We Can Be Heroes

October 30, 2015 § 8 Comments

Lynda Carter in the Wonder Woman tv show, 1975

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, 1975. Image: Warner Bros./Getty Images via IMDb.

Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman isn’t set to open until 2017, but audiences will get a glimpse of Gal Gadot as the Amazon princess in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Marvel’s feminist superhero, Captain Marvel (originally Ms. Marvel) will also get her own movie in 2018. (Guardian story here.)

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (1977): Onlookers:

Panel from Ms. Marvel #1 (1977). Image via Talking Comics.

Since the 1930s and ’40s, when Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman made their first comic strip appearances, superheroes have occupied a special place in popular culture. The 2008 Costume Institute exhibit, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, explored the influence of superhero costumes on fashion. (Click for a look inside the book.)

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy exhibition catalogue by Andrew Bolton (with Michael Chabon)

Andrew Bolton with Michael Chabon, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008) Book design: Abbott Miller, John Kudos at Pentagram. Image via John Kudos.

With Halloween around the corner, here’s a look at licensed superhero costume patterns from the 1960s to today, with a focus on the place of gender in children’s costuming.


In 1966, the Batman television show premiered on ABC; just the year before, the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, had returned to the airwaves in syndication.

Robin (Burt Ward) and Batman (Adam West) in Batman (1966) Image via Wikipedia.

From 1966, McCall’s 8398 is a pattern for “Girls’ or Boy’s Batman, Robin and Superman Official Costumes.” The pattern is copyright National Periodical Publications, Inc., an early version of DC Comics:

McCall’s 8398 (1966) Image via Betsy Vintage.

The Fall 1966 McCall’s Home Catalog promoted McCall’s 8398 with McCall’s 8562 as “Magical Costumes for the Wonderful World of Make-Believe.” The text reinforces the idea that these superhero costumes were intended for imaginative, active children, regardless of gender: “Now that active young lad or lass with the vivid imagination can be Batman, Robin or Superman at the switch of a colorful costume. Only McCall’s has official patterns for the costumes of these swashbuckling heroes of comic books and TV…” (click to enlarge):

McCalls Home catalogue, Fall/Winter 1966-67

McCall’s 8398 in McCall’s Home Catalog, Fall-Winter 1966-67.


In 1978, the Wonder Woman TV series was still running, and December saw the release of the first Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.

Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978

Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978. Image: Keystone/Getty Images via IMDb.

That year, Simplicity released two patterns for children’s superhero costumes: Simplicity 8714, Batman, Robin, and Superman costumes for children and boys, and Simplicity 8720, Catwoman, Batgirl, and Wonder Woman costumes for girls. (‘Child’ often refers to unisex pattern sizing for younger children.) The introduction of female superhero costumes seems to have prompted a sex-division on the pattern envelopes—although the categories could always be subverted by individual children and their parents:

1970s children's Batman, Robin, and Superman costume pattern - Simplicity 8714

Simplicity 8714 (1978)

1970s Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl costume pattern - Simplicity 8720

Simplicity 8720 (1978)


Later official superhero patterns tend to be movie or TV tie-ins. As in contemporary popular culture, the balance shifts toward male superheroes, but there’s also an oscillation between strict gender categories and more inclusive costuming. The 1980s were the decade of Superman and Supergirl: Supergirl opened in 1984, and there were three more Superman movies ending with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).

Helen Slater as Supergirl, 1984

Helen Slater as Supergirl, 1984. Image via Pinterest.

In 1987, Butterick released two superhero patterns, both with iron-on transfers: a Superman and Supergirl play suit for small children (sizes 2 to 6X), and a Superman costume for men and boys. I couldn’t find a corresponding women’s and girls’ Supergirl pattern. The small children’s is a pyjama or jogging suit-style top and pants for stretch knits, with separate cape and skirt; the men’s and boys’ is a spandex stirrup jumpsuit and briefs:

Butterick 5862 (1987) Image via Etsy.

1980s Superman costume pattern - Butterick 5874

Butterick 5874 (1987)

(With thanks to Jan Lamm.)

Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) launched a new superhero franchise. Late 1980s Batman pattern Butterick 4201/6313, for men and boys, appears to have been timed to the Tim Burton film, but reflects the now-retro Batman. Like the Butterick Superman, it’s also a stirrup jumpsuit and briefs for spandex blends:

1980s Batman costume pattern - Butterick 6313

Butterick 6313 (1989) Image via Etsy.


