Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

With the refashions and sewing projects which need small cuts that I’ve been doing lately, some deep questions have arisen in head.  Primarily, what constitutes a fabric remnant?  When is a scrap piece of material considered rubbish?  When it is no longer useable?  Who is the judge of that?  How has our estimation of when the leftovers from creating a garment are considered unusable changed over the years and why?  Is figuring out such questions another key to truly sustainable fashion and new creative possibilities?  I have a feeling these questions are not easily answered nor can they be figured out in one blog post, but perhaps this outfit project is a small example to part of the solution.  It is made from two less than one-yard linen remnants and a handful of notion scraps, for an on-point 1960s era set which defies the modern disregard for its ‘waste’.

Only half a yard of 45” width novelty linen fabric was turned into this interesting pop-over crop top.  Just under one yard of linen became the slip dress to complete it.  If a remnant can make a full garment, should we still consider it scrap fabric?  My last post featured yet another half a yard top.  I suppose remnants used to be considered as those tiny pieces that became 1930s era crazy quilts, the stuff that is thrown away at all the sewing rooms, fabric stores, and homes of other seamstresses I know.  I love how the end of the bolt is a gold mine waiting to be dug because they are almost always deeply discounted and do work with more sewing designs than realized.  The 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s were really good at having sewing patterns that boldly advertised they would work for one yard or less.

Having more than a yard to work with is needed for many sewing projects, but it is not automatically a necessary luxury.  Refashioning my unwanted clothes, or taking the time to mend and alter, is on equal par with the indulgence of making just what I want to wear when I make it work with unwanted scraps.  In my mind, it’s because I like to be responsible and caring and appreciative of what I have.  I can turn this outlook into something fun and creative, catering to my individuality, by being the maker of my own fashion.

To continue this handmade, sustainable, and thrifty outfit theme, I would like to also point out that I also made my necklace out of a cheap, assorted bead pack I found on sale recently.  I am freaking infatuated with purple and pink, and lately orange as well, so this whole outfit is like my dream colors…but purple is my hands-down favorite.  Thus this necklace set is my new favorite accessory!  Each of the two necklaces are separate so I can wear the assorted seed bead one with or without the fancier, Czech glass, detailed one for a flexible look.  I brushed up on some beading skills learned back as a teen and had a blast making these necklaces.  I get to wear just what I imagined for a fraction of the cost and much better quality than I could possibly find to buy.  My bracelets and earrings are true vintage.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% Linen all around, so pardon the wrinkles!  The top is from a novelty, multi-color, open weave linen and the solid under dress/slip is a cross-dyed semi-sheer linen is a reddish pink color.

PATTERN:  a true vintage McCall’s #8786, year 1967, for the under dress/slip and a Simplicity #1364 “Jiffy” blouses from the year 1964 (originally Simplicity #5262)

NOTIONS:  Everything for this outfit was scraps from on hand – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and ribbons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both were made in only about 2 ½ hours each, and were finished on August 15, 2019.  These were definitely easy and quick projects!

THE INSIDES:  As linen frays something awful and that fraying gets scratchy, my top is bias bound while the dress is French seamed.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the top had come from JoAnn, and was only $2.50.  The cross dyed linen slip dress had been purchased for a few dollars as well when Hancock Fabrics had went out of business.  All together, the whole outfit cost me $6 at the most!

This is an awfully good classic, proper set for coming directly from the late 1960s!  The only slight giveaway to its era origins that I can see is in columnar, straight-line silhouette of the slip dress and the boxy shape of the top.  I love how cool and comfortable the set is and how versatile each item is on its own.  The underdress goes well with my modern bias flounced wrap dress, yet I do have some sheer pink floral chiffon in my stash to come back to this pattern and make the matching given overdress.  It is humorous how confused the 1967 pattern seems to be at what exactly to call what it has to offer – is it a camisole top dress, a slip, or just a dress?  The top goes with all sorts of bottoms, but especially my 1980s pink shorts!  These particular linens are such soft, sweat-wicking champions that layering them up like in this outfit is not a problem but rather feels quite good.  You just have to roll with the wrinkles, though!

I did just a few adaptations to the pieces’ to both make them fit and be as easy to go on as they are to wear.  First of all, the slip dress was in junior petite proportions and a too-small-for-me size.  Thus, I had to readjust the bust-waist-hips spacing and grade up at the same time.  Luckily this was a really simple design – one front, one back, a few fish-eye darts for shaping, tiny spaghetti straps, and a wide neckline facing.  I went a bit over and above what I needed in extra inches because I wanted the slip dress to be a closure-free, pop-over-the-head type of thing.  If I was planning on wearing this as both a dress on its own and as a slip, I didn’t want a stinkin’ zipper in the side.  I already have a 1940s and a 1950s slip that both have zippers, so I’ve been there and done that.  This linen was too soft and wonderful to confine into a zipper anyway.

