I sewed for the Oscars again, and lived!


If you’ve been reading my blog for the past few years, you know that I am an Oscar widow – meaning that I hand my husband over to the show for several months, and then I get to go!

I’ve worn me-made on the red carpet a couple of times, first this “crushed” boatneck (with a pleat in the neckline) and long skirt:


(I have no idea what happened to the rest of that picture…)

And last year I wore the Madame Gres dress from hell that I wrote about ad nauseum:


But I swore I wouldn’t go down the eveningwear road again without doing a “sit and sew” with Kenneth King or Susan Khalje. You need someone like that to have your back.

However, when Santa brought me these bakelite Art Deco dress clips:


I got to thinking about the gorgeous, houndstoothy black tweed in my stash, waiting around to become the perfect quilted “little black jacket” with three-part sleeves, princess seams and all that jazz. I even had lining and trim.

Yet in my heart of hearts, having made jackets like that before, I knew that going the full Chanel was never, ever going to happen again.

And here’s why:

(Watching this Chanel Haute Couture Video will probably give you anxiety…)

But I needed to use the stash for something, so I started thinking about making a version of this McCardelligan that I’ve made a couple of times from knits. It’s based on an original McCardell jacket in my collection. She often designed similar jackets in wovens, and since the pieces were cut on the bias, the fabric is stretchy under the arms – no gusset needed.


I decided to go for it, because stash-busting is my middle name this year.

I started out cutting out the exterior fashion fabric, joyful that I was cutting out four pieces instead of 13 for a traditional jacket.IMG_5589

I always cut bias pieces in a single layer, and check and double check when pinning and cutting to ensure that they’re going to meet in the center front and center back in a “V”. If both sides end up going in the same direction, the whole thing can twist.

Who else hates thread tracing? That’s the haute couture technique where you baste around the pattern pieces on the seam line to help with construction and fitting.

I decided to fake it with a long machine basting stitch. Because sometimes if you get too bogged down in this stuff, you never get the thing done.


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


With only two darts and five seams, it was pretty much smooth sailing. I even had a chain I’d bought, pre-sewn onto a ribbon, that I attached to the hem with a piping foot:


Yee haw! Then all I had to make was…the bias silk lining. Eep!

Now cutting and sewing silk on the bias is a different animal. It slips! It slides! It shifts! It sucks! (But it feels so good when you stop.)

Once again I laid out the pattern in a single layer, pinned it with loads of pins, and started cutting with my Kai serrated shears, which are the only game in town. (FYI, I’m not a Kai affiliate, just an addict.)

Then I kept the pattern pinned to the silk and faked the thread tracing again, with a narrow zigzag.


So far so good, until I goofed up and, noting that the fabric was burbling up as it got to the feed dogs, I started repinning as I was sewing. Big mistake! That works when I’m sewing things on the grain, but since bias fabric will move all around, I should have left well enough alone.

Fortunately, I had cut large seam allowances, so I literally had some wiggle room. I had to move things around as I sewed the lining together (again with a narrow zigzag, which is forgiving when you’re sewing on the bias).


And in the end it looked okay:


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


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

I attached the neckline (nervous nervous nervous):


By then I’d realized that I just needed to break down and hand-baste to keep the lining stable.

I had thought that I could do some quilting of the exterior and lining at this point, but since the bias was wonky, I stitched in the ditch by hand a little to tamp down the seams, then edge-stitched by hand around the neck and center fronts.


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


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


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


At the very last minute, I sewed on some brass hooks and eyes (lacking McCardell’s traditional brass shoe hooks and rings) and added the dress clips. Even the backs of the clips were Art Deco.


