Charles James, meet Claire McCardell


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


Oh yeah! Nice and clean without the dreaded topstitching.


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


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

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


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

And now to my fashion girlcrush, Claire McCardell.

McCardell with modelsMcCardell in Chair

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

McCardell windowpane dress Claire McCardell SundressClaire McCardell evening dress

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

ballet flats,

McCardell ballet flats

jersey hoodies,

McCardell hoodieMcCardell hoodie bike

wrap dresses,

McCardell Popover Dress

peasant dresses,

McCardell Hostess Dress FIT

fitted bathing suits,

McCardell bathing suit

fashion sunglasses…

McCardell sunspecs

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

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

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

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

The shrug is taken from this 1951 Spadea pattern:


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

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


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

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


Here’s how the stay-stitching turned out:


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


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

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


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


A nice clean finish for a nice clean design.

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

Charles James skirt details and a walk through Boston’s Back Bay


Well, now that I’ve recovered from what was apparently a hot flash brought on by the gowns at the Charles James exhibit, I’d like to share the details of making this skirt:


from this Charles James pattern,

Charles James sewing pattern

which I had to pull off in three days. Cue the stunt sewing music!
I’ve talked about making the muslin for the skirt in this post  and how versions of this skirt are in the online collection. Here’s how the completed muslin looked:


Knowing that I had three sewing days to complete a wearable version (interrupted by a weekend of grandchildren invading our home like Cossacks), and that the skirt had to be widened by a whopping eight inches, I had to choose a forgiving fabric that didn’t need lining.
Tucked in my stash were two yards of high-quality stable knit ponte in aubergine (from Eileen Fisher) that fit the bill. Since I spent my 20s sewing Diane Von Furstenberg knock-offs out of a slippery knit called “Quiana” on a straight-stitch Singer 15-91, I have no fear of knits.
I basically chopped the center front and two parts of the back of the muslin open lengthwise, stuck in swaths measuring a total of 8″ straight up and down in both, fitted it quickly and got ready for the “Hail Mary” pass. (For those of you visiting from other cultures, the “Hail Mary” is any last minute desperate play a losing sports team will use to try to win a game in the final seconds.) Rah rah rah!


Two yards of wide ponte should work for a pencil skirt, right? Er, not when the pattern has odd protrusions and three kick pleats. So I quickly took up the pattern by about 4″ in length and as you can see, it just squeaked by.

I started constructing the skirt using a very narrow zigzag, as I wanted a stitch that was easy to pick out if I got in trouble. (No sergers around these parts). Constructing the body of the skirt went smoothly as I had already worked the bugs out on the muslin. With no time to finish the seams, I trimmed them with Kai pinking shears to give them a vintage look. As a reader once commented, super-sharp Kai shears are “all that and a cup of coffee.”

This particular ponte has excellent stretch and recovery, so I was reasonably sure that I wouldn’t need a zipper. But the waistband has an elegant yet tricky shape that arcs up in the front and dips down toward the back, which is critical to the design. I was stumped as to how I could reinforce it enough to hold the shape while having it be stretchy enough to get over my head.
Friends, this is the kind of thing that keeps me up nights.

Cue the cute grandchildren!


Whew, that was exhausting.

When time came to make the waistband, I rooted through my bag ‘o interfacing looking for that knit fusible I thought I might have (desperate times call for desperate measures), and spotted a yard of corset mesh stashed away. Corset mesh is like bathing suit liner meets Spanx on steroids. It’s constructed like mesh, so it’s breathable, but it’s stiff as granny’s girdle. Apparently the designer Roland Mouret used a similar fabric, power mesh, to line his famous “Galaxy” dresses of a few years ago.


I think I once had a notion to knock off a Galaxy dress using Vogue pattern 8280,


so I think I ordered both power mesh and corset mesh (which is stiffer, and I need all the help I can get), and that’s how the stuff got buried in my stash. You can find here: (Corset mesh from, and they have power mesh as well.

I carefully cut the corset mesh and sewed it into the exterior pieces of the waistband. Then I drew the curved seamline of the waistband onto the pieces and, barely breathing, sewed the exterior pieces to the lining along the curve, which starts down, arcs up, gets flat, and arcs back down again.


I attached the waistband front piece to the back piece, anxiously lining up the seamlines.

I trimmed the corset mesh and seams, then got the waistband aligned and sewed onto the body of the skirt.


I flipped the whole thing over, pressed the lining inside, and lacking time to hand-sew the lining down, took a deep breath and “stitched in the ditch” (top-stitched right on the seamline) where the waistband met the skirt body.


