The Dressmaker’s Library: Mary Quant * Autobiography”

mary-3Mary Quant * Autobiography.  Published by Headline Publishing Group, 2012.

Much has been written about how Christian Dior revolutionized fashion with the New Look of 1947.  But modern fashion historians are thinking twice about the designation of “revolutionary” when applied to the actual elements of the 1947 New Look.  The concepts behind the fashions were a throwback to the early 20th century when wealthy women dressed several times a day for different events.  The importance was on conforming to the external standards of beauty which meant heavy corseting to achieve the so called ideal shape.

At the time Dior’s New Look came into vogue a young English girl with a keen eye for color was reaching adolescence.  Her name was Mary Quant and she had the sensibility of an artist even during the WWII years when the family lived way out in the countryside to escape the dangers that existed closer to, and in, the big cities.  Mary’s autobiography breathes with life in each short chapter that captures a part of her development and her progress towards becoming a real revolutionary designer, one who freed women from all trappings of the past and introduced a brash and bold sense of movement to clothing.

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A little black dress with slightly flared flounces on the sleeves and an innocent Peter Pan collar in white by Mary.

Mary retells her story in a way that makes her total personality emerge.  She was passionate about changing fashion but did not live in the world with blinders on.  The first love and constant love in her life was her husband and business partner Alexander Plunkett Green.  She also loves her son Orlando.  Mary writes openly about the challenges of  getting over the loss of  a daughter and another baby due to amisarriages, her husband’s infidelities and the need of getting a good nanny for Orlando.  In doing  so she shows us the other side of her life, the one behind the praise of the press and the glitter of being at so many fashionable parties each week.

You will not get any sewing details or patternmaking insights from Mary’s autobiography but you will get inside the way her mind works.  As such, you’ll get some cues as to where she drew inspiration from and how she developed it into realized form.  Mary loves color from all sources in life.  She can see a black dress and think that white topstitching will help the design catch more attention.  The commonplace Peter Pan collar took on a new aspect when combined with her mini dresses that followed a fit and flatter princess line.  In Mary’s vision, a simple tubular dress becomes elegant with the addition of circular collar and circular flounces on the sleeves.

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This dress was named “Daddy’s Girl” by Mary.  It was one of the popular styles in her early years as a designer.  The dress is distinguished by the circular flounces used for the collar and cuffs of the sleeves.  Modelled by Jean Shrimpton.

One insight and source of inspiration reveals how the seeds of the mini skirt developed inside Mary’s mind over many, many years.  As a young girl taking dance lessons, she saw a ‘tween age girl in the room where tap dancing practice was  in progress.  The ‘tween was wearing textured tights and white ankle socks along with patent leather Mary Jane styled tap shoes.  With this the little girl wore a very short pleated skirt.  Mary remembered that this expressed all the concepts she wanted to bring into real fashions for young women.  Something evocative of the freedom of movement and spontaneity young girls have.  If you look at the popular styles of the 1960s you will see how this vision came to fruition as women took to short skirts, ribbed knit poor boy sweaters, textured tights and stockings and flat shoes.

Mary thought that haute courture resulted in sad clothing for sad women.  The clothing was not used and worn and exposed.  It was measured, restrained and available only to a few.  The restrictive elements of couture clothing reduced women to elegant clothes hangers for the garment.  Mary wanted to make clothing affordable and available to the masses.  It is true her first customers were the Chelsea girls in London, but Mary’s positive outlook did not make her turn away American retailers who offered mass marketed clothing like J.C. Penney.

Where Dior was a revolutionary was in the way he developed his brand into many different product lines and entered into licensing agreements.  On the business side of fashion that was a forward development.  In terms of style he was inspired by looking backward.  Mary too looked to  her own past but brought it out in a way nobody had before.  She developed pantyhose which freed women from the use of girdles and garter belts.  Her loose fitting clothing did away with the need for restrictive under garments.

