Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing: Acronyms and a Few Self-Imposed Rules

So I'm cutting out the portrait neckline blouse featured in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing today. The book has lots of guidelines on exactly how to make each project, some of which seem like reasonable methods for advanced sewing (basted fittings, tailor's tacks, etc), and some of which seem dated and like they could use a little 2009 update. I realized I needed a few rules for myself on which ones I would follow, and which ones I would politely ignore. Here's what I came up with.

1. I can ignore an instruction and use a different method, if I'm doing so because the alternate method is better. Not because I'm lazy. For instance, I will probably finish my raw edges by serging rather than pinking or overcasting them by hand. (I know hand overcasting is a hallmark of fine couture garments,but I'm making stuff that I actually want to wear on a regular basis, so durability is an issue for me.)

2. Take fabric suggestions seriously. I usually take the suggested fabrics on a pattern as just that: suggestions. Sometimes I really throw caution to the wind (wheeee!) and use a dramatically different fabric for dramatic results. But here, I want to have as much of the home sewing experience of the 50's as possible, and I want to achieve similar results to what's in the book.

3. Try to achieve the original look of the pattern as much as possible, but alterations can be made for contemporary wearability. For instance, there's no skirt length I despise as much as that dowdy mid-calf length of straight skirts on 50's patterns. I will definitely be shortening them to knee-length.
That's it for now! I'm sure I'll come up with more as I go along.

Oh! Commenter Meg helped me come up with a much better acronym for Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. Henceforth, I declare that the volume shall be referred to as VoNBSS. (Pronounced VOWN-biss). Now, isn't that more manageable than VNBFBS?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Channeling Joan Holloway

I am a huge Mad Men fan. When I first saw this emerald green wool crepe at Paron Fabrics, I thought "Joan would look fantastic in that color!" Alas, Joan is a fictional character, so I had to buy it for myself instead. I think she'd approve though.

I made this little sheath dress from a vintage reissue pattern from Simplicity.

This was my first time using a reissued vintage pattern, and I have to say it was a little disappointing. I made my usual size (14), and when I put it on, it looked like a sack. Perhaps I should have gone down a size, but then the fit probably would have been off in the hips. I really had to do a lot of finessing to get the hourglass look of the original pattern illustration. I took it in about three inches at the waist, and reduced the hem circumference by four inches (to get that nipped in look at the knee).

It seems like one of the major things pattern companies do to modernize a vintage pattern is to give it much more ease for a "contemporary" look. This seems kind of counterproductive to me. If I wanted a contemporary fit, I'd just buy a contemporary pattern design. The envelope photographs probably should have clued me in. Look how baggy the gray version is in the skirt!

But anyway, once I got the fit I wanted, I was pretty happy with this pattern. I especially like how the bodice is lined to the edges rather than using facings. I like the full-skirted view as well, so I might give that a go at some point.

What have your experiences been with reissued patterns? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Career Girls

I've been making an interview dress from the reissue of this Simplicity jumper pattern. Don't those girls on the envelope look smart? Do you think they're resentfully commuting to their jobs in the typing pool, just waiting for a marriage proposal so they can quit? Or are they young whippersnappers with CEO dreams?

As I'm honing my career girl image, I keep thinking of the book The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. It is the ultimate in scandalous office tales of the 50's. It's like Mad Men, but set in the world of book publishing. And the clothing descriptions are fabulous. Just check out the first paragraph:
You see them every morning at a quarter to nine, rushing out of the maw of the subway tunnel, filing out of Grand Central Stations, crossing Lexington and Park and Madison and Fifth avenues, the hundreds and hundreds of girls . . . They carry the morning newspapers and overstuffed handbags. Some of them are wearing pink or chartreuse fuzzy overcoats and five-year-old ankle-strap shoes and have their hair up in pin curls underneath kercheifs. Some of them are wearing chic black suits (maybe last year's but who can tell?) and kid gloves and are carrying their lunches in violet-sprigged Bonwit Teller paper bags. None of them has enough money.
Oh, the kid gloves and chartreuse overcoats and chic black suits! Doesn't it all seem so glamorous?

The Best of Everything
is an awesome and (unintentionally) hilarious book. Caroline Bender, the 20-year-old heroine, gets a job in the typing pool at a book publishing house. Soon she's climbing her way up the corporate ladder. She goes out for multiple double scotches with the sexy office men every evening, yet still manages to read an entire manuscript before the next morning. And all the manuscripts are fabulous and brilliant.

