Ann Adams 1940s Sewing Pattern Instruction Sheet

Mid-Summer greetings to all!  I’ve been so busy with my job that sewing is limited to that strange realm called whenever.  As in whenever I get an extra hour or whenever I have an afternoon off.  I’ve learned that it’s very true that haste makes waste so I don’t fight the trend.  The Secretary Blouse and Sheath Skirt are coming along very nicely.  At least at the end of a session, whenever that is, I leave feeling satisfied and progress is being made.  I do think, though, that I’m reaching my limit with synthetics.  It is true that in terms of pressing and laundering they are low maintenance but in terms of sewing they often require as much effort as more expensive natural fibers..  I’m seriously considering going to natural fibers or natural-synthetic blends once I use up the remaining poly gabardine and rayon I bought for a New Look Suit.

In the meantime, I want to tell all visitors, THANK YOU FOR LOVING AND SUPPORTING MY BLOG.  The stats show a steady stream of visitors coming each week.  There are at least 40-60 views each week.  I’m truly delighted that so many people from around the world are learning from the post “How to sew an all-in-one bodice” or how to draft the Donna Skirt.

I’m going through the vintage patterns my Mom bought for me many years ago, before she passed away.  She thought that if I studied the diagrams, instructions and layouts I could adapt the system I learned to produce something comparable.  Mom was very sensible about apparel.  She thought style was more important that fashion.  Time has proved her on the mark as far as I’m concerned.  I’m sharing in this post the instructions and diagram for a 1940s dress designed by a pattern company called Ann Adams.  I think it would look just as flattering today.  The dropped waistline and below-the-knee hemline can create a slimming effect.  This style would also look good on a very slender, small busted woman because the shirring stitched into the side dart creates the appearance of a fuller bustline.  The optional sash can cinch the shaped waistline in even further if a more fitted look is desired.  The pattern illustration shows the dress made in a print but I think a solid color would show off the topstitching, shirring and flared skirt panels to better effect.  What do you think?

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The Importance of Fabric Selection, Part 2/Update on buttonholes

Fabric swatches for the new Secretary Blouse and Sheath Skirt with Kick Pleat.

I enjoyed the entire process of ordering swatches, reviewing them and then making the decision on which fabrics would be right for the Secretary Blouse and Sheath Skirt.  First, seeing the colors in daylight gave me a better estimation of how they would work with each other.  Right away I knew the royal blue was just a bit too bright for me.  The salmon pink blouse fabric was gorgeous but the slippery quality and the sheerness were not going to work for the blouse.

Instead I went with the cream colored fabric which has a pebbly texture and was less transparent.  It went well with the black gabardine.  Even though this is not an exciting combination it leaves me free to select some sparkly rhinestone or pearl and rhinestone earrings to complete the outfit.  I try to keep a sense of understatement like the one I observed among women of my Mom’s generation during the 1950s.

I then took my selected swatches to the sewing machine to see how they would behave.  I was very pleased with the way they worked well with straight and zig-zag stitching.  They also responded well to hand sewing which is very important to me.  I prefer hand finishing hems, buttonholes and other details like plackets.

These are easy care, low maintenance synthetics which works well for me.  The price was also within budget so it was win-win all around.

Buttonhole made with 4-step buttonhole attachment.

The fabric arrived last week and I’ve been practicing machine made buttonholes.  I am now very good friends with my four-step buttonholer.  The only thing I don’t care for is the way the fabric shreds after the buttonhole is cut open.  I’m also having a problem with the stitching when I cut the opening.  Whether I use a special chisel like cutter or the seam ripper there are times the tiny zig-zag stitches also get cut.

My solution is the buttonhole on the right.

I found that if I hand sewed around the machine made buttonhole stitch the fraying stopped.  I used the correct buttonhole stitch and am very pleased with this hybrid result as shown in the buttonhole on the right.  This is not couture or anything I’ve seen elsewhere but it suits my needs and it works.  That’s good enough for me.

Button for the secretary blouse.

I’ve cut out all the pattern pieces and think that this time everything will turn out as I originally envisioned. I also have learned to avoid being hasty when buying fabric.  It truly is wise to consider the properties of the fabric and whether or not it suits the needs of the design.  This eliminates so much of the angst that develops when the fabric is unsuitable.  Haste makes waste in terms of time, money and creative energy.  I’m going to make this a thing of the past for sure.

