Claire McCardell and Martha Graham

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After I got back from L.A., I meant to spend some time testing methods for constructing this Claire McCardell dress, from an early 50s pattern by Spadea:

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I intended to sew it up back in August for my sister, who is the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, to wear to an event at the “Dance & Fashion” exhibit, (now running through January 3rd, 2015, at the Museum at FIT in New York). To have a flashback to that whole explanation, click this link. (Cue the Twilight Zone-y flashback music)
I thought Claire McCardell was a good choice for this event, because McCardell and Martha Graham are often mentioned together in books and articles as being similar in their pared-down artistic style. They did meet on at least one occasion, when they both received the Women’s Press Club award in 1950, a very big deal back then.

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Here they are with President Truman (looking dapper in a tuxedo), along with a foreign affairs expert, an educational reformer, and a Hollywood actress (Olivia de Havilland), all in old-school tulle-centered eveningwear. Martha Graham is on the far left looking very chic and modern in her spare little black dress. And Claire McCardell, on the far right? Well, she’s got on one of her wrapped-bodice evening dresses of sari silk, slouchy leather gloves, no bra, no girdle, the ballet flats she invented, and a big American grin on her face. That outfit was so far ahead of its time!

I was doing a lot of thinking about making the dress, as August became September, but now it was October, and little voice inside me (either the spirit of Claire McCardell, or more probably, my Bernina, Karl) whispered, “you better get crackin’ on that dress.”

So, I chose a mid-weight black New Zealand merino knit that I got this spring from The Fabric Store in L.A. (here’s that post), because McCardell was one of the first American designers to popularize wool knits, and Martha Graham often used jersey in her costumes. This fabric is very soft and drape-y, and the quality is wonderful. The Fabric Store now has an online gallery, and will do mail order if you call them. (Here’s The Fabric Store’s USA website)
I washed the wool in cold water, tumble-dried it low, and laid it out.
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As I was pinning, I was thinking a lot about Martha Graham, and how she often manipulated fabric in her dances to help tell the story.
This long piece of jersey reminded me of a moment in the dance “Cave of the Heart,” which is based on the Greek legend of Medea, and deals with revenge. It’s a favorite dance of mine, particularly now that I’m a “woman of a certain age.” Martha Graham herself designed the costumes, which makes her a “triple threat”: dancer, choreographer, and draper. The dance premiered in 1946.

In the dance, Medea learns that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman, a princess no less, who flits around the stage being innocent and adorable while she’s followed around by the besotted big lug.

Of course Medea, who’s been around the block a few times, is not happy that her husband is having a mid-life crisis, and she gets REALLY mad. Another dancer, representing the “chorus” from classical Greek theater, tries to stop Medea from exacting revenge, to no avail.

In this photo, you can see the Chorus’s robe and skirt, which remind me in particular of a 20s design by Madeleine Vionnet, shown here in the Betty Kirke book “Vionnet”:

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In a fit of vengeful rage, Medea gives the little homewrecker a poison crown, which of course the princess puts on right away, because she’s a princess, and it’s a crown! For a couple of minutes she’s skipping around really really happy, and then she grabs her head and eeeeeek!

After that, Medea does an intense solo about vengence, where she’s twisting, twirling and even eating a long “snake” of fabric she pulls out of her bodice, so it’s like she’s “eating her heart out.”

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A while later, Medea walks regally across the stage wearing a long train of fabric, and when her macho husband (see below) pulls back the train, the dead princess is inside!

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In the end, even though Medea has clearly gone mad, she still looks kind of, well, let’s say satisfied. And that’s what I love about Martha Graham’s dances; they really get to the emotional core of these classic stories. Seeing them is so cathartic!
(Okay, I know I’m in trouble with my sister for being flip about this great Martha Graham work, but Cave of the Heart is prime example of how Graham was inspired by fabric and costumes, and used them to advance the story of her dances.)