Why couldn't I have worked in publishing in the 50s? Sigh. But then again, the moral of the story is that if you pursue a career as a single gal, you'll get pregnant and fall down a flight of stairs and die. So tragic!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Parfait SBA, S'il Vous Plait!

So, I've been promising a tutorial on a small bust adjustment for the Parfait dress from Colette Patterns, and here it is.

Here's what you need:

-a colored pen or pencil
-two pattern pieces: the front bodice and the front midriff
-seam gauge or clear ruler

In a nutshell, what you have to do is try on the pattern tissue, pinch out bust fullness, and then transfer those changes on the flat pattern. Make any sense?

To start, we're going to do a tissue fitting of the front bodice. At the seam allowances, pin together the front bodice pattern piece and the midriff piece. Very important: for the fitting, wear the bra that you plan to wear while wearing the dress. Also layer on top a very snug camisole or slip that so you can pin the pattern to you.

Pin the pattern piece to your camisole at center front, the side seam, and the top of the bodice, where the strap tab will connect. Don't forget to account for the 5/8" seam allowance.

As you can see, I've got some bagginess going on in the bust.

And on the side. See how the paper is wrinkling and standing away from my body? We need to get that sucker in.

We're going to temporarily pin the bagginess out in 2 places: 1) the side bust, where a bust dart would usually be, and 2) the top of the bust, extending from the armhole.

The first thing you need to do, though, is to mark the apex of your bust. Books often refer to the apex as the fullest part of your bust. An easier way to think of it is where your nipple is. There, I said it. All decorum is out the window now!

Use a pin to mark the apex. (I forgot to mark mine while I was wearing it, but you get the point, right? [Hee hee. Point.])

Now, start pinching out extra fullness in the bust, first at the side, then at the armhole. Have your tucks radiate toward the apex. Here's how it will look:

And a view from the side:

When you're satisfied with your fit, take the tissue off and set it on your work space. Mark your apex with a circle. Use a seam gauge to measure the depth of each of your tucks at the widest part of the tuck. (You only measure one side, so you're getting half the amount you tucked out).

Record your measurements.
Here are mine:

Tuck at armhole: 5/8 inch
Tuck at side bust: 1 - 3/8 inch

Keep your measurements handy, and remove all pins from the tissue. Smooth out the front bodice piece. Now you're going to mark two lines to alter on your pattern.

First, imagine where a bust dart would be if this pattern had one. Extend a line horizontally from the apex point. (You'll see that I apparently had trouble locating my apex--oops!-- so there are two circles. Only pay attention to the one in pen, with the lines extending from it.)

Second, mark a point halfway up the armhole. Extend a line from the apex to this point.

Cut these lines, leaving a hinge at the apex.

Overlap each of the lines the amount of your measurements you recorded earlier. Tape the overlapped pieces down.

As you can see, there will be a little wrinkling around the apex. Eliminate all the wrinkles you can and then smoosh the piece down with your iron so it lies flat. (Yes, smoosh is the technical term.)

Finally, true up the lines on your pattern. Tape the altered pattern piece down to a clean sheet of paper. Draw a new side seam and armhole seam to smooth out the jagged edges. You can see where I've done this in blue marker.

This is your new pattern piece! I'm going to make a muslin of the two patterns pieces we used earlier. (Actually, it's fabric from an old curtain. I'm just like Maria Von Trapp! Scarlett O'Hara!) If you're using expensive fabric for your dress, I suggest you do the same.

See? Nice and fitted!

That's all there is to it. You can use these principles on lots of other patterns as well. The method I used for the Macaron dress is a little different (since the front bodice piece is longer), and I'll do a tutorial on that one as well.

Update: I forgot to mention two other changes you'll need to make so that the new, adjusted front bodice piece will fit with the rest of the pattern. Here's all you need to do:

1. Lay the front facing over the top of the new front bodice piece. You'll notice that it will no longer match up between where the strap attaches and the side seam. All you need to do is tuck out the extra width from the facing piece and tape or pin it in place. Now it will match up with your front bodice piece.

2. The other piece affected is the back bodice piece. The back bodice edge will now be too long for the front bodice piece. So, just lay the two pieces (the front and back bodice) next to each other, as they would be sewn, matching them first at the bottom of the pieces. You'll have some extra height on the back bodice piece. Measure how much extra you have. Mine was 3/4". So I just used my clear ruler to shorten the back piece by 3/4" along the top. Your back piece will be shorter now, but I found that this worked better in proportion to my upper body size.

