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Aug 3, 2010

Peeking under Cathy's dress

Readers, before I get too swept up in new projects, I wanted to take a closer look at Cathy's 1942 Hollywood frock, or as I've dubbed it over at Burdastyle, The Barbara Stanwyck dress.  Why Barbara Stanwyck, you ask?  Well, she did wear a lot of dresses that looked like Cathy's Hollywood dress...

...oh, what does it really matter?

Anyway, I thought we might take a peek at what was going on under Cathy's dress for a change.  Of course, I'm talking seam finishes, facings, and other details -- pu leeze.

I'm not the most fastidious of dressmakers but I'm making a concerted effort to raise my skill level and do things correctly.  (Cathy may only wear these dresses once but who knows who might be wearing them next?)  I'd love some tips from some of you more perfectionist types -- and I know you're out there!

For starters, I used medium sized shoulder pads since athletic Cathy's shoulders are on the broad side for a broad.

I finished the facing edges, waist and armscyes with my serger, but I left the skirt panel and sleeve allowances as-is.  In an ideal world I could have serged them but the fabric isn't too ravely and I didn't want any bulk that might show through when I pressed. 

To prevent stretching and to reinforce the waist, I used rayon bias tape, stitching it to the underside of the serged seam allowance.  It gives the waist seam more rigidity as well.  I didn't have black, just tan, but no worries, it doesn't show through.

In the back, instead of gathers there are two small pleats.  I added an inch-and-a-half to the bodice length by the way, since vintage bodices tend to be very short.

This is the underside of the front placket.  You can see the buttonholes on the right.

Here's where the bodice and skirt meet.  You can see that there are gathers on either side of the button placket.  I think that placket was supposed to overlap perfectly but I wanted to have the neckline be a little more open up top to emphasize the "sweetheart" shape, so you can see where one side peeks out from under the other.  Of course, on the outside you don't see this.

I used largish black plastic buttons, nothing fancy, and of course I didn't make bound buttonholes -- some day though!

I'm very fond of the shaped yokes and gathers beneath, which really give the dress its period look.  Sadly, in this busy fabric, they don't really "pop."

There's a zipper up the left side, roughly eight inches long, that crosses the waistband.  I used a regular zipper this time instead of an invisible one and it turned out quite nicely.  I find invisible zippers often snag; maybe I'm stitching too close to the teeth.

Friends, I cheated on the hems and cuffs, just serging and turning under about half an inch, and topstitching.  I did this on the cuff because it was easier and on the hem because I cut too much off the bottom and didn't leave enough to do a wider hand-stitched hem.  OK, it was faster too and on this fabric nearly invisible.  Since the fabric is quite heavy and drapey, it didn't need extra weight to hang nicely.

Many of you commented on Cathy's makeshift turban, which was just a big square piece of poly knit left over from an earlier project and a bit of veil from an old hat.  Of COURSE I knew that turbans don't have veils but I often like to test my readers to see if they're paying attention.  And you ARE!

I picked up these lovely gloves at the flea market for 2 (TWO!) dollars.  Look at those details: hand embroidery and seed pearls!

I've noticed that great attention is always paid to Cathy's footwear and there's quite a bit of online buzz after her fashion shoots.  Amici miei, ALL of Cathy's shoes (and bags) are from the Salvation Army -- please don't tell Cathy.  Would that it were not so.  My cousin has champagne taste and I the proverbial beer-bottle budget, so I do the best I can under the circumstances.

I am trying hard to magnetize a high-end vintage clothing store that will take care of Cathy's accessories and bijouterie in exchange for a highly visible credit.  (Think opening credits of Lana Turner movies produced by Ross Hunter).  Let's make it happen.  The glamour stakes are rising and Cathy's fans are growing restless.  Are you out there, Harry Winston?

Finally, so many of you have asked how YOU can get Cathy's Forties look at home.  Sadly, without Cathy's flawless complexion it will be nearly impossible, but for those of you who would like to give it a shot...

