January 28, 2015


You know I draft most of the patterns for just about anything I make. And you know I'm fond of special pattern making tricks, like those in the Pattern Magic books. And of 'object' garments (like this Burdastyle cardigan, these retro designs from Studio Faro and several of my own creations, some of which I made tutorials for which are in the list on the right of this page).

Well, I often combine all those likes and loves and experiment. Especially if I have just found a lot of appropriate fabric, cheaply. In this case, I was already eyeing up the tweed-y knit I used for E's cardigan. I could make something like a knitted 1950's suit from that stuff. Or a dress.

And then, I suddenly decided to make this:

I've always loved the neckline/collar thing you get in Pattern Magic's "Wearing a square" and in the those 'object' retro tops... What if I tried to combine that with normal pattern making for jersey fabrics? I had considered a design like this before but at that time, I didn't want to risk it because I couldn't figure out how to make sure it wouldn't be too confining for arm movement. 
This time, I decided to just go for it and worry about practicality later.

These are the bodice pattern pieces (none of these drawings are to scale).

And this is the dress. It came out looking (even) more 1950's than I had expected. Not that I'm complaining though.

These are not the prettiest pictures. Most days are pretty glum and cloudy these past weeks and I had been wearing the dress for more than a day before it was light enough for photographs (that and the high heels are why the back looks so folded). However, they're good enough to do what I really needed from them: Just show the dress. 

And of course, arm room is an issue. This is as far as it will go without seriously pulling the whole dress up.
It doesn't make the dress completely unwearable but it leaves considerable room for improvement.

There are several options for change, depending on where I want to go with the design.

- It would be possible to cut an armscye in the one-piece bodice and use a more normal sleeve. In that case, it would make sense to also adapt the bodice under the sleeve and make it more of a normal bodice and less of an object there. I've drawn this particular sleeve with a point because I think that would work well with the shape of the collar. All this would make the whole look more 1950's and less Japanese.

- Another option would be to make the 'object' bodice larger on all sides and mount it over a fitted lining of a thinner fabric (lycra, for example). In that way it would blouse over the sleeves and skirt which should allow for a wider range of movement. This would emphasize the free-form look.

- Related to the previous option, I could also treat the entire 'object' bodice as a capelet instead of a bodice. Again, over a thin and smooth lining, probably connected at the shoulders. Depending on the proportions and the styling of the skirt, this could look either Pattern Magic-esk or almost 1930's.

- Going back to the basic shape the dress has now, the least invasive thing to do to it would be to insert underarm gussets. This would work and it would still look fairly 1950's. I just really don't like the mess of seams you'd get at the sides.

- Of course, with this shape of the bodice, the arm-room issue could also be solved by adding room at the top of the arm and shifting the sleeve up. That would mean making a shoulder seam and flaring it up from the shoulder point (the long red line in the picture would be the seam, the small wedge would have to be added to each side, but I thought adding two might make the drawing more confusing). It would work but these seams would meet in a single point at the back of the neck. Which doesn't work with the cut-on facing I've been using and I don't really like that look anyway.

- Building on the idea of adding room at the top of the arm, I could consider adding a gusset there. 

- And because that would mean attaching the sleeve to the area where the gusset is, wouldn't it be better to integrate those two?

- And because the sleeve is closely fitted, it might be better to shape both pieces so they can be made to properly encircle the arm.

I had some other ideas somewhere along the line, like one involving a side panel for the the bodice which would extend into the underarm gusset, but I think these were the main ones. I think I like the first and last idea best, depending on how vintage or modern I want the end result to look. 

Oh, and there is one other, important alteration which I am considering for those styles which should not look very 1950's: In the design sketch, the diamond shape of the 'object' bodice is much more pronounced than in the actual dress. I would like to be able to make my creation look like that.
It doesn't because I've mixed pattern shapes for loose, free-hanging shapes with pieces of a fitted design.

If I want the dress to look like the drawing, I should make an alteration like this, which will add extra material to follow the skirt to my sides. And of course, any alteration I make to the shoulder (apart from those where I also want to change the bodice under the arm) can than be applied to this shape.

I haven't made any of these alterations yet, but I'm sure I'll try my favorites. And I thought you might like this little look into how my mind works with these things. 

January 23, 2015

Embarrassment of riches

First of all: Thank you for all the nice comments on my new dress!

I've been sewing these past days and I will show you some of the results later (there is another pattern-experiment and I'm finally making some slips) but I'm also thinking about the next project. 
When I recently discussed the three dresses at the top of my list, all the commenters agreed, and rightly so, that the wool crepe dress should be first. After all, if I make that now, I can still wear it this year. The other two, being cotton will very likely be fine to wear well into spring. 