Butterick licensed costumes from Batman Returns (1992) and Batman Forever (1995): Batman, Catwoman, and the Penguin, and Batman, Robin, and the Riddler. The Batman costumes reflect the movies’ increasingly hypermasculine armour, while Catwoman’s sexy, home-sewn catsuit is the only design for women and girls.

Batman Returns Batman costume pattern - Butterick 6377

Butterick 6377 (1992) Image via Etsy.

Batman Forever Batman costume pattern - Butterick 4172

Butterick 4172 (1995) Image via Etsy.

Butterick 6378 official Batman Returns Catwoman costume (1992) Image via Etsy.

Maybe because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aren’t human, this Ninja Turtles pattern is gender-inclusive, labelled as for both girls and boys. The design is called a playsuit, not a costume (click the image for envelope back, or see it made up on flickr):

Girls' and boys' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle playsuit pattern - Butterick 5143

Butterick 5143 (1990) Image via Etsy.

On the other hand, this Captain Planet pattern for children and boys includes a grotesque ‘muscle’ suit. The second character is called Verminous Skumm:

1990s Captain Planet and Verminous Skumm costume pattern - McCall's 5642

McCall’s 5642 (1991) Image via Etsy.

’90s costume patterns start to show the influence of Japanese television shows—Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Masked Rider, and Sailor Moon. This Sailor Moon costume pattern came in children’s and girls’ sizes:

McCalls 7859

McCall’s 7859/P310 (1995) Image via eBay.

Marvel doesn’t seem to have ventured into pattern licensing until the 1990s, when Simplicity’s children’s costume patterns were gender-inclusive. Simplicity 7543 is a child’s Spiderman costume with sleeve webs made from fishnet:

1990s children's Spiderman costume pattern - Simplicity 7543

Simplicity 7543 (1991) Image via eBay.

Before the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises of the 2000s, there were ’90s animated TV shows based on the comics: X-Men from 1992 and Spider-Man from 1994. In the mid-1990s, Simplicity released several more Marvel patterns, all labelled as unisex Child’s costumes: Spider-Man and Venom (Simplicity 7241), Wolverine and Storm (Simplicity 7246), and Cyclops and Magneto (Simplicity 7251). Wolverine and Storm is my favourite:

1990s X-Men costume pattern - Wolverine and Storm - Simplicity 7246

Simplicity 7246 (1996) Image via Pinterest.

Current patterns

This fall, Simplicity released five licensed costume patterns for Marvel and DC superheroes. The women’s DC costumes are featured on the cover of the Halloween catalogue: Wonder Woman (Simplicity 1024) with Batgirl and Supergirl (Simplicity 1036):

Saturday Spooktacular! Simplicity costumes for Halloween 2015

Simplicity Costumes 2015. Image via Simplicity.

Women's Wonder Woman costume pattern - Simplicity 1024

Simplicity 1024 (2015)

The women’s costumes match those of the comic-book characters, but for the corresponding children’s pattern (Simplicity 1035), all three costumes have been altered to become knee-length, long-sleeved dresses. Batgirl loses her catsuit and Wonder Woman is virtually unrecognizable. What message does this send to children comparing the comic-book illustrations on the envelopes?

Simplicity 1035 (2015) Image via Etsy.

The two Marvel patterns, Captain America (Simplicity 1030) and Thor (Simplicity 1038), have a different format. Both from Marvel’s Avengers, the adults’ and children’s sizes share the same envelope, which includes an illustration of the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America down the left-hand side and a superimposed image of the pattern pieces with the text Sew It Yourself. Both are labelled as boys’ and men’s. The Thor should really be unisex if he’s now a woman:

Marvel Avengers Captain America costume pattern - Simplicity 1030/0225

Simplicity 1030/0225 (2015) Image via eBay.

(S0225 is the advance version; the S1030 envelope seems to have some strange retouching of the man’s crotch.)

Marvel Avengers Thor costume pattern - Simplicity 1038

Simplicity 1038 (2015) Image via Etsy.

