Dressmaker’s Library: “Grace Kelly-Icon of Style to Royal Bride”

Cover of “Grace Kelly-Icon of Style to Royal Bride” by Kristine Haughland.

As a little girl I thought the most beautiful wedding dress I ever saw was my Mom’s. Then along came Barbie and I experienced the delight in having all the beauty and enchantment of a wedding gown in small scale. But as I came of age in the 1960s I had no attraction to the wedding gowns of that time period. I also had no intentions of getting married so that may have been part of it. The styles of the mid-1960s through the 1970s left me uninspired. I did not find the empire waistline gowns very attractive for a variety of figure types. For me the styles of past decades were what inspired me during the last year at French Fashion Academy. As part of my final exam I created a simple wedding gown that used elements of the 1950s gowns I loved so much. It had a princess seamed bodice covered with Alencon lace pieced over ivory silk charmeuse. The skirt was flared and over that was English cotton net edged with the lace which I had help piecing along the hemline.

Princess Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco.

I never cared for strapless bodices that lacked something to provide a little cover, so we added a draped piece of silk organza overlaid with cotton net. It was gathered at center front. Then the piece was draped around the shoulders from center front and all the way around the back to create a look of short, puffed sleeves in the front. The shoulder blades in the back were also covered. The ability to wear a strapless bodice and look truly natural and elegant is difficult for many women. There are collar bones, shoulder lines, shoulder blades, upper arms and other parts of the body to consider. Even a minor weak point in these areas can turn into an unflattering focal point when a strapless bodice is worn. These are some of the reasons why it is not my preferred style for wedding gowns. I think that the wedding gowns of Her Serene Highness Grace Kelly and Princess Kate are beautiful examples of how alluring and captivating a bride looks when she covers up. Minor figure flaws can be camouflaged with wedding gowns like these. The styles will also look good when the wedding photos are viewed by future generations.

If you are like me and enjoy drafting your own patterns, you understand that it’s not enough to take in a well made garment. There is a need to know how the pattern was drafted and if any special techniques were used in the construction. I am delighted to share with you a peek into the book I bought myself as a birthday present. “Grace Kelly-Icon of Style to Royal Bride” is a wonderful addition to any dressmaker’s library. You will receive a very basic overview of some of the elements of Grace’s style as a young woman, then as an actress and finally as a royal bride. The book was published by The Philadelphia Museum of Art to coincide with an exhibit in 2006 of Grace Kelly’s wedding gown. That year marked the 50th anniversary of her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

In this sketch you can see the contrast between the popular fashion silhouette and Grace’s classic sense of style.

This book will not give you tips or insights into how you can distill the essence of Grace Kelly’s style and make it your own. There is an overview of the evolution of her style with the goal of setting the stage for when she becomes a royal bride. The focus is on how her cool, sophisticated and simple elegance translated into the beautiful wedding gown that continues to be one of the most popular items in the museums’ collection. The information about the gown’s designer, Helen Rose, is concise. You will have enough background to do further research about Helen on your own. There are photos of garments Helen designed for different movies Grace appeared in. From them you can distill some of the elements of Helen Rose’s design portfolio for Grace Kelly. There are such garment features like high necklines, nipped waistlines and simple ornamentation that Miss Rose followed in the creation of Grace’s studio wardrobe and the famous wedding gown.

These sketches contain details about the components of the wedding gown.  The book contains more drawings like these.

The part of the book that I found most valuable comes towards the end. There are drawings which present the different parts of the wedding gown. At last I have the answers as to how Grace’s gown was created. Helen Rose did not make the garment all one piece. Instead she followed the techniques used by the great couturieres: she built the gown by means of a series of layers and different parts. For example, the strapless bodice is part of a foundation garment that has a straight slip. Around the waistline is a layer of ruffles. The strapless bodice and slip are fastened first in the front. The lace bodice is also part of this foundation garment and is buttoned up next. The skirt is a separate piece as is the bias cut cumberbund. Other layers are added until the process of assembling the gown and dressing the bride is complete. There are also detailed descriptions and photos of the dresses for the bridesmaids and flower girls.

