Friday, September 30, 2011

New Vintage Vogue Patterns!

This morning I received an email announcing Vogue's new Winter/Holiday 2011 Collection.  Lo and behold, they did not let me down – there are two “new” Vintage Vogue lovelies to tempt me! 

Vogue 8768

Vogue 8767

I love, love, love both of these!  And that jacket is perfection!
As the new Butterick and Vogue pattern catalogues come out, the first thing I look for are the Retro and Vintage lines (big surprise, right!).  If there are none, I am a bit peeved.  To be fair, most seamstresses are probably annoyed that two of the patterns are vintage inspired and taking up space in the catalogue.  But not me – so thank you Vogue! 
I will have to take a closer look at the line drawings of the other patterns to see if any interest me, but for now, it is back to the sewing room, where another vintage reproduction requires my immediate attention!  No more distractions for me . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ceil Chapman Cocktail Dress, Part 6

To make sure that the bodice of this dress fits properly, I mocked up a muslin version.  I went ahead and added ¾” to the torso length because I figured it would be necessary (and I was right).

Attaching the sleeves to the bodice turned out to be the most frustrating part of the process so far.  But I am glad that I went through the irritation with muslin first, and did not shred my dupioni with each new attempt to make the darn thing fit together properly.

The reproduction pattern (from The Vintage Fashion Library) is missing quite a few markings.  This was originally an unprinted pattern full of different sized perforations and notches that are used to help match up all of the pieces.  Unfortunately, about 70% of the perforations are missing from the reproduction.  Not all of them are completely necessary, but there are some fold-lines and match ups that I am having to guess, and have added quite a bit of difficulty.  This is especially problematic on the sleeve insertion.  The only thing that I can figure is that a step is missing in the instructions that would gather the front section of the upper sleeve with the dart.  The more I fiddle with it, the more I am convinced that something was drafted incorrectly, most likely the sleeve.

I did not end up with any pictures of my muslin - not sure how that happened.  It is now in pieces, having used one entire half of it to cut out my silk.

A big thank you goes out to my mom for helping me fix the fit on the back of the bodice.  Patterns are not drafted for people with good posture!

Here’s hoping that in a couple of days, I have a finished product that looks something like this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ceil Chapman Cocktail Dress, Part 5

The past couple of days I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed by this process and needed a project that I could complete quickly.  There is nothing like being able to check something off a list to instill a sense of accomplishment!

Because I did not want the added stress of having to fashion myself a black petticoat for my Ceil Chapman cocktail dress, I recently purchased a Malco Modes tea length petticoat on ebay.  I know, I am being incredibly lazy, but time constraints sometimes get in the way, and I would rather spend my time and energy working on the dress.  Wanting the fluffiest one I could find, I ordered an extra-large because each size gets incrementally longer as they move from small to large.  This was probably wishful thinking, because I imagine the easiest way to produce them is to alter the yoke of the petticoat, and not the netting, but just in case, I got the longest one I could find.  I was not worried about waist size (which was even bigger than expected) because I planned on altering the waistband for myself.  I cannot stand an elastic waist because it never feels secure to me and constantly rotates on the body.

I made a simple waistband from some black cotton that I had.  The top elastic was cut off, and the cotton band sewn on to encase the raw edge I had created.  The back is fastened with a simple hook and eye closure.  Instead of using a zipper, I just cut an opening in the center back yoke and rolled a mini hem so I can get in and out of the petticoat now that the waist is no longer stretchy.

And now that one portion of my outfit is complete, I am feeling a lot more relaxed and ready to tackle those silly sleeves that have been giving me so much trouble!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ceil Chapman Cocktail Dress, Part 4

I usually construct a dress for a special occasion, only to realize a few days before the event that I do not have the proper undergarments.  A frantic search begins,  and once again, the long-line bras of today let me down - they just do not create the proper look for a 1950s silhouette.

Thanks to Gertie (her Blog for Better Sewing was one of the first sewing blogs I happened upon), I had the idea of attaching a corselette to the dress itself.

Instead of stressing about finding the proper pattern to use for the corselette, I decided to restrict myself to my own pattern stash.  The Victorian corset patterns were not exactly the look I was going for – I did not want to flatten my bustline.  I ended up choosing Vogue 7698, which was designed as formal outerwear but had the basic silhouette I was looking for.