That corset mesh holds the waistband up and holds me in, and now I want to put it in everything I own.

There are three kick pleats (two on the side and one in the back) and rather than lining them with the ponte, I decided to use a vintage wool challis from the 50s that I bought in the third floor vintage fabric room at International Silk and Woolens in Los Angeles. I’m using the rest of the fabric to make a top to go with the skirt. I’m busting so much of my stash this month!

Following the original pattern directions from the 50s, I folded back the “pleat” part of the main skirt pieces and attached the lining rectangle to the two sides. Then I catch-stitched the whole thing to the skirt itself at the top.


Phew, just enough time to give the skirt a blind hem and pack for New York! And you know the rest.

“And what about Me-Made-May?” I’m sure you didn’t ask…
I’m not participating officially, because my projects come along so slowly that most days I’d be running around in a Chanel jacket and my underwear if I had to wear my “makes” for a month. But spring has bust out so beautifully I thought I’d share some photos from around the neighborhood in Boston. Most were taken one morning after I met a friend for coffee on Newbury Street, wearing a version of the crushed boatneck frankenpattern top I wrote about here (when I also attempted to knock off a matching Chanel 2.55 bag).

imageChanel 2.55 style bag

This is the long “mall” of walkways, statues and trees that goes between the two sides of my street, Commonwealth Ave., for about a mile. This part of town is called the Back Bay, because the bay it was built over was filled in and developed in the mid-1800s. A number of the wealthy Bostonians who moved in had been on what was called “The Grand Tour” of Europe, so the area was developed to look like France.

image image image
At the beginning of Commonwealth Ave. is Boston’s famous park “The Public Garden” which is always well-kept and beautiful, but particularly in spring.

In the warmer months, the famous Swan Boats are pedaled like bicycles around the pond, just as they were in the much-loved 1940s children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings.” If you walk through the Public Garden on a warm Saturday, you often see two or three wedding parties having their photos taken.

One day my son and I encountered an unusual wedding party there, where the groomsmen were hanging back cooling their heels, the bridesmaids were hovering around in a concerned tizzy, while the bride was lying prone on her back on a bench, clutching her bouquet on her chest, and bawling her eyes out in what appeared to be a full-on anxiety attack. There’s so much pressure put on brides in U.S. culture now to be skinny and be the star of the show, I figure she hadn’t eaten in weeks. I’ve often wondered what happened to that marriage.
Around the corner is Newbury St., where you can get your Chanel on. It’s fun for window-shopping or grabbing a bite.

image image image image

I like those candy-colored linens and bags in the Max Mara window. I my next life I’m going to be an Italian contessa and dress like that 24/7.

I have been celebrating “Me-Made-My” by stitching up some things to wear with the Charles James skirt, including a Claire McCardell shrug that I’ll share next time. I hope your sewing is going well, too!

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


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

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

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

Charles James Met Exhibit

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

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

Charles James cloakCharles James quote

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

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

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

Charles James coatCharles James CoatCharles James coatsCharles James suit

I want that green suit.

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

Charles James dressforms

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

Charles James sketch

Some of the hats he designed early in his career:

Charles James hats

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

Charles James Down JacketCharles James Down Jacket

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

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

Charles James dresses Charles James dress

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

Charles James Sirene dresses

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

Charles James Taxi Dress

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

Charles JamesCharles James dress with spiral zipper

You can see the Madeleine Vionnet influence in those designs.

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

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

Charles James sewing pattern

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

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

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

Wearing the Charles James skirt at the Met Exhibit

Wearing the Charles James skirt at the Met Exhibit

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

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

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

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

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

Charles James Koda-Reeder book

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

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

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

Charles James skirt muslin (apparently for Amazon Barbie)


So I started making a version of this:

Charles James “Dorothy” Skirt in the Metropolitan Museum


from this 1950s mail-order sewing pattern:



I just read an article in this month’s U.S. Vogue (May 2014) by Hamish Bowles, talking about the life and work of Charles James, and my guess is that this skirt pattern (and another Charles James dress pattern) were released during a time in the 50s when James was married to heiress Nancy Lee Gregory (the former wife of one of James’ lovers, oh by the way…) who was trying to help him expand his business. But artists are rarely good at business or marriage, and both were pretty much over by the early 60s. (As usual, I felt a jealous frisson at the quality of Hamish Bowles’ writing in the article.)