For these reasons I think this book is a good addition to any dressmaker’s library.  It’s not just sewing techniques that help boost your skills.  It’s also learning to look at the world creatively, like Mary did, and then let the magic flow forth.

1930s Sew-along with Norma: How to handle a flounce

Here’s a very quick update on my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

After some cold sweats and a worrisome night, I fixed the boo-boo I made with the flounce.  In my previous posting, I said I was going to try stay stitching by hand.  After doing that I pinned the flounce to the dress form to let the drape set in.

What a mess I made.  The delicate flounce stretched horizontally and was too big for the lower edge of the dress.  It was a good thing I cut the flounce much longer than planned.  I had to cut a few inches at the top off after stay stitching by machine about an inch below the edge.  I used three tows of machine basting for stay stitching.  Then I clipped the top of the flounce and gently pinned and basted to the bottom of the dress.  This solution worked.

Lesson learned—

  1.  Always stay stitch a flounce along the upper edge.
  2. Then stitch side seams.
  3. Finish side seams.
  4. Clip the edge of the flounce before basting so that the edge will go straight in to the other seam.
  5. Use lots of pins and baste with small basting stitches.
  6. Machine stitch along stitching line and then 1/4″ above.  Trim seam and finish according to what works best for the design and fabric.
  7. Now is the time to hang the dress or skirt with the flounce onto the form or a hanger so that the drape can set in.

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Here’s the dress as I await the drape to set in.  Hemming will be next.  I think I’ll do a photo tutorial of how I make the fabric covered buttons.  I think I will make the belt myself.  A seamstress on Etsy does beautiful work for the kind of belt I want but it’s $30 and up.  That is more than what I spent on the belt fabric.  I’ll have to think of a way to make a belt that doesn’t need eyelets or a prong to close.  The gold or silver of prongs and eyelets will clash with the print and belt fabric.  I do not find a prong and eyelets to match the green fabric for the belt so a creative workaround will be developed.

The dress needs a pressing but so far I’m getting more pleased with how late 1920s it is looking.  Once the belt is made it will be more early 1930s.

 

 

 

 

Manufactured Clothing: Lessons in seam finishes

Introduction

Naomi of Spare Room Style and I had an interesting and helpful exchange this morning about stabilizing and finishing seams that fall on the bias.  Naomi might make a camisole completely cut on the bias.  She is thinking of using French seams but wondered if that would be too heavy.

I have not sewn with garments cut on the bias so my advice here is very limited.  I am more familiar with sewing flounces where either the side seam falls on the bias or the entire piece is on the bias.  In those instances I’ve sometimes pinked the seam but never used a zig-zag stitch.

I mentioned a very old teddy I have that is completely cut on the bias.  I thought that the construction used in this manufactured item could offer us sewistas some clues.  So here are photos analyzing how the teddy was constructed using factory techniques.  I’ve also included photos of a pair of lounge pajamas made in a polyester that feels something like silk.  The teddy and the lounge pajamas are almost 30 years old.  It proves that careful hand washing and storage can prolong the life of anything you wear.  The pajama bottoms need a new elastic waistband.  I may do a drawstring so that the issue is corrected once and for all.

The bias teddy is stored flat in a box and is wrapped in tissue.  It was a gift to me way back in the day.  As pretty as it looks I will be honest with my blog friends about this gift:  it is not flattering at all.  It is cut too low at the bust and too high at the leg.  The lace at the crotch isn’t soft and overall it is not sexy once on.  For a small boned, small busted woman with nice curves below the waist this is a disaster!  I also felt so very strange getting a gift of intimate lingerie from a married couple who knew this was not in keeping with who I am.  I quietly thanked them and put it back in the box.

My boyfriend at the time also didn’t like it.  He thought I looked better in faded denim shorts a la Daisy Dukes style, a cropped white t-shirt and wedgie sandals.  Go figure what women think is sexy doesn’t always line up with what your guy likes.