It’s great to see Wonder Woman making a comeback, and the increasing popularity of costuming means we’re likely to see more licensed superhero patterns in the near future. Here’s hoping there will be a Black Widow or Mystique—and it’s not a dress.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Simplicity 8720 detail

(For more see Dorian Lynskey, Kapow! Attack of the feminist superheroes, and Jill Lepore, The Last Amazon.)

* As I wrote this post, spellcheck failed to recognize the names of female superheroes. Please fix this, WordPress!

Star Wars Costume Patterns

October 9, 2015 § 7 Comments


Trisha Biggar, Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Abrams, 2005) Image via Abrams.

Anticipation is high for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which opens in December. For fans of costume design, it helps that Michael Kaplan, who began his career with Bob Mackie and Blade Runner (1982), is designing the costumes for the new film. (Read Vanity Fair’s post here.) Here’s a look at Star Wars costume patterns.

Star wars couture 3

“Star Wars Couture,” Vogue, April 1999. Model: Audrey Marnay. Photo: Irving Penn. Fashion editor: Phyllis Posnick. Image via the Fashion Spot.

Star Wars’ costumes must be among the most discussed in cinema. In 2005, LA’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) organized the exhibit Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars, accompanied by a book by Trisha Biggar, the costume designer for the prequel trilogy (Abrams, 2005; still in print). Last year saw the publication of Brandon Alinger’s Star Wars Costumes: The Original Trilogy (Chronicle Books, 2014). And a new travelling exhibit, Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars and the Power of Costume, will open in New York next month.


John Mollo’s final sketch for the costume of Obi-Wan Kenobi, 1976. Image: Alinger/Chronicle Books.


John Mollo’s design for the samurai warrior concept of Darth Vader, 1976. Image: Alinger/Chronicle Books.

John Mollo’s costumes for Star Wars, which won an Academy Award in 1978, have immortalized a certain strand of ’70s style. Compare Princess Leia’s iconic hooded dress with a 1976 Dior evening gown available as a Vogue pattern; both were made in white silk crepe de chine:

Left: Karen Bjornson in Vogue 1553 by Dior, Vogue Patterns, November/December 1976. Photo: Chris von Wangenheim. Right: Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Image via PatternVault on Twitter.

(I’ve made the Dior in red; photos coming soon.)

The year after The Empire Strikes Back (1980), McCall’s began releasing children’s costume patterns licensed with Lucasfilm.

McCall’s 7772 includes costumes for five characters from the first two films: Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Yoda, Jawa, and Lord Darth Vader. The Vader view calls for one single serving cereal box. I have several sizes available in the shop:

Vintage 1980s licensed Star Wars pattern - McCall's 7772

McCall’s 7772 (1981) Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

After Return of the Jedi (1983), McCall’s released a children’s pattern for Ewok costumes. And not just any Ewok: the envelope back names “Wicket the Ewok”:

1980s children's Ewok costume pattern - McCalls 8731

McCall’s 8731 (1983) Image via Etsy.

In the 1990s, Butterick took over the Lucasfilm licensing. Butterick 5174 and 5175, official Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker costumes for adults and children, included an order form for the wig and light sabre:

1990s Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker pattern - Butterick 5174

Butterick 5174 (1997) Image via Etsy.

1990s children's Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia pattern - Butterick 5175

Butterick 5175 (1997) Image via Etsy.

Butterick also released two official Darth Vader costume patterns for children and adults. Butterick 5176 and 5186 included instructions for breastplate appliqués made from coloured, foam sheet remnants, and an order form for the helmet and light sabre:

1990s boy's Darth Vader costume pattern - Butterick 5176

Butterick 5176 (1997) Image via Etsy.

1990s men's Darth Vader costume pattern - Butterick 5186

Butterick 5186 (1997) Image via Etsy.

There were only unofficial costume patterns based on the prequel trilogy. The year of Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), McCall’s released McCall’s 2433, a “Space Nomads” pattern for adults and children with a version of Sith warrior Darth Maul:

McCalls 2433

McCall’s 2433 (1999) Image via Etsy.

Based on costumes from Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Simplicity 4433 includes Padmé Amidala’s combat suit, which doubles as an Aayla Secura costume (but two-sleeved and without the headpiece):

Andrea Schewe women's Star Wars combat pattern - Simplicity 4433

Simplicity 4433 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Although Padmé’s Peacock dress was cut from Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), it was widely seen in promotional materials for the film:

Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the Peacock dress

Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in the Peacock dress. Image via Pinterest.