As with most patterns, I had to add a bit of length to the torso.  Thankfully, that was the only real alteration that was necessary.   

There is nothing worse than having something dig in at the waistline, especially when seated.  I love the fact that this pattern extends beyond the waist, even though this dress obviously does not need any shaping through the hips.

The cotton down proof ticking I am using as a coutil substitute is from Vogue Fabrics (now a steely shade of blue thanks to a second bath in RIT dye).  I am very pleased with how the fabric is working.  It has an incredibly tight weave that makes pinning a bit more challenging than normal, but the corselette feels very sturdy without being bulky.

The few long line bras I already own all use plastic boning.  And after wearing them for a couple of hours, the plastic warms up and bends to the curves of the body.  So if I have been sitting and then stand up, part of the boning sticks out at funny angles.  In an effort to avoid this, I decided to try spiral steel boning.

I purchased 12’ from along with boning tips so I could cut lengths as needed.  Unfortunately, my little jewelry wire cutters were not up the task of cutting the stuff.  However, I was able to borrow a more heavy duty wire cutter from my boss that worked great.  A tutorial over at Sew Curvy Corsetry was very helpful for securing the boning tips to the ends of my cut pieces.  I love how my jewelry pliers have now become a useful sewing tool!

I used a bit of leftover yardage to create the boning channels.  I cut 1” wide strips on the grain for all of the boning except the underwires, which were cut on the bias.  

An old stretched out bra donated the underwires (I knew there was a reason I was keeping it!).  By the way, have you ever dissected one of your bras?  These things are evil looking.  Because of the multi-layered channels, I assumed that the wires were thick and plastic, and maybe they are in some cases.  These, however, are thin, wire, and scary looking.

Using the tutorial from Tasia over at I added bust pads to the corselette.

The same pattern pieces were used to create a duplicate corset for the lining.  I sewed the bottom edge, right sides together with a  3/8” seam, and then turned it right side out with a finished lower edge.  

The side seams were basted together, and the edges finished off with Hug Snug seam binding.  If you are not familiar with this product, you should be!  The rayon seam binding allows a beautifully finished seam edge without adding any bulk and I am absolutely obsessed with it.

I purchased an 18” zipper.  This is obviously quite a few inches longer than the corselette, however, it is necessary to have more length so it will open wide enough to go over my head and shoulders.  The zipper will end up being a bit longer than the zipper opening on the dress.  The zipper was hand picked with silk thread.

The raw upper edges will be basted to the front bodice and treated as one piece.

With one week to go, time is running out . . . my bodice muslin fitting is up next!

Previous posts about this project may be found here:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ceil Chapman Cocktail Dress, Part 3

There is something so satisfying about cutting into beautiful silk yardage.  And while mocking up the muslin and making a corselette is definite progress on my dress, until I am working with my real fabric, it does not feel like I have started on the dress.

So instead of working on the fit of the bodice, I went ahead and started on the skirt.  It does not require any real fitting except the waist, but that is easily altered within the tucks should there be any problems later on.

The first step was to hand baste my newly dyed organza to the underside of the dupioni.  The pattern calls for skirt “lining” but the instructions treat it more like an underlining.

My first impression was that the skirt was two separate layers - an underskirt and a half-circle overskirt with scalloped edges.  Upon inspecting the pattern pieces, however, it was clear that there was no underskirt. 

I was concerned that the half circle skirt and the scalloped half would allow a crinoline to show with any movement or a gust of wind.  However, Ceil Chapman was smarter than that.  Reading the directions carefully, it is clear what a brilliant designer she really was.  The scalloped edges are faced with self-fabric, trimmed, clipped, and turned right sides out.  The facings are then sewn to the other half of the skirt (a bit more than a half-circle) and the facing gets folded back under and stitched at the waistband creating a six inch scalloped flap along the length of the skirt front and back. 

I adore this manipulation of the skirt pieces.  When I get a chance, I would love to use them to make a skirt.

That being said, cutting the massive pieces out was not the easiest thing to do.  I am thankful that I was working with muslin and not paper or tissue – that helped quite a bit.

I love how different lighting makes this iridescent fabric change colors!

