My weekend with Oscar de la Renta

“Mummy you’re standing on the table! You might fall!” (wide eyed 3 year old)

“Two more pins for luck?” (wife)

“I have done the pins for luck…!” (husband)

Six months ago, I had ordered 2 yards of metallic “moth” linen from Mood, by Oscar de la Renta. It had sat neatly folded begging to be made. Generally speaking I have had good experience with linen- the silk -like thin kind. I made a vintage reproduction pair of 30s wide legged pants and wore them, literally to pieces (they are on my to mend list). This linen was much thicker, probably a medium weight. In the Winter light of my studio-come-storage-room (think dining room with the most romantic ever chandelier… and lots of boxes, a room which my husband generously surrendered to my passion) the fabric seemed a little lack lustre. But I am strong believer in not “saving” fabrics indefinitely- they need to be made, to live a life. And the voice of this fabric seemed to be louder than the others.

Claire McCardell once said -and I cannot recall where I read this- the more you work with fabric, the better sense you have of how a given fabric will look and drape. My confidence has definitely improved when it comes to working with sheers like crepe de chine and fluttery rayons. I am addicted to my rolled hemming foot. Having selected an Oscar de la Renta Vogue pattern from 10-15 years ago (which also spoke to me last week on ebay), I set to work cutting and thread basting whilst darling Hubbie took the children out… on both days of the weekend! (yes, yes, I know the guy is a super star)!

The texture of this fabric is sure to lure anyone who is vaguely tactile, I couldn’t stop touching the swatches I made for the project. By Sunday night, I was over the scent of the linen and was wondering how many flecks of fraying linen and metallic thread I had ingested over a two day period. I must have vacuumed about 6 times (no joke). But the fabric seemed all the more golden and the options for wearing this box pleat skirt seemed to be multiplying. There was a moment of panic (possible wrong choice, who on earth looks good in a box pleat skirt…!? followed by a subsequent half hour of searching on pinterest)… But by the time I had reached the point of cutting the new hem and sewing on the seam binding, I was confident again… and quite convinced I needed to make a suitable top to wear with it for a posh outing. Maybe something romantic, but definitely something bold in colour and silky smooth in texture like a charmeuse or a crepe de chine. I like the idea of contrasting textures.

The irony is, despite having a dedicated room, I still like to sew where the rest of the family is- I can watch whats going on, be part of conversations, adjudicate over ipad squabbles… and I am sure when my girl is grown the memory will be that mummy danced on the table whilst daddy poked pins in her skirt.

(Pictures of said skirt will follow at a later date)!

My love love relationship with Mood Fabrics…. a life in swatches!

mood swatches

Okay, so most of the time it is love, love, love. But then occasionally, like on my most recent order I put in for 4.5 yards of USD$29.99 per yard fabric and received an email telling me if I didn’t get back to them in 24 hours, they would ship 3 yards in 4 pieces. No, no, no. I mean seriously for good money I don’t want chopped up Armani- I am making an investment piece (two piece suit)… uh… not a library bag.  (Has anyone out there made Vogue 1889, Givenchy from the 90s- attributed to  John Galliano? 

But almost every other time it is love, love, love. And my moment of horror in relation to the 3 yards in 4 pieces was quite unusual, generally Mood are very good.

Current favourite fabrics are almost all sold out, but I am linking them here anyway for others looking for  dressmaking inspiration.