So, I agree. And I was looking at my 1920's magazines this week anyway (to answer a question on the new WeSewRetro Sew & Tell group on Facebook but I found so many great pictures that I've also started a 1920's Pinterest board) so I had the perfect opportunity to dig out the pattern.

And then I started to doubt... First of all: This colour is rather new to me and although I think I can wear it, I don't know what kind of look it will give me. It's a useless consideration, I know, but it has become a natural reflex because I used to wear lots of black. Once I "know" a colour I'm over it.
But more to the point: Is this the best (non-party) 1920's dress pattern for me and this fabric? 
It was in my original selection when I was looking for 1920's patterns for last year's Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge and I still think it's the best candidate from those.

Although I also still like this one (but I don't have a nice contrast fabric).

However, yesterday, I was going through the pages of those Gracieuse magazines again. And I guess I've become a bit more used to the 1920's aesthetic. And I found more options although they may not all be possible because of the limited amount of fabric available.

The one here in the middle: Slim skirt with single drape at center front, bloused top with nice button details.

Again the one in the middle, it sort of looks like a dress and an unstructured jacket but it's all in one. Although this one might look very frumpy, very easily.

Here, it's the middle one,

and the one on the right. Interestingly, these are presented as designs for middle aged ladies. 

And then, there are these... If the pattern for the dress in the middle were included, I wouldn't be writing this. I love the look of that dress! When I get to grips with the late 1920's shape and fit, I'll draft a pattern for something like it myself. 
Right now, I am still looking for a pattern and the dresses at left and right are candidates.

The way I've shown the dresses here, they are also in chronological order. I think they are all from 1927 and 1928 but you can see the start of a subtle shift towards more skirt and a natural position for the waistline. 

I've also come up with another option: I could make the design I picked originally but change the decoration of the belt piece: Instead of the pin-tucks (which would be rather fiddly in wool crepe and for which the calculation on the pattern is overly complicated) I could make a draped piece, maybe with a twist instead of the buckle. Somehow, that feels a bit more 'me'...

Well, I'm still thinking about it and I'm open to suggestions.

January 20, 2015

Dress reveal!

A nice surprise today: E got home so early that we had time to take pictures!

So, I quickly got to work to get myself properly kitted up to show off my new dress to best effect. After all, circa 1950, no proper lady would leave her house without gloves and a hat... 

As I've mentioned before, I made this dress, after serious consideration of patterns, from a lovely black wool crepe which has been in my stash for a while (I bought it when the best of our local fabric stores, Toetenel, was having its closing-down sale). The bodice is lined with thin and soft black cotton, the skirt with regular lining material. I ended up not using the blue silk because I didn't have enough of it. And the end, that may be for the best. You would hardly have seen it under this skirt.

This is what the technical drawing looks like. As usual, I drafted this pattern myself. I don't have particular sources of inspiration to show for it. This is just how my mind combines my love for a ±1950 silhouette with my obsession for clean shapes and visible 'bones' of the pattern (seams and darts) and my enduring addiction to interesting pockets. 
What you can't see in the drawing is that there are no side seams. Just side panels which extend into the underarm gussets. Works well. 

The skirt is a half circle which I made slightly longer at the back (I do that sometimes. Not on pencil-skirts, of course).

When I first tried it on, I wasn't sure about this dress. I feared it might end up looking just a bit frumpy. But that was before I added these pockets. I love a stick-out pocket, and I've found plenty of examples from 1940's and 1950's fashion which prove I'm not alone in that.

So there you have it... This dress is quite chique but still very comfortable. And nice and warm too.

I don't think proper ladies would do things like jumping around but any dress like this is great for twirling...

January 19, 2015

Dreaming of dresses

Usually, I try to keep a balance between practical and fun sewing. But I'm still looking for a new job, so I don't know what kind of clothes might be appropriate in time to come. For life at home, there's no reason why I can't wear vintage inspired dresses every day (as long as I keep some trousers around for cycling, obviously). And dresses are what I keep thinking about...

At the moment, I have the notion that I've had black thread in my machines for a while. It's not even true, I just made one black dress and that cardigan for E. Said black dress, by the way, is finished but I only managed to do that yesterday which was such a rainy, grey and dark day that I couldn't take pictures... I guess I'll have to postpone a 'reveal' until next weekend.

But now, I'm looking at some colour. There are three options which have been on my mind for while. I have the fabrics and the pattern for one. The other two patterns would be quick and easy to draft because I already have most of there bodices complete (from earlier projects).

I photographed the fabrics together hoping that would force the camera to display the colours accurately and it sort of worked. The raspberry pink is just not quite a dark in real life, the other two are about right.