Going along with that aesthetic, I went up a size larger when cutting out the top (and was forced to make it shorter based on the half yard I was working with).  I wanted it to be closure-free and easy, breezy, too.  It’s such a refresher to do without a zipper.  I really don’t mind sewing them in at all and they are a must in the structured garments I love to wear, but it is nice to do without both from a maker’s standpoint and as someone who likes simplistic fashion sometimes.

A few little details were all my two pieces needed to elevate this basic set to a chic, coordinated set.  To tie the slip dress in with the top and also make it look a little less plain, I used two random pieces of leftover ribbon from my stash for decorating along the hem.  They secretly cover up my hem stitching!  The lavender velvet ribbon is true vintage and all cotton, still on its original card, and out of the notions stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The cranberry sheer ribbon is modern, leftover from this dress project made many years back now.

My top needed something to pull the boxy shape in just a tad, so I stitched a button down at the bottom point of each side seam then made a thread loop three stripes away to pull the hem in.  I love how this ‘fix’ compliments the striped linen by making a lovely V at the side seam point (where the bust’s French dart and my back pleat is pulled in).  This ‘fix’ is nicely non-committal, too.  I can also wear it either way – full boxy or slightly tailored when buttoned in.  The notions I used were two leftover buttons I had cut off my son’s worn-through school pants before they were thrown away.  I’m proud of how I let very little go to waste around here!

“The Frade”, a stash swapping website where you can buy/sell/trade fabric, yarn, sewing projects and all sorts of maker supplies, states the statistic that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted when a garment is cut and made.  I do not know if they were referring to the industry or homemade clothing, but from the layout suggestions I see on modern patterns, for one example, I would personally think that percent would be much higher.  As long as grainlines are followed I see no reason for following a computer program’s suggestion for laying out pattern pieces on fabric compared to ‘playing Tetris’ to find an economical fit for minimal waste.  On average, I find I can make most patterns work with at least a half to ¾ yard less than the suggested amount needed on the envelope chart and end up with about 5% or less leftover.  Of course, all this does not apply to many vintage patterns, especially from the 1940s when they knew how to make the most of what they had on hand.

Sustainable fashion practices when sewing new from scratch might be more of a challenge or test of both patience and skill, but the results are worth it in the end.  Voracious fast fashion is ruining the world we live in and destroying appreciation for quality.  According to this article at the Fast Company, “the average number of times a garment is worn before it stops being used has gone down by 36% over the last 15 years (yay!), and yet many consumers wear their items for less than 10 times.”  This is bad news for efforts to limit waste in the fashion industry (info also quoted here @RightfullySewn)”  because over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled.  There is a problem.

Whether or not we go through sewing projects just as fast as we might with store bought fast fashion, we sewists have the perfect opportunity to be smart about what we make, just as open to the kind of accountability we want – or should expect – from big business.  We can create with supplies that are either vintage, secondhand, or in our stash, and make items with a quality that we will enjoy for years to come.  We can mend when it is needed, tailor as our body demands, and finally recycle in one of the many modern means when all of those options are not viable.  Please, I beg you, choose natural fibers, anything other than a plastic or chemical based material.  We who sew have the answer to sustainable fashion just by our creative capability, and sustainable fashion absolutely needs to happen.  Might I suggest there is a duty attached to sewing, because ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’ as the saying goes.  Maybe we can kick start that with a change of mentality towards the good old-fashioned regard of remnants.  A good creative challenge never hurt anyone, either.

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“Fruit Salad…Yummy, Yummy…”

Anyone who has had or known a child growing up in the last 10 years might know “The Wiggles” song my title refers to!  I can’t help but think of that quirky tune when looking at or even wearing this fun little vintage crop top.  Only half of a yard of this bright fruit print rayon just had to be redeemed into something more than just a supporting role in a sewing project, in my opinion.  I am so happy to have made the remnant work as this 1950s sun top!  With a bright print like this portraying a yummy cocktail salad how can I not be put in good spirits by my new creation?

My headband and earrings are me-made, and my sandals I had refashioned (yes, I even work on shoes!) but otherwise my skirt is a ready-to-wear standby item.  I can’t wait to see what my new crop top looks like with some vintage style jeans or a bright circle skirt!  The busy print with all the colors help this to match up with all sorts of bottom pieces – yay!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed rayon challis on the outside, a bright yellow cotton inside, and poly/cotton blend broadcloth for the straps

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8130, a 2016 reprint of what had original been Simplicity #2532, year 1958

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand, which is amazing because I used some notions which were more complex than what the pattern called for…more about that down later!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours (two evenings worth of sewing sessions) and finished on June 1, 2019

THE INSIDES:  Hey – this is fully lined, so the raw edges are incognito…

TOTAL COST:  I was able to pick up the rayon for about $1 but the lining was ‘more expensive’ at $2.50.  I’m not counting the scraps used for the straps and interfacing, or notions from my generous stash of supplies.  My total was about $4 – how awesome is that?

