Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Dress Thief: A Book Review

One of my dreams is to sit in an haute couture workhouse in Paris for a day or two and watch the artists at work.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall and watch such dreams of silk and lace become a reality!  Reading The Dress Thief has renewed my longing to spend even a few hours in such an environment.

But it is not all delicious silk and sparkly sequins - although there is plenty of that to enjoy as well!  This novel by Natalie Meg Evans is a wonderful look into the heart and soul of a Parisian haute couture house in the late 1930s.  Working your fingers to the bone every day with needle and thread is hard work and not very glamorous, but being surrounded by such beauty might just make up for it.

The story involves the inner workings of design piracy and the lengths involved to get copies of couture garments to customers clamoring for them in New York and beyond.

There is a bit of intrigue, romance, a few secrets, a mysterious character or two to keep everyone guessing, and a gifted young ingénue to guide the reader through to the end.

I would absolutely recommend The Dress Thief as a delightful and entertaining read.  And if you happen to appreciate a well made vintage frock, well, this story is tailor-made for you!

[A review copy of The Dress Thief was sent to me, but the opinions expressed here are my own.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Diamond in the Rough

I needed a bit of a break from complicated sewing projects, so I pulled McCalls 7185 out along with some cotton yardage.

My initial reason for purchasing this pattern was the straight skirt version with the asymmetrical opening.  But I suspect that one will be rather difficult to wear without flashing a lot of leg.  So I went with the easy-to-wear full skirt option.

This is one of those multi-cup size patterns that everyone always raves about.  I chose to go with the C cup, and while that is my bra size, these patterns always end up slightly too large through the bust for me.  This time was no different, and so this is probably my last attempt using the FBA drafted by McCalls.

But I am still going to call this a success because I really love the dress! 

It’s so easy to wear, even if it is a bit more roomy than I am used to.

The design looks like a contemporary take on a vintage house dress to me, and makes me want to find an original Swirl Wrap Dress pattern to try.

Or I may have to make another version of this dress.

But for now, this is definitely going to be a great garment to have on hand in the summer heat.  Hooray for cotton!

Dress:  Made by me, McCalls 7185
Shoes:  Miss L Fire "Casablanca"
Earrings:  Made by me

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Butterick Patterns

I have actually made a version of Butterick 6266 - mine just happens to be a New Style mail order pattern.   This must have been an extremely  popular design, because I have seen multiple versions from different pattern companies.  Beccie has made a Simplicity version of the design, and clearly Butterick had their own.  There may be slight variations in sleeve and peplum, but the similarities are pretty uncanny!
To confuse things, this pattern has been tagged as a Making History design.  Now I am seriously perplexed.  I thought that category was reserved for historical silhouettes (i.e. 1800-1910).  Does that mean Butterick is working with original source material?  What is going on?!
There are also two new Retro designs.  Butterick 6242  is one of those.

Butterick 6242

And while the vintage illustrations are adorable (no big surprise there), the actual dress is BORING.  The dolman sleeve is slightly different than other Butterick reproductions, but not enough to make this dress anything special.

Butterick 6242

The latest Vintage Vogue release had me very excited to see what was next for other reproduction designs, but this is disappointing.
But all is not lost!  This suit pattern from 1960  is lovely.

Butterick 6259

It is not the most complex design I have ever seen, but I do like the double breasted style lines.

Butterick 6259

This one has definite possibilities.  But yikes, the styling is terrible (and I think the poor model knows it).  
I can take or leave the rest of the release, and that is fine with me.  I just started a new knitting project and am happily working away while watching old episodes of Downton Abbey this evening, so a little disappointment over the latest pattern release is not going to get me down!  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Crazy Collars

I love a great collar.  And this suit definitely has one!

The main reason I decided to go all in with the tailoring on this jacket is that very collar.  The mid-weight cotton has quite a bit of drape and not enough structure to keep the proper shape.  Hair canvas seemed like a good bet.

The upper portion of the collar is underlined with silk organza, and the under collar with hair canvas.  I knew the under collar needed to be pad-stitched.  The question was, what to do about all of those darts.

I wanted a lot of body through the collar, but not the bulk that multiple layers of hair canvas would give.

The stitching lines are traced on the hair canvas and organza.  The underlinings are then basted to the cotton along those traced lines.

The darts are removed from the hair canvas, and those cut edges get catch-stitched to the cotton.

Next, the darts are pinned and basted.

And then they are finally stitched!

Once they are pressed, the darts are catch-stitched in place.  (The darts are balanced by pressing the under collar ones in the opposite direction to the upper collar ones.)

The same goes for the silk organza, although none of that gets cut away.

Which leaves me with this . . .

And it looks like the hair canvas is doing a fine job of shaping!

