Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fashion Books to Own: History of Costume by Kohler

history of costume by kohler

"A History of Costume" by Carl Kohler

Anyone who loves fashion or costumes should have a reference library. It's always nice to have something to look through when a costume question comes up. To start at the beginning, this is probably one of the most popular older publications on fashion that still makes sense today. Originally published in 1928, this was revived by Dover Publications in the 60's as a small soft bound book that was inexpensive to own.

What makes this book still valid today when every new book is in full color, are the countless pattern drafts from original historical garments and the photos of museum fashions. Being able to see actual historical pieces is always enlightening, but the costume drafts are super helpful when making original costumes or creating fashions that are derived from historical inspiration.

This book has over 600 photos and pattern drafts, which really packs a punch into the 464 pages of this little (5 1/8" x 7 7/8")volume. Seriously, if you love fashion, this should be on your bookshelf.

Where to find it?

The History of Costume by Kholer




Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pantone Honeysuckle: The Color for Spring

honeysuckle'Honeysuckle' is the name Pantone color services has given this warm, dark pink, their color choice for 2011. Now that we are seeing signs of spring, it's time to consider this color as it is arriving in stores this month.

vintage fashionIt shouldn't come as a surprise that this pink is a vintage color, re-claimed from the 1970's and early 1980's. With this in mind, we assembled a rack of 'Honeysuckle' pink from our Etsy shop. Shown here are a few dresses to tempt you into wearing pink this season. Whether the pink you choose is on the bright side, or shy's away towards the dusty rose versions, pink looks new again. This classic hue can work into any wardrobe when you are looking for a color is that is both up beat and inviting to wear.

Where to FIND these DRESSES?

TOP SLIDE:
1960 Mad Men Silk
1980's Peplum

LOWER SLIDE
1980's Floral Flapper
1970's Maxi Goddess
1970's Jersey

Friday, April 15, 2011

Generation Gap: Buttons

Is is possible to live without buttons? Well, if you were born after 2000, it may be. Recently one of my students in a beginning design course turned in a collection that puzzled me. The garments she designed didn't seem to show her assignment: design a line influenced by a decade from the 20th century. When I asked her how her decade had influenced the designs, she responded: "Buttons, the decade used buttons, so that is my influence". I had to pause and think about that because usually these projects reflect the silhouette and style lines from the decade, and not a trim.

Then it hit me: a girl born after 1990 has grown up in the era of "American Apparel" Ts and "Forever 21" easy knit tops. Is it possible that today's college student hasn't owned a garment with buttons? Are buttons really a vintage trim? Has she worn only knits and zippers?

Taking a look at buttons with this point of view can be a new way to find inspiration. Here we have a few fashion illustrations from the early 1960's when Jackie O was wearing large scale buttons that popped down her suit jackets. Sometimes these were bold colors, other times the buttons were covered to match the suit fabric.

And where would the shirt waist dress be without its row of buttons, clever colored accents in a wide variety of styles. So, maybe it's time to remember buttons when we design or sew.

This dress has a great 70's style, a design for Vogue by Balmain that has couture style lines and a neat row up buttons down the center front.

Looking at more 70's style, this sexy blouse can be worn tied or buttoned, and looks terrific over fit and flared 70's wide leg pants. This was designed for Vogue by Anne Klein.

Whether you find them in thrift stores, estate sales or at the local fabric store, buttons are coming back into style. Many front closures on the new safari shirts and blouses sport unique buttons that create visual interest.

So, maybe the time has come to grow up and wear buttons!

Vintage Sewing patterns:
Vogue 1062, Anne Klein, 1970's button shirt
Vogue 2827, Balmain, 1970's dress

New Sewing pattern:
McCall's 5052, Safari shirt

Friday, April 8, 2011

Citrus Brights: Refreshing Spring Colors

citrus colors Gotta love these spring colors. Our limey green polka dot dress from the 60's is that cute style at top left. What a Citrus Blast! This sunny collection is posted as a treasury of items on Etsy (here).
Isn't it time to break out some new bright colors? Hello Spring!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Under Tuscan Sun: Sewing Retro Style Dresses


"Under Tuscan Sun" from 2003 remains a popular chick flick, in part due to the vintage styles worn by the lead characters, designed by veteran costume designer Nicoletta Ercole. The 'white dress' that the lead character Frances (Diane Lane) wears created quite a scene when the movie was shown. It was a mini trend at the time. Women everywhere wanted to find that white dress.

Dresses featured in this film seem timeless: fitted bodice with longer tea length hemlines. This look couldn't be more current, as tea length styles are once again in fashion. I thought it might be fun to take a second glance at these costumes.

Eight years have passed since I wrote this blog post. At the time, little did I know that it would become one of the most popular posts ever for this blog. Out of respect for those of you that come here looking for these wonderful dresses, I thought it would be a good time to update the sewing patterns that I listed here. I'll share some new patterns with you at the end of the original post.


The white dress seen in a back view shows clearly the silhouette of this outfit. Below the neatly fitting surplice wrapped bodice, a semi-circle skirt is cut to a vintage 1950's 'ballet' or 'tea length' hem line.

The bodice fit is accented by a black belt which is the perfect way to note a slim waistline. I show a close-up view of the wrapped bodice, which crosses over to the front darts. The facing is wide, completely covering the bodice center front. It's my guess that the inside fastens on the front left at the dart to keep this from draping open, as surplice tops often do.

