Midnight Celestial

     I love channeling vintage fashion anytime for any occasion but especially so when it comes to evening wear.  Lavish garments from the past just have a classic, graceful elegance that is attractively timeless.  They are also the sort of thing I most enjoy sewing (and subsequently wearing) but I rarely actually have a proper occasion to warrant sporting such finery.  However, exactly a year ago my husband and I had an especially fancy celebratory dinner to attend for his collage which finally gave me a literal reason to sew a new outfit straight from the pages of old Hollywood glamor.  Hubby wore a true vintage 1929 silk tuxedo set we’ve been saving for years.  I went for something close in era and wore a combination of a pre-WWII 1940s velvet weskit blouse with an early 1930s dress in his fraternity’s color!

     I love the title for this post so much – it perfectly captures the aesthetic I have for my outfit.  The rich toned, bottomless blue of the luxurious velvet being offset by the bright twinkle of the zipper reminds of a piercing night sky.  However, the brushed silver of my dress possesses a cold beauty which calms and grounds the deep blue velvet.  Yet, the way the dress’ fabric flows around me like butter at every move or wind gust lays that icy impression to rest.  To me, the night sky can be an equally mysterious, entrancing, and stunning reference for many Art Deco era evening wear pieces.  Alternatively, this set also has me envision a low-lit Depression era society party where the intrigue and cliques are as deep as the heavens at midnight and the only bright points are the diamonds on the ladies and the sparkling of the drink glasses.  Maybe I have just been watch too many old movies!  Nonetheless, I felt amazing but comfortable in what I wore for the evening, and it suited the occasion perfectly.  I hope you enjoy this post as much I myself enjoy the sewing project I am sharing.

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  3 yards of a silver hammered satin for the dress and one yard of a deep blue silk-rayon velvet for the blouse

PATTERNS:  DuBarry pattern #2471B from year 1940 and a French early 1930s “Patron Migaline” no.9, a hand traced out copy that had been given to me by an acquaintance 

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread and one fancy rhinestone studded zipper for the blouse

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took 8 hours to make, while the blouse took 20 hours (due to all the hand sewn finishing detailing).  Both items actually were completed in an even longer stretch than this if you also count the time it took to trace out and resize the patterns.  They were finished in January 2022.

THE INSIDES:  French seams are on the blouse but the dress has interior raw edges as the pieces have so much bias there is minimal fraying

TOTAL COST:  The silver satin had been bought nearly a decade ago at the same time I as the fabric for this 1920s dress (posted here) so I vaguely remember it should have been about $20 for all 3 yards.  The velvet was a clearance discount found online for only $10 (can you believe it?).  The zipper was $9, bought through this Etsy shop.  My total comes to about $40, which is unbelievable for a set like this!

     Let’s start off with the blouse since the details are just the chef’s kiss…so good!  It is not only on account of the high quality fabric I used, but I am sure that no doubt helped me be so completely head-over-heels here.  The pattern technically calls this a weskit, which is an informal word for a waistcoat.  This means it is a fitted front closure blouse that is meant to be left untucked.  The amazing part is how precisely pared down the design is by having the entire front be only two pattern pieces.  The neckline, front panel and the wrap-around peplum is one continuous piece, while the gathered bust and underarm section is the second piece.  Five pattern pieces are all that is needed!  If I have perked your attention over my blouse, the reprint company Past Patterns offers a paper copy this DuBarry design so you can try it for yourself, too.  The listing for the pattern is here on this page.

     For being from the DuBarry Company, this is perhaps one of the best vintage unprinted patterns I have come across.  DuBarry patterns were manufactured by Simplicity from 1931 to 1946 exclusively for F. W. Woolworth Company (the pioneers of the five-and-dime store).  They were almost exclusively easy to sew and unprinted, with many styles for teenage young ladies. They were also catered to a different audience than Simplicity so I am overall pleasantly surprised at how fancy the design, well-cut the tissue pieces, and ingeniously planned is this entire pattern.  I have previously had issues with the poor fit and mismatched balance marks with this pattern line – not this time!  I can’t wait to try the other views!

     The blouse was an easy project decision because I had it planned out and ready to be made ever since I bought the velvet fabric and its fancy zipper back in 2016.  I first had to retrace and completely re-size the pattern up from its very tiny, petite size to my own proportions.  The pattern pieces were relatively few and manageable in size so that went smoothly.  Even still, I measured and checked my tracing a million times along the way and fitted the new pattern pieces around me to make sure I would get this right at the first try…no need to make a muslin here!  For the best of my sewing projects, I like to dive right into the good stuff and live dangerously, relying on good patterning skills to give me the right base to start with from the beginning.  This is why, for as fancy as my blouse is, it was by far the easiest and most enjoyable portion to my evening set.  I like it when I can be in charge of a fitting and tailoring a pattern and know it is going to turn out just as I hoped.

     Of all my sewing projects, this may just be one of the best pairings of pattern to material.  The design adds to the beauty of the fabric and in return the fabric gives an unexpected dimension to the design.  The gathers in the bust panel highlight the deluxe plush shine of the velvet.  The velvet is butter soft at the same time making it so easy to gather, French seam, and otherwise work with.  The inside “wrong” side has a knitted appearance and is smooth and soft enough that I left the blouse unlined.  It is an overall dream to wear.  Unlike other velvets I have, this one acts like a true silk (which it is) more than a velvet.  It is quite breathable and adapts to my body temperature.  It was never too warm to wear, and washed in a cold water delicate cycle wash perfectly with no obvious changes or shrinkage or wrinkling.  It did fray a significant amount of fibers during the construction process, aggravating my eyes, nose, and skin, just like other velvets I have used (with the sole exception of this dress’ velvet).  Yet, as long as the raw edges are finished, spending the extra money to sew with real silk velvet (almost always much more in cost than the steal that I paid) is truly worth it.  