  1. Carolina Herrera crepe de chine (silk) in black and white polka dots- I never tire of this kind of print, its always so fresh and fun and the fabric itself is just gorgeous to sew with. No problems using a rolled hemming foot but with the stretch in the fabric, go slow and still be careful. My first 2 yards are being made into a 90s style gathered front blouse for work or day wear, Vogue 2069 (Anne Klein II) sans shoulder pads; I am debating about using another 2.5 yards for Vogue 2157 (another pretty Givenchy design,  rumoured to be an Alexander McQueen design from his time with the house;
  2. Donna Karan black double knit– its the make up of this gorgeous double knit that I think makes it so wonderful to sew and wear. I made it up in some Donna Karan tapered pants (Vogue 1440) I ended up making a second pair the first pair was in such high circulation in my wardrobe) and at least a year later and many washes (on delicate, flat dried) and there is no nasty pilling, still look fabulous. For anyone who has Vogue 1440 I did make the shirt in a no name stretch poplin from Mood also and I can see why so many on the internet love it;
  3. Caroline Herrera silk faille in deep red. Another high end one, but goodness gracious great balls of fire- I fell in love with the colour on the swatch, (did not expect that to happen) and it was a had to have- would be absolutely gorgeous with a style with less gathers and more pleats and I am currently throwing around ideas on which Vogue Oscar de la Renta pattern to use- there is one from the 90s that looks particularly fetching that I have seen in runway snaps from the 90s, however it does use 4 yards of fabric and other fabric options on the back of the envelope include denim ( a much cheaper alternative). I did run the swatch through my machine to get a sense of how it would sew and react to pleats etc and I really think with the right design this fabric is 5 stars. For anyone who doesn’t like red, there is also a yellow, green and grey- the yellow is similar to the dress worn by Amal Clooney to the Royal Wedding and is a bit more “day” than night. Simplicity 1873 by Cynthia Rowley might be a good option with the pleated skirt.
  4. A black viscose matte jersey by Donna Karan– if it ever returns, this is another winner and I made it into Vogue 8379, another adored pattern of the sewing blogging world AND a Diane Von Furstenberg skirt from a 70s Vogue pattern 1680 with quite an average cover- made it in an hour and also in high circulation in my wardrobe- a great basic if you want a fast and easy knit skirt pattern.

There are other fabrics I have bought from Mood- a red Ralph Lauren double knit (sadly no longer available) that was very nice made up as the skirt from Vogue 1451 by Karan – promise that was actually a fast make; a Ralph Lauren matte jersey which was quite nice but very heavy for the very full, floor length skirt of a 70s Vogue Pucci dress (so heavy that I confess I have yet to attach the skirt to the bodice – it was so heavy and felt like wrestle-mania at my sewing machine).

Anyway, I would love to hear how others manage/ display/ store their fabric swatches from Mood or elsewhere. At the moment I use a photo album but I usually also keep a scrap with every pattern I make. It is always a delight when I discover other seamstresses did the same when I buy vintage patterns. What do you do?

Happy sewing!

delarenta pattern

Vintage dressmaking love: a 1930s velvet evening cape 

Popular through the 30s, 40s and 50s, an evening cape made of a luxury fabric like velvet is an instant wardrobe pick me up. 

Because of its propensity to be crushed if not cared for properly, I had been aware of a length of velvet that I have had in my little studio for a while. 

When looking through my sewing patterns last night I came across a gorgeous 1930s evening cape marked July 1938 in pencil. It would be a perfect marriage, I decided and I took a deep breath, fortified myself with a cup of coffee and finally cut the treasured velvet.

To say the pattern was light on in instructions is an understatement but at the time the pattern was produced most women would have some experience in making their own clothes if not access to a seasoned dressmaker. 

I made a decision to stabilise the Cape front with a selvage edge of silk organza attached with catch stitches and added silk organza to the “Medici collar”. I hemmed with catch stitches….

I plan to make a satin lining today and wear over a black dress for my sons kindergarten performance this evening. Nothing like a deadline!

In the interim here is what Constance Talbot had to say about capes and evening coats in my beloved “The Complete Book of Sewing”…

Simplicity 4612 1940s style mothers day dress for high tea at Old Parliament House

Before I get started on my own dress, this girls dress was made using the Geranium dress pattern widely famed online, for my daughter with a long skirt in Michael Miller fabric (I think it was Cloud 9 for the bodice with a batiste lining). Probably her last wear as she has been growing. But it was fabulous as a birthday party dress when she turned 2. 

On to my vintage reproduction dress…. I adore all the fashion illustrations of romantic floral from the 30s and 40s (which also experienced quite a resurgence in the 80s and 90s). With the addition of revers styled from those appearing in Vogue 5134 this was dress was made for mothers day high tea, using Liberty “hasketh” (100% viscose). The revers on this type of dress appear more frequently in late 30s designs from which I also drew inspiration, (an example of late 30s Australian Women’s Weekly fashions below)…

There were no issues with the fabric but I would warn other sewists using this fabric to be extra careful with cutting the pattern pieces given the subtle one directional pattern of the snowdrops. This was probably the most expensive fabric I have worked with. Mistakes with this equal crushing moments of realisation. Not that I did that (cough, cough).