Here’s a video of Hamish Bowles visiting two iconic Charles James dresses in James’ birthplace of Chicago. Having seen some of Charles James’ erotic drawings, Bowles posits that many of his creations may have been inspired by a certain appendage of the male anatomy: (Video about Charles James)

And here’s an article from the New York Times about the Met’s reconstruction of the “Four Leaf Clover” dress, which will demonstrates the architectural elements of James’ designs: (Charles James New York Times Article)

Since I’d like to have the skirt done by the time I leave on Tuesday for the Charles James exhibit in New York, I’d better do less blabbing and more sewing. So here’s the progress so far:

As with all of the vintage unprinted patterns I use, when I first take them out of the package, I need to label them:


That’s when I discovered that two of the pattern pieces were missing. AAAyyyiiiii!

Curse you, lazy 50s housewife, who made this skirt and then neglected to put back all of the pieces! So what if you had four kids and were probably in the midst of a pre-feminist Betty Draper psychotic episode, it’s Charles James for pity sake!

So after that little meltdown, I realized that it wouldn’t be too hard to re-create the pattern pieces for the back of the waistband and lining for the pleats.

I traced the pattern onto craft paper and put the original away to preserve it. Then I compared the pattern to my recently completed fitting shell pattern. Since the Charles James pattern was cut for a 24″ waist, I knew I would have to size it up considerably to fit me.


The brown is the Charles James skirt pattern and the white is my fitting shell pattern. At this point, I could tell that the front piece (on the right) was far smaller than my fitting shell, while the back piece (left) was close to the same size. So the skirt was designed for the back piece to wrap around the side to meet the front piece in the front. Also, there’s a complex triangular part at the top that extends even further toward the front.

I decided that trying to size up the pattern in the flat pattern state was foolish, and that I should just make the thing up as is, then see what I could do to make it bigger.

I cut the muslin pieces for the test version of the pattern out of two different color fabrics, to better show you the design of the skirt in photos (and I’d like to thank you readers for inspiring me to move forward on the boring parts of projects like this).


This is why it’s worth doing a muslin. You’re looking at the top of the skirt’s side seam, where ordinarily on a pencil skirt the two seams would match, and you would just sew them together on a curve. But on this pattern, the triangular part on the back (in black) wraps forward to meet the front (in white), and the pieces curve away from each other in the opposite direction. When I started to pin them, it reminded me of setting in a sleeve, so I added some basting and gathered the back piece to curve it around.

Here’s how it looked pinned:


You can see I had to ease the back piece around to meet the hip curve of the front piece.

And here’s how the exterior looked after it was sewn:


It’s not just curved, it’s molded. And that’s what made Charles James such a great designer, even with something as simple as a pencil skirt.

Here’s a look at the front of the completed muslin version:


The back (in black) wraps around to the front to make an arch shape in the front. It’s hard to see, but that same shape is mirrored in a subtle arch on the waistband front. At the bottom of each side of the front piece are two lined pleats. (There’s no seam in the center front. I just messed up when I cut it, which is another reason you do a muslin.)

Here’s how the skirt looks from the side:



The seam between the front and back of the waistband meets at the actual side of the waist, over a dart, rather than where the front and the back pieces meet.

And here’s the rear, where there is another pleat in the center back:


The waist on the skirt is a petite 25″, and the hips max out at 37″. The whole thing’s so tiny it won’t fit on my dress form. But the length of the skirt, after hemming, is 32″, and on my 5’6″ long-legged frame, comes just 4″ above my ankle. That’s why I think this original is fitted for Amazon Barbie.

Clearly I’m not going to need to make it any longer, so I’m just going to attempt a massive “slash and spread” revision in the middle to get the skirt to fit me. There’s no way I’m touching the engineering on the sides.

And I hope that Charles James, somewhere in the great beyond, will forgive me for messing with his elegant design. But I can’t imagine that he would.


Charles James, Charles JAMES, CHARLES JAMES!


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

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

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


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

Charles James Dorothy Skirt Charles James “Dorothy” Skirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite garment you’ve made?

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

My Spring Wrap

Do your friends and family know about your blog?

Yes, I won’t shut up about it.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

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

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

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

What is your favorite period in fashion, and why?

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

What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?

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

What quality in a friend is most important to you?

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

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

Madeline Kahn in “Blazing Saddles.”

Happy trails!

