Finished Object: 50’s Dress and Useful Tips for Making One

Remember that lovely little pattern from Emma in Montana that showed up on my doorstep last week?

I went ahead and made her up for Sew Weekly’s “Mother’s Day” Challenge (without photo-shopping my grandmother’s face on the envelope).  I really think 1950’s fashions celebrate fluctuating mother-bodies without sacrificing style or mobility.  Check out my write up along those lines (including the cheap and dubious source of my fabric) on Sew Weekly.

Rather than double-post, I thought I’d offer a few tips for bringing a 50’s dress ensemble into the casual-modern age without causing a migraine:

  • Make the Bolero- But go down a size and Use a Knit

It’s been a little chilly around here lately and according to my Me Made May pledge I’m only wearing stuff made in the past 6 months.  I had some nice thick sweater knit cotton I picked up on sale a few months ago.  Perfect!  These little boleros often get overlooked in favor of the flashy dresses underneath, but I absolutely love them.  They work great for knits- this pattern was size 32 and I usually use a 34, but that’s just about right.  I fastened the CF with a trouser hook and bar because *this week* I like the uncluttered look of a buttonless front.  (I could make it overlap like the pattern envelope, but I like the way my dress peeks out when closed this way.)

worn with my hair bump and Dior Rose hairclip– you can make one too at Frock Out Night

Tip- instead of hemming or facing the lower edges or the sleeve hems, I just used my standard method for binding knit edges.  The bolero went together in no time.

Don’t Overcomplicate the Fit- And Don’t expect to look like the pattern Illustration!  No One Does!

It’s a fairly simple kimono sleeve surplice with gentle underbust gathers on a midriff band- nothing too tricky to fit.  Past Stephanie (from a year or so ago) would have agonized over a full bust adjustment and all that jazz, but Present-day Stephanie knows it probably wasn’t worth it for a relatively unfitted top.

Present-day Stephanie is a little lazier and more experienced.  I cut it about 5/8″ longer on the front bodice and 1/2″ wider at the side seams on all pieces.  I know the 1950’s size 32 back fits me fine, so I left it as-is.

  • Match Stripes One Piece at a Time:

I do love matching stripes, it’s not terribly difficult if I cut the pattern pieces one at a time instead of on a doubled piece of fabric.

Once I cut the first bodice front, I flipped it so it was right sides together with the remaining fabric.  The stripes on my duvet cover were irregular, so I took a little time to fiddle around and make sure the stripes on my pattern piece matched the ones on the fabric before I cut.  This makes stripes-matching very, very simple.

  • Side Zipper- Invisible, Extra Long and Upside Down:

With very few exceptions, I only use invisible zippers.  I like to insert them in the side seams of my dresses- that’s my preference.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, I live in a bastardly hot climate, and I used to HATE wriggling into my dresses on steamy afternoons when getting ready for evening classes.  Then, once the dress is on, I have to find my dresser husband to zip me up, or go through all kinds of yoga to pull the zipper up.  Irritating.  I “fixed” this problem by buying longer zippers (easier to get in and out) and by putting them in upside down.  I’ve been doing this for years now, I don’t know why I never mentioned it.  It’s much easier to pull a dress zip down than up.  I don’t know why.

We try to come up with “concepts” for taking photos, because standing around being posey makes me feel silly.  This time, Lila and I had a little picnic in the backyard, including some cottage cheese, egg and spinach muffins.  It was a blast.  (I made her little coat-dress, too.)

Do you wear/make 50’s style dresses?  Do you have any cool tips to share?  Don’t worry, I’m no stickler for period accuracy…

Fluffers At Home- Betty Draper

I’m curious how styles from the late 50’s (especially casual wear) moves and breathes and lives, so I’m re-watching season 2 of Mad Men.  It’s “research.”  I couldn’t tell you much about the plot of this episode because I was watching the clothes, taking notes and the occasional screen shot.

The work of a detail oriented costumer/wardrober (who does their homework) always leaps off the screen at me.  In the case of Mad Men, watching the clothes is a special treat because I like to wear many of these styles.

