Theatre de la Mode, Fashion Dolls: Survival of Haute Couture

Ann Williamson Design today blogged about the Maryhill Spring Tea — Maryhill is an art museum about 2 hours east of Portland OR, on the hills of the Columbia River. Among the various collections is one of note to anybody interested in fashion / haute couture: Theatre de la Mode — an amazing collection of 27″ wire frame dolls clothed in designer garments from just after World War II. Paris was still the centre of fashion but without the supplies to do runway shows, the designers, in conjunction with other artists and designers, created this amazing display to showcase their collections.

Evening wear:

Day Clothes:

And accessories (these shoes are to scale: ~ 2.5″ in length) constructed with amazing accuracy

If you’re ever in the Portland area, it’s worth the side trip to see this collection!

Estate Sale Fabrics

These are the fabrics I purchased at the estate sale – I haven’t actually counted how many pieces are in the pile but there are quite a few and they’re a good size – certainly enough to get 8″ quilt blocks out of, or pieces for building other kinds of projects like hand bags, maybe even a jacket – who knows…


I also have another piece (approx. a yard and a half) covered with sashiko designs – which will make something interesting.


Trip Home

I took the early shuttle to the Portland Airport. Once through security what should I see but a display of Dana Pinkham’s hats!20130624-110913.jpg
She has a couple on display hung at different heights with a mirror behind so you can “try them on”. I did that, but didn’t take a photo.
The trip was uneventful – Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax – arriving at 2:00 am. I knew it would be hard getting a cab at that hour so I arranged with the driver who took me to the airport to pick me up; even sent an email early on Saturday! No Show, however. I was one of the last two at the airport to get a cab after having to wait for more than an hour. Got home at 3:30 – wide awake. So I unpacked, watched a TV program I’d taped while away before finally falling asleep at around 6:00 am. It’s going to be a slow day today.

Last Day In Portland

Today is the last day of the Portland Sewing Trip. The morning began with a useful session with Marla (who did the pattern fitting session Tuesday) – she offered lots of useful tips for modifying patterns and fine finishing techniques:
Afterward, we returned to the estate sale – the deceased, who passed away two years ago, was a quilter. She collected about a ton and a half of fabric all carefully sorted and stored in plastic bins. There was some amazing stuff there. I came away with three pounds of manufacturer sample sized Japanese fabrics for the grand price of $4 / pound:
Next a lovely lunch at a seafood restaurant, then a trek to Fabric Depot. Oh wow! Huge. Wonderful quilting fabric selection, lots of very nice garment fabrics. Too much to choose from when I’m limited by what I can pack. I ended up with two half-yard pieces from the “outdoor warehouse” to complement the Japanese fabrics – for $2.50!

To end the afternoon, Marla and I returned to Mill Ends to see if the piece of silk I had walked away from on Wednesday was still there – it was – I guess it had my name on it.

Dinner at Salties on the Oregon bank of the Columbia River, then home to pack.

It’s been a great week – the shopping, the classes, the designers, the sightseeing – I enjoyed it all.

Home tomorrow and back to my normal retired life.

Designers’ Studios +

We began the day with a visit to an estate sale where the woman had been a collector of fabrics and sewing supplies – turned out to be the wrong day – not until tomorrow! The house did have an interesting feature though: an espalier of some kind of evergreen along the roof edge – I’ve never seen anything like it:20130621-183910.jpg
After a stop for coffee we made our way to Ann Williamson’s design studio. Her silk jackets are exquisite:20130621-184134.jpg
The detail is very fine, her choice of fabrics amazing. Since 2003 she’s been using mainly kimono silk, from kimonos she’s taken apart as well as new kimono silk from Japan. She has a large stash of 14″ bolts of kimono silk:20130621-184515.jpg
We spent more than an hour with her, talking about technique, and seeing samples of her work.

Next stop – Josephine’s Fabrics. She specializes in “fine” fabrics – and although the selection isn’t large I came away with a Liberty cotton print for a shirt as well as some lovely reversible grey and off-white woolen fabric which I can see making into a pieced reversible jacket of some kind.

Then lunch at the Portland lunch carts: 20130621-185254.jpg
There’s a big choice of food, and after you’ve purchased what you want to eat there’s a small square nearby where you can sit and eat:20130621-185454.jpg

Our next stop was the Button Emporium. I was too busy looking for buttons to go with the purple fabric I bought Wednesday to remember to take photos of the wall of buttons! I also picked up three bits of lace and entredeux for heirloom sewing (not much of a selection in Halifax).

Around the corner we visited a designers’ consignment shop – lots of interesting ideas there.

One last stop at another small fabric outlet where I thought I might find more swimsuit fabric but they had little in the way of interesting lycra prints.

Finally back to the hotel, something to eat, and now for a quiet evening.