Teddy Construction

The teddy is by a company called Sami.  The fabric is 100% silk and the lace is nylon & polyester.

The lace was applied to the front and back pieces at top and bottom.  Then a French seam was sewn all the way down at the side seams.  The finished French seam is 1/4″ wide.

The French seam is very lightweight and smooth from the outside.  On the inside it looks slightly puckered but that may have been caused by the turning of the seam into the fabric for the second stitching of the French seam.

This is the front of the teddy on my dress form.  You can see how high the sides are cut.  It’s almost at abdomen level.  It was not flattering to have part of my backside exposed so much.  And the top is too low.

This is the back of the bias cut teddy.  The back is slightly baggy and because so much shows in an unflattering manner, it’s hard to envision who this was made for.

The lace overlays the silk on the right side of the fabric.  A tiny stitch similar to a zig-zag joins the two pieces together.

Lounge Pajamas

There is no manufacturer’s label inside the lounge pajamas.  They are very comfortable but the top buttons too low.  It’s way below my bustline so I wear these with a tank top underneath.

Top and back of the loungewear pajama set.  This was a gift from the same people who gave me the teddy.  Again the construction is beautiful but the styling leaves something to be desired.  The buttons start almost below the bust line.

The fabric is very silky and I would think prone to shredding as their are threads I sometimes have to trim from the side seams.  The seams are 1/4″ wide, finished with a merrow stitch and pressed towards the back of the garment.  I think a home sewist could do the same with a small zig-zag stitch in lieu of an overlock stitch.

The pajama top was not interfaced along the center front.  The edges were merrowed.  I think this finish provides the best solution.  If I were to sew such a pajama set on my own machine, I’d straight stitch 1/4″ from the edge and then hand overcast if it were real silk.  For polyester I might zig-zag.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Rayon Faille and Bias Seams

Introduction

Here’s my update on the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

The flounce for my 1930s inspired dress was cut with the center front on the lengthwise grain.  The flounce is a semi-circular shape with side seams falling on the bias.  The fabric I’m using is rayon faille.  It has a lovely drape and feels very light next to the skin.  It is not slippery but very shifty.  And since the side seam of the flounce is on the bias, this part of the construction required some thought and adaptation of familiar techniques.

What I show here is a solution I came up with based mostly on the needs of the fabric.  The purpose is to encourage you to take those techniques you know and, when required, use them as a starting point to your own solution to a sewing challenge.  It’s impossible to always find an answer in a book since the combination of styles, fabrics, sewing machines and time available vary from one sewista to another.  This is why creative thinking is a good thing.  Books are there to guide us but it is experience that is our greatest teacher.

Basting the side seams of the flounce

In Couture Sewing Techniques , Claire Schaeffer writes about a basting method used in couture sewing called lap basting.  It is used when sewing a bias seam and permits the grain to settle when the garment is hung on the dress form for a few days before sewing.  I used this technique when sewing a denim circle skirt and it worked out perfectly.  The basting was one as described by Claire:  I used a single strand of conditioned thread that was knotted and had a 2″ more or less, tail of thread behind it.  With this I basted from the top down for about 6″ more or less.  Then I cut this length of threa leaving another 2″ tail.  Another length of conditioned basting thread was used and a new row of basting stitches continued where the other left off.  This new row of stitches started slightly above the previous.  From there it continued down about 6″.  Then it was cut and the process repeated.  The only knot was in the first length of thead starting from the top.

The cotton denim skirt then hung on the dress for for a few days.  The threads permitted gravity to pull the fabric down as the grain settled.

I tried lap basting on a scrap of rayon faille only to find it did not hold the fabric well enough to prevent shifting when I machine stitched it.  Since the side seam is on the bias I did not want to use tear away or even water soluble stabilizer.  When sewing on the bias I find less is more.  I decided to do something different which I’ll show in the photos that follow.