Cathy is no snob in the make-up department.  She swears by Physicians Formula "Le Velvet Film Make-up" in ivory.  (A rising celebutante like Cathy never knows when she might be caught on Le Velvet film!)  Very hard to find these days, sadly, but you can order it online.

Cathy loves Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick even if it is most likely made from animal by-products if not actual rendered roadkill.  A little Maybelline Color Sensational Lip Liner for added oomph and of course, loose powder to set and...our glamour girl is good to go!

In closing Cathy is happy to answer any beauty questions you may have, but please, no more than five questions per reader just to be fair.

And now back to sewing and other normal guy stuff.


  1. I want to emphasize that I think you did a super job on Cathy's dress. For the forties' look you desire, I think you probably needed a stronger shoulder. And, in the olden days of my youth (not the forties, but a decade later) you would have faced the hem with bias if you inadvertently cut it too short. There were no household sergers then! We generally had deep hems, esp on a quality piece.

    I looked in a vintage store in a certain city this summer. The proprietor had repaired or altered certain of the older garments. I was very surprised to see she had added "shirt tail" hems to older garments.

  2. Facing the hem with bias is a great idea! Thanks!

    Just to be clear, I may joke, but I really DO appreciate the comments about little details I may have missed. I appreciate them a lot!

  3. Speaking of little details, I love how you have showcased your elegant accessories and makeup vignettes on your ironing board today. You're workin' it on your workspace - literally. Something about that perfect juxtaposition really strikes my fancy! Peter, you are an amazing talent and wit. I look forward to starting each morning now with my java and a generous serving of MPB.

  4. Thanks! That's because the ironing board is the only clutter-free surface in my apartment! LOL

  5. Has Cathy had any comments about how her foundation is holding up in the heat? I'd love to find something that doesn't feel like it's melting off after 30 minutes.

    And I completely agree with RatherBeSewing, you are amazing! Visiting your blog is my treat after I weed through all the boring junk mail in my inbox.

  6. You really work fast! A couple of things, although take them with a grain of salt, because I'm not that experienced:

    --I wonder if rayon bias tape is what you want to use the next time. It may not be sufficiently stable. Assuming this is the type of tape that comes in various colors on a roll for, like, $5, the only time I've been told to use it was on a circular hem. It's used precisely because it is flexible and before applying we tried to iron a curve into it. Then we edge-stitched it to the bottom of the skirt, folded up the hem and slip stitched the other side of the rayon tape to the garment, taking very small stitches.

    Perhaps a stay tape would be more appropriate?

    --You can make your own shoulder pads.

    --You also can buy shoulder pads that are larger than you need, trim them to the desired size and then sew them closed before applying them to the shoulder.

    --A tutor showed me how to match up the back and front shoulder patterns in order to get the exact shape of the shoulder pad that would be required. We laid the pad on the curve of the joined patterns, traced the new line in pencil, trimmed it and re-sewed the edges. (I don't know if that makes sense.)

    --If you didn't this last time around, you should baste the shoulder pad and see how it looks before sewing it permanently. That way you can make adjustments.

    --"Needle punch" pads have always been recommended to me. Maybe they're only appropriate for jackets, I don't know. I'm sure that Steinlauf and Stoller on 39th Street has them, but Atlanta Threads also has been recommended to me as a source:

    --The invisible zipper problem may be caused by sewing too close to the teeth; it also might be the result of not preparing the zipper. Some people say you need to iron the zipper flat with a warm (not hot, you don't want to melt the plastic teeth) iron, and then refrain from closing the zipper again until it's sewn to both sides of the skirt. But another teacher told me that ironing was absolutely necessary and a waste of time. (This is why I find sewing confusing). Still, it could be worth a try.

    --Sometimes you just have to do some tests with the fabric. I usually buy a couple of extra zippers to see how the zipper sews with a given stitch length.