I am going to need to count the number of darts on this project because I think it may be an all time record for me!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Primary Colors

With the leftover fabric from this dress, I decided to make myself a blouse.  I just love getting two projects from one length of fabric!!

But which pattern?

I have yet to find my perfect blouse design.  At this point, I am not even sure what I am looking for.  But I did like Butterick 6217 as soon as I saw it.

So that seemed like a good place to start.

The top ended up a perfect match for my red linen skirt.  It was a great outfit for a graduation event on a very hot day.  Oh, how I love natural fibers!  Sitting on plastic chairs surrounded by synthetic turf . . . not so much.

The pattern was very easy to put together, although the sleeve has too much ease to fit into the armhole.  The design does not have a gathered cap according to the technical drawing, so I had a bit of a fight to get it stitched in properly.  But all's well that ends well.

Now if I could only find some solid colored fabric I really like, I just might have to make another . . .

Blouse:  Made by me, Butterick 6217
Skirt:  Made by me, Butterick 4792
Shoes:  Børn
Earrings:  Kate Spade

Monday, July 13, 2015

They just don’t make them like they used to.

So now that I have professed my love for the most recent Vintage Vogue designs, I am curious as to how accurate they really are in contrast to the originals.

Eva Dress recently authored a post showing, in detail, alterations that were made to one of Vogue’s reproduction patterns, Vogue 2962.  This is a bit disconcerting as they supposedly use original pattern tissue to draft these re-issues.  I know the instructions are changed significantly, but moving zipper openings and changing style lines really do not fall into the category of re-sizing for a current fit standard.

A Vintage Vogue reproduction
with some fairly significant changes made to the original.

About one year ago, I requested that McCall Company do exactly what she has done – show us a point by point comparison of the original versus the reproduction.  What about a blog article with an explanation why they make the changes they do?  They were kind enough to respond, but the answers were not very helpful, in my opinion.  I was definitely looking for more clarity!

Here is part of my email along with their responses marked in purple:

To get to the really important stuff, I (and quite a few others from the conversations I have had) are very interested to know what kind of re-sizing goes on with the vintage reproductions.  I have worked with quite a few original vintage patterns, and the only real fit differences I have noticed is skirt lengths are generally longer, bust darts extend further toward the bust apex than is popular in a contemporary silhouette (most people no longer wear bullet bras, obviously!), and armholes are often smaller.  Would you give us examples of specific fit/design changes that are being made to these patterns? 
All sizing on our patterns is by the current standards. The standards have been in place since "modern" sewing. While we utilize the markings and specific pattern pieces for the Vintage designs, they are graded as we grade all our patterns.
[But what does that really mean?  How have those standards changed . . . ? ]
A Butterick pattern from the mid-1950s sizing chart is 34-28-37.  The current sizing chart is 34-26.5-36.  So, in fact, vintage sizing is more generous than the current standard which is probably unexpected for most people.  
As mentioned above, our industry standards have been in place for years and we gear our sizing around them. The caption of each pattern will indicate if it is close fitting, semi fitted, loose fitting, etc. The finished garment measurements are also on the patterns.

Everyone complains about the amount of ease built into the contemporary designs produced, but in my experience, the finished measurements of a Retro Butterick size 12/Bust 34 end up being quite similar to a vintage 1950s Butterick, size 16/Bust 34 – but that probably has something to do with the fact that I use an upper bust measurement in place of a full bust measurement.  If, in fact, you measure in at a 26.5” waist, the extra 2”+ ease given on the retro line seem rather excessive for a fitted waist.  What is the standard amount of ease drafted into a “fitted” design? 
It is up to the individual designer of each brand how much ease is in a pattern. There is no standard amount.
[What designer?  Do they mean the individual who re-drafts the design?]
I would love to have one of the current Vintage Vogue design offerings “deconstructed” for us, i.e. this was the original size, the finished tissue measurements were x,y,z and they ended up as a,b,c on the reproduction.  Vogue 8974, for instance, looks to be fitted through the bust and waist – but how do the finished measurements compare with the original? 
Again, we use the pattern pieces from the original Vogue Pattern, but grade in current sizes. It is really not practical and could be confusing to list what the pieces were vs what they are. However, that is a great idea for a Vogue Patterns Magazine article and I will pass that along to our editor.
[Clearly I do not mean they should list this on each individual pattern, but one or two specific examples might be nice.]
And how about the instructions? How significant are the changes made to the vintage pattern instructions. I can understand adding bias strip pattern pieces to a repro design where the original would have a few sentences about cutting your own, but how many other changes are being made, short of substituting words for clarity like slide fastener for zipper and press studs for snaps? 