I LOVED this dress from the first time I saw it.  It’s not flashy, it’s not a gorgeous cocktail dress or the wiggly secretary outfits this show is known for.  This is a simple shirt-dress for at-home wear.  I’m a sucker for plaids.  I love the bias placket on Betty’s dress and used that design feature last year on the Mirabilis Top:

It’s a nifty little method of avoiding matching plaids at the CF of a button-down shirt.  Even if you cut with 110% accuracy, chances are the placket will slip around either during the sewing or the wearing.  A bias placket is attractive and forgoes the entire matching issue, I’m a fan.

In a modern context, this type of dress might be too “dressed up” for coffee at home.  What do you think?  I know dressing well was pretty standard at the time- but isn’t Betty a little bit of a “doll” of a lady?  She always seems slightly more dressed up than her friends, and a little bit conscious of it.

As Betty and her BFF gossiped maliciously about Betty’s old roommate-cum-callgirl, she stood up to fold laundry. (I tried not to listen.  Most of the time, the characters on Mad Men do not impress me very much.)  Fold laundry.  She’s wearing pearls, a fluffer and a girdle, and she’s folding clothes.  Yes, it’s all worn with a sensible shirtdress, but still!

I mean, I do understand the fluffy skirt.   Sometimes I wake up and it’s a fluffy skirt day, regardless of whether I’m going out or not.  When I do wear one around the house, I don’t find it actually gets in the way.  You’d think it would, but it doesn’t.  Kind of how full skirts are actually pretty comfortable and practical.

Do you ever wear petticoats at home?  I like it, but then again I like petticoats in general.  It might also be fun for someone who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them outside the house.

This is the pattern I found that came closest to matching to Betty’s dress.  It doesn’t have a separate placket; in fact I couldn’t find any full skirted shirt dress patterns with a separate placket- how odd.  I would use a firmly woven but soft cotton (for summer) or wool (for winter) to make this dress.

I want to make this a regular feature- picking apart a Mad Men outfit on a Saturday night- until the new season starts in March.  Do you have a favorite dress or outfit from the show?  Which one?

A Christmas Pattern Miracle!

…Allow me a little hyperbole, I’m ridiculously pleased with a packet that turned up in my letterbox (mailbox? postbox?  Which one is American?) the other day.  I saw this sexy-yet-ladylike blouse on Handmade Jane’s blog and- well- love at first sight is no myth.  I posted about my frustration over the hours spent fruitlessly combing the internets for this or a similar pattern.

Eventually, I gave up the search like a reasonable adult.  I could wait and see if it turned up somewhere in a few months (vintage patterns often do) or I’d get around to trying to drape it as per your excellent advice in the comments section.

Then Jane sent me an email offering to let me borrow her Advance 7701!  I think that’s really special, that’s the kind of sewing cameraderie one would expect from a neighbor down the street.  From a fellow sewing blogger and vintage pattern addict on the other end of the world- well.  I’m really touched. Thank you, Jane.

I’m petrified, terrified something will happen to it.  When I have a little time on Christmas, I’m copying her and sending Advance 7701 straight back whence she came.

I have this old silver (I think) clasp, rescued from an antique store.  I’ll muslin the pattern first, tweak if necessary, then make it up in this teal merino with the clasp.  We still have to get through mid-summer, but I’ll be wearing my snuggly wrap-cardi-blouse in no time.

Check out Jane’s recent post about her favorite wardrobe pieces, a la Colette sewing book.  Since I’m new to reading her blog it’s a great way to get to know her style.  (Let’s be honest… If I were a cat burglar, I’d be sorely tempted by those sailor pants… ;))

Finished Object: Terra Incognita Dress

I wore her to a dinner just the other evening.  I was aiming for casual, dramatic, and feminine- all at once.  The initial inspiration came from 1950’s full-skirted halter dresses, but I think the final dress has the tang of a vampy flapper.

As a rule, I don’t often show my knees. Or my shoulders.  Or my décolletage.

Or my back.  This dress is “terra incognita” for me.

Yet I’m in love.  This may be my favorite dress ever, after Wholesome.