The sleeve is cut in a short kimono style to make this crepe dress look like it has short sleeves, but without a shoulder seam line. This gives it that late 1940's style.

It is important to notice that this is a mock wrapped dress because the skirt is not wrapped, having a half circle skirt instead. To get that look this dress should have a side zipper.

What makes this dress such a success is the fabric selection. I believe this is a quality crepe. During the late 1940's we see many similar dresses in this textile. At that time rayon, silk and wool were used to drape soft fold and body contoured silhouettes. Crepe would provide the necessary weight and hand to drape the front wrap, soft shoulder and graceful circle skirt. The bodice appears unlined, except for the facing.


A wedding scene has Frances appearing in yet another captivating dress. This one is probably Thai silk in luminescent peach. It has a great circle skirt, looking similar to that on the white dress.

The bodice of this dress is a classic cut: front and side darts create a smooth fit. This crisp fabric requires a set in sleeve, seen here with small cuffs. A narrow shawl collar and covered buttons on the front add soft, but not contrasting details. The one color accent is her wide belt. The skirt on this dress does not continue the center front buttons of the bodice. This would require a side zipper.


Katherine, played by Lindsay Duncan is an fanciful character whose references to Fellini are underscored by her wardrobe. Some of these gowns appear to be true vintage, others are close copies. This red dress coat dress and hat serve to give this character the eccentric drama she requires. Wide lapel details enhance the monochromatic theme of her red on red outfit.


In a Fellini moment, we see Katherine in the village fountain, wearing a dress very similar to Fellini's famous fountain scene. It is a slender strapless black sheath with a sheer overskirt lined in gray chiffon. Another black dinner dress with a lace overlay or yoke may be vintage, its delicate details certainly are classic for that era.

Now, where to find or re-create these styles? I have found a few sewing patterns that could be altered to reproduce the same look. Actually, the dress styles here are not difficult to sew. The challenge is in the fit instead, so find a willing assistant to pin your fit may be required.


What both of Frances's dresses have in common is a circle or semi-circle skirt sewn at the waistline to a fitted bodice. In both cases that makes the front closures decorative, because the real dress opening will be a side zipper.

These two wrap front sewing patterns have the essential bodice details of the white dress. The green style by Butterick 5030 is closest in cut (minus the collar and ruffled sleeves). The Butterick pattern has front bust darts and will fit a curvy body shape while the Vogue 6846 style is without darts, for a more slender figure. With both bodices, altering the pattern by drafting a wider shoulder cut from the bodice will create the type of sleeve seen on the white dress.

Because this should be a mock wrap dress, a circle skirt should be sewn to the bodice instead of wrapping the front skirt. This skirt was probably cut in a 1/2 circle.

When adding a circle skirt, completely fit the bodice first to get the waist measurement and skirt length. The skirt will be drafted from those measurements.

The real style challenge is to capture the skirt silhouette. In the movie versions, both were full or semi-circle skirts that were sewn to the fitted bodices, requiring a side seam zipper. While a circle skirt pattern can be found for sale, it is not impossible to cut an original version to fit the bodice.

When preparing to draft a circle skirt, the directions ask for a waist measurement. Use the bodice waistline measurement from a fitted garment. Be sure to draft a skirt with side seams. When doing this, I use an open floor space, chalk, yardsticks and even string to create the true arc.

Hemming circle skirts is most easily done with a very narrow double fold that is hand sewn or machine stitched. When using softer fabrics like crepe, before hemming the finished dress will need to hang for a week or so to let the hem 'hang out'. After that, have the length measured while wearing the dress. This will even out what is probably an uneven skirt length.

If you want more information on drafting circle skirts, the images I show here for the skirt draft are explained in full on the Sew News website for Drafting a Circle Skirt.



This concludes the original post. The sewing patterns shown above, Butterick 5030 and Vogue 8646 are still being sold, as of this posting.

To add to the wrap dress collection above, I found several more patterns from Vogue 8896, 8784 and 8379. When looking to match a pattern with your fabric, take care to see if the pattern is designed for a woven or stretch textile, as both are available.



The slender shirtwaist dress by McCalls 6891 has classic bodice darts to create a fitted torso, as well as set in sleeves. The collar is the traditional notch style, making this look close to the original seen in the film.  McCall's 6696 is another option.  For a pattern with bustline adjustments, try using McCalls 7185, but add the circle skirt instead.  Probably the closest silhouette to the film's original is McCalls 7081, with the wrap front and wide hemline.


Katherine's outfits are much more vintage inspired.  Her black strapless sheath with lace cover up can be seen in McCalls 7321, a dress that can be made with fitted bustier bodice, straight skirt and lace sleeves and neckline.  There is a bustier dress with straight skirt that has a chiffon overskirt, which would give the same effect as the glamour seen in the original dress, by McCalls 6838.  Butterick 6353 by Gertie also has a fitted bodice and skirt with floating chiffon train.

To create Katherine's red dress, the selection narrows down.  Butterick 5747 has a wonderful portrait collar that would do the trick if you are willing to have short sleeves. Or you could use Vogue 8346, a coat pattern with wide lapels and a fitted princess seamline to create the dress (try a fitting muslin first to be sure it's not loose loose, as coat patterns tend to be that way).

I want to thank everyone who has contacted me or left comments over the past few years. It has been alot of fun seeing how this post really fills a need that women who sew have. Beautiful dresses that fit well. That isn't too much to ask, is it?

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