I had always assumed I would have a skirt or a dress on hand that would pair perfectly with the blouse, so I never gave much thought as to what exactly I would wear with it.  I did have several items that looked good with the blouse, but nothing seemed like a ‘perfect’ pairing nor did I have anything which brought the blouse up to evening wear level.  This was the hard part…doing a mind crunch two weeks before the event, trying to find the perfect fabric from on hand in my stash because shipping would take too long.  I naturally felt drawn to my silver hammered finish satin, but I had always been saving that for a 1930s evening gown.  I thought, “Why compromise?” into just making a matching skirt.  So I still made a 1930s evening gown from the fabric, and it still gives off the look of an elegant skirt when worn under the blouse.  This way, I can take off the blouse and have a completely different look of its own! 

     That being said, the pattern itself was a nightmare to deal with.  The copy I was given was on some very unusual paper and the lines and balance marks did not seem to be trued up or consistently straight.  I have no idea how much of this was due to the person who traced it or the pattern itself.  I had minimal instructions to go on (a short summary with an illustration was merely printed on the envelope back) and even that was in French.  My French is basic and conversational, and Google Translate does not recognize sewing terms, so that did not always help me out.  My measurements showed that the pattern’s proportions were short (very petite), but at least seemed to be in my general bust-waist-hips width range. Thus I had to retrace this pattern as well to add in two plus inches – spread out over the midsection – and lower the fall of the bust, waist, and hips.  I am almost petite in height myself, so I am confused as to why it was for someone so short.  If it was for an adolescent, it is surprisingly adult and elegant for one so young.  I was following where the waist and bust were marked on the pattern as well as comparing myself to the illustration to find where the seams should fall on my body.

Interestingly enough, the French text in bold at the top of the pattern envelope back is “Chemise de nuit pour dame”.  Google’s translate app said this line means “a ladies nightgown”.  Wait – what? Is this really only a nightgown?!  Is that too literal of an understanding?  Can this be understood as a gown for night, as in evening wear, or would that have the word “soiree”?  Could the 1930s have merely had an understanding of words differently than today?  People who understand French fluently please chime in.  I am having a hard time believing something this intricate is just for bedtime.  The pattern says it is offered in only one size (size 44) and gives basic instructions to size up and then down by adding or subtracting a half a centimeter at the seams indicated by the dashes.  How thoughtful to add sizing assistance when the construction info is a mere illustration!

     Sizing tips or not, just look again at the design lines, with all the geometric paneling throughout the midsection, and you will understand why I felt like either pulling my hair out or going crazy over this pattern.  I did my best to true out all the corners, points, and balance marks, and with all the additions and corrections the dress’ pattern pieces just barely fit on my 3 yard cut.  Then it sewed up as easily as can be expected for a dress with so much bias and so many tight corners…only to find out that it ran big.  The bias gave this dress a wearing ease that my paper tissue fitting could not account for.  I suppose this may be due to the fact that the pattern is really just a nightgown. Some of the excess fabric was taken in simply by sewing in the side seams.  However, I left the fit generous because I like the way it pops over my head with no need for a zipper or snaps or any closure at all.  It is comfortable and versatile this way, and all I could muster to not completely lose my sanity over this tricky dress pattern.

     For all the problems I had with the design, it is really first rate after all the quirks were weeded out.  The main grainline for the entire length – neck to hem – is laid out on the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge).  Thus the cross seams in the main body which create the paneling are all on the bias.  Every seam that connects together is on an opposing bias grain.  This way even though the dress is on the straight grain it ends up hanging on the bias due the seaming but also doesn’t “grow” in length like other bias dresses once the grain relaxes.  How mind-blowing is this?! 

From the way the illustration on the pattern envelope is stylized (Art Deco text with a model who is slim and tall with slender hips), my closest guess is that this is from circa 1931.  The design itself may be 1930 or 1932 but I do believe it is clearly influenced by the talents of the French female fashion designers popular for the early 1930s.  Most of the 1930s evening dresses were on the bias cut, but this one is true to the French ingenuity of the time.  It makes the best possible use of both grains by using prolific but precise seaming, similar to the practices of the designer Augusta-Bernard.   My set’s interpretation where I use an icy silver and sapphire blue combination is very much aligned with the preferences of another bias cut gown expert of the early 1930s – Louiseboulanger.  The triangular paneling even reminds me of Madeline Vionnet’s bias evening gown designs between 1929 and 1933, as can be seen in the Betty Kirke book under the chapter “Quadrants”, (especially pattern number 14).  The stamp on the corner of the pattern has an address of “Maison Mairesse, 3 Rue Saint-Hubert, Arras” and I can’t help but wonder if that place used to be a fabric shop or a couture house.

     I originally wanted to do this pattern in some stripes or color blocking to highlight the panels and seaming but am glad I didn’t for as challenging as it was to perfect.  The hammered finish of the satin has a consistent nap to the direction of the shine, unlike many other satins so the seams kind of do get lost overall, sadly.  However, the versatile color gives me an opportunity to wear this under (or with) many different other pieces in my wardrobe, like the Grecian rope belt I made for this mid 1930s dress (posted here).  The archeological discoveries of Pompeii (Herculaneum) and ancient Greece that were made circa 1930 created an explosion of classical inspiration for the era’s fashion details, especially the evening or bias cut frocks of the French designers such as Vionnet or Lanvin.  I went with a classical theme for our background setting with the colonnades of the historic “Vandeventer Place Gates”.  I was living the 1930s dream!

