Anne Klein Design

“Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

This is a very famous fashion quote which is attributed to the American designer Anne Klein.  Coming from someone whose talent and livelihood revolved around creating fashion that has influenced women around the world, this is a beautiful, powerful, and impressively truthful statement.  It celebrates the women that bring to life clothes, which carry no personality on their own until they are enlivened by the charisma coming from inside the body.  Just as her clothing is timeless and visionary, so also her quote is still so very touchingly appropriate today.

All of this I have mentioned – and inspired by the Anne Klein trends at the recent New York fashion week – are reasons why I am ecstatic to present something I made using a vintage Anne Klein designer Vogue pattern.  Unfortunately, my sewing project is not one of her famous separates but more a symbol of the year 1987 date on the design – a one-piece jumpsuit.  Vogue American designer patterns seemed to offer many chic and on-point jumpsuit styles in the mid-to-late 80’s, and this one seems to be a common-to-find release by the number to be found for sale over the internet.  It is a very Anne Klein version – classic yet a product of its times, tailored yet simple, and complimentary yet comfortable.  I absolutely LOVE having this piece in my closet!  Also – it has pockets!!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight rayon/cotton/spandex printed knit. It is about 1/8” thick, printed in the black and blue plaid one the right side while plain white on the wrong (inside) side, and a tightly stable weave.  It has a wonderfully soft feel and supple ‘hand’ that reminds me of a cross between a scuba knit and a brushed flannel.  I did use some leftover black poly scuba knit remnants for the neckline facing.

PATTERN:  Vogue American Designer pattern #1871, year 1987

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, some strips of interfacing, and a long 22” zipper (which is of the vintage metal variety)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 6 hours, and was finished on July 6, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  This knit does not unravel so I left the edges raw

TOTAL COST:  The plaid printed knit was from JoAnn, and was about $40 something for 3 yards.  The scuba knit scraps for the facing as well as the zipper were all on hand so are as good as free. 

There is so much that can be said about the life of Anne Klein and the way she impacted history, but I will only give you an overview.  “Anne Klein designed classic casuals with every woman in mind.  She was a visionary designer who originated the concept of a fully coordinated closet, providing a uniquely American point of view to the global fashion industry. Her trademark separates became the hallmark of a purposeful and stylish wardrobe – one that has informed trends for decades” (from anneklein.com).  “Recognized as one of the groundbreaking designers to put American fashion on the map, Anne Klein wasn’t just a designer, she was a champion of authentic style and empowered the way women dressed. 50 years later, her legacy continues to influence contemporary elegance and inspire the modern woman.” (from the Harpers Bazaar article “Anne Klein: The Legendary Designer Who Changed The Way American Women Dressed“)

Anne Klein was born August 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, as Hannah Golofski

It was while studying art at Girls’ Commercial High School (now known as Prospect Heights High School) that Anne discovered her talent for design. Within a year’s time, she was employed at her first job in the garment industry with Varden Petites. There, she worked to redesign the firm’s collection and introduced a new style of ready-to-wear clothing for young, smaller figured women that would come to be known as “Junior Miss”

She spent the early part of her career creating petite-size clothing, elevating the category from girly frocks with Peter Pan collars into sophisticated sportswear.  This was in 1937 when she was awarded a scholarship to attend the Traphagen School of Fashion, which led to her first job as a sketcher for dress firms on 7th Avenue.

Anne Klein in her studio, 1950s

In 1940, Anne Klein began making a name for herself as a designer. She first began designing for Maurice Rentner at his business, Maurice Rentner, Inc., which produced ready-to-wear designs for men and women.

In 1944, Anne Klein joined with the two great women of fashion, Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell, to form a female design trio who laid the foundations of American sportswear.

In 1948 she married clothing manufacturer Ben Klein and they launched the “Junior Sophisticates” label. “Junior Sophisticates” offered elegant styles to younger women with smaller figures.  Anne Klein was the principal designer at Junior Sophisticates until 1960.

In 1964 she was awarded the Lord & Taylor Rose Award for independent thinking, an award first given to Albert Einstein.

In 1967, she patented a girdle specifically designed for wearing with the miniskirt.

She co-founded Anne Klein & Company in 1968 with Gunther Oppenheim, with a focus on separates, not suits – an innovation at the time – and within ten years her designs were being sold in over 750 department stores and boutiques in the USA.

In the 1960s and 70s, Anne Klein set the standard for professional, grown-up style. The company didn’t just dress women for the workforce. It epitomized their independence, confidence and multifaceted lives.

It was during this time (late 60’s and 70’s) of ready-to-wear fashion, “modern” designs for women, and an increase in the number of women in the workplace that Klein was one of the first to introduce, and to become known for, “separates”: individual pieces which work together as a whole, as opposed to dresses.

March 19, 1974, Anne Klein died of breast cancer at the age of 50.

