Oscars report (get a snack, it’s a long post) and Daniel Day-Lewis’ Sewing Blog!


So I needed to make something for the Oscars.

I had some gorgeous silk/wool/metallic fabric I’d scored at B&J Fabrics in NYC during the fall. B&J is a well-organized, somewhat pricey shop on 7th Avenue with a nice selection of fabrics for dressy events, and lots of knowledgeable help.

I had a repro pattern for a 30s swing jacket, so I set to work stitching it up, even inserting some silk pockets.


I was so productive! I’d made a quick muslin using Swedish tracing paper, (not always a great idea, as tracing paper doesn’t have grain, so you don’t get the feel of the drape), but I thought I could fake it.

I think you can tell where this is going.

I realized as I was working with the fabric that it had some kind of Lycra in it, and it wasn’t molding at all with steam from the iron. I sewed on one of the sleeves, which turned out to have a very large and puffy cap that wouldn’t shrink up with steam, and–holy moly, I looked like General (Princess) Leia chaperoning the Jedi Academy prom! I was too mortified to take pictures!

I knew it wasn’t going to fly, so onto plan B. I had just enough fabric to make the Decades of Style one-sleeve wrap pattern #5006 (which is an original 50s design by Schiaparelli). I’ve made it before, and it’s really fun and dramatic.

I dug around in my stash for lining, and found yards of vintage signed Schiaparelli silk twill that I’d completely forgotten about! Yes!!


I made the following modifications on the pattern: flipped the pattern to put the sleeve on the left arm (because I’m a lefty), lengthened the front hem (at the belly button), shortened the ends and the sleeve (due to not having enough fabric), brought up the seam under the arm somewhat to give it more definition, got rid of the flap over the hand opening, and tacked the wrap together at the shoulder to keep it from sliding off (I put it on over my head).


Now we’re talking!


I felt really glam, yet comfy in my skin, because in late middle age, eveningwear is a challenge. (I still remember Nancy Reagan propped up in those strapless dresses with corselets and that crepey skin hanging over…yick!) And the wrap was as warm as a jacket, which helps because it’s freezing in the theater.

The day before, I’d spotted two “mature” women on their way to the rehearsal, absolutely rocking very different looks that worked equally well. Jane Fonda turned it out in creams and beige, with tailored pants, a simple knit top, and a long duster giving her height and authority. Helen Mirren was next to her in eccentric Brit style–black origami skirt, white tee that could have been Ric Owens (or Hanes), and Vivienne Westwood-style black army boots. Clearly neither one of them was throwing in the towel on style (or giving up kicking butt) anytime soon.

And I loved Jane Fonda’s ad lib that the Oscars’ set looked like “the Orgasmatron from Barbarella.”


In these Oscars posts, I usually make fun of the dresses worn by the stars, but it seems a little tacky in this era of #MeToo. I worked in TV as a producer and writer for years starting in the 80s, and let me tell you, Me Too could have been Me Three for most of us. We were just happy to have jobs at all, and knew if we complained, we’d be given a box for our photos and office plant and escorted out the revolving door that afternoon.

So the “whisper network” was real, and that’s how I knew that Rod in Master Control was known as “elevator eyes,” and that under no circumstance should I get on the CBS elevator alone with Bob, the our showbiz legend Executive Producer, because by the time you got to the basement level where the commissary was, Bob would have tried to stick his tongue down your throat.

So let’s talk about the guys, shall we!

First, George Clooney, where were you?! I know you have twins and would have shown up with spit-up on your Armani lapel, but make an effort, will ya?

George Clooney


Here’s Timothee Chalamet taking a fashion flyer in a Berluti white tux.


You’re young, adorable, extremely talented…but oh, honey, who did this to you?

Pegged pants, dark boots, and worst of all, no cummerbund to cover that saggy waistband. When I saw you in person, you looked like a kid who’d been fitted for his prom rental tux in October, then had a growth spurt. Meow, I know, but fire your stylist.

Armie Hammer, Armie Hammer, Armie Hammer!


Red velvet, my favorite flavor. He’s absolutely the only man in the universe right now who could pull off this look. (Including you, George Clooney.)

This winter I saw a number of the nominated movies, and was feeling very esoteric and removed from the whole horse race of the winners and losers, until I saw…


If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that Mr. Art Deco has been fired several times as my photographer.

But in this case, he scored the selfie prize by grabbing a total fangirl pic of me “with” the cast of Black Panther:


I attend the Marvel movies to “chaperone” my teen son, but in truth, I love them, and in particular I adored Black Panther.

According to this article in the New York Times, the costume designer, Ruth E. Carter, based the costumes on traditional African garments, but gave them a modern twist.

For Queen Ramonda’s crown, for example, Ms. Carter’s inspiration was a “traditional Zulu married woman’s hat,” and her updated version was 3-D printed, with the assistance of designer Julia Koner.


(Doesn’t it look fabulous on Angela Bassett, on the right, who not only got to be Queen in this film, but also got to portray Tina Turner in the same lifetime?)

Ruth E. Carter should win the Best Costume Oscar next year.

Look, Salmon Oscar has a caviar bowtie!


There’s Armie again. He’s looking my way, right?


Who needs you, George?

And what about my on-going feud with Meryl (of which I believe she’s unaware)? Until recently, she had a tendency to “copy” my look. I was quite upset about it, particularly when she one-upped me by wearing a “hostess set” (skirt over pants) last year.


This year, she was at it again, with a gorgeous red gown from Dior:


That’s it, you win, I can’t compete with your fabulous outfits.

Just one question, though. Did you make them?

And what about you, Daniel Day-Lewis, star of the really weird and not-my-favorite “Phantom Thread?” (Though the beautiful bespoke suits in the film, worn by Lesley Manville (the sister) and other characters, were made by Thomas von Nordheim, author of the excellent book Vintage Couture Tailoring.)

According to this interview in W Magazine, after learning to sew for several months, Daniel Day-Lewis has become sew crazy, and is chucking acting for good to become a fashion designer.

Well, Daniel, we’re all looking forward to the launch of your blog!

I got a sneak peek, and honey, it’s fabulous. I hope you don’t mind if I print a preview here:

DDL’s Major Thoughts About Sewing Blog

113 Followers. Follow Me On Bloglovin’!

I entered the Bargainista Fashionista contest on Pattern Review

Day 78 of Daniel’s Sewing Journey:

“Today was a frustrating day of sewing. My wife stood patiently for hours with her arms over her head, as I conceptualized how to insert a gusset. I went on Instagram with my sewing peeps for advice but still struggled so with the bias corners. Then Mrs. DDL’s-Major-Thoughts-Blog left in a huff after I stuck her in the armpit with a pin, and said something about making me her special toadstool omelet.