     There was a very personal detail I brought along with me on the trip to attend the event in my me-made outfit.  My vintage earrings and bracelet were a matching set from my paternal grandmother.  They are very heavy and so over the top, this fancy event was actually a really good reason to wear them finally, besides being a good match to my outfit!  I think Grandma would be thrilled they accompanied me on my night out, and I wonder where she wore them and what stories they held for her.      

My entire set was certainly a conversation piece the night of the event.  Yet, I was by no means under or overdressed when compared to the rest of the ladies present so I was so happy to have known I made the right creative decision.  I was in great company of people that I could easily talk to as there were many old friends to meet.  It was a great way to prove my capacity in sewing to be able to show off my handmade finery when talking about what I do.  When mentioning that my garments were me-made, often it only became humorous when those folks – who had just enough to drink – would then ask to touch my silk velvet!  They had no idea what silk velvet would feel like, and never heard of such a deluxe material!  The mere thought of those moments never fails to bring a smile to my face. 

This is your message to not be afraid to dive into the good stuff you’ve been saving in your stash but enjoy it.  See how much more fun my best velvet and satin are to wear than they ever were just being admired on a shelf or in a bin?  It is such a great thing when you can make such great memories wearing something that you intentionally crafted with love for a special occasion!

Quilt Coat

     This post’s project is a long-time dream finally come true…and it has turned out to ever more wonderful than I ever imagined it could become.  Here is a winter weather item that actually makes me look forward to the colder season!

     For a good number of years, refashioning damaged or unwanted quilted pieces of all eras, sizes, and usages has been a strong trend, so this idea has been on my mind for far too long.  I had to eventually try such a thing out for myself!  Thus, I was ecstatic when an old bedspread of ours needed to be downgraded from being in our sleeping quarters to the scrap pile due to some tears, holes, and stains.  The opportunity to sew my own quilt coat had come.  This plays into the theme of my previous post (here) where I talked about how to give a glow up to something you already own so that it can benefit you in some positive way at no cost to your wallet.  Here is another fine example of my point! 

     My quilt coat is also another example of something I am very proud of that was made just before the end of last year, just like the dress from my last post, as well.  Yes, I will be catching up on 2022 projects for the next few posts, so bear with me.  The bedspread I used was not antique, but perhaps about 15 years old and had just been decommissioned earlier in ’22 .  Then, when the “Sew (Outerwear) Together for Winter” sewing challenge was announced for November, I realized I now had an impetus to take on this coat project asap.  The bedspread did take up a lot of room in my fabric stash area and I wanted to instead see it taking up useful space in the closet in between being worn on my back. 

     It was amusing how our son was quite confused, in a way unlike for any other project he has seen me make, when he saw me trying my coat on for the first time.  ”Wasn’t that from your bed?” he said disturbed.  Nothing is safe in the house now that I am branching out to sew with other things beyond fabric.  Anything really can be material.  I have made a few bed sheet dresses (posted here, here, and here), so maybe that was the beginning point for where I am now at.  Who knows…maybe next I will be cutting up curtains!  Sewing is a slippery slope to finding all sorts of fun and creativity.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton quilted bedspread

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4032, year 2006

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I had all I needed on hand – thread, vintage bias tape packs, a hook and eye, and one covered button blank set

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This coat took me a total of 6 hours from cutting out to finish.  It was completed at the end of November 2022

THE INSIDES:  cleaned up and zig zagged over for no fraying edges (as you can see in the picture at left)

TOTAL COST:  Nothing!!!

     Now, let’s get into some terminology before I dive into talking about my actual coat.  A quilt isn’t always for the bed but a bedspread is always quilted.  Key differences between a bedspread and comforter is the level of warmth they provide.  Comforters are made to provide insulation and warmth during cold months, while bedspreads are much more lightweight and breathable making them ideal for warmer conditions.  Meanwhile, a blanket is a generic term that refers to almost any bed covering thicker than a sheet, including quilts, duvets, and comforters. Confusing, am I right?

     This is why – for as much praise as I will heap upon this creation and as much as I love to wear it – this coat does not keep me warm, only cozy in the winter.  It is great for transitional seasons like Fall and Spring when it is moderately chilly.  However, anything near to actual cold temperatures and all the terminology listed above explains why I lose all my body heat.  A quilted bedspead is breathable, and a good outer layer, but does not keep me insulated.  The benefits it provides on a bed in a heated house to keep me snug on a chilly night do not work the same when out in the elements.  There is nothing with this coat to actually keep my body heat from escaping and giving me a chill when I spend too much time out in the near freezing temperatures.

     I must admit, though, that I am sensitive to being cold, and am not one to survive the winter season in a heavy sweater, light jacket, or exercise hoodie.  I need an actual puffy, furry, or woolen winter coat.  Worn alone as the sole outer layer, this is comfortable for me only for chilly weather.  It is a fancy equivalent to a heavyweight sweater.  Luckily, my town has a great variety of temperature swings all year round and I can wear this on our mild ‘warm-up’ days in the heart of January.  Yay!  I have been keeping this coat out of the closet where I can see it because I am not over the beauty of it but also I want to keep it as available as possible. 

     If I would have lined my quilt coat, this issue of its warmth factor would have probably been either resolved or partially amended.  Yet this bedspread was reversible and is just as pretty underneath as it is on top.  All I had to do was make sure I kept my inner seams clean and the inside of my quilt coat was guaranteed to be lovely keeping it unlined.  Besides, why complicate things?  There is a beauty and benefit to keeping things simple.  After all, this was my first go at the quilt refashion, and so I didn’t know how this project would sew up or if it would turn out, or that it may need a lining.  After years of paying attention to how other makers finish their quilt coats, I have seen both lined and unlined ones almost as equally.  It really doesn’t matter either way.  The beauty I appreciate with every quilt coat is their individuality…no two are the same and each one is as uniquely a work of art as the person who made it.

