Anne Klein Design

“Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

This is a very famous fashion quote which is attributed to the American designer Anne Klein.  Coming from someone whose talent and livelihood revolved around creating fashion that has influenced women around the world, this is a beautiful, powerful, and impressively truthful statement.  It celebrates the women that bring to life clothes, which carry no personality on their own until they are enlivened by the charisma coming from inside the body.  Just as her clothing is timeless and visionary, so also her quote is still so very touchingly appropriate today.

All of this I have mentioned – and inspired by the Anne Klein trends at the recent New York fashion week – are reasons why I am ecstatic to present something I made using a vintage Anne Klein designer Vogue pattern.  Unfortunately, my sewing project is not one of her famous separates but more a symbol of the year 1987 date on the design – a one-piece jumpsuit.  Vogue American designer patterns seemed to offer many chic and on-point jumpsuit styles in the mid-to-late 80’s, and this one seems to be a common-to-find release by the number to be found for sale over the internet.  It is a very Anne Klein version – classic yet a product of its times, tailored yet simple, and complimentary yet comfortable.  I absolutely LOVE having this piece in my closet!  Also – it has pockets!!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight rayon/cotton/spandex printed knit. It is about 1/8” thick, printed in the black and blue plaid one the right side while plain white on the wrong (inside) side, and a tightly stable weave.  It has a wonderfully soft feel and supple ‘hand’ that reminds me of a cross between a scuba knit and a brushed flannel.  I did use some leftover black poly scuba knit remnants for the neckline facing.

PATTERN:  Vogue American Designer pattern #1871, year 1987

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, some strips of interfacing, and a long 22” zipper (which is of the vintage metal variety)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 6 hours, and was finished on July 6, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  This knit does not unravel so I left the edges raw

TOTAL COST:  The plaid printed knit was from JoAnn, and was about $40 something for 3 yards.  The scuba knit scraps for the facing as well as the zipper were all on hand so are as good as free. 

There is so much that can be said about the life of Anne Klein and the way she impacted history, but I will only give you an overview.  “Anne Klein designed classic casuals with every woman in mind.  She was a visionary designer who originated the concept of a fully coordinated closet, providing a uniquely American point of view to the global fashion industry. Her trademark separates became the hallmark of a purposeful and stylish wardrobe – one that has informed trends for decades” (from anneklein.com).  “Recognized as one of the groundbreaking designers to put American fashion on the map, Anne Klein wasn’t just a designer, she was a champion of authentic style and empowered the way women dressed. 50 years later, her legacy continues to influence contemporary elegance and inspire the modern woman.” (from the Harpers Bazaar article “Anne Klein: The Legendary Designer Who Changed The Way American Women Dressed“)

Anne Klein was born August 3, 1923, in Brooklyn, New York, as Hannah Golofski

It was while studying art at Girls’ Commercial High School (now known as Prospect Heights High School) that Anne discovered her talent for design. Within a year’s time, she was employed at her first job in the garment industry with Varden Petites. There, she worked to redesign the firm’s collection and introduced a new style of ready-to-wear clothing for young, smaller figured women that would come to be known as “Junior Miss”

She spent the early part of her career creating petite-size clothing, elevating the category from girly frocks with Peter Pan collars into sophisticated sportswear.  This was in 1937 when she was awarded a scholarship to attend the Traphagen School of Fashion, which led to her first job as a sketcher for dress firms on 7th Avenue.

Anne Klein in her studio, 1950s

In 1940, Anne Klein began making a name for herself as a designer. She first began designing for Maurice Rentner at his business, Maurice Rentner, Inc., which produced ready-to-wear designs for men and women.

In 1944, Anne Klein joined with the two great women of fashion, Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell, to form a female design trio who laid the foundations of American sportswear.

In 1948 she married clothing manufacturer Ben Klein and they launched the “Junior Sophisticates” label. “Junior Sophisticates” offered elegant styles to younger women with smaller figures.  Anne Klein was the principal designer at Junior Sophisticates until 1960.

In 1964 she was awarded the Lord & Taylor Rose Award for independent thinking, an award first given to Albert Einstein.

In 1967, she patented a girdle specifically designed for wearing with the miniskirt.

She co-founded Anne Klein & Company in 1968 with Gunther Oppenheim, with a focus on separates, not suits – an innovation at the time – and within ten years her designs were being sold in over 750 department stores and boutiques in the USA.

In the 1960s and 70s, Anne Klein set the standard for professional, grown-up style. The company didn’t just dress women for the workforce. It epitomized their independence, confidence and multifaceted lives.

It was during this time (late 60’s and 70’s) of ready-to-wear fashion, “modern” designs for women, and an increase in the number of women in the workplace that Klein was one of the first to introduce, and to become known for, “separates”: individual pieces which work together as a whole, as opposed to dresses.

March 19, 1974, Anne Klein died of breast cancer at the age of 50.

After Anne Klein died in 1974, Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio took over the design direction of the company. Donna Karan, who had been Klein’s assistant, preserved the company’s aesthetic voice for a decade. But in 1984, Karan set out on her own.  Today, it is still an American company (privately held as of July 2019).