Just FYI–the Martha Graham Dance Company New York season will be running February 10-22, 2015, at the Joyce Theater. Tickets can be purchased here: (Link to Martha Graham Company tickets). The Graham photos above are by Christopher Jones, and the dancers are:  Medea: PeiJu Chien-Pott, Jason: Ben Schultz, Princess: Xiaochuan Xie and Chorus: Natasha Diamond-Walker.

When it came time to construct the dress, I looked inside an original McCardell that I have in my collection, to see how the seams were finished. I was surprised to see that the finishes were different in different parts of the dress, leading me to believe that several different people worked on the dress using their own methods.

The center back seam allowances were folded under and sewn:

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The pockets edges were finished with pinking shears (kind of sloppy, too):

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The armscye seams were double-sewn on the inside, but not top-stitched.

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Several seams were reinforced with bias tape, which is typical of McCardell dresses, as they are often are cut on the bias and need the tape to stabilize the seam.

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Meanwhile, the “let’s get crackin'” concept was still in my head, so my Bernina 560, AKA Karl, whispered, “how about forgetting the seam finishes and using the overlock stitch, sister?” This would have been heresy to me as a vintage purist, except I had recently read this post by The Vintage Traveler talking about how overlock stitches were used on sportswear as early as the 1910s. That was my “Get Out of Jail Free” card!

Using the 2A foot, and the #10 overlock stretch stitch, I got cranking. The foot shoves the edge under the needle, so you don’t need a serger for a finished edge.

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Looks great, no? The wool jersey sewed like a dream.

The great thing about these 50s and 60s patterns released by Spadea, is that they were not taken from designs developed for the home sewing market. These patterns were drafted in reverse: a retail garment was given to the patternmaker, who took apart the garment, drafted the pattern from the pieces, graded the pattern for different sizes, then wrote up the instructions for the home-sewer.

So by sewing from a Spadea pattern now, you truly can recreate designer clothing from that era that look just like the retail garments being sold at the time.

Generally instructions in the Spadea patterns are great, but this one was little backwards in some ways.
The beginning of the instructions tell you to construct the back and side seams of the entire dress, so as you’re doing the more difficult parts, such as attaching piping to a 7″ neckline slash, you have the entire four yards of dress sitting in your lap. I began to feel like I was doing my own version of Martha Graham’s iconic work “Lamentation,” surrounded as I was by what was basically a tube of jersey.

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I made the piping for the neckline using Bernina Bulky Overlock foot number 12C.

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That foot absolutely saved me during this project! After I made the piping, I hand-basted it to the neckline slash (which I reinforced with knit fusible), then used the foot again to sew it on.

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I used silk strips to face the armholes, to make it smoother by my sister’s arms, and to keep the armholes from stretching.

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I was so proud of how I had inserted and edgestitched the two famous McCardell pockets in the dress (because McCardell wanted to free women from relying on evening bags), then discovered that I had put one in upside down! The dress was so big at this point, it was hard to keep track of what was the top and what was the bottom.

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After a quick hack, Frankenpocket was born!

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Then I cut another strip of fabric for the neckline, which was to function as both neck binding and cloth ties.

I used this little thingy to turn the ties right-side out. You put a big tube in the casing and use a smaller tube to push it through.

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At this point, I tried on the dress, and in the silhouette, I saw this:

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That’s Claire McCardell herself, in a dress known as the “futuristic dress.” One of these dresses is in the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection. The dress I was making had a very similar cut, so I had an “aha” moment about how the futuristic dress was constructed.

Now I really had to crank to get the dress done in time for my sister’s event. I gathered the dress in the front and reinforced the gathering with Hug Snug rayon bias tape.

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Then I looked at these instructions. Eeeek!

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It would probably work, but I was running out of time. Instead, I used the bulky overlock foot again, and basically made the ties by running an overlock stitch over the piping and then trimming it, so I didn’t have to turn anything right side out.