Then came the hardest part – pressing the crappy ready-to-wear viscose dress I’d bought to go with it on the hotel ironing board. The dress was a simple sleeveless long dress with a big slit and a sort of 30s godet, so get a good picture in your mind’s eye because that’s where it’s going to stay.IMG_5909




I was so excited about wearing a wool and silk jacket in L.A. in February, because I’m usually freezing on the red carpet and in the theater. This time around, though, it was 80 degrees! My husband was walking about 90 miles an hour and for some weird reason was more interested in getting inside to schmooze with people than to photograph me seven or eight times on the red carpet as I was having a hot flash. I tried to pull a Norma Desmond on him but he was not buying it. Consequently, the red carpet picture was awful.

So I’ll stick with pictures from the Governors’ Ball, which was so chilly that I overheard Charlize Theron, in Dior Haute Couture, complaining about the cold.


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


I did get a peek at Jennifer Garner (tall, in Versace) and Reese Witherspoon (shorter, in Oscar de la Renta) and really wished I could have gotten up closer to inspect the construction of their dresses. I’m sure they would have thought that it was just super-girly and not weird at all.

jennifer-garner-oscars-red-carpet-2016reese-witherspoon-oscars-red-carpet-2016There weren’t a lot of dresses I was crazy about, though I did like that Kerry Washington took a walk on the wild side in Versace:


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


Here’s the most important picture – the desserts!


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

Oh no! I bit off Oscar’s legs!


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


Okay, it’s a bad wall selfie, because my husband is so FIRED as my photographer. (Oops, just remembered that he’s my ride to the Oscars. Just kidding, hon!) But you get the picture on the jacket.

Of course McCardell, being a minimalist, would have put topstitching on the edges instead of that Chanel-y trim. But it’s really comfy, and now after going to all of that trouble, I have something to wear out to dinner, too.

To misquote Scarlett O’Hara, “as God is my witness, I will never Chanel again!”

How’s your sewing going?


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?


The Tale of making a 40s Swishy Skirt (yesss!) and a Golden Girls Spa Robe (noooo!)…and fabric shopping in Paris


Who else is thrilled that the holidays are over? Despite being covered with tinsel for weeks, I’ve managed to get some sewing done.

Before Christmas, I thought I’d try this vintage pattern I’d been hoarding for several years.

Duster Pattern

I think these were called “Dusters” or “Opera Coats” back in the day. I wanted to see if it would work as an evening wrap, since I’m always freezing at fancy events. Plus my upper arms are no longer ready for prime time, if you know what I mean.

And I had some nice stash that I had no idea how to use–gold viscose/wool suiting (I am not the gold suit type) and some gorgeous Carolina Herrera panel silk that has been making me feel guilty for years.


The tissue fit was huge, so off I went! (Because I could always take it in, right?)

Tailors’ tacks for some big release darts at the neckline:


The gold was supposed to be the exterior until:


Does this look like Bea Arthur waiting for a facial to you too? Jeez, another classic design that’s peaked and pitched into Art Teacher Chic territory. (Just like the Schiaparelli Mom Jeans Vest) So maybe the blue would be better as the outside?

But rather than take the time to fit it better, I just plunged into making the lining which was now the outside. Clearly I just wanted to get that stash out of there.


I was proud of myself!


My Bernina 560, Karl, whispered to me, “you took the time to understitch, but not the time to fit? Is that wise?” (He was doing such a beautiful job that I just lost my head.)

Then, it looked like this for awhile…(bagging the lining was very confusing).


So I know you’re waiting for the big reveal, but when I got most of it done, it was screaming “summer drinks with hippy friends in the Vineyard” more than “winter evening at the ballet.” So it’s in the closet waiting for two shoulder seams and for me to give a hoot.

But that fabric’s out of my stash…time to get more!


Back to Paris. Did we go to the Grand Palais to catch the Chanel couture show? Mais non, when you travel with a 14-year-old, you’re going to the amusement park they put in there during the holidays.


