Saturday, November 21, 2009

Coat D'Azur

Who told me to make a coat? Why did I feel I needed to make a coat? How many coats does one girl need? Did I really need another coat? (Answers: Your lack of impulse control; you were probably drunk; four, five at the max; absolutely not, you rowdy fool. You have 12).
It's absolutely ridiculous that I decided to make this coat, but to quote a line from the delightful "Being Julia," I drop-kicked all good sense and reason out the window and proclaimed, "I can't stop! Let me go my wicked ways!"

The first fabric I chose was a sage wool plaid, and it's lovely. The pattern is a 1930's wrap coat from the Vintage Pattern Library (post below). Then I walked into a local fabric store and was seduced by a brown felt wool the color of hot cocoa. It was entirely too expensive for my budget, but being the wicked creature I apparently am and acting like a girl who had far too much to drink at bar closing time, I went home with it.

I had no idea what a bronking bull I had unleashed in my dining room/sweat shop. In a word: Nightmare. If I ever work with boiled or felted wool again, I would be wise to insert a slip of tissue paper in between the layers of fabric before I cut them, otherwise, it's impossible to get it smooth. The fibers clutch to one another, giving the cruel illusion that both layers are flat when actually, the bottom layer will be all bunched up and rippled, only exposing itself after you've cut. Lesson learned. I had to recut every piece, some of which were substantially larger than it's "twin". This was especially a problem with any pattern piece I had on the fold, which there were several. My notches were all off, although in the end, it didn't prove to be as much of an issue as I expected it would.

The fabric clinging together didn't stop at cutting, however--it continued on as I began to stitch, with the top layer shrinking while the bottom layer grew MORE and only resolved itself when I switched to a larger foot AND went to a larger stitch (I started on one; ended up at three). Basically, this coat is basted together, but there was no other way to construct it without going to a larger stitch.

Although the coat is meant as a wrap coat, you can also wear it open, and being the wide collar/lapel-loving girl that I am, I'm going in that direction. I also need to add here that I LOVE TRIM. (Dirty minds excuse yourself.) Unfortunately, I don't like cheap trim (nothing says "hussy" like bric brac on a JoAnn's clearance table), and unfortunately squared, we happen to have a very nice trim shop in Eugene that is owned by a lady who loves M&J Trim even more than I do. I didn't have anything long enough in my stash from anything I got at M&J to cover the lapel (I needed four yards), so I needed something new, and she had it. Don't ask me how much a yard. DON'T ASK ME. Just look at it. It's gorgeous. Seriously. I never stood a chance. Here is the layout of the collar/lapel, and then the trim itself (I know. It's like trim porn.)

I am almost finished with the construction of the coat itself, I just have to attach the lapel, and I'm waiting for the lining fabric to come from I decided to eliminate the belt and button the coat at the side waist--I had a huge Art Deco antique black glass button that's gorgeous and has been in my button drawer for 10 years waiting to be put onto a coat like this and serve its duty appropriately. I'm hoping to finish this after Thanksgiving, I'll post the pics of la Grand Dame when I'm done. Just note: Wool felt will undoubtedly drive you to Valium, gin or a bowl of brownie batter, whichever your drug of choice. I'm serious. Make sure you have any/all on hand.

Crystal Allen's Man-Stealing Dress

I bought this pattern a couple of months ago and held onto it until I found the right fabric, a fantastic RPL black crepe from Metro Textiles in NYC (I'm not affiliated, but the next time you're in NY, you must go. The prices are really reasonable, this fabric was $10 a yard for a 54", and if you tell the owner what you're looking for, he'll start tossing bolts aside like they were toothpicks and will come up with the most beautiful things. Quite an experience). This crepe is fantastic, and really feels like vintage fabric from the 40's. The construction of this dress was pretty simple, and I didn't run into too many problems aside from the smocking at the shoulders and below the bust line (which I eventually removed; it looked too messy and the gathers look just fine on their own) and I had to take the shoulders in a bit since I'm not a shoulder-pad sort of girl. I also opted to forgo the bows and make a flower instead from a fragment of old WWII-era silk I had from a deconstructed wedding dress.

Still a little too big in the shoulders, so I'll need to take it in, but otherwise, 95% complete. I feel like Joan Crawford in The Women when I wear this. Now I just need to steal a society matron's husband and ash my cigarette in my own bathwater. While I'm still in the tub.

This was the first pattern I had ever worked on that wasn't printed; it's a DuBarry, and I'm guessing it's from about 1938-1940. The instructions were pretty straightforward and I really didn't run into any hang-ups the way I feared I might without detailed instructions on the pattern itself. I just chalked it all up using the punched holes in the pattern as a guide (I don't use tailor's tacks), and it all came together quite simply. I have other DuBarry patterns, and now I'm not quite so terrified to tackle them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The 1959 Vogue That Almost Killed Me