Next up is my corselette.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Perfect Afternoon for a Mint Julep

Now that Fall is almost here, Summer weather has finally arrived in Marin County.  This means that I am pulling out all my summer dresses before the heat decides to disappear again!

This dress is yet another vintage reproduction from my closet.  I used Butterick 5209, a pattern originally printed in 1947. 

I was first attracted to the halter version, but decided that the cap sleeved look would be much more wearable.  And I am so glad I made the decision – the sleeves are one of my favorite parts of the garment.

The fabulous fabric is from Bella Notte.  The 44% silk/56% cotton blend floral jacquard is called Deluxe Marie in the colorway “ocean” and is one of my favorite fabrics.  It drapes beautifully and works perfectly with the style of the dress – crisp enough to keep the dress summery, but with enough drape due to the silk content to keep it from looking too stiff.

I was surprised by the amount of yardage required.  I assumed this was a wartime styled dress (silly me, since the pattern envelope clearly says 1947).  However, the dress requires almost 3.5 yards of 45" fabric – the designer must have been thrilled that wartime rationing was over – it is certainly not a “New Look” amount of fabric, but quite a bit more than I was expecting.  This may have to do with the fact that the bodice and midriff are lined with the fashion fabric.  I wonder if the original was lined –I have never come across a day dress pattern from the 1940s that was finished like this.  So if you think you may not have enough yardage, an easy fix would be to use a lining fabric instead of cutting double of the bodice and midriff pieces.

I substituted an invisible zipper, although if I was to make this up again, I would probably choose a lapped zipper with a hand picked seam.  I was fully converted to hand stitched zippers when I saw a few Balenciaga creations up close and personal at the de Young Museum in San Francisco earlier this year – if they are good enough for a couturier, they are good enough for me!  I also live for hand stitching, so any extra excuse works for me!

Earrings: Macy's
Shoes:  Banana Republic "Tina" in Ivory

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ceil Chapman Cocktail Dress, Part 2

I did not want to waste much time searching for the coutil and silk organza needed for my project.  I was already ordering horsehair braid from Vogue Fabrics, and a search for coutil turned up cotton down-proof ticking with a notation that it is an “excellent substitute for coutil.”  It does not come in black, but since the price was right, I figured I could dye it. 

I know next to nothing about dying textiles.  I have used Kool-Aid to dye some super wash merino wool and know that it drinks up dye like there is no tomorrow.  And I have used RIT on a couple of cotton dresses and tops that needed a pick me up.  While using RIT, I have discovered that I prefer liquid dye to powder.  In one instance, the green powder dye left yellow and blue spots on the fabric (yellow and blue do make green, but this was not the look I was going for!) – I suppose I did not do a good enough job dissolving the powder, but I have never had this issue with the liquid version. 

Luckily, I had a bit of dark green liquid RIT dye left over from another project.  It does not match the emerald green silk, but I figured that it would do the job.

I remembered that Dharma Trading Company sells silk at a great price.   However, their silk organza only comes in white – another fabric length to dye! 

The silk took the dye quite well, although there are a few inconsistencies – but since it is going to be used as an underlining, it will work perfectly. 

The cotton ticking is a different story, although to be fair, it is probably user error.  Because I did not want to stand over the sink and agitate the dye water for 30 minutes, I immersed the fabric and used a couple of plates to make sure the fabric stayed under the water.  The white fabric turned a lighter green than I expected and was very splotchy.

I decided the fabric was too light for the dress (even though no one will see it but me!) so I over dyed with the only two colors of RIT dye left in my cupboard: purple and navy blue.  The fabric came out quite a bit more even because I stood at the sink and kept agitating the fabric.  There must have been a leak in my rubber glove because my thumbnail is now colored a purple blue color.  Lovely, right?  Thankfully, my event is over a week away, and I am sure my nail will have returned to a normal shade by then!

In the future, textile dying is something that I would love to explore a bit more in depth. 

Next up will be a bit of work on the skirt, and I think I should get going on my corselette so I can fit my bodice muslin.

With less than two weeks to go, I believe I am on track!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Knitted Lace and Crocheted Roses

About this time of year I begin to crave nubbly sweaters and scarves.   Of course, the weather is not exactly cooperating.  After wearing my sweater this past Thursday, the weather decided to turn hot.  Still, I am starting to feel drawn to sweaters and cannot wait until it is cool enough to pull out wool skirts and dresses.  This means my knitting needles will start to get more of a workout, and I will hopefully complete a few of the projects that have been stashed away on needles for quite some time.   