After Anne Klein died in 1974, Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio took over the design direction of the company. Donna Karan, who had been Klein’s assistant, preserved the company’s aesthetic voice for a decade. But in 1984, Karan set out on her own.  Today, it is still an American company (privately held as of July 2019).

(Above information from this wikipedia article as well as this “Saving Anne Klein” article from the South China Morning Post.)

Now, after reading this timeline, it becomes obvious that this jumpsuit pattern I have sewn from comes after the death of the real Anne Klein, and also after the direction of her successor Donna Karen (who kept the company quite true to brand).  However much the designer line has lost its direction in the decades after Klein’s death, luckily, this pattern seems to be very much in a matching idealism of her namesake.  How often can a design from the decade of the 80’s be a classic wardrobe staple?  How often can an 80’s garment not be identifiably dated?  Since when does something from the 80’s not include an outrageous style, bold colors, and memories you’d rather not relive?  When it is done by Anne Klein design.

I think the saving grace here is two-fold – the tapered leg pants and the softened shoulder line.  The pattern recommended adding rounded shoulder pads inside, but I haven’t so far…I might come back and add them in for a change in the future.  The only thing I found is that the booty and the back shoulders were only generous in room, but some of that may be because of the supple knit.  The deep 4 inch hems to the sleeves and pants were handy at shaping and weighing down the jumpsuit at strategic places, and I stitched them down by hand for a nicely invisible finish.

For being a designer style, this jumpsuit was incredibly easy to make.  Of course, that is partially due to the fact I greatly simplified the construction by eliminating a full body lining.  When working with such a soft yet stable knit as I was using, I wanted to take advantage of feeling the luxuriousness of the rayon material and not over complicate it by adding the lining.  If I had been using a suiting material or some sort of wool blend, then yes – I would have totally lined the jumpsuit.  Even with a full body lining, sewing it would have been relatively easy because there are just a handful of pattern pieces, a few darts, a few pleats, some smartly strategic seam matching, and voila!  That is all!  I found the sizing to be spot on and I didn’t have to do any fitting tweaks so that also saved on time.

Eliminating the button back bodice placket in lieu of an exposed zipper back made me sad (I liked the look of it) yet it also saved this project in many ways.  I avoided the extra stress of figuring out a way to support several large buttonholes in this supple knit.  Sure, interfacing will always help stabilize such a spot.  Yet, the knit I was using didn’t seem to take well to small detailed stitching, so I was glad both that this was a simple design overall and that I found another way to close it besides buttoning.  Using the zipper helped keep the surrounding knit in the proper shape, which is important since for a jumpsuit the center back seam receives the most stress due to movement necessary upon wearing.  Besides, a back zipper is so much easier to handle when it comes to having to take bathroom breaks than the complicated possibility of both a zipper up the waistline and several button closings behind ones back.  That sounds so fiddly to accomplish on one’s self but looks great in the line drawing!  I guess that is the flair of designer fashion…to be a bit superfluous for the sake of visual aesthetic.

I suppose I might have downgraded the design by merely adding a zipper down the back but it is a really good one, though – true vintage, with metal teeth, a self-locking pull tab, and a blue cotton twill tape base.  I am guessing it could be as old as the 1940s.  Finding one in the wilds of a rummage sale at this 22” length is not that common, thus it has been a true gem in my notions stash that I have been so reluctant to use.  What good was it going to do me saving it when that zipper was just what this jumpsuit needed, and was going to give it a really great way to have a moment to be worthwhile?  Vintage zippers – even with their metal teeth – are much more pliable and bendable than any modern metal zipper.  This old notion was going to be much more comfy to wear and flow much better with the rest of the jumpsuit than any modern one could.  Sometimes you just have to take a breath and go use the good stuff for those really good sewing ideas.  When the right project come along, splurging on the good vintage notions usually ends up being worth it for me.

The only major change I made to the pattern design was the relatively small step of eliminating the sewn in belt-style waistband.  I am on the shorter side, not quite petite technically, and so getting rid of the extra few inches that the belt would have had gave me the perfect proportions.  Also, I did not want to define the jumpsuit with a contrast color for the belt waistband piece, nor did I want to complicate it with more of the plaid.  I prefer to add in whatever color and interest I feel like for the day through my choice of belt, shoes, necklace, and earrings.  I sometimes like this with beige tones, sometimes black and silver, but here I paired it with brown leather and gold (all vintage belt and earrings, by the way, and Charlie Stone brand flats).  I would not have had this versatility with an attached belt piece, but most importantly, I would not have had the proper fit.  I know I could have just taken some inches out of the body of the dress at the pattern stage, but this little change up was easy and catered to my taste all in one step.  This might be a designer style, but if I’m the one sewing it, I am going to personalize it, for sure!