     My first quilt coat ended up being better than what I had hoped for as it is, even with the reduced warmth level.  Yet, even if it hadn’t ended well, the experience I had making it is everything.  I have worked with a pre-quilted cotton batting fabric before, both times as a lining layer for warmth – first for this 1940s jerkin vest and then inside this Burberry style plaid coat.  I found that a real quilt was actually much easier to sew and work with than that material.  Now that I have one quilt refashion under my wing, I have realized all sorts of tricks (which included having to pull out the old, bunched up stuffing from around the seam allowance) and taken many mental notes.  I don’t regret anything here (which is big for as hard as I am on myself) and feel very happy with my methods, but next time I am prepared.  Yes, I will be taking another go at this at some point in the future!  Now I just need to wait for the next serendipitous quilt acquisition to come my way, and in the meantime work on some more little projects for the rest of the quilt scraps.  I’m considering a historical inspired vest, a purse or tote bag, and maybe a sunglass case.  We will see!

    The pattern I used was something I have been badly wanting to try out since it was released in 2006.  That is awhile to wait on trying out a pattern, right?!  It is every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated it would be.  I chose view A.  The overall coat’s sizing was perfectly spot on, the various options for different collars, hem panels, button closings, and added details are all appealing, and it was so easy to make.  I highly recommend this pattern and see no reason why it needs to be a “fleece only” design.  A nubby boucle, and mid-weight suiting, or even a sweater knit I think would all suit this pattern.  If using a fabric other than a fleece, however, you do need to figure out on your own how to finish the edges.  I chose a thin ¼ inch vintage 1980s pack of matching blue bias tape along the collar and hem edge.  No interfacing or fiddly facings are even necessary here, as my quilt coat is entirely one layer.  I will definitely be coming back to make another view of this pattern in the future.

     I wanted a pattern with minimal darts and simplified lines so as to let the quilt paneling shine and this pattern was perfect for fulfilling my requirements and giving me room for creative placement.  Two out of the four quilt corners became the chevron sleeves.  The collar was cut from the edging border.  The decorative round middle part of the quilt was centered over the back panel.  Finally, the front body pieces were cut from one of the four large medallions that were around the center of the quilt.  It was quite a balance to try to find a creative vision that complimented overall yet also avoid the stains and tears in the quilt.  I had to draw a few of my own balance marks and points of placement to try and find some symmetry as I was cutting out each piece single layer.  I am head over heels with the intricacy of combining the curves, the points, and straight lines.  My math loving heart is pleased with all the geometry. 

      My styling inspiration was 1984 Ralph Lauren.  He had his winter collection that year to have cozy sweaters, romantic blouses, and quilted blazers and skirts.  His was the high end interpretation of the frontier or prairie look that was popularized since the late 70s through other lines such as Betsey Johnson, Jessica McClintock’s Gunne Sax, and Laura Ashley.  I wanted to channel that in a small degree.  I was happy that I actually had a ‘me-made’ skirt already made to perfectly call to mind the Ralph Lauren aesthetic.  The skirt has been posted already (here).  It’s a favorite staple piece from my wardrobe, so much so that it is starting to both fade and wear out by now! 

To complement the aesthetic, I am wearing a reproduction Victorian blouse, complete with a dizzying amount of pintucks and lace, which I bought in the 1990s along with the floral abalone shell brooch at my neck. My earrings are a little something I made myself in the 90s, as well.  They have sterling silver ear wire and a duo of blue glass seed beads above and below an orchid tone fiber optic bead. They were a drop earring which was simple and sweet enough to ease me in dangling earrings as a teenager!  

The dog chewed a few holes in my quilt but it is still usable! Check out the label I made.

     This refashion has helped me gain a greater respect all the vision and the time that goes into quilts.  I have not yet made a quilt beyond a small basic one made of squares of scraps leftover from the dresses and costumes my mom made me as I child.  I sewed this little quilt as a preteen simply for my dog’s enjoyment.  Neither am I inclined to make a quilt myself at the moment, but we do have my husband’s Grandmother’s old quilt frame…so who knows what is in my future!  I do have enough scraps of fabric, for goodness’ sake! 

For now, I am content to admire all the existing quilts out there, and keep my options open for the possibility of another quilt refashion in my future.  I still prefer quilts to be on a bed where I can both fully appreciate their warmth and their details can be on display.  However, now that I know what can be done with a damaged one, I will be more than happy to rescue any quilt that has seen better days and needs a new lease on life. 

Glow Up

     A new year equals a fresh start, right?  That’s not my approach this time around – I am still mentally in last year.  Yet, I am always ready to add to advancing my personal ‘glow up’ – even if that starts with spicing up my wardrobe!  I don’t know about you, but I definitely could use any version of a glow up going into the New Year after the holiday season.  Besides, I want to catch up on posting the projects I didn’t get to share with you in 2022!

     The online Dictionary says that Glow up is an informal pop culture term for a positive personal transformation, typically one involving significant changes in appearance and style.  I am not one for a major appearance change, and yet already try many different styles since my sewing skills give me wider access to that opportunity.  Thus, I usually keep my ‘glow up’ an interior mental or emotional effort.  Otherwise, I keep the visual appearance changes about me relegated to my wardrobe’s glow up.  How can a piece of clothing receive a glow up, you may wonder?  It’s easy!  A garment’s glow up can be new buttons, a new hem length for sleeves or pants or a skirt, some extra trimming, or even (my favorite) a dip in a bath of dye for a fresh new color.  A little bit of effort put into looking after for what you already own can make a big difference, yet is often nothing more than basic garment care or mending.  These are steps that even anyone with the most basic sewing skills can pull off, I believe.  No need to make a dent in your wallet or even buy anything new to refresh your wardrobe.   

