Friday, July 31, 2009

"Slenderette" Demystified! And a Giveaway!

I wrote to Simplicity Patterns to try to get the inside scoop of the "slenderette" pattern line from the 50's and 60's. A very helpful employee responded!

Nicole, our friend from Simplicity, writes that the term slenderette "was only used as a design name for patterns and garments that would essentially make you look more slender." So there we have it! This explains why it was available in such a large range of sizes, not just "plus" sizes (whatever that means in the world of vintage patterns).

In Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing,there's an interesting parallel. In the section on "Selecting Your Patterns," they offer up this bit of advice for a "slenderette" effect:
If you wear a size 44 or 46, look in the separate section in the Vogue Pattern Counter Catalogue. There you will find a varied choice of patterns designed with subtle arrangements of vertical lines, panels or gores that help give an illusion of slimness.
Interesting, eh?

And then there's the "Half Size Slenderette." To my query about these sizes, Nicole from Simplicity responded:
"From the 50’s to around the 70’s half sizes catered to a shorter fuller figured body type and were available not only in patterns but also ready to wear. So it wasn’t for petite or plus size it was its own category of clothing."
Now to the giveaway! I have this Half Size Slenderette pattern (below) to give to a good home. It's a lovely shirtdress with a full or slim skirt option, as well as short or three-quarter sleeves. It's a half size 14-1/2, which means a 35" inch bust, 29" waist, and 39" hip. If you'd like to win this pattern, please leave a comment indicating that you'd like this pattern by the end of the day on Monday, August 3rd. I'll choose someone to bestow it upon. (If you don't want the pattern, you can still comment--and please do!)

P.S. The pattern featured at the top of the post is a regular slenderette in a 38" bust, available from this wonderful seller!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hemming on My Lunch Break

All right, career girls. I need your advice. How in the world do you fit sewing into your work week schedules?

I just recently went back to work after a blissful five month period of unemployment. During that time, I mostly just hung out in my sewing room with my cats. My sewing skills improved, I worked on a ton of projects, and I started this blog. The only downside was a far diminished fabric budget. Now I have more cash to support my fabric habit, but less time to support my sewing habit.

I love what I do, but I can't help but feel overextended sometimes. My work requires a lot of reading off-hours. Again, I'm lucky--how many people get paid to read novels? But sewing is what keeps me sane (well, and insane, sometimes) and refreshed for work.

I've started bringing in hand sewing to do on my lunch break. It's kind of fun, actually! I have a cozy little office with a lime green door. I just shut myself in for a bit and take a little handwork break. It doesn't feel like as much of a chore as when I do it at home. There's no sewing machine in sight at the office (though that does give me some ideas!), so I don't think about how much quicker I could be doing something by machine.

So my question is this: how do you juggle a work (or childcare) schedule with a sewing hobby? And a blogging hobby on top of it? I'd love to hear your solutions.

Fashion History Time!

che·mise \shə-ˈmēz, sometimes -ˈmēs\ n 1 : a woman's one-piece undergarment 2 : a loose straight-hanging dress

Middle English, shirt, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin camisia
13th century

Now that I've finished the chemise dress from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, I've found myself curious about the history of the chemise dress in general. (Yeah, it probably would have made more sense to be curious about this before I made the dress, but my mind doesn't always work that way.)

Since I've been in possession of VoNBBS, I've pretty much thought of the chemise dress featured as "that dress I don't like." As I made the dress, I gained a new appreciation for it, and also some bemusement. Like I said yesterday, this shape strikes me as so contemporary, and not at all the silhouette I associate with the 50's.

But obviously, the chemise shape is not a modern one. It seems to actually be one of the oldest forms of clothing, which continues to reincarnate itself. It was worn as a unisex tunic in the middle ages, as the scandalous chemise a la Reine popularized by Marie Antoinette, and under ladies' corsets in the 19th century. I've found several self-identified chemise dress patterns from the early 50's, so perhaps it was a shape that experienced another resurgence then. Google the word "chemise" today, and the results are a bit R-rated.

In any case, the 50's patterns seem to have these things in common: no waistline seam and no waistline shaping. In most cases, a belt was worn to cinch it in. But still, the shift silhouette is such a divergence from the wasp waist look of the late 40's and early 50's, and I find that fascinating. Perhaps it was an early 50's idea of comfort wear, instead of leggings or whatever it is that people wear for comfort now.