For these times in which casual (aka. lounge attire) seems to be the 2020 work wear, fancy wear, and everything in between, chic sportswear is just the thing we need for today.  This jumpsuit is as comfy as wearing pajamas, but much more stylish.  No matter if I haven’t a reason, I refuse to forget the joy of dressing up, the delighting in fashion, and the creativity behind sewing.   I need all of this and daresay so many others do, too, no matter what the circumstances of the day.  This knit jumpsuit is as close as I have yet come to spending my day in yoga pants and oversized tee.  This is my kind of parallel.  I am so glad I could find out more about the great designer Anne Klein along the way to finding my interpretation.  Women of today need clothes that are as empowering, adaptable, multi-faceted, and 100% as capable as we are.  Sweatpants do not do any of that for me.  This jumpsuit is one of the many me-made pieces in my wardrobe that can, though.  Please, find yourself that perfect garment that can help you can the world – big or small…every little bit counts.  Remember – “Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

Bittersweet

This time of the year always makes me a bit melancholy.  There’s just something about the beauty of gradually realizing summer is fading into fall, and seeing the season gently usher in the upcoming cold I despise.  I am not one to have Halloween in my blood the minute September rolls around.  Instead, I like to let the fall season come in barely perceptible stages, as it does naturally, and enjoy its every transition.  The sun might be just as bright but there is a different smell in the air.  The cricket chirps are louder without the competition from tree frogs and cicadas.  The night settles in a bit earlier.  Fall’s entrance is indeed bittersweet in emotion, which is why I find it so ironic I love the shades of bittersweet, the plant, because it also is the time of the year I can appropriately wear the most gloriously rich earthen tones of that vine – browns, tawny shades, dusty green, a wine red, and hues of gold.  This little vintage number is early fall embodied in a dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer printed polyester crepe for the dress and some colored jute ‘ribbon’ with some leather cording scraps for the belt

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9295, reissued in 2018, labeled as a year 1940 design.  The original pattern was Vogue #8241, an “Easy to Make One-Piece Frock”, featured in Vogue Patterns booklet for March 15, 1939.  What is up with the confusion of the original date on the cover of the reprint?  My me-made belt was made with no pattern…just an idea in my head!

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing but the basics – thread, some skinny ¼ inch bias tape, and a small 14 inch side seam zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with all the fine finishing inside, this dress took me only 5 or 6 hours to complete and the belt was made in 30 minutes.  Both were finished in May of 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress is practically free as all my supplies came from a local sewing rummage sale where everything was $1 per pound of weight…so my frock may be a dollar at the most!  My belt was made from some sort of multi-colored jute ribbon I bought on clearance many years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  I bought 2 yards of it for about $5.  The leather cording is leftover from a hat I had on hand (free).  This is a $6 outfit!!!

This is quite an interesting dress, full of contradictions.  First of all, it is a very classic dress design for 1939, with a very basic general construction and silhouette yet very interesting, tricky-to-make little details.  It is a sweet and feminine dress and tries to be complimentary with no real body shaping profile to it at all.  It is certainly not your 50’s take on a ladylike style, nor even a 40’s ‘I’m-ready-for business’ style…this is softer and more delicate without being girlish.  Even though the drawing makes one think this pattern might be scaled for a very tall woman with long legs, the proportions seem to be the opposite.  Sewing my dress as-is straight from the tissue, no fitting adjustments, it turned out perfect for my almost petite height (5’3”) and my short (14 ½”) back-of-neck-to-waist ratio.  The envelope’s yardage chart recommends anywhere between 2 ½ yards to 3 yards depending on the fabric width, yet – believe it or not, but I am the queen of optimal pattern placement – I was able to eke this dress out of 1 ¾ yards, with no compromise on grainline.  What gives here?  Overall, this was a quick treat to whip together and is a new dress that I absolutely love to wear, so I will not complain…not a bit.  I’m just warning every reader not to read this dress by its cover.

The full skirt, puff sleeves, and the bloused-out bodice are the obvious, and well-known visual giveaways for its original date.  Yet, somehow, the way Vogue styled their model and sewed up their sample dress made it seem more like a 1980s garment.  Weird, right?  That is an unfortunate reference which I do believe has turned off a number of sewists from potentially picking up this pattern to try it out because anything blatantly 80’s seems to repulse many.  As I said above, do not judge this by how Vogue has marketed it.

The decade of the 80’s does not give me an immediate adverse reaction and neither do puff sleeves, and so I tried to focus instead on the line drawing and give the design a chance.  I’m so glad I gave it a go!  It does have a bloused-out bodice that is something not all women will have a taste for today, yet it is very authentic, if you look at how garments fit women in old photos from the 40’s.  This dress has good lines, but it just cannot make up its mind what decade it wants to be in, and is not as timeless as other vintage designs.

 I dare to say it has a “cottage core” or “Laura Ashley” aesthetic at heart, with everything I still love about the 30’s, 40’s, and 80’s, so I’m there for it!  It is as comfy as a glamorous nightgown, with no need to feel to have a certain body image, yet it is as pretty as a picture perfect picnic and as breezy as a romanticized run through a field of flowers.