(Above information from this wikipedia article as well as this “Saving Anne Klein” article from the South China Morning Post.)

Now, after reading this timeline, it becomes obvious that this jumpsuit pattern I have sewn from comes after the death of the real Anne Klein, and also after the direction of her successor Donna Karen (who kept the company quite true to brand).  However much the designer line has lost its direction in the decades after Klein’s death, luckily, this pattern seems to be very much in a matching idealism of her namesake.  How often can a design from the decade of the 80’s be a classic wardrobe staple?  How often can an 80’s garment not be identifiably dated?  Since when does something from the 80’s not include an outrageous style, bold colors, and memories you’d rather not relive?  When it is done by Anne Klein design.

I think the saving grace here is two-fold – the tapered leg pants and the softened shoulder line.  The pattern recommended adding rounded shoulder pads inside, but I haven’t so far…I might come back and add them in for a change in the future.  The only thing I found is that the booty and the back shoulders were only generous in room, but some of that may be because of the supple knit.  The deep 4 inch hems to the sleeves and pants were handy at shaping and weighing down the jumpsuit at strategic places, and I stitched them down by hand for a nicely invisible finish.

For being a designer style, this jumpsuit was incredibly easy to make.  Of course, that is partially due to the fact I greatly simplified the construction by eliminating a full body lining.  When working with such a soft yet stable knit as I was using, I wanted to take advantage of feeling the luxuriousness of the rayon material and not over complicate it by adding the lining.  If I had been using a suiting material or some sort of wool blend, then yes – I would have totally lined the jumpsuit.  Even with a full body lining, sewing it would have been relatively easy because there are just a handful of pattern pieces, a few darts, a few pleats, some smartly strategic seam matching, and voila!  That is all!  I found the sizing to be spot on and I didn’t have to do any fitting tweaks so that also saved on time.

Eliminating the button back bodice placket in lieu of an exposed zipper back made me sad (I liked the look of it) yet it also saved this project in many ways.  I avoided the extra stress of figuring out a way to support several large buttonholes in this supple knit.  Sure, interfacing will always help stabilize such a spot.  Yet, the knit I was using didn’t seem to take well to small detailed stitching, so I was glad both that this was a simple design overall and that I found another way to close it besides buttoning.  Using the zipper helped keep the surrounding knit in the proper shape, which is important since for a jumpsuit the center back seam receives the most stress due to movement necessary upon wearing.  Besides, a back zipper is so much easier to handle when it comes to having to take bathroom breaks than the complicated possibility of both a zipper up the waistline and several button closings behind ones back.  That sounds so fiddly to accomplish on one’s self but looks great in the line drawing!  I guess that is the flair of designer fashion…to be a bit superfluous for the sake of visual aesthetic.

I suppose I might have downgraded the design by merely adding a zipper down the back but it is a really good one, though – true vintage, with metal teeth, a self-locking pull tab, and a blue cotton twill tape base.  I am guessing it could be as old as the 1940s.  Finding one in the wilds of a rummage sale at this 22” length is not that common, thus it has been a true gem in my notions stash that I have been so reluctant to use.  What good was it going to do me saving it when that zipper was just what this jumpsuit needed, and was going to give it a really great way to have a moment to be worthwhile?  Vintage zippers – even with their metal teeth – are much more pliable and bendable than any modern metal zipper.  This old notion was going to be much more comfy to wear and flow much better with the rest of the jumpsuit than any modern one could.  Sometimes you just have to take a breath and go use the good stuff for those really good sewing ideas.  When the right project come along, splurging on the good vintage notions usually ends up being worth it for me.

The only major change I made to the pattern design was the relatively small step of eliminating the sewn in belt-style waistband.  I am on the shorter side, not quite petite technically, and so getting rid of the extra few inches that the belt would have had gave me the perfect proportions.  Also, I did not want to define the jumpsuit with a contrast color for the belt waistband piece, nor did I want to complicate it with more of the plaid.  I prefer to add in whatever color and interest I feel like for the day through my choice of belt, shoes, necklace, and earrings.  I sometimes like this with beige tones, sometimes black and silver, but here I paired it with brown leather and gold (all vintage belt and earrings, by the way, and Charlie Stone brand flats).  I would not have had this versatility with an attached belt piece, but most importantly, I would not have had the proper fit.  I know I could have just taken some inches out of the body of the dress at the pattern stage, but this little change up was easy and catered to my taste all in one step.  This might be a designer style, but if I’m the one sewing it, I am going to personalize it, for sure!

For these times in which casual (aka. lounge attire) seems to be the 2020 work wear, fancy wear, and everything in between, chic sportswear is just the thing we need for today.  This jumpsuit is as comfy as wearing pajamas, but much more stylish.  No matter if I haven’t a reason, I refuse to forget the joy of dressing up, the delighting in fashion, and the creativity behind sewing.   I need all of this and daresay so many others do, too, no matter what the circumstances of the day.  This knit jumpsuit is as close as I have yet come to spending my day in yoga pants and oversized tee.  This is my kind of parallel.  I am so glad I could find out more about the great designer Anne Klein along the way to finding my interpretation.  Women of today need clothes that are as empowering, adaptable, multi-faceted, and 100% as capable as we are.  Sweatpants do not do any of that for me.  This jumpsuit is one of the many me-made pieces in my wardrobe that can, though.  Please, find yourself that perfect garment that can help you can the world – big or small…every little bit counts.  Remember – “Clothes won’t change the world. The women who wear them will.”

