s through her death in the late 50s, though she called them “popover” dresses. More on this design later.

These dresses never really go out of style. Just today, I spotted this new Vogue pattern from Donna Karan:

Donna Karan Wrap Pattern

Bias cut, very nice. Here’s the link: Donna Karan Vogue Wrap Pattern. Many of Donna Karan’s early sewing patterns (including the ones she did for Anne Klein) were influenced by Claire McCardell’s designs.

Hm, I think I have some wrap dresses in my sewing future…after all, when Mad Men returns it will be in the full-on 70s.

What do you think of 70s fashion? Thumbs up or down? Any fashion memories, good or bad?

France wrap up

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Here’s the France style/sewing wrap up before I expire from aesthetic overload:

1. What would a trip to France be without a pointless pilgrimage? Recognize this staircase?

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Yeah it’s this one!

Chanel on Staircase chanel-on-the-stairs-5

It’s Chanel’s atelier at 31 rue Cambon. Last time it I walked by it was locked, but this time the guard let me come right in and take some pictures. Wowza. Why didn’t I do a selfie?

But since Madeleine Vionnet won the Chanel/Vionnet Smackdown post, I also had to pay homage Vionnet’s first atelier, at 222 rue de Rivoli.

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Kind of touristy now, but the view of the Tuileries across the rue de Rivoli remains the same.

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2. A lot of formerly hot French guys are walking around wearing Wranglers. Wranglers! You don’t look like a cowboy, you look like Uncle Buck. Stop it. You’re bringing down Western civilization.

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3. Though this looks like a picture of me eating lunch, drinking wine, and wishing that a magic carpet would transport me to my hotel so I wouldn’t have to ski down an entire Alp to get there, I’m actually testing a design by American Look creator Claire McCardell. She was a skier as well, and in the 40s she developed a wool jersey top with what was then called a “Superman hood” to keep her ears warm.

McCardell hoodie
This was back in the days when the concept of “separates” was very new, and jersey was just beginning to be used for “sportswear,” as before that women didn’t do sports because they were walking around in corsets trying not to get the vapors. (Okay, I’m skipping a few parts of fashion history, but you get the idea.) McCardell, on the other hand, was one of a new breed of sporty, independent women, so she created designs to fit that lifestyle.
You can see this example of McCardell’s Superman hoodie in the online archive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/157132?rpp=20&pg=1&ao=on&ft=claire+mccardell&pos=2 That archive is such a good time-waster.
The black Patagonia top I’m wearing in the picture (from their fall 2013 “collection” http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/womens-merino-3-midweight-hoody?p=37145-0&pcc=1147) is made of merino wool jersey, and has a hood that is virtually the same cut as McCardell’s. It’s easy to wear, not too hot, not too cold, and the hood works fine under my ski helmet. It’s ironic that merino wool jersey is now being touted as the miracle fabric for sports, (Insulating! Stink-free!) when McCardell was talking retailers into the same thing more than 75 years ago.

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4. More bling from rue de Seine. The round compact that looks like a telephone dial is credited to the Surrealist Artist Salvador Dali, but it was from a 1935 collaboration with designer Elsa Schiaparelli. According to the New York Times, one of these compacts was recently listed on the website 1st dibs for $50,000.

At some point I’ll get around to writing about the single-sleeved Schiaparelli wrap I whipped up last winter, which I’m worn a lot more than my Chanel jackets. Something about it really wows people.My Spring Wrap

It’s a fun project, and the reissue of the pattern is available from Decades of Style http://www.decadesofstyle.com/vintage-patterns-1950s/5006-1950s-stole. Last spring, I won a Threads Magazine competition by creating this Pinterest page about the project http://www.pinterest.com/juleseclectic/make-your-own-schiaparelli-wrap/. For my prize, Threads sent me a Bernina Swiss Army “Ladies Knife,” full of sewing tools, which thrilled me beyond words, no joke.

Bernina Ladies Knife

5. Love the printed pattern on this light all-wool scarf from Ventilo.

imageimageEvery year when we come to Paris, the boxes of clementines in the outdoor markets are a bright spot in the winter gray. Thanks Santa.

6. Here’s what was in vintage dealer Didier Ludot’s shop window (in the Palais Royal, just north of the Louvre):

image After I go on my gluten, dairy and food-free diet, I’m going back for that ivory beaded Balenciaga with sleeves in the back.

7. You may recognize Paris’ Grand Palais from Chanel’s last few collections, when the giant hall, built for the 1900 World’s Fair, looked like this:

image For the holidays, the French set up an indoor amusement park inside this Beaux Arts wonder.

imageFifteen Euros covered admission and all the rides! My 12-year-old was in heaven. They also set up a temporary champagne bar in the hall with a chanteuse singing Piaf. So much better than Disneyland Paris.

8. Here’s American ballet star David Hallberg, (from South Dakota!) doing his curtain call for Nureyev’s version of Sleeping Beauty at the Paris Opera Ballet, with Svetlana Zakharova, prima ballerina with the Bolshoi.imageNo words for his perfectly executed and interpreted solo in Act 2. In the last act, the chorus’ costumes were all in a dusty palette of pink, yellow, peach and ochre, like the set, so that the soloists’ jewel-toned costumes popped out in front of them. Yes, I am a dance nerd, too.