     This post’s featured garment is one that definitely had its glow up moment.  It started out as some ugly orange rayon knit fabric that I bought very cheaply over 10 years ago and never knew what to do with.  It was soft and drapey but never appealing or exuding possibilities for me.  Now, I have dyed the material into being a wonderful color as well as sewing it into an interesting dress I am fascinated by.  Sadly this project didn’t make an appearance as part of last year’s “Designin’ December” sewing challenge but I had planned on it being a possible candidate for my entry.  The vintage pattern I used was a re-issue from Burda Style clearly inspired by a famous designer of the 1950s, which I why this project deserved such an exclusive touch and warmer tone as was given by the custom dye bath.  The fabric, the bottle of dye, and the pattern I used were all items which had been sitting in my maker’s stash of supplies for far too long, tormenting me by sitting unused, purposeless, and taking up space.  Now I have given all of them a glow up together, in return making me feel absolutely as wonderful as a powerful, confident goddess when wearing this dress.  What better way to kick start the New Year off?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon jersey knit

PATTERN:  Burda Style #7254, a vintage reprint from year 2012

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and interfacing…along with a bottle of RIT liquid dye

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished in April 2022, and it took over 20 hours to complete (not including the dyeing process) mostly on account of large amount of hand-stitched hems and such details.

THE INSIDES:  left raw (does not ravel)

TOTAL COST:  I had bought 3 yards of this on sale from “Fashion Fabrics Club” back in circa 2012.  –

Here is the fabric before being dipped in dye!

     One of the mysteries to my fabric stash is how I ever ended up with so much bright orange.  I like the color but not this much of it, and the few pieces I already have (here and here) in that tone are enough.  As has been seen in this past post (here) where I over-dyed some bright orange linen dark brown, I have been slowly, systematically working on turning these orange fabrics into something I would wear.  This time though, I didn’t necessarily want a darker color, or a whole new color, just a change of tone…which would be perhaps my trickiest dye job yet.  My husband helped me make sense of what color may work, and an internet chat forum had a few ideas, but ultimately the fact that I had a bottle of RIT “Wine” color liquid dye was the deciding factor.  I needed to use the RIT “Wine” to dye a shirt (and socks) for my son’s school event and thus throwing in the orange fabric at the same time was a convenient reason to cut through my fear and just go try this experiment. 

     As you can see, it worked out!  The neon orange rayon knit for my dress was changed to a warm, rust toned pumpkin color.  Everywhere there was more stretch in the material, the color dyed darker, almost like a grey, so that the overall fabric ends up looking heather flecked.  My son’s shirt was originally white (and mostly cotton) in content but turned into a purple hued burgundy that faded after one wash.  How hilarious is the contrast of this situation?  Both items were cooking in the same pot of the same color dye and look at how differently they ended up looking! 

     This just goes to show you that you never really know for sure what you will get when you dye and need to be open to a surprise when you do. This statement is especially true when dyeing over an existing color, as I discussed in greater length here (in this post).  I love how dyeing gives me a one-of-a-kind color and novel touch to my handmade clothes as well as teaching me more about the nuances of the process.  Orange does not seem to be an overall well-liked color by many so perhaps my experiment can give others the idea that they can use dye to personalize fabric colors into something else which would be better appreciated.  I yet want to dip more of my orange fabric in a purple bath or even a bright green batch of dye and see if a lighter tone of brown happens!

     The pattern itself felt experimental, too, with all the amazing details added to the front of the dress.  There is a lot going on to see that somehow works together.  Unfortunately, this is one of those ubiquitous “coffin dresses” where it is a full party in the front and completely basic in the back.  The back has two ‘fish-eye’ darts for shaping and mine has a back seam in place of a center zipper.  (Who needs a closure when the fabric has stretch?)  This design is summarized by the pattern as a “Formal tea-gown for the lady with style and class. It has a figure-enhancing line with carée-neck (square neckline) and many tiny pleats along the front facing.”  That sounds deluxe, right?!  I suspect it may be even more high-end than that summary gives away.  Let me explain.

     For many years I have followed Jessica at “No Accounting for Taste” blog because of her well-respected knowledge on the history of fashion designer’s biographies.  I also following her social media page, and there I happened to see a year 1957 Dorothy O’Hara dress advertisement she posted back in 2017

That image’s dress struck me as an almost carbon copy of Burda no.7254 pattern from my stash.  Yes, I have a photographic memory for certain things!  Then, I recently happened to find an actual dress to compare the 1957 Dorothy O’Hara advertisement – this discovery really helped me compare details with my Burda pattern!  Turns out that the Burda design is ever so slightly different in ways that few would notice at close inspection but it is so remarkably similar in all ways I am convinced that I have found a designer pattern sporting as a normal pattern.  I am convinced that Burda Style, back in 1957, was just doing a designer knock off with no attribution to their inspiration. This has to be a Dorothy O’Hara dress, just one without the designer’s official okay to reproduce.  To have a German pattern company imitating American Designer style versus Paris’ fashions says a lot about how Hollywood’s influence had become worldwide by the mid-1950s. 

     When I say Hollywood influence, it because Dorothy O’Hara was not only a native Californian but touted to be the only movie designer (she worked for Paramount motion Pictures starting in 1943) who also produced her designs to be sold to the general public through high end department stores.  Dorothy O’Hara was also a dress manufacturer as well, through her husband.  She had a niche when it came to everything she had to offer for the shopper off the street, the movie costumer, and the garment producer all combined.  Her true talent however was making longer length dresses that were elegant enough to go from afternoon to evening.  Dorothy O’Hara designed her dresses for women to feel elegantly sultry in a way that also pleases the masculine gaze.  Jessica at “No Accounting for Taste” says the phrase for her creations was “She (O’Hara) made women look nice, and men look twice”.  Go see Jessica’s blog post (here) and read up on O’Hara’s biography – it is much more thorough and insightful than anything I could offer here in this post. 

