Orsini: prominent designer

orsini A584This is my latest dress, to complete the outfits I’ve made for my niece’s wedding next weekend. I found the pattern in a bundle donated to the school where I work. It seems a local lifelong needlewoman and seamstress had given up sewing due to ill health and had decided to bequeath all her patterns, ribbons, sequins and more to the textiles department. Always delighted to have a look through dress patterns, I was thrilled to discover patterns from the fifties through to the eighties. Although they were not all in my size (it was usual in the old days to buy a pattern for a specific size, whereas now each pattern is good for multiple sizes), this pattern caught my eye as I love the glamorous lines of seventies evening wear; this probably comes from the fact that I used to enviously watch my mother getting dressed up to go out in the seventies when maxi was the “in” length for skirts and dresses. I did some research into this pattern and found that it was available by mail order via newspapers and magazines. The Prominent Designer range produced patterns from the 1950s to 1970s; I can date this one to 1976 as I was able to view a page from The Salt Lake Tribune published on July 18th in that year, and an advertisement for this very pattern was there in black and white. I had less luck with Orsini; I couldn’t find out who s/he was, but the name has strong links to the fashion world still today. I found a tie manufacturer and vintage clothes shop and a flower power men’s shirt on eBay, all carrying the Orsini brand, but couldn’t find a dress designer from the seventies.IMG_2704

The pattern is number A584 in the Prominent Designer range, and comes with an instruction sheet with just 11 steps to finish the dress. Everything was quite straightforward, and I had no problems with construction. I’ve found that hand-sewing was much more of a thing in the old days, slip-stitching bindings or linings for instance, but I am always keen to use the machine wherever possible, and find it perfectly acceptable as long as the stitching line is accurate. The challenge I faced with this dress was the fit – although it is stamped with “size 14″  (bust 36”) it came out very small in the mid-section and I had to be creative. I overcame the problem by sewing a satin ribbon to both sides of the back opening, then sewing my zip to the ribbon, which gave a much needed extra inch or so around the midriff. Luckily the dress has an integral scarf attached to the neckband which ties loosely behind and obscures the whole zip, so the emergency insert is not glaringly obvious and could even be seen as a design feature (blue sky thinking has always been one of my strengths). My colleague took some shots in the classroom at lunchtime today – this is not how I usually dress for school!


Eames Era shift dress: New Look 6095

I spent a lot of money on this abstract 1950s cotton fabric; a 2 yard length, only 36″ wide, set me back £32, but I absolutely fell in love with it and had to have it. I found it in my local vintage clothing shop, Donna Flower in Barnstaple, North Devon, which also sells online. The website is well worth a visit if you are interested in textiles and haberdashery from the last century. I couldn’t fit my pattern pieces on my short length of fabric, so used a half metre of linen/viscose mix to make a contrasting panel. I used a strip of bias cut from the same blue linen to make a band round the sleeves. My pattern is a very simple shift dress, New Look 6095, with cap sleeves, centre back zipper, vertical darts at the back, and bust darts at the front. It took a couple of hours from start to finish. I have made it for Sunday brunch after the wedding I am going to in May. I need to make one more outfit for the rehearsal dinner on the evening before the wedding. Watch this space.DSC_0308

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Ultimate Fashion Hollywood

DSC_0004Sewing season is here again. With a fortnight’s holiday, Easter is always the time when my thoughts turn to making new clothes for myself. I am going to a wedding next month and have had a piece of fabric and a pattern earmarked for the occasion for sometime, and am pleased to report that my new dress is complete. The pattern is a Vogue original from 1956-57 reissued in 2008 as a winner of the Vintage Vogue contest. Vogue has an ongoing call for old dressmaking patterns from home sewers, and every year they will reissue four which they feel would be popular. I was surprised to learn that although Vogue has an archive of its catalogues, it does not have an archive of actual patterns. The pattern I have used is V1044, submitted to the contest by Bonnie Hollen; I hope she would be pleased with my end result. Apart from including multiple sizes in one pattern envelope, rather than the single sizes of yore, the manufacturers stick with the same fit and original notions, although the instructions have been modernised. The pattern called for sew-in interfacing which I substitued for iron-on, and grosgrain ribbon for an inside belt which I didn’t make. I may realise the benefit of this and add it at a later stage.  …click on pic to view large…

There were a lot of processes involved in making this dress, and it took a lot of fabric, but I am so pleased with the end result and feel that all the time it took was well worth it. I made a belt with buckle and eyelets, which was a first, sewed decorative tucks, made buttonholes and fabric covered buttons. The most difficult part was joining the upper and lower bodice parts together, trying to match the pattern of the fabric and manipulating the yoke/armhole/sleeve (which was none of these but a combination of all three). I bought my fabric from Middlesex Textiles in London – they stock a huge range of amazingly colourful printed fabrics, many inspired by African and Indonesian batiks. 6 yards of fabric cost me only £16.00, and the fullness of the skirt meant I had very little left over. The selvedge is printed with the words “THE BEST OF ULTIMATE FASHION HOLLYWOOD”, hence the name of this post. I have today received a few more lengths of fabric from the same supplier, and can’t wait to get “Veritable Super Julia” and “Afristyle Gold Wax” on the cutting table.