From left to right: 

The fine wale corduroy in burnt orange was bought with this image in mind. This picture comes from Beatrijs magazine from 1951 (it may have been the illustration of a mailorder pattern but I'm not sure). According to the description, the dress was made from corduroy. It's a shirtwaist with a straight skirt which gets plenty of room for movement thanks to deep pleats at either side of the button closure at center front. Oh, and it has great pockets. 

The middle fabric is a cotton flannel with a small blue and grey houndstooth check. This wasn't bought with a specific project in mind but I thought of it when I came across this image, from Libelle magazine from 1949. This picture came from an article about the new fashion and I believe the original design is French. 
In this picture, you can see back sleeves which are cut in one piece with the back yoke, pockets which seem to hang free from the waistline, a slightly blouse-y back and a skirt which is clearly fuller at the front than at the back. 

I made most of that bodice already when I was exploring options for the black wool crepe

... and there is this Bella pattern which also has a lot of those features (although the back is pleated rather than gathered). It has a rather boring straight, buttoned-up front though.

And then I found this image, in Beatrijs from 1951... Could it be the front of the same dress? Even though the first picture was from the end of the year and this one from the beginning, I think the gap is just too big and the details aren't quite right. But certainly looks like a very similar design.

Then, last but not least, the fabric on the right is wool crepe. Deliciously coloured wool crepe. Unlike the other two, there's not a lot of it. I think it's 2 meters, with one bit of damage at center front. 

Not too long ago, I realized that this fabric would be great for one of the lovely 1920's designs I picked out as part of last year's Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge. It's about the dress on the left, a daydress for winter, from about 1927.

I am working on something else at the moment but soon I'll have to choose between these three beauties... What do you think?

January 17, 2015

The intermezzo thing

Because I've learned to be afraid of bias-issues with full skirts (some even stretch out again after the first time the garment was washed), I decided to finish E's cardigan first. I had time to go to the market on Friday morning and luckily, the market stall I usually go to for notion had exactly the kind of zipper I wanted. Which was basically the same as the one I already had, separating zipper, black tape, 'blackened' brass teeth, just 10 cm longer. And the new one even has a more fancy pull.

So, now I could finish the cardigan: Inserting the zipper, applying the rest of the bottom band and hand-stitching the facing in place.
I was pleased with the outcome, but of course, I didn't really know anything until E had tried it on. 

I made this thing based on the standard knit sloper from Winifred Aldrich's Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear. I made that for him a while ago and both the t-shirt I made from it were a bit on the wide side (although in one case, the fabric was very thin and had little recovery and the other case included a failed attempt at raglan sleeves. Don't ask me why, because I can make those properly). Which was why I thought it might work well for a cardigan. I just made a long sleeve pattern piece and cut the front in two halves with seam allowance at center front, rather than on the fold.
I kept sleeves and body a little bit shorter to allow for the bands (I cut 4 cm off the body pieces and added a 7 cm band) but because this fabric has no vertical stretch whatsoever, both could have done with a bit more length. Fortunately, the cardigan is still quite wearable. 

I used rib knit for the collar, cuffs, bottom band and pocket edges. This is the synthetic stuff that is used most for this purpose and it's interesting. Very stretchy, obviously but it can be 'set' by heat and/or steam. This was quite useful for the pocket edges, which were distorting the whole fronts of the cardigan before I pressed them.

For a first try at a garment like this (for him, that is), I think E's new cardigan is quite successful. He rarely gets cold so the demand for items like this in his wardrobe is very limited. I may still make him more though. A more loosely fitted and longer one which can be worn over a shirt for example, or a sweater using the same basic shape. But I want to see him really wear this thing first.

January 15, 2015

In progress

My black dress is for about 80% finished. It still needs a hem, the ends of the sleeves need finishing and I haven't applied the pockets yet. And there are always little bits of hand-sewing for the very last step.
For now, it's on a hanger to wait and see if that skirt will sag. It is a half circle in wool crepe so it may but I cut it in gores so the seams may hold it in check.
In the end, I used ordinary black lining for the skirt. I wanted to use blue stuff but, as it turned out, there wasn't enough of it. I might have checked that before agonizing over it....

Anyway, I had time to sew and the dress was on time-out, so I kind of had to start on something else. I had found this nice (but mystery-fibre. Not much polyester though because it doesn't cling nor melt to the iron) tweed-like knit at the market recently for only 1 euro a meter (there's plenty more of it, for those of you who are local). I was warned that there were bad parts in it, so I bought 4 meters. As far as I can tell, the bad bits are only on the wrong side. The reverse of this stuff is black but not nice enough to use as a contrast. It's very thin so the other side shines through and the knit there is kind of irregular. And occasionally, there are small holes but those don't lead to further unraveling and you can't see them from the right side of the fabric. So, considering the price, I'm not bothered. 
Now, I just have to find out whether or not this stuff is nice to wear. In which case I might just have to get more of it. 