Let me know in the comments if you have questions!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Colette Patterns, Part Deux: The Macaron Dress

I just finished the Macaron dress from Colette Patterns last night, and it was such a pleasure to sew! It came together very quickly.

I was so excited to try this pattern because I love the silhouette, but also because it reminded me of a very expensive Nanette Lepore dress at Bergdorf's that I coveted last winter. The Lepore dress had a similar sweetheart bustier-look neckline over a tshirt-esque background and played with contrasting fabrics. I think it was over $300--yikes!

I made this in a black silk crepe de chine on top and a nubby purple cotton twill on the bottom. I wanted a discernible texture contrast between the two fabrics. The crepe de chine wasn't sturdy enough for the waistband, so I used the purple twill instead and made a small accent belt and bow with black velvet ribbon.

But the most exciting thing is that this is my debut project with an sba! (That's small bust adjustment, fyi.) It worked out so well that I want to do sbas on everything! Watch out, world! To any interested ladies, I'm working on tutorials now to do an sba to the Parfait and Macaron dresses from Colette Patterns. (If you're smaller than a C cup, you'll probably want to do one for this particular pattern line.) I'll keep you posted!

I'll definitely be making this again. I love so many details of this pattern, especially the pockets that are hidden in the pleats! I'm curious to try this dress out with a knit on the upper bodice and a woven on the rest of the dress. It would be like the comfort of a t-shirt on top with the glamour of a strapless dress on the bottom!

Also, this was the first time I've done a blind hem on a machine. The pattern suggested it, and I thought it was about time I gave it a go. (I had some help from this awesome YouTube tutorial.) Why oh why have I waited so long?

Thanks to Sarai for another awesome pattern. I don't know what I did before this pattern line came along. Next up is the Beignet skirt!

P.S. Here's one of my trusty helpers taking a nap. Sewing is so exhausting!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Best Patternmaking Book Ever

I love vintage sewing books. I used to only look for the most current books, until I had a light bulb moment: if you want to sew vintage patterns, you need vintage sewing books! Plus, they're filled with fabulous illustrations and photos for inspiration.

The one vintage book that I refer to time and time again is called Design Your Own Dress Patterns: a Primer in Pattern Making for Women Who Like to Sew by Adele P. Margolis.

It was originally published in 1959, but my edition is from 1971. There are a lot of expensive patternmaking text books out there, but for my money, this is really the best one for the home dressmaker. I found my copy for under $20 on Alibris! Also, I believe it has been reprinted by Dover in a new edition, but I'm not sure how it varies from the original.

This book tells you everything you need to know to make your own dress patterns. You can either start with a sloper, or adapt a pattern you already have. You want to change a straight skirt into a circle skirt? Add a midriff band? Turn darts into gathers? Yes!

Make leg o' mutton sleeves? (No? I didn't think so.)

Anyway, snatch up a copy if you can. Adele P. Margolis is (was?) one special lady. I especially love the dedication in my edition:

To my editor and very good friend,
Harold Kuebler, who has borne up nobly through a decade of darts

Can't you just see poor Harold Kuebler? In my mind, he's a tweed-wearing fellow who dreamt of editing the great American novel. Alas, that was not to be. It was Harold's lot in life to edit primers for ladies who like to sew. Did he indeed accept his burden nobly? Or did he drown his lost dreams in dry martinis on his lunch break? I suppose we'll never know. But thank you, Harold. This lady who likes to sew salutes you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Seventies, Fifties Style!

Or is the Fifties, Seventies style? Hmm. Anyhoo, isn't this 1974 Simplicity pattern interesting? It has elements of decades prior--the sweetheart neckline, the full skirt. But just look how the models are rocking it with the platform shoes! Love the hairstyles, too.

Now, here's my version:

I made this up in a green and white polka dot poplin from Gorgeous Fabrics. I didn't change a thing about the pattern, and the fit worked out great! If I make it again, I'll probably add a little more ease to the waistline. One too many cupcakes and things could get a little dicey there. It could also stand to be taken in at the side seams of the bust.

One experimental thing I did was to cut up a store-bought bra (it's one I don't wear very much) and sew it into the bodice. I tacked it on at the neckline facing, and stitched it on in the ditch of the side seams. I left the back of the bra intact so that I could hook it after I put the dress on (like how you hook a waist stay). I have to say, it's awesome. It's a nice way to get shape or support if you're in a pinch or can't find the right sew-in bra cups. I was going to show you a picture of the inside, but then I realized I'm too shy to show my unmentionables on the interwebs.