In a tizzy over the gusset, I consulted the blog Jet Set Sewing, who’s dyspeptic Bernina, Karl, recommended Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 for any and all sewing emergencies. I opened my stash closet to find some, and–what the blazes?!–my recent purchase from the Fabric Mart sale, all 78 yards, came crashing down, followed by approximately 838 buttons skittering onto the floor.

At times like these, I try not to be nostalgic for the days on the film set, when an assistant would bring me water from the Danube at precisely 12.7778 degrees celsius, whilst I stayed in method character annoying everyone for all but the five minutes per hour that I actually needed to act.

And yet, the minute I sit in front of my 1938 refurbished Featherweight (which I found on Ebay in Very Good condition for $325, including the original case and pedal, and seven of the most expensive feet), I know that giving up acting was all worth it, because, honestly, I’m just so mad for sewing!”

We feel you, Danny. And your sewing peeps are here for you when you need us, which will be probably be soon, and, I’m guessing, pretty often.


Outfit for a Party at Museum of Modern Art (Versions 1 through 5) and scenes from their “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” Exhibit


So I needed an outfit to wear to the opening night party of the Museum of Modern Art’s Items: Is Fashion Modern exhibit – their first show about fashion since the 40s. Through a bit of kismet, the curators had discovered my Claire McCardell research via my blog, and contacted me. I helped them locate a rare pair of McCardell’s original ballet flats, answered a lot of questions, and loaned them a photo from my collection for their exhibit and catalogue. In case you missed it, they put the tale of my unusual path to becoming a fashion historian on their blog.


The exhibit, which tells the story behind 111 iconic wardrobe items, was inspired by MoMA’s original 1940s exhibit “Are Clothes Modern,” in which McCardell’s designs were featured for their architectural quality. Here are some of her fashions from the museum catalogue, with completely inaccurate patterns! (Obviously not from McCardell’s team.)


Claire also consulted on another textile exhibit at what was then referred to as “The Modern” in the 50s. So I knew I had to bring a bit of her spirit with me to the party.

And whatever I was making, it had to go with ballet flats.

Concept #1: The McCardell pintucked dress:

During the 40s and particularly the 50s, McCardell used clever tucks that often would release at the bust and hip, to give the dresses a design element without a lot of frou frou. Lots of times she would use striped fabrics, and pull together the stripes with the tucks to give the bodice a solid color that would open at the bust to give a peek of the stripes – drawing the eye to the bust. (Even though McCardell was known for practical designs, they always had a hint of sex.)

Here’s an example from the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s excellent collection of McCardell garments:


Oo, I was going to look like this!


(After I had liposuction and a rib removed, which some women, including designer Jo Copeland, actually did back then to get a wasp waist.)

I have several of McCardell’s Spadea patterns that have tucks like these, so I decided to try this sheath pattern, using a striped seersucker that would show the manipulation of the fabric. I figured I’d give it a test run, and if I liked it, make it from fancier fabric.


Since my Bernina, Karl, (who recently went from intern to “work husband” when I bought him) was off at the machine spa, I put his Walking Foot #50 on Coco the B 215 (on loan in a pinch – thank you BERNINA!) and got moving. She was more than up for the job.


I started making tuck – after tuck – after tuck – lining each one up so that the stripes came together evenly. The directions called for each tuck to be topstitched 1/4″ from the edge, so they would open over the bust like an accordion. Then a side dart was elegantly added at the edge, so the shape of the dress wasn’t too boxy.


Days of tucks later – when I started to ruminate about how the word “painstaking” is a combo of “pains” and “taking” – I realized that I was probably once again making – let’s call it an homage – to my previous bombs that I refer to as “Gertrude Stein’s Bathrobe” and “Bea Arthur’s Spa Robe.”


I think this design will actually work as summer duster, but not as an avant garde party dress. When the collar piece didn’t line up and needed recutting, I abandoned it (for now) for another project.

Concept #2: The McCardell Jersey Wrap Dress:

I had done a ponte version of this 1958 McCalls pattern that hadn’t worked for me – the ponte was too heavy, and in the gray it gave me that “air de la prison matron” look.


I’ve found that most McCardell garments are made from lightweight fabric, so this time I tried it using very light Liberty Dufour viscose jersey (the original pattern called for wool jersey). There were a lot of tricky uneven tucks at the top of the shoulder, but the walking foot made quick work of them.


So far so good, but I found that the bodice was out of balance, with too much weight in the front tucks, which is probably why the pattern calls for a giant belt to support it. I often wonder about these late 50s patterns attributed to McCardell, “designed exclusively for McCalls,” which were released when she was very ill from cancer, or after her death. She was so weak that her lifelong friend and fellow designer, Mildred Orrick, used to come to the hospital to sketch her designs. Compared to the Spadea patterns, which were drafted in the early 50s from original retail garments, the McCalls seem a bit dumbed down, and probably not tested by McCardell’s sample makers, just sketched up and sent to McCalls.


I was frustrated that the shoulder seam kept slipping forward due to the weight of the tucks in front. Looking at this photo of McCardell in a similar design, (which is actually a jacket, also in the Met’s collection)  I noticed that to hold the tucks up, the neck needed to be high in the back, unlike the McCalls pattern, which dips in a “V” behind the back.

So I did a “hail Mary,” pulled the neckline up in the back, made a number of other modifications to the bodice, and that put it back in balance.

I didn’t want the gathers of the skirt to make me look too big in the hips this time, and in fact, McCardell often moved gathers in her skirts to different places for different bodies. Sometimes they were centered over the hips for people who are shaped like rulers, and sometimes they were centered over the rear and stomach to streamline the hips. So I moved the gathers to the center front and back, and put the side seams with pockets slightly forward, as she would move the pockets around as well.

Instead of wearing a belt, which I loathe at this age, I added a 3″ ring of knit elastic inside at the waistband. It’s like Spanx! I recommend it to support knit dresses at the hips. Since modern jersey and knit elastic are so much stretchier than wool jersey and stiff elastic from the 50s, I was able to skip the side zipper.


After all of this monkeying around, I had significantly modified the design and made it much closer to an authentic McCardell look from that era. I threw together the rest of the dress in the nick of time to put it in the Martha’s Vineyard Fair! (Lovely hair from sewing in 90% humidity…)


Second place due to wonky seam finishes. Oo, those judges are tough!