A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

There’s been a lot of overly basic sewing going through my machine over the past months – and I’m talking about more than just masks.  The couple that wears handmade clothing stays together…did I get that right?!  Thus, I might as well spice that necessary stuff up a bit to make my practical sewing more interesting.

Not content with once around, the leftovers of one recent refashion plus some lace remnants were enough to eke out a special little sewing for my intimate wearing!  Then, some one yard novelty fabric remnants went towards making some quirky new boxers for my hubby.  Sorry if this is quite “too much personal information” to share, but I am proud of all the sewing I do and this stuff would never be seen otherwise if I didn’t post about it!  (That might be a good thing…anyway.)  I do think these look nice enough to share, especially my pretty bra, and yes – they are brand spanking new at this point.  It’s so hard to show how wonderful these items are without modeling them, but we’ll spare you that!  You’ll just have to believe our words and settle for my beginner’s ability to pull off an interesting flat-lay.  I paired the items with something that recalls the era of the pattern date.  You can see a peek of my silk true vintage 1930s pink bias slip as the backdrop for my bra, while hubby’s favorite vintage 60’s skinny tie and his monthly magazine subscription are the accessories paired for his boxers.

I think it is important to post about making underwear and lingerie so as to show others that it is much easier to make your own basic necessities than you might think.   These items are 100% more comfortable on us and much better fitting than any store-bought RTW items.  No wonder – they were tailored along the way to fit each of us, besides being incredibly personalized with the materials chosen, turning into an everyday treat to wear.  Also, everyone can see how pricey it is to buy quality, name-brand underwear and lingerie.  With remnants and under a yard of material, you can sew yourself something better than RTW at a very low or even free (if using scraps on hand) cost.  It’s a win all around.  Especially when these are such easy-to-make patterns, and vintage designs to boot!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  except for the little bit of lace on my bra, every item shared here is in comfy cotton – each one is just a different variety and weight of cotton (I’ll explain in further down in the rest of the post)

PATTERNS:  the brassiere – Simplicity #8510, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1937 sewing pattern (originally Simplicity #2288); the men’s boxers – Simplicity #5039, year 1963, from my personal pattern collection

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Luckily, I had the specialty bra making supplies already as part of a $1 grab bag of notions I bought a while back at a rummage sale.  Besides that, everything else I needed was basic – thread and elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The brassiere was made –from start to finish – in 3 hours and was made in the afternoon of July 27, 2020.  His boxers were made here and there over the past few months and only took 1 ½ hours each to make.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of the bra are cleanly hidden, encased between the layers, while hubby’s boxers are zig-zag stitched finished along the edge.

TOTAL COST:  Each boxer cost about $2 to $4 (what a deal) while the bra materials are as good as free, being mostly leftovers from something 15 plus years ago.

So – where to start?  At first, the motivation for such sewing was both pure necessity as well as an inability to shop for such things in person (as we prefer).  But you know, what?  Somewhere along the line such basic sewing became more enjoyable.  We normally make sure to save my time and buy such items, yet the amount of 1 yard or less cuts that I have on hand are so plentiful and the perfect resource.  Besides, they both were quick projects that required barely an hour and so were practically perfect for the small segments of time I have for sewing recently!  It is nice to have a fast turnout item in between more complex projects, like the over the top dresses that my pandemic brain has been needing as of late (more on that soon).  It’s wonderful to have a completely handmade wardrobe inside as well as out, and it is also really special to be able to share that feeling.  I suppose doing such would be weird to share with anyone else but a partner, anyway!

I will start off with my selfish sewing.  The 90’s plaid skirt I refashioned to become this 1940s blouse had a basic cotton lining underskirt to it which was left behind.  It was a very small amount, about a half yard wide by about 25 inches long, but in simple A-line shape with only the two side seams so it was as good as a folded fabric remnant.  While it was out and not stashed away yet, why leave that good fabric neglected without a productive idea to match with it?  That would not be me!  So I reached for something that would need very little fabric, be different to make, and be something I could use at a practical level.  The basic ivory color and semi-sheer thickness dictated using the leftover lining cotton for some garment that was not to be seen.

This vintage year 1937 lingerie set has been a pattern I have been itching to try ever since I picked it up when it came out and so it was the natural choice.  Even though I was only able to use the skirt lining for a half set – just the bra (and the leftover fabric went towards two face masks) – this refashion was an immense success that makes me excited to pick up the pattern again and make a full set in a fashion fabric.  This is a very lovely surprise project, and a totally wearable muslin test.