9. And lastly, thanks to the egging on of a number of readers, I did fulfill my threat to go back to Janssens et Janssens and look for black tweed for Chanel #5, the punk meets steampunk little black jacket. I was the only one in there, and in the midst of a long French conversation with the unfailingly friendly saleswoman, I went into some kind of fabric trance, leading me to walk out with some lightweight, all-wool Italian tweed with subtle houndstooth texture (but dark enough that you don’t have to match it, um, I hope), black trim with gray flecks and leather(ette) tubes running lengthwise (punky!), and a black chain sewn onto black satin ribbon to speed up the boring chain application part (and it’s steampunk, really, or clockpunk. One of those). Lining TBA.image
Word up about Janssens, they hate doing the paperwork for tax-free shopping, so if you ask for the “detaxe” they’ll tell you it’s a problem (for whatever reason), but because you’re so “nice” they’ll give you a discount.
I’ve dubbed this project “The Kaiser” because that’s what people call Karl Lagerfeld, though probably not to his face. I’ll be working on Chanel jacket #5 in the fall, although at this rate it could end up being fall 2020 after my son graduates.

But now that I’m back from Paris when it drizzles to Boston when it’s a slush heap, I’m thinking about projects for my next trip, an early March long weekend in Los Angeles. This light Italian wool with printed sequins that I got at Janssens will be just right for LA’s “winter” weather.

image And I need to bust my fabric stash before I go to LA’s newish mega Mood Fabrics store and the third floor vintage fabrics room of International Silks and Woolens.

Less blabbing on my blog, more sewing!
What are you working on in your part of the world?

Bonjour Paris

4

image Here’s the view out of the apartment window of the best friends we’ve never met, the owners of our vacation rental in Paris. We’re staying in the 6th arrondisement, the left bank neighb where Hemingway and Beauvoir hung out, which has morphed into a high-rent district and primo shopping area, while hanging onto at least some of its artsy charm.

Having left my sewing machine at home, I plan to fill my days researching Paris mode and shopping for supplies for future projects. Fortunately we’ve been to Paris enough that I feel absolutely no compulsion to do anything cultural or historic and neither does anyone else in the family.

imageUnder the guise of “getting groceries” yesterday, I escaped the boys and wandered the neighborhood. About 40 feet down the rue des Beaux Arts, I came across this “gallery” with beautifully designed and handcrafted leather bags. Love the striped box bag on the top; very 40s.

image Turning onto the rue Boneparte, I passed the array of small galleries and high-end boutiques that have taken over the area. Some are well-known, like Azzadine Alaia’s shop, where I encountered this masterful suede and embroidered dress with cropped emerald shearling jacket (and matching boots and gloves) highlighting the sexy draping and construction he’s known for. Fortunately, most Paris shop windows helpfully list the price of items inside, saving you from going in and embarrassing yourself.

image  This area has a number of antique furniture galleries and shops for decorator fabric. I was mighty glad that the Hermes fabric and wallpaper shop was closed as I would have been sorely tempted. I’m not much of a home dec maven, but I do believe that a girl should have some Hermes scarves in her arsenal (my vintage collection came from Ebay and the Paris “depot vente” (consignment store) called Reciproque) and I might have convinced myself to make some Hermes pillows to go with them.

imageEverything in these little shops is so beautifully crafted and artfully arranged.

image  Everything.

image  I had long  passed the grocery store and the cafe where Hemingway hung out, so I wandered into the Monoprix, which is what Target would be if it were next to Armani, across from Cartier, and not stuffed to the gills  with off-shore crap.  I’m still thinking about the all-wool expressionist scarf on the right.

image But, honestly, I knew where  I was  going all  along.  I had to visit my old friend Agnes  b.  This French brand is  semi-culty  among hip American prep-school girls and the Japanese.  I’ve been wearing “Agnes” since my husband’s daughter introduced me to her line in the late 80s. Her sweaters and tops, made of cotton rib or merino, still work with my “urban boomer granny” uniform of black stretch jeans, black top, and colorful asides like the aforementioned Hermes scarves. There were a number of women in there shopping in pairs (like the women in the photo, one of whom has a massive Chanel bag slung over her shoulder). All around, women were exclaiming “jolie!” (pretty), “mignon” (cute) or “fou” (crazy). No one appeared to be shopping for gifts, and unlike the U.S. at Christmas, the store music was not blasting “it’s the MOST WUNNNDERFUL time of the year…” to inspire the legion of American women nearing holiday collapse.

image While I was there, I saw a version of the knitted “hoodie” that American Look designer Claire McCardell invented in the 40s and tried unsuccessfully to patent. She liked to ski, so she made it to keep her ears warm.

I picked up one of Agnes b.’s cotton sweaters with snaps, and wore it out to dinner with my husband last night. Having mailed off my Xmas presents before leaving the US, and having visited with family earlier in the year, chilling in Paris over the holidays IS the most wonderful time of the year.

I’m going to be shopping for fabric and notions over the next several days. Any suggestions?