But I did win a blue ribbon for my hack of the Vogue 8930 sweater coat. Then I caught a couple of women manhandling it when I was stalking – er photographing – my makes.

Hands off the silk crepe de chine woman! Sheesh!


I really like this dress, but it feels more like one of McCardell’s Kitchen Dinner “entertaining at home” looks. You know, for Thanksgiving dinner with the fam. But to wear to a fashion party at Museum of Modern Art? It just wasn’t modernist enough. Which led to:

Concept #3: The Houndstooth McCardelligan:

I’ve made three McCardell cardigan jackets before – two from knits and one from lined tweed – and I love them all. They’re hacked from a couple of original McCardell jackets in my collection, and have the style elements she used again and again: cut-in kimono sleeves, a bias cut chevron, and a large French dart for waist and bust shaping. During her career, she designed dozens of variations of this jacket, sometimes with collars, kerchief points in the back, piping, or pockets.


I decided that one of these jackets would be more representative of McCardell’s architectural style for the MoMA party, and got going with some haute couture linen houndstooth from Paris. I figured it was the right weight for late September in New York.


I carefully lined up, pinned, and cut the fabric, which is very loosely woven and could slide around on the bias. I hand thread-traced around the seamline, as that keeps you out of trouble when sewing bias seams, which can stretch all over the place. (To learn about bias sewing, I recommend Sandra Betzina’s course “Sewing on the Bias” on craftsy.com.)


All cut and ready to go! I had a month to finish! Then waves of extended family showed up at the end of the summer, and well…

Concept #4: The Donna Karan Skirt:

I started thinking that the houndstooth might be a little loud for a McCardell jacket. Also, I saw the list of items featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s show, and one classic element was comprised of Donna Karan’s “Seven Easy Pieces,” which I certainly wore in the 80s. They included a bodysuit, jacket, soft pants, shawl, wrap skirt, belt etc. that all went together for work and travel.

McCardell had come up with a set of similar separates in the 30s, but the retailers refused buy her “Six Black Matches” until a few years later, because the idea of a “capsule wardrobe” was too radical for that era. These 1934 separates of McCardell’s, in the Met’s collection, were probably items from her personal wardrobe that she took to France twice a year for the fashion shows.

That sent me down a rabbit hole that resulted in getting an “Easy” Donna Karan 80s Vogue pattern from her original Seven Easy Pieces collections, to make a skirt that was an homage to McCardell’s Six Black Matches. I decided to extend it into a maxi.

Easy, huh?!





OMG Ode on a Grecian Urn meets the draperies! Abandon the S.S. Donna Karan!

Concept #5: McCardelligan from Menswear:

When I got back home in the fall, the clock was really ticking to finish my outfit. As I was unpacking my sewing stash and shoving it in an overhead closet, I discovered a cache of vintage Savile Row fabric I’d found for a song three years ago on Etsy, and had completely forgotten about!!!

I had four yards of gorgeous 50s men’s suiting wool from legendary Wains and Shiell that was screaming McCardell’s name. She famously used menswear fabrics to create evening dresses with jackets that were chic, warm, and feminine in their way.

My inspiration was a photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, whose color-saturated modernist images put Harper’s Bazaar (then under the helm of fashion editor Diana Vreeland) on the map in the 40s. (If you’re in London, check out the Dahl-Wolfe exhibit at the Fashion and Textile Museum this fall.)

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Looking at Matisse, Museum of Modern Art , 1939,

(Looking at Matisse, Museum of Modern Art, 1939)

I thought that a jacket with long skirt would be just the ticket, but skip the feathers.

I cut another McCardell cardigan jacket, each piece in a single layer, and matched them all at the center front and shoulder line. I would cut one piece, keep it pinned to the pattern, flip it over, and match the stripes for the mirror-image piece, which makes a chevron in the front and back. The chevron keeps the bias from twisting, and gives the jacket a geometric look.


So much matchy-matchy! I used a lot of pins, because sticking the pin through both layers right at the seamline is the way to go.


(I cheated and thread-traced by machine – then modified the fit – as you can see by the chalk line.)


My brain hurt after all of that matching! The walking foot really helped keep the layers of fabric even over the feed dogs, so the stripes lined up properly.

I totally cheated and finished the seam allowances by gluing the edges with Steam-a-Seam Lite – no time left for binding this unlined jacket!


Of course, it wouldn’t be a McCardell without topstitching. She was inspired by a topstitched French worker’s hat in the 30s, and added the detail as a jaunty fashion element to her womenswear – even for evening.


Eep – tacking down the facing on the train to New York!


Five vintage brass shoe buttons sewn on between Providence and Mystic:


Phew! Finished in the nick of time! And after all that, it was just what I had in mind.


Even though it was hot and humid, this light, breathable wool was soft, comfortable, and wrinkle-free. McCardell really was onto something making all-season eveningwear from men’s fabric.

Let’s go to the party!

I was accompanied by Janet, Jet Set Sewing’s trusty New York City bureau chief and location photographer (AKA my sister). We’ve been hitting the town together for more that 30 years, probably making us the city’s oldest Holly Golightlys. Even though she and most of Manhattan had been delayed in traffic for two hours while our president, in one of those “let them eat cake” moments, had dinner at Le Cirque, she was still game to go.

The Museum of Modern Art was packed – seven deep at the bar and people spilling out into the garden! We walked in, looked around, and said, “guess we’re not going to find those people we were looking for.”


But what an exhibit!


It had a little of everything – Chanel’s original Little Black Dress from the 20s:


Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress:


Donna Karan’s Seven Easy Pieces (these are few of them):


A fanciful harem look from the early 20th century by Paul Poiret:


A hoodie hung like a piece of sculpture:


Polo shirts, platform shoes, shift dresses:


Even a Wonderbra, tighty-whities –  and Spanx. With cellulite! (Little did people know that my behind looked just like that.)


But where were those ballet flats?

Ah, at long last I got to see them in person.


These are from 1943, when WWII rationing kept women from buying many new shoes. Since dance shoes were not on the rationing list, McCardell enlisted the Capezio company to make ballet slippers from fabric that matched her outfits – with soles that covered the entire bottom of the slipper, so they could be worn on the street. (The soles of stage ballet slippers only cover some of the bottom of the foot, and wear out easily on pavement.)

I looked below the ballet flats and saw the photo from my collection – with my name next to it! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

MoMA McCardell Photo

(Although it’s actually not a publicity still from a film – it’s a 1943 press photo publicizing McCardell’s collection. I’m not sure how that mixup happened, but hey, they got my name spelled right!)


