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 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?)


FullSizeRender copy

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.

IMG_2245.JPG (2)

(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.

IMG_2246.JPG (2)

Done for ten o’clock yoga class!

IMG_2260.JPG (2)

(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, and you can find them by clicking here.

This pattern is part of’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!

Susan Khalje on Making a French Jacket, Issey Miyake, and Kiss Me Karl



Hi everyone! Just a heads up that part two of my interview with Susan Khalje, where she spills the secrets of “The Little French Jacket” (AKA making a Chanel Jacket, cardigan jacket etc.) has been posted on, and you can find it by clicking here. When I spoke to her, she gave me the history of this enduring design, and explained how the famous three-part sleeve is fantastic for fitting.

Aren’t those jackets she made beautiful? Her online “French Jacket” course has just launched, and I’m eager to take a look at it! You can find the info on

As for my sewing, hm, the end of my son’s school year kind of did that in. But now that I’m back in my island summer sewing shed, I’m going to get right on it. Just as soon as…


Somebody, GET THAT MAN OUT OF HERE! (Just because I can run a high-tech machine doesn’t mean I know how to fix the printer for you, hon…)

During the winter, I had fun making up some classic Issey Miyake Vogue patterns. The construction was so fascinating! Even though, technically, patterns from the early 2000s aren’t “vintage,” these designs definitely fit under the “modernist” umbrella, which starts with Vionnet and continues through Claire McCardell and Halston.

When I looked up info on Issey Miyake’s theories of design, which include using technically advanced fabrics and manufacturing techniques, I found that trying to pin down his Japanese philosophy and express it in English was beyond my cross-cultural capabilities. So here’s the bio from his official website: Issey Miyake Bio

I decided to make up two of his patterns as part of the Travel Wardrobe contest, which was loads of fun. I was short on time, so I wanted to make things that required only one or two pattern pieces.

My first make was from this pattern, Vogue 2814:

IMG_0663.JPG (3)

The sleeveless top on the right was intriguing, because the pattern was cut as all one piece!


That’s it, you’re looking at it. I cut it out from some light cotton/lycra jersey in my stash, and proceeded to scratch my head over the instructions. (I don’t envy the people who had to write up the guide sheet at Vogue.)


In lieu of top-stitching the edges (but leaving them raw, as called for in the pattern), I used a kind of 50s-looking Greek Key decorative stitch to finish the edges with a little stretch.

IMG_1458.JPG (2)IMG_1451

After a number of twists and turns, and more head-scratching, I ended up marking the center front, left and right sides etc. with chalk so I could figure it all out.


Lo and behold, the pinwheel became a nice summer top with a twist!

IMG_1484.JPG (2)IMG_0688.JPG (2)

It only took a few hours start to finish, which has got to be a new record for me. Here’s the play-by-play on Pattern Review.

Then I decided to go for a Miyake skirt, from Vogue 2437. (Alas, I don’t have a photo of the pattern at present, but if you go to my review on Pattern Review Vogue 2437, it should turn up.)

This skirt is also cut from one pattern piece, and here I’m using Eileen Fisher rayon ponte, which has a nice drape.


Just a big rectangle-ish piece, right? Not so fast. There are so many weird darts and closures that I used white tracing paper and a tracing wheel to mark them, followed by chalk.

IMG_1587.JPG (2)IMG_1590

See what I mean? Yes, those are overlapping darts.

The only closures on this skirt are two rows of snap tape. The idea is that you can snap it how you want to give it variations in the drape. I had some brass snap tape from Paris that did the trick.

IMG_1593.JPG (2)

Upon giving the skirt a test drive, though, I discovered that the snap tape did not have enough hold for my middle-aged behind, so I added a giant snap at the top.



It’s a hard to photograph, but it’s a really fun design. I used Steam-a-Seam Lite 2 to secure the edges and snap tape before top-stitching, which helped a lot.

Here’s one way that I “styled” the two pieces for the contest.


(You may recall that I made that quilted Chanel bag “homage” last year, and the info on that is in this post.)

I really recommend the Miyake patterns from this era!

In other news, last June I announced that BERNINA of America was loaning me a B560 for a year, and, of course, my on-going love affair with my “Swiss Intern Karl” has been fodder for the tabloids ever since. I’m happy to let you know the good news that Karl has signed on for another couple of semesters here at! Which is great because I don’t know what I would do without his fabulous feed and New Wave yodeling. My thanks again to Bernina of America for their generosity. Details can be found by clicking the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above.

