Audrey Hepburn and the little black dress

We watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s yesterday… that is what we do when the household comes down with a bug- watch movies. My toddler was less than impressed and yet there I was, watching it for maybe the tenth time still oggling Audrey Hepburn’s fabulous wardrobe in the film (1961). A quick google and I learnt that her iconic dress from the first scenes of the film (where she wanders about the streets of 1960s New York to the strains of Moon River) went for almost one million US dollars in aid of charity.

So what was it about that little black number, designed by Givenchy that has really stayed with our collective consciousness through the decades? What makes it so appealing? Elegance. Glamour. Simplicity. All of these things were calling cards of Givenchy’s work. But I also think there is something about a little bit of shoulder… it is demure but alluring. Edgy, even.

Below are two designs I really like from the late 1960s and early 1970s- Butterick 5769 and Vogue 7528. Yes indeed, Vogue 7528 is the pattern famed to have once gone at an ebay auction for over $700. It was a look- not just a pile of paper- that someone was really prepared to pay for. I suspect a single bared shoulder taps into all of those romantic culturally entrenched references to the Goddesses of ancient Greece.


I couldn’t possibly talk about Breakfast At Tiffany’s however without mentioning another favourite pattern- one I doubt I will ever part with because I love the design, cut and construction: Pauline Trigere’s McCalls New York Designer Collection Plus pattern (N1010) which was produced in 1967. The bodice appears to be cut away in a style that flaunts the model’s toned shoulders.


The dress is lined and underlined with french darts and could be made in street or evening length. Why would you make this in anything but black? And it would have to be evening length… don’t you agree? Not sure who the model is but it was the perfect shot for this pattern cover. And it is definitely on my to-make-list… one of these days! Maybe after our second child is born, I will attempt it…!

I am quite partial to Trigere’s work… she also did a one shoulder dress, McCalls 7549 which boasts a more dramatic bodice, embellished with a bias bow. I have seen there dress made up to very pretty effect by other sewing enthusiasts on the blogosphere.

photo-5How do I look?” Asks Miss Golightly of her new friend “Very good” He replies  “I must say, I’m amazed.”

Asymmetrical dresses… a little shoulder… destined to be an enduring classic? What do you think?



50 years on… and the glamour of Jackie Kennedy

With Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis on the front cover of the Women’s Weekly this month, 50 years on from the death of her husband, it is a fitting point in time to consider her sense of style and her gorgeous clothes in those years. I recently mentioned that I went to a Book Fair and picked up a copy of “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years” published in coordination with an exhibition held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art almost 10 years ago. I adore looking through these images of the garments and the moments in which they were worn.

One dress caught my eye for a couple of reasons- its easy elegance, its appropriateness for day to day wear and the little note in the text that stated that the dress was by an unknown french couturier. “But it definitely looks like a Laroche,” I thought. Here is an earlier blog mentioning Vogue Paris Original 1160.

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Speaking more generally, 1957 to 1963 has to be my absolute favourite era for vintage fashion. There is still a little of the “prettiness” of the 1950s but there is a greater sophistication that comes with the simpler lines, the thoughtful and often more subtle details…not to mention the enduring glamour!

Jackie Kennedy wears a gorgeous pink dress with a low and intersting back to a White House staff party

Jackie Kennedy wears a gorgeous pink dress with a low and intersting back to a White House staff party… shown here with Vogue Paris Original 1233 by Heim


Simple styles with low blacks were particularly popular during the time that Jacqueline Kennedy lived in the White House. Here are a few others that were available through Vogue Patterns in 1963.

Pierre Cardin as featured in a 1963 Vogue pattern Counter Catalog

Pierre Cardin dress as featured in a 1963 Vogue pattern Counter Catalog

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A Fabiani dress as featured in a 1963 Vogue pattern Counter Catalog

There is another dress in the book I absolutely adore because of the gauzy and feminine overblouse and its “sheer” elegance…

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For anyone wishing to emulate this look, Vogue Pattern 1959 (Bellville Sassoon 1997) would be a good place to start in silk like crepe or wool crepe, again with a pretty overblouse in lace… just don’t forget your gloves!

The day of the Book fair… and the floral dress.

To say that I have been looking forward to Canberra Lifeline’s bi-annual bookfair is an understatement- I adore this bookfair because I always manage to find an assortment of the unusual, eclectic, rare and interesting. In the past this has included vintage cookbooks (such as Fannie Farmer’s hefty tome), sewing resources and vintage everything-else.

Just in time… I finished McCalls pattern  in the vintage floral fabric I recently picked up at a thrift shop. I was drawn to the 50s style pink roses, I don’t think the fabric is cotton, maybe a synthetic of some sort which frayed fairly easily. Fortunately the pattern construction utilised french seams and was very neatly finished on the inside (no pinking shears). I also used black satin bias binding.