The one major change I did do on this dress was to simplify the neckline.  The pattern calls for a short back neck zipper to be put into a slashed and faced opening, and then self-fabric bias facing to be sewn along the neckline and sleeve edges.  As my fabric was a delicate crepe, and sheer too, I disliked the idea of a bulky back neck zipper.  I tested out the opening space of the finished neckline and guess what – you really don’t need that closure!  The dress can easily pop over my head without it, thankfully, because I think the dress is much better lacking the back neckline zipper.  Then, I used vintage cotton solid brown pre-made bias tape in lieu of self-fabric facings.  I love the simplicity and bit of contrast that this little step added.  Granted, I still made sure to cut the pre-made vintage bias tape out according to the patterns measurements for the given facings, just so I knew I was still keeping to the correct neckline.  I love it when some of my sewing work is already done for me with pre-made supplies, yet by using such quality vintage notions, I’m not just taking it easy – only adding a singular touch and putting my stash to good use.

Such a subject brings me to unashamedly brag about the total splurge of my really good vintage supplies on a finish that no one but me will ever see in real life – old rayon hem tape.  This stuff is so wonderful, and if you’ve never tried it, please find yourself some, use it, and you’ll thank me.  The wide and full skirt of this dress needed a deep hem to hang properly and have the proper weight, yet doing so is normally a slightly tricky technique.  It requires the cut raw edge to be gathered softly in to fit.  A regular folded-under edge is harder to do with this kind of a hem and, even on a soft material like this crepe, can turn out bulky and noticeable.

To get the nicest hem that is also invisible when worn, soft rayon hem tape is an incomparable wonder which does the job perfectly.  One long edge is sewn onto the cut edge of the skirt and then the other edge of the hem tape is sewn down to the body of the skirt.  The fabric merely ‘hangs’ from the hem tape instead of being firmly sewn together to the body of the skirt.  A light steaming sets the hem and controls the gathers.  Being out of the silkiest rayon, it gathers in so nicely and its lovely variety of colors that can be found make for a cheerful little splash of added beauty.  I chose a sky blue pack from on hand, and it contained a 3 yard length which was just enough for the skirt width with an inch or two to spare.  I do get a little concerned every time I use one of these vintage rayon hem tape packs because I know they are a limited resource and are not made anymore.  When they are gone, they will not be coming back.  Yet, what good will such items do me stashed in my notions drawers when they can be used and both bring me joy on my handmade garments as well as teach me a better way to do a sewing technique?  I rest my case.

Keep in mind the tiny, 1/8 inch pintucks are oppositely directional. They fold towards the center for both the front and the sleeves.  This was quite a challenge to accomplish when also sewing the edges into the skinny bias tape along the edges, but a little hand stitching finished off what I could not do using my machine.  Since the neckline and sleeve pintucking is practically the only major detail to this dress, it is well worth the extra time it demands.  There were so many thread ends to tie off though!  I can imagine how wonderful the pintucks would look on this dress if it was made of a solid color fabric.  They do stand out on my version by difference in texture alone, but are a bit lost in the print overall sadly.  Who knew making so many tiny stitched pleats could make such a difference in shaping when you do about a dozen of them!?

I paired my dress with a simple handmade belt, too.  I had two yards on hand of this novelty ‘ribbon’ made out of different colored jute.  I figured it would brighten the dress up a bit to add in more color -the late 1930s frequently combined unexpected tones to great success, anyway.  So I cut the two yards into half (for two one yard portions) and sewed them together lengthwise using a zig-zag stitch to end up with double the width.  I instantly had one wide belt.  Next, bias tape was sewed over the two raw edges for a clean finish, and then the edges were turned under and stitched down to form a loop on either end for the leather lacing to go through.  My belt kind of has the same idea as the one that came with the pattern, but was more fun to construct because it was my own idea.  I somehow like the belt better when the lacing is at my back and not the front.

The rest of my accessories are mostly vintage originals.  My earrings are from my Grandmother, while my straw hat is a 1930s mint condition original and a lucky find, as well as my kidskin leather driving gloves.  My velvet vintage purse is the only item that is from the 1940s and not the decade before.  Since the dress is sheer, under it I wore this deep purple, full-skirted, opaque 1950’s slip that I sewed awhile back now.  The two-tone heels are reproduction Miz Mooz brand.  I highly recommend anything from this vintage inspired shoe company…it’s like walking on air, they’re so comfy, especially their heels, and crafted with high quality (I have several pairs from this brand now, he he).  Altogether jazzed up, I went for a visit to our neighborhood “five and dime” candy shop to sweeten the melancholy I get from early fall.