I jumped on this pattern as soon as I saw it. The diagonal yoke with the somewhat western feel, the inverted pleat in the front, the 3/4 sleeves. This was my kind of dress. I could live in this dress, I had that feeling. I was already planning on making it in almost every fabric I had in my stash. I was going to wear this dress every. single. day. It was such a Laurie dress.
And the bodice went well, the pleats and darts were smart and it was going to fit me well, I just knew it. And then I met the tiniest pieces of the pattern called the "neck facing."
Despite the written AND VISUAL directions, I didn't get it, and it simply did not make sense to me where and how this thing fit into my dress puzzle. I tried this way and that, I took my reading glasses to the illustration to see if I wasn't grasping the concept. It was still a mystery.
Finally, I just took my pins and placed them where it the pattern said the pieces should have gone and sewed them up. It was clear I had it wrong. I ripped the seams out and did it again. And again. And again. And again. I couldn't get anything to work, and I was trying everything. If I didn't get the piece in, the collar was unfunctioning and floppy.
It was clearly mocking me.
So I challenged my dress-in-progress to a slap fight (which I won; I have fought inanimate objects before, but this one was down in three seconds, probably because a) the arms weren’t finished yet or b) the level of my monkey rage), and I finally got the facings sort of kind of in the right way within seconds of almost enlisting help from a glue gun.
I kicked the ass of the skirt, just in case you were wondering. And, in the end, I won. Here's the dress, made from a Ralph Lauren stretch charcoal wool I got from for an uhmazing price (my dress dummy needs a slip, the covering on it is like astroturf. It's very hard to get things to lay correctly, but it does not pull to the side when it's on as it does in the photo). I added the braided trim along the seam line, and the buttons are post-WWII vintage black glass with rhinestone centers that came in an old glassine envelope marked "West Germany". See that collar? It made me CRY.:
But I was right. I do live in this dress. I absolutely love it. It's hard to see the inverted pleat unless you're walking, but it gives the dress a very "Victoria Barkley" feel to it. It makes me want to commandeer a horse and buggy, shout "YA! YA!" and smack a bullwhip into the air as I race along because Nick has caused a whole bunch of trouble again with a group of men carrying torches. I should only wear this dress with tall black riding boots. That Miss Barbara! Mmmmm! Sassy.

My First Shirt Waist Dress

During the summer I encountered some Liberty fabric in a gorgeous rose pattern, but it was $40 a yard. Outta my range. By A LOT. After some searching, I found this Yuwa cotton lawn that was similar (I mean, it's still not LIBERTY, but it's kinda close). The fabric was a dream to work with and the dress came together pretty quickly. In this photo, I hadn't hemmed it yet, thus the pucker at the bottom, but it turned out to be a perfect summer dress, although it does require a frequent ironing. I found some lovely antique glass rose ladies' cufflinks for buttons, and they really look nice on it. I just need to find a slim vintage red belt and I'll be all set for next summer.

1930's Coat from Vintage Pattern Library

I originally bought a wool sage plaid for this coat, but a week ago, I walked into 27th St Fabrics for some hem tape and saw a gorgeous wool felt in a hot chocolate color and my plans changed just like that. It's almost a boiled wool, which I love, and I think it will drape beautifully in this style. I'm still in the cutting stages; I have never worked with wool felt before and it's something of a challenge to smooth out when it's folded. In fact, it's absolutely insane. There are ALWAYS ripples on the second layer. I will prevail, however, and am on my last piece. I should have it cut out by this afternoon. I also have enough left over to make a hat (prob a cloche of some sort) and a handbag (I have a fantastic Amy Butler pattern).

The Republic of Dresses

My Nana had amazing clothes. Here she is, most likely in 1940 or '41 in the Bronx before my Pop Pop left for WWII. They were both sharp dressers, something I didn't know until after she died and my sisters and I scoured her old photo albums looking for pictures to display at her memorial service. I was shocked; here was my Nana, who always paid attention to her appearance until her death at 90, but in THOSE shoes! Album after album were filled with images from Nana in the 30's through the 60's, dressed to the hilt as she danced in ballrooms, sat with my mother as a baby on a park bench in Brooklyn, or laughed at parties. The two and a half inch high heels that she always wore until she was 90 (and that I was always trying to get her out of and into something more level and sensible) suddenly made sense. I felt a twinge of shame for trying to take that away from her.
I love clothes, and I especially love vintage clothes. I would have loved to have Nana's vintage clothes, but they were long gone, tossed into a dumpster (including her ivory silk wedding dress from 1941) when we moved from Brooklyn to Arizona. Apparently, she wasn't as sentimental about her clothes as I was. After she died and I returned to Oregon from Arizona, I decided that I was going to try to learn how to sew. I didn't have high hopes, in fact, I doubted I could pull it off at all. I signed up for a sewing class at the UofO craft center, fully expecting to want to drop out after the first class meeting.
I went to the class, and I totally wanted to drop out after the first session. It scared the crap out of me, just like it did the other eight girls who had enrolled. There were so many mistakes to be made; I saw a sewing future full of nothing but seams to be ripped out and redone, button holes that ruined otherwise perfect dresses and piles of half-finished things sitting around my house because I had lost steam partway through. But I also knew that if I could really pull it off, that it would change my life. When I told my husband this, he looked at me much in the way my mother looked at me after I read the Little House on the Prairie books and removed the blades from my ice skates with a butter knife so I could have Laura Ingalls boots.
But I was serious. I thought of all the clothes that I wanted but couldn't afford, I thought about having the opportunity to pick out a fabric that seemed like it was made specifically for a certain dress. About using vintage buttons and beautiful trim. About making things my own, exactly how I wanted them.
By the last sewing class, there were two of us left aside from the instructor, which was great for me. I learned one on one and from an expert how to ease into a curve, sew a lining and put in a zipper. By the end of the last class, I was the only one who had finished my project, and I knew I had found something new that I loved.
I want to make clothes like my Nana wore; even though I can't pull off those heels, I can make a dress and suits and blouses like the ones she once wore. I love vintage patterns and adore the thrill of the hunt trying to find THE one in my size that drives me to distraction and has me plotting the construction while I'm trying to go to sleep. I really love sewing. I'm still not too good at it, but I can't stop now. This is my record of projects, plans, and fabric addiction.
It's my Republic of Dresses.