The Dress Doctor Part 2

Last week, I reviewed the book I bought at an estate sale,  “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  Miss Head won 8 Oscars for costume design, and dressed most of the leading ladies in Hollywood movies in the 1930s through the 1960s.

This week I’m going to get personal, and show some fashion examples from my own life.

Prescriptions for Dressing drawing by Edith Head

At the end of the book, Miss Head offers her prescriptions for dressing for everything from sports to housework.  (Sorry Mrs. Cleaver, high heels are not appropriate for doing the dishes).

Pictured above is her prescription written in 1959 for dressing for amusement parks. Let’s see how our clothes stacked up some years later, in the mid 1960s at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Disneyland in the mid 1960's

Pretty much spot on! My mother and I, the towheaded girl, and the hand-on- head woman are all wearing what could be described as sport dresses or simple street dresses. I’m not sure about the redheaded woman – could she be wearing shorts? The pig is dressed up a bit more but is still within the rules as hats and gloves are optional, assuming that the dress code for males is the same.

Within about five years of this date, the dividing line for which clothes are appropriate for school, work, and play had blurred and changed. The fashion prescriptions of Miss Head, which had been the norms of society, would be discarded by young and old alike as a new casual style of dress took over.

My Favorite Guinea Pig drawing by Edith Head

Miss Head advises to experiment with clothes, and to be objective when trying on an outfit. “If it were possible to have a Polaroid camera along, snap your own picture and develop it at once, you’d make fewer mistakes”.  Just imagine lugging a big Polaroid camera into the dressing room, snapping a shot, waving the picture, and waiting for it to develop!  Of course this wasn’t practical, but this advice certainly works in the age of the “selfie”.

I fit Edith’s Head category of “too short” and her advice to my figure type is to use one color, never cut the body line, omit belts or use narrow belts, avoid a too-long dress length, and keep the silhouette slim and simple.

I decided to try my own experimenting in a department store dressing room.  It’s the store with the big balloons.  I’m keeping in mind Miss Head’s advice to accentuate my good points, and camouflage my figure faults.

Now, I wouldn’t ordinarily post unflattering photos of myself as I have a feminine sense of vanity about my appearance.

1960's tot admires her bracelet

And I know the importance of the right accessory.

1960's little girl loves her new bracelet

You’re never too young or too old to develop your own style!

Back to my experiment:  Here I try on a tent or trapeze shaped dress. The fabric is linen which is what I liked about it.

dressing room unflattering tent dress

trying on linen tent dress

 

 

 

 

 

All wrong! Too long for me, and even though the dress is so big and baggy it still manages to cling in an unflattering way to my high hip or haunches. Maybe I could wear this shape if the dress was belted, and hit just above the knee.  I find that waist definition is important for my figure.

Next I try on a knit top with a draped neckline, and a gathered skirt.  Better!

Polyester Outfit in Dressing Room

Cons: they are both polyester, the skirt is unlined and doesn’t have pockets, gathered skirt adds bulk to waistline, top is wrong length to wear untucked.

Pros:  draped neckline on top is flattering, like the deep blue color of the top, skirt will go with all solid colored knit tops.

I didn’t buy any of these pieces.  I feel fortunate that I have sewing skills, and can make/alter a garment to be more to my liking.  As I’ve gotten older and  the letters in my closet have changed from S to L, I find that the fit is “off” on most of the clothes I try on.

One of my favorite stories from the book is about the clothes for Connie Stevens, who was playing a small town girl in the movie “Rock-a-Bye Baby”.  Her co-star, Jerry Lewis, suggested that since her character didn’t need fancy clothes, she could just go the the store and buy something to wear.  When Jerry was shown the result of her shopping trip he said to Miss Head, “Make ’em!”  Apparently, the clothes weren’t very flattering, even to a young, slim starlet.

“Ready-made clothes are made to fit anyone and each individual has figure differences.  In making your own clothes, you can adjust to those figure differences, play up your good points, see that the waist fits at the waist, the shoulders are exactly the right width, the darts in the right place.”

“Clothes are the way you present yourself to the world; they affect the way the world feels and thinks about you; subconsciously they effect the way you feel and think about yourself.”

According to Miss Head, the most essential thing that clothes should do for you is to make you feel comfortable and assured.  Now that’s a prescription that never goes out of style!

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The Dress Doctor by Edith Head

I noticed a book at an estate sale with a dress form on the cover, picked it up, and discovered I had a first edition copy dated 1959 of the book “The Dress Doctor” by Edith Head.  I bought it!

