My First Colette to Celebrate the Fourth!

Colette patterns seem to be the biggest deal in the indie pattern world, and so I feel a bit out of touch to admit this is my first – and very happily successful – foray into a new branch of the sewing community.  Courtesy of a Seamwork magazine subscription which I won from the “Sewing the Scene” Challenge last year, I have had the availability to now try out independent pattern companies and see what they are all about.  This year’s Independence Day celebrating gave me the reason to whip up a dress from a Colette pattern and finally dive right in!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft 100% cotton twill in blue and white stripes, remotely similar to ticking, with a chain stitched red border design along one selvedge.  This fabric was a JoAnn exclusive release.

PATTERN:  Colette “Hazel” sundress, no. 1021

NOTIONS:  One zipper, lots of thread, and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 8 to 10 hours and finished on July 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  No seams save the center back skirt seam are showing and its raw edge is bias bound.  All other seams are covered by the full bodice lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was rather pricey, even with a discount – which I why I made things work on only two yards.  The dress cost me just under $30.

Sarai Mitnick, the founder and Creative Director of Colette Media, started Colette Patterns in 2009 because she liked vintage patterns but found them difficult for beginners to work with.  This particular pattern has a lovely modern hint of mid-century vintage, which I played up through the fabric I used.  I was inspired by the occasional extant piece of 1950s clothing which has Scandinavian-style folk embroidery.  Also known as Swedish weaving or “Huck”, the distinctive red and blue heavy embroidery – in patterns of the well-known eight pointed star or the more floral motifs of the more Germanic people – was extremely popular in the 30’s, tapering off through the 40’s.  Due to the thickness of the huck material, this embroidery style was primarily done on kitchen towels and linens, but it is a weaving style in which the thread never appears on the back, making it perfect for garments too, once decorative dish cloths began to be replaced by the mechanical dishwasher.

I realized after my dress was done that in my efforts to make a patriotically red, white, and blue American dress, I channeled a vintage Scandinavian-inspired style.  But, hey – we are a country of immigrants, a nation merged by our diversity and desire for independence, so I don’t think the irony is out of place.  After all, I was appropriately sewing with an indie pattern for an Independence Day celebration, but I was wearing a vintage “West Germany” necklace and vintage-inspired flats from the Australian “Charlie Stone” shoes.  Freedom is universal.

I keep seeing the phrase “patterns that teach” associated with Colette patterns, and so I saw this as a nice base pattern – something to add to and customize to one’s own level of skill or preference.  Along that line, I tweaked the details slightly to add in a fully lined the bodice and also try out a new method of pleating.   Overall, though, I found the pattern to have great shaping and curving not seen in the “Big 4” patterns, clear directions, and sizing that runs on the small side.  It was just enough of a challenge yet not impossible to make for as amazing as it looks.  I think it was nicer than the “Big 4” patterns and yet not as good as Burda Style, in my opinion.  I’m glad I didn’t have to pay full price and yet I don’t think I would have felt that I overpaid if I had.  I’m not used to Colette patterns but I do like them enough to start picking out my next one!

The big things this pattern has going for it is the front bodice, the dramatic way it makes the most of a border print or a striped fabric (or both combined, in my case!), and the way I can still wear a normal bra under it.  So many sundresses need some special lingerie or something sewn in to support a woman’s assets, and this one is such an appreciated, effortless piece the way its wide straps and their placement worked out perfectly for me right where the pattern markings were.  When you can follow a sundress pattern’s strap markings to the letter and it works out well, I’m impressed.

I went up a size in this pattern (because it’s better to be safe than sorry) and tailored it in slightly for a perfect fit.  As I mentioned above, I also added a full bodice lining to keep the fabric from being see-through and cover up most all the seams.  The facing pieces for the neckline were cut instead as the interfacing ironed down to the inner edges.  About 5 inches were added to the original length of the pattern, and I also cut the skirt as one whole seamless piece, eliminating the side seams.  I know this left out the opportunity for side pockets (unless I do a welt or patch style) but that’s okay – I decided to make this the day before the 4th of July, so I just wanted simplicity.  I widened the straps by ¼ inch and used an exposed zipper rather than an invisible one as called for.  Finally, I made the whole dress come together using only 2 yards.  For my first time trying out a new pattern company, I sure wasn’t afraid to go rogue on many details!

My biggest source of pride in this dress is actually the waist pleats.  The pattern called for a simple overall gathered waist, but why go conventional when there are other more complex possibilities yet to be attempted?!  I kept the center front and center back of the skirt flat because I think that is nicer over the tummy and bootie, but the rest of the skirt was knife pleated at every large stripe.  Each large stripe was folded over about ¼ inch deep to meet the nearest small stripe.  This process took me just over an hour in itself, mostly because I did one side wrong at first, but the finished look makes every minute worth it.  It is detailing like this that makes me and others so love vintage styles besides keeping past fashion highly sought after enough to be going up in value.  If I can bring a taste of that into my own sewing than my time is well spent.