Anyway, fun stuff. The gathered skirt from VoNBBS is really a dirndl, so perhaps I'll make that my next research project!

P.S. If you want some really interesting insights into the chemise, you must check out this article from MUM, the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health. Yes, that exists. Apparently.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An "Easy-to-Make" Chemise Dress

Well, it's done. The very first project in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. There were some tough times, but I persevered. I also discovered that there's a very good reason that "easy-to-make" is in quotation marks.

"The chemise dress is a wonderful starting point for your sewing career. There is no waistline seam . . . you just cinch it in with a belt."--VoNBBS

Ha! I just can't get over the fact that the editors of VoNBBS considered this a project for an absolute beginner. Sure, there's no waistline seam, but there's also a mandarin collar, a faced slit opening in the front, a thread chain button loop at the neckline, and bias-cut cuffs. I mean, really. If this was the first dress I ever tried to make, I think it would have ended up being my last.

In any modern sewing book, I think we all know what the first project for a beginner will be: a wrap skirt. It's just inevitable. I can't recall the last time I've seen anyone wearing a wrap skirt, but sewing books seem to think they're an integral part of any wardrobe.

But I digress. This post is supposed to be about the making of the chemise dress. I was apprehensive about this project, to say the least. Sure, it looks great on the model with the 22" waist, but what other woman really wants all that extra fabric bunched up around her waist? No, thank you.

I realized that fabric choice would be even more crucial than usual with this project. I wanted something that would drape, rather than bunch up, around the waist. But it needed to have enough body to make the tailored cuff and collar. You might be able to guess where I went: the 4 ply silk.

I did stray from the original dress pattern and book instructions quite often (guess I was feeling rebellious). I shortened the pattern by 4 inches. I made use of some of my modern luxuries, like serging rather than hand-overcasting the raw edges. I also added interfacing to the collar, neckline facing, and cuffs. Other projects in VoNBBS (the tailored ones, like the suit and coat) make use of sew-in interfacing, but the dresses and skirts do not, oddly enough. I used a purchased belt from Anthropologie.

The most interesting thing about this dress is that, to me, it looks almost contemporary. This shape certainly isn't what we associate with the early 50's, anyway.

I'm just happy to be moving on from this project. Hemming it really got me down, as you might have heard. I think this was partially because the hemline looks different depending on whether you're wearing a belt or not. VoNBBS instructed to wear a belt while marking the hem placement, but in retrospect, I think it would have made more sense not to wear a belt, and made sure the hem was straight as it hung down naturally. It still looks rumply to me from all the fussing, but ah well. But no sense dwelling on that now.

Next up from VoNBBS is the full, gathered skirt in gingham. But I'm going to take a little break for other projects, I think. I don't want to risk VoNBBS fatigue!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Shopping for Vintage Patterns: Let's Discuss!

Since I've been trying to track down all the patterns from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, I've been thinking a lot about the process of buying vintage patterns online.

As I've mentioned before, the book features 14 patterns that were published by Vogue sometime between 1950 and 1952, and it's my goal to make every one of them. Some of the patterns have been easy to come by, then there are others that I'm starting to doubt will ever turn up. Sadly, my favorite (the full-skirted shirtdress) is one of the latter!

The internet is a grand thing, no question about it. I mean, how else would we find these gems? But also, of course, it brings a lot of bad with the good. And honestly, I find I'm getting a bit of search fatigue. The best way I know to find a pattern you're desperately seeking is to set up a Google alert for it, so that every time a Google search matches your term, you get an e-mail. This is a wonderful tool, but it's definitely not perfect. I get a ton of non-related items, like dresses for Ginny Dolls, which are apparently made by a company called Vogue Dolls. So, you see the pitfalls.

And then I worry that perhaps my Google alert is missing something, so I still obsessively troll Etsy, eBay, and the like.

Anyway, I've gotten very curious about others' vintage pattern shopping habits. What are your favorite sites? Do you have any tips or tricks for locating a pattern you desperately want?

Also, what lengths do you go to for vintage patterns? What's the most you've paid for one? Do you generally only buy your general size, or are you willing to make major size adjustments?

I used to be very picky about which patterns I would buy--only in my general size range, and never more than $20. Ah, those innocent days are gone. Now I've paid way more than I'm even willing to admit (for the evening gown from VoNBBS) and am finding myself in the position of having to actually learn how to grade patterns, since a lot of the patterns are in 30"and 32" bust sizes. Ack!