I wore this out to dinner when my sweetheart and I had our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago (five years!). The lovely waitress effusively complimented the dress, and it was all I could do to not blurt out, "I MADE IT!" I just gave a very restrained "thank you" with a smile.

How do all you other seamstresses handle compliments on your handmade clothing? Do you suppress the urge to tell the world that you created it? Or am I the only weirdo who does this?

Je T'aime, Colette Patterns!

Colette Patterns is a new line of sewing patterns from Sarai Mitnick of Portland, Oregon. When I first saw them, I knew it was love. More Anthropologie than Ann Taylor, these patterns are gorgeous, vintage-inspired, and best of all, come in the most adorable and amazing little stitched booklets with watercolor illustrations!

The first season has five patterns (four dresses and a skirt), and I immediately snapped up three of them. I made the Parfait dress in a pink seersucker check from B&J, and I have to say I'm over the moon about the pattern. The drafting is great, the instructions are awesome, and the aesthetic is so beautiful. Look at the little gathered patch pockets! Also, a view of the back (you can also catch a glimpse of kitty in the lower left hand corner).

The only change I made to the pattern was to cut the pockets and midriff pieces on the bias to add a little visual interest.

If you're interested in trying Colette patterns (and you should!), one thing to note is about the sizing. I cut an 8 in the bodice, and transitioned down to a 10 in the skirt. The sizes are closer to ready-to-wear than traditional sewing patterns, and they're made for the very hour-glass shaped. Sarai says she drafts bodices for a C cup, and makes sure they can fit a D as well. I am neither of those (understatement of the year alert), and as a result the fit is a bit off in the bust.

I just learned how to do an sba (small bust adjustment) from Fit For Real People and I am SO psyched to try it out on this pattern. It's like magic! Next up is the Macaron dress, and then I think I'll redo the Parfait in this lovely washed silk I have--it's the color of pistachio ice cream. Yum!

I Can't Resist a Sewing Contest

I just can't. If I see a new contest, I have to enter. I love how contests get me outside of my comfort zone, and I end up making things I wouldn't have otherwise.

There's a new one going on right now, sponsored by Craft Magazine and Singer. It's a swimsuit cover-up contest--there's one I haven't seen before! So here's what I'm brainstorming:

The Sarong Dress. Just look at this magnificent vintage Butterick pattern! Rawr!

These dresses were popularized in World War II, after soldiers would bring them home to their wives. The sarong actually seems to be more of a "mock sarong," with the tie being non-functioning.

So here's where I have to use my (not so) trusty patternmaking skills! I took a course at FIT last semester, and I think I'm up to the challenge. I got a B+, after all! I want to use this image as inspiration and make a few changes: wider straps, and a shirred, elasticized back so it's easy to get on and off.

Oh! And look at this nice print I found at A.K. fabrics in the Garment District yesterday! Five dollars, darlings!

I don't really love Hawaiian prints (unless they're vintage), but this is retro and abstract enough for me. I think it will look awesome gathered and draped!

In other news, I found the pattern for "the feminine, portrait neckline blouse" from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing (that's VNBFBS for those in the know!) on a vintage pattern site and it's on its way!

Isn't it just fab? Well, honestly, the illustration is fab, the blouse we'll have to see about. I looked over the instructions in VNBFBS, and they want me to do all sorts of crazy things like tailor's tacks and a basted fitting. Let's see how long my patience lasts. They tell me all I need is a "pioneering spirit and my sewing equipment." Thanks for the encouragement, VNBFBS!

I have a 60" wide yard of the coolest black linen eyelet, and I hope it will be enough to make this baby up. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hello darlings!

"Complete, step-by-step instructions showing you how to make smart additions to your wardrobe. You can become an accomplished dressmaker while making clothes you will want to wear."

Or so promises the dust jacket of Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, a fascinating look into home dressmaking in the fifties. According to VNBFBS (hmm, might need a catchier acronym), you can become an expert seamstress, all while making Vogue patterns like "the slim, supple skirt," "the fitted, grey flannel suit," and "the late-day, sheath dress." At the end of the book, not only will you be a sewing genuis, you'll have a fab new wardrobe!

I like it. Please follow me while I attempt to become a couture-level seamstress, one project at a time.
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