For the dinner I wore my hair in my beloved reverse Victory Roll but we were too rushed that night for photos.  Last week I got a loose perm because my hair won’t hold pincurls- ever- and something had to be done in the hair department.  Since then, I’ve been experimenting with relaxed fingerwaves and reveling in the Return of the Reverse Victory Roll.

Close-up of the front pleat detail.  I had thoughts of creating a separate midriff section and building a bra into the bodice.  Instead, I kept it simple and I’m happy with the result.

I used my overlocker/serger to make a rolled hem on the skirt.  It’s clean and strong and light and quick.  The skirt is cut from the same octagonal-circle pattern I used for the Hemp Snowflake skirt.  I was chatting with a friend as I cut the skirt, and cut the waist waaaay too big.

The simplest way to fix my careless mistake was to gather the skirt into the bodice.  The combination of gentle gathering and circle-skirt fullness creates an incredibly swirly skirt.

I want to make several of these over the summer.  I left a little ease through the waist so it won’t stick in hot weather, it’s as cool as a cucumber to wear.

Check out the drafting notes for the bodice, if that’s what you’re into.

Tomorrow: Waists and How to Measure Them

Note: I’m sorry the T-Shirt pattern is taking a little while to put up.  I have the drafts and I’m happy with them, but learning to use Gimp is a little tricky.  I hope I spent enough time with it these past few days, maybe if I give it a short break and come back to the problem I’ll see the solution immediately.  I’m still interested in fitting issues and proportions, feel free to add your voice to the thread.

Design Inspiration: Fine Batik Cotton and 50’s Halter Dresses

We have a dinner this week, a “dressy casual” at a nice-but-not-snooty restaurant for my husband and his fellow thesis-finishers.  I have many dresses- cotton day dresses and silk cocktail dresses, but somehow nothing seemed quite right.  It’s not a silk crowd.  A lady should always be suitably dressed for a given occasion, right?  I trolled The Vintage Pattern Wiki for halter dress inspiration.  Click an image to visit its wiki page.  Please enjoy the eye-candy!

I feel a batik obsession coming on after the Not-A-T-Shirt.  A shop around the corner from my house (I used to work there, it’s Sewco Sewing Centre) carries a decent range of fine batiks, unfortunately only a few are online.

The batiks come from Indonesia.  Though large wholesalers handle the export of the fabrics, many of the batiks from Indonesia support local village handcraft.  I like that.

I also like the crisp, fine cotton fabric.  It feels delicious and cool in the heat.

Then I thought- it’s the perfect excuse to call the batik-tiki-halter 1950’s style dress into being!  She sashays through the edges of my imagination and has for a few years.

Luckily, I found the perfect batik- a sharp print in black and blue.  Tropical but not tacky.  I had my eye on it for a long time.  It’s an extra-wide fabric, 240cm (roughly 2.5 yards), intended for a quilt backing.  It’s a tight, dense weave, yet light and airy.  I only needed 1.3m for a great big 50’s-style halter dress!

Which design elements appeal to you?  Pert collars, petal hems, ingenious wrap treatments, or sweet simplicity? There’s so many ways to design a halter, I think I may need to make several of these dresses before the summer is over!

Design Inspiration: Cut-On and Kimono Sleeves In Vintage Patterns

McCall’s 8894

I found this beauty while sifting through the Vintage Pattern Wiki.  If you’d like to visit a pattern’s wiki page, click the image.  At the moment, I’m working out the details for a simple knit top with kimono sleeves pattern.  I may trot out several “test subjects” as I play with this idea over the next couple of weeks, and I’m open to ideas.

I’m amazed at the variations on a simple extended sleeve treatment.  It’s one of my favorites, and it’s quick to sew.

Yum.  The angles on the drawing are a little harsh, but I know I like a deep shoulder dart.  I have something like this in mind for a white Japanese cotton that’s lying around here.

it seems many vintage casual or “utility” type garments feature this type of sleeve.  You can reach and bend without binding your arms, and underwear remains private.  Women without air conditioners perspire, at times freely.  I hate the feeling of fabric sticking to my underarms in the summer.  Yuck.

To me, this top looks graceful.  Easy to wear, comfortable, simple.  Goes with everything.