As the lining cotton was a plain ivory and almost sheer (even with two layers), I realized mere dyeing to change the color would not add both a special touch and a bit of decency to this bra the same way layering it with some leftover lace did.  As the pattern is not complex and has very few seams I chose a posh French lace from on hand to layer over the outside.  Wow, does that lace addition really elevate this bra!

Yet, without realizing ahead of time, I found out it is a good thing that the lace was so delicate and the cotton was so soft and thin because it was quite hard to gather the middle seam of the bra down to the length the pattern intended.  As it was, I could not gather any tighter and that spot is still ½ inch longer than supposed to be.  If I had used a fabric any thicker this detail would have been even more difficult.  It is important to get this section as closely gathered as possible because it provides the bulk of the bra’s shaping, beside the small underbust darts.  The lesson learned (without having to recover from a failure) is to keep to lightweight, thin, and drapey for at least the brasserie half of this vintage reprint design.

Other than the challenge presented from the fabrics I was using, this pattern was a breeze to sew.  I found the size spot on and the instructions good.  The shaping of the bra is well done and the support is gives is just enough to do its job while still being comfortable to the point of feeling heavenly.  Of course you can see I upgraded to modern bra notions when it came to the notions used just so that this can be a vintage merge to get the best of both worlds.  There are times where I like to go all out vintage so I can both learn a new, different way of doings and also come from a historical perspective to try to understand how things used to be.  I did that already, however, for this earlier 1930’s lingerie set (posted here).  That aqua bra was finished the way the old vintage instructions dictated – with twill tape straps and such in the non-adjustable manner – and it needs constant tweaking to be brought back up fitting me as perfectly today as it did when I made it.  This time, I was determined today’s pretty little project was going to be more enjoyed than the last vintage lingerie, and what better way to do that than make it fully adjustable for my body and a touch more up-to-date?!

Next comes my unselfish sewing project!  This trio of boxers were very much mindless sewing I really didn’t have to think about how to construct.  They were pretty much the same as the 1940s pajama pants I had made him (posted here).  To save on interfacing for the front fly, I merely tripled up on fabric layers.  Interfacing and elastic still seems hard to come by, but luckily I had a pretty good stash of 1 inch wide elastic from my deceased Grandmother.  Thus, with the exception of the first pair of boxers I made for him – the animal print ones – which were two channels of ½ inch elastic, all the rest were a single piece of wide stretch waistband.  The instructions said to make two channels, but he seemed to find the dual channels of elastic would twist and line up wrongly as they get worn, so a single wide elastic waistband is always less fussy…and who wants fussy underwear?!

I gave myself a bit of a break when laying out the pattern for these boxers.  I laid the lower bottom edge out along the selvedge to save myself a bit of extra time to do hemming.  Also. I cut them opposite the grainline to save on fabric and better align with the directional prints on two of the boxers.  All of the pairs are cotton wovens that are not shifty and so going a bit against the rules of sewing and fabric isn’t a big deal, especially when you’re talking about mere underwear.  I normally never do such a thing so I was really in a special mood for such a disobedience to happen in my sewing projects.

Each pair is a different weight and kind of cotton.  As I said, I was not only using what was on hand but was experimenting to see what he would prefer.  The animal print ones as a tissue weight voile, the Captain America print is a medium weight quilting cotton, while the red print is something you might recognize, leftover Indian block print from making my sari ensemble choli blouse (posted here).  The Indian cotton was actually my part of a deal he made with me.  He encouraged me to not be feeling bad for placing a big fabric order from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy (yes, I honestly sometimes feel guilt for adding to my already generous sized stash of sewing supplies) as long as he gets a little something made for himself out of it.  I said I would use one of the fabrics to make him boxers, because I know how luxurious Indian cotton is, and underwear is the best way to appreciate good material.  It seems this is his favorite pair on account of the fabric – it is almost like a silk in the way it is very breathable, cooling, and weightless.

The voile is lightweight, yes – but not as silky the Indian cotton.  I know, he put up with me sewing him the animal pair, but I couldn’t help but think of Tarzan when I saw this one yard remnant.  Those were my crazy choice and my hubby has humored me.  The quilting cotton is a thick and tightly woven, as I’m sure many of you know (us vintage enthusiast always get tempted by its pretty prints for day dresses!), that has way too much sizing in it so it’s not the best choice for underwear.  Many washes will fix that eventually and break it in…and by then it might be looking almost worn out.  Ah, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with printed quilting cotton.  Yet, the Captain America print is so darn fun it has to be the winning boxer pair, though!  It is a print that is practically made for our family interests.  I actually ordered enough of this official Marvel brand fabric to make several face masks for each of us, with a yard still leftover to sew some pajama pants in the future for our little guy out of it as well.

The frequent wearing of loungewear along with finding ways to be self-dependent both are having a strong moment this year.  As we are all staying at home and outdoors more frequently, whether for work, play, or eating.  Crafting your own ‘unmentionables’ for your own personal comfort and enjoyment might just become as much of a thing as the “Nap dress” or food canning.  I love to be on trend using old trends.  Drive-in movie entertainment is coming back, so hey – anything is possible!

