Thursday, January 28, 2010

28 January 1956 “Elvis on TV, Ekberg on Life, Cookies and A Recipe for a Dress”

elvis56 Elvis Presley would occasionally pop up in my 1955 year, but he was still not ELVIS yet. Today, he makes his first TV appearance on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show. The Dorsey Brothers were the famous Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Tommy Dorsey was very well known from the 30s-40s. From 1955-'56 the Brothers had their own show on the CBS network, "Stage Show," which gave them nationwide coverage.
 lifejan56 On the cover of Life from the 16th of this month, 1956, we see Anita Ekberg filming War and Peace. It is interesting that she is on the cover as she was not yet that famous in this film, staring Audrey Hepburn.war_and_peace  In fact, she is only billed at the bottom of the movie poster. Here is a trailer I would see for the film here in 56.
Ekberg would eventually become a cult ‘sex symbol’ appearing in playboy and participating in various ‘stunts arranged by the studios’, such as her top coming off while photographers were on hand. She is most remembered for this scene in the 1960 Fellini film La Dolce Vita.(four years away for me, how the world will begin to change)
I made this little recipe up the other day, as I wanted to make a chocolate chip cookie without the chips, but wanted to give it a chocolate flavor. I merely ‘adjusted’ a chocolate chip recipe, but did have to add more liquid in order to give it the chewy, fudge like quality I wanted. They turned out really well and the recipe for 50’s Gal’s Fudgey Chip-less Cookies are going permanently in the recipe box!
50’s Gals Fudgey Chip-less Cookies
(you can also make these delicious Mocha cookies by adding 1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee to the flour/cocoa mixture.)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) softened
1/2 cup brown sugar packed
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (or 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
coconut for topping (could use walnuts or whatever you prefer)
Beat the sugars and butter until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl blend ( I use a whisk or you could use a flour sifter) the flour, chocolate powder, and soda, salt and powder. Then gradually add to butter mixture. Spoon as you wood a chocolate chip cookie dough onto a greased or paper lined baking sheet and then sprinkle with coconut(it gets toasted in the oven, yum!) Bake about 9 minutes. If you watch these and take them out when they have spread and puffed some but still look a little underdone, that is the perfect time to take them out. This will keep them soft and fudgey.
I have not been able to find a pattern where in the bodice and sleeves are cut as two pieces. I have seen these following patterns which gave me the idea as well as seeing the look in many magazines.coatdresssimplicity patternHere you can see thet the bodice and sleeve are cut together, but there still seems to be two pieces for the top. Sometimes you can see that when it is cut as one piece, as herepattern1simplicity1714 you have a more ‘bat wing’ look. I am going to try making a pattern like this next, a more open roomy are. As you also see heresimplicity 4403And for the summer, such a top as the short sleeved version here would be such a dream to cut and sew. I actually know very little about sewing. I have never had a formal class and though my mother was an amazing seamstress, would never really show me how, as she said it was easier to ‘just do it herself’. Therefore, at university I learned how to thread a machine, sew a straight line and guessed at putting in a zipper. I still have no idea how to make a button hole on a machine and will, when needed, simply hand stitch the opening. I hope, in time, to learn more. But, with the very basics, I feel comfortable enough to make clothes for myself and have done so in 1955 year. I wanted to ‘make a pattern’ for this dress I had in my head and I did.
I also wanted to try a fitted lower waist look, as seen here.lowwaist50sdress Where the dress is fitted to you (not loose like a 1920’s style)but falls below the natural waist before it becomes full again. I also decided for wide pleats, but you could easily gather the skirt or cut the skirt as a circle or gored skirt. In making a dress, the skirt attaches to the bodice, that is it, so you can have the freedom to interpret this pattern any way you wish. It would also be lovely with a fitted pencil skirt bottom making it more of a ‘wiggle dress’ or a sheath dress.
Here is the steps I took. I did not, however, cut out a pattern to use again, as I wanted to make one up first and see how it fit, ease of sewing etc. SO, here we go:
bluedress1 Step one: I took a cardigan that fit me the way I wanted the finished bodice to fit and my main fabric and some white bleached muslin.bluedress2 Next, I determined how long I wanted the sleeves (knowing I would have the final sleeve have a fold to show the white lining).I then folded up the bottom of the cardigan to show where I wanted to hit my on the hip. You can see the curve of the cardigan and where I chose to have the fold or end of the bodice hit a little below my natural waist. I also used the buttons to denote where the centerline of the dress would be. I have the two pieces of fabric doubled on themselves so when I cut on the fold (the fold is under where the buttons are as that will be the middle of the bodice when the cut pieces are opened.) And by cutting both the outside and lining fabric at once, I am certain of their fitting together as I am not using a pattern.
What is nice about taking something that you know fits your bodice how you want the finish product to be, is perfect. And, I used my cardigan to show, you do not have to use a dress or fitted top to achieve this.
bluedress3 The cardigan obviously has some give, as it is yarn, while this dress was to be unforgiving cotton. SO, I cut about 2” around the outside as in here. Next time I will cut it a bit larger as I had forgot I would lose some inches when I sewed the two pieces (the fabric and the muslin lining) together I would lose inches when it was turned right side out.