I always get distracted wondering how to render a vintage woven pattern in a knit fabric.  Omit the front closure, shape the side seams further and remove the darts.  It would have comfy cut-on sleeves and a pretty scarf.  Or it might turn out dreadful.  Who knows until you try?

I actually have a Burda top like this made from bamboo knit.  This would be so quick to throw together, perhaps 5 pattern pieces for the top.  Would 4 work?

I love the use of plaid, stripes and trim on these dresses.  “Smart” dresses with these sleeves seem to ride in on a cool breeze.

Polka dots!  I think this cut would flatter both curvy and straight figure types.  Dresses with midriff sections often do (though not always…).

I giggled at first, but the longer I pick out the details the more I want to stitch it.  In a quiet, cool fabric for summer?

I’m not so sure about the white version, but I do like the cut.

I can’t possibly find every great kimono sleeve out there, have a look through the 280-odd pages in the Kimono Sleeve section of the Wiki.

Once I fine-tune a basic knit pattern for this type of shirt, I want to try out more of these ideas… I spent all day yesterday cutting up pieces of t-shirt fabric and stitching them together.  4 shirts later (the fabric was meant for rags anyway) I think I might be on to something!  If so, I’d love to share the final pattern through the blog.

Before I can do that, I need a little help from you.  Let me know what you look for in a “go-to” knit top pattern- a TNT.  I’d also be interested to hear what kind of fit issues you routinely deal with (or don’t and they drive you nuts).

Design Inspiration: Shisha Mirrors, 1950’s Day-Glam, and Hemp

The Chef-chos are long finished, I hope to get a chance to photograph them tomorrow.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of the inspiration for the next piece in my Summer 2011 wardrobe.

I have a large piece of bottom-weight white hemp which I earmarked for a long, full skirt.  When I saw the Indian mirrored trim and the shisha mirrors at the Brisbane Craft Show, I knew I’d like to include them in the skirt.  How?

I have an ongoing picture inspiration file, so I trolled that and google images for “1950’s border skirt” and variations.

This type of border treatment predominated.  I like it, but what else could I do with the trim?  I remembered a skirt I saw months ago and I re-found it on Vintage Pattern Wiki:

Neat!  It’s a full circle skirt, cut in two pieces like this:

Image courtesy of Sewing for Bellydance

The straight edges are aligned with the border print, so it “bends” across the front of the body.  If I cut a circle skirt and placed the trim in a similar position, I could achieve the same effect.  Mirrors instead of roses.  I could then scatter the shisha mirror appliques over the skirt, as the roses are scattered in the drawing.

I found a similar example of the border treatment at Susan’s Diary.  Her blog is full of gorgeous pictures, I’m so excited to have found her.  I also found a gorgeous page of full skirts from a Sears catalog page posted on Debi’s blog.

I saw this cut for a circle skirt on a fantastic designer’s reference site and started to wonder if I could pull off the asymmetrical hem, the full skirt, and the mirrors combined.  I see women wearing this cut constantly when I’m out, so I think I could get away with it.

What do you think?  I could line the skirt with a pale aqua or pink cotton voile, which would be visible when I walk.  Too much? Just enough drama for mixing with simple basics?  Should the trim then go around the top as the floral border skirts, or straight down the middle?  Hmmm…  It’s a fairly firm trim, mounted on several layers of organza.  It definitely won’t curve around a hem very well. It might or might not drape the way I want it to.  The hemp is also fairly stiff, though long experience with the fiber tells me it will soon become soft, firm and fluid.

I also like the idea of using a similar cut to this Vintage Vogue 1172 reprint skirt and stitching the trim in several rows across the insets.  It’s basically a 4-gore skirt with very wide godets.  The center of the godet lies across the bias.*

I’d be thrilled for any and all input, especially links to border treatments… I have some time to get into the sewing this weekend, we’ll see what develops!

By the way, I’m updating all my internal links.  Are old posts showing up in anyone’s reader?  I do apologize for any hiccups.

Don’t forget to enter the Pretty, Sparkly Giveaway for a chance to win your own Shisha mirrors!