I realize that readers on the other side of the world from me are just now easing into spring.  That is the other season of transition, kind of like fall, but with much more of a cheerful flourish.  I understand – which is why a dress like this could also be very appropriately a spring dress, too!  A little multi-season sewing is the most bang for my time spent, and hopefully a good inspiration for my readers no matter where you live.  Have I convinced you to pick up this pattern and give that 2 yards of material which is floating in your stash a chance to shine with this pattern?  What are your favorite tones of the fall season?

Under Surveillance

I am never one to pass up an opportunity for what I sew to convey some understated irony.  The opposite of wrinkly is irony, after all (in case you haven’t heard that joke)!  In all seriousness, though – this post’s dress was perfect for a day traveling out in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of Death Valley.  I blend right in with my setting’s colors and am ‘under surveillance’ amidst the open scrub land in my boldly patterned knit version of a Rachel Comey designer piece.  My dress is paired with a casual, relaxed twist on the classic moto jacket for an outfit that accommodates the temperature swings of the desert in spring.

In 2014, Vogue Pattern Company released the pattern to her popular RTW item called the “Surveillance” dress.  It’s always so exciting when Vogue gives a home seamstress the ability to make her own ‘copy’ of a New York fashion item which sells for about $700 normally!!  Granted, I am in no way ‘up to date’ with things by finally getting around to sewing this six years later, but hey – better late to the game than never when it comes to personal fashion.  SO many times it is best to let my fabric and my patterns be paired up naturally as the inspiration strikes or as the setting feels right.  Forcing projects is often a recipe for later being unhappy with the outcome.

Making a jacket out of this lovely burgundy knit has been a long time coming as well, so everything about this outfit is something to be excited over.  As the wardrobe I chose for my travels out west was everything which would pair well with such a rich color, I finally dove into finding the right pattern for the burgundy knit and now have a new favorite versatile piece I dreamed of for years.  There never seems to be enough time in life for all the ideas and aspirations in my head and heart!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For the dress – a cotton, rayon, and poly blend knit; For the jacket – a rayon and poly blend tiny ribbed knit, fully lined in a lightweight black poly interlock

PATTERNS:  Vogue #1406, a Rachel Comey dress pattern from 2014 together with Burda Style #105 jacket from March 2015

NOTIONS:  Just lots of thread, some cuts of interfacing, a few vintage buttons out of the stash I inherited from my Grandmother, and scraps of bias tape went into this ensemble!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket took about 10 to 12 hours to make, and was finished on February 7, 2020; the dress was made in about 5 hours on January 30, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  As the fabrics for this whole outfit have been sitting in my stash for almost 10 years now (bought years ago at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics), I am counting these pieces as equal to free by this time!  Either way, I only needed 1 ½ yards for the jacket, and almost 3 yards for the dress (because I was working with a large scale repeated print) so I could not have paid all that much because I always found the best prices at Hancock!  My guess is no more than $30 in total.

Here’s how I cut out my pieces (single layer of fabric).

Now, for a designer pattern, Comey’s Surveillance dress has really simple but smart design lines.  The listings describe it as having an “asymmetrical neckline, hugging the body in just the right places, this fitted dress features a tailored bodice with clever tugs at the waist sides (gathers) for a flattering fit.”  I noticed that all the models in the RTW versions had no significant weight or body curves, so I surmised a close-fitting dress for their body type would not fit the same on me.  I made sure to go up one whole size than what the chart showed I needed, and I am glad I did so.  My sleeves were shortened because I like the versatility of ¾ length, and it made the sleeves easier to match with the striping on the dress, but otherwise no other changes were made to the design you see on the line drawing.

The original instructions call for very nice finishing techniques, such as cutting your own bias binding to finish the inner raw edges for the armscye and a fully lined body.  The detailed instructions are great because it gives a glimpse into how the expensive designer dresses are made.  Also, though, after you exhaust yourself doing such details, you may just realize that high end price is rather appropriate for the time, effort, and quality (RTW Surveillance dresses are silk) that goes into them…and they are made in the USA!

Now, I am not one to shy away from (or lack appreciation for) time-consuming ways of sewing high quality garments – goodness, I absolutely love spending ungodly amounts of hours to hand-sew suit coats!  However, my chosen fabric for this design was loose and much too relaxed to be highly tailored, so I stripped construction down to the bare bones here.  I eliminated the full body lining, facings, interfacing, and seam edge finishing (the knit does not ravel).  This made my dress only a 5 hour, ‘one-afternoon-sewing-binge’ kind of project.  As I had went up a size, and my material was stretchy knit, I left out the back zipper as the pattern called for, making this a pop-over dress for effortless dressing.  The center back skirt godet panel was also left out in my version and I merely drafted directly onto the dress itself.  This way the oversized print does not get broken up.