Alterations included shortening the sleeve and skirt (I used a rolled hemming foot on my Singer 222, did both skirt and sleeves, very fast work). Most seams were trimmed with my vintage Singer pinking attachment. I love working with such a beautiful machine! The waistline seam was lapped.

Anyway, I loved wearing this dress! And it was a great occasion to work towards completion.


1940s floral dress in Liberty print rayon for mothers day… Ooh la la

Enjoying an almost perfect morning with my little girl, Ken and Barbie and Constance Talbot (author of one of my favourite 40s sewing books “The Complete Book of Sewing”).

The Winter sunshine on our patio is gorgeous but I am ever watchful for spiders, having been bitten by a redback a few years ago. Not an experience I recommend at all!

Looking forward to Mothers Day on Sunday and will hopefully have completed this pretty 40s dress project. Being in love with a chosen fabric certainly helps. AND I always love sewing with my Singer 222. Such a wonderful machine.

I plan to fully baste the lapped waist seam before stitching…. I have learnt my lesson with previous projects!

Hope everyone else is also having a great week! Happy sewing! 

Vogue 1440 Donna Karan shirt and leggings or tapered pants

If you sew, you need this pattern in your life. Made the tapered pants. Love, love the pants. The kind of love where you ransack your bedroom looking for them and sob when you discover that alas, they are in the wash. I should add the gorgeous Donna Karan rayon double knit I purchased from Mood online probably has something to do with it.

Clearly I needed a second pair, but paying more shipping from the US to Australia…? Not cheap, especially with the Aussie dollar. I took a deep breath and drove out to the few local fabric stores looking for a ponte or double knit with the same fibre content. I searched online and called some stores in Sydney…. Based on my search, I could buy “less” quality locally for about the same price per yard. In the end I caved. You can’t go passed quality and the fabric has the look and feel of a garment you’d reasonably expect to find in the $300 range. (I adore Donna Karan’s style). 

Beautiful and comfortable black pants are a wardrobe workhorse. I plan to make two more pairs (you can whip them up in an evening- my reliable Elna SU made it quick work)…

Like I said, you need this pattern. (And I haven’t even started on the shirt.) Whilst Donna Karan patterns are no longer produced by Vogue, some stores still have some of her more recent patterns in their drawers.

For anyone who is interested, Donna Karan’s autobiography “My Story” is a really interesting read, I read it in a weekend. With two kids, that says something!

Inspired by Chanel Vogue 7975 is well underway

Finally started on my Chanel inspired jacket. Fashion fabric is black and white tweed purchased from Mood in 2013. Trim: fairly wide, black, tiny sequins for interest but nothing too flamboyant. Lining is storm blue China silk.

Base pattern is Vogue 7975, neckline restyled to form a more flattering v neckline.

Basting with my treasured vintage silk threads… Aren’t they pretty?

Knitwit pattern 7100- a very reliable kids tshirt pattern

My boy looooves Hanna Andersson style pjs which don’t have masses of ease. I have been using Knitwit 7100 from the 70s (aussie pattern make) to get the same look and feel. This soft , pirate print cotton spandex was purchased at Spotlight last weekend. I made a matching pair of boxer briefs from Ottobre magazine but also used an 80s Kwik Sew leggings pattern as a sloper for some pj pants in the same long John style. 

My boy is happy….operation: “jammies” accomplished! 

1970s fashion and store stamps- a mark of vintage sewing pattern provenance 

As a little girl growing up in Canberra, I still have memories of being shepherded by my mother along a city Street pavement on a hot Summer afternoon and ushered into the relative cool of a dark fabric store full of fabric, notions and patterns. It was an oasis. It was also an exciting look at another world. The doll like wardrobe she made for me in my early years earnt me the affectionate nickname of “the Duchess” amongst her work colleagues and I vividly remember the beautiful paisley and red velvet creations she proudly made on her elna supermatic (the cream of sewing machines at the time). 

Sadly so few of those stores exist now, if at all. All that remains are the store stamps that appear on old pattern envelopes. Such as these in my collection. Most of these examples are local…  Claridges, Ganters and even David Jones Canberra which used to sell sewing patterns (no longer). Enjoy the pattern fashion illustrations and designs!