*Edited to add: Actually, I think I wrote that incorrectly.  The center of the godet is the same as the straight of grain…?  Bother, I can’t find my notes.

Houndstooth, Micro Houndstooth

Here’s the 50’s housewife shirt I’m working on.  It’s a part of my Summer wardrobe.

I used the pattern as a “blueprint” to alter my basic block.  Fingers crossed it fits properly.  I like shoulder pleats but have struggled to create them well on self-drafted garments in the past.

I think this shirt needs sleeves to be work appropriate, something about a sleeveless shirt is so casual.  I made a double layer yoke, and decided to use the back neck facing included in the pattern- cut from a contrasting fabric from the same range.  I might go ahead and embroider my initials or a small motif on the facing before I stitch it down.

Tulip sleeves struck me as just the thing, I didn’t want plain sleeves but also didn’t feel like messing around with experimental sleeve drafting.  I like tulip sleeves, but have yet to use them on a garment in my “regular rotation.”

I cut them out tonight, they’ll go on soon.  Front over back or back over front?

I liked the red and pink micro-houndstooth so much, I decided to get some pink and cream.  It reads as a solid unless you’re quite close to the fabric.

Unfortunately, the blue seersucker in my original wardrobe plan didn’t wash well.  It came out of the wash the texture of toilet paper (admittedly, the nice kind of toilet paper) and nothing I try will revive the texture.  Not steam, not cold water, or hot, or a dryer on high, or a clothesline.  Ideas?  At any rate, I don’t want to use the fabric as-is, so I’ll sub in the pink.

Summer Wardrobe 2011- Phase 1

(Tops to the left, bottoms to the right.)

I assembled the fabrics for my summer wardrobe today.  Some came from my stash.  Earlier this year I decided to quit buying fabric and sew down what I had.  Like any sewist, I had many odd pieces of “What was I thinking?” fabric, as well as basics.  Most of that is gone now.   I did buy some fabric while going through this “de-stash” but it was always for a particular purpose.  That taught me to buy fabric with a precise plan for its use.  That meant I said “no” to more fabrics than I care to count.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me.

Some of my fabrics were generously cut, so I can use the extras to make “free” simple pants and sun-tops for Lila, though she and I have very different coloring so we can share few fabrics.

That’s a large amount of recalcitrant hemp to the left, from stash.  It’s actually a bright optic white.  I like hemp, both the ethics and the wearing, but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this fabric.  It’s a medium weight, rather stiff though I know it will soften over time.

This is the skirt from Vogue 1172.  It’s basically a 4-gore skirt with the CB and CF seams eliminated, and 1/4 circle gores placed at each side front and back area.  I’m working with a client on a dress made from this pattern, and it seems to me the structural cut of the skirt calls for the hemp.  It will require a serious waistband.  I’d like this to be long-ish and I would wear it without a petticoat.  (I think…)  I may also start the gores at my hipline (just above?  just below?) rather than at my waist.

The red fabric above is linen, intended for another pair of Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing trousers.  I’ve been dying to make a red version of them for about a year.  When an idea won’t leave me alone, I know I should acquiesce and be done with it.

The guipure above with some flocked cheesecloth will make a blouse much like the white blouse on the pattern envelope, sans bow.   I’m working out the engineering to cut the yoke all in one piece.  If I cut the guipure carefully, I’ll have a lovely scalloped edge with no loose threads or hemming.   I’m excited to be playing with such a fine piece of lace, which I picked up for a song at a sale.  If you ever see guipure at 1/4 the original price, snap it up.  This is one of the prettiest fabrics I’ve ever handled.

100% cotton seersucker, perfect for steamy summers.  This will be a version of one of my favorite patterns, though I want to alter it to button up the back.

I may also draft a slightly more daring keyhole at the neck.  I own this pattern but lazily borrowed the image from vintage pattern wiki.  Doesn’t the model look like she has a mustache?

