Oh, Vogue 5295, I had such high hopes for you. You were a spur-of-the-moment purchase, the kind I hardly ever make, because I thought you were adorable, wearable, and insanely versatile.

I loved your fabric buttons and even your lovely shade of pink, which I thought would look nice with my coloring, since the model kind of “resembles” me. You didn’t even require a zipper (not that I mind putting them in). You were a nice, relaxing vacation project…at first.

Soon, you became a mockery…the functional equivalent of Barbie’s chef’s apron.

You asked me to follow your instructions for bound buttonholes. They were terrible. Why didn’t I use a tried-and-true method (not that I’m very good at any of them to begin with)? Why did my final product turn out looking like a brightly-colored pilgrim costume instead of a pretty, wear-to-work-and-then-out-for-drinks frock?

The shame.

The only thing I like about you is the hanger I hung you on, which I found buried in my grandmother’s coat closet. <sigh>

But I will not hang my head sadly! I do enjoy posting about my failures as much as my successes, in the hopes that others will find comfort in my (frequent) sewing mishaps.  I don’t know if it was me or the pattern this time (probably 90/10, with me bearing the brunt of the blame), but these things do happen.

I hope your sewing is more fruitful than mine!

P.S. My friend Amanda over at modernAcorn is working on a plan (involving quilts, of course) to aid an animal rescue organization that assists animals affected by the recent, devastating gulf oil spill. Hop on over to her blog to learn more about it!

I didn’t say anything on the blog, but I suffered a fairly extreme disappointment a few weeks ago, and I bought this pattern to make myself feel better. I showed y’all a sneak peek on Saturday, and here is the final (and modeled) product:

This is going to be a picture-heavy and word-light post (unusual, I know) because I made the dress almost exactly as written…and taking photos of myself wasn’t as difficult as usual, owing to the cooperative weather.

I really, really, really love it. I took a chance and bought a 30.5″ bust because I’ve been getting so irritated by the amount of ease in the bust in vintage patterns, and it fits like a charm. My only complaint is that the skirt isn’t lined, just the bodice, and after wearing it once, I really think the skirt needs a lining.

The flowers are obviously a “modification” of sorts. I omitted the self buckle belt because once I got the flowers on, it just seemed like too much, so I made a thin fabric belt that snaps in the back. It’s nothing special, but I think it adds a nice extra touch.

The flowers were honestly a burst of inspiration halfway through the process. I used Calamity Kim’s tutorial, which was great. She’s right, though; you have to make a lot of flowers to come up with a few good ones. I made six to end up with three nicely-sized rosettes.

Onto the boring parts. This was actually a wearable muslin, but I’m not motivated to make the pattern again right now, so I’m not doing it. But I’m so happy with it, it doesn’t matter! The pattern is versatile and fits well (for once!), so I’m sure I’ll make it again another time. My zipper is hand-inserted, as usual. This time, I did it while sitting next to an old lady in the library watching Lost on abc.com…but it’s Harvard. Nobody even looks askance at me. My stitching looks great this time…can you even tell it’s hand-stitched? I’m so proud of it.

The fabric is a linen/ rayon blend in a lovely, bright, coraly red. It’s very vibrant, and it’s a nice spring color for me. I used to really avoid reds because of my hair, but I’ve realized it actually looks good, not scary!

I’m planning to enter this in the Pattern Review vintage competition. I’m hoping they will accept modifications (the flowers)…please tell me if you know they don’t! I am so excited to have something to enter. For some reason, I like entering competitions, but I really don’t care about winning. Plus, how could I? Have you seen the Slapdash Sewist entry??

I hope you all had a lovely weekend! I’m taking time off for the first time in a year this week, but I spent almost the entire day learning how to do bound buttonholes, so sewing progress is slow…

ETA: I can’t contribute to the PR competition because I’ve been a member for fewer than three months!! Oh, well…maybe next time!

Vintage modern fusion

April 22, 2010

I’m almost finished with a lovely new project made from a vintage pattern, but with a modern update…I hope to be able to share FO shots with you soon!

Thanks for all your comments and feedback on my blouse! It was so wonderful to hear everyone’s opinions on Simplicity and to feel such support from all of you!

I have always loved shirtwaist dresses, and have been seeking the perfect vintage pattern for a long time. My vision for the essential shirtwaist dress corresponds very closely with the model on the right:

3/4 length sleeves, buttons all the way down the front, red floral fabric, and a bright red cummerbund.