Basting rayon faille when the seam is on the bias

I’m using a scrap of muslin since the print of the dress fabric prevents the basting stitches from showing up.  I use two different sizes of hand sewing needles.  To condition the basting thread I used a new dryer softener sheet.  My advice is to change the dryer sheets often and avoid using ones you’ve already put into the dryer.  I find them to have no conditioning and softening effect on the thread.

The solution I came up with was to baste two parallel rows of basting stitches next to the seam line of the side seams.  One length of stitches was longer, for which I used the #8 Sharps.  The second row consisted of smaller stitches which filled in the spaces between the longer basting stitches.  For the smaller stitches I used the #6 Between hand sewing needles.

I’ve learned that rayon faille response better to a double strand of basting thread.  The seam remains stable enough to sew without the need for a stabilizer.  In the photo above you can see the lap basting on the top.  Below that is the solution I used to baste the side seams of the flounce.  The knot at the start of the line of stitches  worked out very well since the top remained stable and the stitches after it did not come undone.

When machine sewing, I used a medium stitch length and stretched the side seam only a little.  None of the basting threads broke and the seam did not pucker when the basting stitches were removed.  After pressing the seam was flat.

Finishing a side seam on a bias flounce for any fabric

My sewing teacher taught me a way to stabilize the side seams of a bias cut skirt or flounce.  This will lessen the tendency of a bias cut seam to continue to stretch even after the garment is finished.  We used cotton twill tape that was washed and then steam pressed while damp.  When the tape was dry it was catch stitched to just the seam.

Cotton twill tape is too weighty for rayon faille.  I went into the stash I keep of different hem tapes and trims.  This 1″ wide piece of lace was just right.  After pre-shrinking I catch stitched it to the side seams of the flounce.

I then pinked the edges of the flounce to keep them from fraying.  Since the bias is very tricky to handle I believe this was enough of a finish.

Once the flounce is sewn in I will photograph the way the flounce and bodice side seams hang so you can understand the reasons why these different finishings were applied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Sewing a flounce

Progress Report1930s Sew-along with Norma

This week I worked on the flounce for the dress.  Flounce and ruffle are words sometimes used interchangeably.  For me, a ruffle is a strip of fabric that is cut on the straight grain, gathered an sewn into the garment.  A ruffle can have trimming or use other notions to add to its effect on the overall garment.

A flounce moves much more than a ruffle will due to its cut and shape.  The pattern piece for a flounce is circular or semi-circular in shape.  It can also be slightly flared instead.  The key features of a flounce are that one part is on the straight grain and the other part is on the bias.  This creates a fluidity that a ruffle will not have.

Flounces use up a lot of fabric.  Cutting goes well on the widest piece of fabric you have.  For this flounce the center front and back pieces are on the straight grain.  The side seam goes on the bias.

It is very, very important not to rush when sewing a flounce.  Before even sewing the side seams, it is wise to baste the flounce at the side seams in a special technique I learned from Claire Schaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques”.  I will show how this is done next week using a scrap of muslin and basting threads in two different colors.  This technique has proven to be very effective in that the drape of the flounce sets in beautifully before the side seams are sewn.  Gravity works it’s power to settle the fabric so that there is very little puckering when machine stitching.

It is important to also stay stitch any other part of the flounce you will hang or pin from when allowing the hang of the side seam to set in.  I did all basting and stay stitching by hand.  Again another time consuming and exceedingly slow procedure.  However, given how shifty rayon faille is this proved worthwhile.  Sewing was so easy.

In the weeks ahead I also have to begin focusing on the belt.  This is going to be another project in itself.  The belt making kits I have come with silver buckles and silver prongs.  These look very cheap and tacky against the rich green fabric for the belt.  So along with an appropriate interfacing for the belt I now need to see if anyone sells prongs and buckles that are close to the green color.  Gold is a possibility but I think it will be too obvious and detract from the way the belt and dress print are meant to blend rather than compete with each other.