Of course I felt so sad after the terrible things that happened in Paris. But having been nine months pregnant in Washington DC when the Pentagon was hit on 9/11, and having lived in Boston during the marathon bombing (fortunately we were out of town when it happened), I know how important it is for visitors to come back. It’s a painful time, and it helps to have friends in your midst. Even if it’s just people who love your city.

While I was in France, I started reading Elsa Schiaparelli’s biography. Her atelier was in Paris at the start of WWII.


(I was looking for divine inspiration about what to do with those vintage Bakelite dress clips my husband found for me.)

I remembered an article Schiaparelli wrote for Vogue in the 40s, about the first days of the French occupation. She, Lucien Lelong and other couturiers decamped from Paris to Biarritz with what little they had; their staff of petites mains got there however they could, and then they attempted to keep the French fashion business alive in spite of being under the thumb of the Nazis. In a plot as riveting as Casablanca, Schiap was able to escape via the Azores to get to the U.S. for a tour to promote French fashion. But soon the boats to the U.S. stopped, and most of the couturiers were forced out of business for the rest of the war.

I really admired how those couturiers and their staff fought to keep their culture from getting trampled by the Nazis, even over something that could be considered frivolous, like fashion. So though I’m usually a big scaredy-cat, I realized that it was important not to be afraid to go back to Paris, despite what had happened.

The ladies at Janssens et Janssens were as nice as ever, and the fabrics were as beautiful (and expensive) as ever:


It was quiet in there right before Christmas, so they were very kind to give me a deal on some beautiful silks and wools on the “coupon” (remnant) table.


Then I made my annual Pointless Pilgrimage of Fashion. In the past I’ve stood outside of what was Madame Vionnet’s atelier, and done a selfie on the Chanel staircase.

This time, I went to the address in the Place des Vosges where Claire McCardell, Joset Walker, and Mildred Orrick (all friends and fellow designers) spent their year abroad in the 20s, as flapper girls, while they were studying at what is now Parsons School of Design.


We went to the Musee D’Orsay, where I stumbled on this stunning view:


Yep, everything in Paris was still there.



And when I got to the Tuileries, I spotted one of my favorite things:


(A buff naked guy.)

When I got home, I decided to make another of the Claire McCardell 40s dirndls that I wrote about here. It’s so swishy! It’s not like those 80s skirts. It flows when you walk.

I’d bought some gorgeous lightweight silk lame’ at Janssens that the saleslady said was Lanvin. So I put in some pockets, gathered yards and yards of it at the waist, and attached it to wide, ventilated corset elastic. (Sure you laugh, but you don’t need Spanx!)


I was wandering around Saks, bored, and saw a similar skirt:IMG_5524

For $700! (Note: Mine is not size zero.)


Plus I can both sit and eat in my version, and it feels great to wear! Here’s a video to show just how swishy it is:

Not exactly Ginger Rogers, but it was “backwards and in heels.”

Hope your sewing’s going well in the new year!

My Passion for Wide Elastic and Dental Floss! And Edith Rears Her Ugly Head


Karl and I have been putting in overtime around here…because after you make a 20s Schiaparelli that turns into a fugly Mom Jeans vest, you’d better get back on the horse right away.

First thing we came up with was a new version of the asymmetrical sweaterknit wrap I designed last year. I wanted another one, because during Boston’s epic winter (2 yards/meters of snow!) we were all bundled up in our massive puffer coats, then we’d go inside and either freeze or roast. So I kept the wrap in my bag and used it all the time in theaters and restaurants.


This new version uses French seams to finish the innards, and foldover elastic to bind the edges. The pattern and tutorial are free free free on the website WeAllSew.com.


Yeah, I’m getting my Judy Jetson on.

It’s part of Jet Set Sewing’s partnership with BERNINA of America. Details are above in the Bernina Collaboration tab. I can’t thank them enough for helping with all the vintage reconstructions going on around here.

And speaking of which, isn’t there a little part of all of us that wants to be a Hitchcock blonde? Even though she’s put in danger, hacked up, or obsessed about by Jimmy Stewart (and Hitch himself)?