The top is a fine batik cotton, don’t you love the print?  The middle is a cotton shirting with woven stripes,  previously intended for a pleated shirt until I changed my mind.   The third is a micro-houndstooth pink and red from the Sophie range. (I bought the last of it.)  I have enough extra to make a sun shirt for my girlie.  I don’t yet have precise plans for these three.  Sleeveless shells most likely (great under my newest sun jacket), taking inspiration from elements of these lovely patterns:

I want to keep them simple, no more than a few hours’ sewing.  Once I sew the “must” pieces, I’ll know better what should be done with these simple tops.  Most likely a lot of back-buttons, and I’d like to have some sort of backwards collar like the third from the left on the bottom.  At the same time, I want the print of the fabrics to do all the talking, rather than fussy details.  We’ll see.

The aqua is a lightweight cotton voile.  I think it will be a simple floaty skirt, perhaps with a scallop hem.  I saw a girl wearing a similar skirt the other day, middie length.  It was both simple and fetching.  The dark blue is a yet-to-be-blogged corduroy pencil skirt with architectural lines that I’m hoping I can still wear over the summer.

What about that Umpire fabric?  It’s a cotton interlock.  The other white woven fabric is a tencel/linen blend.  Together they will (probably) make this, one of my favorite outfits from Casablanca:

I want to use a half-circle skirt for the bottom, though I think hers is a slim 40’s gored skirt.  I’m toying with the idea of making the top button into the waistband of the skirt, so I have the options of pinafore/jumper and skirt.  I think the red shells especially will look well with this.

That’s more white than I usually wear.  Last summer, I made a few white blouses and discovered I like wearing white.  It POPS in the bright summer sun, and it’s relatively easy to care for.  The sun bleaches my whites to dazzling purity without chemicals (or effort).

This type of planning helps my sewing progress, as I know that my pieces (should) all look well together.  If I have a season of sewing this-n-that like I did this past winter, I don’t sew.

I’m a little iffy on the black and white knit, but I figure it will look ok with the bottoms, or at least look interesting.  I’m happy with the red(dish) tops and the red linen pants, and I’m really digging blues and reds together lately.  I’m aiming for clean simplicity while avoiding both boredom and fussiness.  Something like that.

Deadlines are helpful, so let’s shoot for Thanksgiving.

I’d be pleased to hear any thoughts or advice, from those who are facing the beginning of summer (and what to wear) and from those who are just finishing their own hot time of year.

Wins and Fails in Winter Sewing

(Favorite combination of palazzo cords, husband sweater, and trilobite cabled beanie)
I had some plans for this winter.  I was testing a few new-to-me styles and fabrics, figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.  All in the name of science…
What worked for me for winter?
Win- Flanelette 1930’s House Coat:
This is by far my favorite.  It has precisely served its purpose.  The long flannel skirt made it snuggly, but I didn’t feel completely sloppy around the house.  I want to make a similar one in a fine batik cotton for summer, maybe a different style.Fail- Just because the pattern envelope suggests jersey doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

I intended to make the top in the left corner from a medium weight New Zealand merino.  Wisely, I tried it first in a soft, cheap rayon:
The wool would only have been slightly heavier than the rayon, so it might be firmer but I wasn’t willing to risk it for a house shirt.  I do like this shirt, and wear it though I never finished it more than a quick muslin.

Fail- Those pants were another incomplete failure.  They are too short with shoes.  Because I -ahem- measured the hem while barefoot.  I like them anyway and wore them all winter.

Win- Persephone Weskit

I really, really like this semi-tailored weskit.  I reached for it on rushed mornings to pull two pieces together.  Many of my work basics are black and white, and the weskit (I hope) camouflages a less than perfectly ironed blouse.  The fabric proved both sturdy and hard to wrinkle.

It’s getting to be the bright time of year, every picture from this morning’s Self-Stitched-September shoot captures an awkward face.  Time to dust off the sun-jacket.

I’m looking at a few favorites from last summer, to help guide this year’s sewing.  I’m thinking a palette of crisp white, clear blue-red, baby blue, and aqua.   I’ll post more this weekend, plenty of free time.

 (Wholesome Dress, an unexpected winter favorite)

Also, I just saw a post on Dress a Day… I’m so excited, Erin’s blog has informed how I think about clothing and sewing, especially Dressing for Joy.  It’s what turned me to sewing for myself, in a style I enjoy.  Thank you, Erin.