Progress Photos

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The flounce doesn’t look like it’s doing much after hanging on the dress form for 6 days.  This is because we’re looking at if from Center Front which is on the straight grain.  It also will need some special consideration for finishing the side seams so that the flounces move outward, rather than inward as they are doing right now.

Right now the flounce doesn’t look so great.  It will have more movement once the hem is completed and it is sewn to the bodice.

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This close-up of the side seam shows just how much gravity has had its effect on the settling of the hang of the flounce.  Once the side seams are finished and pressed it will be sewn to the bodice.  To be safe I will let the completed dress hang for a few days more before trimming the hem to even it out.

 

 

1930s Sew-along with Norma: Bodice and sleeves finished!

Update on the dress

And so as 2017 begins, I’m back to the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.  I’ve learned so much, so very much on this slow but productive journey.  The more I work with rayon faille, the more I love it.  Plus I’ve broken out of my comfort zone since this I’ve not used it before.  Here are the things I’ve learned which made the bodice and sleeve construction turn out well:

1. Rayon faille is not slippery but it moves around easily.  It requires many sharp pins to hold the garment pieces together.  It is best to use a conditioned, double strand of cotton basting thread when preparing for machine stitching.

2. This fabric shreds and shreds and shreds.  I cut all seams 3/4″ wide.  After stitching the seams I trimmed only the edges of the fabric.  I wanted to keep the seams wide to add some weight to the seam.  This is a very floaty fabric, too.  I wanted just a hint of structure so I hand stitched lace seam tape to the wrong side of the seam after machine stitching.

3. The lace tape was stitched to the inside using a very small running stitch and a double, waxed, and pressed strand of poly-cotton thread.  After this the outer edge of the seam was hand overcast using a double strand of the poly-cotton thread that was waxed and pressed.  I used a size 6 sharp hand sewing needle.  A smaller needle works out well for more control.  At least for me.

4. The sleeves were a journey into a sewing technique that was partly from Clair Shaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques”.  The Claire part consisted in using 3 rows of tiny hand stitches on the sleeve cap for easing into the armscye.  Couture applications of set-in sleeves do not use machine basting thread.

I used double strands of cotton basting thread that was conditioned with new fabric softener strips and then pressed.  To set the sleeve into the armscye I used a double strand of cotton basting thread, also conditioned and pressed, in a different color.  Then I was ready to machine stitch.

Although time consuming, the sewing of the sleeve went off smoothly.  There were just two places on the right sleeve with the fabric underneath formed a little pucker.  That was unpicked and restitched without any harm to the lovely curve on the sleeve cap.

5.  Putting interfacing and facing into the lower sleeve, about 5″ in length from the wrist upwards, creates that little outward position you see in the photos that follow.  When the arm is put into the sleeve it falls into place with the lower edge resting neatly around the wrist and the upper portion looking more relaxed.  My concern was that a facing was needed because there will be about 5 fabric covered buttons on each sleeve.  These will run up along the vertical sleeve dart at the back.

The flounce is going to require some thought.  It has to hang before a final stitching of the side seams to let the weight and bias hang of the skirt settle in.

I think that I’m very geeky with my happiness I find in the little details but this has gone beyond what I expected.  Even the pattern of this fabric flows well across the center back seam.  The print drives me crazy after a prolonged session but with a little time away I come back and love the progress this is making.

Right now the slight shaping at the underarm seam is not apparent but when the dress is belted this is going to be very figure flattering.

Progress Photos

Front of ‘dress. Fabric:  Rayon Faille.

The seam finishing enables the zipper and seam to stay flat.  From a distance you can’t even see the zipper application.  I used a hand stitched slot application.

I  recommend trying out 3 rows of ease stitching on a sleeve cap.  I’m not sure how it will come out with machine basting but if you try let me know.  I am so pleased with what I have learned about hand ease stitching I plan to use this technique again if I use a slippery or shifty fabric.  I didn’t even have to shrink or steam press the cap before or after sewing.

 

Easing into 2017, the RetroGlam way!