Edith Head did the costumes for most of the Hitchcock movies, including the ones that fashion people obsess about, such as “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” and “Vertigo.”

The Birds

(That’s the “Nile Green” suit from The Birds, from last year’s Hollywood Costume exhibit.)

Edith Head released a series of patterns during that era from Advanced, all very Hitchcock in nature. You can hear my travails of making a bolero from one of the patterns in this post: “Long Live Edith Head”


All’s well that ends well.

As a little pick me up, I decided to do a quick make of this “turban” in another of the Edith Head patterns:


What could be so hard about making a hat? It’ll be fun!

(Does anyone else hear ominous music playing in the background? Like the theme from “Psycho” where the violins go EE EE EE!?)

Just two pieces for the exterior, cut on the grain.


I made it from some leftover jacket fabric–a stable knit–and it was a quick go. The main part of the hat is gathered with some release darts of various shapes and sizes, then is attached to a round crown.

But you know that part of a Hitchcock movie when Mr. Everyman’s just going through his day, and then everything gets weird?


When I went to cut the lining, out of leftover silk crepe de chine, it was (EE EE EE!) on the bias!


(If you’ve ever cut and sewn silk on the bias, then you know that deep foreboding you have when every move you make could lead to a massive wadder…)

I knew I would need industrial-grade shears, just in case Norman Bates was coming to hack away at the silk with a kitchen knife.



(Kai Serrated Shears. The best ever for silk. Just go get some.)


Asymmetrical wobbly darts! EE EE EE!

Honestly, I’d rather go up to the top of that clocktower with Jimmy Stewart:




Sometimes sewing is so suspenseful.

Well, what do you think? Tippi Hedron, or Eleanor Roosevelt? I’m still on the fence:

IMG_4849FullSizeRender 3

So then I moved on to a skirt I’d been thinking about making, based on 40s Claire McCardell dirndl skirt I have in my collection. The dirndl was her first runaway design hit in the 30s, based on traditional dress that she saw in Austria. During that era, she’d bought a funky farmhouse across the river from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where people from Broadway, fashion and journalism were hanging out on weekends. Their houses were rustic and freezing, so she created warm, comfortable eveningwear, made out of wool jersey or tartan. She also pioneered stretch waistbands on skirts during World War Two rationing, using chest bandages.

So I put together a big skirt with a couple of deep McCardell pockets:


(Neither one of them was upside down this time!)

Then I decided to use a gathering technique I’d read about somewhere (the source of which, sadly, my brain refuses to cough up…):


You zigzag over a string of dental floss (unflavored, unless you want to smell minty) then pull it up. I was skeptical, but…


Goal! I sewed it with a zigzag onto a band of 3″ wide knit elastic, which comes under the heading of “where have I been” because it’s so soft and stretchy. I had already sewn the elastic into a circle and then enjoyed annoying my teenager by snapping it at him before I attached it. Once I had it sewn on, I took out the dental floss so the waistband would stretch.


Well, that’s pretty sweet! But do I really want to, um, reveal that I’ve gone “fully elasticized?”

Thanks to a nine-foot by 13″ remnant of raw silk hiding in my stash, no one will every know!

McCardell Dirndl with Obi Belt

Bring on the holidays; I’m ready to eat!

How’s your sewing going?

Epic Sewing Fail! Anyone want a 1925 Schiaparelli meets Portlandia “Mom Jeans” Vest?


Every now and then, we all have a make that’s better in theory than practice, right? So let’s just put this one in the UFO closet of shame without showing it on my middle-aged middle.

My intentions were good…I had a 1925 pattern, loosely-based on a Schiaparelli design, that I’d been dying to try.