    --I like to insert invisible zippers by hand basting the seam closed first (normally, i zips are sewn into an open seam). It doesn't involve twisting the zipper and makes a lot more sense to me, even if it is a bit more time-consuming. If you do a search on the web, you should be able to find it.

    --You also might try reinforcing the area under the zipper with a strip of fusible interfacing, about one inch wide and as long as the zipper. You apply it to either side of the zipper opening before sewing. The interfacing should be appropriate for the fabric.

    --Are you familiar with this site? It collects old sewing manuals and I'm sure it has pertinent information:

    --Finally, here are some tailoring book recommendations for the shoulder pads:

  7. Typo

    another teacher told me it was absolutely UNNECESSARY

  8. I'm sorry this comment is going to be WAAAAY off the beaten trail but I wanted to address your mention of using rendered bits for other industries and I know you have 2 lovely canines.

    I worked in a veterinary hospital for 6 years. We pushed, very heavily, "prescription" diets. We were given rewards for selling the most food (this applied to medications as well!). After reading "Food Pets Die For" and "Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health" ( I can tell you that we feed both our Pugs and 4 cats raw food and have been doing so for the past 8 years with great success. Our youngest cat is 14 and oldes is 17. Our oldest Pug is 13 and you'd never know it.

    If you're interested, give me a shout on my blog. If not, just delete this comment, I won't take offence.

  9. Wow -- thanks for all that excellent info, Anon. About the tape: yes, maybe stay tape is better...I find all those tapes so confusing! Usually I use Collins Wonder Tape to place invisible zippers before stitching -- I think some of that tape my sometimes get snagged in the zipper making it less than smooth.

    Mom2five: powder, powder, powder on these hot summer days!

  10. Sewsister, thanks, truly. Freddy and Willy get a raw diet too; they even we eat grass-fed meat ground up with all the organs we get through our raw milk collective as well as raw bones, which are digestible.

    They get some cooked whole grain with veggies, but I'd say their diet is 75% raw meat. The vet always raises his eyebrows when they have their physicals and he hears what they eat, but the health of our dogs speaks for itself!

    It's probably a bit more expensive to feed them this way but chihuahuas do not eat that much, ultimately. This is a VERY holistic household! LOL

  11. I'm thrilled you feed raw, it is truly nature's best diet!

  12. Peter - has Cathy not shared her "secrets d'elle maquillage pour les yeux"? How else does she entice in those handsome [though as you have lamented on her behalf cad-like] beaus of hers but with the flutter of a well made-up eye, or perhaps a sassy wink?

  13. Another nice touch for shoulder pads if the dress fabric is not too heavy is to cover the pads with dress fabric. Cut a square with a diagonal length long enough to match the straight edge of the pad with a little to spare. Fold the fabric diagonally over the pad, right side outwards, so that the points meet beyond the curved edge of the pad. Pin in place, then zig zag around the pad shape and trim off the excess. This is a handy technique if the only pads you can find are white and your dress fabric is a bit sheer.

  14. When I saw the title of this post, I thought we might be in for some girdle fun! ;-)

  15. Ah, eye make up -- we'll save that for Part 2!

    Thanks for the tip, Dorothy. Melissa, we'll have girdle fun someday, promise!

  16. As a devotee of op shop accessories, I am always pleased to hear that you have such wonderful success when buying for Cathy. Your choices are always perfect! I love Cathy's red lipstick and intend to hunt that shade down for myself!

  17. Revlon 740 - "Certainly Red!"

  18. Barbara Stanwyck scares the pants off me! Maybe that's why I wear dresses....(wah wah waaahhh! Oy.)

    You did a fabulous job on the dress, Peter. It's one of my very favourites, next to the pink 20's frock. I'm looking forward to your next creation and Cathy's next photoshoot. :)

    PS: You need to start your Regular Monday Morning Nagging again. Honestly, I miss it and I have proof that it works! ;)


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