A Perfect Vintage Jacket

Readers,

Last week I brought home a very special souvenir of Jack’s and my visit to Portland, Oregon: a vintage jacket with a mysterious past. GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2941 (460x432)It came from a lovely little shop, Living Threads Vintage, on Taylor Street opposite the Multnomah County central library.

I was actually on my way to the Button Emporium next door, which an antique dealer had recommended to me, but I couldn’t resist stopping to examine the dress hanging on a mannequin outside Living Threads. IMG_9753 (345x460)

And the next thing I knew, I was chatting with Christine Taylor,IMG_9752 (345x460) co-owner with her husband, Travis, while browsing a rack of jackets.

In short order I was telling myself there would be no harm in trying on this very interesting jacket made from Pendleton wool.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2943 (460x307)This jacket intrigued me–and Christine, too–and we both wondered who made it, when, and for whom. It was beautifully made and in perfect condition.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2900 (436x460)

The seaming and darting are so beautiful.

The front facing is finished so elegantly.

The front facing is finished elegantly.

Was this jacket custom-made by a dressmaker or tailor for a specific customer?

Or could this have been sewn as a sample for a clothing line, never manufactured, instead ending up languishing in an archive for decades? We may never know.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2894 (313x460)

The buttons were fantastic.  I admired the bold and yet restrained combination of buttons, fabric, and garment style. They seemed to be made for each other.  GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2907 (460x381)

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2955 (460x307) I would love to work out such wonderful combinations using the buttons I’ve bought at vintage fashion fairs and shops in the UK and Europe. It’s so inspiring to learn from real-life examples.

We wondered when this jacket was made. Could it have been the late ’50s, when more patterns were appearing without the cinched waist?

Another great in my pattern pantheon.

From 1959, this has a big collar and an unbelted version. I made the leopard-collar version a couple of years ago.

The fabric suggested 1940s or 1950s to me. This Pendleton wool was the color–no, colors–of stone-ground cornmeal, with beautiful variegations of grays or browns.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

My trusty 3 in 1 Color Tool suggests that this yellow has been lightened with white and shaded with gray.

The tag read “Extra Small.” The fit was nearly perfect on me–a rare occurrence.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2954 (307x460)

I love a big collar–and this one could be worn a couple of ways: wider and flatter,GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2918 (312x460) or higher and closer to the face. Interesting.GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2891 (303x460)

Christine liked this intriguing Pendleton jacket on me, too. Still, I wanted another opinion, and I knew where to find it: at the Heathman Hotel, just a few minutes’ walk away. That’s where most of Jack’s fellow Peace Corps members and their wives were staying for our biannual reunion.

I told Christine I’d be back shortly with my friend Rosa to make a final decision. At the hotel, I managed to snag not one but three judges–Rosa, Dora, and Kathryn–who eagerly returned with me to see the shop and the mystery jacket.

Even though I modeled the jacket for my review community over a summery white t-shirt and seersucker pants, the vote was a unanimous and enthusiastic YES. Okay, so there was a little extra room in the shoulders; I could live with that, we agreed.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

The inside is perfect. This seems never to have been worn.

Back home, I pondered what garments I could pair with this jacket to create outfits. Tops, skirts and pants should be simple, I thought, to support this jacket in its starring role.

I scooped up some hats, gloves, and an alligator bag and made the two-minute journey to my sister’s photo studio, where I experimented in front of the camera.

First, with a beret in a hard-to-pin-down mushroom brown color that went with the shading in the fabric:

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2959 (207x460)

The sleeves are longer than three-quarters length, but short enough to call for longer gloves. I wouldn’t mind laying in a supply of long vintage gloves. It’s interesting to me that although the collar points down, I perceive the collar as bringing the eye up, which is a big plus. I can’t explain why, but the shape and color of the beret look right to me as part of this ensemble.

Next, a kind of Loden green felt hat, maybe a cousin of a Homburg. (I bought this Eric Javits hat in 1990, I think.)

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2970 (244x460)

Carrying my pretend purse. I will never make a living as a mime.