Second hand versions of the book can be purchased through Amazon for under $25. I recommend adding this book to your library. It is not only a reference book but also a delight. The color photos and sketches provide much inspiration for your own versions of Grace’s timeless and elegant styles.

Online Vintage Patternmaking Book: “Modern Pattern Design”

“Modern Pattern Design” by Harriet Pepin was written in 1942.

I’m very happy to share a discovery with you today–a complete vintage patternmaking guide that is available FREE at http://web.archive.org/web/20070308175038/http://vintagesewing.info/1940s/42-mpd/mpd-toc-long.html

“Modern Pattern Design” offers a complete system for creating pattern blocks along with the techniques to transform them into various styles.  There are many illustrations and the instructions for drafting are given step-by-step.  Harriet also provides very detailed commentary.  I plan to read through each chapter before incorporating any of her techniques into the system I use.  Her tone and style of writing is very conversational so it is easy to follow along.

This website does not have a “Save as PDF” link but I found a way to save each chapter.   The link provided brings you to the Table of Contents which consists of links to each chapter.  After getting to the site do the following:

  1. Create one folder on your drive and name it “Modern Pattern Design.”
  2. Within this folder create sub-folders named for each chapter as well as the Author’s Statement, Acknowldegement and Summary.
  3. Click on the first link to navigate to that page.  On the menu of your browser click on “File” menu.  Then click on “Save As”.
  4. Select the correct sub-folder by clicking to open it.
  5. Then click the “Save” button on the File Save screen.
  6. Use the forward arrows at the top right hand portion of each screen.  This navigates to the next chapter.
  7. Repeat steps 5-7 until all chapters are saved.
  8. Within each sub-folder your PC will create a sub-sub folder that holds all the graphics from each webpage/chapter.  Below that will be the saved webpage.  Do not delete the sub-sub folder.  It is important to keep.
  9. Print out each saved web page if you want to have a hard copy of this book.

I hope you will find this book as useful as I am.  It is thorough enough to give you a good foundation to get started in creating your own custom made vintage garments.  The illustrations present many wearable, everyday styles of the early 1940s.  They can serve as the basis for your own interpretations.

Downloadable books at Global Grey

The book which I use for custom pattern drafting is based on the method used by French dressmakers in the 1950s.  I am very happy to announce that this sought after book is now available in PDF format at Global Grey.  The URL is:  http://www.globalgrey.co.uk/Pages/perfect-fit-patternmaking.html

Global Grey is a labor of love run by Aisha.  Her passion for making out-of-print books available has resulted in this website.  I encourage anyone who downloads a copy of the patternmaking book to give a small donation towards the upkeep of the site.  Aisha runs it on the donations she gets from visitors and then makes up the difference with her own money.  Let’s support her in this effort.  Her work to make out-of-print books available to a new generation is a worthwhile endeavor.

A booklet of 1960s crochet and knitting patterns for hats is also available for download:  http://www.globalgrey.co.uk/Pages/hats-hats-hats.html

If anyone is nostalgic about the fashions teenage dolls wore in the early 1960s I recommend checking out the booklet of outfits for the Tammy doll by Ideal.  The link for this booklet is http://www.globalgrey.co.uk/Pages/tammy-the-doll-you-love-to-dress.html

To learn more about Aisha and Global Grey, please visit her About page at http://www.globalgrey.co.uk/Pages/about.html

A sense of accomplishment with hope for future projects

I am in the midst of a family history project that has grown into a living and breathing entity that calls me back again and again. It’s as if I’m drawn into something bigger than myself which will not be quiet until the story is completed. This is another reason why my Secretary Blouse and Sheath Skirt project has taken so long.

I miss with my heart and soul all my dressmaking projects. They are now part of “Whenever Land” a place where I can focus on them when I’m fully alert and not surrounded by research notes, phone calls and draft documents related to the family history project.

