Garments I Have Known and Loved

Here’s one that I was thinking about all yesterday and today. Garments that I made long ago that still give me great pleasure to look at, if not wear, today. I have several. They are garments that defy the philosophy: “If you haven’t worn it in two years, throw it out.” These are pieces that I made, in some cases, more than 10 years ago, and I may not have worn for 5 or more years (or since I had my second child, who is now 8). I can’t bring myself to throw them away. There is an emotional tug that I get when I look at them. Heck, two of them predate both of my children. Let me share them with you:



Butterick 4300 is a classic princess line dress. I think it’s out of print at this point. I made this dress from a beautiful lipstick red, 4-ply silk crepe for a Christmas concert I sang with Cantillare, a singing group in central Massachusetts. I love everything about this dress – it’s lined with china silk, so it’s heaven to wear. I love the lines of it, and the fact that I can cut it down for a dinner dress if I ever choose (not likely). I also was inspired by an article of Susan Khalje’s in Threads magazine to insert the zipper by hand using sequins and beads as a small embellishment on either side, as you see here:


This dress is an out of print Vogue Belleville Sassoon evening gown. I made this dress for a big party I threw for my husband’s birthday. The day before the party, I stopped nursing my then infant youngest son, and this dress was my “I’m FREE!!!!!” dress. The fabric is a fabulous silk by Gianni Versace that I bought at G Street while he was still alive. The buttons are gorgeous pearl and rhinestone fabulosities that I also bought at G Street for an arm and a leg. But boy are they worth it!


This jacket is a Claude Montana. I made coordinating high-waisted pants to go with it. The zipper on the pants broke back in 2000, and the truth is that after two kids, I don’t have a high enough bust or a small enough ribcage to pull off high waisted pants any more (these were right up to my third rib). So I tossed the pants, but I kept the jacket. This was from the times when Vogue would send you “Vogue Paris Original” labels with the pattern. I think I made this in 1991. I know my dad was still alive, so it was definitely before 1993. The fabric is a fabulous wool tweed that I bought at the late, lamented North End Fabrics in Boston’s Chinatown. I lined it with a soft silk/rayon brocade. It still hangs in my closet. Well, it hangs in my cedar closet, actually. I put it on the dress form today, and after admiring the asymmetric closure, all I could think was, “My god, I actually wore shoulder pads this big????”


Speaking of linebacker shoulders, this suit is another keeper. It’s a Vogue Karl Lagerfeld design. I made this suit when my eldest was a baby, so it’s almost eleven years old. There are several reasons I will keep this suit forever. One, it was featured in Threads Magazine’s inaugural “From Our Readers’ Closets” section. That was pretty cool! Second, it was the turning point in my sewing career where I decided that if it was worth making, it was worth investing the time to do it right, and this beast took a lo-o-o-ong time to make because of that. Hand padstitching, bias cut interfacings here, hair canvas there, steam and press, steam and press steam and press! I also wore this suit to close more big ($million plus) sales deals in my high tech career. My husband and I call this suit my million dollar suit for that reason. And I bought this fabric in Paris, in a little tissus shop right off Rue Faubourg Ste. Honore. I spoke only passable French, the vendeuse spoke no English, but the language of sewing is quite universal, and we managed to understand each other quite well.


The final dress is actually a two-piece outfit. It’s an old Vogue Issey Miyake design, made with I made this one before I had kids, so it’s at least 12 years old, probably 13. The top is a pretty straightforward, loose fitting shirt with dropped shoulders. I made it and the skirt from cotton broadcloth in a solid blue, with a gorgeous midweight Viyella paisley challis as the contrast. The amazing thing about the skirt is that it has (are you ready?) Eleven and one half yards of fabric in it! Check this picture out:

The skirt is an origami marvel. It’s folded upon itself quite intricately. A funny little anecdote about this dress is that when I took it to the dry cleaner the second time, Kim (dry cleaner) said to me, “Oh, I know this dress. My presser really knows this dress!” I’m not sure if that was positive or negative. I used to call this my Demo Dog Dress. Before my youngest was born, I was the assistant teacher at the Boston Center for Adult Education swing dance classes. Joni (the head teacher) used me to demo steps, and to teach classes when she wasn’t there. I called myself the Demo Dog. The third week of every term, we would do a big demo dance for the beginning students, and this was what I always wore, because when I’d do spins, the dress would be quite spectacular.