The color of the hat is nice with the jacket, but the shape is not. There’s no relationship with the jacket.

How about with this burgundy rabbit-felt hat by Ignatius Creegan? I love this hat.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2977 (270x460)

There’s my purse! Much better!

The combo is promising and worth pursuing. I see burgundy gloves in my future.

Next up: a Harris tweed hat I bought at a vintage stall in East London on a chilly, drizzly Sunday a few years ago. Quite the workhorse, this hat, keeping me warm, dry and moderately fashionable through several winters.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2986 (238x460)I think this is a nice combination.

That I could wear a plain neutral beret; a luxurious, plush, rich-colored felt cloche; or a rough-textured plaid tweed fedora with this style and color of jacket was quite exciting.

Lastly, I tried a whimsical beret in an eye-popping orange-red.

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_2999 (339x460)

Both items had plenty of personality but seemed willing to work together.

A jacket that can deliver on whimsicality, practicality, and beauty, too? That’s something worth celebrating!

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_3000 (299x460)

Whee!

GTS-Pendleton-jacket_3002 (300x460)

And with this silliness, this photo shoot is now concluded.

After spending decades in storage, it’s time this jacket started doing its job in the world, don’t you think?  I certainly do.

Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for studio photography.

What Works/What Doesn’t: Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket

Readers,

It’s time to play another round of What Works/What Doesn’t. This is the game where I analyze a wardrobe item that’s been puzzling me. It could be something I made, or bought, or accepted as a gift or hand-me-down.  Some things about it appeal to me, but other things do not.

The Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket dates from the 1950s. It has a zip-out wool lining.

The Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket dates from the 1950s. It has a zip-out wool lining.

If a garment meets any of these qualifications:

  • I’ve worn it more out of a vague sense of obligation than of pleasure
  • I’ve passed it over not only when planning the day’s outfit but also when donating to charities
  • I keep thinking “This has potential!” but have never bothered to define what that is

then it is a great candidate for What Works/What Doesn’t.

I replaced the worn leather buttons with brick red buttons. I know there's a better button choice out there.

I replaced the worn leather buttons with brick red buttons. I know there’s a better button choice out there. I like the collar, which can be worn down or up, buttoned or open.

This game arose out of my aversion to the age-old advice to ditch wardrobe items you haven’t worn in a year. (Umm…that rant deserves its own post.)

Let’s get started.  Today’s garment is the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket. I’m guessing it dates from the mid- to late 1950s.

I bought this maybe ten years ago at a cute little antiques store that had a rack or two of vintage clothes and hats.

Impromptu modeling in the dining room.

Impromptu modeling in the dining room.

I remember marveling at the perfect fit and the smart lines. It had a wool zip-out lining in an improbably backwoodsy-looking plaid. I liked how I looked in it. And it was a very reasonable price, to my mind: $25.

When I saw this photo I noticed this felt like a good proportion for me. The three-quarters-length sleeves call out for gloves or bracelets.

When I saw this photo I noticed this felt like a good proportion for me. The three-quarters-length sleeves call out for gloves or bracelets.

I removed the beat-up, original, gray leather buttons and found the best substitute I could: these brick red buttons available in sizes to fit both the front closure and the sleeve tabs.  I knew at the time they weren’t a perfect choice.

Accessories! Now we're getting somewhere!

Accessories! Now we’re getting somewhere!

Either I didn’t know when I bought it or else I optimistically overlooked the fact when I tried on the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket that it scratched like the dickens. Which probably explains why it was in such great condition.  It didn’t get worn a whole lot.

Long gloves and a hat begin to make an outfit.

Long gloves and a hat begin to make an outfit.

Still, somebody, or a string of somebodies, kept it all these years, for sentimental reasons or because It Had Potential. And I carried on the tradition.

This tweed has flecks of other colors in it.

This tweed has flecks of other colors in it.