bluedress4 So you can see how simple this bodice it. It is cut on the fold (the straight side) and cut in once with the muslin underneath. You can see the slight curve of the waist to the hit. I left the top straight as I wanted a boat neck I could iron down. But at this stage I could have cut a slope of any length or style to make a neckline.
bluedress5 Now I opened up the fabric and ended with four pieces (two of the dress fabric, two of the muslin lining). So with wrong sides facing in I pined a dress side to a muslin/lining side as show. Then, I simply sewed around the whole bodice around the neck arms all except the very bottom (which would be the waist). So that when I was done I simply flipped it right side out and had finished edges. I then pressed it flat.
bluedress7 So, now I have two identical pieces sewn to the lining and turned right side out and pressed flat. Those two pieces now get pinned to one another inside facing in. You can see here where I decided how long to make the ‘cuff’. I simply made sure I pinned to this point and then stopped sewing evenly so that the ‘cuff’ is really the two sides of the sleeve (with the finished ends) flipped out. Very easy and darling, I think. I also put it on while pinned on one side and sleeves pinned to determine how large to make the neck opening and then just pinned there. So , now just sew the arms and one side (leaving one side open for the zipper and the shoulers (don’t sew the neck shut). At this point I put it on and wanted to pin darts into it, but it was too tight, so I had to leave it as is. It looks fine and feels comfortable, but the bust would be more flattering with darts, so next time I will cut it larger to allow for this. You always are learning with sewing. (well I do, as I am NO expert at sewing that is for certain)
So that is your bodice done. Now, for the skirt you have many options. I chose to use a pleated skirt as it is very easy and looks very finished. I took the yardage of my remaining fabric (about 4 yards) and held it up to me to decide the length I wanted the skirt to be. I then pinned that and while it is still one long flat piece, I used the pattern as a guide and pre-hemmed the skirt. This, I am sure, will be a major no-no to you expert sewers out there, but I know when I was first learning (and really still am) hemming was always a bit scary. I discovered this makes a perfect hem and if you are careful when pinning the skirt to the bodice, it will not be crooked.
bluedress8 So, here you can see I found the length I wanted the skirt and then, using the pattern as a guide, pinned that straight line along the fabric. Then using the patern I sew the finished hem in while it was still a flat piece of material (later cutting the excess fabric off the inside hem).bluedress9 Here you can see up-close ( I drew a yellow line around it) how I followed the pattern as a guide to make a straight hem line that blends with the color of the fabric.
Next, even before I sew the skirt together to make a tube, I pleat it onto the bodice. bluedress10 An easier way is to gather the fabric and sew that on for a gathered skirt, I like the looks of the pleats and find it very easy to do as the skirt is not yet a skirt but on long piece of fabric pre-hemmed. Your pleat size will be determined by the amount of fabric you have. So, after that is pinned, I sewed that to the bodice. Then I take the zipper ( I used a 12”) and place it on the bodice side where it will go and see how far into the skirt it will need to be, then I pin that spot and sew the skirt together to that point. Now I know the opening is the exact size needed for the zipper.
Finally, the zipper is sewn in and then the dress pressed and you have a finished 1950’s inspired cotton dress. This is an easy dress that can be completed in one day.
bluedress6 bluedress11 The skirt still needs to be pressed and darts in the front would be more flattering especially as I am on the smaller busted side and every little bit helps. But I like the lowered waits, the pleats are comfortable. The dress will also look nice with a petticoat ( I am not wearing one now and my face was not worth keeping in this shot ladies!)This shot also doesn’t show very well how the boat neck folds down to reveal the white and I didn't flip both sleeves very well either. These will be held in place by taking vintage buttons and hand sewing them in those spots both for decorative affect as well as to hold it in place. It would be fine without, but I love those little touches. This picture had to be snapped quickly by hubby last night as he was on his way to bed.
So, I hope this helped any of you wanting to start to learn to sew or wanting to try your own pattern.Though this is hardly a masterpiece, it was a doable dress from conception to finished dress in one afternoon. With this concept, I can now veer off this main idea and make patterns of varying degree. I could add a collar. Cut the neckline differently. Cut the back and front neckline differently. I could also cut the back piece as two pieces, rather than the one, to put the zip in the back.  Though, I really prefer the look and ease of a side zip.Cut the front as two pieces and add buttons; Endless possibilities.mcalls3820This pattern here (which I do not own) has inspired me to try my idea and cut the top half as I did in this dress up to the bust line and cut it larger )To allow for the darts. and then a separate fitted piece in the center and then add the skirt. Maybe that will be February’s dress challenge.
If you can learn to thread and run a straight stitch, you could easily follow these steps and make your own ‘vintage style’ dress. I hope you will try it. I will post these instructions on the website as well, for future reference.
And, for those amazing seamstresses out there, you will forgive  my ignorance and hopefully, tell us better ways this could have been done. We all must learn form one another, don’t you think? I would love any tips to make this ‘pattern making’ easier so let’s hear from you.