Just casually lounging nearby so I can point out my name to people…

It’s a great exhibit! Here’s a review from the New York Times.

On the way back to my sister’s, strolling the avenues of Manhattan’s East Side on that balmy September evening, I really did feel like I’d gone back in time – when a long skirt, a little McCardell jacket, and simple ballet flats were all a girl needed for a glamorous night out at The Modern.








More ideas for “Faking Vintage Looks With Modern Patterns”


The spring patterns are coming out, so it’s time once again to show the new releases, “vintage” or not, that will work for a retro look.

Not like I actually need to buy patterns–I have hundreds of vintage patterns that are making me feel guilty right now. I love finding them. I love looking at them. But when I open their fading, ripping envelopes to gingerly unfold little scraps of unprinted tissue crumbling into dust, I often think “boy, that looks like a project.”


Sometimes it’s fun just to fake it, and the big commercial companies have released some inspiring patterns recently.

First–“Panic At The Disco”

If you’re around my age (and you know who you are), you made this pattern, right? Admit it!


The apron dress was such a huge deal in the early 70s. Of all the patterns, I think I’d make this again to wear with a tee on a hot day. It looks comfy and not too kitschy.

Here’s McCalls 7366, a chic disco jumpsuit:


Fellow disco chicks, you remember wearing jumpsuits, right? And you remember having to pull the entire top off to go to the bathroom at a crowded club, right? If you’re young, go ahead and wear a jumpsuit–you’ll look hot and you’ll never forget it. As for me at this age, ease of peeing takes precedence.


Ditto the Simplicity 8095 jumpsuit that can be wrapped a variety of ways. It reminds me of those 70s knit designs pioneered by Halston and John Kloss. Not an easy look to pull off if you weren’t flat. Cute pattern, though.

(Sorry I’m not putting the links to the patterns in this post. If I did, I’d never make it to the hairdresser at 11:00.)

This surplice dress, McCalls 7350, also reminds me of Halston and is universally flattering:


That would be fun to wear to a formal wedding.

Let’s go back to some earlier eras, shall we?


Eek, not that far back! (Does he look like Borat to you?)


I’ll stick to this doll pattern for pre-20s historic sewing.

For a 30s look, how about this bias-cut “flutter” dress from Vogue (9168), with an underslip and sheer overlay?


I had a boyfriend in college who knew I was into vintage, and he gave me a dress like this from his aunt’s attic. Long story short, I dumped him and gave away the dress. But later I was filled with regret–I should have kept the dress.

The dirndl became very popular in the 30s as well, and you could use this pattern to make a longer vintage version.


Moving on to the 40s, how about this “Agent Carter” look? I like View A, with the trim.


Super cute romper and skirt!


(Though, let me tell you, my granddaughter wouldn’t wear it, because, as she said of the Liberty dirndl I made her, “It doesn’t have a princess on it.”)

Loads of 50s-style patterns out there, and I know people love that “I Love Lucy” #pinup look, I do. But I remember when crinolines were the itchy things we wore to school, and aprons were a symbol of pre-feminist drudgery. So I’m pretty picky.

Nevertheless, here are a few that caught my eye.


The striped one on the right has a timeless 40s into 50s “Peggy Guggenheim in Venice” look that’s still workable today.


I’d use this to make a 50s Norell Mermaid/Chanteuse type dress. (Though I would underline it with power mesh, like I did last winter when I was struggling through the WORST winter in Boston history and trying to make the dress from HELL by Madame Gres and…) Oops, had a flashback. I like Mimi G’s designs. They’re more “retail”-looking than a lot of the commercial patterns.

Two companies are doing versions of the “Walk-Away” dress/cobblers’ apron that are cute:



(Mother/daughter patterns from McCall’s Archive Collection, M7354.)

Here’s a classic 50s/60s shirtwaist dress that comes in a range of sizes and skirt/sleeve options–very Grace Kelly meets Betty Draper:


(Butterick 6333)


A fun “wiggle” skirt with a high waist, also Butterick (6326).

And a classic tunic pattern, a style that really hasn’t changed much since the 60s:


(McCalls 7360)



(It’s not super-retro, but it does make me want to go find a baby to snuggle. Must be the toxic chemical hair product on his widdle head.) But don’t make these unless you sew really fast, because the kid will grow faster. As the nurse said to me when she looked at the 9 1/2 pound baby I’d just popped out, “I guess you can return those newborn-sized onesies.”

Lots of fun patterns to choose from ! What’s on your sewing agenda for the next season?


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


It does give you nice hems on knits!


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

Seven Year Itch on Marilyn

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

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


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


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


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


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

More Faking Vintage Looks with Modern Patterns, and first official Intergalactic Sewing Blog!


It’s been awhile since I’ve written about using modern, commercially available patterns to create vintage looks. Some new releases have inspired me, though!

Vogue 9126, for example, is a 40s style that’s wearable in modern life.


I like to mix vintage in my day-to-day look, as my “true vintage” days are behind me. This would be a fun dress for a mother (or in my case, stepmother) of the bride to wear to a hipster wedding. Comfortable, easy to dance in, and SLEEVES! We like sleeves!

This Vogue Badgley Mischka pattern is modern, but has a 60s element to the neckline. It’s a “crushed boatneck” with a little fold in the shoulder seam to give it some drape.


I like this pattern as a dress, and the bodice would be easy to hack into a top. I made a top with a neckline like this several years ago, and you can read all about it here: Crushed Boatneck Frankenpattern


I’ve made three versions of that top, and have worn them to death.

I like this new “Retro” pattern from Butterick, as well, with a boatneck, cut-in sleeves, binding on the neck and sleeve edges, and a bias cummerbund to hide a multitude of desserts. It looks like it’s flattering and easy to wear.

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And how about these cute sailor pants from Sandra Betzina? I wore the real thing from the Army/Navy store in the 70s, but now, I’d go for something like this, made from a stretch woven. We all need a little lycra in our lives, don’t we?


Earlier in the year, Simplicity released this playsuit pattern that I ended up buying. Even though the bra top and skirt are not for me at this age, I really like the way the sleeves are cut into the blouse. I’m not much of a blouse-wearer, but this one looks stylish and easy to wear.


(I still haven’t made it though…)

And how adorable is this pattern from Simplicity?


Even though my granddaughters would not wear this unless it was pink, sparkly and had a giant picture of Elsa from “Frozen” on it, it’s fun to think about them in it.