So, please tell me about your shopping habits. I'm dying to hear!

P.S. The fab sundress pattern featured above is for sale from lovely Etsy seller Midvale Cottage. It's in a 36" bust at a totally reasonable $10. Someone snap it up before I do, please!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Beautiful and the Damned: a Tale of the Chemise Dress

I have a confession to make. I'm working on the chemise dress from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, and I can't hem it. Seriously, I have sewn many hems in my lifetime, but I am unable to hem this damn thing.

I keep pinning it and re-pinning it, pressing it and re-pressing it. I try it on and take it off. Rinse and repeat. It's crooked no matter what I do. And it just looks more wretched and rumply with every attempt.

The more I fuss with it, the more frustrated I get. I feel like I'm defiling the dress--just getting my grubby hands all over this lovely silk fabric. While it was once a pristine length of fabric straight off the bolt, now I can only see it as this mangled thing that I keep making uglier every time I touch it.

This is a straight hem. This dress is a rectangle. I don't even like this pattern that much!

Sometimes, I feel like VoNBBS is mocking me. They just make it all sound so easy, you know? When they suggest that you hand-baste the entire damn dress together for a fitting, here's what they say:
" These are long seams and hand work, so why not turn on the radio . . . get a Coke or a cup of tea . . . and enjoy yourself while basting."
They might as well suggest that adorable woodland creatures are going to come gather around and help me baste, all while singing a merry tune. Seriously, stop being so damn chipper, VoNBBS. I've had it with you for tonight.

I hope that my perspective (along with my ability to hem things) has been restored by tomorrow.

Also: am I going crazy? Have you ever suddenly been unable to complete the most basic sewing task?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Make a Pretty Scalloped Edge Slip

In this tutorial, I showed you how to make a vintage-inspired half slip without a pattern. Now, here's an easy and elegant variation with a scalloped edge.

Simply follow the directions for the slip, until you get to the part where you sew lace on the bottom. Instead of lace, we're going to use a decorative satin stitch known as a scallop stitch.

First, spray the bottom of the slip with a spray starch. (Test this out first to make sure it doesn't damage your fabric.) This keeps the fabric firm and prevents bunching while you're sewing the satin stitch.

Next, choose your stitch. Most every modern machine has a "scallop stitch" and this is what you want. Here's what the symbol will look like:
Play around on some scrap fabric first to get the stitch width and length you want.

Once you're happy with the stitch, sew the stitch about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the slip edge, all the way around.

Cut closely to the scallop stitch, being very careful not to cut into it.

That's it! You have a lovely scalloped edge finish. You can use this stitch on anything--dresses, jammies, skirts, blouses. Go wild!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Just Call Me Slenderette

After our discussion this week about the Simplicity "slenderette" patterns, I thought I should give one a go.

This is Simplicity #3446, which I bought from a great Etsy shop. I made it up in a cotton polka dot print, which I had originally bought to make the chemise dress from VoNBBS. I decided that the drape wasn't quite right for the chemise dress, so a new plan was hatched. I don't have many cotton work dresses and they're so nice in the summer, aren't they?

This was a fun little pattern to make up. I used a lot of the skills I've been picking up from VoNBBS--tailor's tacks, seam binding on the hem, etc. So I really have been learning things!

Here's a close up of the bodice:

This pattern is from 1960, so it's a printed pattern, as opposed to the patterns I've been using from VoNBBS. This really got me thinking about the evolution of the sewing pattern. That must have been one of the single most mind-blowing changes in the business. Can you imagine how that would have changed the home sewing experience? You've been plodding along for years, using blank patterns, and then bam! Suddenly you have a crystal clear road map in bold black ink.

So what do you think? Do I look "slenderette"?

Oh, speaking of which, I wrote to Simplicity's consumer service department to see if they had any info on the slenderette pattern line. I can't say that I really expected a response, but someone got right back to me, saying that she would look into it. I'll let you know what I hear!

Now, for real this time, I'm going to start the chemise dress. I bought a lovely boysenberry-colored silk to make it in. More to come!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"It is not as hard to learn to sew well as it is to cook competently."

Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing has so many wonderful little gems sprinkled throughout that I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you on a regular basis.

Take this, for example, from the "Introduction to Sewing":

The ability to sew seems an almost unattainable skill to many women who have never tried to learn, and as a result, they both admire and envy the larger and better wardrobes of their friends who know how to make their own things--and do.

