Banish the Fiddly, Bring on the Funk, Halston

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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.

Halston

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Then I cut the big neckline hole:

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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.

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

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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:

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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!

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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.)

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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 PatternReview.com, but since the frickin’ Madame Fred gown took until mid-February to finish, there was no time to lose.

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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?