Andrea Schewe produced two versions of the Peacock dress and headddress for children and adults, Simplicity 4426 and Simplicity 4443. The adults’ pattern includes both Padmé and Princess Leia, while the children’s has Leia, Padmé, and young Anakin and Obi-Wan:

Padmé, Leia, Anakin, and Jedi costume pattern - Simplicity 4426

Simplicity 4426 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Women's Padmé and Leia costume pattern - Simplicity 4443

Simplicity 4443 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Men’s costume pattern Simplicity 4450/059 includes Anakin and Obi-Wan Jedi costumes, together with an unidentifiable warlock:

Anakin Skywalker, Jedi tunic and cloak pattern - Simplicity 4450/0579

Simplicity 4450/0579 by Andrea Schewe (2005) Image via Etsy.

Based on Padmé Amidala’s nightgown in Revenge of the Sith, McCall’s 4995 is a dress with boned bodice, separate drape, chain or bead trim, and tassels made with three sizes of beads:

McCalls 4995 (2005)

McCall’s 4995 (2005) Image via eBay.

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, perhaps there will be more licensed Star Wars patterns…

Update: Irving Penn’s 1999 editorial was not the first Star Wars-themed shoot in Vogue magazine: see Ishimuro’s “The ‘Force’ of Fur” in Vogue, November 1977. (Thanks to Devorah Macdonald for the reference.)

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma in Vanity Fair, June 2015. Photo: Annie Leibovitz. Image via Vanity Fair.

Preview: Lyanna Stark Costume – McCall’s 6940

November 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

Stark pin

This Halloween I went as Lyanna Stark. Full post to come when I’ve had the chance to do a real photo shoot…

If you’d like to see a preview, I used a commercial pattern, McCall’s 6940, so was eligible to enter McCall’s Halloween costume contest. You can find my photos here.

McCall's 6940 with White Walker mini figurine

If you’re on Facebook, you can view and vote for the entries on McCall’s Facebook page. (The entries are divided into 3 categories: adult, children’s, and infants/toddlers.)

Hope everyone had a great Halloween!

Quaithe of Asshai – Vogue 2014 by Givenchy

December 3, 2012 § 10 Comments

Since Naomi was going as Daenerys Targaryen, this Halloween I went as Quaithe from George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. Quaithe is a minor character from shadowy Asshai who meets Daenerys near Qarth; she makes repeated appearances to deliver cryptic prophecies.

Quaithe and Daenerys Targaryen Halloween costumes

In the books Quaithe is hardly described at all apart from her red lacquered mask, so I had a lot of freedom. Asshai, in the fantasy world’s mysterious east, is known for its worship of R’hllor, a fire religion with Zoroastrian echoes. After doing some research into ancient Persian costume, which showed periodic Greek influences, I opted to use my Very Easy late ’70s Givenchy evening dress pattern, Vogue 2014:

Late 1970s Givenchy pattern, Gia in a pink evening dress, Vogue 2014

Vogue 2014 by Givenchy (1978) Model: Gia Carangi. Image via PatternVault on Etsy.

The design may be from the Spring 1978 collection, judging from the similar halter neckline in this campaign image:

Givenchy advertising campaign image, Spring 1978, by photographer Michel Picard.

Givenchy ready-to-wear advertising campaign, Spring 1978. Photo: Michel Picard. Image via styleregistry.

For fabric, I used black Qiana from a deadstock bolt found on Etsy. Qiana is a vintage nylon, a synthetic silk with a little stretch. It’s even in keeping with the ‘exotic’ Qs of the fantasy series.

"Whatever Diane's got I want" Diane von Furstenberg advertisement featuring Beverly Johnson wearing Qiana fabric Cosmo December 1979

Diane’s got Qiana nylon. Diane von Furstenberg advertisement, 1979. Model: Beverly Johnson. Image via eBay.

As a Very Easy Vogue pattern, Vogue 2014 has very simple construction, but also lots of hand-finishing. The hem and slits at top and bottom front are slipstitched, the top edge is blindstitched to the inside bodice, and the back facings and extension are slipstitched over the hooks and eyes that fasten the halter.

I made the size 12 with no alterations, and it worked out just fine. The lines of gather stitching at the ends of the halter fastening are visible, as I discovered, so if I made the dress again I would mark them rather than doing my usual winging it.