Without further ado, I bring you the book fair dress which I plan to wear with a thick McCardell style belt for interest (though the design does have an elastic waist for at home and weekend-in-the-garden wear). Total construction time (over intervals of house work, child care and “life”) about 2 hours.


Darling husband and I joined the queue for the book fair an hour and a half before the book fair opened. All I can say is the enthusiasm was well worth it as I scored a first edition of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing, the Burdastyle Sewing Handbook (all of which I had actively previously looked for or considered ordering online). I also succumbed and bought some of the Singer library sewing books which whilst they are not particularly “cool” seem very useful as a resource.

I think my favourite random find however was a Met Museum book “Jacqueline Kennedy: the White House Years”- if you enjoy vintage fashion or just fashion, you must locate this book! The pictures and prose are nothing short of awesome!Image

So very McCardellesque… and midcentury bakery

There is one universal truth that needs to be widely acknowledged: the “domestic goddess” is a myth and has been created by generations of advertising to keep us feeling guilty or striving to attain that not-a-hair-out-of-place apron clad image. With lipstick on.

I deduced this yesterday after chasing my beloved toddler around the house whilst he had whisk clenched between his teeth. And he ran gleefully. Managing to have dinner bought and ready to throw in the oven (a customised bought-at-store pizza) and wine- was a feat not dissimilar to the crossing of the Rubicon. And the whole time I felt horribly guilty that I hadn’t managed to do most of the things on my on-leave list. Though I really can’t complain as every moment with my son, whilst exhausting at times, has been an utter joy- lots of giggles, tickles, cuddles and laughing.


To assauge my guilty lousy-housewife feelings, I decided that today I would bake a 50s chocolate cake. I had read about a rather unusual recipe at the following midcentury cooking blog. Did I mention the mystery ingredient was tinned tomato soup?? Today, it seemed was the day, The trick was to mix everything and get it all in the oven before my husband even left for work.

choc cake

In the pan it doesn’t look any different from any other chocolate cake batter. I added the tomato soup last and didn’t notice any horrible horrible smells, though I admit I was hesitant to lick the batter from the spoon!

So, given my recent deduction about the myth of the Domestic Goddess, it really is o surprise that I love the fashion and style of Claire McCardell. McCardell, who is often considered as sort of anti-Dior was really doing what Dior was doing but in a different way- both designers wanted to make women look and feel beautiful. McCardell just pitched her designs at women in the home (if you haven’t ever seen the infamous Popover dress, here it is) while Dior was all about constructing the form with corsets and corselets in the ilk of his feminine ideal.

Who did women of the time really want to be? Did they want to be trying so hard to look like a swan with that serene, slightly disinterested gaze and wistful smile sported so often by the prolific and loved 50s model, Dovima? Or did they want to wake up in the morning, put the coffee on and feel somewhat NORMAL as they grabbed a go to dress that flattered them somewhat as they went through their day trying to sane with life’s demands? Well, as a time poor mummy, I obviously fall into the latter category. I often don’t have time to wear make up at home, I haven’t really done my nails since my son was born but I still enjoy clothes. I need easy wash, easy wear. This was so much of what McCardell was about and it seems her philosophy is still relevant today.

Today’s pattern is Vogue 5044, not a McCardell deisgn but almost identical to a dress that she produced in the 1953 which differed only be the inclusion of slash pockets at the hip (featured on page 110 of Yohannan and Nolf’s book “Claire McCardell: redefining Modernism”. The pattern was produced by Vogue in 1960, by which time McCardell’s designs had obviously had time to gel in the psyche of popular culture. I often thing that pattern companies tend to cater for interests rather than create the demand. But that theme is pretty consistent with other known published thesis on popular culture…

Anyway, enjoy. There is a cake coolling and a little boy who wants to play…!

Vogue 5044.. clean lines

Vogue 5044.. clean lines, version A mimics McCardell’s work

Sunday bathtime… a mummy blogs and a seamstress dreams

My son is having a bath. Thank you husband for bestowing me with this precious twenty minutes. I have after so many months been determined to blog… well here I am at last! I find so much inspiration in other sewing and vintage fashion blogs, its wonderful to be able to share some of my musings.