For Hila: Vintage Sewing Techniques for making a coat

Hey there!  Hila, here are the tips from the vintage booklet “Tailoring” published 1945 by The Spool Cotton Company.

I’ve never seen instructions like the ones given here.  I think these are more labor intensive since the interlining is considered a separate layer from the fashion fabric.  “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing” has a simpler process:  the interlining and fashion fabric are basted together and then cut and treated as one layer.  The only thing these instructions have in common is that the back interlining piece will not have the pleat the way the lining does and has the back seam abutted. This is how I learned to do it and it works very well.

Still, it’s very educational to see how clothing was constructed in the past.  It helps understand how techniques are always evolving.

The Importance of Fabric Selection, Part 1

One of my current weaknesses as far as dressmaking goes is the selection of appropriate fashion fabric. I was not sewing full-scale women’s clothing for almost 10 years when I picked up on it again in 2013. My first projects, The Dirndl Dress and The Donna Skirt and Blouse were problem free as far as the fabric and sewing went. The Dirndl Dress was a medium weight quilting cotton. The Donna Blouse was made from a 100% shirting cotton and the Donna Skirt from a linen-synthetic blend called Linnaire.

I wasn’t prepared for the many issues of working with silky synthetics that the fabric for the Secretary Blouse brought on. So rather than give in to impatience I’m going to do some research and preparation before beginning new projects. This means ordering swatches and taking time to consider which one best suits the needs of the design. Another approach is to start with the fabric and then work on the pattern incorporating the elements that will best work with the fabric.

While reference books on textiles are a big help there’s no substitute for sewing with different kinds of fabrics. Not being in touch with material and handling it causes a loss of some technical and intuitive knowing when shopping and selecting the fashion fabric. I need more time to get that “touch” back.

I found a booklet amongst my vintage “True Story” magazines today. It was published in 1945 by J.P. Coats & Clark. “Tailoring” presents a general overview of what is involved in sewing a tailored suit or coat.

I find the illustrations for the types of suits and coats popular very helpful. There are enough fabric recommendations for each style illustrated to provide a good basis for recreating these styles or variations of them.

I hope you enjoy these and perhaps get inspired to adapt an existing pattern or create one of your own. I will share the fabric swatches that came in today in the next time I post. I’m very excited about the possibilities for a Secretary Blouse that will really work out well this time.

“Tailoring” an illustrated booklet presenting an overview of tailoring techniques for coats and suits. Published 1945 by The Spool Cotton Company, Distributors of J. & P. Coats and Clark’s Thread, First Edition.


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The Dressmaker’s Library: “Illustrating Fashion: Concept to Creation”

When I’m between sewing projects I love to sketch.  There is something very satisfying to seeing an idea given expression on paper.  It also helps when I go fabric or notion shopping because I can show the salesperson what I’m making or want to make.

If you want to learn how to sketch be assured that no previous drawing skills are needed.  The key to success is to find a book that takes you through the process step by step and provides detailed instructions.  “Illustrating Fashion:  Concept to Creation” by Stephen Stipelman is an excellent book.

The cutting method .

Stipleman shows you how to draw a standard 10-heads croquis.  Before moving on to drawing garments he spends several chapters explaining how to understand such concepts as the balance line of the figure and the center line of the garment.  Much attention is devoted to the poses and sense of movement needed in the figure.

One of the most helpful exercises for a beginner is in the chapter where the cutting method is explained.  Here the croquis is treated like a paper doll.  The arms and legs are cut and taped into different positions as shown in the illustration above.  Tracing paper is then put over the figures and a new figure is drawn.  Stipelman emphasizes giving the figure an attitude and stance.  His illustrations are always accompanied by good descriptions.

There is no substitute for attending a class and getting feedback from an experienced teacher.  But if that’s not possible you don’t have to wait.  I recommend you seek out this book and study the lessons.  You will not be disappointed.  I had no real drawing skills prior to beginning the lessons in this book but can now sketch my ideas.  I have a long way to go but I am seeing results.

Here are three of my recent practice sketches using examples from the chapter on how to draw skirts.

What I love about this book is that eventually you can move on to sketching in your own style.  Since my interest in fashion extends to Barbie dolls I do see some of that in my own sketches.  If you decide to develop this talent you’ll be amazed at what is inside of you waiting to express itself.