I have seen several examples in their mailer leaflets (at right is one) of how JoAnn Fabrics thought of using this fabric and they were throwing me off at first.  I didn’t like their examples enough to try but I also had the hardest time deciding on using this Colette pattern for it…and I’m so glad went for it!  This dress really made me feel comfy yet festive, bright without being flashy, and proud of the quick work I put into it.  I do have a good chunk of the dress’ fabric leftover and I’m debating now between a purse or a little bolero to make out of it.  Decisions are the most fun, inventive, yet stressful part of home sewing.  Whatever I make, it’ll probably be much like the dress, though, in the way it was a happy experiment and a sudden ‘go-for-it’ type of decision.  Here’s to fun in the sun and more creative sewing!

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Lines of Wheat on the Bias

Early fall or late summer is a lovely season to me where I live.  It has warm days, which I like, in between cold snaps that preview the next season to come.  Together with the richness of colors building in the trees, interesting smells in the air, and enjoyable holidays on their way (familial birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Halloween), I really do wish I could hold on to this season for longer than it lasts, and not just because I despise winter.

My newest vintage 1930s sewing project, featured here, is I feel a perfect transition garment which takes into account all that I love about late summer and early fall.  Stripes the golden color of wheat as well as fluffy clouds in the sky are on an earthy, textured linen dress, which has a fascinating use of the bias grain line.  Vintage accessories from my Grandmother – gloves, earrings, necklace, and a brooch of double wheat sheaves – together with my Jeffrey Campbell leather lace-up shoes, a silk scarf, and a hat I refashioned to be an accurate 30’s shape all are meant to play with the richer colors of the fall season and thus bring out the muted stripes which highlight the amazing design of this dress pattern.

This was actually my outfit for our recent trip to Chicago, Illinois.  Yes, I traveled and explored the busy city downtown in fully accessorized vintage style and loved it!  And just think…this dress is linen too!  What I discovered from the compliments I received from passer-bys is that apparently this dress is a transition piece in another way.  It is not glaringly vintage, yet still completely true to year 1933.  That is a trademark of a truly classic, lovely design!  It is interesting enough in design that (especially made in striped fabric) it doesn’t scream for attention yet certainly can turn interested heads…almost like a toned down Wallis Simpson fashion for the modern vintage aesthetic.  It is also simple enough in silhouette and sewing difficulty that it can be whipped up easily to suit many differing occasions depending on how one finishes or accessorizes.  Case in point – this dress (before hemming) turned out very long on me and it looked very good with fancy jewelry and evening shoes…I can see a solid color satin or crepe ankle-length version of this dress making a wonderful elegant style!  Oh no, another project idea in my future!

Sorry, I know you can’t see all of my dress’ neck and shoulder details with my scarf, but the dress really looks better for it…and Chicago is a city with a cool wind, indeed!  Scarves were popularly worn like this in the 1930’s (see this article for more info and tips on using scarves) but they make such a great multi use fashion accessory in any era.  I cannot do without a scarf more often than not.  As for further clarification about my refashioned hat, it is modern, in straw, and something which I’ve had for years.  It started out with the popular modern “bucket” style crown and I merely pinched it in from the inside at the center top so it would have a proper vintage shallow crown with a very 1930s style ridge down the center.  The excess crown inside is folded flat and was hand stitched down in place.  Easy-peasy and oh-so-handy, this hat is a great way to protect my face while complimenting my wardrobe using both something on hand and my penny-pinching capabilities!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  slubbed, thick 100% linen

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7153, a 2015 issue of a year 1933 design

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and some interfacing was pretty much needed.  A true vintage buckle was used to finish the belt as well as some stitch witchery bonding web. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together rather quickly – it was made in about 10 to 12 hours and finished on August 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  Mostly French with the some seams in bias binding.  So clean!

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought when the now defunct Hancock Fabric’s was closing.  This lovely linen was about $2 a yard…so I suppose this dress cost me about $6. How awesome is that!?

As someone who very frequently works with true vintage original sewing patterns of all decades in the 20th century, I can say I can recognize features of a vintage design and sort of estimate when something has been changed.  As much as I do love my new dress and am generally impressed with this pattern, there are a few things I am not happy with and strike me as ‘off’.

First of all, there are small separate triangular panels which are sewn on at the true waist at the top of the side front skirt panels.  This could have been on the original but I highly doubt it – there is no waistline seam to the similar side skirt panels in the back!  For a long and lean bias 1933 dress like this one, why would this small panel be separate without an obvious purpose?  A depression era pattern knew how to combine ingenuity and elegance in dressing with a complicated appearing simplicity and this small odd feature doesn’t strike me as ringing true to that habit.  Either way I do not like it one bit.  I should have just matched it to the top of the skirt side panels, taped it on there and cut the piece as one long part extending up to the bodice with no side seam.