Come to think of it, I have seen a version of this design made up…


Yep, the little girl on the right is me! My sister Janet is on the left, and my sister Diane is in the middle. Diane, a choreographer and dance instructor, is also a world-class knitter. (I remember she taught me the “popcorn stitch” as a kid.) She’s the one that whips up fun, gourmet party food in about a half an hour and throws warm, relaxed family gatherings. A few months ago, she sent me our grandmother’s button box, full of vintage buttons!


The photo of we three sisters is from 1961, at which point, when you wore a dress, it was going to have a “stick-out slip” under it (AKA a crinoline). I remember being in first grade in a dress like this (because you weren’t allowed to wear pants), with an itchy crinoline, sitting on the freezing, gritty linoleum floor for 45 minutes watching a tiny black and white TV, waiting for one of the Apollo rockets to launch. It would always get delayed, and it was so boring! And cold! And dirty!

I was in northern Michigan, which is cold and snowy, so we would either have snowpants under the crinolines when we went outside, or we stuffed the whole thing, slip and skirt, inside the snowpants.

So if you’re wondering why baby boomer-aged women in the U.S. run around in yoga jeans, black sneakers, knit Breton tops, and giant sweaters long enough to sit on, that pretty much sums it up.

I’m glad that the Big 4 pattern companies are offering a variety of vintage styles, and not just the big “I Love Lucy” full skirts that have been popular for awhile. I have to give a shoutout to Vogue-Butterick-McCalls for reaching out to sewing enthusiasts and doing market research about what types of patterns we’re looking for. Their new collections are quite appealing.

And here’s my all-time favorite of the Big 4 vintage style patterns…

(Are you expecting this?)


McCalls 7154 has been the talk of the town on vintage blogs and boards, and it is gorgeous. I can’t pull it off at this age, but Lisa of Paprika Patterns  is giving it a go now. We’ll see how it turns out!

No, my favorite of the Big 4 vintage-style patterns is this:


Isn’t McCalls 7206 the most fabulous young guy hipster/old guy hipster pattern!?! You can make it solid, in two colors, or in three colors. It could be made into a bowling shirt, a Hawaiian shirt, or you could embroider it for a Cuban guayabera… And those seams are like princess seams. Someone needs to hack this for a girl!

The indy patternmakers have been busy as well.

Decades of Style has a new line of easy vintage patterns. I know some of you readers are just learning to sew or returning to sewing after a long time, and these look like fun projects.

Here’s the “Given A Chance” Dress pattern:


It really has that “let’s have highballs on the patio” look to it, doesn’t it?

Eva Dress is another reliable pattern re-release company, and they’ve just put out this pattern for 1935 Beach Pajamas…something I wish I could wear to the beach now:


I like the retro patterns from both Decades of Style and Eva Dress, because they spend time testing their patterns and rewriting the instructions to make them clear for modern sewing enthusiasts. Having worked with original vintage patterns myself, it can be like reading hieroglyphics!

I’d also like to mention that the blogger Shelley, of New Vintage Lady, offers some extremely cool plus-size vintage pattern repros on Etsy.


She’s an animator, and her indy comic called “Vintageville,” sold through her Etsy shop, is so unique and worth a look.

If you’re in the mood to make a Chanel jacket (or French jacket or cardigan jacket), Susan Khalje’s new jacket pattern is available on her website, with or without her Couture French Jacket course. The pattern makes the two jackets pictured here:


70 years later, they’re still in style.

And just a reminder that my two free vintage-style patterns, for the 50s Buttonhole Scarf and the Claire McCardell-Inspired Wrap, are still available on WeAllSew.com. Just download and go!


As for being the first officially-sanctioned Intergalactic Sewing Blog, well, it’s true!

I know that you (and perhaps Karl) may be skeptical, but I have proof.

My last post was about finishing a Claire McCardell UFO (AKA an “Unfinished Object”) from my stash pile, just in time for International UFO Day, which of course we all celebrate by wearing hats with antennae and exchanging gifts of small porous rocks.

A couple of days later, I was looking at my Twitter feed and saw this:


My post had been picked up by an international UFO sighting website (which is mostly in Japanese), and clearly broadcast throughout the Universe and beyond! Who cares about some NASA pictures from Pluto! Pluto’s not even a planet anymore. This is the real deal.

So even though some of you may think that your blog posts have communed with the heavens, I’m the first one to have proof.

Be that as it may, you won’t be seeing me in any of those manned flights to Mars that are coming up. How would I take all of my sewing stuff?

Hope your sewing’s entering a new dimension!

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


Do you ever have that experience where you’re rooting through your stash, and you find some fabric pinned to a pattern piece that’s already cut out? And then you think, “what the heck is this?”

In honor of “International UFO Day,” (on Thursday, and thanks for the heads up about that, Instagrammer “mesewgood”) here’s a report about a Claire McCardell bolero, cut out in October, finished in June!

I don’t have a lot of UFO’s (Unfinished Objects) because I don’t have a lot of space during the winter, and my sewing things are constantly coming in and out of a closet. The only exception is my husband’s “Christmas Tie,” renamed his “Birthday Tie,” then his “Father’s Day Tie,” and now, his “Next Christmas Tie.” Someday I’ll be feeling it.

But back in the fall, when I made this Claire McCardell dress for my sister:


(Here’s the post about making that dress.)

I had also cut out some pieces for the matching bolero, but ran out of time to put it together.

So that’s what was sitting in my stash. Already cut out? Why not finish it?

Well, one reason is that the exterior “fashion” fabric is the wool jersey that I used for the dress, and right now, this guy is Public Enemy #1:


But I figured I could keep the pieces in a plastic bag when I wasn’t sewing, to stop Morris Moth and his many, many friends from munching my delicious merino. Mmmmm…

Reason #2, which I’d forgotten about since I’d made the Edith Head bolero, (here’s that post) is that a lined bolero is every bit as tricky as a lined jacket. Fortunately, this one has cut-in sleeves, as many McCardell designs do, so I didn’t have to set in sleeves four times.

So I forged ahead.

For lining, I used knit jersey from International Silks and Woolens in L.A., which has vintage fabrics on the third floor. This is some kind of acrylic from either the 50s or the 80s, but it feels like cotton jersey.


I bought it because it reminds me of the “Modern Masters” fabrics, issued in the 50s, which used designs from famous artists like Picasso and Chagall. McCardell designed a number of garments made from that fabric. Here’s some info about Modern Masters fabric from the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York. Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler has also written about Modern Masters.

The bolero pattern is cut as just one piece that connects via a center back seam, goes over the shoulders and is sewn under the arms. It’s a very clever pattern draped in McCardell’s unmistakeable style.

And did I mention that it has piping? Sandwiched between the layers? “Hunker down over that ironing board and start pinning, sister,” I heard a little voice (Karl) say.