Like the sizing, we reference the original instruction sheet if it is available but use our modern methods.
[I am still not sure why these changes are really necessary.  I have learned so much from vintage pattern sheets, I think it is a disservice to ignore some of the older techniques.  I am pleased to see that Vogue 9127 includes a side snap extension in addition to a size zipper.  Some of the Vintage Vogues from ten or so years ago had these details included, and I am please to see they are coming back.]
Are details being dumbed down for a contemporary audience that may not have grown up with a needle in hand?  Are gathers substituted for pleats, zippers for plackets? 
Each brand designer decides what details they would like on their designs. Designs are coded as Very Easy, Easy and up to Difficult depended upon the details. We try and provide a full range of designs and difficulty to appeal to many customers.

We have an extensive archives of catalogs beginning in 1863 for Butterick and later for McCalls and Vogue. For Butterick and McCalls, we research the catalogs and choose designs. For Vogue, we search our own stash and borrow from others actual patterns to work from.
[If they are working from actual patterns, why are significant alterations being made to style lines?  And why do they mention "designers" when they are dealing with a physical pattern and pattern instructions?]
Are there any trends as far as commercial success goes?  Which decades sell better than others?  
We know our consumers love the 50's but we have a range of patterns from all the brands back to 1912 up to the 60's.

Hopefully the recent success of this Archive Collection pattern makes it clear that many of us vintage aficionados are looking for more challenges and new decades of style to discover.

Clearly this design did not use the 16" invisible zipper required by McCall 7154.  Are hook & eyes and snap plackets really so terrible they must be eliminated from the contemporary home sewing lexicon?

The McCall Company's standard answer seems to be that they “resize to fit our current sizing”  - but that does not explain moving a zipper opening, raising the back of a garment, or straightening out a curved seamline.  Why would they make those alterations?

Now we have actual proof from Xandra that McCalls is doing more than re-sizing to fit the current size chart (whatever that pat answer means), and are making significant alterations to the original pattern tissue with their Vintage Vogue line.

I will continue to use these patterns, but I do find it strange that McCalls has clearly stated that Vintage Vogue (unlike The Archive Collection and Butterick Retro patterns) use original pattern tissue to recreate their patterns.  Then why all the changes?

So I am renewing my appeal for more transparency.  I hope that in the near future we actually get a point by point run down of one of these designs and all of the alterations, for better or worse.  If I had my druthers, it would also include a list of instructional changes that were made and why.  Inquiring minds want to know!  

Are you a purist when it comes to vintage patterns, or do you like using the reproductions?  For myself, I like both, but I know some people feel strongly one way or the other.  What are your feelings on the subject?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fall Patterns from Vogue

More new sewing patterns were released into the wild this afternoon.  And while not every option appeals to me, I have to say that The Fall Vogue Pattern Collection includes quite a few intriguing designs along with the standard easy/basic ones.

Vogue 9127

I am sure it is not very surprising that my favorites are the vintage reproductions.  I actually have a few thoughts on vintage reproductions I was planning to post in the next few days but I have not had a chance to put them into words, so I am going to save that for another day.  Meanwhile, look at the pretty new patterns!

Vogue 9127

I am very pleased with the two designs that were chosen this time around.  I do not own anything like either of these late 1940s patterns.  Hooray for variety!  And they are complicated enough that I would probably get frustrated trying to figure them out on my own.

Vogue 9127

Great job on the styling this time around, McCalls!  Love the dresses, the hats, the shoes, and the model (although the yellow crepe dress is too big on her through the arms and back).  Why do they always make the vintage reproductions too big for their models?

Vogue 9127

But can we talk about those style lines and the arrow tacks for a moment!!  Gorgeous!!  I am not 100% sure, but those buttonholes look machine made.  That would be my only gripe, and that is an easy fix.

Vogue 9127

It looks like someone at Vogue chose these patterns from their catalog and presumably they have copies of these two patterns in their collection as no mention is made of an individual donor on the pattern page.  I hope whomever is responsible for these choices is for next season's picks as well!

Vogue 9126

Vogue 9126 is also wonderfully detailed.  What a beautiful shawl collar - and look at those gathers!  Love it!

Vogue 9126

I prefer the short sleeved version of this dress for some reason.  Now I am going to be distracted looking for the perfect fabric for the design instead of working on current projects.

Vogue 9126

And I love the shoes!!

Vogue 9126

I also think Vogue 9125 has some great possibilities (the v-neck version, that is - the high neckline looks odd to me!).  

Vogue 9125

There is a classic pea-coat that is tempting (but do I really need another jacket?).  And I would have loved wearing this dress as a child . . . oh, who am I kidding . . . I would love a grown up version to wear right now!

Vogue 9141

Overall, I am impressed with the recent offerings from Vogue - let's hope they keep giving us more intermediate and advance options to play with!  Do you have any new favorites?