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I used the same foot to attach the ties to the front of the dress, rather than hand sewing. It saved me so much time!

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I threw on a blind hem, pressed and defuzzed the whole thing, and then right before I put it in my suitcase to New York, I tried it on one last time.

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Why am I giving this to my sister!?!?! (Actually, I would adjust the fit for myself anyway, so let’s just say I’m giving Janet a “wearable muslin” for my dress. Shhhh!)

I put the dress in my bag and headed to New York, where I was attending a memorial service for legendary jazz singer and family friend, Jimmy Scott. While seated in the pews at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, I handed my sister a bag with the dress in it. Would she like it? I was sweating that one.

We parted ways after the service, and not long after, a picture popped up on my phone with the caption “It’s mine now!”

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Score another one for stunt sewing! Looks great on her, doesn’t it?

It was such a great experience to recreate this piece of fashion history. The only other version of this dress I’ve seen is here, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute collection. I was so glad I’d found that Spadea pattern, because I learned so much about the construction of this classic McCardell design.

In my next post, I’ll be writing about the event where she wore it, and give a report about the Dance and Fashion Exhibit at the Museum at FIT, as well as (finally) details of the Hollywood Costume exhibit.

Hope your sewing’s going well. I’m cooked!

 

 

Charles James, meet Claire McCardell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh yeah! Nice and clean without the dreaded topstitching.

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

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

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

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

And now to my fashion girlcrush, Claire McCardell.

McCardell with modelsMcCardell in Chair

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

McCardell windowpane dress Claire McCardell SundressClaire McCardell evening dress

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

ballet flats,

McCardell ballet flats

jersey hoodies,

McCardell hoodieMcCardell hoodie bike

wrap dresses,

McCardell Popover Dress

peasant dresses,

McCardell Hostess Dress FIT

fitted bathing suits,

McCardell bathing suit

fashion sunglasses…

McCardell sunspecs

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

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

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

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

The shrug is taken from this 1951 Spadea pattern:

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

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

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

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

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Here’s how the stay-stitching turned out:

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

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

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

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

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A nice clean finish for a nice clean design.

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

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

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In the past couple of years, I’ve become the proud owner of some pretty fab vintage designer patterns that I’m dying to make up. Here are a few examples:

A 1930’s Schiaparelli bias-cut dress pattern with label:

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A 1962 Officially licensed Chanel Jacket pattern:

Chanel pattern

I did make that one up, and here’s the finished product: (And here are my posts about how I made it.)

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A number of Ceil Chapman patterns by Spadea:

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Laura Mae from “Lilacs and Lace” has been blogging about making that “Skylark” style pattern in the middle, and it looks mighty tricky. (Lilacs and Lace blog)

Here’s an example of an original Ceil Chapman “Skylark” dress, with a narrow inner skirt and an over-skirt in the back:

Ceil Chapman Skylark dress

No wonder Chapman was a favorite designer for stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. The dress played up the bust and made the wearer look like a beautiful bird. As an aside, here’s a link to the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer tune that was popular in that era: “Skylark” sung by Ella Fitzgerald

And here’s the true Skylark dress pattern by Spadea, drafted from the dress above (I’d really like to find this one):

Ceil Chapman Spadea Skylark pattern

I’ve also been snapping up patterns designed by Claire McCardell, released by Spadea, McCalls, and Folkwear. Now I have more than a dozen.

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Here’s a rare Charles James skirt pattern:

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The inner workings of these skirt patterns show his genius for garment shaping through structure. There’s going to be a Charles James retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art starting this May 2014, which I’m now scheming to attend (waving my pattern…). (Charles James exhibit info)

Not to mention several boxes of patterns by Pauline Trigere, YSL, Diane Von Furstenberg, Halston, Kenzo, Tiziani (by Lagerfeld) and a number of more obscure designers from the 50s and 60s such as Claire Potter, Jane Derby, Norman Hartnell (the Queen’s couturier), Tina Leser (the original Boho designer), Joset Walker, Jo Copeland, Vera Maxwell, Biki (friend and designer for Maria Callas), and Toni Owen:

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Also patterns by Hollywood costumers such as Edith Head, Charles LeMaire, and William Travilla, who designed the iconic pleated dress Marilyn Monroe wore over the grate in “Seven Year Itch.”