More “Faking Vintage Looks with Modern Patterns”


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

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

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

Shaeffer Chanel Jacket Pattern (Claire Shaeffer jacket pattern)

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

Chanel pattern

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

1958 Chanel Suit 1958 Chanel Suit

Here are the technical drawings of the pattern:

Shaeffer Technical Drawings

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

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

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

Gertie PatternGertie Lingerie

(Butterick Lingerie Pattern)

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

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

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

Liz Taylor (there she is again…)

or a more 70s undies and cammie set.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simplicity boatneckBardot in Breton  Simplicity Boatneck Pattern

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

Bombshell suit Monroe in BikiniBombshell suit

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

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

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

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

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

Burda coat patternBrando in bomber jacketBurda coat pattern

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

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

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

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

Burda wedding dress (Burda 50s Wedding Dress)

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

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

Simplicity has also released some cute retro clothes for baby:

Simplicity babyBooties (Layette and baby booties)

And Barbie…

Barbie (Barbie clothes pattern)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

imageMondrian dress pattern

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

imageMcCalls GivenchyMcCalls Trigere

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


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


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:


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.)


A number of Ceil Chapman patterns by Spadea:


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.


Here’s a rare Charles James skirt pattern:


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:


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.”


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:



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


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.


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.


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)…


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


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


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:


(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.


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:



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?

Crushed Bateau-neck Top, fait accompli


It’s all over but the shoutin’ as they say, but first, the big reveal:
I would have gotten a picture up sooner, but it took days for me to get in the mood to put on makeup.

When we last left Julie, the project was in this state: (for details on how I made this muslin from a three-part frankenpattern, check out this post.)

I was extremely nervous about cutting this beautiful wool from Janssens et Janssens in Paris. It is soft and light like cashmere, and stretchy like a knit, even though it’s woven.

I eventually got up the guts, and did a layout like this to suit the one-sided, one-way print. It may look wasteful, but actually it leaves a big swath at the fold on the right to make a scarf.

The construction went smoothly, and I thought I was going to be revealing this wonderful way to insert sleeves by stretching a bias strip of fabric over the sleeve cap to shape it before you insert the sleeve. I learned about it on this tutorial:

(When I saw how fast that woman sews, I knew I had a lot to learn…)
The sleeve cap turned out like this, but when I went to put it in the sleeve, the cap wasn’t tight enough and the gathering was uneven, so I had to put in a row of basting to tighten it anyway. I tried it for both sleeves in the exterior and the lining, and really didn’t get the hang of it. I think I’ll go back to Susan Khalje’s method of putting three rows of basting in the seam allowance and then gathering, which gives you a nice even cap to insert.

At this point, my project looked like this:


Boy, did I want to just finish those seams and forget about making the lining. But I knew it was a mistake, because the lining would elevate it from home-sewing to haute couture(ish). Then this happened:
And I did not want to cut that lining. So I started blogging about every little thing I could think of. I went to two events where I had planned to wear the top, wearing Chanel jacket #2 by default instead. (The Boston Symphony playing Ravel on a Friday afternoon, the perfect antidote to the snow. And Brian Stokes Mitchell absolutely nailing about 30 Broadway show-stoppers in a row at Harvard’s legendary Sanders Theater. Here’s a link to Mitchell’s new album: (Brian Stokes Mitchell’s “Simply Broadway” album). Get it, and you can belt out “The Impossible Dream” during your next frustrating sewing project.

But I finally got over it, and cut and assembled the lining out of black silk crepe de chine, which is the way to go if you can swing it. Actually I found this fabric for maybe $4/yard on the silk table of “Sew-fisticated” in Cambridge, one of those old-school sewing shops with really good prices and nice, knowledgeable staff.
I put together the lining, and finished the seams with my super-sharp Kai pinking shears. I’ve been looking at vintage retail garments, and have seen that on many of them the only finish on the seams is pinking, like this, and sometimes a line of straight stitching on the seam allowance as well. It made me remember that instead of having a lining in our clothing in the 50s and 60s, we always wore full slips like this:
Liz Taylor
Unfortunately, none of us looked like Elizabeth Taylor in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” But the slips kept the scratchy seams off of our bodies and made the dresses more opaque.

My mom also had to wear a girdle, stockings, pointy bra and heels as she stood in front of a blackboard teaching high school English all day long. I think her happiest time was when she embraced feminism, put on a pantsuit with low heels, and chopped off her high-maintenance hair-do.

