McCall’s 4494: Claire McCardell Play Set

And here, as promised is the end result of my latest vintage sewing project.   The pattern dates to 1958, the last year of McCardell’s life.  It looks like a playsuit, but this is actually two pieces – shorts and halter.

In approaching this project, I wanted to make the pieces as close to actual McCardell garments as possible.  I started by rereading Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism by Kohle Yohannan and Nancy Nolf.  Then I went on a web search for images of garments that would be similar to the pieces I’d be making.  McCardell is very well represented in many museum collections, and thanks to the idea of the on-line gallery, I was able to locate not only two play sets that are similar to mine, but I was also able to closely study the details on these sets and other McCardell garments.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art site turned out to be the most useful, due to multiple photographs of garments of interest.  I first found a halter and skirt that looked interesting:

copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I went to the Met site, I was pleased to find that this set also included a top and pleated shorts.  It dates to 1944, and was donated to the Met’s Costume Institute by McCardell in 1949.

Those lucky people at the Met have another set, this one with a one-piece playsuit and matching jacket and skirt.  It dates to 1943.

copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art

I wrote about how McCardell kept using ideas that worked, and these two designs along with my pattern is a great example of that design philosophy.  The structure of the shorts is basically the same in my pattern as what she used fifteen years prior, as is the shape of my halter and the 1943 design.

So what were the McCardellisms that I used in making these pieces?  First was my choice of fabric.  I wanted to use a cotton with some texture so that the bias cut would be obvious.  I also wanted to use a dark solid which would contrast nicely with the top-stitching.

In both of the play sets I found McCardell used white buttons.  I decided to go with another typical McCardell design feature, that of using metal buttons.  She loved the look of brass and often used brass hooks and buttons.

I liked the way the buttons were sewn on in a cross, and so I used that to attach my buttons as well. The red is the lining of the halter.  I like the way the red barely peeps out at the edges.

I took this photo before I finished the waist closing, but I changed the pattern which had a square button tab, to the arrow shaped one.  Yes, I did copy that feature from the two skirts and the shorts in the Met collection.

Sorry about the lack of a live model, but I’ll try to get some shots of me wearing it next month when we are at the beach.

As a side note:  I finally have found a constructive use for Pinterest.  That site was just as good at providing photos of McCardell garments as Google images, and there weren’t any random photos of this, that and the other thing.



Filed under Sewing

19 responses to “McCall’s 4494: Claire McCardell Play Set

  1. It looks fantastic! Beautiful top-stitching and I love all the details! Thanks for sharing such wonderful photos!

    I’ve actually been going through and digitizing my vintage pattern collection this week – and now I really want to sew some of the patterns I had forgotten about. =)


  2. Pingback: McCall’s 4494: Claire McCardell Play Set

  3. What a gorgeous play set! I love how you kept details like the buttons so close to McCardell’s original designs.


  4. Honestly speaking, if this is available on any of the retail stores, I will be one of the first to grab it.

    Amazing detail work, loving the way you sew the buttons on especially. It also provides a very denim-like feel.


  5. This is totally adorable, and as you said in your posts, the pieces are timeless and look as chic today as they did in her original inceptions years ago. Bravo for a lovely job constructing the pieces and for sharing all your research and tips. LOVE IT!


  6. Oh, fabulous, Lizzie! I just love this–the fabric, the buttons, the red lining. What a great project and result! And that’s interesting about Pinterest photos; I’ll have to remember that.


  7. Maybe I ought to go into business.Just kidding, though I really appreciate all the nice comments.

    I need to add, especially for those of you who sew, that the directions for this pattern were some of the best I’ve ever encountered. I’ve often wondered if the pattern writers take into consideration the techniques of the designer, especially in the Vogue Couturier patterns. I rather doubt it, but the simplicity of this pattern made it a joy to sew.


    • I’ve found that vintage patterns usually have the simplest and best instructions. I wonder if it’s because they were written in English (since most of the patterns were definitely printed in the USA back then) – it seems like the modern patterns have been translated into English at times.

      It might also be due to the fact that back then most women understood more of the sewing basics and everything didn’t have to be over-explained.

      It’s interesting to think about anyway. =)


  8. FABULOUS! I absolutely love it!!! I have yet to get into pinterest….but it’s on my list! 🙂


  9. Lizzie, this playsuit is the best! I so appreciated seeing your research notes put into action – you have a done a superb job of “translation.” You will so enjoy wearing this!


  10. This turned out perfectly. I love every detail, especially the red lining and white top stitching. Claire is smiling now, I’m sure of it!


  11. ourdailydress

    Beautifully made. I can’t wait to see you wear it. Also, I just wanted to say I love reading your blog. I always feel like I learn so much.


  12. The shorts are lovely and look crazy comfortable. I’ve never sewn anything pants-like but I am tempted to give it a try now… 🙂


  13. Pingback: Designer Sewing Patterns | The Vintage Traveler

  14. sarah brown

    Hello — I’ve been searching low and high for a McCardell play suit pattern…where did you get this pattern? You did a great job!!


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