Yes, we all have ghosts in our closets. Enjoy yours, and happy sewing!

Back to the Sewing Room

Thanks for letting me vent yesterday. I went back to the sewing room for some therapeutic stitchin’. And I decided to make a top. Last weekend I made a New Look skirt that I reviewed here at PatternReview. Our best man, JJ, is celebrating his 10th anniversary, and tonight we are going out to dinner with him and his wife. So I decided to make a top to go with it. I had enough of the polka dot fabric to make a shell. And I had this pattern in my stash from ages ago:

It’s an out of print Vogue Basic pattern for a princess line shell with neckline variations. It’s a great pattern. I made it a couple of years back for a “We’re Sick of Winter Party” – a bash we throw each February where we crank the heat to 80, make rum drinks and tropical appetizers and put Jimmy Buffett and Merrymen on the stereo. Everyone wears shorts and Aloha shirts under their winter coats, and we have a great time.

Back to the present. I pulled out this pattern and in about 3 hours had a new top. There are a couple of things that I changed about it, but the most important thing to do when making a top like this, regardless of your fabric, is press the bejeezus out of it as you go along. The success or failure of a garment like this depends directly on how well you press your seams. I wrote an article in Threads magazine and I wrote about it on PatternReview way back when. My students call me the pressing nazi, mostly affectionately I think, because I’m always riding them about pressing properly. Let me put it to you this way. Do you know that, in most factories, the pressers earn more than the seamstresses? True. They spend more time with the garment, shaping it. And I’ll tell you, the simpler the garment, the more critical pressing is to its final look and quality.

Another change I made is to use a more ready to wear approach and insert an invisible zipper in the left side seam. Unlike the directions, I positioned the stop at the underarm and had the zip go all the way to the hem of the garment. Other than that, not much. You can read the full review here on PatternReview. Here’s a picture of the finished garment:

I’m going to wear it tonight, and since it’s getting chilly in the evenings, I’ll probably bring this jamovar shawl that I bought from Heritage Trading on ebay:

Happy Sewing!

Looking for Inspiration

I know it’s early, but I’m already thinking about my dress for the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center annual gala. This year it’s going to be held on November 11. I’ve been involved with the BCC for quite some time, and this is the one black tie event that I actually am willing to show up for. Since I’m on the board, I want to look nice. Last year I made a dress, dubbed Judy’s Beautiful Dress, named for a student of mine who was undergoing treatment for cancer at the center.

This year, I want to make a dress again. I have some silk charmeuse that has been aging in my stash since last year:
It’s a gorgeous, Italian burnout charmeuse. It has an ivory background with large peonies and flowers in shades of red, yellow and coral. It’s an absolute stunner, and I bought it (any guesses?) for the stunning price of $12/yard. As an aside, that same weekend I saw the exact same fabric on a dress form at Sposabella fabrics on West 40th. I had to check it out, so I dragged poor Sewing Diva Phyllis in with me and innocently asked how much. $40/yard, and the sales lady went on about how good a price that was! Yeah, right. I also bought several yards of peach colored 4 ply silk to coordinate with it when Kashi called me earlier this month.

So now the question is, what should I make? Here are some possibilities:
I like this pattern, Vogue 2801. It has good possibilities for using both fabrics, with the charmeuse as the top and the crepe as the skirt. I also like the neckline on it, and I can use Kenneth King’s CD Book, Birth of a Bustier to build the foundation and give myself a good challenge as well as a great fit.

I already own Vogue 2810, a two piece corset/skirt pattern. I’m not sure I really like it for this fabric, though. I don’t think the corset would showcase the floral charmeuse (big flowers, small pattern pieces). The more I think about it the less inclined I am to use it. I just don’t think it will work. I think I’ll just leave it in the stash for future use.

Vogue 2890 is pretty, but it calls for 60 inch wide fabric, so I’m not sure it will work very well. Plus, the rosettes are a little much with the peony fabric. And if you watch Project Runway this season, you’ll understand my aversion to too much wickety-wack trim. This is tasteful, but it’s still a little more than I am comfortable with.

Marfy 9541 is a remote contender. Unfortunately, I have only made one Marfy pattern so far. It was a skirt. It went togther just fine, but I’m leery about how their patterns are to work with. this one is not too complex, which is part of its appeal. But I can’t tell much about it from the drawing. I really wish they would put technical line drawings in their catalogues, not just these fantasy figure drawings.