There is something very relaxing about the repetitive nature of knitting.  Add a warm cup of tea and a little Chihuahua snuggled up next to me, and I have the perfect tranquil evening at home.

If you love vintage looks, you will love A Stitch in Time.  

This book is filled with knitting projects from the 1920s through the 1940s.  Copies of the original patterns are included along with updated versions with extended sizes.

I am absolutely in love with every project in Volume 1 of Susan Crawford’s reprinting of the original book, and I am sure that Volume 2 (out any day now) will be just as beautiful.  And if you are looking for a little vintage inspiration, the photography is stunning.

I finished this sweater back in January, but never got around to wearing it - mostly because I could not find a skirt to wear with it.  Then the weather got too warm, and it was tucked away.  I had an urge to wear the sweater last week, and after doing a quick closet search, I rediscovered this silk skirt hiding in the back, so my Rose Jumper makes her debut.

The stitch pattern is very easy to remember, which makes for a quick knit.  I especially love the addition of the crocheted roses.

The sleeves are not exactly what I expected, but I am very pleased with the finished result.  They are knitted from neck to wrist.  Before ribbing the lower portion of the sleeve, some of the center stitches are cast off.  This creates a little hole that loops out to create the nice little lower sleeve puff.  I thought that it looked a bit strange when left open, so I ended up gathering that portion and tacking it down to the upper edge of the ribbing.  

When I look back at the line diagrams in the pattern, this detail is noted, it was just not clear to me when I chose the pattern.

This is one of the reasons I love vintage – there are so many interesting details.

Sweater:  Rose Jumper from A Stitch in Time, Volume 1
Skirt:  Banana Republic
Shoes:  Colin Stuart for Victoria’s Secret
Earrings:  Shadows  

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ceil Chapman Cocktail Dress, Part 1

I thought I would document the progress I am making with my cocktail dress.  Forgive my rambling – this is mostly for my own benefit, but I thought it might be interesting or helpful to someone else, so here it goes . . .

The pattern is a multi-size reproduction that I purchased from The Vintage Fashion Library.  It has been copied onto white paper and includes 9 separate sizes ranging from a 32” bust all the way up to a 48” bust by 2” increments.  From the dark line that indicates a 34” bust, I would assume that this was the original pattern size.  However, it is interesting to note that the original instruction sheet is marked a size 12 with a bust measurement of 35.5” a waist of 25" hips at 36" and a notation that reads “this pattern is cut to the designer’s own measurements . . . not standard pattern measurements.”  Unfortunately, there is no differentiation between sizes (other than the one bold line out of 9) which makes following the lines a bit tricky in some spots.  To make sure I was following the correct line, I used colored pencil to make my chosen size stand out on the paper.

The envelope includes two pages of instruction sheets and three huge pieces of paper with the printed pattern pieces.  

Quite a few of the individual pattern pieces are separated between the three different papers - it would have been helpful to add marks for matching them together properly.   It took my entire living room floor to unfold and layout the pattern and figure out which piece lays next to the other, and then tape and cut them apart! 

Not all the vintage pattern marks are included.  And instead of the notches and different sized circles on the original, a small line is used to identify notches and darts are drawn in as with modern patterns.  I would expect that the darts will need to be adjusted as you move up in size – it does not seem to me that a size 34 bust should use the same size dart as someone with a  48” bust.  

There are a couple of pattern pieces that are printed up-side-down or look a bit different than the identification chart. 

1.  The bodice front (A) is drafted as a full piece, but the original was to be cut on the fold (this confused me for a second – I thought I was missing a piece).
2.  The Waist Facing Back (H) is printed up-side-down.
3.  The Waist Facing Front (G) is printed up-side-down and the grainline is misdrawn.
4.  The Waist Front (E) grainline is misdrawn.

I always like to iron the paper on a low heat setting in order to get the major wrinkles out, and this also tends to make the paper a little less stiff.  However, I made the mistake of ironing one of the pattern pieces  with the printed side up.  The printing came up and stuck to the faceplate of my new iron – aargh!  I did manage to get it off without any damage to the iron, but that is a mistake I will never make again.