It was a beautiful day to take some photos out the front of my house, and although the mannequin is rather misshapen and has seen better days, my dress looks pretty good gleaming in the sunshine. The gold printed over the green reflects the light really well.   DSC_0303 DSC_0302

Paisley ♥

s3833My Simplicity 3833 pattern got its third outing this week, and was used to transform my friend Tracey’s donated maxi skirt into a new dress for me. This is a pattern from 1969, originally published as Simplicity 8498 with a maxi length option, which was re-issued in 2007 in its present form. It’s simple to make and very easy to wear. My first edition was made from cream polyester crepe for the bodice (front and back) and navy cotton with elastane for the skirt, and I love it. Second time around I used a dark brown mixed fibre remnant I’d had in my drawer for years for the bodice front, and a remnant of a seventies curtain fabric in oranges, reds and brown for the rest. Very, very retro, but my pattern matching could have been way better. Both dresses have been dancing wear.


This time my main fabric is a very soft cotton needlecord (soft because it’s a recycled fabric, washed many times already) with a vibrant paisley print in navy, turquoise, hot pink and lilac (among other colours). I didn’t have enough width in my fabric to cut the bodice front in one piece as required, so decided to use a contrast fabric for this but tied the two sections together with a large appliquéd heart cut from the paisley. I also decided to make sleeves for this dress, both the previous incarnations being sleeveless. I had to handle the needlecord carefully because it was inclined to stretch out of shape because of its age. I overcame this problem by stay stitching all the curved edges (neck, armhole and under bust). This is a line of straight stitching made just inside the seam allowance which stabilises the fabric edges and prevents any misshaping. I had a few trimmings which I used around the lower edges of the sleeves and skirt – happily the ribbon and ric-rac at the bottom has a slight stiffening effect and helps the skirt to keep its lovely A-line shape.This will definitely be a dress for standing or dancing as the seat will stretch out with sitting.   …click on a gallery pic to view large …


My next project goes back even further in time. It’s a 1957 Vogue pattern, V1044, and my fabric is an African wax print on cotton in emerald green, gold and purple.

Unsuitable for diagonals

V8629Sometimes you just have to ignore the specialist advice and bite the bullet, which is what I did today with this quick and easy dress. Vogue 8629 is a pullover dress for knitted fabrics, with side pockets, pleated front and dropped shoulders with optional ¾ length sleeves. My fabric was quite a fine viscose knit with inauspicious diagonal bands of dots, but I decided to use it anyway. I rarely sew with knitted fabrics, mainly because the variety available in my local shop is fairly limited, but that could easily change. I used just under 2m of 145cm wide fabric and half a metre each of bias binding and seam binding.

I used a twin needle in my machine which saves lots of time as seams would normally need double-stitching for a knit dress i.e. two rows of stitching about 5mm apart (time-consuming). The twin needle sews two rows of stitching on the top side, while the bobbin thread becomes a zig-zag so that there is a bit of stretch in the stitch. When threading up the machine for twin needle sewing keep the two threads seperate at the tension wheel i.e. one on either side of the central disc, then when you get to the needle put one thread around the thread guide at the top of the needle before going through the eye of the needle. The second thread should by-pass the thread guide, going directly from the take-up lever to the eye of the needle. Keeping the threads apart as much as possible means they are less likely to twist together and cause breakages.  …click on any image to view large…

I used seam binding on the shoulder seams to prevent stretch which would result in a misshapen garment.. The neck line was finished with bias binding. I pressed it with a steam iron into a curved form before applying it to give a smooth line. This was a very quick and easy make and easy and comfortable to wear, and I really don’t think the diagonal design affects it adversely.

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Origami dress: Vogue 1312

I have a new dress pattern, Vogue 1312 designed by Lynn Mizono. I’m calling it the Origami dress because of the unusual shapes in the skirt; it actually looks as if it is made of folded paper. I have two pieces of Japanese inspired fabric, Woodcut Geisha and Genmai Tea Cup, both by Alexander Henry, and a bit of indigo denim. I am quite excited.

The Panel Dress

Panel Dress 044Merchant and Mills, Draper, of Rye, West Sussex, England owns one of my favourite websites in the whole interweb. Whether or not you are a dressmaker, this is a quirky, fun site full of interesting stuff not all of which is related to the world of stitchery.

More than a dozen patterns, all developed by proprietor Carolyn Denham, are available to buy, and I was lucky enough to receive one for my birthday, a gift from my lovely and thoughtful daughter. My pattern, for the Panel Dress, printed onto strong brown card, arrived in the post rolled up in a tube. This alone was exciting enough; to have in one’s possession a proper professional pattern, punched and hangable with its own wire pattern hook is the stuff of dressmakers’ dreams.