Do you think Karl is sticking around because he’s jealous of this new member of the Jet Set Sewing team?


Well hello, sweet little Carline! Fresh off the Ebay assembly line. She’s gotta be 50-something, and yet this little Minimatic can still satin-stitch like a champ. (I did my research before I bid, because the cam gears on these girls can crack after all of this time. This one had an overhaul by a collector.)  25 pounds of fun in her own little suitcase!

Hope your sewing’s going well!

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

IMG_1928.JPG (2)

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


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

imageimageIMG_2079.JPG (2)

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

IMG_1920IMG_1946IMG_2057.JPG (2)

(You need a Bedazzler for that one.)

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

imageIMG_2065.JPG (2)

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

IMG_2061.JPG (2)

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


It’s a gorgeous dress.

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

IMG_1933.JPG (2)

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


The dress itself has a hand-sewn blind hem:


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


IMG_1929IMG_1931.JPG (2)


(Looks a lot like Claire McCardell, Halston…)



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

IMG_2075.JPG (2)imageIMG_2073.JPG (2)imageimageimage

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Paloma Picasso and Warhol

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


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


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


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

Wearing vintage in '75

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

SUNY Purchase bustier '75

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

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

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

Howell on tank

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

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

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

Bette Midler

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

SUNY Purchase '75_0001image

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

“Heart To Heart”

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

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

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


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

Hope your sewing’s going well.

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


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


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

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

vintage kit

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

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


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


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

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

Carmen's dress frontBurda Fiore

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

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

Burda_Kim_CapucheBurda Kim

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

Carmen's jacket backBurda Rosa

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

Claudine's jacket frontClaudine's jacket back

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

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

Burda SweaterBurda SofiaBurda LolaBurda LBDBurda Beach Collection

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



Soft and kind/taut and chic.

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

Audrey Hepburn UNICEF

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


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

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

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

How’s your sewing going?


Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston


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

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

Halston pattern #2Betsy Johson patternDVF Wrap Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Then I cut the big neckline hole:


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

How’s your sewing going?

Hanging with Madame Fred on the Red Carpet


So the dress I made from the Madame Gres design (or “Madame Fred,” as autocorrect likes to call her) did make it to the red carpet on time:


I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille…Sunset Boulevard was only a couple of blocks/drinks away. (You can read about how I slogged through this dress and three blizzards in this post)

Lucky thing I’d made the dress out of merino wool jersey, known for it’s weather-hardy, quick-drying properties, as a deluge during the red carpet arrivals was making everyone into a soggy mess.


(Those men are trying to stop the rainwater that was pooling on the tent from turning everyone’s haute couture into a wet tee shirt contest.)

I can report that it was truly loads of fun to wear this streamlined, fluid design to stroll among the acres of beads, tulle, trains, boning and other froufrou. Though as froufrou goes, this was definitely the best, most intricate work that I’ll have the opportunity to eyeball outside of a museum.

Take for example the dress worn by Best Actress winner Julianne Moore, by Chanel. Moore always looks classy yet approachable in her red carpet looks, usually opting for jewel-tone colors such as emerald and amethyst to compliment her red hair and pale skin. (Here are some lovely screen shots for you!):
For this outing, where she was considered pretty much a shoo-in to win, she chose an expertly-fitted sheath by Chanel with rows of black circles of beads that reminded me of open tins of caviar (and I mean that in a good way). Here’s what the L.A. Times reported about the construction of the dress:

“Julianne Moore’s Chanel gown in white organza was embroidered with 80,000 small, white, hand-painted resin sequins and flowers. The dress took 987 hours of work and 27 people to complete, according to Chanel representatives.”

What set this apart from the traditional “sheath with stuff on it” that you see frequently on the red carpet was the fine cut and fit, with the strapless bodice following the line of the torso and a skirt that came in slightly thigh-to-knee, then arched out at the back to give her room to walk. She was elegant and glowing in person.

Marion Cotilliard stayed true to her Frenchy vision of pushing the envelope with this Dior gown:


It looked a sheath in the front, but when she turned around revealed a rounded pleated back reminiscent of vintage Balenciaga.


Though one fashion rake in the media wrote that the fabric looked like it had been gone over with a giant hole-puncher, in person the dress, which is covered in white sequins with circular cut-outs, was classy and whimsical at the same time.

The red carpet itself is a bit of a zoo. Here’s Rosamund Pike sashaying by, looking a little “Moulin Rouge” in Givenchy…


I also got a good look at Zoe Saldana’s draped pale gown by Versace Atelier, which, on top of being classy, was expertly fitted to hug her curves without pulling, a rare occurrence on red carpets lately. She pulled off one of the better “old Hollywood” look of the night.