     I find the clip Jessica shares from the LA Times of July 9, 1954 to be most interesting the way it perfectly sums up this post’s dress design.  “(Dorothy O’Hara’s) distinctive signature, the “all-in-one-piece” drapery, literally wraps the body in fabric and her ingenuity makes the most of a woman’s figure.  Working with the grain of the fabric and molding it to give depth to the bust and minimize the waistline, the “poured-into” style is nevertheless a step-in dress in every case. The woman can slip easily into her clothes after hairdo and makeup.”  All this is very true, especially since my pattern is sewn with a knit as the Burda pattern instructs!  However, I cannot help but think my dress has a reference to Charles James, another American designer.  What I see reminds me of James’ “La Sirène” dress, popularly known as “the lobster dress”, of which he made many sleeved and sleeveless versions in many colors between 1939 and 1957.  The “La Sirène” dress also has horizontal tucks down the center front and a definite wiggle shape with the snug fit and tapered hemline.  I like my dress better than the designer ones, though!

     This dress probably looks intimidating to make yet isn’t as bad as it may appear once you dive into it.  The pattern came together much easier than anticipated.  It is pretty upfront with its design lines, but that makes it nonetheless tricky with such an interesting shaped middle panel and all the tucks.  Down the center front, the Burda pattern has 16 individual tucks (the summary calls them pleats) on each side.  Each sleeve has another 5 tucks for a grand total of 42 tucks overall over the entire dress!  In comparison, the original Dorothy O’Hara dress from either the ad or the original I saw for sale had a count of just two more darts than the Burda dress’ overall count, further proving my point that this must be a designer knock-off.  However, most of Dorothy’s dresses were constructed with crepe, a non-stretchy woven, while the pattern I used called for a knit, so I am wondering if this was just a Burda modernization attempt.  I must say that being precise with making the tucks was quite challenging when done with a knit!   I am tempted to size up and try this dress again in a crepe as O’Hara would have used, except I want to choose a print for this second version.

     I did not change a thing to the dress design besides adding some extra inches to the hem, making it slightly longer than many of O’Hara’s ‘cocktail’ dresses.  My dress is at what was called an “intermission” length.  This puts it firmly in the “wiggle dress” category because the longer the length the smaller the circumference of the hem when you continue the side seam lines.  

Here you can see the neckline facing that supports the dress’ shape, as well as the inner facing that keeps the inside seams clean. Check out my invisible hand stitching!

I found it was very important to follow the instructions and stabilize the entire center front panel.  As this piece goes between the pleats as well as encircles the neckline and shoulders, it really used up a lot of interfacing that took time to iron on.  My efforts were worth it because that panel is the only thing there to stabilize the entire details and keep the dress from drooping and growing on me since the rest of the dress is a knit.  As the fabric is so shifty and delicate, I stitched all hems (for both sleeves and skirt), as well as the inside facing panel down the front, entirely by hand.  My dress would have been whipped together in no time if I hadn’t done the hand work, but my dress just needed the extra TLC, I felt.  The lack of any visible thread elevates the dress to its designer roots and keeps me satisfied by a sewing job well done.

     After all the praise I have heaped upon this project, I must say I really do not like the fabric at the same time that I love it.  Normally anything rayon is a winner in my book but a rayon knit has plenty of downsides that I need to list.  Firstly, it is a nightmare all its own to sew…enough to put me off from it completely.  I however am saying this after having used it way too many times already, but that is only because I am trying to use up my stash.  I have learned from this modern Burda dress (posted here, also a rayon knit) that this fabric is awfully delicate to wear and snags easily.  The fabric acquires holes in it from sewing even with a ball point needle, making unpicking a seam as impossibly obvious as sewing in leather.  The fabric is almost akin to pantyhose or fine stockings that can easily acquire holes in it if you are not careful of running into sharp everyday hazards like a rough spot on a wood table, snagged fingernail, metal fence, or sharp branch.  Believe me – I know all this about rayon jersey knit by sad experience. 

     After all that I said above, I do love many features of this fabric, too.  My favorite is the way it is as cool to the touch it is to wear, much like a vintage cold rayon.  It is great at adjusting to accommodate your body temperature, acting almost like a silk – lightweight for summer but a great layer in the winter.  It has a really heavy drape on its own when you pick up rayon knit as a mere cut of fabric, yet once it is sewn into being a garment it feels like you have nothing on…scandalously comfortable!  It drapes around your body in the most glamorous way, but also flows like a silky satin and has such a fabulous stretch.  I am forever on the fence about Rayon knit – I hate it when I sew with it but love it when I wear it.   Just so long as I can add beauty to this tricky and difficult fabric…give it its ‘glow up’…then my time invested is made worthwhile.  This dress is by far my favorite use of rayon jersey, yet!

     To add to my general ‘glow up’ outfit theme, I brought out the really high-end vintage heels from my wardrobe.  These are Salvatore Ferragamo brand leather T-strap shoes dating to the 1970s.  They easily passing as older vintage because of their classic, well-made style.  These are in great condition and thus still very wearable – not stiff or delicate, although I do only save them for special occasions.  I love the fine details, such as branded buckles, and the rare material of the snakeskin contrast.  I am not one just about looks when it comes to my shoes, so they are also incredibly comfortable.  These Ferragamo heels might be the top tier of footwear in my closet, and I love what they add to this outfit and how fabulous they make me feel. 