Writing the family history in a book format a struggle for me. It does not flow the way blogging or dressmaking does. When I’m sewing or drafting a pattern the thought process is at a different level. I start with an idea and work towards its realization. Everything flows. There are challenges where I pause, but then the flow resumes.  The same applies to my blogging.

Writing  a book is very hard. I have scattered memories, research findings and a wealth of family stories to piece together. Then I have to figure out what the deeper meaning is. Finally, the way in which the story is told is very important. One has to show the story through the scenes and flow of the narrative. I cannot do that in chapter format. I’m doing something very different called an episodic format. Each ep (episode) is only 2-3 pages long. The idea is to encapsulate a specific point in the history and let the ep tell it on several levels. In a way an ep is like a unit in sewing. You stitch together one or two components to complete a part of the greater garment.  An ep is also like a blog post in that it is self-contained.  It doesn’t have to link to what came before or after.  It is up to the writer and the needs of the larger narrative.  This is what I’m learning about the process.

Today, as a reminder that I can sew and design I’m looking back on the Donna Skirt and Blouse. This was a breakthrough for me because after a long absence from sewing my skills started to come to the fore. Hand made buttonholes, inserting a zipper by hand, hemming a circular skirt. I also challenged myself by creating a blouse with a waistline yoke as described in Claire Schaeffer’s “Couture Sewing Techniques.” I decided to upload these photos taken yesterday to introduce my Twitter followers to what I’m able to do.

I have decided to reclaim my Saturday or Sunday afternoon hours for sewing. The family history is underway and will get time during the weekday early a.m. hours. Writing is a tricky thing. It requires waiting for the voice of inspiration to drop in whereas for me with sewing it is always there.

The Donna Skirt and Blouse was inspired by the everday outfits housewives wore in the 1950s and early 1960s. My inspiration was “The Donna Reed Show.”

Vintage Pattern Envelope and Pattern Sheet Detail: Vogue 1940s bias cut coat

Vogue no. 8262 was available sometime during the 1940s. The design is deceptively simple and looks like a quick and easy project. Once you review the pattern details you might think twice. The coat front and back pieces are cut on the bias and has bound buttonholes, a roll collar and bound pockets. I would have to think twice about making this coat on the bias because the recommended fabrics like wool and silk crepe can be very expensive. As a thought exercise I find the study of this design very useful in considering other ways to achieve the look without the angst bias cut fabric can induce. There is the stretching and sagging that might occur due to mishandling. The coat does not have a lining so that makes it simpler in some ways.

The pattern envelope describes this style as:

“Coat, beach robe or long monk-like hooded house robe. Bias front and back worn hanging free from shoulders, or belted at waist with wide novelty or corded tie belt. Long loose gathered-at-top sleeves. The small shaped c0llar and inset pockets are optional.”

There are no belt loops for the coat which would make using a wide belt impractical if you plan to take the coat on and off throughout the day. I think If I were to attempt to recreate something like this I might cut it on the straight grain using the basic pattern for a tent coat and add more flares to the pattern. Instead of bound pockets I’d make in-seam pockets so that the flow of the flares is not interrupted.

The pattern instruction sheet is very brittle and torn in some places. For this reason I could not scan the entire sheet. I’m posting here the portions about the sleeve stiffener and shoulder pad since these details are helpful for recreating a period look. This coat uses a sleeve stiffener (a/k/a sleeve head) that is sewn into the cap of the sleeve. The shoulder pad is home made using cotton batting and a lining fabric to cover it. The pattern does not specify how many layers of batting to use nor does it give a height for the finished shoulder pad. Since the sleeve head is used I’d think a very thin shoulder pad about 1/8″ to 1/4″ high would be sufficient.

This pattern was a gift my late Mom gave to me. I know that if she were younger when she selected this she would have liked to wear view D as a house coat. The loose style and flowing silhouette would be flattering for any figure type. This simplicity and adaptability of this coat are typical of what my Mom considered a style that can move with you through the years and still work well.

BYW version of the illustration

Pattern alteration instructions

Instructions for making the sleeve head

Instructions for the shoulder pad (note the triangular shape)

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?

Continue reading

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.