G shorts

It seems like the sewing projects have been moving pretty quickly, most probably because I am picking the quick and easy over the gorgeous and time consuming. I was particularly pleased with my last two completed projects: (1) a pair of Summer shorts (elasticised waist- yeah I said quick and easy) for Little prince, but honestly I really love how they worked out in this gorgeous remnant of Indonesian cotton; and (2) I made both versions A and E/F of new Look 6345 and version E/F (shorter length, no tabs) has become a staple go to of my mummy-on-the run wardrobe. I love that its feminine and floral and I can throw on a tshirt and wear it in flats or heels (for work). I was less enamoured with version A, though both fit comfortably below the waist. Definitely recommend version E/F, might make again…

skirt at Floradenew look 6245

Now I have a week’s leave ahead of me, (yee-haw)! Whilst I will be looking after Little Prince, I have three projects on the horizon (1) McCalls M6354, a simple Summer dress to make up in a retro rose cotton that I found for a song at a thrift shop (gorgeous gorgeous design); (2) New Look 6940 and (3) M6354 in a stylized Octopus print that I’d like to wear to my sons second birthday party in the top variation… (we are doing a pirate and princesses theme)… Oh, and I am making him another pair of shorts for his party in something suitably pirate-ish!

I have already started New Look 6940. I love the style which is reminiscent of the Seraphine dress that sold out after Kate Middleton wore it… the style is flattering and I have been so pleased with my progress with it that I hurried out today and bought some more stretchy knit in black, (the blue was a mystery fabric gift from fabricmart last year).

This is a particularly exciting garment for me because it is my first foray into the world of knits, which I admit I have been reluctant to dip my toe into! However, this pattern seems relatively fast and easy and I have really enjoyed playing around with my elna and its little discs (cams). For anyone who loves the elna SU and wants to try sewing with knits, CAM 142 does a beautiful job, particularly considering its not a serger- just don’t forget to do a tension swatch!

So.. what have you been sewing???

Inspired by Kate Middleton's Seraphine dress- made from a mystery knit I received from fabricmart in the US

Inspired by Kate Middleton’s Seraphine dress- made from a mystery knit I received from fabricmart in the US

For elna SU devotees, I used cam 142 (stretch knit stitch)... this image shows the seam on the wrong and right side... pretty pleased

For elna SU devotees, I used cam 142 (stretch knit stitch)… this image shows the seam on the wrong and right side… pretty pleased with the neat look on the “right” side

Next blog post, I shall continue my love affair with Claire McCardell fashion and style…

It was Vogue… It was beautiful… It was serendipity

Inspiration struck me this weekend… not that I ever need inspiration to sew with my ever growing list of things to sew. I was reviewing some of my patterns and cataloguing a couple in a few spare moments and I came across a lovely pattern that I had admired and bought on etsy last year.

At that moment my eyes rested on the date and note written on the pattern envelope… “February 19, 1963. Yellow cotton” It occurred to me that was almost exactly fifty years ago. Who knew what had become of the original dressmaker. With the promise of Spring, the pattern had been purchased and made, the style was so very 1960s… was it made for a special occassion? A date? A dance? A wedding? Was it the dress she had hoped to win a heart with?

Vogue 9940

Vogue 9940- a one piece dress with released pleats

What I know about the pattern is that it had been in circulation at least by April 1961. Being an incurable romantic I was suddenly overcome with a desire to make the dress. I had recently laundered and prepared some beautiful black and floral cotton which was just waiting to be cut, cut, cut….

So the dress is well and truly underway. I decided to go with the optional lining on the skirt. The bodice has been more or less constructed (my first attempt at catch stitching a cotton stay into the neckline), I am procrastinating about pinning and basting in the cap sleeves. Then its just a matter of attaching the skirt, hemming and overcasting the seams….


The big question is… where and when shall I wear it? Hmmm!

Incidentally if there are any other vintage fabric lovers out there who have any Calpreta cotton (often advertised as Calpreta carefree cotton) I would love to see pictures of the designs.I actually found 2M at a thrift shop this last weekend (ha- the places I drag my husband)! The design and colour palette looked very mid century… when I laundered it I found the name stamped in red cursive on the underside. When I did some research on TROVE I found the newspaper advertising from the 1950s which confirmed it had been sold by a number of retailers in Canberra between 1956-1959… anyway, I can barely wait to imagine something great to make from it!

A Calpreta advert from a 1960s Vogue pattern Book (US edition)

A Calpreta advert from a 1960s Vogue pattern Book (US edition)

Velva what?

Velva board, a more modern version of the wire board used to press velvet. It seems there is always an endless list of tools and equipment I need to get my hands on. And this just happens to be one of those impossible to find or expensive items…. Has anyone tried steaming velvet with self fabric or a fluffy towel?


I found these “alternative” instructions in the  Vogue Dressmaking Book (1949). But the board sounds so much easier…!

Honestly, with record breaking heat here in Aus, its hard to think about sewing a velvet dress… but Valentines day is not far. I have also been thinking about redesigning the Trigere dress I am working on to include a godet in the skirt… possibly of red satin that one can catch glimpses of, though still not sure if this might be a bit risky given my limited experience working with these fabrics.

Velvet tips anyone?