     How will your glow up take its form this year?  In what way will you invest in yourself?  Will it be directly through some physical, emotional, or mental improvement or perhaps indirectly through your wardrobe, household setting, or social life?  I will try to include a little of all of this, perhaps, spread out over the course of the year.  The easiest approach for is for me to start that glow up by reconsidering the intentions with which I wear, make, and take care of my clothes.  This is a pretty accessible and worthwhile take on a glow up for anyone and everyone since what we wear can be a powerful mood enhancer, means of expression, and armor that suits us up for the opportunities of the day.  Whatever you make of this coming year, let me wish you a happy and healthy 2023!

Counting Down…

    A ticking clock tracking the arrival of the New Year of 2023 isn’t the only thing I am watching at the moment.  In case you missed it, I just had my 450th post here on my blog, so I am now counting down to my next milestone…number 500!  What a way to end my year!  Although 2022 has been one especially tough and challenging time for me, my blog and its wonderful readers is one reason alone to count my blessings. 

     The pieces highlighted in this post are a merging of multiple decades and influences, all combined into one versatile but elegant ensemble.  This is so classic of me to do!  The jacquard over blouse is from the mid-century “Swinging Sixties” and the dress is from the “Hippie Era” of the 1970s.  Both were put together in a way that I hope is reminiscent of 1930’s era glamour.  I do believe that it would be hard for anyone to ever guess the origin decade of each design with the way I made them!  Of course, some of this may be due to the way I interpret my old patterns – I do need my handmade garments to be a modern and very individualistic interpretation of past styles. 

     Such ambiguity of vintage fashion only goes to show that stereotypical looks are frequently not a catch-all summary of a particular decade out of the past.  In every commonly held story about fashion history there is something yet to uncover that’s quietly hiding between the lines, just waiting to be shared by the right person.  Those further stories are something I attempt to expound upon through my blog.  As I have been progressively going through the fashions of the last 100 years and their history, individually sewing each year in antiquity, it seems that the more things change, they also stay the same to a point.  It is sad to know this is the last post of 2022, but also exciting to look ahead to everything I will share with all of you for the coming 2023.  Here’s to more fabulous fashions to sew, further historical details to learn, fun times to share, and more glimpses into my life – all to be seen here at “Seam Racer”!

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a black polyester satin and a polyester/metallic jacquard, both lined in a cling-free, matte finish polyester

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #7807, year 1976, for the dress and Vogue #5419, year 1962, for the short over bodice – both patterns are vintage originals from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread with two zippers

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 10 hours, while my over bodice was in 6 hours.  Both pieces were sewn at the end of last year (in 2021).

THE INISIDES:  As both pieces are lined, the inner raw edges are fully encased except for the skirt half to the dress, which has its seams left raw because they – being cut on the bias – do not fray.

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics had been bought from my local JoAnn Fabrics store about 6 years back for other projects.  The jacquard was a clearance remnant so my one yard was half the price of a full yard with 50% off – a price of $10, in other words.  The black satin was on sale, but I did buy 3 yards.  My final total was about $35 for this set.  

     Half of this project has been on my mind for many years.  My first inspiration started by finding the jacquard remnant and feeling it had a nice modern Art Deco revival feel to it.  However, there wasn’t much there and it was too polyester looking at close inspection to pass for a true Depression-era piece, though.  This fancy Vogue #5419 pattern was the perfect match for being economical as well as channeling how the 1960s era revived the 1930s.  I specifically wanted the over blouse top to be a shoulder cover-up for an ivory brocade strapless dress I bought for myself 10 years ago (as seen in this post under my green jacket).  Adding a handmade garment to complete a ready-to-wear one always gets me to wear the one I didn’t make all the more.  The two garments did end up matching well.  After all, the dress I had was pretty much a line-for-line copy of the under dress included with the pattern for the over blouse.  Nevertheless, the knee length gives off a cocktail dress air, and I needed an evening outfit more elegant for my husband’s work’s Christmas party.  It was back to the drawing board.

It was sad to discover that the two dress bodice patterns had been cropped into almost a dozen pieces by the previous owner. I had to bust my brains assembling them back into their proper shape & size before using.

     This was the part of the project that had not been planned!  I brainstormed with barely a week before the event and looked through my stash of fabrics available at home.  Luckily, I had a variety of solid toned satins in larger cuts (about 3 yards each), hoping to use them for some 1930s gowns in the future.  Relying on only what was on hand, I happily, quickly, and economically whipped up this little black dress that is like the best of the 1930s and 70s combined.  I love it because it is unlike any other black dress in my wardrobe yet also so comfortable and sultry at the same time.  It glamorizes my jacquard bodice and fills in the scoop neckline just like I wanted.  Is it even an important occasion for a sewist if there wasn’t any drama in the planning beforehand?!  My outfit ideal ended up being finished with two days to spare.

     Let me begin with the easiest to make of the two – the over blouse.  It was easy because it was basic with just a few pattern pieces, yet I simplified it even more by eliminating the facings.  I did use the facing pieces to cut out iron-on stabilizer for the neckline edge, but otherwise the full body lining cleanly covers up all raw edges.  It is a good thing I did full lining because the jacquard was a real mess, fraying all over the place, and was very itchy against my skin when I did a few in-progress fitting try-ons.  I adapted the pattern early on by slightly raising the neckline and cutting the back body on the fold, just as was done for the front.  The pattern calls for a full buttoning back, but I instead put a zipper in the side for ease of dressing.  Being a jacquard, the fancy fabric technically had two ‘right’ sides, but I choose as my good side the one which had more black than gold to curb some of the shine. 