Actually, it is not as hard to learn to sew well as it is to cook competently--and you acquire both talents the same way: by scrupulously following the directions in a good text book, and by practising.
Aren't there some interesting points to ponder there?

I agree that learning to sew seems impossible to those who haven't ever been taught or tried to learn. But something bothers me about the sewing/cooking analogy, and I can't quite put my finger on it. I think it's the bit about "scrupulously following the directions in a good text book." They make sewing and cooking sound like studying algebra!

I think it boils down to this: yes, you do need to follow directions carefully while sewing. But you also need to be able to think on your feet. Sewing is really about problem-solving, at its core. How often do we find that things don't go exactly as planned, and we need to think of a creative solution to make a garment work? This often means varying dramatically from the pattern instructions.

But I do like the goal of VoNBBS's statement here--to point out that sewing is an attainable skill for anyone. Actually, their goal was to sell books and patterns. We can't really forget that VoNBBS was a marketing tool as well.

What do you think? Do you agree that sewing is just like following a recipe?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pink Portrait in 4 Ply Silk

Have you ever used 4 ply silk? If not, don't start now. It creates a very expensive addiction.

I decided I could use some more basic blouses, and the portrait-neckline blouse from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing fit the bill. I had already made it in a somewhat casual linen eyelet, and thought it would be fun to try in a dressier fabric. Since it only requires one yard, I decided to splurge on a 4 ply silk from Mood. Here's another picture where you can more clearly see the released darts on the blouse:

This fabric is, in a word, amazing. It has a really nice, substantial drape. It's opaque, even in light colors. It tailors beautifully. It's even fun to cut into.

Now that I've gotten a taste of it, I can't stop thinking of all the other things I'd like to make in 4 ply silk. I suppose that of all the things to be addicted to, it could be worse--right?

I took a dressmaking class last year with a wonderful teacher who was such an enabler when it came to expensive fabric. He talked me into buying this gorgeous red double wool crepe at $25 a yard. It was Italian. I had never spent that much on fabric. Now, I bought it to make a sheath dress that only required two yards. My teacher's reasoning was that if one were to buy a dress made out of fabric of that quality it would cost over $300, not $50. Sure enough, that red dress turned out beautifully. I have worn it more times than I can count, making it worth every penny.

Now, let's hear from you. How much will you spend on a really high quality fabric? What fabrics do you think are worth it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Simplicity "Slenderette" Patterns: WTF?

So, I just received a copy of this lovely dress pattern from this Etsy seller who has lots of great vintage finds. You'll notice that it's marked "slenderette" in the black box at the top of the pattern. I've been racking my brain and the internet to try to figure out what that term could possibly mean.

Unfortunately, the pattern doesn't specify anywhere, and I can't seem to find any specific information online. But as far as I can tell, these patterns were made for women of a certain size. Now, the pattern I bought is for a 34" bust, which of course doesn't jibe with our modern idea of plus-sizes. But when I did specific searches for slenderette patterns, I saw a lot of larger sizes that you don't normally come across that often in vintage patterns: lots of 40" and 42" bust sizes.

For what it's worth, there was also something called a "half-size slenderette." The bust sizes run in odd instead of even numbers: 35" up to 41", as far as I can tell. One site specifies that the half-size slenderettes were for women 5' 3" and under.

But I also found a slenderette in a bust size 32". Damn, I'm confused.

What can we make of all this? Were these patterns actually made for plus-size women? Or were they suppose to give the impression of slenderness?

Furthermore, what in the world could a word like "slenderette" possibly even mean? Slender means slim, and "ette" is a suffix added to a word to make it diminuitive and feminine. Kitchenette. Bacholorette. Smurfette. So, I guess slenderette is like extreme slenderness. Whoa.

Damn euphemisms.

Does anyone have any clues or ideas about these patterns? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

An Interview with Sarai Mitnick of Colette Patterns!

It's very rare in the sewing world, which is so steeped in tradition, that something so wonderfully and exquisitely new as the Colette Patterns line comes along. I was thrilled when Sarai Mitnick, the designer and founder of the independent company, agreed to do an interview. I was even more thrilled by her insightful answers.

How did you come up with the name Colette Patterns?

Colette is actually the name of one of my cats. She was, in turn, named after the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. I thought it fitting because Colette (the writer) had a very feminine style but also a very strong, modern point of view. She was feminine, but not afraid to be different.

And my cat is also very chic.