Even with the dress being simplified I had to think out of the box to accommodate supporting certain sections.  The one side of the neckline has a defined shoulder seam, which I supported with seam tape in with the stitching.  However the other shoulder – the one that wraps around from the back to come into the front at the neckline side that dips down – is one piece that drooped off my body.  To fix that I hand stitched down a strip of double fold, ½ inch wide bias tape to the inside across where the shoulder seam would have been.  Bias tape has just a tiny bit of give when it is double folded, but it is a pretty stable – yet simple – way for me to steady the one side of the upper neckline.  I also used double fold bias tape (the red is 1/4 inch wide) to stabilize the side seam and center back waistline gathers.

Can this dress still be in the shadow of New York’s high fashion or considered a designer knock-off when I have reduced it down to such a simple thing to make?  I almost feel badly, but hey – sewing my own clothes makes me a designer too, in my own right, so I am tickled deep down for finding my own unusual way of interpreting Comey’s design.  Even still, I do think that I stuck to her aesthetic, which is described as “combining thoughtful materials, bold prints, and modern silhouettes.”  That is the case with my knit which is a soft as a baby blanket, yet definitely bold, and certainly made into a modern body skimming fit. “Comey’s collections blend function, fashion, and form.  You will find designs that are sophisticated and cool, smart yet playful.”  I find that I made her Surveillance dress much more versatile with no closures needed in an easy-care knit.  My ‘downsizing’ of the details in no way brings this dress away from her trend of classy work-to-dinner-date wear so I’m happy to have a multi-purpose garment done my way!  With modern heels and chandelier earrings this would look so different.

My blazer is the opposite of the dress – it took more time, has finer details, and is not named designer pattern.  It is still a mix of casual and dressy.  It is fitted loosely, almost boxy, so there were none but two tiny bust darts to sew.  With the full body lining and soft knit this jacket feels as cozy as a sweatshirt but appears so much nicer!  The asymmetric closing has many differing ‘looks’ depending on how many (or if any) buttons I close, so it is closer to suiting in this respect, and a nice variant on the traditional moto jacket.

It does have suit jacket style, two-part sleeves for great mobility that doesn’t solely rely on the stretch of the knit.  I played upon the opportunity the seaming and moto style offered to use the other side of the fabric – the side with more of a black overtone and less of a twill finish as what is seen on the main body – for the underarm sleeve panels, collar, and insides of the revers.  For as bold as the dress is, I love the subtlety I added to the details of the jacket.  Choosing vintage leather buttons might not be the best in wash ability, but I liked how they standout without being too obnoxiously different.  As I said above, this is a set full of irony – yes, black, burgundy, and brown can complement one another and a moto jacket doesn’t always have to be in a stark biker style.

My outfit only has me chuffed to go along these lines even further.  As my second Rachel Comey dress, it is quite different from my first – this 40’s inspired Vogue #1209 pattern from 2010.  It will certainly not be my last, either.  I have several more patterns of her’s from Vogue in my cabinet, with fabric in my stash already picked out for them.  Also, I am itching to try another twist on the moto style jacket.  Burda Style has been really killing me with their amazing moto jacket designs over this past year.  Each one they release (and it has been many) has great features, so it will be hard to pick, but I will let the fabric “speak to me” to help decide things for next time.  One thing I do know is how easy it is to determine whether or not I am open to returning to the desert…the answer is a hearty YES!

A Sybil Connolly Skirt Suit

Of all the items I have made in my life, it is hard to believe that only now is my very first sewing using a designer Vogue pattern! Even though this might not be the most spectacular or glamorous project to start with, the beauty is in the details and the rich, significant background of the designer.  This is also a very comfortable and useful dressy set, to boot!  I present my year 1976 suit set of Sybil Connolly, the leader and founder of Irish Couture.

First of all, I want to say that I am counting this as part of my 21st century progressive Easter day creations I have been making since 2013, starting with a dress in the year 1929 style.  Since that Easter day outfit, I make something from the following decade for the next year’s holiday.  (See my 1930s Easter dress here, and my 1940s one here.)  Only since I made this set from the year 1954 did I begin keeping with suiting. This year 2018 was naturally supposed to be something from the 1970’s (after this one last year from 1960), but as our Easter day turned out to be incredibly cold and snowy, this suit set had to be put off being showcased until the next spring holiday – Mother’s day!  Happily, the grass and trees were overly lush and green by the time I wore my new vintage suit set!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton-rayon blend “linen-look” material, in a solid orchid color for the contrast and a floral for the rest of the set.  Leftover polyester lining (in a matching orchid pinkish purple) from my stash was used to line the jacket inside.