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I’ll be the first to admit that I have a pattern problem, and my husband will be the second to admit it.

Most of these patterns are way too small for me, and cut for the different body shapes that were popular at the time. For example, many of the 50s patterns assume that you’re wearing a girdle (which was basically Spanx crossed with a Michelin tire) and a bullet bra that raised the bust point by several inches. It was all about boobs and hips with a tiny short waist, like Elizabeth Taylor in the era.

Elizabeth Tayler

In contrast, the 70s DVF and Halston patterns basically assume that you might possibly be wearing slinky bikini underwear but probably not a bra (because you burned it at a feminist rally before you went to the disco), and the look was super-skinny with a small chest and hips, long torso and really long legs. Nobody worked out (it was pre-Jane Fonda aerobics) and a lot of women smoked and did coke, so the ideal was skin and bones. Here’s Lauren Hutton in that era:

Lauren Hutton

In the picture, she’s wearing a dress by Halston that’s very similar to this late 70s pattern:

Halston pattern #2

Of course a woman’s body can’t morph into new shapes to fit the fashions of the times, so we mainly just beat ourselves up over it.

I’ve gotten tired of starting from scratch in terms of fitting every time I take on a vintage pattern, particularly because my middle-aged body has fit issues of it’s own. So I’m going to see if making a “fitting shell” will help.

If you’re obsessively combing the internet for sewing fun facts (as I do to procrastinate about pinning and cutting fabric), you will see the terms “block,” “sloper” and even the haute couture “moulage” (Kenneth King’s Moulage book) bandied about to describe a basic pattern that is used by a designer to create new patterns.

I didn’t want to get my terminology wrong, so I consulted Kathleen Fasanella’s excellent blog about professional design and manufacturing, Fashion Incubator. There, I found out that patterns without seam allowances, called  “slopers” or “blocks” in the sewing enthusiast world, are generally not used in the industry, and if you use those terms in a pro environment, you’ll be snickered at. She refers to the thing I want to make as a “fitting shell,” so that’s what I’m going to call it.

Basic fitting shell patterns have been available from pattern companies as far back as the 40s or 50s from what I’ve found online, and you can still buy them today. The idea behind these patterns is that if you make up the Vogue Patterns Fitting Shell and get it fitted closely to your body, then you can compare the fitting shell pattern pieces to any other Vogue pattern and easily adjust the fit.

Vogue patterns fitting shell

I want to make myself a fitting shell so that I have a basic flat pattern pieces, fitted for me, to compare with the pattern pieces of the vintage patterns I own. That way, I can ballpark how much I need to increase the dimensions of the smaller pattern to fit my shoulders, bust, waist and hips.

Sounds great in theory, we’ll see how it goes in practice.

I looked at the modern fitting shells released by the Big 4 pattern companies, but nowadays modern patterns tend to have more ease built in, particularly in the armscye, and I want those high and tight vintage Chanel armholes.

So I decided to buy some fitting shell patterns from the 50s and 60s, to see if they would work better. Here’s one from the late 60s, judging from the hairdo and squared-off pumps:

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

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This one in particular is for half-sizes, which nowadays I think would be referred to as “Petite Plus.” The “half-size” range is described in Connie Crawford’s current Grading Workbook as cut for a “more mature, short-waisted woman with a shorter, heavier body-type.” I can’t say I was terribly happy with that description, but at least now I know I have a “half-size” body with “full-size” legs.

And I was very excited to find out what “The Bishop Method” (written on the back of the pattern) might be.

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I eagerly looked throughout the instructions but was bummed to discover that there was no mention of The Bishop Method inside.