  1. Great Job! I usually alter patterns that are similar to the style I want, or, as I have mentioned previously, take apart a well loved dress. Once you sew several dresses of a pattern/design that you love, you will be able to alter it here and there more easily. It becomes and a "Theme and Variation."

    My daughters majored in Family and Consumer Science (in a state far away) and had a number of sewing classes. They took a class called "Flat pattern design." They made their own basic sloper. A local community art center by us offers this class. Maybe a there is one available to you. There are also books to help you develop your own patterns from your own clothing without taking it apart.

    I have always loved sewing. I am enjoying your enthusiasm for this noble and worthwhile skill!

    Music, Art, and Home Ec.

  2. Thank you. I am actually rather pleased with the dress, considering how I made it. I love too, as you make your own clothes, that you are more in control. For example, it is a little detail but one that I love, in that I chose to have the patter go one way on the bodice and the other in the skirt of the dress. Then, adding vintage buttons etc will make it more my own as well. It is a fine thing to walk about in clothes made and designed by you, serve meals created (and sometimes dreamed up) by you in a home you have decorated and care for. What a powerful thing it is to be a homemaker. How funny, then, that we later generations have been duped into believing how oppresing 'being at home' is, when it is, in fact, the exact opposite. You are queen of your castle!

  3. Very interesting and entertaining post. Like the dress as well.

  4. Your homemade dress is absolutely fabulous. It is too bad that once ready made clothing became more affordable and available, that a real social class divide occurred. The 1950s were hardly over, when a homemade dress was viewed as something that only the low/lower classes engaged wore, and anyone who wanted to pretend to be anyone, would scrimp to buy a dress from a store. Why is it, in our society, that homemade things are perceived as cheap and low class, with a "you can't afford to buy it?" attitude. Kudos to those who make and do the old-fashioned things with pride without care for perceptions and social standing.

  5. anon-so true especially since now 'store bought' if often 5 dollar shirts at old navy or target or walmart that are ill made of cheap fabric sewn by underpaid children. Yet, a homemade dress can be constructed with high quality materials, decorated and designed by yourself. An original handmade high quality garment today would be worth literally thousands, as to have such designer originals would be almost impossible for the middle class except to overspend on a name. I hope, with our little revolution, we can bring back to the classes the idea that intelligence, skill, behavior and responsibility are far more imporatant that who made what you wear, especially since often the 'who' who made it was an underpaid 5 year old in China or India.SO, let's hear it for homemade! Also for one to be truly 'classy' one should live as best as one can in the means available to them but with dignity, responsibility to themselves and others, and without 'affect' rather you are the chimney sweep or the Queen of England.

  6. Brava!!!! I am suitably inspired to try a couple of my own ideas now. I have a dress that I LOVE the skirt, but it is too high waisted on my and I don't care for the top. I was thinking of seperating them and either sewing a different to to the skirt or just adding a waistband to it. Haven't decided. I also have a large amount of fabric I bought for a different project. I think it will be repurpsed to a new dress for me.

    So what if it doesn't turn out. That is part of the fun. I blow it, I can turn the fabric into aprons, haha.