     The pattern did run overly generous in fit so I had to take in significant amounts distributed amongst the side seams and bust darts, as well as create a hidden fold in the center front.  The sleeves turned out unexpectedly long, way beyond the elbow, but I kept them as extended short sleeves because it evened out the look of the cropped bodice on my almost petite frame.  It was really tricky to fit.  I found it needs to be quite snug on the body to keep it from riding up.  I don’t know how the envelope cover shows the overblouse so loose fitting with so much gape.  I tried that out during one of my fitting try-ons and it did not work being worn like that.  That fit was very sloppy looking and shifted all over the place on my body.  Whatever the case, the snug fit that I found necessary meant that whatever I wear underneath needs to be thin and not bulky with definitely no sleeves.  If I wear my black high-waisted trousers (posted here) with this overblouse I will layer a tank top underneath.  My choice for an underdress is the ivory brocade one I mentioned earlier or the black satin one you see in this post.

     I don’t know about you but I can’t help but see a slight Regency era influence to the design of this top.  It is not much different than the short jackets and decorative bodices that were worn over dresses between the 1800 to 1820s time period.  Those pieces, called “Spencers”, similarly had a snug fit, empire waist, and were meant to be decoratively worn over an insubstantial dress.  Since I love Regency fashion and already have historical clothes for that era, I was therefore at ease with the odd style of this top.  Yet at the same time, it was completely out of my comfort level to pair it with modern styles.  The little 60’s top surprisingly works with more of my wardrobe than what I first intended (as mentioned in the former paragraph) and therefore gives me all sorts of new ideas for sneaking Regency styles in with my 21st century clothing choices. 

     Speaking of sneaking things in, not only is my black satin dress pretty “old Hollywood” for being a 1970s pattern with an almost tacky envelope illustration, but did you notice how I made some cheap fabric look more elegant than it really is?  Treating myself the good stuff, like silk, has spoiled me!  I don’t enjoy polyester fabrics as much as I used to, but a black satin as shiny as an oil slick is so appealing for a design like this. 

The benefit is immediately obvious in construction when the fabric pieces want to slip away from you and the skinny spaghetti straps are incredibly easy to turn inside out.  The smooth finish to the fabric made this the ideal underdress for flawlessly fitting under the over blouse. Ultimately, however, black garments can be so hard to see in detail as well as photograph (especially indoors) but the shine to the fabric is just enough to help my silhouette not get completely lost in the shadows of mid-winter.   Yay!  I found a way to love a fabric from my stash that was languishing, forgotten and unwanted.

     What helps achieve the slinky effect that plays upon the shine is my change in laying out the pattern.  The instructions said to lay everything out along the selvedge to make it straight grain.  However, I wanted to both avoid a harsh A-line shape to the skirt as I saw on the cover illustration and get a better fit without making it tighter.  Combining these aims with my desire to channel the 1930s, I decided upon cutting the skirt half of the dress on the bias grain.  I had plenty of extra fabric to do so!  This was the best upgrade for this pattern but it really made the waist seam a beast to sew…lots of easing in the excess bias.  My effort was all worth it in the end, though, because the softened silhouette and swish factor is unparalleled.  It is a bias cut dress that has my ideal balance of loose cling while also hugging my movements.  I love this dress!

     To counteract the bias cut skirt the empire waist bodice is cut on the straight grain, interfaced, and fully lined.  It is like its own brassiere being so stable, which is convenient with the spaghetti straps being placed so far out on the shoulders that conventional lingerie is not compatible.   The high waist and the widely placed straps give this 70’s dress a Regency flair in its own right with the way it emphasizes the open neckline, strong shoulders, and columnar appearance.   I had counted on this being the case – that was the only way it was going to be pair well as an undress for the little 60’s over blouse.   I figured if both had a Regency era influence they must end up looking good together even though they are from differing decades?  I had no confidence.  When I saw for the first try-on that the two pieces actually pair so well together I totally did a happy dance.  I love this part of sewing – the one where you actually surprise yourself with what you have made!  It is the best kind of reward. 

     I have also found the dress to be an incredibly versatile piece of its own right, but the details of the extent to that may just be for another post.  It is easy to pair tops over it and wear as if it was just a skirt.  The dress makes for a very nice long length slip dress under some long but also sheer dresses.  I want to make a long length open coat to pair over the dress to have more fun with its faux Regency appearance.  I never expected such resourceful dress when I put it together but such usefulness makes me like it all the more!

Let’s play a game called find the hidden hand-stitching. Really, though – look at how both are so nicely finished!

     Everything over and above the basic garment piecing for both items was finished with my finest invisible hand stitching.  My sewing machine was only used for the hidden inner seams.  I usually save my hands and shoulders the misery of doing this unless the fabrics that I am working with are fine or need a specific hem.  However, the fabrics for both pieces were cheap enough in quality with a glossy face that would expose machine stitching in a way which would not do either fabrics a favor.  I had to keep the ruse going and treat these fabrics as if they were nicer than they are to keep them looking that way as a finished piece.  A bias cut skirt is extremely tricky to hem on a machine anyway, and the jacquard probably would have acquired runs and pulls that I would have taken to easy way of machine top stitching.  What kind of finishing your handmade garments receive goes a long way towards the finished look and is just as important as every other step in the process of a sewing project. 

     Well – I suppose I have said more than enough and need to wrap up this last post for 2022.  I hope the holiday season finery that I shared here has inspired you or at least entertained you.  I trust that this post, like all of the rest, gives you a taste of the fun, the energy, the challenge, and the enjoyment that goes into everything related to sharing what I make…from a planning forethought to that final click of the publish button.  It is my way of reaching out to all of you, so I love it when you reach out to me with every like, comment, or message.      

My wish is that this upcoming New Year is the best yet to come for all of us!