Interestingly, this is a material which I could also use to make something for E, who is kind of overdue for some attention of the garment-making kind. 
So, he gets to be the first guinea pig for this stuff.

I'm making him a simple, zippered cardigan. With kangaroo pockets. 
After some consideration, I decided to use black rib knit for the collar, cuffs, bottom band and pocket edges.
I thought I could finish it today but the zipper I have isn't long enough...

So, coming to this blog this weekend: Actual, finished clothes!

January 12, 2015

What's your decade?

I hope I'm not chasing away any readers who don't have a specific interest in vintage fashion but I thought I would share some more thoughts about the upcoming 2015 Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge.

If you look at sewing blogs in general, or at the 'Projects' page of Burdastyle or even at last year's Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge Pinterest board, the term 'vintage' most often seems to refer to 1950's styles. By which I actually mean clothes which were designed between 1947 and (roughly) 1965. 
Of course it's easy to understand the appeal: These looks are quintessentially feminine, they are referenced in modern fashion often enough to keep them from looking too costume-y, the patterns are not too hard to find and these dresses and separates work for a large group of women who are not served very well by a lot of today's fashion: Ladies with curves. 
Still, this one decade doesn't suit everyone and there is so much more to explore.
Because a lot of my sewing is 1950's inspired I will, once again, aim to use the pledge as an inspiration to explore other decades.

You sometimes see fashion history broken down by body type. In that case, 1950's is ideal for the hourglass figure, 1920's is for rulers and 1930's for the inverted triangle. There is a lot to that because the ideals of physical beauty and even of the 'average body' moved with the time and fashion.
But who wants to dress purely for her body type? I don't believe in that in present-day fashion and I don't think it has to be true for vintage either. Certainly not if you make it yourself so you can be in charge of the fit.

When I use vintage patterns, I still want to make garments which will work in my every-day wardrobe. I've seen some great purely period outfits on other blogs and I have a couple of hats which I may wear occasionally (and for photoshoots for this blog) but I'm never really going for a historically accurate look. I could say I don't want to look costume-y but I realize that my definition of that may be some distance removed from most other people's.

There are very simple tricks to make unusual vintage styles work for. 
Fitting is one of them, of course. Obvious but potentially tricky. You want your new garment to fit you properly but you don't want to end up completely removing the period character. This is one of the reasons why, despite making so many of my own patterns, I like to collect and sew vintage patterns: Learning about the fit and the pattern making styles which belonged to each decade.
Another, much simpler trick is fabric choice. I usually operate with the motto: "When in doubt, make it in black". No matter how unusual the design of your choice, a neutral, unobtrusive colour will partially neutralize that and keep you from looking like you are in fancy dress. 
On the other hand, plain fabrics will show off the style lines and the fit. If you have reason to doubt those, a small, eretic print like a ditzy floral can work wonders to obscure that. And if you keep the colours a bit muted, the whole thing can still seem kind of neutral.

Another important thing to realize is that in any era, there were women who didn't really have the bodies to follow the heights of fashion. And there have always been clothes to suit them. The completely unshaped flapper dresses of the 1920's only really worked for the young and slender. There were styles with more flared skirts or defined waistbands (well below the natural waist) as well. And not all 1930's dresses have bias cut skirts and huge shoulders and sleeves, not all 1950's dresses have huge skirts from tiny waists. 
And there is no real reason why that nightgown pattern can't be used for a party dress or why the evening gown design won't work as a great little summer frock.
If the style of a certain decade appeals to you, you can usually find a design which is at least more suitable to your body type than the 'main' look of that time.

This is what I tried with my 1930's pick from EvaDress. I know I don't really have the body type for this period, way too much of a waist-to-hip ratio. This design is belted and has several seams in that area which should allow for easier fitting. And it doesn't have the huge shoulder line which I don't really like.
I hope I will receive the patterns next week, so we'll see how that works out. 

Oh, and then, of course, there is cheating. This is easier the more experienced you are at sewing for yourself. Because that will help to recognize what may or may not work for you and you'll know how to alter the pattern.
Making a neckline higher or lower is usually fairly simple and it can have a huge impact on how a bodice works on your body. For example: High, round necklines are really common in the 1940's and 1950's but they can make your torso look like a block (especially when you are fairly small-chested). Making it a bit deeper, or turning it into a little V can give a much better look (make sure to test the fit first though, you may need to make a gape dart). 
Converting tucks to darts, or the other way round, is no rocket science either.

In the end, you want to have fun with vintage patterns and make clothes in which you look and feel good.