Friday, January 24, 2014

Charles James, Finally

British born Charles James (1906), studied music and eventually became a hat designer in Chicago. 

Original Charles James Hat on Etsy

At the ripe age of 21 he ventured to New York City where he began designing dresses. Well, it seems silly to call what James constructed merely dresses. As an artist I have always thought that the goal should be not to maintain the status quo but to move the form forward. James moved the form forward and became the shoulders for the possible. Fashion would never be the same, thankfully.

Charles James at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

James' gowns were singular for their construction methods. Borrowing from the heavily corseted and structured Victorian dress, James transformed the tightly laced into the graceful and ethereal. Maintaining the wasp waist hourglass ideal, James' notion of femininity captured the imagination of the fashion world. His draped, tucked and ever so dramatic gowns were worn by Marlene Dietrich and Austine Hearst, wife of Randolf Hearst - publisher of the American Weekly, that would publish mail order patterns of James' designs.

American Weekly Mail Order Patterns

James' designs, though totally original, were elaborate, time consuming and expensive to produce. His customer base was the elite. By the 1950's his following had faded and he retired in 1958. He died alone, of bronchial pneumonia, at the Chelsea Hotel in New York in 1978.

But the good news is that finally, there is a keen interest in the work of this genius couturier. In 2011 The Chicago History Museum mounted Charles James: Genius Deconstructed. This landmark exhibition has whet the appetite for more from this master of form. In May the Metropolitan Museum of Art will open it's doors to Charles James: Beyond Fashion and at the end of May, "A Thin Wall of Air: Charles James" begins a three-month run at the Menil Collection in Houston.

The few sewing patterns that James designed for American Weekly are extremely rare and fetch high prices at auction. But they are worth every penny. Gaze upon these amazing structural works of wearable art.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Diane von Furstenberg - 40 Years and Kicking

Diane von Furstenberg has been as good as a household name to many of my generation. We grew up with her sensibilities in ready to wear as well as DIY sewing patterns. As I was browsing the August 14, 1983 issue of The New York Times Magazine I came across this ad for a Diane von Furstenberg sweater. Argyle and timeless.

Imagine my surprise when I picked up the latest issue of NOTIONS from the American Sewing Guild to read that right next to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, home to one of the most incredible collections of Contemporary Art, the Wilshire May Company Building will play host to a celebration of Diane von Furstenberg's iconic wrap dress, a work of art it it's own right.

WRAP 40 - Celebrating the Dress that Started it all

My friends on Etsy are celebrating the wrap dress with vintage Diane von Furstenberg sewing patterns. Create your own version of the dress that liberated and empowered women for a generation.

Find this classic American Hustle Wrap Dress at Cloe's Closet on Etsy

Vogue 2342 Easy Wrap Top and Maxi Skirt from SewBettyandDot on Etsy

Vintage Diane von Furstenberg Wrap Dress at Vienna's Grace on Etsy

An Evening Wrap Dress Vogue 1610 at DesignRewindFashions on Etsy

Watch this video of the artist introducing the exhibition. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Learning To Sew

Sewing quality garments that you will be proud of wearing takes time and patience. Finding the right fabric for the pattern you choose is no less important. There is nothing more frustrating than investing your time and resources sewing a garment only to be disappointed with the results. Often those little errors that cause the garment to pull or sag can be avoided by a little pre-cutting preparation.


This 1962 booklet published by Advance pattern company, details every aspect of your experience from finding your body type and choosing a pattern that will fit to preparing your fabric and your cut pieces. Only 20 pages in this Bishop Method of Clothing Construction booklet but it is packed. Grain lines, staystitching, directional stitching and unit construction are a few of the lessons covered. 

Success can never be guaranteed but it can weigh in your favor with some basic preparations before you begin to sew. Avoid frustration and make something you will be proud to say "I made this" with a little help from Advance patterns and the Bishop Method of Clothing Construction.