I say “loosely-based” because back in the 20s, most Paris-designed patterns and garments released in the U.S. were watered down versions of the originals. They were either licensed copies dumbed down for manufacturing in the States, or out and out thefts of the designs. The U.S. garment companies would hire young fashion school “sketchers” to memorize the designs at the Paris fashion shows, who would make quick sketches of the designs afterwards, and then put them on the fast boat back to the States to be knocked off. A number of famous designers from that era (Elizabeth Hawes is one example) got their start as sketchers.

Elsa Schiaparelli is perhaps best remembered for her surrealist designs, sometimes created with artist Salvador Dali. For example, the hat that looks a shoe:


(Details here from Metropolitan Museum’s Online Collection)

And her famous “Lobster Dress” (which was included in that tart Wallis Simpson’s trousseau):


(More info here from the Philadelphia Museum of Art)

This “cracked egg” design in the pattern was avant-garde and beautiful in it’s time:


(More about this much-better version at MetMuseum.org)

But jeez, I should have known it was a little too ubiquitous now. And, having grown up in the north woods knitting and crocheting with “chunky” yarn in the 70s, I was not ready to rock that look post-millennium in this preppy East Coast metropolis. (One journey through the zeitgeist of pullover granny-square vests is more than enough for one lifetime.)

No, it was one of those things where I’d bought this fabric for a wrap, but it wasn’t drapey enough because it had a stable backing, but it would work for a jacket, but there wasn’t enough for sleeves and well…


Plus I don’t get vests! To me they’re a hot flash with frozen elbows.

So anyway, so far so good:


(Some nice seam finishes with a stretch overlock stitch that looks like a blanket stitch, using the Bulky Overlock foot. Karl, my Bernina 560, was on fire, baby!)


A little binding made of ponte, my new favorite thing… (After you stitch in the ditch, you flip it over and trim off the excess.)


But then I tried it on and thought NOOOOOOOO! No No NOOOOO! It was supposed to have buttonholes and cute lobster buttons along the lines of Schiaparelli’s bug buttons:


(More on those buttons from the Met Museum here.)

But at that point I was too over it to dig out the buttonhole foot.

And that was that. Elsa Schiaparelli, I am so sorry. I’ll make this pattern again with lighter fabric and sleeves and then we’ll talk.

But I did have success with a different project a few weeks earlier. In the spring, I’d made what was dubbed a “McCardellgan”: a version of Claire McCardell’s famous cardigan jacket design.


I’d worn the jacket a lot, but thought the design needed tweaking to be more authentic. So I went back to the drawing board and drafted a new pattern from two McCardell jackets in my collection.

The first is this sweater knit jacket, part of a sweet suit that would fit a modern 11-year-old:


And the second is a woven McCardell jacket, cut on the bias with big French darts and tapered sleeves. (No pictures as it’s buried in my closet somewhere…)

The edges of the jacket are finished with expertly-sewn bias binding, and how the 50s garment workers pulled that off on a knit–using straight-stitch machines–is a mystery to me.


In my last post, I talked about how I finished the inside of my new jacket with French seams. I decided to use ponte to make piping on my jacket, to give it some soft structure around the neckline. McCardell often used piping in designs.


I overlapped the fabric a little, so the raw edge of the piping could be turned inside to become facing, and sewed the seam a little bit away from the piping cord. Then I sewed the piping on the front of the jacket, this time with a seam a little closer to the piping cord. It looks smoother that way:


(Bulky Overlock foot 12C again. It’s very useful!)

I flipped the seam allowance of the piping to the inside of the jacket and stitched in the ditch on top, close to the piping.


Then I fell stitched the seam allowance to the inside, making a facing. The raw edge of the ponte doesn’t need to be turned under, which makes the finish less bulky.


I finished the hem and sleeves with binding, with the help of Karl and Wonder Woman.


Then it was picture time! Fellow bloggers, you know that look you get when you ask your Significant Other to take your blog photos for the umpteenth time? Well I got that look from my husband, so I decided to use the self-timer to do it myself.