Handmade lingerie is really not as impossible a task as it might seem at first, and it is a fantastic way to use up small fabric scraps and bust that stash you’ve been holding onto, as well as be as sensible, sustainable, and thrifty as possible.  Besides, the holidays are coming and a handmade intimate garment would be an easy and cute little gift – just saying!  The world will never know how handmade your outfit really is when you make your own underwear…it’s merely a little undercover secret about your modern day superpower.

Bittersweet

This time of the year always makes me a bit melancholy.  There’s just something about the beauty of gradually realizing summer is fading into fall, and seeing the season gently usher in the upcoming cold I despise.  I am not one to have Halloween in my blood the minute September rolls around.  Instead, I like to let the fall season come in barely perceptible stages, as it does naturally, and enjoy its every transition.  The sun might be just as bright but there is a different smell in the air.  The cricket chirps are louder without the competition from tree frogs and cicadas.  The night settles in a bit earlier.  Fall’s entrance is indeed bittersweet in emotion, which is why I find it so ironic I love the shades of bittersweet, the plant, because it also is the time of the year I can appropriately wear the most gloriously rich earthen tones of that vine – browns, tawny shades, dusty green, a wine red, and hues of gold.  This little vintage number is early fall embodied in a dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer printed polyester crepe for the dress and some colored jute ‘ribbon’ with some leather cording scraps for the belt

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9295, reissued in 2018, labeled as a year 1940 design.  The original pattern was Vogue #8241, an “Easy to Make One-Piece Frock”, featured in Vogue Patterns booklet for March 15, 1939.  What is up with the confusion of the original date on the cover of the reprint?  My me-made belt was made with no pattern…just an idea in my head!

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing but the basics – thread, some skinny ¼ inch bias tape, and a small 14 inch side seam zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with all the fine finishing inside, this dress took me only 5 or 6 hours to complete and the belt was made in 30 minutes.  Both were finished in May of 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress is practically free as all my supplies came from a local sewing rummage sale where everything was $1 per pound of weight…so my frock may be a dollar at the most!  My belt was made from some sort of multi-colored jute ribbon I bought on clearance many years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  I bought 2 yards of it for about $5.  The leather cording is leftover from a hat I had on hand (free).  This is a $6 outfit!!!

This is quite an interesting dress, full of contradictions.  First of all, it is a very classic dress design for 1939, with a very basic general construction and silhouette yet very interesting, tricky-to-make little details.  It is a sweet and feminine dress and tries to be complimentary with no real body shaping profile to it at all.  It is certainly not your 50’s take on a ladylike style, nor even a 40’s ‘I’m-ready-for business’ style…this is softer and more delicate without being girlish.  Even though the drawing makes one think this pattern might be scaled for a very tall woman with long legs, the proportions seem to be the opposite.  Sewing my dress as-is straight from the tissue, no fitting adjustments, it turned out perfect for my almost petite height (5’3”) and my short (14 ½”) back-of-neck-to-waist ratio.  The envelope’s yardage chart recommends anywhere between 2 ½ yards to 3 yards depending on the fabric width, yet – believe it or not, but I am the queen of optimal pattern placement – I was able to eke this dress out of 1 ¾ yards, with no compromise on grainline.  What gives here?  Overall, this was a quick treat to whip together and is a new dress that I absolutely love to wear, so I will not complain…not a bit.  I’m just warning every reader not to read this dress by its cover.

The full skirt, puff sleeves, and the bloused-out bodice are the obvious, and well-known visual giveaways for its original date.  Yet, somehow, the way Vogue styled their model and sewed up their sample dress made it seem more like a 1980s garment.  Weird, right?  That is an unfortunate reference which I do believe has turned off a number of sewists from potentially picking up this pattern to try it out because anything blatantly 80’s seems to repulse many.  As I said above, do not judge this by how Vogue has marketed it.

The decade of the 80’s does not give me an immediate adverse reaction and neither do puff sleeves, and so I tried to focus instead on the line drawing and give the design a chance.  I’m so glad I gave it a go!  It does have a bloused-out bodice that is something not all women will have a taste for today, yet it is very authentic, if you look at how garments fit women in old photos from the 40’s.  This dress has good lines, but it just cannot make up its mind what decade it wants to be in, and is not as timeless as other vintage designs.

 I dare to say it has a “cottage core” or “Laura Ashley” aesthetic at heart, with everything I still love about the 30’s, 40’s, and 80’s, so I’m there for it!  It is as comfy as a glamorous nightgown, with no need to feel to have a certain body image, yet it is as pretty as a picture perfect picnic and as breezy as a romanticized run through a field of flowers.