Instead of using the 18-inch tassel the pattern calls for, I strung together some mesh beads from Arton Beads on Queen Street West. With stainless steel spacer beads the strand is fairly heavy, but I like the effect when it’s fastened to the back extension.

Naomi found me a shimmery red mask at Malabar, and within a day or so I had a costume:

Quaithe dress, full length - 1970s Vogue 2014 by Givenchy, with Aileron shoes by Gareth Pugh for Melissa

Vogue 2014 by Givenchy (shoes: Gareth Pugh for Melissa)

Quaithe full length, back view - 1970s Vogue 2014 by Givenchy

Vogue 2014 by Givenchy – back view

Here are some detail shots of the bodice and back:

1970s Vogue 2014 by Givenchy - closeup on halter front detail

Vogue 2014 by Givenchy – neckline detail

Quaithe dress back detail with beads - 1970s Vogue 2014 by Givenchy

Vogue 2014 by Givenchy – back detail

Many thanks to our fabulous photographer, Rachel O’Neill, for a fantastic beach shoot in mid-November!

(Cross-posted to We Sew Retro.)

Daenerys Targaryen Costume

November 29, 2012 § 9 Comments

Daenerys Halloween costume teaser wth dragon

This Halloween Naomi wanted to go as Daenerys Targaryen from George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire via HBO’s Game of Thrones. The show’s meticulous costuming won costume designer Michele Clapton and her team an Emmy this year. (They even wove their own fabric.) You can see an L.A. Times costumes gallery with Clapton’s commentary here (contains spoilers) and a post with video by Chris Laverty of Clothes on Film here.

For her costume, Naomi chose one of Daenerys’ Qarth outfits, which the character wears in “Valar Morghulis,” the season 2 finale:

Ser Jorah and Daenerys in "Valar Morghulis," second season finale of HBO's Game of Thrones

Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in Game of Thrones, Season 2. Photo: Paul Schiraldi via IMDb.

The costume was an experiment in pattern drafting for me. I made one element from scratch and adapted the others from a few vintage sewing patterns I had on hand. The outfit consists of a princess-seamed overdress worn with fitted leather armour and over a split skirt. The concept is that the character has paired armour with a man’s tunic from the port city of Qarth, worn over a skirt made of skins from her time among the nomadic Dothraki.

After sketching from online video images, I was able to find these costume photos in the new book about the show’s production, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones:

Costuming Dany

Costuming Dany. From Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones (Chronicle Books, 2012).

Update: this Qarth costume is included in the press photos for Game of Thrones: The Exhibition:


Daenerys Targaryen Qarth costume. Image via Bell Media.

For the princess-seamed dress I used McCall’s C-3 with shoulder yokes adapted from Butterick 5059, and the high-collared armour is loosely based on McCall’s 1051.

McCall's C-3 and Butterick 5059

McCall’s C-3 by Luis Estévez (1959) and Butterick 5059 by Jean Muir (1969)

McCall's 1051 by Rudi Gernreich, 1960s mod dress pattern

McCall’s 1051 by Rudi Gernreich (1968). Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

For fabrics, we managed to hit King Textiles’ big moving sale just before they closed their old location. (The Richmond location’s being demolished to build a condo development called Fabrik.) We picked up some lavender satin for the overdress, the perfect, canvas-backed fake suede and a pale beige woven for the skirt, and some thin brown PVC for the armour, to be backed with a heavy underlining.

The Dothraki skirt was the most fun to figure out. I cut two hide-like pieces from the fake suede, leaving the edges raw and uneven; the bottom corners curve down to rounded points. For the bleached, folded-over hip yoke I did some primitive draping with tracing paper to get the correct curve on the body. After finding the right amount of overlap for the ‘hides’ I pinned them in place and stitched them to the yoke’s inside edge. The centre back closure is hidden under the overdress.

Online videos showed that Daenerys’ Qartheen overdress had shoulder yokes (they’re also visible in the Costuming Dany photos), so I combined my yoke pattern with a princess-seamed dress pattern, cutting away the sides at the hips and slightly flaring the long, central panel in front and back. The original overdress on the show is quite fitted, with topstitching that suggests that it’s boned, but we went for a more relaxed fit. The armholes are finished with bias underfacings; because the wrong side of the central panel shows, I mitered the corners and finished all the edges.