What do you have in store for your fall line? Can you give us any sneak peeks?

I've been really inspired by the 1940s lately. Actually, I always am, but more so lately. So the designs should reflect that a little, I think. I'm going to be adding a jacket / short coat, which I think will be really wonderful. It has sort of film noir look. Dresses are my core, but I'll also be adding at least one more skirt in there, and a dress that can be shortened into a blouse. All really flattering, feminine shapes.

How has the response been since you've launched the line? Has anything about the customer response surprised you?

I honestly didn't expect it to be such an immediate response, though I'm extremely happy and grateful for that. People have been so supportive, way more so than I could have anticipated, and I've already met such wonderful people through the pattern line. It's also been a big surprise to have so many retailers contact me right off the bat about stocking the patterns. I think it shows that sewers are really in need of new ideas in the pattern world.

What was the most difficult thing about starting a pattern line? Did you have trouble sourcing manufacturers?

Heavens, yes. The planning phase was very long. The biggest challenges were actually figuring out how to produce the patterns themselves, that is, getting them into a useful digital format, all nicely graded and nested. And then finding the right printing resources and working out all of those details, not to mention learning to do layouts for print design which turned out to be far more complicated than I knew. But I learned so much. It just took a lot of shopping around and a lot of trial and error.

I know that you love vintage patterns. In your designs, how do you update vintage looks to make them wearable today?

What I love about styles from the past is how flattering and feminine they are. That's one of the criteria for my patterns, so I draw a lot on vintagey elements for that: gathering, fitted waists, hourglass cuts. But they should also be practical and modern, so one thing I do is stick to shorter hemlines (knee length or just above). Mid-calf hems are pretty much universally unflattering in my opinion, but that's the length of many commercial dress patterns. I think the idea is that women can shorten them if they're too long, but I think a lot of people might not realize how much a hemline can change the look of a dress or skirt.

Another criteria is that they can be made in a variety of fabrics, and can suit different seasons. I like doing two-tone things as well, because it really lets the sewer use her creativity and that's what makes sewing fun. Who doesn't love coming up with awesome color and fabric combos? I also love practical details like pockets, so I add them wherever possible!

Your pattern sizes are closer to ready-to-wear than traditional sewing patterns. What made you decide to size your patterns the way you do?

I think traditional pattern sizing is a bit old fashioned. I did some research on sizing and looked at recent scientific data on body measurements before I created my sizes. I decided I really wanted the average woman to be right in the middle of my sizes: about an 8. I'm sure a lot of us have heard that our bodies have changed a lot over the last several decades. Not just girth, but height and even shoe size. We're much bigger now than we used to be. Ready-to-wear has kept up with these changes, and I think it makes a lot of sense for your average customer to be in the middle of a numerical size range.

It seems like the way sewing patterns are produced hasn't changed much in the last 60 or 70 years, which strikes me as odd.

I absolutely love that you model your own designs! Did you have any trepidation about doing the modeling?

Oh yes. I'm not a model by any stretch, so I worried a bit about that. But I've had so many people tell me how glad they are to see a non-skinny woman modeling the designs (usually without realizing that the model is me!), so that's been really encouraging. I'll be using a model for my next shoot, but I hope to find someone who can show what they look like on a closer-to-average figure. Ideally, I'd love to show the designs on a range of body types.

Do you still find enough time to sew for pleasure? What are you working on now?

I try to do my personal sewing on the weekends, but of course when the weather is so nice, that's not always how it goes. But I definitely still sew for myself, almost always from vintage patterns. Sometimes the instructions really remind me of what not to do when writing my patterns. I just finished a blouse from the 1940s that had the most difficult to follow, convoluted instructions I have ever read. It was like a choose your own adventure book.

Right now, I'm about to start on a 1950s yoked shirt for my husband in a fabulous sueded rayon. And I'm obsessed with really simple cap sleeve blouses done in solid silks or vintage rayon novelty prints. I can't wait to wear them with my Beignet skirt in the fall.

There you have it! Aren't we incredibly lucky to have a new line like this? I can attest that the designs are an immense pleasure to sew. Click here and here to see my versions of the Parfait dress, and look here for my Macaron dress.

Now, go support
Colette Patterns so that we can look forward to many more seasons of amazing designs to come!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Home Sewing in Literature

I love books as much as I love sewing, and my favorite thing is when I can combine those two loves. I have a very large library of sewing reference books, both new and vintage, and those are luckily very easy to come by.