Actually, it’s pretty easy to make piping with this Bulky Overlock foot, so I stuck some cording in a 2″ strip of fabric and got going. Since this a knit that will stretch, I didn’t bother putting it on the bias. I read recently that you should make the stitching by the piping loose while you’re making it, then closer when you attach it, to keep the seam along the piping smooth.


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


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


This early 50s pattern is telling me to “bag” the lining? And look at those directions. Clear as mud! (“Bagging” a lining is a method where you attach most of the lining to the exterior by machine, and work on parts through a little hole, and it’s kind of like a Mobius strip, and yiiii!)

Fortunately I’d read about bagging linings in the past and then got a headache and drank a glass of wine. But I knew the piping would look better if I bagged it, so I gave it a go.

First I connected the neckline, center front and sides by machine, sandwiching the piping inside. I used lots and lots of pins for this nervous-making endeavor!


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


I was a happy girl!

Then the tricky part…figuring out how to get the sleeves and lining put together, with the piping inside, without hollering at everyone in the family, who were stopping by frequently to find out whether they would ever be fed.


Not for the faint of heart, but it did work! So I graded and pressed the sleeve edge seams, then decided to make a burrito.


Sadly for my family, the burrito was not for dinner. I used a “sorta” version of the “burrito method” that’s used to make shirt yokes, where you roll everything up and stick it between the exterior and lining, so it looks like a burrito, then stitch it up and pull it right side out through the neckline.

In this case, I stuffed the sleeves and piping inside the bolero and closed up the back lower edge by machine, leaving a 4″ opening. Then I pulled everything out of that opening, and hand-sewed it closed.



It did dawn on me then that I could have done a better job of matching the pattern on the center back seam, as this bolero is reversible. Which of course I never thought of. So if you run into me wearing this inside-out, please don’t bust me. You know our non-sewing peeps will never notice.

The original bolero was black and red, to be reversible with the black dress. McCardell wanted all her pieces to be versatile. Lovely design, Claire!

As for the dress I made my sister, here’s Janet’s daughter, Madeline, modeling it…IMG_2436

My sister is tall and Maddy is petite, so you can see that this design fits a variety of body-types. After Madeline put it on, she said, “Mom, do you think it’s too hot for me to wear this to work this week?”

So I believe the McCardell dress is now “whereabouts unknown.”

As for the bolero, though cut for Janet, it fits me fine, another McCardell miracle…so Janet and Maddy, don’t be looking for it under the Christmas tree. And Mr. Jet Set, I wouldn’t be holding my breath about that tie, either.

Readers, what UFOs do you have in your stash? Confess!

And happy Independence Day to all of you who are stateside with me. What a glorious weekend so far!


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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(You need a Bedazzler for that one.)

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

imageIMG_2065.JPG (2)

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


It’s a gorgeous dress.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


The dress itself has a hand-sewn blind hem:


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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(Looks a lot like Claire McCardell, Halston…)



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

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

Yves St. Laurent, The Birth of Vintage, and Listening to Records and Kissing


I’ll admit that attending the Yves St. Laurent + Halston exhibit (at the Museum at FIT) threw me right into a disco pit of nostalgia, thinking about the early days of vintage fashion in the 70s.

Here are some photos from the exhibit, which compares YSL’s romantic costumes, culled from cultural history, to Halston’s streamlined, expertly-cut modern fabric columns.


(In both cases, Halston is on the left, and YSL is on the right.)

But here’s what cranked up the nostalgia machine: a timeline in the exhibit, which compared what was going on in the careers of YSL and Halston in the 60s, 70s and 80s.


I hadn’t realized that while we 20-something girls in the U.S. were combing the thrift stores for what was just starting to be called “vintage,” Yves St. Laurent was being influence by retro looks from fresh faces like Paloma Picasso. Here she is with Andy Warhol, dressed in 40s chic.

Paloma Picasso and Warhol

YSL’s collections from that era were inspired by 1930s Chanel designs, La Belle Epoche, Russian peasant gear, the Ballets Russes and Chinoiserie, among other things.


It was a thrill to see his iconic Safari jacket and Le Smoking:


His “Forties” collection, in 1971,  was a critical flop, but it captured the vintage zeitgeist.


And here are the kinds of things we were wearing during that time in the U.S.:

Wearing vintage in '75

That’s me on the right with my roommate in our “co-ed dorm” (still a bad idea) at SUNY Purchase in 1975. We’re wearing original 40s dresses that I’d bought at one of the first true “vintage” stores. I think she’s wearing Kork-Ease platform sandals, too, which looked retro and were great for spinning around on the dance floor.

SUNY Purchase bustier '75

And that’s me the same year, wearing a “long-line” bra that I’d dyed orange, with a man’s white dinner jacket, black tie and elbow-length gloves, all thrifted. I can’t believe how modern everyone looks, 40 years later.

All I can say about our nostalgia for 30s and 40s styles was that it sprang from an intense desire to forget the decade before. The late 60s and early 70s in the U.S. were such a roller coaster. Vietnam combat on TV! Man on the Moon! Peace and Love! My Country, Love It or Leave It!

My husband, more than a decade older than I am, went from a Kennedy idealist to a drafted army lawyer, heading to Southeast Asia in an ill-fated war marriage. He was tasked with explaining the Geneva convention to a bunch of nice guys from small towns who, like him, really didn’t want to be there.

Howell on tank

Even as a teen I could sense how quickly the country had devolved from an “ask what you can do for your country” mentality to “what the hell happened here?” By the time the troops withdrew and Watergate was over, we were exhausted.

When things started to calm down in the mid-70s, we just wanted to get on our feet again, and now the baby boomers were inheriting the place. And boy, were we tired of dressing like hippies.

So we went back in time. Bette Midler put on 40s rags and sang the Andrews Sisters.

Bette Midler

Manhattan Transfer put on 30s drag and revived a cappella.


After years of seeing scruffy, angry comedians in jeans and army jackets, Steve Martin put on a tailored suit and joked about “happy feet.”

When an older grad student boyfriend and I were watching that bit on Saturday Night Live, he turned to me and said, “you think that’s funny?” I knew immediately the relationship was over.

My late-70s peers and I really were the first group of women who weren’t expected to find a husband and get married right out of college. So we put on wrap dresses and went dancing.

We were so glad when the guys cut their frizzy hair.

The book “Cheap Chic” became my bible, because it explained how to put together thrifted outfits, raid the men’s department for a menswear look, and use the army/navy store as a resource for retro/chic pieces like button-front navy pants.