Oh, I did wear it a few times, to work on library reference desks, feeling equal parts smartly dressed and maddeningly itchy where the sleeve lining ended and the wool rubbed my forearms, and where the collar was in contact with my neck. I did find a maroon turtleneck sweater with three-quarters-length sleeves that solved the itching problem but made me feel like my own blast furnace.  I have never experienced a hot flash, but maybe this sweater-jacket combination gave a similar effect.

Now that could be another reason this jacket didn’t get a lot of wear over the decades.

I used to think gray was gray. Now I see that gray can have green or yellow in it...

I used to think gray was gray. Now I see that gray can have green or yellow in it…

So perhaps this jacket was meant to be worn outside–except that the sleeves were only three-quarters length. Now it’s obvious to me that the jacket was begging for long gloves.  A few years ago, though, I just didn’t get this.  I went around with forearms ungloved outdoors and unbraceleted indoors. Ignorant, I now know.

In short, I acquired a garment minus the operating instructions and fell short of understanding, much less fulfilling its potential.

Still, I sensed this jacket and I could have a fine life together if only I could figure out how. I would drop it in a charity donation pile only to give it a furtive reprieve and hang it back in the closet.

...or red or orange in it.

…or red or orange in it.

I finally told myself, Don’t keep not deciding.  Whether I was going to send the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket back into the flow or keep and wear it, I would have to understand the reasons why.

When my photographer visited three months ago I enlisted her in my quest. We pushed the dining room table and chairs to one side and pulled back the draperies. I donned the jacket over a neutral top and pants while Cynthia stood on a kitchen stool focusing her camera and encouraging me to act natural.

Instead of wearing black with the jacket, I can wear gray brightened up with yellow.

Instead of wearing black with the jacket, I can wear gray brightened up with yellow.

Be good enough to overlook my acting ability and check out this jacket. It does work. It just needs the right supporting cast. I’m realizing that after asking What works? and What doesn’t? it’s useful to ask “What does this need to work?” Because even a wardrobe item that’s wonderful on its own can be disappointing if it’s not part of an ensemble that works.

Rummaging around I found my only pair of long gloves, a gift from a vintage-loving sister. See how these gloves enhance this jacket? Such a difference.

Add the matching scarf for even more eye-popping color. What color gloves would be fun?

Add the matching scarf for even more eye-popping color. What color gloves would be fun?

Playing up the burgundy flecks in the tweed I wore my plush Ignatius Creegan hat. Now I can imagine having long burgundy suede gloves to match–maybe a whole burgundy theme: sweater or blouse, pants or skirt, hose, shoes.

I was drawn to the texture of the tweed and the lines of this jacket but had always had reservations about all the grays in it. It’s only recently that I realized that there are grays–deep ones like charcoal, and warm-toned grays based in the red, orange, yellow and chartreuse Color Tool cards–that work well for me.

I threw on this favorite yellow raincoat just for fun. I'm looking at the color, first, and the lighthearted feel. I want that feel in the outfits I create with the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket.

I threw on this favorite yellow raincoat just for fun. I’m looking at the color, first, and the lighthearted feel. I want that feel in the outfits I create with the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket.

I also recognize that, given my coloring (I’ve been identified as a “contrasting Autumn”) and style preferences, I’m happiest playing up contrasts.

This jacket has a lot of contrast potential:

  • Chunky lines over sleek lines: pair with very simple, streamlined pants or skirts
  • Coarse over smooth: play up the tweed against flat weaves or knits
  • Coarse with napped: pair the jacket with plush hats, suede gloves and shoes
  • Neutral shades with bright color, like greenish yellow
  • Neutral shades with deep color, like burgundy
  • Dark neutrals with a lighter neutral skirt or pants and a shot of color in the top and accessories

I may have missed a few possibilities, but still, I can see that this jacket could be an active part of my wardrobe. The coordinates I already have, and the ones I could add through buying and sewing, would work with a lot of my other garments in color, style and fit. That’s key: determining not only “What works?” but “What does it work with?”

The long version of this topper from 1956 bears some similarities to my jacket. Notice the short gloves.

The long version of this topper from 1956 bears some similarities to my jacket. Notice the short gloves.