What's more rare is to find a great novel that incorporates sewing into its themes. In fact, I'm having trouble thinking of many now. The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a great one. And then there's . . . well, that's all I've got. Help me here!

I also love finding little tidbits about sewing in novels. Right now I'm reading The View from Saturday, a fantastic children's book by E.L. Konigsburg. (When I'm not a home seamstress, I'm a children's book editor.) In the first chapter, there's a lovely little gem of a home sewing reference. The narrator is Noah, a sixth grader who helps a group of senior citizens pull off last-minute wedding in Century Village, a retirement community:
Since I had promised to be best man, not having a tux was a problem. I couldn't fit in Allen's, not that I would have wanted to if I could. That's when Grandpa Nate called Bella Dubinsky.

In her former life, Bella had been an artist. She painted the pictures that went into the pattern books for people who sew their own clothes. In the real world I had never met anyone who sewed her own clothes, but in Century Village, I had met three. Bella had a supply of fabric paints, and within two hours, we had painted a T-shirt that looked like a tuxedo with a red bow tie.
Isn't that wonderful? I just love the character of Bella Dubinsky, who once illustrated pattern envelopes--maybe ones just like those in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing! And then there's the notion of Noah being amazed by the fact that all these retired ladies can actually sew their own clothes.

Now, readers, do you have any favorite novels that have themes of sewing? Or characters who sew? I know there must be more out there!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Searching for Vintage Patterns: a VoNBBS Update

I have made so much progress locating the patterns from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing this past week!

I found the full skirt, the bolero, the sheath dress, the raglan sleeve coat, and the evening gown (see the fab illustration above). Can you believe it?! That leaves only five left to find.

The full skirt, bolero, and sheath dress patterns were all from one eBay seller. She also has the portrait neckline blouse and the chemise dress! (Click here and here if you're interested in either of those patterns; they're both a size 36" bust.) Tamara, the seller, said that all the patterns came from one estate sale. I figure the lady of the house must have also owned VoNBBS, right? When I asked Tamara if she could give us any more info, here's what she said:

I bought these a few years ago; they either came from a house in Hinsdale, Illinois, or Brookfield, Illinois. Both houses were big sewing people. I love clothing from this time frame and is why I bought them and also because they were larger sizes. One was a designer and I have some of her art work that she drew of the clothing and sample material. She was a buyer for a store as well.

Interesting look into the life of a VoNBBS devotee, isn't it?

My next project from the book is the chemise dress. I'm a little worried about the shape of it for my figure--it's really just a simple shift meant to be belted at the waist. No darts, nothing. I just hope the gathering doesn't add too much bulk. I figure I can always add dart tucks or elastic shirring at the waist if it's too shapeless, don't you think? I found a beautiful polka dot silk for it, but it was too expensive for a dress I wasn't sure I would like anyway. So I compromised with a fun polka dot cotton.

I'm excited about this one since it's the first project in the book. Back to basics!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pistachio Parfait

I first made the adorable Parfait dress from Colette Patterns in a pink check. After I figured out how to do a small bust adjustment for this pattern, I knew I'd have to make another version of it.

This time I used a mint green washed silk. It feels amazing, like silky suede. It's from Paron Fabrics, one of my favorite stops in the Garment District. They have a gorgeous selection, and they always give you a generous cut. (They also give a student discount! I took a course at FIT last semester, so I definitely took advantage of that.)

Besides the sba (which you can see in this tutorial), I also made one other alteration: I omitted the tab closure on the straps, and sewed three little decorative buttons on each. This is an easy change, and I think it makes the dress just a little fancier.

I'm really happy with this version! The fit is so much better for me. I think the silk also makes it very glam, and a solid color really emphasizes the lovely lines of this pattern, especially the curved midriff. I love how this design can be either casual in cotton or dressy in a more fluid fabric. I think if you removed the pockets and made skinnier straps, this could be an awesome cocktail dress in charmeuse.

Oh, and I also used silk organza in place of regular fusible interfacing. The midriff section of this pattern is meant to be interfaced, and I noticed in my pink check version that on hot days, this feels a little clammy. I read in a Threads article that for summer clothing it's a good idea to use a natural fiber in place of interfacing since it breathes, unlike the fusible stuff. The organza was easy to use--I just cut it out like interfacing and then basted it to each corresponding piece of the fashion fabric. I think this will be a good summertime substitution!