What great news that Cheap Chic has been rereleased! I just saw it on Amazon.com.

It even included an interview with Yves St. Laurent, talking about how his designs were being shaped by late 60s anxiety in France, which he was feeling in his visits to New York:


We were sewing, too. During that time, you could buy really hot current patterns by DVF, John Kloss, Willi Smith, Halston, Clovis Ruffin, Kenzo and Betsey Johnson. Here I’m wearing one of her looks that I sewed at 18, and my roommate’s wearing a maxi-skirt I made:

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Back then, Betsey Johnson was a star of the kicky-youthful-vintage inspired look, and though her clothing wasn’t available in my northern Michigan hometown, her patterns were. So basically, we were creating a new generation of style out of thrifted clothes and Qiana fabric.

Here are some of those early vintage/boho Yves St. Laurent patterns released in the 70s, cut from his retail designs.


So how does Kenny Loggins fit into this whole thing? Somehow I got his hit “Heart To Heart” stuck in my head, which is from the early 80s, but is still part of this era. I must have heard it blasting in the grocery store, which completely galls me because I don’t want to listen to music I used to make out to while I’m buying yogurt.

Even though it’s embarrassing to admit that I like this song, it is a great example of “blue-eyed soul” record producing in my view, so when it got to that crescendo, right when he’s singing in his head voice: “this is our final chance to touch each other’s–” I did not appreciate having the store public address system suddenly break in with “SEAFOOD! YOU HAVE A CALL HOLDING! SEAFOOD!”

But it got me thinking about how important both going out dancing and “listening to records” were to us while the country was recuperating. This was before the internet and cell phones, so listening to records was how we hung out.

I tended to date record nerds, so a summer afternoon with one of them would usually start with a couple of hours of browsing through dusty bins of vinyl in a college town record store, housed in some damp basement. Most likely, I was dressed like Annie Hall, after Diane Keaton, one of the original thrifters.


Then we’d probably stop for a bagel, and the day would end with me hugging my knees on his apartment floor, next to the stereo that was perched on an orange crate. He’d light the candle that was stuck in one of those orb-like Mateus wine bottles (which we’d probably drunk), and then he’d put on a song like this:

“Heart To Heart”

(Just click it, and you’ll go right back to the days before manscaping, when there was plenty of man hair to run your fingers through. Though it is missing the nervous running commentary from the guy you’re with, explaining about who wrote it, who’s playing on it, who’s singing backup, who wrote the liner notes…and the whole time you’re thinking, “aw, shut up and kiss me.”)

Seriously, this is what we did back then. You 20-somethings outta put down your phones and try it. You’d probably have more sex.

So the country got back on its feet, and in the late 80s, I married a guy with a true appreciation for vintage style and a great big record collection.


As for the UltraSuede yardage, I’ll be back with more about the Halston section of the exhibit, which is the better part I think, and photos of some classic Halston designs turned inside out, found digging around in my sister’s closet.

Hope your sewing’s going well.

Burda Vintage, Simon Doonan, and Winter Get the Hell out of Here!


I’ll admit I’ve been cheating on winter by visiting warmer climes, and now that I’m back, I’m hoping a quick wrap-up post will get l’hiver to leave here. (By making it run from multi-lingual puns, apparently.)


While I was away from home and my dear Karl (once again he was really ticked not to come along), I did some quality beach reading, as you can see.

I’d been contacted by BurdaStyle about reviewing their new (to the U.S.) Vintage Burda Patterns Kit, with 11 downloadable patterns for vintage styles from their archives.

vintage kit

Some great designs, n’est pas? I decided to go for it, because when this collection was released in magazine form in Europe last fall, there was a great deal of on-line hubbub about it among my European sewing peeps. So much so, that I ended up ordering the English-language version of the Euro mag from GLP News.

The magazine is a fun read, giving background on the designers and fashion icons who inspired the collection:


Since the articles were written for a German audience, I have to say that reading an article about a 1950s German family driving through the mountains to go to Italy on holiday was a cultural eye-opener as an American. Basically we think we own the 50s, and we tend to picture post-war Europe as this sad, depressed place with old dresses and no rock ‘n’ roll.


As some of my pals in Europe started making up the patterns this winter, I could see what a great collection it was. Here’s Carmen, of the CarmencitaB blog, and winner of the French sewing bee show Cousu Main, with three of the makes from this series:

The “Fiore” Prom Dress, with skinnier straps and without what she called the “mother-of-the-bride” frou frou on the shoulders:

Carmen's dress frontBurda Fiore

(Here’s Carmen’s blog post about making the dress, which is a super rockabilly girl design, don’t you think?)

Here’s her hack of the “Kim” coat, which she turned into a hoodie for her Breton climate:

Burda_Kim_CapucheBurda Kim

And finally her version of the “Rosa” balloon jacket, inspired by Balenciaga.

Carmen's jacket backBurda Rosa

Here’s a completely different version of the Rosa jacket, by Claudine of the Rolling in Cloth blog. She’s always pushing the envelope with her beautiful makes, and she really scored with this one:

Claudine's jacket frontClaudine's jacket back

Unfortunately, the downloadable version of the collection available here in the States doesn’t include the fun and funky articles from the magazine. But it does includes a lot of great designs. As to the $29 price tag, for a collection that was available in Europe for less than $10, I’ll leave that math up to you. $29 is still a pretty good price for 11 patterns of this quality.

The downloadable version includes a photo, instructions, and pattern for each design. You can check it out here: Burda Vintage Collection. Here are some more looks from the collection:

Burda SweaterBurda SofiaBurda LolaBurda LBDBurda Beach Collection

My thanks to BurdaStyle for giving me access to this online collection so I could share this info with you.

My other beach reading was the hilarious book The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion by fashion maven Simon Doonan, another writer of which I’m completely jealous.

In a series of essays, Doonan explains why models start dumb and stay dumb, talks about how he got cult Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo to spend time at Fredericks of Hollywood, and illuminates why the Queen of England is always frumpy, because it’s impossible to be both “kind” and “chic.”

That concept is borne out in the new Disney movie “Cinderella,” which everyone must go to immediately, whether or not you have a child to go with, because the costumes are a tour-de-force of color and design. Costume designer Sandy Powell is a genius. I want to go sew on snaps for her.

Here’s Cinderella. Though she’s beautiful and “kind,” I’d argue that she’s not chic:


(There’s enough tulle in that dress to crinoline the entire rockabilly Hall of Fame.)

Cate Blanchett as the stepmother is most definitely “chic,” wicked, wicked chic:



Soft and kind/taut and chic.