PATTERN:  Vogue #1503, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I pretty much had everything I needed – thread, zipper, interfacing, and bias tape.  The only thing I needed to buy for this specifically was a button making kit for matching fabric buttons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a relatively easy pattern for being a detailed designer project – but of course leaving out the skirt lining step helped, too.  I made my suit set in about 25 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on April 8, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  I’ll admit I took the easy road here for the internal finishing.  My seams are covered by the lining for the jacket body, left raw for the sleeve seams inside the arm, and bias bound for the skirt.  Bias seams are not my preference for making my own copy of a designer garment, neither are raw edges, but this fabric doesn’t really fray and I wanted my set done for Easter-time…only I didn’t wear it for Easter anyway!  Oh well.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics had been closing several years back.  I believe I bought the fabric for about $2 a yard. With about 3 yards used, and the notions I bought, this suit set cost me just over $10…how awesome is that?!

For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to find a dressy suit set from the decade of the 1970s.  I have a sneaky suspicion that this is due to the casualness that the youthful-oriented and stretchy knit fashions introduced, as well as the greater political and social liberties of women.  Enough said.  Whatever the reason, suits of the 1970’s seem to be quite relaxed, mostly with pants for the bottom half, and frequently with a tunic-style jacket or a safari-style over shirt.  Leave it to a designer to offer my taste just what I was hoping for but having trouble finding!  This suit feels unpretentious, but still polished, as well as being timeless with a 70’s flair.  It was just enough of a challenge to make, yet still easy enough to enjoy the sewing.  It has unexpected details to make my creative heart flutter yet these are subtle enough to go unnoticed to the casual observation.  Besides, now I have the opportunity to both appreciate and share the story of a designer that deserves to be better known.

Ireland had long been considered a country without its own fashion.  Sybil Connolly changed that.  She had been brought up in Waterford County, and trained as an apprentice dressmaker in London starting in the late 1930’s at seventeen and by the time she was twenty-two (WWII times) she was a workroom manager and company director for Jack Clarke, a fashion retailer in Dublin.  In 1954, Carmel Snow, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, discovered Sybil Connolly who had just come out with her first collection, featuring the use of her native Irish fabrics and embellishments, most notably Irish linen, only the year before.  With the combined help of the Irish exports board, Connolly launched Irish Couture into an international spotlight with her introduction to New York’s fashion scene.  What she made often showed a woman’s natural body form (in contrast to the likes of Balenciaga) with such dresses as her white crocheted evening dress that was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in August 1953.  Her inspiration the sentiment A woman’s body is inside. It breathes. It moves. So I must see movement in a dress.”  By being true to herself, her tastes, her roots, and her determination, she stood out in the fashion world, gave women attractive options to wear, and gained a new respect from the world for her culture.  By March of 1955, Vogue magazine was mentioning Dublin in the same sentence as Paris, London, and Milan!

Connolly was adamant about using her fashion line to support business and export trade in Ireland, by not only using Irish textile manufacturers, but even employing over 50 local women to hand make some of her laces. At the Glencolumbkill Agricultural show in 1956, she had said, “I feel that as long as we can show such beauty in design and texture as we do in our Irish cottage industries, we cannot ever be called a vanishing race.”  Click here for a “Glamourdaze” article to watch (in color!) Sybil Connolly’s 1957 fashion show at a lovely Irish castle.  Most of her designs at this time were inspired by rural, traditional garments and materials.  This is cultural approbation at its finest.

For me, I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my family, Sybil Connolly’s work is a personal thing that touches a tender spot.  I too love and appreciate the fine laces that my Irish (paternal) Grandmother hoarded (which I now have) as well as the Irish simple beauty of life that my Irish (maternal) Grandfather enjoyed.  If you follow my blog you have already seen and read my great appreciation for linen, in all its forms.  Now, I know – my suit is not real linen.  It’s made from modern linen-look fabric.  It’s also not in a solid color, as was her wont in her creations.  However, I feel that this is me personalizing my own Sybil Connolly fashion, and I can see this step as something she would approve.  I love a linen-look fabric, and I LOVE a purple print…so, this is a set that is all me, for me, designed by a woman that I respect who has my same cultural ties.

This pattern is from 1976, though, decades after the height of her career (the 1950s).  She had dressed all the most well-known social and political names such as Jackie Kennedy, the Rockefellers, and Liz Taylor through the 60’s and began designing for Tiffany & Co. (glassware) as well as releasing luxury home goods (such as fine table linens) by the 1980s.  So this, pattern was at the far end of her fashion career, when she was trading talents.  I have seen that her mid-to late 1970s patterns have very similar, repetitive qualities to my own pattern’s set.  Many of her skirts (excepting her trademark hand-pleated, taffeta-backed linen skirts) have the same paneling with pockets (see Vogue #2998).  Many of her garments had a recognizable continuity even in 1992 as they did 40 years earlier.

Often, designers who began in the pre-WWII times (such as Mainbocher) had difficulty dealing with the harshly contrasting ‘hip’ and youthful trends of the 60’s-70’s-80’s.  However, she was a multi-faceted woman (she even wrote books!) and found a way to keep her head up apparently to still have wonderful, lovely designs like this pattern for many decades.  That is pure ingenuity and a stamp of a classic style.  Connolly maintained that she knew, as all women designers should, that “good fashion does not need to change”.