I got a good deal. The book is selling on Amazon for $61 and up.  The 2011 reissue is not the original book, but a very abridged version.  However, many libraries have a copy.

I remember watching Oscar telecasts as a little girl with my mother, and  hearing Edith Head’s name being called as a nominee in the costume design category.  Miss Head was nominated 35 times in her career, and won 8 Academy Awards, 6 of them in the 1950s.

In the book, she tells of being a French and art teacher at the Hollywood School for Girls in the 1920s, where her pupils included the de Mille daughters.  Some days they would shut down school, and go to Paramount to watch Mr. De Mille direct a scene.  Evidently, Miss Head found the movie business to her liking; during  summer vacation she answered an ad for a sketch artist at Paramount. Even though she couldn’t draw,  she got the job by bringing to the interview other students’ drawings from the art school she was attending.

The doctor hangs up her shingle drawing

She began designing for silent pictures and westerns.  Her first  design that garnered attention was the sarong dress designed for Dorothy Lamour in the 1930s.

In 1949, a category for costume design was added to the Academy Awards, and Miss Head received her first nomination.  She didn’t win until the next year, for “The Heiress”, in which she designed  clothes whose purpose was to make Olivia de Havilland look plain and unattractive.  Up until 1968, the Academy awarded two costume design Oscars, one for color, and one for black and white.  Six of Miss Head’s wins were for black and white pictures, including “All About Eve” in 1951 and “Roman Holiday” in 1954.

Edith Head worked with all the top female stars of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and in the book describes costume fitting sessions with Clara Bow, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others, and offers little anecdotes about their personalities.  Nothing snarky here – all the best stories were doubtless omitted as a dress doctor has an oath of confidentiality  to consider.

Miss Head worked on some of the greatest classic movies and my all-time favorites: dressing Bette Davis in “All About Eve”, Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday, Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”, Kim Novak in “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds”.

In the book, fashion advice is also given to the ordinary woman.  Miss Head appeared on a radio show with Art Linkletter in the the 1940s where she gave fashion pointers to the women in the audience.    I thought it very quaint to give fashion advice without any visuals, but then I remembered that the designer Mr. Blackwell, best known for his “worst dressed” annual lists, had a radio talk show broadcast from Los Angeles in the 1970s in which he did the same thing.

The show with Art Linkletter made it to television in 1952.  It was a fun show: contests to shop and select accessories, fashions shows, and a staple of women’s daytime entertainment: the makeover.

What Clothes Can Do for You drawing by Edith Head

My favorite part of the book is the section on what clothes can do for you.

“You are a woman with weapons, why not use them?  Why be a sheep when you can be a self?”

“Everyone has a day’s work, a career, in home, office or wherever, and why not express your individuality?  See how you can best dress for the day’s work to give yourself assurance.  Life is competitive; clothes gird us for the competition.”

Miss Head sums up her advice in three rules:

  1.  Be dressed for what you are doing.
  2.  Have the right accessories.
  3.  Don’t wear your clothes too tight.  A dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to prove you’re a lady.

How do you think that advice holds up in the 21st Century?

Next week, in the The Dress Doctor Part 2, I will apply some of her concepts to myself, past and present.

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Refashion with McCalls 7131

It’s hot and I need fashion relief.

I bought this long rayon skirt at the thrift store.  I love the print, and it was even pretty worn as is (or as was).

Long Skirt Before Pic

The skirt had 3 panels on each side, and a wide, shirred elastic waist.

Long Skirt showing seaming

inside out with seams showing

I wanted to make a fun, weekend look, but instead of hemming the skirt to knee length I decided to try something different.

Enter McCalls 7131.  Yes, I have finally become a culottes convert.  A cool and loose item of clothing halfway between shorts and a skirt (with pockets) suddenly seemed just what I needed this summer.

McCalls7131

By putting the pattern at the bottom of the skirt, and making the short version, I had just enough fabric to cut out my pieces.  I used the top third of the skirt to make the pockets.

Culottes pattern with pleating lines marked

dotted lines showing pleat markings

This pattern isn’t based on a circle skirt like some culottes patterns.  Instead it has box pleats in the front, and an elastic waist only in the back.  The center inverted box pleat is stitched down partway, and forms the “camouflage” pleat hiding the center front seam so that the culottes look more like a skirt.