There are a few exceptions to the chic/kind tradeoff, for example, Audrey Hepburn was both chic and kind. But there aren’t many.

Audrey Hepburn UNICEF

And speaking of chic, Karl Lagerfeld says that his pampered, social media savvy cat Choupette made THREE MILLION EUROS last year!


For that kind of money, I’d sit on Lagerfeld’s lap and purr, too. (Not that he’d be into it…)

Lastly, I wanted to say hello and welcome to the new readers who have joined Jet Set Sewing in the past several months. I get such a huge kick out of everyone’s visits and comments, so thanks to all of you for dropping by!

And I did finally get a chance to attend two exhibits featuring designs by Halston…the YSL/Halston exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the surprising “museum of Halstons” in the back of my sister’s closet! More on that later!

How’s your sewing going?


Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston


After three tricky projects in a row, the Edith Head reverse bolero, the Claire McCardell dress, and the Madame Gres gown, (AKA Madame Fred), I knew I needed to banish the fiddly and bring on the funk to keep from losing my “sew-jo.”

As much as I hate to think of patterns I made in my youth as “vintage,” it can’t be denied that the 70s are now reflected in that disco ball of nostalgia. I wrote about some of my favorite patterns from that era in this post: (“American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns”) .

Halston pattern #2Betsy Johson patternDVF Wrap Pattern

Though people generally have a cheesy boho image of 70s fashion, and think of the 80s as twee Laura Ashley/Princess Di or Club Kid day-glo, there was a brief period of time straddling the two decades when fashion became modern and streamlined in the U.S., and that was in large part thanks to Halston.

Plenty has been written about Halston, who started out designing hats for the ladies who lunch (including Jacqueline Kennedy’s famous pillbox) and moved on to creating easy-to-wear designs for the budding feminist, who had embraced her sexuality and was being encouraged to “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan,” as the old “Enjoli” perfume ad jingle emoted:

It sounded so hot back then, didn’t it? Now somebody else can go the grocery store and fry the hippie bacon equivalent we’re all eating now as far as I’m concerned. And there’s certainly no way that either guy in my household will “forget he’s a man,” with all of that scratching and farting going on.

Here’s a Halston Biography from Vogue U.K. His mother taught him to sew!

Now Halston’s designs are getting a second look via two exhibits of his simple, expertly-draped designs. The exhibit “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede” will be running from March 7th – June 14, 2015, at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, North Carolina. And the exhibit “Yves St. Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s” is running now through April 18, 2015, at the Museum at FIT in New York City, so I’ll be checking that out soon.

Many of his designs just seem like “classics” to us now, but in truth, Halston and designers like Yves St. Laurent, Diane Von Furstenberg and Donna Karan (designing at Anne Klein) were inventing the modern woman’s wardrobe.


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

The pattern includes one of Halston’s classic jackets (usually made in UltraSuede, a faux suede that’s machine-washable), a gathered straight skirt with pockets, a pair of pants (to create a pants suit) and a simple jersey tee to wear with the outfit. Wearing a knit tee with a jacket was a lot less common back then, so this really was a working woman’s wardrobe, with various pieces to mix and match on different days.

I recognized the pattern right away, because in the late 70s, I had sewn that tee a number of times to wear to work at a TV station. It’s such a unique cut:

It’s all one pattern piece, with cut-in kimono sleeves, no shoulder seams, and a graceful U-shaped neckline that’s cut-in like a big hole and faced. The sides are loose, but then taper in quickly at the hip to keep it from hanging loose. And it’s cut on the bias (even though I’ve pinned it on the grain here, to conserve fabric, which works fine with a knit). It’s a great design.

Well, I had to have the pattern, and I started wondering if a style that was a TNT (Tried and True) in my mid-20s could return to it’s TNT glory in my mid-50s. I had some Donna Karan wool jersey in my stash, so I decided to give it a shot.

In the interest of banishing the fiddly, rather than doing any kind of muslin, I held up a t-shirt (that I knew fit me) to the pattern to see how I would need to alter it.

I decided to use the cutting line as the seamline to give it more room, and then (okay, this is a little fiddly, but it was good fabric) I marked the seamline on the wrong side of the fabric using a tracing wheel and wax sheets, and cut a large seam allowance. That way I’d have a little extra room to adjust the fit.


Then I cut the big neckline hole:


I attached some knit fusible interfacing to the facing piece, using a trick I read about recently. You put a paper towel on the ironing board, put the facing on top, then fuse the interfacing on top of both the facing and the paper towel.


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


It gives you a lot more control so the facing doesn’t become misshapen when you fuse it.

I had been reading on the blog Made by Rae about Maxi-Lock Stretch Thread, which is a soft, yarn-like thread that allows you to create a stretchy seam with a straight stitch, without the stitches breaking. So I picked some up from Wawak.

I attached the facing to the seam, and saw that this kind of thread is very strong and does have more give, though the stitches are thicker and more noticeable. (It helps to use a longer stitch with this thread.) Here’s how it looked when I understitched the neckline facing:

Though the directions call for invisibly tacking the facing to the neckline, I decided to just topstitch it and get it over with. Anti-fiddly!

Then I sewed the seam that goes under the arm and down the side using a narrow zig-zag to give it a little more stretch. After that I used a stretchy lingerie stitch on Karl, my Bernina 560, to reinforce the seam. (Everyone, sing along with me, “to learn more about how Karl came into my life, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above…by the light of the moon.” I’ll do anything to make that disclosure more pleasant.)

Hmm, how’s it looking? When I tried it on, the neckline was great and the hips fit, but unfortunately the unique curve on the side, which worked great in my 20s, was giving me extra love-handles. And I have plenty, thank you.

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

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


Then I turned the hem up twice and secured it with a straight stitch again. I really recommend using elastic like this on hems that can get stretched out. It makes them so much more springy and stable.

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


And when I wear it backwards, it’s a ballet-neck, adding to the versatility.

Well, that dusted off the cobwebs and got me going on three more anti-fiddly makes. I had been planning to enter the Travel Wardrobe challenge on PatternReview.com, but since the frickin’ Madame Fred gown took until mid-February to finish, there was no time to lose.


Somehow I managed to finish them all in eight sewing days, despite plenty of household whining. (Details in the next post–about the sewing, not the whining.) It’s not an easy contest by any means, and all of the wardrobes in the Contest Gallery are great; put together by a very creative group of sewing peeps representing all levels. Nice job, fellow tired sewists!

Now that I have my Halston done, I can go to the FIT exhibit!

How’s your sewing going?