Well, I do have some time before I need to make up my mind. JoAnn is having a sale this weekend on Vogue patterns, so I may just pick up a few at that and see if any thing strikes my fancy. I’ll report back, and I’m always open to suggestions.

Until then, happy sewing!

Butterick Early Fall

Oh yay, Butterick put their patterns up. You know, they’re usually not that inspiring to me, but I liked a bunch this season. Of course, they have their version of the ubiquitous “Duro Dress”. Yes, this is going to be next year’s poncho. Wear it quick, then put it away for 10 years and pull it out again when you can call it vintage. On the other hand, just toss the ponchos. They won’t be back for another generation, thank the heavens!

So here’s their version of The Dress, 4849:

There are a couple of things I like about this dress, especially in comparison to some other versions out there. I like the fact that the skirt is not as gathered, so you run less risk of getting the “when are you due” reaction from people on the street. I also like the closer sleeves on version C. That takes it out of the realm of the “that’s so 2006”, especially if you make it using a fabulous dark crepe or jersey. The neckline and waistbands would also provide a good foundation for some cool embellishments (like the ones in Phyllis’ blog, Obsessed with Embellishment

I love this skirt, 4859:
. This has amazing and fun options for contrasts. For evening, I would make this out of a heavy silk crepe and use a cool contrast in a funky silk print. Another evening option is a black stretch velvet with an animal print for contrast. For day, I would use wool crepe in contrasting colors. Another cool thing to do with this is to make View B with piped seams, or even better, make it with slotted seams and contrast bias tape. Black wool crepe with hot pink slotted seams? How YSL is that??? Oh yes, this pattern will be mine.

Jacket 4863 has some interesting possibilities. I’d skip the gathered shoulders if you have wide shoulders (I do) or lived through this look in the 80s (I did). But View A is kind of cool if you can find fabulous buttons (try M&J Trims in New York). Avoid the blue/red combination that they show though – you run the risk of looking like an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean. It would be nice in a beautiful tweed with coordinating solid color wool trim, and would be at home in an office with a pegged skirt, as well as thrown over jeans for a casual dinner look.


4870 is a very good wardrobe pattern. This is the kind of thing that would look good on a woman of a certain age, without looking too matronly, as long as you get the fit and fabric right. I know, you’re thinking, “well, that’s the trick, isn’t it?” Yup, it is. The bones on this pattern are good, There are a lot of fitting possibilities. The jacket hides the upper arms, the top seems to hit in a good place. The pants look sharp, and if you are a little adventurous (it’s not that hard), you can release the darts in the back and make the facing from elastic, to give a little more ease. This is the kind of outfit that women I know would kill to find for weddings and other events they have to attend. I have a red 4-ply silk crepe that would look great as the dress, and a matching rose-print crepe georgette that would be a fantastic jacket. Plus, you can pair the jacket and top with skinny pants for a more casual dinner look.

4875 is a wardrobe of coats. For my money, I prefer the Vogue version (check two posts back). This one is a good basic design. The collar could be tricky, especially on more petite figures. If you’re tall, or have the gumption to carry it off, then please, DON’T make this coat in fleece! I don’t care that it says you can. Don’t. Sorry, time for the soapbox. I have seen more decent coat patterns ruined by people using fleece for them. It doesn’t look rich; it doesn’t look good; it just ends up looking sloppy. Listen to me, I’m serious. A coat of this type is meant to be made from a fabric that has body and doesn’t stretch. Wool melton is not much more expensive. Invest your time in something that you will have for years. Put the fleece down. Good. Now, back slowly away from the fleece and turn towards the wools. Good. Pick up that lovely wool coating. Good! Now, doesn’t that feel better? You’ll look better too, and you’ll wear it for years and years.

Okay, it’s only a short side trip to snarky, so let’s have some fun. First, let me say about this pattern:
I owned a RTW jacket (part of a suit) that looked just like this when I first got out of college. It was blue pinstripe, and I thought I was all that and a big bag of chips when I wore it. I got my first job offer while wearing that suit! My kids recently dug out an old photo album and saw a picture of me in that suit. My first reaction was that I looked like a waiter at some yuppie restaurant. Well, that look is back! But you won’t see me in it. Once was good, sorta. And the peplum version? Can you say Princess Diana, circa 1986? At least it doesn’t have the 1 inch shoulder pads


“Napoleon, Napoleon, wherefore art thou, Napoleon?”