The presence of the jarring, random horizontal waist seam remnant presents several ‘problems’ in my experience.  It places too much importance on precise matching of the grain line and fabric print – if this small section is off it will be noticed.  It mars the elegant and beautiful stripe work to the dress if the belt is not “just-so” over the seam…and with normal living’s body movements, a garment will not stay “picture perfect” anyway!  Besides, my true waist seems to be slightly higher naturally and a belt carrier wouldn’t help by keeping it down where it doesn’t want to stay.  After all, year 1933 was still coming off of the 20’s ideology and that year’s dresses were rarely defining the waist with a modern, boring horizontal seam, instead frequently opting for a wide panel, side gathering, interesting paneling, or similar gently hinting methods.  This ugly, tiny waist seam remnant needs to meld into the rest of the dress.  I made the pattern ‘as-is’ so I could learn from it – did I ever!  Please do my recommended change for your version…one little extra step will make your version of this dress so much better!

My beef about the waist seam aside, look at the lovely details to the rest of the front!  The tiny stripes matched up pretty well, and all the seams matched up impeccably.  This dress’ stripe paneling reminds me of something along the lines of two of my favorite American designers/dressmakers Elizabeth Hawes and Muriel King, both of whom I admire for their stunning mitering methods (among other things).  Mitering, often understood as a woodworking term for right angled joints, was appropriated by dressmakers in circa 1934.  Its earliest proponents outside of America were the French couturier Marcel Rochas and a young Balenciaga. (Info from the book Elegance in an Age of Crisis from FIT.)  However, Elizabeth Hawes used a bulls-eye pattern on the bias in the middle of the torso for a 1936 dress, a method very similar to the styling of this McCall pattern.  Not meaning to brag, but the tiny, muted color stripes of the linen I used for my dress also reminds me also of the subtlety of Balenciaga’s cotton 1938 dress.  If I can sew for myself anything that I feel can “knock-off” the designers that both I and history admires, that’s a big win!

Not to divert from my glowing praise, but my second complaint with this vintage reprint pattern was actually the same fitting problem as their other year 1933 re-issue (McCall #7053).  They both turn out to have a very droopy shoulder seam in their kimono sleeves, which makes me think it is something that McCall’s does to the patterns and not the patterns themselves.  After all, their Archive patterns are not really re-prints…from my understanding they are new drafts off of images and/or line drawings of old patterns they had issued in the past.  I have sewn using vintage original patterns from both 1931 and 1934, both of which have kimono-style sleeves, and neither of them have given me the same problems I have with the 1933 McCall’s Archive issues.  However, it is an easy fix.  I sewed the long kimono shoulder/sleeve seam about 2 inches further in from the original 5/8 seam allowance.  That’s a lot, isn’t it!  This dress was severely droopy.  The sleeves are very open anyway so taking out some doesn’t make much of a difference.  When I sewed the sleeve/shoulder seam in smaller I also straightened it out – originally it has a dramatic curve that I think does not work out at all.  The weird puckering curve in the shoulder seam is a big, obvious turn-off on the model version of the envelope cover.  Other than the drooping shoulders, I did find the body of the dress to fit pretty much true to the size chart for the bottom half, and slightly a size big for the top half.

Many 1930’s dresses have a very figure hugging bias which I’ve heard many women say won’t work for everybody.  This one seems to have a bias grain just gentle enough for shaping yet not enough to be overly clingy.  The best part about the bias in both the skirt and the bodice is there is no closure needed!  That’s right – no zipper, buttons, hooks, or snaps.  It’s just plain easy.  I know the instructions show a center back zipper, but those can be hard to do on oneself and sometimes also hard to keep the top pull from sagging down.  I believe McCall’s threw the back zipper in to ‘modernize’ the design.  The dress stretches wider easily from the smart grain line layout so why a zipper?!  I see how the zipper weirdly bubbles out and warps the loveliness of the bias on the back of the model’s dress on the pattern cover.  “Keep things simple, silly” (to put it mildly) is an engineering principle that is worthwhile to remember when engineering clothing, too.

This McCall’s pattern is not the best re-issue of a vintage style, but it does make for a very nice dress, with designer touches that is highly underrated once you get past its “meh” cover and fitting issues.  This is a good pattern I would recommend everyone to have on hand to try.  Once you make one successful version, I believe you will use it again, as I plan on doing.  Don’t let the sole sleeve version deter you – there are many types of sleeves that could be added to a short kimono style like this one.  There are no closures needed and deceptively easy to sew.  Do you need any more reason to try this one?  Come on…I want to see many more inspiring versions from all of you talented and lovely bloggers out there!

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