One of the major details which slightly dates this suit is the enormous collar.  This is so 1970s and a natural style for Connolly to adopt here to be on point for 1976.  An oversized collar is the most common, recognizable feature to shirts and jacket necklines that I see and make from the 1970s.  Other than that, the rest of the details are pretty timeless, and finely crafted.  The sleeves are the classic two panel style seen on most suits.  The body of the jacket has a princess seam running vertical down through the bust, starting from sleeve and running to the hem, separating the front from the side panel.  The side bodice panel has a sneaky extra shaping dart close to where the side seam is while the back is pretty bare bones, yet still shaped nicely.  As this is supposed to be a warm weather jacket, I didn’t line the sleeves and I left out the shoulder pads to keep this lightweight.

As I left off the bias tube belt the pattern called for to wear over the jacket, I instead made sure to keep another accessory detail that can be spotted on the example garment shown on the pattern envelope cover.  Can you find it?  I made my own clip on fabric flower to match for the collar!  I used the 1950’s Dior-style bias method (which you can see here or here) to start with and slightly adapted it so the flower is more compact like a double rose.  Making fabric flowers is my new favorite thing to do with my scraps.  Not only does it use leftover fabric, but I end up with a wonderful matching accessory.  Plus it’s fun (very important) and is an excellent way to practice precise hand sewing.  Small-scale, often time-consuming details like this fabric rose remind me of the labor of love which went into Connolly’s creations.

My favorite feature to this set is possibly the smart button placket to the jacket.  It is only on the exterior front, made a bit more obvious by my solid contrast color.  There is only a wide facing on the inside.  This is unusual but lovely.  I couldn’t find it in my heart to break up the color and texture of the front placket by using anything other than matching fabric buttons, so I bought a kit to make them myself.   I feel like this brings the jacket’s detailing to a whole new level equal to a designer pattern.

My next favorite feature is the smart pockets in the unexpected gore design of the skirt.  It is a four panel (or gore) skirt with no side seams.  There are center panels in the front and the back, with one wrap-around panel to either side.  The waistline has small darts coming out of it, ending at the high hip, adding shaping there in the absence of a side seam.  I think I have only seen no side seams with a side seam darts with my 50’s pencil skirts (here and here), so it is another uncommon feature for the 70’s.  With such seaming, do you know where the zipper closing went?  In the left back side seam.  This makes it kind of tricky to close unless I twist it around to the front of me while dressing.  The pattern called for a flap closing back much like the front buttoning fly to men’s trousers and historical breeches.  I simplified that by sewing one side closed then adding a zip in the other.  Then I continued with the contrasting color I had been using on the jacket to make the skirt waistband out of the solid orchid color linen-look, as well.

I suppose you have noticed my hands slipped into some well hidden front skirt pockets.  What you may not have detected was how the skirt is a straight A-line shape from the front, while the back is gently fuller.  Anyway – back to the pockets!  They are so handy in the way that they are deep and generous to hold many things, and they are at the perfect height for my arm length.  The pockets inside swoop in towards one another, and to keep them that way there is a small length of bias tape to connect the two.  Whenever there are pockets like this I always think of them in connection to a kangaroo, because they give me room to hold things over my tummy!

The pattern I had was a slightly bigger size than what I needed, so I used the same method I used for this 60’s dress.  I cut off the seam allowance on the side and shoulder seams, and made slightly wider seam allowances.  Read more about it in this post.  I’m really liking the perfect fit I end up with this method.

I am now quite eager to dive into my next vintage Vogue designer pattern.  I have already bought a few more while I was in the post-project happiness – among them ones from the 80’s and 90’s for my Easter suits of the next two years!  I love how designer patterns give me a reason and opportunity to learn more about the talents, individuality, and biography of garment creators that made it big.  Unfortunately some of them have been better remembered in history than others!  In fact I prefer the forgotten or little known designers because it helps me associate myself better with them.  I might be sewing using a designer pattern, but most importantly anything I make means I become my own designer.  Home sewing is so underestimated.  One person does all the jobs of a whole fashion house.

Sybil Connolly had bystanders remark of her (at a party she attended in 1946, before she had her own line of clothing) that “Wearing her own designed dress, she was her own best model.”  That is my ideal, to have me – the creator of what I make – be the foremost representation for what can be accomplished at the hands of a dedicated seamstress.  It’s like wearing your art on your back and being your own silent spokesperson for what you do.  Whether it gets seen or appreciated, that fact should alone make one who sews happy.  You don’t need what you make be strutted down the runway to be proved it’s worthwhile…nowadays, half of what is seen on the runways is trash in my opinion anyway.  Just make sure what you make for yourself is 100% you for you to show the beauty, individuality, and artistry to the powerful talent of sewing!