Center Inverted Pleat I bypassed the waistband instructions as I had unpicked the original elastic waist to sew back onto my culottes.  I wanted the back to look like a skirt, too, so I also added pleats to the back, including the center “camouflage” pleat.  I think it’s odd that the pattern only had that center box pleat in the front.  I didn’t make a mock-up of this pattern or compare the crotch curve to a previous pattern, but luckily it worked out well.  I assumed that culottes would have a lowered crotch to look more like a skirt, and would be easy to fit.

Waistband of Culottes

I made a size 14, and the waist would have been way too big if the front wasn’t also elasticized.  I had to stretch the original waistband mightily to make it fit!

These are being worn! Not just on weekends, but to the office, too.

Culottes Refashion

Culottes Back

These culottes catch every breeze, and I don’t have to worry about wearing a slip or chafing.

Every make I’ve seen of culottes on sewing blogs has a reveal shot showing that it’s not a skirt.

Should I do it?

I couldn’t resist.

Culottes Reveal Shot

 

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Plain Grey Tee

What to do when I want to make some tees and don’t have any knit fabric in my stash?  Find a tee shirt in a thrift store, the bigger the better, and use the fabric.  A men’s 3X size certainly fit the bill.  It was massive!

I partly used the pattern and instructions for the  Kirsten Kimono tee, (free when you subscribe to the newsletter), but I also used an existing tee to get the right fit and I cut the same neckline as that tee.  I was going to make the size M but it turns out I’m more of a size L.  I added a 1/2 inch inch seam allowance to the pattern.

cutting out from 3X tee

I used the original bottom hem of the tee, and double needle hemmed the kimono sleeves.  I unpicked the ribbed neck from the original tee, shortened it, and sewed it to my new tee.

Grey tee on hanger

This might become my new favorite tee.

Close up of Grey Tee

I didn’t have any twill tape or knit tape to reinforce the neckline or shoulders, so I might have a problem with these areas getting stretched out of shape.

Grey Tee with shorts

 

I also experimented with a thrifted big white tee.  I made the fit relaxed but not oversized.  Again, I unpicked the original ribbed neck, resized it, and stitched it to my new neckline.  The join is a bit awkward at the back of the neck.  Maybe I should try to reposition it next time.

white tee on hanger

This time I also unpicked and reused the long reinforcing strip made from the same knit fabric as the shirt by sewing it to the neck and shoulders.

reinforced neck and shoulder

I tried out a different technique and made a wavy lettuce hem.  I sewed a very close, wide zigzag on a double thickness of fabric while stretching the fabric, and then trimmed close to the stitching on the inside.  I used this tutorial on lettuce hems published on Craftsy.

wavy lettuce hem

White Lettuce Tee

If you’d like more information and ideas on sewing knits take a look at my “learn to sew knits” board on Pinterest.

More experimenting with thrifted tees to follow!

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Crazy Quilt Coverlet

It’s not a quilt, and it’s not exactly crazy, but I did find a use for this beautiful fabric, thrifted for $1, from my stash.  The fabric is textured with surface stitching like a quilt, but is not pieced.

Crazy Quilt Fabric (800x600)

I paired it with every last bit of a pale green fabric I had, and a cotton eyelet trim that had been given to me.  I used french seams throughout so all of the raw edges are enclosed.

Spring Coverlet on Line

Folded Coverlet

Coverlet on bed

coverlet on bed2

It’s so feminine and fresh for spring and summer.  I love it!

I also finished the flower basket embroidery on my muslin cloth.  This was also an item from the thrift store.  Instead of matching colors from my existing floss, I bought DMC #8 perle cotton after I looked closely and realized it was used in the one stitched corner. Perle cotton is a lustrous, twisted non-divisible thread. It was worth the extra expense because it’s so beautiful, and a joy to work with.

DMC perle cotton #8

I put tissue paper over the fabric, snapped on the top hoop, and then tore back the tissue paper to protect the fabric from the hoop.

tissue paper with hoop

I used a running stitch, satin stitch, and many lazy daisy stitches. So many petals and yet the flowers didn’t come alive until the french knots were added.

flowers with french knots

french knot detail

Unlike the rest of the stitches, I need to sit at a table to form the french knots.  I made 3 twists around the needle.  I brushed up on tips on this stitch because they can be tricky.  In the past, I’ve had french knots go through the fabric or be loose and sloppy.  These look good!

working on french knots

I embroidered the three unstitched corners.  My work is on the left and the original completed flower basket is on the right.  I did a good job matching threads, although the brown and light lavender are a shade different.

