Claire McCardell-Inspired Free Downloadable Pattern, and a couple of hacks.

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I hope you all had happy holidays, and I wanted to mention that my new free downloadable pattern with tutorial is available on Bernina’s WeAllSew.com website. Aren’t you ready for some post-holiday #selfishsewing? I certainly am, and I didn’t even finish my husband’s tie! (It’s now officially his “birthday tie.”)

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When I created this pattern, I was inspired by a 1947 Claire McCardell design (lower right) for a knit shoulder wrap, though the concept was around long before that. This wrap is snug enough to stay on the shoulders, but can still be worn around the neck like an infinity scarf. It’s lined and reversible, and the tutorial takes you through step-by-step. It’s not difficult at all, so I hope you’ll give it a try!

Carmen of the CarmencitaB blog tipped me off that this type of wrap is known as a “liseuse” in France, (the loose translation is “girl reader”) and that it used to be worn while reading in drafty French country homes (similar to what was known as a “bed jacket” here in the U.S.). So then it was eeek! down the internet rabbit hole again, to learn more about this style.

First of all, who knew that there were so many works of art featuring women reading? Which makes perfect sense, because after a certain point, just about any woman is going to say, “I don’t care if you are Picasso, if I’m going to sit for you, gimme something to read!”

image (That’s Picasso’s “La Liseuse” from 1920. Doesn’t it look like she’s texting?)

The earliest example I found shows a high-born woman (who could read!) wearing a cape-like wrap, in a painting by Hans Memling from the 1470s:

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Then in 1888, Vincent Van Gogh captured this woman wearing a chic wrap, in “Une Liseuse de Romans” (which I think means “reader of novels.” No wonder she’s so engrossed.)

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In terms of fashion, in the early 20th century, this style of short jacket was interpreted for evening by Madame Vionnet:

image (Another great save by the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.)

And that may very well have been where McCardell picked up the idea. She studied fashion in Paris in the 20s, and in her letters home she complained about the French being “thrifty” with the heating. While she was there, she spent a lot of time deconstructing Vionnet garments, which is how she got hip to the bias cut.

During her career, McCardell designed a number of evening dresses made of warm wool, with wraps, shrugs, and cropped jackets to wear to dinner parties in drafty U.S. country houses as well. Here’s one example, a strapless wool evening dress with a jacket, again from the  Metropolitan Museum’s online collection:

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More recently, this type of wrap was shown in the 2013 collection from Celine:

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When I was in France I saw several similar wraps:

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(I don’t know what the furry thing is on it, or why she’s wearing a hat over her head…)
And this one from French cult brand Agnes b., made from a light sweater knit:
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To make a wrap similar to the one from Agnes b., download the free pattern, which looks like a triangle with the top chopped off. Add several inches to both the top and bottom of the pattern.

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(That’s a highly skilled sketch from the JetSetSewing graphics team. They’re a couple of chipmunks who live in my kitchen.) Extending the pattern at the top and bottom will make it longer, like a poncho, with more of a funnel neck.

I’ve seen wraps like these in the U.S. as well. American designer Eileen Fisher offered this asymmetrical wrap in her fall collection, which immediately made me think “I could hack that.”

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To make a “muslin” version, I took my pattern and set it on the diagonal, putting the left on the fold, and adding triangles to the top and bottom. I sewed it up and it looked okay, so I moved on to the real thing.

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I decided to use this Missoni-ish wool blend I got in France. I prepped it by throwing it in my dryer’s steam cycle. (Do as I say, not as I do, always test a swatch first!)

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Since I wasn’t lining this version, I decided to use a French seam on the side to finish the raw edge. With wrong sides together, lining up the design on the fabric with double quilt pins, I overlocked some clear elastic into the seam, using the Bernina Bulky Overlock foot. (The same foot that made all of that piping on the McCardell dress…it’s very useful!)

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(You could also use a narrow zigzag to attach the elastic to the seam, if you’re using a vintage machine.)

Then I turned the wrap wrong-side out to put right sides together, and pinned it to encase the seam I just sewed.

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I sewed that seam with a narrow zigzag, which covered up the overlocking and elastic.
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Oo la la, I love zee French seams!

When I tried it on, the length plus the retro pattern on the fabric was looking way too “hippy poncho” to me:
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So I chopped about 5 inches off of the bottom.

At the top and bottom, I overlocked more clear elastic along the edge, turned under the raw edge about 1/2 inch, then turned it under again about 3/4”, and sewed the edge with a narrow zigzag, like topstitching. If you pick the right color thread, the stitching’s not that obvious, and there are no raw edges showing on the inside.

You can wear it with the point on the side, or in the back.

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(I think the chipmunks took that picture, too.)

Here’s how the final pattern looked (more or less). The grainline goes along the bottom:

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(I’m going to fire those chipmunks…)

Now that I’ve made myself a liseuse, I need to find time to read!!

Happy New Year’s sewing!

(For details about how Bernina USA is loaning a B560 machine to JetSetSewing.com to assist with vintage projects like this, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. At some point, Karl and I are going to set that disclosure to music, to make it more pleasant for all of us…)