The Dressmaker’s Library: “THE NEW LOOK The Dior Revolution”

I highly recommend “THE NEW LOOK The Dior Revolution” by Nigel Cawthorne for the newcomer seeking knowledge of the master designer, Christian Dior. The book is also valuable to those with extensive knowledge of Dior. In this one book is an accessible, easy to assimilate history of the events which preceded and then followed the release of Dior’s first collection in 1947 which was christened “The New Look”.

Mitzah Bricard is often called Dior’s Muse. She was close to the designer working with him on each collection. Mitzah was also a milliner and woman of style known for her impeccable fashion sense.

The book traces the influences upon fashion in the two decades prior to World war II. We learn of the early influences and designers who brought clothing for women out of the last vestiges of the 19th century and into the 20th century. Along the way we also get acquainted with the designers Dior worked for during his early career such as Lucien Lelong.

Dior’s New Look, launched in 1947, made extravagant use of fabrics. This dress used 25 yards of fabric.

The middle of the book is devoted to the influence of Hollywood on fashion during the 1930s. A little known fact that is mentioned in this section is that at the end of that decade the Parisian couturieres were considering bringing back the corset. All that went on hold as the grim hold of WWII progressed throughout Europe. It wasn’t until 1947 when Dior brought in The New Look that the use of corsetry to shape the body returned as a major influence in fashion. This was made possible by the end of rationing so that boning, elastic, rubber and nylon could now be used for women’s lingerie and shape wear.

There is in-depth treatment given of the Utility fashions of the WWII years with detailed descriptions of some styles and how women recycled old garments in order to use their rationing coupons for necessary clothing items. There are also many photos of the Utility fashions which make clear how economically the fabrics and notions were used. Skirts were shortened and slimmed down. Jackets were shorter with emphasis given to the shoulder line. Gone were the abundance of ruffles and ornamentation of earlier eras since they would have used valuable materials that needed to be diverted into the War effort.

A Dior inspired New Look Suit by British New Look, 1948.

The insight the reader gains into the austerity of the war years will make them better enabled to perceive the impact the luxury and femininity of the New Look had for women starved for the indulgences it offered.

Dior surrounded by his models. Tania is second from the left. Alla is second from the right.

Included in the history are the sources of Dior’s inspiration as well as his models. Photographs convey the individuality of each model he selected. No two looked alike and each model would have an appeal to women of different figure types and ages. Dior’s muse, Mitzah Bricard is also touched upon in a manner that keeps her real as a person. She was known to have exquisite fashion sense but could be very blunt and temperamental as well.

Comparison of Dior fashions of 1947 (left) and 1948 (right).

The last section of the book provides good examples of how Dior evolved in his direction as the mid-late 1950s approached. In his A-Line designs is a precursor of the looser silhouette of the early-mid 1960s when the A-line dress became more youthful with shorter hemlines and more colorful prints.

The book ends with a consideration of the other areas of fashion and design where the New Look had impact.

It is worthwhile seeking out a copy of this book to add to your Dressmaker’s Library. It was published in 1996. I got a second hand copy through Abe Books for about $15.

Secretary Blouse: Some Guidelines for Sewing the Bias Cut Pussycat Bow

I cut the bow on the true bias to ensure a soft roll at the neckline. The bias cut also produces a bow that has soft fullness.

Bias cut fabric always requires extra care in handling. The type of fabric you are using will also determine how much extra work you will have to undertake to ensure a successful outcome.

I’m using a 100% polyester print. All the shortcomings of polyester are there including the ability to pucker. In addition the fabric is slippery and shreds at the seams. I was able to work around this and get a good result.

You’ll notice in the photos that the actual stitching falls below the line marked with dressmakers tracing paper.  Since the fabric I’m using is very slippery and the piece  was cut on the bias, I think the fabric stretched a little when pinned and marked.  I had to check before sewing and found that the seam allowance was larger than the 1/2″ I had wanted.  So I used the presser foot of the machine as a guide and stitched 1/2″ in from the edge.  The bias cut is very tricky.  I could have used tissue paper or stabilizer but having to remove it might have stretched the fabric more.

