Better Homes & Gardens Sewing Book, or: How To Accessorize Panné Velvet

the book:
Better Homes & Gardens SEWING BOOK, Sewing HOW-TO for the home and family, copyright Meredith Publishing Company, 1961

the project:
My friend, let’s just call her “Mrs. Danger”, had an event coming up, let’s just call it “the Creative Arts Emmy Awards Ceremony.”
She also had this great vintage dress.
Mrs. Danger had never worn the dress and decided this is the dress’s moment. With a few key changes. Such as replacing the weird-looking, weirdly-fitting bodice with something not weird.

Here’s the original bodice, for proof of weirdness:



the fabric:
The original bodice featured wide black velvet ribbon as waistband and rosette at the neckline. We wanted to save those as they are really fun vintage elements, so I snipped a piece of the velvet from the seam allowance and sent her off to —for the purposes of this post let’s just call it “FFS Fabrics”— for a matching velvet.
I also asked her to pick up some black cotton-back satin for a foundation, which, ok, do you guys know what I’m talking about when I say cotton-back satin? Because here comes a giant tl;dr if you already know all about it:
It’s a heavy satin, pliable but with no give, the weave has the appearance of plain cotton on the back and luxurious satin on the face. Usually comes in peach, white, black, or red, and you can definitely get it at International Silks & Woolens.
I don’t have any in the house right now, otherwise I’d post a picture.
When I was in school we used coutile for bodice foundations and flatlining corsets and stuff, when I’ve worked theater we also used coutile, however the biggest costume shop I’ve worked for in LA uses cotton-back satin exclusively. So I had thought it was some kind of fancy Hollywood thing, but then some shops here use coutile instead, and even more surprising, my husband says they used cotton-back satin in the costume shop in his smalltown-but-excellent undergrad in the great plains.
So, it’s a mystery. Either you love and use cotton-back satin, or you have no idea what it even is.
FFS Fabrics definitely falls into the “no idea what it is” category, which was confirmed when I got a text saying:

Mrs. Danger: they have no idea what it is. Is it the same as sateen?
me: No! Definitely not sateen. Ask for coutile instead. “cooooo-teal”
Mrs. Danger: this lady helping me doesn’t know what that is either
me: Ok, tell her you are making a corset. What does she recommend?
Mrs. Danger: she doesn’t know. It’s like she’s never worked in a fabric store before.
me: Ffs. Ask for heavy cotton twill or canvas? Should be heavy like pants, not soft like a shirt.
Mrs. Danger: ok now she’s showing me the stretch denim.
me: omg

tl;dr: Eventually Mrs. Danger made it out of there with some perfectly ok black twill and some really nice black panné velvet.

So this is where the book comes in!
I have a lot of old sewing books, which I never use. I buy them because the illustrations and diagrams are super neat and fun to look at casually, but I actually have a really hard time following diagrams and illustrations for sewing.
I think the best teacher is always going to be another real live human being in your face, or an actual garment you can take apart and figure out. Diagrams, for me, are a deadly unlearnable combination of boring and confusing. And I have a BFA in this.
However this page (below) is the one page on my entire shelf that is bookmarked for quick access:


This page shows the process of taking your commercial pattern, using it to draft your own corselet, and finishing it smoothly inside your dress.
I love this diagram. I also love that this was a thing back then, that people did. Taking your commercial pattern and then one-upping it with an innner foundation was no bigs.
However, Not Not Not alteration-friendly. This mess either fits, or it’s a recut. Happily this one fit.

Here are some progress shots:


I didn’t 100% follow the instructions though, the book has you place the bones on the outer side of the corselet, so they aren’t visible from the inside, but I like them like this, plus wanted to make sure the bones didn’t read through the shiny panné.

Ok, so let’s get back to the question in the title: how does one accessorize panné velvet?

1) stairs   

2) doggie photo-bomb

3) Giant Emmy photobomb.   

Sew it or Throw it: 
Totally a sew. I will use it again. If you ever see this book at a yardsale, get it. You won’t regret that 75 cent investment.


8 thoughts on “Better Homes & Gardens Sewing Book, or: How To Accessorize Panné Velvet

  1. Wow so much goodness! Your friends get the coolest frocks! I learned some new words too, including what tl/dr means. There’s a chain of ‘fabric stores’ in Australia that could change their name to FFS Fabrics (or Craft).


    1. Isn’t that a great dress? She looks fantastic. I love how the skirt flares out from, like, nothing to that full full hem. It was really satisfying getting to help this dress along to red carpet ready.


  2. How have I only just found your blog?! Properly chuckled at the FFS fabric chat and its so great to see the inside construction details. Beautiful dress of course!! :-)


    1. Thanks!
      This shopping trip semi-fail was a surprise to me, usually FFS Fabrics is great and not the sort of place that makes me say FFS. But this time, hoo boy.
      I’m glad you liked the text exchange, I totally laughed too when I received the text about “like she’s never worked in a fabric store before.” Laughed/cried, you know.


    1. I’m gonna go with bodge over original. The pink and black stripes seem to have been laid on top of an original floral layer matching the skirt, with the velvet ribbon waistband sewn over the stripe, concealing the fact that the stipe fabric doesn’t even make it all the way to the waist in the front.
      Who even knows what was going on there.


  3. You are FUNNY! and TALENTED! I’ve pinned your Better Homes and Gardens corselet instructions, cos when I zoomed in and read it, there was some beautifully presented info there, now if you could just move the bookmark…


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