Daenerys costume sketch

Preliminary costume sketches

The leather armour posed the greatest challenge for me, since for some reason I decided to draft the sleeves without any kind of block. I used the collar and upper bodice from McCall’s 1051 and patched in the princess seams from the overdress, adding a cutout to line up with the overdress neckline. The bodice PVC was backed with canvas, and I used scraps of the fake suede to back the sleeves and collar, leaving the edges raw. The combined PVC/canvas layers were difficult to control in places. Initially I planned to topstitch to mimic the piecing detail of the original, but this PVC does not take topstitching. Instead we bound the bottom and cutout edges with strips of PVC, and I did a quick running stitch by hand on the sleeves to smooth the shoulder line.

Add a silver-blond cosplay wig and toy dragon, and the costume is complete.

We went down to the beach for a photo shoot with the talented Rachel O’Neill. Here’s a full-length shot of Naomi in her Daenerys costume:

Daenerys costume full length

The Mother of Dragons contemplates her destiny…

Daenerys beach

Here you can see the hand stitching detail on the armour:

Daenerys armour

And here are the two of us in costume:

Daenerys Targaryen and Quaithe Halloween cosplay

Next: my Halloween costume as Quaithe of Asshai.

Vampire Vamps! McCall 4455 by Martial et Armand

December 18, 2011 § 11 Comments

Young woman Kim McKean Bill Compton Stephen Moyer 1920s Chicago 1926 True Blood Season 2

Young woman (Kim McKean) and Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), 1926 (True Blood, Season 2)

For my vampire flapper Halloween costume, to wear over my 1926 Chanel evening dress I made McCall 4455, an evening wrap by Martial et Armand:

McCall 4455 1920s Martial et Armand evening wrap pattern

McCall 4455 by Martial et Armand (1926) Wrap with optional shirring.

The wrap has a dramatic standing collar, a generous flounce, and the option of a shirred facing; pleats shape the shoulders, and the collar is reinforced with canvas. Here’s the colour illustration, from a page of evening designs in the McCall Quarterly:

McCall 4455 Martial et Armand wrap pattern Summer 1926 McCall catalog

McCall 4455 in the McCall Quarterly, Summer 1926. Image courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

Martial et Armand was a Paris house established in the late nineteenth century; for more details see Past Perfect Vintage’s recent post. I found these contemporary Martial et Armand sketches in L’Officiel’s online archives:

L'Officiel 1920s Martial et Armand dessins originaux original drawings

Original sketches by Martial et Armand, L'Officiel no. 58, June 1926. Image via jalougallery.com.

I thought the shirring on version A of the wrap would compete with my dress, so I made version B, the plain version. I chose a black velveteen and used some black lining that I already had. The pattern didn’t give ‘with nap’ yardage for 36″ fabric (the width of my velveteen), and I soon found out why: the back flounce piece is too wide to fit this width. I needed to cut the back flounce in two pieces.

To ensure the velveteen didn’t slip, I used a diagonal basting technique I found in Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques which is known as ‘cross stitching.’ (See her diagrams on Google books here and here.) This technique involves hand-basting over the seamline with diagonal stitches, then basting again in the opposite direction so that you have a series of ‘X’s across the seamline. Here’s a photo of the diagonally basted flounce:

cross stitching basting sewing velvet velveteen

I was surprised to find instructions for making the collar and facing. The Printo Gravure has four-step, illustrated instructions on “how to sew collar and facing with interlining to garment” which call for an interlining of percaline. Percaline? According to Merriam Webster, percaline is French, from percale, from Persian پرگاله pargālah: percaline is glossy, percale isn’t. According to the Oxford Dictionary, percaline entered the English language in the mid-nineteenth century; percale originally referred to a fabric imported from India in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but later came to refer to a light cotton fabric. (I love the history embedded in textile names.) When my inquiry was met with confusion at my local fabric shop, though, I just went with some interfacing I had in my stash. I catch stitched the canvas along the collar seamlines, but didn’t try any pad stitching.

One difficulty I encountered was with the ease at centre back. Dazed from too much diagonal basting, I forgot how to ease with double rows of stitches and used only a single row, so that there were gathers at the back. I didn’t remember until after I’d hand-stitched through the collar seam. I redid the entire area, only to find I had produced… nicer gathers. I did pre-steam the velveteen, so I’m not sure whether it could have been shrunk further. I wish I’d been able to get it right, but there it is.