Reese Witherspoon’s gown by Tom Ford was equally well-fitted and classy.


And here’s my old nemesis, Meryl Streep, wearing a feminine tux look by Lanvin:

It was a good choice for someone who has been to the show frequently; by now she knows it’s freezing in the theater. And her outfit doesn’t look anything like mine! Proving that my graphics team, AKA the chipmunks who used to live in my kitchen, were the ones leaking information to her stylist after all. Good thing I fired them. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this post)

And George Clooney was a no show! So, sadly, no ripping off of my dress to inspect the haphazard interior.

George Clooney
Sigh. I still forgive you, George. (Here’s the post explaining that in-joke.)

In case you think that the show day is all-glitz all the time, the truth is that for we “normal” women attending, the “beauty” team consists of your own brush, your makeup kit, and the nail place down the street. (Good thing they cancelled “mani-cam.”) And rather than attending that celebrity new age fitness workfarm, known as The Ashram, to take off a few pounds that weekend, I hiked briskly from Cinderella’s Castle to Tomorrowland on a Disney forced march, following a strict diet of burgers and root beer. But this is my real secret weapon:


The morning of the show, my husband and I went to the red carpet area to have a look around. Media people were already there in black tie, rehearsing for the hubbub later on.


Then I did some zen meditation over fabrics at The Fabric Store (where I bought the merino jersey I used for the Madame Gres dress), and clearly I had forgotten that there was still six feet of snow at home.


Security is so tight around the Dolby Theater the day of the show, that to escape it, we always walk over to Mel’s Diner for lunch, where American Graffiti was filmed.


Glamorous, I know. Believe it or not, the food’s pretty good.



During the show itself, everyone in the balcony was spending as much time on social media as they were watching the show, with people frequently popping out to partake of the open bar. Since it was chilly up there, I whipped the drape of my dress over my shoulders. I decided that wool jersey was just the ticket for black tie.

During the after party, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, who was wearing a sort of dinner jacket/chef’s jacket hybrid, was offering small plates that included baked potatoes in foil with sour cream (a very typical dish in the U.S. while I was growing up), but it was topped with a dollop of caviar, speaking of which.


The little shot glasses of pea soup were laced with truffle. The ironic high/low food pairings is so American in just the weirdest way.

The whole time I was blabbing away on Instagram, Twitter, and several Facebook pages, proving that I have become the social media freak that I frequently warn my son he might turn into. The next morning, during the 6:00 a.m. airport run, feeling like I had Cinderella’s other shoe in my mouth, I saw that haute couture master teacher and author Kenneth D. King had left this comment on a picture of my dress: “Beautiful, flattering, and fits far better than the borrowed stuff you see in the other photos of the “celebs”…

Sheesh, who needs an gold statuette when you hear that!

Now I’m back sewing some “vintage” garments from…1980 and the year 2000?

How’s your sewing going?

Shoveling Through a Madame Gres Dress and Six Feet of Snow


So, I managed to kill off Madame Gres before she killed me. It was a war of slidey jersey knits, sticky power mesh, and numerous sharp objects, punctuated by meals on demand for my snowbound and crabby men. The only one I’m still speaking to is Karl!

When we last left off on this project:

Gres pattern

There were merely two feet (less than a meter) of snow on the ground in Boston. You can read about making the muslin by clicking here, and the early stages of construction by clicking here.

The snow was still kind of a novelty after storm number one. People were jovial in the snow, and it looked pretty:


Then, storm #2 hit, with two more days off from school. My husband was in one room working, and my son was in his room doing homework, which stranded me in my tiny kitchen, laboring to create the large half-circle drape that attaches to the underdress. The diameter of the drape is at least six feet (two meters).


The first thing was to make and stabilize a slash on the straight edge of the drape, which would attach to the shoulder and then go under the arm. Since I was using lightweight, stretchy wool jersey, rather than hand-roll the edge hem as called for in the instructions (which would have led to hari kari), yeah, I got out the old Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite! I’m not ashamed! For the uninitiated, Steam-a-Seam is a kind of mesh fabric glue with paper backing.


I glued that sucker down and edgestitched it, and decided I could live with it. Many of us had a long, depressing hiatus from Steam-a-Seam last year when apparently there were production problems with the product. I myself became a hoarder and even bragged about it on InstaGram, which made things worse because people started begging for it. (I refused to share.) But now you can find it again on Amazon, hallelujah!