Oh forget it! I went to my son’s soccer game, then tried it again when I was in a better mood:


Ahhh, another deceptively simple, yet sophisticated, modernist design from Miss McCardell. This jacket is already in heavy rotation, and another is in my “make” queue.

Hope your sewing’s going well, and that you’re avoiding epic fails this season!

(For details about how the nice folks at BERNINA of America are loaning me Karl, the wonder B560, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

Why are we sewing? For the clothes or the experience?


Back to school shopping time? I don’t think so.


I just saw an article in the New York Times about how U.S. retailers are in trouble, because Americans are less interested in acquiring “stuff” and more interested in paying for “experiences,” like travel, restaurants, or gym memberships.

Which is so unlike us. Even though we value individual freedom, there’s definitely a herd mentality when it comes to style and shopping in the U.S. Here’s the link to that article: “Stores Suffer From a Shift of Behavior in Buyers”

It’s true for me, though, and I used to love, love, LOVE to shop! But back in the day, shopping was an experience. New clothes would only hit the stores a couple of times a year. They were made of better fabrics. You would buy just a few pieces, so you’d spend a lot of time in the fall dreaming up your school or work wardrobe.

I used to mull over what I would buy, and think about how it would go with what I had in my closet. I’d look through magazines and pattern books to plan what I’d buy and sew. Then I’d go to Goodwill and throw in some vintage, too.


Retail stores were much more pleasant places to go, too, and not jammed with ill-fitting, poorly sewn stuff like they are now. Then came online shopping, which, though it was fun at first, has become overwhelming and weird.

So I’ve embraced the “experience” of sewing instead. Let’s say you take 70+ hours to plan and execute something like a Chanel jacket, for example. When you’re done, let me tell you, you’re really invested in that jacket! It feels luxurious and looks unique. When you wear it, it’s yours alone, and it fits! The whole process is a lot more satisfying than shopping.


(One of the zillions of times I’ve worn that jacket)

And I really enjoy the “experience” of communicating with sewing peeps like you, because it alleviates those moments when modern life is dull and crappy. (Like when I’m procrastinating about the dishes I’ve been abandoned with. Which is now.) Most sewing people are friendly and encouraging online and that’s something every girl needs, right?

I was reminded of the ickiness of shopping when I was looking through U.S. Vogue Magazine’s September issue the other day. It’s not terribly inspiring because nobody in there has a body like mine. (Medium height, short waist, spare tire.)

And even though some of the modern designs are cool, the advertising people have clearly run out of ideas. Most ads can be grouped into the following cliches:

I Love Animals:


“Hello little birds! I plucked your friends to make this puffer dress!”


“I risked ripping my $800 down jacket to rescue this dog. That’s just the kind of person I am.”


“I am your trophy spirit animal. Pull the Beemer around to transport me.”


“I am your spirit animal when you’re skiing in the Italian Alps. Or I’m a muppet. I’m not really sure.”

I’m so angry:


“I’m so angry that I have to hold two bags. Where’s my assistant?”


“I’m so angry that I can’t find my brush. Where’s my assistant?”


“We’re so angry that we’re unpaid intern assistants. And we have to wear Pleather. But we’re too cool to emote.”

I’m so ennervated:


“I’ve been in bed so long, I’ve become one with the sheets.”


“Can you help me?…get out?…of the corner?”


“It’s so boring here at this Swiss boarding school. Let’s throw ourselves off the rocks and end it all.”


“Zut, they found out we were going to throw ourselves off the rocks, and locked us in the library.”


“I’ve had so much peyote that I’m starting to over-accessorize.”

Not sure if we’re gay, but we are trite:


“Let’s play kissy-face and then show off our expensive bags.”


“Does my lipstick need to be touched up, Kate?” “Sorry, I’m not getting paid to turn my head right now.”

IMG_3776“Astor, when we get to Trump Tower, don’t tell my father that we’re sorta gay.” “But what if he hits on me again, Wisteria?”