The one major change I did do on this dress was to simplify the neckline.  The pattern calls for a short back neck zipper to be put into a slashed and faced opening, and then self-fabric bias facing to be sewn along the neckline and sleeve edges.  As my fabric was a delicate crepe, and sheer too, I disliked the idea of a bulky back neck zipper.  I tested out the opening space of the finished neckline and guess what – you really don’t need that closure!  The dress can easily pop over my head without it, thankfully, because I think the dress is much better lacking the back neckline zipper.  Then, I used vintage cotton solid brown pre-made bias tape in lieu of self-fabric facings.  I love the simplicity and bit of contrast that this little step added.  Granted, I still made sure to cut the pre-made vintage bias tape out according to the patterns measurements for the given facings, just so I knew I was still keeping to the correct neckline.  I love it when some of my sewing work is already done for me with pre-made supplies, yet by using such quality vintage notions, I’m not just taking it easy – only adding a singular touch and putting my stash to good use.

Such a subject brings me to unashamedly brag about the total splurge of my really good vintage supplies on a finish that no one but me will ever see in real life – old rayon hem tape.  This stuff is so wonderful, and if you’ve never tried it, please find yourself some, use it, and you’ll thank me.  The wide and full skirt of this dress needed a deep hem to hang properly and have the proper weight, yet doing so is normally a slightly tricky technique.  It requires the cut raw edge to be gathered softly in to fit.  A regular folded-under edge is harder to do with this kind of a hem and, even on a soft material like this crepe, can turn out bulky and noticeable.

To get the nicest hem that is also invisible when worn, soft rayon hem tape is an incomparable wonder which does the job perfectly.  One long edge is sewn onto the cut edge of the skirt and then the other edge of the hem tape is sewn down to the body of the skirt.  The fabric merely ‘hangs’ from the hem tape instead of being firmly sewn together to the body of the skirt.  A light steaming sets the hem and controls the gathers.  Being out of the silkiest rayon, it gathers in so nicely and its lovely variety of colors that can be found make for a cheerful little splash of added beauty.  I chose a sky blue pack from on hand, and it contained a 3 yard length which was just enough for the skirt width with an inch or two to spare.  I do get a little concerned every time I use one of these vintage rayon hem tape packs because I know they are a limited resource and are not made anymore.  When they are gone, they will not be coming back.  Yet, what good will such items do me stashed in my notions drawers when they can be used and both bring me joy on my handmade garments as well as teach me a better way to do a sewing technique?  I rest my case.

Keep in mind the tiny, 1/8 inch pintucks are oppositely directional. They fold towards the center for both the front and the sleeves.  This was quite a challenge to accomplish when also sewing the edges into the skinny bias tape along the edges, but a little hand stitching finished off what I could not do using my machine.  Since the neckline and sleeve pintucking is practically the only major detail to this dress, it is well worth the extra time it demands.  There were so many thread ends to tie off though!  I can imagine how wonderful the pintucks would look on this dress if it was made of a solid color fabric.  They do stand out on my version by difference in texture alone, but are a bit lost in the print overall sadly.  Who knew making so many tiny stitched pleats could make such a difference in shaping when you do about a dozen of them!?

I paired my dress with a simple handmade belt, too.  I had two yards on hand of this novelty ‘ribbon’ made out of different colored jute.  I figured it would brighten the dress up a bit to add in more color -the late 1930s frequently combined unexpected tones to great success, anyway.  So I cut the two yards into half (for two one yard portions) and sewed them together lengthwise using a zig-zag stitch to end up with double the width.  I instantly had one wide belt.  Next, bias tape was sewed over the two raw edges for a clean finish, and then the edges were turned under and stitched down to form a loop on either end for the leather lacing to go through.  My belt kind of has the same idea as the one that came with the pattern, but was more fun to construct because it was my own idea.  I somehow like the belt better when the lacing is at my back and not the front.

The rest of my accessories are mostly vintage originals.  My earrings are from my Grandmother, while my straw hat is a 1930s mint condition original and a lucky find, as well as my kidskin leather driving gloves.  My velvet vintage purse is the only item that is from the 1940s and not the decade before.  Since the dress is sheer, under it I wore this deep purple, full-skirted, opaque 1950’s slip that I sewed awhile back now.  The two-tone heels are reproduction Miz Mooz brand.  I highly recommend anything from this vintage inspired shoe company…it’s like walking on air, they’re so comfy, especially their heels, and crafted with high quality (I have several pairs from this brand now, he he).  Altogether jazzed up, I went for a visit to our neighborhood “five and dime” candy shop to sweeten the melancholy I get from early fall.

I realize that readers on the other side of the world from me are just now easing into spring.  That is the other season of transition, kind of like fall, but with much more of a cheerful flourish.  I understand – which is why a dress like this could also be very appropriately a spring dress, too!  A little multi-season sewing is the most bang for my time spent, and hopefully a good inspiration for my readers no matter where you live.  Have I convinced you to pick up this pattern and give that 2 yards of material which is floating in your stash a chance to shine with this pattern?  What are your favorite tones of the fall season?

Dyeing and Over-Dyeing…

Sometimes something simple can sound tragic when different words sound the same.  Don’t misread my post’s title.  I have now discovered the joys of colored fabric dye, that’s all.  Now, let me go back to cooking up my next re-coloring job because this is quite a lot of fun to do and very useful!  I am by no means an expert on fabric coloring, I’ll admit, but this is a short recounting of my experiences in dyeing which started with this 2020 pandemic.