I suggest the following guidelines when you are using the bias cut to create a pussycat bow… Continue reading

Free downloadble PDFs: Planning, Evaluating, Using Color and Garment Support

I think having a digital library is just as important as having one in real time. There may be times when you are not at home and need to look something up or refresh your memory. This is when I find the many PDF files I’ve downloaded from university extension programs of great value. These brief guides focus on the essentials of the topic they present and are easy enough not to overwhelm the reader.

Here are some guides available from New Mexico State University, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. I’ve grouped them according to topic. The guides for Judging Clothing and Fashion Feasibility present a good overview and checklists of points to consider when planning a project. The guides on colors and interfacings are also provide a good overview on these topics.

Recommended Reading Before Beginning a New Design Project

Judging Clothing Projects
Guide C-103
Susan Wright, Extension Clothing and Textiles Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Clothing Construction Standards
Guide C-214
Susan Wright, Extension Clothing and Textiles Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Fashion Feasibility
Guide C-312
Revised by Nicole Lujan1
URL to download PDF:

Quickly pick-up some tips on the best support and finishing for your garments

Selecting Interfacings, Underlinings and Linings
Guide C-208
Reviewed by Constance Kratzer, Family Resource Management Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Consider the ways colors work together and determine what is best for you before shopping for fabrics

A Guide To Color
Guide C-316
Susan Wright, Extension Consumer Education and Health Specialist
URL to download PDF:

Determining Personal Colors
Guide C-315
Revised by J. Wendy Brown and Andrea Rojas
Cooperative Extension Service • College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
URL to download PDF:

Secretary Blouse-Photos of the Dart Tucks and Interfacing Considerations

For sewing instructions of the Dart Tucks see this posting. Vertical Dart Tucks are usually higher up than the ones in the Secretary Blouse.  The length can be about 2″-3″ above the waist and the fullness released higher up. I decided to stick with the illustration from the vintage pattern envelope because for this style, the tucks are more to control the fullness slightly above the waistline and then from the waistline to the hem of the blouse.  At this point it doesn’t look much like the vintage pattern envelope illustration. I took a narrow belt to see how the blouse will look when it is tucked into the skirt.  Now I can see the purpose of the tucks–to gently control the fullness but not so much that the blouse is form fitting. I think that the four dart tucks at the back also provide a nice control to how the blouse is shaped when belted or tucked into the skirt. I’m using a poly-cotton batiste for the interfacing.  For the back bodice I applied it along the neckline. Before sewing the shoulder seams I placed the bodice on the dress form to check the hang of the fabric.  At the back it looked fine. The first time I basted the interfacing to the front bodice, I did so by placing so that the shoulder line matched the shoulder line of the bodice.  The facing did not have the interfacing applied to it.  What happened was the front lost a bit of the drapey quality I think makes this blouse look so pretty when tucked in.  So I flipped over the interfacing and applied it to the facing instead. When the facing is folded along the fold line, the support is there but the front of the blouse along with the tucks retain a soft, drapey look. This is what I mean when I say that your fashion fabric will “talk” to you and tell you exactly what you need to do.  This is one of the benefits of taking the time to observe what is going on at each stage of the garment construction. The same principle can also be applied to collars.  Sometimes a collar will look better if the top collar is interfaced instead of the under collar.  There may even be times when the top and bottom collar require interfacing.

Secretary Blouse: Sewing Dart Tucks

The Dart Tucks on the Retro Glam Secretary Blouse are widest at the top and narrowest near the hem. Here is how I prepared them for sewing. I prefer not to use a backstitch because it tightens up the stitching line and sometimes can be too heavy for a light-medium weight fabric. I’ll show an alternative to back stitching on the machine.

For photos of the completed Dart Tucks and some considerations when using them please see this post.

Continue reading

Secretary Blouse: Seam finishing

The fabric I chose for the blouse is working out very well. The one quality I had to consider as I’m working with it is how to handle the way it shreds. Threads begin to come loose from the cut edges very easily.