During the process of looking at what I’m sure was every single 50s and early 60s shirtdress pattern out there, I learned a great deal about the garment itself, which I would love to share with all of you. I stumbled upon an article called “Tracing the Path of the 1950s Shirtwaist Dress” by Heather Vaughan on the in the online journal Clothesline, which led me to the website of Costume Institute at the Met (go check it out–you could spend hours printing inspiration photos here). Stay with me, y’all. I was an American studies major, after all, and I really enjoyed this foray into the world of the shirtwaist–I hope you will, too.

Vaughan’s basic thesis is this: “The shirtwaist itself encompasses the 1950s ideal of conformity and domesticity and a variety of media reinforced these notions over time.” She argues that magazines played the most significant role in perpetuating these ideals. Eek.  Now, I don’t need to be told that fashion and cultural ideals were tightly interwoven during that period (see Gertie’s post about the housedress), but I admit to being surprised about how much the ideal of the “perfect woman” was connected to the shirtwaist dress, one of my favorite silhouettes of all time (boo hoo).

Vaughan notes that The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences called the shirtwaist dress “a simple, practical dress” that, “because of its trim simplicity and graceful dignity,” it had advantages in both the classroom and business (I know it’s disturbing how much this highlights the limited range of jobs available to women during the era, but let’s move on). Before you get offended (or just confused) by the name The Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, I’ll pause for a brief history of the organization.

It was founded by Mary Brooks Picken (1886-1981), who was considered an authority on textiles, sewing, and needlecrafts for decades. She published ninety-six books on a range of subjects (fashion, tailoring, patternmaking, millinery, etc.) between 1915 and 1957. She taught the economics of fashion at Columbia, was one of the five founding members of the Costume Institute at the Met, and was the first trustee of FIT. In short, she is awesome. Again, moving on.

Classic 1940s shirtwaist

The 1940s shirtwaist had as its basis the wartime, utilitarian appeal. It was considered a useful ensemble for most daily activities, eveningwear, and even participating in sporting events (take that, LuLu Lemon).  Supposedly, it also helped young women feel more adult. If you search for shirtwaist patterns online, many of them are geared toward teens, as seen here:

The role of Dior

The 1950s style shirtwaist (or the shirtwaist silhouette as I know it) was popularized by Christian Dior beginning in the late 40s. His “New Look” collection in 1947, according to Vaughan, “almost single-handedly defined the post-war silhouette.” Dior focused on the “nipped-in” waist and a full (often very) full skirt. The single dress widely recognized as the catalyst for the shirtwaist’s overwhelming popularity is called Cherie and is, luckily, on display at the Met and on the Costume Institute’s website.

photo copyright Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here it is, in all its glory. You can’t fully appreciate it without seeing a close-up of the skirt detail:


According to this page on the Met’s website:

“Chérie exemplifies the “New Look” in all its salient elements: sloped shoulder, raised bustline, narrowed waist, and a monumental volume of skirt falling away from a padded hipline to below the calf. The New Look arrived uncompromised and complete, not as a tentative suggestion or stage in evolution.”

Pleats were a central element of the shirtwaist during this era, as seen in this Vogue pattern:

Harper’s Bazaar called the Dior shirtwaist silhouette “the essence of femininity” and noted: “Bodices and jackets are fitted tightly to the body and buttoned from neck to wasp waist…skirts are tremendously full, and from ten to twelve inches off the ground. Yards and yards of material swing and swirl  because pleats are hand-pressed and flare to the hem.”

The Role of Good Housekeeping

Nancy White was the fashion director of Good Housekeeping in 1947 when Dior released his “New Look” collection. White followed the trends “from a distance,” according to Vaughan, and reported on them in a manner that was colored by the practicality for which the magazine was known. Good Housekeeping criticized the high price points of Dior and similar designers, but embraced the silhouette of the style and the values embodied therein. The essential components of Dior’s shirtwaist were all found in GH in the late 40s and early 50s, including the pleats and “wasp” waist.

Posture was also highly emphasized during this period, and GH encouraged its readers to do the following: “When you stand and walk, consciously tuck your buttocks under as if you were flinching from a spank.” I wonder how many 50s housewives were so accustomed to being spanked that they could incorporate it easily into their everyday movements…but I digress.