2 stitchers comparison

I’ll put it away for now, with plans to add to it later.  I want to get back to my summer clothes sewing.

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Blue Gingham Part II – Shorts from McCalls 6901

To me, summertime means wearing shorts.  For my first time making a pair, I used McCalls 6901, a Palmer/Pletsch pattern, and some of the blue gingham fabric left over from my pants.

Short Legs

This pattern has two sewing techniques that were new to me: inset pockets and a type of front zipper insertion called a mock fly zipper.

McCalls 6901

This pattern has a lot more information than an average pattern.  The instructions include a helpful pants fitting guide and the pattern has lines for adjustment of crotch length.  They’re the vertical lines in the pants back pattern piece below that can be folded to take out bagginess.  It also has a horizontal lengthen or shorten line to adjust the rise of the pants, or crotch depth. I compared this pattern piece with the one I used to make the Simplicity 1967 pants  and the rise was much longer.  I used the same measurements from the revised pants pattern to make these shorts.

Fitting Pointers McCalls Pattern

Crotch length vertical lines

One thing to keep in mind when making this pattern is that a 1 inch seam allowance has been added instead of the standard 5/8 inch.  The Palmer and Pletsch method advocates tissue fitting, but I opted to sew a mock-up using a sheet not only for fit, but to practice that mysterious mock fly.

I found the pattern instructions for the zipper confusing; I wasn’t sure which side was left front and which side was right front.  It was hard to find directions for a mock fly.  This 18 step photo and words tutorial on Flickr provided the help I needed.  I interfaced the area as shown in the tutorial.  The pattern instructions didn’t include this step.

My first attempt was hideous!

Mock fly mock up

Since I’ve never sewn a true fly, I’m not sure what the difference is from the mock fly.  One thing I noticed from looking at the pants I was wearing was that there is an additional piece of fabric that covers the back side of the zipper on a true fly.  The back of the zipper is fully exposed on a mock fly as in the photo below.

mock fly zipper - wrong side

The slash pockets are cut from the front and there is a separate side front piece.  ” How to sew pocket inserts” is a good tutorial to add this type of pocket to any pattern.

My second fly is better but I think I had too deep of a fold.  There’s some extra fabric below the stitching of the fly.

Shorts Front

Changes I made to the pattern:

added a button to the waistband (instead of a hook and eye), added elastic to the back waistband, eliminated the darts, and added patch pockets to the back.

Short Waistband

Pack Patch Pockets

One thing I love about making shorts is that they don’t use much fabric.  I also love wearing them.

Blue Gingham Shorts2

Gingham Shorts

Ah, summer!  Time to make lemonade, and shorts.

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Learning to Sew Knits: Tailoring a Tee

Yellow Flag Tee Shirt

Although I wear knits, I haven’t sewn with them.  One problem is that I haven’t had a clear idea of which stitch to use to sew seams.  I also had some bad experiences when the machine ate my fabric, when I attempted to shorten and re-hem some tees.

Double Hem Knit Tee Fail

I was completely puzzled why this happened; I was using a twin needle which is commonly used to hem knits.  I knew that ballpoint needles are used for sewing knits, but I didn’t realize I needed not just a twin needle but a stretch twin needle.  This is the second one I bought.  I broke the first one when I forgot to change my stitch back to straight after sewing zigzag.

Stretch Twin Needle

I like the 4.0 mm distance between the two needles, which looks the same as ready to wear, instead of the closer together 2.5 mm twin needles.   OK, that part is worked out.

For seaming, I have read to use a narrow zigzag which is too vague for me.  I followed the advice of the tutorial “knits without a serger”  and used a stitch length of 1.5 and a width of 5.  This is a dense zigzag.

I eased into sewing with knits by altering a flag tee shirt I bought at a thrift store awhile back to be ready in time for Memorial Day weekend.  First I resewed the side seams, then I cut and re-hemmed the sleeves and the bottom of the tee.

Can you tell which is the original hem stitching and which one I sewed?

Hem Comparison

Look at the close-up.  Can you tell now?  It’s a close match and I’m happy with my results.  I know you sewists are looking for telltale signs such as tunneling and skipped stitches.

Hem Comparison Close-up

No rips this time!

And for those of us in the USA who are fans of The Great British Sewing Bee, the fourth season is being put up on You Tube.  Episode 1 had the contestants sewing chevrons.  Watch it while you can, because the episodes tend to disappear after awhile.