Zig-zag stitching would work on a medium weight fabric but not this satiny polyester. The zig-zag stitch proved too heavy. I experimented with some scraps. A French seam looked very nice but I worried about it working out because of the shredding.

I decided to go with a compromise. I decided to zig-zag the seams closed and pink the edges. This stopped the shredding. All seams will be pressed toward the back.

This is not a couture finish nor is it a high quality finish. I am ok with it because it suits the needs of this fabric and works out in all ways. When pressed the seams are not bulky and from the outside the seam is smooth.

Sometimes it is necessary to come up with a compromise that works with the fabric you have selected. This is why it is good to have a wide variety of reference books to get ideas from. It is also good to experiment on scraps and find the right finishing. The time spent in experimenting on scraps will save the fashion fabric from extra handling.

Sewing the Secretary Blouse-Part 1: Cutting, Marking, Thread Tracing

When one drafts their own patterns they also need to develop skill in other areas of the process such as layout, cutting and marking. At first it’s uncharted territory but with careful planning the entire process can be developed to suit your needs and guarantee good results.

Before buying fabric, I complete all fittings and needed alternations to the pattern. Then on the floor I measure off the width of the fabric when folded by laying a tape measure across the floor. I begin to lay out the pattern pieces for the kind of fabric used considering any special needs such as pattern direction or nap. When all the pieces are laid out I use another tape measure to measure the length of the layout. This gives me an idea of how much yardage I may need.

For cutting I wait until I’ve actually bought the fashion fabric. Then I cut a scrap and try out the cutting shears and rotary cutter. I also examine the weight and the texture and try different marking methods.

The poly fabric for the Secretary Blouse is proving very easy to work with. It pinned well and was easy to cut using the rotary blade.

1. At the French Fashion Academy we were taught to lay the pattern on the right side of the fabric. I’ve no idea why we never used the wrong side of the fabric but I do find that I get a better result for the marking when using the dressmakers tracing paper.

Seams and notches are not added to the paper pattern. Instead the seams are marked 1/2″ or more (depends on the fabric and whether or not it shreds) out from the pattern using a clear plastic ruler and tailor’s chalk.

Instead of notches markings on the pattern indicate matchpoints such as the dots I use for the front and back armhole and on the sleeve to indicate easing and the part of the armscye the sleeve is eased into. When marking I simply make a small “x” at that spot using the tracing wheel and dressmaker’s tracing paper. Other times I might mark the spot with a small, loose hand stitch using basting thread.

Whenever possible, I use a rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat. The results are much better than using the cutting shears.

2. The Dressmaker’s Tracing Paper is folded in half with the shiny side up and placed between the layers of the fabric. Marking in this way from the right side ensures that the tracings are done at the same time.

3. This is how the Dressmaker’s Tracing Paper marks look from the wrong side. The beautiful part of this kind of tracing paper is that the markings vanish once the seams are steam pressed open.

4. It’s a good idea to use different colors of cotton basting thread to differentiate stitching lines and grain lines. Here I’ve selected orange thread for the crosswise and lengthwise grain lines. The basting for all stitching lines will be done in light yellow thread. This helps me to remember what threads to remove after stitching and which ones stay in until the garment is completed.

5. After cutting, marking and tracing the grain lines, I next pin and baste the dart tucks before sewing. I check out how things look by pinning each piece to the dress form. This also gives me an idea of how the fabric will behave during construction. So far I’m pleased with the way the fabric is taking to the dart tucks and the horizontal dart at the bustline.

This Secretary Blouse has 4 dart tucks in the back and one on each side of the front. They are widest at top and taper to a very narrow width at the bottom. I’ll treat how to sew such dart tucks in the next posting. The tapered dart tucks are used in lieu of a blouse yoke to give better shaping under the sheath skirt that is part of this outfit. Many vintage blouses from the 1950s have either a blouse yoke below the waistline or many vertical darts or tucks running from waist to hem to help reduce bulk under the skirts and provide a flattering fit to the blouse.