“Oops, I’m so sorry! This dress is so heavy and my heels are so high!” “I know, and this clutch weighs a ton.”

It’s time to RIVERDANCE!



(My dancer friends think it’s hilarious when models try to be ballerinas.)

From the land of clueless gifts:


“One year old today! Here’s your bag!”


“Lagerfeld wants you to have this $10,000 concept bag. Just watch your fingernails–it’s bubble wrap.”

But there was one ad that tempted me…


Hosanna! Come to mama! (Rats, I just realized that I spent that $200 on my 13-year-old’s school books, supplies, and soccer equipment. And a couple of patterns. And fabric. And some Steam-a-Seam. And some thread. And a zipper. And one of those little rolls of fleece. Because you know when you stop at Joanns just for one thing?)

After combing through the entire magazine, I only found two or three ads showing women who are within 20 years of my age, either way:


I’m down with looking like that in 15 years.

But then I saw…


Jeez, having lunch with Madonna, Donatella?

I know where my fall wardrobe’s coming from–my trusty sewing machine. How about yours?

Hope your sewing is going well!

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.

Butterick 6242

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!


Free patterns for quick projects! (So not like me, right?)


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While I’m getting my summer sewing operation set up, (the “thinking about it” phase is so much more fun that the “pinning and cutting” phase…) here are a couple of free patterns I had fun with earlier in the year.

The first is a hack of the Maria Denmark “Kirsten Kimono Tee.” Maria Denmark offers a line of simple, classic indie patterns, and this pattern is free when you sign up for her newsletter. (Here’s the Maria Denmark website)

I got the idea reading the rules for the Pattern Review “Best Patterns” contest in March, and, darn you Deepika, you always get me with those contests!!! I start reading the rules and discussions and the next thing you know, I’m rooting through my stash to make a copy of the wardrobe from “Titanic” in a week and a half.

The Kirsten Tee was one of the patterns in the contest, so of course the night before the contest was over, there I was downloading it. (You can see the original pattern and reviews here.)

The original pattern is a very simple tee with a ballet neck and kimono shoulders that extend to cap sleeves. I decided to raise the neckline to be more bateau-shaped and extend the sleeve lines to the elbow.

The next morning, I laid out and cut the two pattern pieces on some organic cotton French terry in my stash.

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(Yes, one of those pattern weights is my son’s Nintendo…)

The one thing that’s confusing about the pattern is that you need to add different-sized seam allowances at different places. So I compared the pattern to a ready-to-wear tee in my drawer to ballpark the size and seam allowances. I cut it a little big, since at this age “negative ease” (cutting knits a little tight so they stretch on your body) is not my friend.

Then I used a narrow zigzag on the seams to check the fit, since that stitch is easy to pick out if needed. The fit was looking good, so I used a stretchy lingerie stitch to finish the seams.


I decided to jazz up the neckline and hems by using the “Greek Key” stitch I’d tried on the Issey Miyake knit top I’d just finished. I just turned up the edges and went for it.

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Done for ten o’clock yoga class!

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(I was so not in the mood to ask my husband to take more pictures, and I’ve been going to that class for so long that no one thought I was nuts.)

The other free pattern is one of mine, and I bet you’re going to giggle when you see it.

I came up with the idea for making a “cuff” bracelet out of fabric last summer (with a button and working buttonhole), and then thought, “why not make it look like the cuff of a Chanel jacket?”


If you’ve ever wanted to make a Chanel jacket, but don’t have the patience, you can make one of these in an afternoon and get it out of your system!

My pattern and instructions are free on WeAllSew.com, and you can find them by clicking here.

This pattern is part of JetSetSewing.com’s collaboration with BERNINA of America, and you can see the details by clicking the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.

As for my next project? Well, the Pattern Review Historical Fashion Contest does start on July 1st. Uh oh…

Hope your sewing’s going well!