Something else that’s key is noticing whether these coordinates and outfits I have in mind feel like a natural fit with my tastes, occasions, activities, roles I play, and where I see myself going. They do.

However, my ideas need to be road-tested. In 2014 I’ll post a follow-up about whether  the Chunky Tweed Vintage Jacket really has become the wardrobe staple I imagine it could be.

By that time I may even have learned how to act natural.

(Photographs of me are by Cynthia DeGrand.)

Packing with a Plan

Readers,

A month from now I’ll be in London for the Fashion and Textile Museum’s short course Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors.  More than a week ago I started thinking  about what to pack in case I needed time to sew or buy something for this trip.

I’ve traveled quite a lot and packed many a suitcase in my time. More than a decade ago, I saw how many preparations are the same from trip to trip and wrote out a stack of index cards as memory aids.

Before there were apps there were index cards. My travel reminders.

Before there were apps there were index cards. My travel reminders.

Nevertheless, every trip has characteristics that distinguish it from all the others I’ve taken that may influence what I pack. That’s the puzzle I still have to work out every time. What will be or could be different this time that I could plan for? (Would it surprise you that I scored high in foresight in that battery of tests I took at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation?)

Can my chart help me think about this?

Test-driving my chart. Can it help me plan a travel wardrobe?

Test-driving my chart. Can it help me plan a travel wardrobe?

Well, when I pack for a trip I think a lot about what I’ll be doing. What occasions will I or might I participate in? (I’m using “occasion” until I find a better way to describe activities governed by some kind of social rules.)

  • a class at a museum taught by a master tailor
  • going through airport security
  • flying
  • eating out with classmates
  • going to fabric stores with local sewing bloggers

What would I expect the moods of these occasions to be?

  • friendly
  • respectful
  • serious (airport security)

    A candidate for this trip: one of the jackets I made from a 1941 pattern.

    A candidate for this trip: one of the jackets I made from a 1941 pattern.

What physical activities will I do?

  • hoisting my suitcase on and off trains and up and down flights of stairs
  • walking miles of city streets
  • reading maps
  • sitting in airports, on planes, and in the classroom
  • sleeping (trying to, anyway) on planes
  • hand-stitching in class
  • photographing
  • writing by hand and on computer
  • doing light housekeeping at the flat where I’ll be staying
  • doing mat-type Pilates exercises at the flat

You get the idea.

Light, warm, washable--and I can sleep in it on the plane.

Light, warm, washable–and I can sleep in it on the plane.

What roles will I be playing on this trip?

  • passenger
  • student
  • classmate
  • tourist
  • diner
  • shopper
  • blogger
  • photographer

What physical conditions will I encounter?

  • On the plane: could be drafty, overheated or underheated, and cramped. There could be glaring light, or noise from passengers or the plane.
  • London: darkness. Short, overcast days. Chilly, damp, raw weather. Possibly windy, especially near the river. Rain, maybe even snow.
  • London Underground and train platforms: chilly
  • Indoors: probably fine, but could be drafty

    Wool jacket, cashmere sweater: a start to an outfit for London in January.

    Wool jacket, cashmere sweater: a start to an outfit for London in January.

Answering these questions helped me visualize my trip so much better than before:

  • Walking along the Thames on a winter day with sleet stinging my face
  • Sleeping in a cramped position on the plane
  • Being around people who sew at a high level, or aspire to

And that helped me start gathering clothes for my trip.

Packing is when I become extra aware of how versatile garments for travel need to be. When I pull a clothing item for a trip, I ask, What other wardrobe items could this go with, and are they appropriate? What are the gaps?

Maybe the gap can be filled sewing from my stashes. What patterns, fabrics, and buttons could I use?

Maybe I'll sew something for this trip.

Maybe I’ll sew something for this trip.

Some gaps may have to be filled with purchases. I may look for sturdy, warm and dry shoes or boots for this trip.

All of these questions so far are about what I can reasonably expect based on past experience and present circumstances. But what about the future? What could I be moving into?