The pattern pieces are labeled with the company’s name and their pattern identification as well as the letter and description of the piece.  The writing, however, has nothing to do with the directionality of the pattern piece according to the identification chart.  I kept thinking that I did not have all the pieces because the shapes were facing in the wrong direction or up-side-down!  Note to self: do not try to match up funny shapes when tired.

Using a tracing wheel and some tracing paper, I have transferred all of the pieces to muslin along with their markings.  It feels positively wicked to write on fabric - but now there is no need to deal with stiff paper pieces!

 And now I must get back to the sewing room!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Make Every Day an Affair to Remember

The majority of the clothing I have made would qualify as “special occasion” attire.  These are the patterns I am drawn to – I simply cannot resist a fabulous dress.  If it was acceptable to flounce around in a hoop skirt all day, I would!  And most days, I am what the average person would consider overdressed.  

Then again, overdressed these days is basically anything other than a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and by that definition, I do not mind if my habiliment is considered a bit extravagant.

I have recently come to the conclusion that saving these special garments for a special occasion is silly.  If wearing a great dress will improve my mood, why not wear one every day?

Case in point - until yesterday, this dress had only been worn twice since I completed it in September of 2007.  It was worn to a wedding, and for the opening night party of Idiots Delight in which I was cast as Mrs. Cherry. 

I simply could not resist this cherry printed cotton that I found at Joann Fabrics – I have never met a cherry print that I did not like, and Mrs. Cherry was not going to leave the store without it.  I could not decide between the red or multi-color, so I purchased both, and used the multi for the jacket and belt to add a bit of contrast to the outfit. 

For the past year, my cherry confection has been decorating a wall in my sewing room, along with my green polka dot frock.

This dress has its own petticoat ruffle attached to the skirt lining.

I love the idea, but after using this technique on these two dresses, my closet was threatening to go on strike. 

Realizing that the netted crinoline construction used in this pattern (fabulous though it may be) was creating serious space issues, I used the skirt pattern to make myself a separate petticoat which I now use under my other full-skirted dresses. 

What makes this skirt so special, you may ask.  Instead of gathering all the way around the waist, the gathers are pushed to the sides, leaving the center front and back flat, which creates a more flattering line.  

The gathered netting gets sewn below the hip to accommodate the zipper making the poof start at the hip-line.

I decided to make the belt wider than suggested because I felt like a skinny one would get lost in the large pattern.  Because I could not find any belting as wide as I wanted, I used two layers of thick interfacing and sewed vertical pieces of plastic boning at the back and side waist of the belt to keep it from rolling.

I had to fuss a bit with the front neckline.  The construction went together beautifully, but the upper bodice would not stay centered or gathered as shown in the illustration.  

To remedy this, I simply tacked the underside of the casing to the straps invisibly where I wanted it to sit.  This is an extremely easy fix and something that makes the dress much easier to wear because it eliminates the need to keep adjusting the neckline.

My only real complaint, if I had to come up with one, is that the matching jacket is unlined, and the finishing technique leave something to be desired.  There are many ways to fix this, and it is labeled "easy," so I suppose Butterick did not want to add difficulty to the pattern.  However, because the dress is fully lined and finished off beautifully, the jacket construction just seems like too much of an afterthought.

I decided to forego the buttonholes because I knew I wanted to wear the jacket open and I wanted to use over-sized buttons.  I thought that large buttonholes would detract from the overall look.

Ribbon hangers were added to the dress so the weight of the skirt does not stretch the straps – not only does she take up quite a bit of space, those nine yards of fabric are quite heavy! 

This dress is quite easy to put together, but the pattern lines create a very memorable dress with a great neckline.  Do be aware that a special bra may be required because of that lovely neckline and the low back - a regular strapless may not work in this case.

So, no more excuses, go pull one of your neglected frocks out of the closet and take her for a jaunt – you will not believe how it will improve your mood, not to mention all the compliments you will get!

Dress & Jacket:  Butterick 4792
Earrings:  Vintage
Shoes:  Nine West “Vishnu” in Red

Polka Dot Dress:  Vogue 1094
Necklace:  Banana Republic
Shoes:  Seychelles "Babydoll"