Yes, I’ve had a few other posts already for “Alter It August” 2020, but here’s one more squeezed in at the last minute because I need all the excuses I can find to spruce up my wardrobe’s unloved items!  This is almost a dual project post because when talking about my new adventures in color dyeing is summed up in two examples.  I not only fully revamped an old RTW shirtdress of mine but also dyed one of my son’s extra school polo tee.  As he is doing remote learning from home, and he had a plethora of school uniform tops which still fit, we needed his wardrobe acquisitions to be a more fashionable color besides white for them to be useful for the “new normal”.  My shirtdress was something I liked enough in its details, fabric, and general design to keep on hand for the last 12 or so years, yet I never wore it on account of the very blasé color, ill fit, and lack of a little ‘something extra’ to make it special.  After I addressed the sewing part of my dress refashion, I took two completely different approaches to give a new color refresh to each item, and ended up with a shade of green in both cases.

It is important to note how both items became green because dyeing is generally an experiment even if you think you know how things should turn out.  Just because the bottle you’re using says a certain color is inside doesn’t necessarily mean that is what you will end up with.  Every little factor in the dyeing process – from the fiber content, to the way you stir, to the continuous temperature of the water – seems to affect how your item will turn out.  It is fun, but always a happy gamble, I find.  When I am up for a dye job, I have the mindset of being happy with whatever the result is.  That’s when things are pretty desperate for the item to be dyed, and I am fed up past the point of tolerance for the way the original item looks.  It’s a dye job or it’s out the door!  Luckily, these two items for both me and my son were saved and now we can color coordinate our dressing, he he!

THE FACTS: Let’s lay this post out a little differently than the norm on my blog. 

FABRIC – Instead of ‘fabric’ (as this is a refashion project), I started with a store-bought, button-front, RTW “Land’s End” brand dress my mom picked up for me on clearance about 12 or 15 years ago.  It was cute enough, and I was appreciative, but the bland and dirty grey color of the shirtdress really made me feel uncomfortable with myself and down in attitude just to wear it.  I was always at a loss as to how to accessorize it to become cuter and more ‘me’.  It was borderline in the fit, too, as it was a petite sizing.  Thus, the dress has a slightly higher waistline on me which isn’t that obvious because it is very classic and vintage inspired, I think.  The side seams do have these super handy, super generously sized pockets that I love and the way they are hidden in the full skirt is fabulous to me.  This is a pretty dress I can wear to church or wear to play in other words, and versatile outfits are both hard to find and something that I can always use more of.

The fiber content is a soft and slightly stretchy shirting.  It is a blend of 67% cotton, 28% polyester, and 5% elastane.  For some reason it seems to wrinkle up more than is reasonable because “Land’s End” normally makes very well-known iron-free shirts for both men and women.  Even a thorough ironing job doesn’t banish the creasing.  There is a slight rustling sound when I swish in this dress so I guess the fabric – although over halfway cotton – is a poly shirting at heart.  Nevertheless, if there hadn’t been so much cotton in the content, my dyeing attempt on this dress would have been much more difficult and probably less successful.  If you have something that is less than 50% cotton or any other natural fiber (in other words, a mostly man-made material), it will not want to take to recoloring using the regular RIT brand dye.  I would have needed a special synthetic dye, which has a very limited spans of colors to choose from.  I just made the regular dye work with this dress!

My son’s school polo also came from “Land’s End” as well, and was in 100% cotton.  I did not change or refashion it at all, merely changed the color.  As he is growing in height, and seeming not in weight or waist size, his extra short sleeve school shirts that he no longer needs still fit him…for now!

PATTERN and NOTIONS:  For my dress refashion, I used no pattern – made it up as I went – and all I needed in notions was lots of thread and one long 36” coat zipper (which was happily on hand).  I let what I needed to do find better fit for this dress on my current body dictate how the refashion would go.  The dress was a size 2, and in a basic sense it did fit me, but was far too snug for a button-front shirtdress…if you get my unwelcome picture.  So, I cut off the buttons, and stitched up the buttonholes, and sewed a zipper down the front to give me just a few extra inches across the front.  All that I basically needed was some wearing ease in this dress.  As the side seams were serged far too close to the stitching line, my only easy option was transforming this shirtdress into a zip front dress.  Voila!  As easy as it was to find a better fit with this dress, next it was a bit challenging to take it to the level of looking finished and appearing as anything but a refashion.

My son gave the the zipper bracelet I am wearing! It’s so perfect for me!

I did have a giant sash belt that came with the dress, luckily, so I had a little bit of something extra to work without having to cut into the dress itself.  I snipped the sash belt in half, running down the fold and seam line, so that the width was divided in two but the length was kept as it was.  I used 2/3 of the length of the two long pieces to make a little binding to cover up either side of the zipper all the way down the front of the dress.  These self-fabric bindings cleanly covered up the top-stitching to the exposed zipper and also what was left of the buttonholes. The remaining 1/3 to the sash belt was sewn into tubes, turned inside out, and slipped into the binding on either side of the zipper right at the waistline.  This creates a sort of attached waist ties that perk up the dress.  There are thread chain belt casings at the side already, and the waist seemed rather plain without anything extra, so I thought I would use up what little was leftover for the attached tie belt.  This was a zero waste refashion – not a single scrap leftover!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The actual sewing portion to refashioning my dress did not take all that long – only a few hours.  That was finished on August 20, 2020.  However it ended up taking much longer because of all the steps I needed to get my dress in this new color.

