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Regular readers of this blog (not that you are in any way regular, as you are all special and magnificent!) are probably already aware of my obsession with vintage gowns and vintage gown patterns, namely those from the mid- to late-1950s. Of course, my occasions for wearing frothy 55-year old tulle and organza confections dwindles as my age increases (and it’s been more than two years since I’ve gotten my butt out to a swing dance, which previously was how I “justified” sewing and buying such gowns, even though 40s and 30s fashion would probably have been more era-appropriate.) But the love is still there.

If a magical fairy came to me and said she would imbue me with the design abilities of any designer I liked, there are days that I would pick Dior or Givenchy or Chanel. Ahh, to have that genius and sense of style and beauty. But today (and many other days), I crave the skills of a much lesser known creator of marvelously and brilliantly draped 1950s party garb, Ceil Chapman. I don’t know much about Ceil Chapman (you can find a bio of her from the Vintage Fashion Guild), but wowee zowee, could she drape! And her eye for those gorgeous feminine lines and silhouettes of the 50s – the wide necks, the wasp waists, the elegant deep backs, the use of ruching to flatter the bust and hips… *swoon.* Nonstop feminine glamour. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

Right?  Am I right?  Ah to be able to pull out a couple of yards of taffeta and your dressform and be able to whip up something like this. Well, we’re (sort of) in luck, because as it turns out, the Spadea pattern company did publish some Ceil Chapman designs! They’re hard to come by and can get pretty pricey, but they do pop up on eBay and other vintage pattern places:

And even luckier for us (and by us I specifically mean “me”), Vintage Fashion Library produces a reasonably priced ($24.99) Spadea pattern reproduction of what I find to be one of Ceil Chapman’s most beautiful and iconic designs, the “Skylark.” (This name should have been a more graceful and evocative dress title, but I think Buick came along and ruined the  mystique.)

The portrait collar and draped bust, the draping across the hips, the slim skirt with flowing panels… it’s almost too much 1950s goodness crammed into one dress! I’d been waffling on buying this pattern for a while and finally I decided I’d better just get one because surely at some point in my life I’m going to want to wear that :)  (And yes, I was sure to buy mine before telling you about it, but there are more copies still in stock, so if you want one, head over there.) Granted the pattern is for a 34″ bust and I suspect that figuring out how to re-engineer that elaborate bodice down to 29″ (Sigh. So not a figure built for the va-va-voom 1950s fashions that I love) will not be trivial.

So there you go. Ceil Chapman is the person I want to sew like today. How about you? Who’s your current fashion and design idol?

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I’m in San Francisco for work (Palo Alto actually), cooped up in all day meetings, and as predicted I haven’t had any time to visit any of the longing-inducing fabric shops you all mentioned (thanks for the suggestions though! I’ll schedule time next time I come out.) And definitely no time for sewing. But that doesn’t stop me from scouring the web for more things I wish I had time to make. Check out this gorgeous 1960s cocktail dress from Posh Girl Vintage, one of the most covet-worthy sites I know:

More specifically, have a look at the wonderful draping on the bodice- I just love this:

This is making me wish I knew the first thing about draping, and had a nice pinnable dressform in my size. (I’ve posed this question before, but if anyone knows where to get a basic French non-adjustable dressform that you can pin into in a SMALL size -bust 30″ or so- at a reasonable price, let me know!) It’s on my ever growing list of things I’ll never get around to making.

That’s it for now– I head home tomorrow night, so I hope to have some real sewing to share with you soon!

About this blog

The Selfish Seamstress loves to design and sew garments, but only if she gets to keep them. I'm Elaine, known in the online sewing world as elainemay, and welcome to my selfish sewing blog.

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