The Dressmaker’s Library: “Fashion Illustration 1920-1950”

“Fashion Illustration 1920-1950 Techniques and Examples” by Walter T. Foster is a valuable addition to any dressmaker’s library. The value lies in the book being a visual reference on several levels. First, there are the fashions of the decades beautifully and simply drawn. Then there are the body types for each decade showing what was considered the ideal figure for the time.

Fashion figure of the  late 1920s.

Fashion figure of the 1930s.

The slender, linear look of the 1920s gave way to the curvy sensual look of the 1930s.  The tubular silhouette was replaced by one in which fabrics were cut to flow over the body.  There was an emphasis on movement with flares, godets and flounces.

Fashion figure of the 1940s.

By the 1940s the figure is fuller and curvier. The reader will gain insight into how a woman’s body was envisioned by the illustrators and designers of the 1920s through the 1950s. Even though these illustrations represent the ideal of these decades they speak to the reader on many levels. I learned that I prefer the overall look of the 1940s since the inspiration comes from a woman who is living an active life and looks like she has a healthy body weight and outlook on life.

Foster provides some basics to start a croquis (rough sketch of the fashion figure) but does not go much further than that. There are no graded lessons taking the reader through an organized series of exercises. If you already know how to sketch then you might be able to get more out of this book. There are many examples of first sketches compared to finished sketches. For someone with experience these will provide all you need to recreate similar fashion illustrations.

There is a brief treatment of how to draw children. The section on drawing the male fashion figure is treated in the same manner as the female fashion figure. There are some guidelines with the rest of the presentation consisting of many sketches.

“Fashion Illustration 1920-1950 Techniques and Examples” is published by Dover and is available for $12.95. I got mine new from Amazon

Secretary Blouse completed! Here are the lessons I learned.

The vintage pattern envelope illustration that was the source of inspiration. Based on the hairstyles and make-up depicted I estimate the time period as mid-late 1950s.

Front view of the finished Secretary Blouse in the polyester print fabric I selected. In the photos all the work done on the bow and the waistline dart tucks is lost. I have learned my lesson. Next time I will choose a solid color.

Close-up of the pussy cat bow. For version 2 of this blouse I did not have enough fabric left to cut the bow on the bias. I found that you can have a successful pussy cat bow cut on the straight grain. The difference will be that the bow will need to be carefully tied and fluffed out. I used the vertical fold line along the long strip of fabric which finished the neckline and becomes the bow as the grain line.

The back neckline facing had to be eliminated. This fabric did not respond well to traditional ways of sewing the front neckline by laying the facing on top. The bow was stiched from the end up to the point where it is joined to the neckline. Then it was turned to the right side. Then I basted the facing in place along the edge of the neckline. After sewing along the neckline, I pinned the other edge over the neckline and hemmed by hand.

I had to undo the French Seams because I learned that the extra bulk at the neckline and armhole did not work well with this particular fabric. I ended up pinking the seams and pressing them open.

There was another problem with the fabric. It did not respond well to light steam pressing. The dart tucks, cuffs, the bow, neckline, center front and hem all had to be edge stitched. Only then did the fabric flatten out and behave.

The edge stitching holds the dart tucks in place very well. I think the blouse will look great when tucked in or when cinched at the waist with a belt.

The machine made buttonholes were ok but once I cut them open and began handling them for button placement the fabric started to shred again. I ended up working buttonhole stitches by hand on top of the machine stitching.

The edge stitching didn’t come out that well because I didn’t have an edge stitching foot and I worked without stabilizer. I ordered an edge stitching foot but it turns out to be for a machine with a needle that can move to the left. Mine doesn’t. I think if I use a firm, tear away stabilizer next time it will be possible to edge stitch even without the edge stitching foot.

I’ve learned my lesson with print fabrics. No matter how appealing I may find them, they do not provide a good showcase for the work that goes into the design details of the finished garment. I’m going to start using more solid colors for future projects.

Still I like the overall look of the blouse and am satisfied that if a fabric that was not so fraught with problems had been used the results would be better.

I used poly organza as the facing for the blouse front and cuffs. It provided the right support. Since it moves so much during pinning and cutting I had to use tissue paper underneath so that it was easier to cut.

It took me a long time to work through all the issues this fabric presented but I learned so much about working with synthetics. I hope some of my solutions will help others. Since this learning experience has been so valuable I feel satisfied enough to put my label inside of the blouse.

Links to postings with pattern drafting instructions for the Retro Glam Secretary Blouse.