Happy, Happy New Year to all my blogging friends, subscribers and sojourners on the fashion quest to blend retro and modern styles.  My wish is for all to enjoy good health, mental clarity and focus for all creative projects.  May 2017 be a year of progress and improvement for all!

I went to Washington, DC over the Christmas weekend to take a much needed rest and retreat.  I stayed at a family style guest house that was so comfortable I spent the time after breakfast and before lunch reading and napping.  The book that accompanied me on this trip was the bio of Mary Quant.  I was not disappointed.  Mary’s voice and outlook immediately drew me in.  I still have a way to go but plan to make a short posting about the book once I resume regular blogging here at WordPress.

For now I’m easing into the New Year by continuing the lovely practice of a late morning nap on Saturday morning.  I hope I can adhere to this schedule because the effects are proving very beneficial to me.  During my trip to Washington, I spent the morning of Christmas Eve in a small nail salon that had a tech with a magic touch.  She gave an exquisite facial and neck massage that sent me back to the guest house feeling brand new.  She knew that I had a hectic schedule and was slightly sleep deprived by the way I kept dozing off during the pedicure.  She told me that if I only miss a few extra hours of sleep during the week, I can make it up on a weekend by napping that number of hours.  So, for example, if I only get 5 or 6 hours of sleep one night instead of 7 or 8, I should make up the time by taking a 2 hour nap on the weekend.  I’ve no idea if there is any scientific basis for this but the practice of a regular nap sounds very restorative to me.

Which brings me to the subject of this posting:  creating a mood of RetroGlam even when relaxing at home and indulging in a bubble bath or a leisurely nap.  I think it is too easy to allow the opportunity for small indulgences to slip by.  I often fall asleep in my jeans with a messy heap of the quilt and sheets on my sofa bed when I take a nap.  I’m going to try and make the nap something special.  The bed will be the same but I’m going to make it neat and perhaps buy a good pillow with a pretty pillow case.  Next a comfy pair of pajamas or a special nightgown just for nap time.

I found the following ads in the February 25th, 1945 edition of “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle”.  I think the bedroom décor and the housecoat convey something of what my dream room and lounge attire would be if things moved at a slower pace.  Even if they remain as they are, there are still a few ideas here that I may adapt to my bed and naptime or lounge wear.  Even a small touch such as a special tea cup or coffee mug and a silky duvet can add a touch of RetroGlam if these items harken back to our mother’s or grandmother’s generation.  I hope this gives you some ideas…

Bed Linens and Curtains from Abraham & Strauss, 1945

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Spring Change for your bedroom–in quilted chintz

    Single Spread 14.95                 Draperies, pair             12.95
Double Spread 15.95                 Dressing Table Skirt   9.95

Pillow Sham 4.95

It’s time for your bedroom to blossom–and what could be prettier than these slick glazed chintz trappings?  The bedspread has a completely quilted top and quilted cuff around the flounce.  Draperies are 2 3/4 yards long. the print is full of flower-garden colors,  ontrasted with petunia pink, morning glory blue or leaf green.  A&S Draperies, Fourth, Central.  Mail, phone orders filled.

Convenient Payments Arranged On $24 Or More.

House Coat from Martin’s

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Wrap yourself in Roses on
Crisp Glazed Chintz

A housecoat to put the lilt of Spring into your home life.  the beautiful natural-looking roses scamper all over the snowy white background.  And it’s charmingly styled with soft side-drape and ruffled yoke-line.  the chintz is permanent finished for safe washing.  and you can have blue, yellow or pink roses.  Sizes 12 to 20.  8.98

Negligees–Martin’s Street Floor

Martin’s, Fulton At Bridge Street, Brooklyn 1


Resources

Ads from the February 25, 1945 edition of “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle”
Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Newsstand

Ad from Abraham & Straus Department Store
page 5
http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/53704379

Ad from Martin’s Department Store
Housecoat
page 6
http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/53704380