“Here I am, my petite choux foie gras!”

“Oh, Napoleon! Is that a hand in your vest or are you just happy to see me?”

I want to know where I can get the hat.

Ah, I could go on, but I think I’ll stop there, with sincerest apologies to my French readers (I’m a Francophile, really).
Until next time, a bientot, and happy sewing!

McCalls and Kwik Sew Fall Patterns

I was hoping to do Butterick and McCalls together, but Butterick hasn’t posted their early fall patterns yet. Kwik Sew has posted their new patterns, so I’ll combine them with McCall. Let’s start with Kwik Sew. I’ll tell you this right off, I find Kwik Sew’s patterns to be good basics, but their fashion drawings leave something to be desired. On the plus side, they are accurate, if not inspired. Read on!:

Let’s start with

outerwear. Kwik Sew is known for their patterns for knits and activewear. This season they published a raglan sleeved jacket and a similarly styled vest. These are both really good looking basic patterns. I really like the contrast insets in the vest and the contrast back of the jacket. From the picture, it looks like the jacket back extends slightly forward of a standard side seam. Both of those are very slimming effects. I would do them up in a lightweight fleece (say, Polartec 100 or lighter) in a bright color and use black as the contrast. I’d also match the zipper color to the contrast for a designer touch.

I’m seeing a lot of blouses like 3436 in the pattern catalogues for fall. It’s nice that they are a little dressier. For a great transitional piece, I would make the long sleeve version in an ivory or black cotton eyelet. View B, the short sleeved version, is very of-the-moment. But here’s a caution. That sleeve length can be deadly if you have either a large bust or if your arms are not model-thin. I’d recommend lengthening the sleeve to just above the elbow. That will cover multitudes of, well, you know. If you’re adventurous, push the envelope and make it from a jersey rather than the recommended wovens.

3451 is the Kwik Sew version of the ubiquitous bubble skirt. I’m going to be frank. I don’t like these skirts. That’s my personal taste, and it’s influenced by the hideous bubble skirts worn by Angela on the current season of Project Runway. The other thing about bubble skirts is that, if you don’t have perfect legs, avoid them like they were plutonium. Now that I’ve said all that, let me point out that, if you do want to make a bubble skirt, this is a cute pattern. I really like the fact that this pattern has a twisted bubble as well as the straight version. Try making this dressy by using a really high-quality silk shantung (Thai Silks and Metro Textiles both have good ones), or a silk gazar as the top layer of the bubble.

In the activewear category, this pattern, 3443:
tops my list of must-buys for this season. I love, love, love the waistband on view A. It’s just a great look. I’d make this pant in versions for the gym, and maybe in a silk or lightweight rayon jersey as a pajama bottom (hello, Kashi?). I am less thrilled about the waistband on view B, but I love the length for Cy-Yo (it’s a spin/yoga class I take). Yes, this pattern is going in my basket next time I’m out.

Okay, snark alert. For some reason this pattern, 3444

reminds me very much of Frank Gorshin as the Riddler on the 1960s TV series “Batman”:

Maybe it’s the green trim on the leotard. I don’t know. This may be the latest style for the dancing crowd. If so, then go for it. But I would be careful about the color combinations, or it can look like a Harlequin costume from a third rate Commedia dell’Arte troupe.

McCalls Patterns
I wasn’t really thrilled with the new patterns on the McCall’s website. They seem like they are rehashed versions from the Vogue catalogue. There were a few that I liked though.

Jacket 5176 is a basic princess jacket, but I like the view D with the ribbon trim. It will make a nice platform for some of the great beaded trims I’ve bought from Heritage Trading. View A is nice too, especially if you try using Georgene’s idea on The Sewing Divas and make the flounces from tulle.

5184 is a basic skirt pattern with hemline flounce variations. I made one very like it three seasons ago when Simplicity did this same type of pattern. It’s a great wardrobe builder. Take a pass on the cutesy appliques, though. They scream “happy hands at home”. Instead, I’d make this in a beautiful lightweight crepe, pair it with a fitted jacket and wear it to the office and then out to dinner.

This pattern, 5206:

Is titled “Snow Queen”. Hmmmm….. I don’t know. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentson,

“I know Jadis, Queen of Narnia, and you, Ma’am, are no Jadis, Queen of Narnia!”

That’s all for now. Happy sewing!