Please note that I've made a couple updates to the sba tutorial. I forgot to add instructions for altering the adjoining pattern pieces. Not hard to do, but important. So make sure you check it out if you'd like to try this alteration! Even if you don't usually do an sba (and I don't, actually), I'd really recommend it for this pattern line if you're smaller than a C cup.

Also, I'm very excited that Sarai of Colette Patterns has agreed to do an interview with me. So check back for that soon!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Madeleine's Hosiery: A Top Secret Retro Lingerie Store in Queens

I'd tell you more about it, but then I'd have to kill you.

Well, I'll tell you what I can. But then this post marks the beginning and end of my career in investigative journalism. It's too scary out there.

Madeleine's Hosiery has always intrigued me. It's a little store in my neighborhood, about a ten minute walk from my apartment. I live in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens that has a lot of family-run businesses.

Madeleine's is basically a relic from the 50's, as far as I can tell. It carries Rago girdles, the exact kind that would have been worn by the readers of Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. You can buy waist nippers and tummy slimmers, with or without garters attached. They carry nylon slips in every length. They have packages of stockings that look like they've been there since the 60's. They sell cotton housedresses in floral prints. They have the biggest pairs of cotton panties I've ever seen. Nylons with seams up the back. Fishnets in nude and black.

Anyway, readers, I thought you might be interested in Madeleine's Hosiery since we lovers of vintage patterns so often end up talking about foundation garments--specifically, how they differ from modern offerings.

So I trekked up to Madeleine's with my camera, armed with a few questions for the staff. How long have they been in business? How well do the Rago girdles sell? What's the oldest thing in the shop? Stuff like that.

Well, as soon as I started snapping pictures of the storefront, an employee came out demanding to know what I was doing. I explained my purpose and asked if it would be all right if I came in to take more pictures and ask a few questions. The conversation went like this:

Employee: "No, I'm sorry. You'd have to ask the manager and he isn't here now."

Me: "Oh, okay, do you know when he'll be back?"

Employee: "No, I can't tell you that. I'm sorry."

Me: "Oh. Can I get his name?"

Employee: "No, I'm sorry. I'm just an employee, I'm not supposed to give out any information."

Me: "Huh. Can you tell me how long the store has been in business?"

Employee: "No, I can't give out any information."

And so on. Can you believe it, readers? I'd stumbled upon the most top secret lingerie store in the country! Do you think it's a drug front?

Anyway, I stuck around to browse a bit, with the employees keeping a suspicious eye on me. I have to say, at that point Madeleine's had lost a bit of its magic for me. I was expecting kindly ladies who would be thrilled to tell me about the history of this wondrous shop. Now its charm had faded a bit. The old packages of hose, just looked . . . old. As I browsed the Rago offerings, I noticed how small their selection of sizes is. They had one in a 30" in waist, and about five in a size 24". Seriously, what woman with a 24" waist is buying a girdle?

So that's that, readers. The most secret lingerie store in the world! It's going to take a more intrepid journalist than I to crack this case. Someone get the New York Times on the horn!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Evolution of Home Sewing: The Photographic Pattern Envelope

This is the second thrilling installment in my "Evolution of Home Sewing" series. Previously, I wondered how publishing a large, photographic book like Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing could have been profitable in 1952. Well, I think I've found some clues!

This excellent article on the history of home sewing patterns explains that the years 1949-1950 were years of great progress in the pattern business, introducing printed patterns and four-color photographic catalogs. The reason for this was that new printing equipment was becoming widely available. The major result was this: companies now had the option to use photographs instead of just illustrations to showcase their designs on their envelopes.

From what I can tell, it seems like VoNBBS itself was an experiment in this new technology, one that was supposed to stimulate the business and bring in more profits.

Most, if not all, of the fourteen VoNBBS patterns were released in 1951. Then, it seems, they were re-released in 1952 to coincide with the publication of VoNBBS. To promote the book, the pattern envelopes were redesigned, featuring photographs (the same ones used in the book), as well as copy advertising the book. See two examples here (notice that the envelopes featured both illustrations and photographs):

The Chemise Dress

The Bow Tied Blouse

A line on the front of the patterns above reads, "As shown in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing." On the back, there's a little tagline reading, "The First Learn-As-You-Sew Book: Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing."