  • What new occasions might I be initiating or participating in?
  • What new roles could I be playing?
  • What new activities might I be undertaking on this trip, or as a result of it?

I don’t know yet, but they’ll probably involve getting things sewn.

I’ll be ready.

Test, test, test: can these categories really help me plan my wardrobe and travel better?

Test, test, test: can these categories really help me plan my wardrobe and travel better?

What Works/What Doesn’t: McCall 7842, Coat (1934)

Readers,

My coat-making fever this fall has prompted me to take a fresh look at a project I did about five years ago. I was disappointed in the result, but had not really clarified my dissatisfaction until I had myself photographed wearing the coat and could analyze the fit and the look against the pattern drawing. A couple of sewing friends also looked at the pictures and gave me their opinions. It turned out we agreed about the problems and possible solutions.

This was a simple but eye-opening exercise.  I’ve got a much clearer idea of the kinds of problems this pattern poses and the solutions I’d try. Not only that, but I think I’ll make better pattern, fabric, and ready-to-wear choices in the future. Very worthwhile, fun, and interesting.

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that's just as great?

One of my very favorite pattern illustrations. Now, can I make a coat that’s just as great?

This McCall coat pattern from 1934 enchanted me with its casual air, generous lapels, and relatively easy construction. I’ve looked at hundreds of coat patterns, and this one remains a favorite. It’s a classic.

So how come my coat doesn’t look all that great on me?

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

Functions? Yes. Fits? No. Flatters? Afraid not!

What works? It’s warm and cuddly. It got me through many a winter bus stop wait between library work assignments around Hennepin County.

What doesn’t work?

This is too BIG!

This is too BIG!

I think part of the problem is in the fabric I chose. I used a bulky wool coating, which was a great choice for warmth but not for drape. I was going to say that my fabric is stiffer than what’s suggested in the illustration, but my fabric falls in gentle folds, too. Nevertheless, I think that because I’m only 5′ 1 1/2″ I really have to be careful with bulk in full-length coats.

Wide, wide, wide.

Wide, wide, wide.

Another big problem is proportion. I recall shortening the coat about 8 inches, which threw off the proportion. The illustration shows a classic proportion of one third above the belt and two thirds below.  Measuring the drawing with a hem gauge, I noticed that the one-third proportion–2 inches–was achieved by turning up the collar. All three renderings show the turned-up collar (which I like, by the way). On me the division is closer to half and half, which isn’t flattering.

Looks great on her...

Looks great on her…

And then, those lapels! They just drag the eye down. How could I have missed this in the muslins?

For one thing, the upper collar comes down too far. And then the lapel is positioned too low. It looks quite different from the pattern illustration.

What I missed in the illustration was the fact that the lapel, or front facing, continues below the tied belt. This also brings the eye down, which I don’t need.

...but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

…but the collar and lapels are too low on me.

Also, the belt is a little wider than ideal, and it divides me into two unflattering halves.

So I have these vertical challenges going on.

I also have width challenges. The bulky fabric adds width. When I wrap the coat around myself, the overlap completely covers one of the patch pockets. That’s obviously wrong.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

An alternative from the same period. It might be fun to try this just for the Hepburn association.

Where width would be welcome–in the shoulders–raglan sleeves are not as good a choice as set-in sleeves, but they can work with the right shoulder pads and the right overall design.

My question is, could I change this pattern enough, while retaining its distinctiveness, to make a coat that functions, fits, and flatters?

Here's another McCall coat, from 1936.

Here’s another McCall coat, from 1936.

Working with a patternmaker, I could change the collar and lapels to bring the eye up, take out the excess overlap to correct the width, and narrow the belt.

For the wearable test I would try a thinner fabric that drapes, for the most dramatic contrast with the previous version.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This coat clamors to be made, too.

This would be such an interesting experiment, sometime I might try it. But the improvements must lead to a wonderful pattern, not one that’s a little better. It might be that a wrap coat, in the end, is simply not a good style for me.