I learned about Steam-a-Seam from the course Sewing on the Bias with Sandra Betzina. She recommends laying down the paper strip and tapping it quickly with an iron to get the glue mesh to separate from the paper, which really helps.

I used the Steam-a-Seam again on the long hem of the drape:


From there, it was easy to flip up the hem again and sew it without pressing or pinning. It avoided the wonky wrinkles you can get on a circular hem like this.


The great thing about using wool jersey is that even if the edges get a little lettuce-y after they’re sewn, the wool shrinks back with a light steam press, so it’s flat but stretchy.

I know I never got around to profiling Madame Gres and her innovations with jersey (because I was so pissed at her) but you can read all about it here.

Here’s one of her gowns from the same era in the 60s, made of silk jersey, in the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute:

Evening dress

She hated to cut her fabric. Girl after my own heart!

Another great article about Madame Gres, by Arlene Cooper, is in this special issue of Threads Magazine, released this summer. I wrote about it here: (“$9 Couture Course”).


It’s well worth downloading a back issue if you’re into vintage couture techniques. The article includes pattern drawings of several of Madame Gres’ knit wraps:


Here’s a quote from the article, which I wish I’d read more thoroughly before I started: “Her work is known for its prodigious use of luxury fabrics in a personal method that is time- and labor-intensive and virtually impossible to copy.” Hoo boy.

Back to the salt mines:


(I briefly kicked my son out of his room, then it was back to the kitchen for snow day #4.)

It was time to attach that giant drape. On the underdress, I had hand-basted the jersey to the power mesh underlining, and now I decided to machine-baste it with a narrow zigzag to stabilize it (that’s a big diagonal going down the front and back of the dress).


Then I pinned the drape on the dress.


Since I had elected not to put in a zipper, I knew it was going to be dicey sewing the thing on smoothly all the way down the length of the dress. I left the shoulder seams detached and headed in from the top and bottom.


(I was seriously nervous about that part, but Karl the Bernina 560 pulled it off!)

Ta da! I love how the angle of the drape is exactly parallel to the angle of the French dart on the left.


Now we were up to four feet of snow!


When the next storm hit:


it was time to do the fiddley shoulder seams. After messing around trying to line them up inside out, I decided the only way to finish them was right side out:



I used a kind of running stitch/fell stitch hybrid to try to mimic machine stitches, and went over it a couple of times to avoid wardrobe malfunctions.

Because…it would be terrible if my shoulder seams unraveled when I was standing next to George Clooney, and he said something like, “Dammit, you should have reinforced those shoulder seams, and by the way, those markings on the power mesh still look like crap!”

George Clooney

Sigh. I forgive you, George.

When it came time to do the hem, the dress was so big I had to put the drape on a chair.


Okay, maybe I’ve become a little too in love with Steam-a-Seam…


I hand-basted the jersey to the power mesh at the hemline, trimmed the power mesh, glued up the raw edge of the hem, then turned it up and hand-sewed the hem. Are we there yet?

Last stop…the snap to close the drape’s big slash under the arm:



By then, we were beyond six feet (two meters) of snow! Everyone in Boston was in a horrible mood!


And then it was time for the trickiest part…getting my design know-it-all and tact-challenged husband to take some pictures. He’s worse than George Clooney.

Picture #1, so far so good:


Picture #2, well, can you tell by the look on my face that my husband had pointed out that a half sheath/half tent-dress is not flattering from all angles on a middle-aged body?



I’m not even showing you the angle on the other side…

I briefly considered trying to ratchet in the drape a little bit at the waist, but then I thought, hell to the no. It’s about the design. I set out to make a Madame Gres dress, and I’m not going to mess with it.

Though I don’t thoroughly love the dress, I do like it. And going through the process of re-creating the design has helped me have a deeper understanding of Madame Gres’ genius, which is why I’m sewing up these things.

So Madame Gres and I will see you on the red carpet, George. And now I’m enjoying the day when my husband’s in the doghouse and he knows it. He just made me an espresso.

As I was fiddling away on this irritating project, fave blogger Oonaballoona and I had this brief exchange on InstaGram:

IG Oona

So Funkytown is exactly where I’m headed next…

Halston-YSL patterns

How’s your sewing going?

(Just a reminder, for details about the machine-loan arrangement between BERNINA of America and, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab. With the exception of this collaboration, Jet Set Sewing does not have advertisers or affiliates. All of those links you see are just good clean fun!)