Here are some photos of the finished wrap. Despite having seen the illustration, I wasn’t prepared for the drama of the standing collar:

1920s evening wrap pattern Martial et Armand McCall 4455

The shoulder pleats turned out well:

1920s evening wrap pattern by Martial et Armand McCall 4455

Here are some detail shots of the collar, front and back:

1920s evening wrap pattern by Martial et Armand McCall 44551920s evening wrap pattern by Martial et Armand McCall 4455

Some action shots showing the fullness of the flounce:

1920s evening wrap pattern by Martial et Armand McCall 44551920s evening wrap pattern by Martial et Armand McCall 44551920s evening wrap pattern by Martial et Armand McCall 4455

I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into Twenties designer patterns. The lack of instructions was certainly an adventure, and made me realize just how many techniques I have no clue about! If you’ve sewn with 1920s patterns, I would love to hear about your experience. Twenties sewing book recommendations are also very welcome—I have Laura Baldt’s Dressmaking Made Easy (1928) but it doesn’t address all the issues I encountered. How can you attach skirt drapery just right, or ease a bulky fabric like velvet? Would a five-inch standing collar benefit from pad stitching? And how does one make rosettes for evening?

A big thanks to Naomi for taking such fabulous photos!

(Cross-posted to Sew Retro.)

Vampire Vamps! McCall 4464 by Chanel

December 1, 2011 § 13 Comments


Lorena Krasiki (Mariana Klaveno) in 1926 (True Blood, Season 2)

For my Halloween vampire flapper costume I made one of my favourite 1920s patterns in my collection: McCall 4464, an evening dress by Chanel.

McCall 4464 1920s Chanel pattern flapper evening dress

McCall 4464 by Chanel (1926) Evening dress with slip.

Here’s the illustration from the 1926 Summer Quarterly. As I was putting this post together, I realized that True Blood’s 1926 Lorena and the catalogue illustrator both accessorize a black dress with red beads:

McCall 4464 1920s Chanel evening dress pattern McCall Quarterly Summer 1926

McCall 4464 in the McCall Quarterly, Summer 1926. Image courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

The short evening dress has a bloused bodice, side drapery on the skirt, “trimming strings” or streamers, and self fabric flowers at the straps. The pattern doesn’t include the flowers, but it does indicate ‘material for rosettes’ on the layout. I skipped them for my version—they may balance the streamers, but I’m not really a rosette kind of girl.

Mine and Naomi’s dresses are actually shown side by side in the 1926 catalogue. I can assure you this is an absolutely accurate reflection of our relationship:

1920s Jean Patou and Chanel dress patterns 1926 McCall Quarterly

McCall 4457 and 4464 in the McCall Quarterly, Summer 1926. Image courtesy of Debby Zamorski.

I used the same black satin for the slip and the dress. The only alteration I made to the pattern was to grade down the bust by one size. I also shortened the straps, guided by the ‘natural waist’ mark on the slip front.

The basic instructions don’t cover what to do with the drapery or streamers. The trick for the drapery, as I discovered, is to sew it to the skirt sections before closing the side seams. For the streamers, the pieces showed a seam allowance but no lengthwise fold mark, so at first I thought they were meant to be pretty wide. But after scrutinizing the illustration (and contemplating the option of cutting each string twice) I concluded the streamers should actually be sewn together for a narrower width. The finishing was a little rushed, since I was fitting the straps just before we went out; I’m still not sure what to do with some of the rough edges…

Here are some photos of me in the dress:

McCall 4464 Chanel 1920s evening dressMcCall 4464 Chanel 1920s evening dress

Some detail shots:

McCall 4464 Chanel 1920s evening dressMcCall 4464 Chanel 1920s evening dress

I was surprised by how flattering the Twenties tubular silhouette can be. And comfortable: leaving the house, I had a brief moment of panic, feeling like I’d forgotten to get dressed. (I realize a foundation garment would have been worn during the period.) I think I’ll be re-making this one—maybe I’ll even venture some rosettes.

(Cross-posted to Sew Retro.)

Next: My 1920s vamp wrap.

McCall 1920s evening wrap pattern detail

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