If that’s the case, some other coat patterns are waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

Interesting seaming! This is the back of the Hollywood pattern shown just above.

(Photographs: Cynthia DeGrand.)

Temperamental Journey

Readers,

It’s late August, the Minnesota State Fair is underway, and tomorrow’s forecast is for the upper 90s. But my mind has turned to sewing for fall.

Tomorrow I’ll leave on a ten-day trip to Ohio and New York. By the time I get back to the sewing domain, it will be after Labor Day. I’ll ride out any remaining summer-like weather with my present wardrobe.

Onward to the many months of cool and cold weather where I live, where it’s worth building tailoring skills to turn out wonderful jackets, trousers and coats in wool.

My fabric table at the annual Textile Center fabric garage sale, wearing a coat I made.

Wearing a coat I made, at my favorite table at the annual Textile Center fabric garage sale.

I love woolens. Horse blanket plaids, Harris tweeds, cashmere blends, crepes, flannels, houndstooths, herringbones and pinstripes–all inspire me. I have the wool stash to prove it, too.  I have pieces from sewing expo vendors; Textile Center fabric garage sales; travels to Chicago, Washington, New York and San Francisco; and local stores. In fact, my wools comprise the bulk of my fabric stash in more ways than one.

One might conclude that so much wool would afford me a lot of freedom in pattern-selecting and -sewing, but to tell the truth, I’ve become overly possessive of my precious yardage. Like the wine connoisseur who never finds just the right occasion to open that special vintage, I loathe cutting into particular fabrics even though I long to wear them!

A souvenir from my travels that's waiting to be transformed into a jacket.

A souvenir from my travels that’s waiting to be transformed into a jacket.

A ridiculous and self-defeating attitude, I know, which I’m determined to conquer.

Actually, conquering is the wrong approach.  Working with my temperament–not browbeating it into submission, which will only make it rebel–is the way to go.

This is waiting in the wings to be a jacket or coat.

This is waiting in the wings to be a jacket or coat.

It occurred to me that once again, the battery of tests I took at the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation almost three years ago offers an invaluable insight that will form the basis of the solution.

My scores in divergent thinking were high. I have a rapid flow of ideas (nobody said they were good ideas, by the way) and a fair amount of foresight. My favorite way of starting a sentence is with the words “I could…”  I like possibilities and alternatives. I am what author Barbara Sher calls a “scanner:” someone who wants to do many, many things.

On the other hand, my scores in convergent thinking were very low. And I do find it difficult to draw conclusions or commit to plans of action without a lot of deliberation.

Will I EVER make up my mind?

Will I EVER make up my mind?

Hence, in spite of quite a few finished projects, the nagging stashes of unused fabrics, patterns and buttons that alternately tempt and taunt me.

So, what’s the solution?

I have an idea. How about leveraging someone else’s convergent thinking? Such thinking must acknowledge my liking for possibilities and alternatives but move me toward producing results.

I came across such thinking a couple of years ago in a book by image consultant Brenda Kinsel called In the Dressing Room With Brenda: A Fun and Practical Guide to Buying Smart and Looking Great. In that book she describes having a great wardrobe through planning outfits, or “capsules.” Individual garments and accessories can be combined in various ways to create capsules to suit every occasion and need. Kinsel then gives several examples including the Jean Capsule, the Traditional Work Capsule, the Accessory Capsule, and more.

A jacket I made that needs more coordinates.  (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

A jacket I made that needs more coordinates. (Photo: Cynthia DeGrand)

A simple concept, granted, and yet rarely put into practice. I myself have labored over numerous tailored jackets only to relegate them to the closet most of the time. I didn’t make the most of my efforts by planning capsules around them.

Well, that’s going to change. Brenda Kinsel’s idea of capsules is a gift to this divergent thinker, offering a balance of creative limits and creative possibilities.

I’m going to test this capsule concept, along with my chart, in the coming months. It’s not enough to produce individual garments. The next step is to make wonderful, functional combinations with them–and then take those combinations out for a spin.

After all, getting things sewn is just the prelude to getting things worn.