Tourist II

Thursday started early – breakfast before 7:30 to be ready to board the van (there were now eight of us) at 8:00 am for an hour and a half drive to Washougal WA to tour the Pendleton Woolen Mill. A brief bit of shopping the the Mill store (lots of discounted ready made clothing) before entering the Mill itself. NO pictures allowed we were told. So I have none of the massive bales of raw, undyed, uncarded wool or of the huge carding machines or looms. We started where they dye the entire bale, moved on to the carding machines where differently dyed wools are blended during carding to create roving. Next are the machines that check the quality of the roving and spin it. Then on to the looms which weave the blanket fabric. We also walked past the yarn dying vats, and later the whole cloth dying process.

The Mill produces many different kinds of wool cloth which is sold all over the world. A lot of it is shipped abroad to be made into garments to be sold back in the US under the Pendleton label (made in China of US materials, for example). I didn’t buy any of the ready made clothing – I saw a sweater I liked but it wasn’t available in my size. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through the Mill.

Next stop, the Maryhill Museum of Art, another hour away beyond “The Dalles” – the change in the landscape was striking – from lush green mixed forest on steep cliffs and slopes to golden brown rolling hills. This is vineyard and orchard country in eastern Washington State.

The Maryhill building was built from 1914 – 1926 overlooking the Columbia River by Sam Hill (you know – “What in the Sam Hill…?”) as a residence, but he and his family never lived there. It opened as an art museum in 1940. An addition in a very different architectural style was completed 2012.

We came to see the “Theatre de la Mode” mannequins – a large collection of 24″ wire frame “dolls” wearing French designer outfits created in 1945 as a way of advertising the couturier collections in Paris because high end clothing fabrics and other sewing supplies were in short supply. The mannequins and their outfits are amazing!
The detail, right down to the miniature shoes and handbags, hats, jewellery has to be seen to be believed.

Following the art museum, we stopped briefly at Hill’s reconstruction of Stonehenge:

Our last stop of the day was at Multnomah Falls – the water drops 620′ from the top of the ridge to the river in two stages – ending in a pool that drains into a rather nondescript small river (the name of which I don’t remember).
There are trails to the top of the falls – you can imagine how steep the climb must be. It was drizzling so we walked only as far as the bottom pool.

Another very enjoyable day.

Fabric Shopping, Portland Opera

Today the group went fabric shopping. Visited a couple of fabric warehouses. The first, Mill Ends Store, is a huge barn of a place which sells, you guessed it, mill ends! The selection was overwhelming. I was so busy looking at fabric I forgot to take any photos! I managed to find two different fabrics for swimsuits, some batik for the back of quilts and a bit of print silk chiffon for a scarf. I stopped looking at that point.

Our second stop was the Pendleton Outlet store which sells cuts of discontinued woolen and cotton fabrics made in the Pendleton Mill here in Oregon. I ended up with some lovely plaid for a cotton shirt, and two yards of a light weight purple wool for a jacket. Again, I forgot about photos!

After a tasty lunch at a small restaurant we headed to the Costume Department of the Portland Opera. I did remember to take some photos here!

The costumes are amazingly well made and very expensive to “build”.
This costume made from upholstery fabrics and trims was for Falstaff in a recent production, who was a large man to begin with and the costume designer wanted to make him much larger.

This wedding dress was exquisite, but it was only carried onto the stage by the maid servant – not worn, nevertheless it was completed as a wearable garment.

A half yard of silver fabric (made of real silver thread) which will be used to trim the jacket cuffs of a suit in the upcoming opera “Salome” – the cost – a mere $350/yard!

We ended the day with Marsha showing us actual travel garments made using her Safe-T-Pockets line of patterns – these travel wardrobe pieces all have many concealed pockets – the point being to travel without a handbag.

It was an enjoyable day.

Pattern Fitting

The greatest challenge for the garment sewer is a garment pattern that fits! The truth is that very rarely will a pattern actually properly fit the wearer – that’s why so many people give up making clothing.

Pants! For more than a decade I have been on the hunt for the perfect pants pattern. I’ve tried lots of things. I’ve come close but my pants pattern still needed tweaking. Today we did a paper pattern fitting, starting with taking body measurements, cutting out the pattern pieces, pinning them together, then trying on the pinned tissue so darts can be added or taken out or moved, seam positions shifted, etc. My pants pattern fits fine from the hips down; today Marla showed me how adding half an inch to the center back (leaving the front as it is) will allow me to sit and bend without having my shirt pull out. I made that adjustment to my pattern – At home I have fabric for five new pair of pants. I’ll get to them as soon as I return.
I had also brought the pattern for the winter jacket I had intended to make last winter; I just never got around to it. I was planning on making a size M, but after fitting the tissue it was obvious a size S was a better fit. So that jacket is back on my To Do list.
All in all a productive day!