Now, at this point, the Vogue Pattern Service was still owned by Conde Nast, the same company as the legendary Vogue magazine. (The Vogue pattern company was sold to Butterick in 1961.) Can't you just see a bunch of Conde Nast hot shots sitting around a huge conference table, making the decision to do a bunch of fashion shoots and publish a book to sell their patterns? It's like a 1952 version of corporate synergy--the book promotes the patterns, and the patterns promote the book.

However, I wonder if it did not turn out as grandly as Conde Nast might have hoped. Had VoNBBS been a huge success, I imagine it would have been updated and reissued as new patterns came out. Alas, the 1952 publication is the one and only edition of the book. Furthermore, Vogue patterns in the following years of the fifties did not feature photographs; they reverted back to strictly illustrated designs.

Of course, one of the reasons I love vintage pattern envelopes is for the illustrations. Sure, they don't seem at all realistic. The wasp waists are exaggerated beyond what any foundation garment could achieve. But, in my opinion, they're works of art, showing us a vision of what a garment could be.

I've heard the advice (regarding contemporary patterns) to avoid any pattern with no photograph of the garment, because supposedly this means that the garment won't work well on an actual person. What do you make of that?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rompers: Yea or Nay?

The subject of rompers is one that seems to always inspire a passionate response. Women either love them or hate them.

The naysayers proclaim that rompers are juvenile and make it too difficult to use the powder room. I'm a lover of rompers, and I proclaim that they are adorable, retro, and--with the right closures--make it no harder to disemrobe than a pair of pants.

Here's one I made last summer, from the vintage pattern above, which I bought from this lovely Etsy seller. It was inspired by a Betsey Johnson design. I'll definitely be making another one this summer, from the same pattern.

I've also noticed a plethora of rompers for sale at Anthropologie this season. (I have a fatal addiction to Anthro, but since I've been sewing so much, I've defintely reduced the amount of money I give them!)

Just look at this beauty:
Now look at the price tag: $228! Holy smokes. I will definitely be stealing inspiration from this one, though. I love the sweetheart neckline, halter straps, and full shorts.

Here's another gem, at $188:

I'm not usually into pants-style rompers, but this has a very Rosie the Riveter look to me, in a luxurious way (if that makes any sense). I'd like to make a similar one from this Decades of Style pattern:

Now, what say you to rompers: yay or nay?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Slim Skirt: A Modern Re-do!

I decided to tackle the slim skirt again--this time using all modern techniques and equipment.

I made lots of changes from the lavender version I made, in which I strictly followed all of the instructions in Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing (VoNBBS).

The first thing I did was to make a couple tiny pattern alterations. I took in an inch at the waist, and added more taper to the bottom of the skirt. I also shortened it a bit more--I wanted this version to hit just a smidge above the knee. I think these changes give the skirt a more contemporary look, much like these current offerings at

But the real changes were in the construction. In stark contrast to the lavender version I made, for this version I purposely did as much by machine as I could. In fact, the only things I did by hand were to attach the waistband to the skirt on the inside and to tack the vent down.

Some other changes I made construction-wise were:

1. I used interfacing in the waistband. I thought it odd that VoNBSS did not suggest this.
2. I serged the raw edges rather than hand overcasting.
3. I used a machine blind hem rather than using seam binding and hand stitching.
4. I did not even attempt a handworked buttonhole this time, I went straight for my machine.
5. I substituted the lapped zipper with an invisible zipper.

But the biggest change I noticed was in my attitude. With the VoNBBS version, I was committed to a very slow, detail-oriented process. VoNBSS told me the skirt should take 9 hours to make, and I definitely took that, if not longer. There were frustrations along the way, but for the most part, I was relaxed and enjoyed the ride.

With this modern version, I somehow got it into my head that I had to go as fast as possible so that I could see how much time my modern methods saved. Well, this was a disaster. Because I was rushing so much, I accidentally sewed the skirt inside out! I even applied the zipper to the outside! Yes, that's right. I sewed the zipper to the outside of the skirt.

Had I not had so many mishaps, this version would have taken under two hours, from cutting to finishing. But is that really the point? To whip something up as quickly as humanly possible? I love a fun, quick project as much as the next lady, but it's good to remember the virtues of slow sewing.

The fabric I used is a fantastic rayon-cotton blend from Gorgeous Fabrics. It's a mix of colors--navy, black, and white--giving it a tweed look. I love the fabric so much that I've now made a pair of pants, shorts and a skirt from this fabric! A dress is probably in the works too. I bought six yards of it! It unfortunately seems to be sold out now, so I'm glad I did.

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