Pleating in the skirt was soon neglected in favor of a smoother silhouette, and was eventually discarded altogether:

Throughout the 50s, small alterations to the pattern helped retain its popularity. The most significant of these was the use of printed fabrics, particularly floral prints:

Throughout the mid- to late fifties, the concept of the dress as cultural icon was reinforced through popular television characters on shows like Leave it to Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show. Troublingly, Vaughan notes that Donna Reed’s “character and unrealistic perfection helped to solidify the shirtwaist dress as an icon of female perfection.” By the mid-sixties, however, the shirtwaist dress had disappeared in favor of boxier, straighter silhouettes.

Vaughan’s article, though excellent, does not delve into detail about the different types of shirtwaist, a topic I will pick up on another day as I continue to share my quest for the perfect shirtwaist dress pattern. Stay tuned for part two of my miniseries!

Why I sew.

March 1, 2010

I was reading Sarai’s recent post in the Colette Patterns blog about why she started sewing (and other bloggers’ ideas about this), and I want to take the opportunity to post something about that here.

I decided I wanted to start sewing my own garments for many of the same reasons others did: the clothes in most mainstream stores don’t fit my body, the things I find are never exactly what I like, and the things I love are often too expensive (this is not to say I have found sewing clothes to be inexpensive, because I haven’t). I would say, however, that my primary motivation was that I love vintage clothing, and it’s very difficult to find it (dresses, in particular) in sizes and styles that suit me well, at a price I can afford. I do have a good collection of vintage jewelry, however, given to me by my grandmother.

One of my friends suggested that my interest in dressing vintage comes from my close relationship with my grandmother. My nana is an amazing person and friend, and an inspiration to me in every way, not just stylistically. Her family was financially stretched and she made clothing for herself and her children, and worked as a dressmaker in a bridal store as well. She made evening gowns for herself most often, because my grandparents apparently attended galas for which she could not afford to buy a new gown each time. One night, she sat us down and showed us a series of slides that spanned decades of her life–and she remembered every detail (down to where she bought the fabric) of every article of clothing she had made in the slides. It was especially notable in light of the fact that she does not always remember what she ate for breakfast. She passed on her sewing skills to my mother, who is, without question, the most talented sewer I know.

To be honest, I avoided sewing for a long time because I always saw it as my mom’s “thing,” and even though she tried to teach me to sew–on paper plates, no less–when I was young, it never stuck.  I never had an appreciation for the depth or breadth of her expertise until now, and I’m sad we are living apart at a time when I could be learning so much from her.

She bought me a sewing machine a few months ago and to say it has changed my life would be an understatement of epic proportions. After making several quilts, two dresses, a shirt, and some sleep shorts, I feel ready to embark on some vintage sewing. I bought the following patterns last week:

I plan to make the second dress above out of this fabric:

photo copyright Gorgeous Fabrics

I used a silk twill in my last two projects and have grown more comfortable working with it (thanks to my Singer sewing book), so hopefully this dress will be a success.  One of my grandmother’s sewing commandments is only to use Vogue patterns, but that isn’t always possible. I did, however, buy the pattern for this amazing jacket:

Luckily, there are many vintage patterns available in my size, and I’ve learned a great deal about resizing patterns from books and blogs.

In other news, I am looking into buying a dress form. I am getting a big bonus at work next month, and planned to use it to buy a serger and a dress form, but the serger may be unnecessary–my machine has a great overcast stitch that seems to do the job well enough for now.  I am looking at the Uniquely You dress form, which is the only brand I’ve found so far that will accommodate my petite measurements (I am about 31.75-24.75-33–it’s the hip measurement that gives me the biggest problem). It seems to be a considerable process to fit, so I will have to wait for the next time I see my mother (sorry, Mom).

Do you have a dress form? If so, what kind–and do you like it? And, most important, why do YOU sew? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

A dirndl kind of day.

February 24, 2010

Pattern: Dirndl dress basic pattern from Built by Wendy: Dresses (with modifications)

Fabric: Cotton lawn from Gorgeous Fabrics (same as before…I’m thrifty)

Other Notions: invisible zipper

Wendy warns her readers not to be put off by the weird name (dirndl), and I’ll admit that I was…until I saw the patterns and possibilities! After making my first dress in this book and discovering the areas of poor fit, I decided to make a muslin of this dress pattern. The muslin looked great, so I plowed ahead.

I altered the neckline drastically. I like low (not obscenely low) necklines because I am a small person and I don’t like feeling swallowed up by my clothing. High necks and long sleeves are not for me. Another reason for wearing low necklines is my fair skin and red hair. It makes me feel uncomfortable to have most colors too close to my face because I worry about being washed out. I usually only wear reds and greens near my face.