After a quick google, I found “Bishop Method” books all over the internet, and discovered that they were Home Ec manuals from the 50s and 60s. People were raving about them on Amazon! So of course I ordered one, because I need more sewing stuff.

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Holy smoke, The Bishop Method is the best flippin’ bible of vintage sewing techniques for the novice that I’ve ever seen! It takes you from square one (learning about the machine and making an apron)…

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

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

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It’s filled with clear, comprehensive instructions and a whole bunch of pictures. If vintage-style sewing with wovens is your thing, it’s worth getting a copy for your library.

There’s a lot of fitting info in The Bishop Method, and also in modern books like this:

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(Threads “Fitting for Every Figure” book), which is extremely comprehensive and pretty text-heavy and labor-intensive, if that’s what you’re into, which I’m not.

With all of the schmancy sewing books in circulation right now, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that my favorite book on basic fitting is this one by Nancy Zieman (of “Sewing with Nancy” fame), as it gets right to the point and illustrates the “pivot and slide” method of pattern fitting, which, though based on solid pattern-grading principles, is easy and fast and doesn’t require you to cut up your pattern.

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She starts out by explaining the importance of finding a pattern that fits in the shoulders, and gives you the formula you need to figure out the proper size pattern to buy. (This helps if you use vintage patterns because even though the sizing varies, you can choose a pattern by bust measurement.) Then she shows you how to modify that pattern to fit the rest of your body by moving it around and tracing parts of it based on your measurements. There’s also specific fitting info, with illustrations, for dealing with issues such as broad shoulders, sway back, and bust adjustment.

So this is the method I’ve been using to fit paper pattern to muslins, and then I eyeball it from there. Since most commercial patterns are cut for someone with a “B” cup (I’m a “C”) and my waist and hips are a larger size than my shoulders, this method has worked well for me.

I recently read a review of Nancy’s life story, Seams Unlikely, on Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing (Review from Gertie’s New Blog…). The book talks about how Nancy embraced sewing in 4-H, and started her business from home back the bad old days when a woman was expected to get her husband to co-sign a business loan for her–even if he wasn’t involved in the business. It’s an inspiring story.  Gretchen, thanks for giving us the heads up on that book.

Back to my fitting shell quest. In the end, I got lazy and decided to spring for a pattern drafted directly from my measurements, by String Codes.  They take the five basic measurements you input and a create custom a fitting shell pattern for you.

Seemed easy enough, but when I placed the order and asked them to modify the bust measurement for a “C” cup, I was told that the patterns are only available as a “B” cup and that I would have to do a full bust adjustment myself. They did email me instructions with photos for an FBA, and it was a bit of a hassle, but not a deal-breaker. I’m going to make a muslin of the final pattern, and we’ll see how it fits. The pattern comes without seam allowances, so the exterior line is the seamline. You can see where I put in the bust adjustment below, following the directions from String Codes:

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I ordered the “torso” pattern with a sleeve with a dart, since I often make jackets and tops, and also ordered the skirt pattern. I can overlap them if I’m making a dress.

As soon as I have it made up, I’ll do a little “show and tell” to let you know how it worked out.

And I’ll try to remember Nancy Zieman’s advice to avoid over-fitting, because “it can be exasperating and can take the joy out of sewing.” Amen, sister!

How’s your sewing going?

American Hustle and Wrap Dress Patterns

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

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

American Hustle StillAmerican Hustle Wrap

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

DVF Wrap

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

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

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

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

Betsy Johson pattern

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

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

Studio 54

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

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

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

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

Halston pattern #3

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

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

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

McCardell Popover

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

McCardell Popover DressMcCardell Popover in the Metropolitan Museum Collection

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

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

Donna Karan Wrap Pattern

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

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

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

France wrap up

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

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

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Yeah it’s this one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernina Ladies Knife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonjour Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

image  Everything.

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

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

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

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

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