Where was I? I had catch-stitched down the neckline, sleeve edges and hem of the exterior fabric, so I attached the lining to those edges using small fell-stitches. It was so worth taking the time to do that part by hand.
Here’s a look at the back, where I used shoulder darts and back darts to give it some shape. Even though I wanted a loose 60s-style fit, I didn’t want it to look like a box. The muslin process helped me fit it for my short waist and sway back. There are French darts in the front and two darts in each sleeve, which really help when you work with a woven. And lastly, I like the smaller armscye from this pattern. I think that the large armscye has ruined the fit of modern American fashion, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.
This is a close up of the little tuck that’s in each shoulder seam. It gives the neckline some drape, but doesn’t make it hang down like a cowl-neck top. You could probably fake this by taking a bateau-neck pattern, extending the front shoulder seam, and then making a tuck.
When I finished, I had spent 35-40 hours on the project, and probably close to $200 on the fabric and patterns. But where would I find something as high-end as this in a store, that fit me? Max Mara boxy bateau tops made from Italian wool are more than $600. Loro Piana sweaters are $1,800. It was definitely worth investing the time and money into this top, as I will probably wear it for 10 years at least, then hand it down to someone else. And I’ll reuse the pattern a lot, too.
What are you working on? Clothes for spring? (Or fall, if you’re “Down Under”?). I’ll be heading to Southern California next week, where I hope to take you all on a trip through the L.A. Mood Fabrics mega-store! (And wear my new top, finally, out to dinner with friends.)

Vintage, Schmintage; faking vintage looks with modern patterns


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:


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!

Bride of Frankenpattern and Muslin Madness


Back home and settled in, my January project was to make a top that recreates the type of 1960s high “crushed boatneck” shown in the pattern on the left:


Boy, I remember that “puffy bodice/straight skirt” look from the 60s. Yecch. But what I liked about the pattern was the high boatneck with small folds on the side, the French darts that start low on the side, and the 3/4 sleeves with two darts. Sleeve darts are something that need to make a comeback; they give woven sleeves such a nice shape.

I bought the pattern on Ebay to use with this gorgeous Italian wool that I picked up at Janssens et Janssens in Paris. I wish I could send you a swatch; it’s like buttah.


The sequins are printed on, so it’s trompe l’oeil, which is French for either “fool the eye” or “impossible for Americans to pronounce”. Due to the one-sided, one-directional nature of the print, I knew I’d have to lay out and cut the pattern very carefully.

The pattern was too small for me, so I decided to use the bodice of the modern Vogue pattern 8615 (on the left of the photo above) as my “fitting shell.” That pattern has French darts as well (and not the dreaded princess seams), and it includes bodice pieces for different bust sizes. It also has a relatively small armscye and narrow sleeve, which is rare for modern patterns. It has received good reviews on (Reviews of Vogue 8615), and it makes a very cute retro-style dress.

I taped the Vogue pattern to some tracing paper, then put the vintage Butterick boatneck pattern on top to trace the neckline.


After I was done tracing, it looked like this:


Then I realized that since I was making a top, and not a dress, that I needed the pattern to extend below my waist. So I dragged out a muslin I made last year, when I was going through vintage Lutterloh hysteria. The weird world of Lutterloh deserves its own post, so I’ll elaborate in the future. But in the meantime, here’s a review of the Lutterloh top I made last year: (50s Lutterloh Top review)

So I put the Lutterloh muslin on top of the Frankenpattern I was creating and traced around the bottom, also adding the bottom of the dart.


A heads up: when you’ve gone this far into pattern combining, you will lose all track of the notches and have to fake it.

I don’t have a picture of it, but when I made the Frankenpattern of the back, I added two waistline darts in the rear, and kept a couple of small shoulder darts from the original Butterick. Rear darts are another thing that should make a comeback; they really improve the fit.

For the sleeve, I used the top of the modern Vogue pattern, so the sleevecap would fit in the armscye, and then drew on the bottom of the sleeve from the vintage Butterick pattern, so I would get the curved shape and two darts.


This is the point in my projects where I start wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Since the fabric I was using was so expensive and nervous-making, I did a full-out muslin at this point. I also wanted to have a muslin to use as a pattern in the future, since I adore the unique neckline and shaped sleeves.

Once again I used the technique outlined in Susan Khalje’s “Couture Dress” course on I laid out the muslin on a large sheet of tracing paper, put the frankenpattern pieces on top, and marked the muslin with a tracing wheel.


I hate doing muslins, hate ’em, until the very moment I put them on and think “boy, that has some fit issues…”


I saw right away that I had constructed the two sides of the neckline differently (hard to tell without notches) and that the bust was tight. At that point I was so happy that I was only picking out the basted seams on a muslin and not messing with my delicate fabric. I adjusted the fit and liked what I saw.


I really need to put on lipstick before I take these muslin selfies.

The last thing I do when I’m done fitting a muslin is to take a magic marker pen and mark both sides of each seamline and dart seam. That way when I take the muslin apart, I know exactly where the final seamline is.


Now I felt so much better about cutting that fine, fine fabric. And I had a nice project for a snowy day in Boston.


I’ll let you know how the top’s turning out in my next post. How’s your new year’s sewing going?