Anyway, moving past my insecurities and into this dress’ many positive attributes…I love everything about it, except my fabric choice and the suggestion of binding around the armholes and neck.

The dress seems to want more drape, and the cotton lawn is too airy to allow you to fully appreciate the shape, structure, and flow of the dress.  That was my mistake, and I think it still works…it just doesn’t reach its full potential. I think the only area that the bad fabric choice really affected was the neckline and armholes. I sewed a binding on, as instructed, but it stuck out and looked crinkly, so I turned it over, tacked it inside like a facing, and topstitched:

…much better. The defining characteristic (and real magic) of this dress is the gathered skirt, which has a vintage feel that I love:

I admit that I did have some trouble inserting the zipper. I am going to iron it into submission next time, because it was all wrinkly from having been in the package since the 80s (seriously…the packaging was almost deteriorating) and didn’t stick on, despite massive quantities of Scotch tape. I chose a thread that matches the little brown morning glories, but I used a cream zipper to match the background fabric…it looked fine from the outside, but the inside does not look very professional. I know I need to work on my zipper inserting techniques!

All in all, it was a fast and rewarding project that I probably will wear in the summer. This dress also made me truly love garment sewing. I have no garment fabric right now because I don’t have a stash, but I have enough quilts going on (FIVE…unacceptable) to keep me busy, as well as my pinwheel blocks, which look great. I bought a big scrap of vintage fabric that combines well with remnants from earlier projects…I’ll have those blocks to show you soon.

In the meantime, I’m waiting on this fabric from Denver Fabrics for another dirndl-style dress (this time with a V neck and longer sleeves):

I have high hopes for this!

Chinese pastoral

February 22, 2010

Pattern: American Pastoral from Built by Wendy: Dresses

Fabric: cotton lawn, 1.25 yards

Other notions: covered buttons

First of all, thank you SO MUCH for all of your wonderfully supportive comments about the wonky star quilt. Y’all are right…I need to wash it (well) and get it quilted. I decided to do a wonky nine-patch block in all the colors used in the stars for the back, so it will be a double-sided quilt. I think that will make me much happier in the end.

Onto the dress…this project marked my first foray into garment sewing, and it was a good one! I bought three yards of this lawn cotton from Gorgeous Fabrics a few weeks ago (as well as a fabric I shouldn’t have bought, which I think is destined to become a quilt back). I love the fabric, which looks exactly like a Liberty print called “Poppy and Honesty.”

The pattern called for ticking and a yoke.  I chose not to sew it with the yoke, which was basically a design element for directional fabrics like ticking, and would have looked odd in this pattern. Here are my notes on various project features:

Sleeves: I gave my sleeves a small cuff and am still debating sewing my leftover buttons onto the edges…my suspicion is that they will disappear because it is a busy fabric and will be a waste of time in the end. I prefer 3/4-length sleeves, and these do not disappoint…although there is a significant amount of excess fabric to be gathered into the sleeve of the XS. I am going to try a new technique, taught to me by my mother, next time I attempt this pattern.  I want to reduce bulk in the shoulders, as these border on puff sleeves…an 80s fashion element I do not want to revive. Ever.

Fabric: I’m happy with the fabric itself, but not in this dress. The dress requires a more structured, heavier, less drapey fabric (hence its original incarnation in ticking), and the lawn is much less structured than I would like. I suspect my fabric choice may have rendered it unsuitable for regular wear.

Fit: I have a feeling fit is going to be a frequent issue for me. I am very petite–my hip measurements are a full 2″ smaller than the smallest measurement given for the XS size.  I had to adjust the length of the pattern by about 4″ and I think that made the fullness in the hip less noticeable.  Luckily, Wendy has given me confidence in adjusting patterns to fit, so I do not think it will be a problem for me to modify for my shape!

Collar: The pattern calls for a mandarin collar, which I made…I love mandarin collars. Sewers, beware: there is an error in the collar directions, but I think even novice sewers could spot it. The pattern calls for you to cut a 1/2″ x 19″ strip for the collar…obviously, that wouldn’t work, and you would end up with a finished collar of 1/8″, at most. I cut a 3″ by 19″ strip and am happy with how it turned out!

Mistakes/ lessons: I interfaced neither the collar nor the button placket, both of which needed it desperately.  I didn’t know about how important interfacing is before I did this (I know, it’s shameful).  My button placket fabric puckered a bit. It’s not noticeable to others, probably, but is to me!

All in all, I would say it was a success and I enjoyed the process so much. Thank you, Wendy Mullin, for giving me a new reason to get up in the morning.