Panel Dress 042I spent a good, long time in the local fabric shop choosing something that would do justice to the design, and came up with a combination of indigo denim and navy polyester crepe-back satin. The front bodice of the panel dress comprises six shaped panels, so I thought I would get creative and mix it up a bit. The four central panels will be cut from satin, and put together in a chequerboard effect using both the sheen and crepe sides of the fabric. The rest of the dress will be denim. Just for a bit of something different, I decided to use the reverse side of the denim for the two triangle-shaped side panels. I used 1½m denim and ½m crepe-back satin, a few scraps of iron-on interfacing for neck facing, and a reel of thread. As it’s a pullover dress there are no fastenings to buy or insert.

Instead of fighting with flimsy, tearable tissue paper patterns, the card pattern is very simple to use. Lay the card on the fabric (single thickness is best), weigh it down to stop it shifting (I used bean cans) and draw round it with tailor’s chalk. The layout and cutting out stage was much quicker than usual, and more accurate too. The card pattern is drilled to show markings for darts, and notched for other matching-up places, so a quick swipe with chalk gave me all the detailing I need to create my masterpiece.

Full instructions were also included in the package, with lots of useful tips to get the best possible result.

I love, love, love the outcome. Just a couple of points to change or develop for next time:- it’s not everso roomy across the upper back (maybe I am broad there) so not a dress to wear when doing anything too energetic; the skirt is narrow at the bottom edge and a back slit or kick pleat could be a good option.

Metro Café

wardrobe 019Way back in February I bought a 3 yard piece of fabric from eBay for the bargain price of £19.50. The design was “Metro Café” by Robert Kaufmann, and today I finally got round to making it into a dress. I used New Look 6587 (again) and made view  A. I needed about 2¾ yards of fabric, a few scraps of iron-on interfacing, 11 buttons and, of course, thread.

The fabric was an absolute dream to work with; being cotton, it stays put where you place it and responds well to the iron. This really is an essential piece of equipment in the sewing room. As you sew each seam, a good press with a steam iron will open the seam fully and embed the stitches deep into the fabric, so you’ll get the most professional finish possible. The separate components will also fit together more accurately if you iron as you go.

My mission over the next few days is to have my daughter photograph me wearing all these dresses as they don’t look very appealing on a coat hanger. Perhaps I will then update all my Stitchery posts.

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I am amassing plenty of small pieces of fabric from these recent projects and will soon have to think of a use for them. In the past I’ve used odd bits to make small patchwork quilts for my friends’ babies which are quite delightful. Another possibility is peg bags.

Polka dots again

Eternally appealing, polka dots will always be favourites of mine. Patterned without being fussy, geometric without being angular, graphic without being overwhelming, spots and dots come in all sizes and can be cute or sophisticated.spotty dress 004 My length of fabric is covered in large (about ¾”) spots which look like they have been waxed and dyed, though it is probably some new high-tech printing process. The colour varies slightly from spot to spot, in shades of reds, pinks and oranges which gives it a home-dyed look which I really like.

My mission is to make a dress for an engagement party to be held in an art gallery in London at the end of this month. I want it to be summery, light, comfortable, original and pretty. As one of the older generation (aunt) I don’t want to look frumpy! The pattern is an old favourite of mine, New Look 6805, and I’m going to make view B with the cross over bodice.

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6805fbThe bodice of this dress is in seven pieces and is lined. There are also two sashes sewn into the side front seams. Manipulating all these pieces was quite tricky even for an experienced sewer. My lining was a fine, slippery polyester which caused me a few problems; next time I will self-line, or use a cotton lining which will behave itself better and stay put where it is pressed. I made an alteration to the bodice back before cutting out; I remember it being too wide for me last time I made this dress. Also the shoulder straps needed shortening by an inch and a half. Once the bodice was together the rest was plain sailing. There are 3 pleats on each the back and front and a side zip. I wanted the skirt of my dress to hold its fullness, so I made a dress net from 2 metres of double thickness white netting.

wardrobe 009

Twice as nice

I’ve just made two dresses using a new-to-me pattern, Burda 8071. It’s a fairly simple sundress with three bodice options, and uses about a two metres of fabric, a 14″ zip and a metre and a half of ¼” elastic.

I had a lovely cotton batik sarong from Indonesia which I’ve been saving for a rainy day, and it proved to be ideal for this project. weaversstories-giat-sarongI had to think carefully about my pattern layout, as these sarongs often have a contrasting panel which takes up about a quarter of the fabric area (see right for a typical example of this).

I placed the contrasting panel across the front of my dress skirt and also on the back of the bodice so my dress has different front and back views. I love the outcome and had a lot of favourable comments today which are always very welcome.

I made the same dress in black and white, hence twice as nice.

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This has been my 100th post.