TOTAL COST: These would have been free refashions if it hadn’t been for the cost of the dyes, color remover, and setting liquid – in total about $15 for the four bottles of items I needed.

For my dress, before I did any dyeing, I began with yet another experimental job – using RIT brand color removing powder.  I decided to try and do this in my wash machine, and I did not fix the setting correctly so that my dress did not sit in the liquid as long as it should have.  I will chalk it up to a beginner’s mistake.  However, as I did not follow the proper directions, the color remover did not work correctly and it only took out enough color to turn my dress into an ugly yellow.  Weird, right?

My next step was to color my dress.  I originally intended on dyeing my dress a blue so I had a bottle of RIT in blue turquoise.  Yet, as the color remover turned my dress into a yellow, and I was dipping it in a blue, I ended up with a bright sage green.  I know it makes sense under the principles of the color spectrum, but really – who would have guessed?

I was working with a bottle of liquid dye, and this has the best chance of turning out an even color as compared to the powder (mix with water).  Even still, it turned out slightly splotchy in certain places on my dress.  Why?  Any pre-existing stain, or flaw, or mark on the fabric will be amplified when that item is color dyed.  Yeah, not something to be excited over but definitely something to remember for any dye job.

Other than a few little marks that stayed with my dress, the color turned out very even for me.  I dyed my dress in our large stainless steel sink, so there was plenty of room to have enough liquid to completely immerse the dress, as well as do some good stirring to spread the color.  Technically, our sink is not the best place for dyeing.  With the RIT dye, the temperature is supposed to be kept at 140°F or warmer, yet not boiling either, for the whole 30 to 60 minutes it ‘cooks’.  That is why the best place to dye is in a pot on the stove because you can keep an even and constant temperature.  Yet, the bigger the item – like my dress – the more room you will need and so an ‘on the stove’ option was not exactly feasible here.  We made it work alright by starting off with a stronger water-to-dye proportion for quick color retention, and then add a small pot’s worth of extra almost-boiling water along the way to keep a relative constant warmth.

This is the richer color I had before putting my dress in the fixative liquid. Also, you can see what I was covering up by sewing down the binding on either side of the zipper – the marks of the old button closings.

The final step to any dye job that is a cotton, linen, rayon, or a blend of these is to set the color with a liquid fixative.  This is another 30 minutes of the same process as what the dye job was – stirred evenly in a 140 degree bath.  I hate the fact that when I go through the dye fixative step, the color becomes a tad lighter than when my item came out of the dye.  For example, when I first over-dyed these faded, true vintage items from my Grandmother, the colors were rich and just what I wanted…but that was before the setting liquid bath.  Boo.  When dyeing a nylon, silk, or wool, to set the color you merely run the item through your wash machine with an old towel and your regular detergent, and the colors seem to stay brighter.  Oh well, as I said above, any color improvement, even if it is not the most ideal one, is enough to make the item worth keeping if I’m doing this in the first place.

There are different add-ins with each dye job depending on the fiber content of your item.  I added salt and dishwashing liquid to the dye before adding my dress.  However, for some silk I recently re-colored using a bottle of RIT Kelly green dye (for a completely different project coming soon) I added dishwashing liquid and white vinegar.  It was into the dye bath leftover from coloring this silk that I threw in my son’s school polo.  This should have been a no-no because his shirt was cotton – it should be in a dye bath with salt.  However, I was not about to waste a whole bottle’s worth of dye without trying to dip something else.  Thus, the green dye bath only gave my son’s shirt a light minty green color rather than a deep, true, Kelly green.  Also, the water was hovering around 130 degrees by this time (as a second batch).  Even still, I think my son looks good in pastels and he himself is happy with how it turned out – so that is all that matters, right?!  Now we can go be twins in green for the win.

I jokingly have a little play on the fact that I am stirring up a steaming sink or pot full of opaquely colored ‘potion’ when I do my dye jobs.  A little witchy cackle is all that’s needed (and I do believe I am good at that) as well as a recitation of “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” for a proper finish.  Hubby usually just shakes his head with a smile.  Yes, I enjoy how a simple color change – although a bit time consuming – can really perk up an item and is a creative way for anyone to personalize something with no sewing needed.

A few months into my dyeing exploits and I realized many colors became very hard-to-find or almost non-existent altogether, even looking through the internet shops (not counting the price-gouged items).  Apparently, I must not be the only one this year who is finding the fun and usefulness of color dyeing.  Have you done any such thing yourself?  Are you an old pro at it by now?  Do you have any great success stories or maybe sad disaster tales to share?  Maybe you have not yet tried it.  If so, I hope this post was useful.  Thanks for reading!