Shoveling Through a Madame Gres Dress and Six Feet of Snow

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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:

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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).

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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.

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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 Craftsy.com 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:

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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.

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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:

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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”).

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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:

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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:

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(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).

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Then I pinned the drape on the dress.

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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.

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(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.

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Now we were up to four feet of snow!

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When the next storm hit:

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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:

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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.

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

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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:

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Finally!

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

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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:

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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?

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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:

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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 JetSetSewing.com, 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!)

You’re Really Tedious and Boring, Madame Gres

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Remember how excited I was about trying out this 60s Vogue pattern by Madame Gres, made with thin wool jersey and underlined with power mesh?

Gres pattern

I made up a muslin (info in this post) and got a lot of nice feedback both here and on InstaGram. I was ready to go!

Then I took a closer look at the directions, which include things like making a hand-rolled hem, something that takes the folks sewing Hermes scarves YEARS to learn…

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(Check out this Blogger’s post and you’ll understand why Hermes scarves cost $400.)

Not to mention a side slot zipper that had “hours of hand picking” written all over it. (Oddly, the instructions were printed on the pattern.)

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So I started to think, boy, this is going to be a pain in the ass. An old Monty Python sketch started running through my head, where Michael Palin, an accountant who wants to be a lion tamer, tells John Cleese that his job is “tedious and boring and DULL” and, well, just have a look:

I was thinking, it will be a pain to layout, it will be a pain to cut, it will be a pain to attach the mesh, it will it will be a pain to hem and attach the six-foot drape, it will be a pain to…I was just getting anxious about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, in the next room, my 13-year-old son was complaining about a “take-home” test in American History and stressing about the War of 1812 (anyone?), the Whiskey Rebellion (anyone?), Pinkney’s Treaty (anyone? Except you, Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler, former middle-school history teacher…).

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So I put on my “mom voice” and said, “the stress will go away when you’re done.”

Then I realized that that was what MY mom would have said, so the next day, I got out that fine wool jersey and did a layout that took up the entire length of the bedroom floor:

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Did the alterations that I knew the pattern needed on the sides (from having fit the muslin):

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And figured out a way to hang the big drape, so I could hem it before I put it on the dress. I didn’t think there would be a problem with the bias shifting with a knit, but I did it just in case:

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Then the blizzard hit, so I took advantage of the snow day to cut and mark the powermesh lining, using a marker to speed things up.

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I had already marked the wrong side of the fashion fabric with wax sheets and a tracing wheel. The interior was going to be a little messy, but I got over it.

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I figured if George Clooney and I were somewhere out of earshot of our spouses, and suddenly he got fiesty and ripped off my dress, he would be enough of a gentleman not to say, “boy, you really should have put in some kind of lining, even though it would have made the dress more bulky, because, dammit, those magic marker lines look like crap.”

George Clooney

(I put that picture in for my friends Darcy and Christine, who don’t really sew, but read my blog anyway. Isn’t he dreamy?)

As much as I wasn’t feeling it, I hand-basted (“thread traced”) the fashion fabric to the underlining at the darts and the line where the drape will attach. I’ve just found it’s so much easier to manipulate darts with underlining if you take the time to do this:

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I wasn’t about to thread trace all the way around, so I attached the underlining to the fashion fabric around the edges by using a long, narrow zigzag about 3/8 inch outside of the seamline.

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My Bernina 560, Karl, was so happy to be back in action, his walking foot was jumping up and down! The walking foot kept the layers together and even. (For details about how Bernina is loaning a B560 and walking foot to assist with these vintage projects, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab.)

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Yeah, it was still snowing!

When I went to pin the darts, the thread tracing made it so much easier to line everything up, it was worth the effort.

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I basted the whole underdress together, and saw that the fit wasn’t too bad.

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I also saw that it was time to get back to the gym. But since the dress was stretchy, I knew I could jettison putting in a zipper, which made me delirious with joy.

Then the next day, when the whole town was digging out:

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I decided to use light knit fusible on the neck facings, to speed things up. I turned up the bottom edge by 1/4 inch and edgestitched it.

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So I’m getting there, but I still have a way to go:

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The snow’s not going anywhere anytime soon, either!

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Anyone else’s sewing stuck in the snow? Keep shoveling!

Paging Madame Gres

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With the holidays over, I decided to get going on this 60s Vogue Pattern by French designer Madame Gres.

Gres pattern

I’ll write more about Alix Gres’ history in a future post, but since she was known for her genius at draping jersey, I thought the dress would look nice made from some dark blue merino jersey that I have in my stash. (Just FYI, I bought this beautiful New Zealand jersey from The Fabric Store in L.A., and the info is in this post.)

The design is actually a straight shift dress underneath, with French darts to give shaping from the bust to the waist, one of my favorite vintage cuts.

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Then a large half-circle of fabric is attached to the front and back of the dress on the diagonal and over one shoulder, and slashed to go under the arm, giving it an asymmetrical flow. As always with these old designs, I know that something that simple is probably going to be tricky.

You never know what you’re going to find when you look at these vintage patterns. In this case, there were still some old tailor’s tacks attached.

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I decided to use some cheap ponte from my stash to do a quick muslin. Even though this pattern is a couple of sizes too small for me, sometimes these 60s patterns are cut somewhat loose, and I also knew that with a knit there would be some extra ease in a pattern cut for a woven.

I’ve been reading this fitting book recommended by Susan Khalje, which is based on analyzing the body for fit, rather than analyzing what’s going on with the garment. It’s very helpful!

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(Sorry the pictures are so lousy this morning…things haven’t been the same since I fired my graphics team.)

I started by comparing the pattern to the fitting shell pattern I made last winter (hope it still fits!), and found that actually, the Gres pattern was pretty close.

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But since I’m making it in a knit, I held the pattern up to a knit dress I have to compare the fit.

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Again, it was pretty close, so I just added a little room on the side seams when I cut it out.

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I put the muslin together, and the fit was quite close. (I’ll have a pic of that next time.) It has a nice flow from the bateau neck, curving in with the darts, and then going straight down.

The pattern calls for underlining, so after consulting with some sewing peeps, I decided to try underlining it with power mesh. The designer Roland Mouret is know for parking that mesh under his form-fitting Galaxy dresses.

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So I ran out to Sew-fisticated! in Cambridge to pick some up.

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They were ready for Jungle January big time!

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I hope to get the sewing going in earnest on this dress next week.

How’s your sewing going?