  7. Lori-Yes, Aprons, scarves, or a quilt!

  8. I love your dress! It turned out very nice!

  9. You are so clever. What a great job. The lower waist looks really good on you and the white trim is very effective. The contrast is so pretty. 'Home-made Rules'. Linda

  10. 50s Gal, you are sooo creative! I've been sewing for about 30 years and I think your dress is very cute and you are very creative!


  11. It looks wonderful! It's amazing to think you got such results without a pattern. Wonderful!

  12. You have done a wonderful job. The color is flattering and the shape suits you well. There is a co. that has a pattern kit that you can easily scale shapes to any style dress etc. you wish to your perfect pattern size. It is the lutterloh system. I own this and it has been a world of fun. Worth every penny as I have had it for many many years and will contimue to use it. Check it out on

  13. Just beautiful. I enjoyed your step by step details. Thanks.

  14. Very cool outfits 50's Gal, I remember my mom saying that her grandma who was a seamstress would just be able to look at a person without measuring them and make them an outfit. She would do this regularly for her children in the Great Depression, as a result her children were the best dressed in the neighbourhood despite the fact that they were poor (her wealthy customers would give her outgrown, outdated clothes and she would transform them into clothing for her kids).

    My mom was sleeping over at her house one day around 1950, and my mom wanted a new dress to wear to Church, so my great Grandmother took some old material and made her a dress in less than an hour, she also made her a darling (real)fur muff as a child for Christmas, which I wore as a young girl in the late seventies, I think my mom still has it actually.

    Your talented girl, unfortunately I consider myself sewing deprived, the gene was never passed onto me :)

    Mom in Canada

  15. Oh, the lovely Audrey Hepburn. Very smart idea to use your own clothes as a pattern guide.

  16. What lovely fabric! I never learned to sew either and often regret it; you're an inspiration. :)

  17. Oooo, 50sgal, you have inspired me! I have always wanted to better my sewing, as I haven’t sewn in years, and am just a beginner really. As patterns scare me somewhat (I learn much better by being shown), I am always a bit intimidated.

    The unique way in which you put this dress together made it so much easier for me to comprehend and makes it look like a doable task. I don’t have a time slot in my schedule for sewing currently—working on some other goals—but would really like to work it in.

    Thank you!

    Oh, I would like to see the neck if you ever take a close up.

    P.P.S. I just love coming here! It always tops my day off in such a lovely way. Thank you again for all that you do.

  18. Zebu-thank you so much, it feels good to hear that today. Afte 3 days of computer trouble (this week a friend of ours who works in computers and knows so much-even more than hubby-has promised to help) I feel as if I am getting behind or letting people down, as I have only been on long enough to do a few things as I cannot stay online and my computer will freeze and I am antsy to get to the site.
    I was thinking, as I was making the dress, how I, someone with almost no skill in sewing, was able to make this pattern. I am going to change my 'yearly sewing challenge' to be that one dress/outfit a month must be 'made up by me'. Then, I will have easy tutorials for the website sewing section for anyone who wants to try it but has been scared. Sure, there really skilled sewers who learned at mother's knee may giggle at my 'silly ways', but if it could help and get those who did not and can not have the benefit of learning form someone, some hope that, 'yes, they can do it'!I was surprised how when I really thought about it and broke it down into it's component parts, that such dresses could easily be copied. Of course, troussers, that'd be another story! But, another reason to wear more skirts and dresses!
    My hubby just told me that the TESCO chain in UK now has a 'no pajamas' rule. I think that is great and also amazing that it is SO bad the STORE has to set a dress code!

  19. Ha Ha--That is so funny on that rule. I've never heard of that. I think it's a fine idea. I know how frustrating computers can be, and I hope that yours is soon mended.

    I like the idea of continued sewing tutorials by you.

  20. Dear Friend,

    I applaud you! For someone who has had no formal training in sewing, you did a wonderful job!

    I have Singer sewing book that may be of help to you in future endeavors. I'll look it over and if it is not exclusively for Singer sewing machines, will ship it off to you very soon.

    If this is not agreeable, you may reach me at my email address.

    I also had a basic shirtwaist dress pattern that I made several times. It flattered me and I recieved compliments. I only wish I enjoyed that kind of sewing more. These days, I'm piecing quilts. They are a bit more forgiving.

    But you have inspired me to perhaps check out a skirt pattern or two. Shorts and capris are not as flattering to my shape anymore and shirts would be a nice option for summer wear.


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