This summer has been so busy that a few hour project is all I can handle if I want a finished project.  Yet, I am all about not sacrificing quality.  Thus, I put in some extra time to make sure this little summer top is comfortable, effortless, nicely tailored, and will last me many more years of warm weather fun!

The most obvious part of construction that took some of the extra time to reach completion was the faulty amount of ease put into this design.  This needs to have a close, tight fit – both to stay up and to look right (not slouchy).  This is not a blouse or shirt.  That means there needs to be about zero to negative amount of wearing ease.   Tasha at “By Gum, By Golly” has an excellent, helpful review going over this same subject.  Looking at the finished garment measurements as compared to the size chart, it’s obvious there is a several inch ease added in for every size.  I myself went down one size to be safe, but even still, I had to bring in the top by over an inch for my first fitting.  I am pretty sure this was not how the original was and something added in when the pattern was re-released.  Vintage re-issues from the Big 4 pattern companies are sometimes really good at tweaking something that was just fine to begin with.  I’m sorry to be negative.  I should be glad for re-issues, though, because they do make vintage sewing something more mainstream, affordable, and attainable for all body sizes.  So, if you reach for this pattern for the first time, just remember this heads up to check the sizing, instead of recalling my crabbing!

Hiding under what might look like a simple little top is many seams and a secret to keeping them straight.  Boned seams further structure the body and combine with (what should be) a snug fit to share amazing tailoring that the 50s are so good at.  Many extant original 1950s evening dresses and summer bra tops have boning in them, too, so I like this true vintage touch.  Yet, I got rid of the boning directly through the bust as directed and instead opted for something a bit more naturally structured.  The side seams and center front alone have boning and there is a bra sewn into the front half in my version.  Boning is still in the back as well, as directed, but only on either side of the center because I added a back zipper.  It’s so much more convenient rather than a

A boned, true vintage piece very much like Simplicity #8130, for sale recently through Instagram

buttoning back, as the pattern directs and true vintage items have.  As I said, for me to fully enjoy this, it was going to have to be easy to wear – lingerie is sewn in already for no bra straps peeking out and no circus trick required lurking behind me either whenever I elect to put it on.  I chose a metal exposed zipper because it was what I had on hand but I do enjoy the funky, modern flair of it.  This might be vintage, but the time is today and I frequently don’t mind a little crossover between the two.

For my first time attempting to make a fully boned garment I am pretty happy. (My first trial at boning was for the back of this 50’s strapless romper I made awhile back, but that was just two little strips I added so I’m not fully counting that!)  I figured this little top was a good piece to go all out and experiment with.  It was no real biggie if I messed up or things didn’t turn out just right, between the busy print and the style itself.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t really that hard to do, just a bit tedious and time consuming, and I can’t think of how I would have done better.

The boning I used was the pre-packaged Dritz brand lightweight kind, already covered in a soft cotton blend sheath.  I had a pack of soft, jelly-like plastic caps to cover the cut ends.   I cut to the measurements provided in the instructions and pushed the caps over both the boning and its fabric cover, then stitched through all layers using the hole in the caps provided to anchor them on the ends.  Since my boning was covered, I top stitched it directly to the inside of the lining along the princess seams, but if it hadn’t been fabric coated I would have used the seam allowances to form a casing channel.

My only complaint is that the packaging of the boning had it all curled up too tightly in a roll and I had a hard time working to straighten the unwanted curving in it.  Even still it tends to want to do its own thing sometimes, working against my body.  That aside, I can’t wait to try boning again.  When I sew it, a boned garment is much more comfortable than I would have thought, especially compared to the scratchy boning in my extant vintage garments, it turned out well, and was fun to do.  I love the confidence and assurance in a great shape that a boned garment lends!

The ‘collar’ has me on the fence.  I like it but would rather have had it not have so much individual personality but stick closer to the main body.  It is cute though and makes this so fun and different.  You know I just had to make things so much harder for myself to squeeze this in on half a yard!  The grain line for the collar piece calls for it to be cut on the bias cross grain.  However, was lucky enough to make things work the way I cut the collar on an off-kilter straight grain.  I rarely go against the grain line so this was a rare deviance for me.  Perhaps this change in the cut and layout of the collar effected the way mine hangs on the finished top.  Sometimes it’s best just to make things work rather than finding perfectionism.  Coming from me this is something (I’m so hard on myself) but I really wanted that extra touch!  For an alternate idea, I can actually picture a big bias ruffle (not in the pattern, I know) coming from the neckline in a white eyelet version of this top.  Oh no, another project to add in my projects queue!  Apparently another version of this top is probably in my future.

Having the little black edging united both the contrast straps and bold back zipper together with the top as a whole – another reason I wanted the neckline collar.  I disregarded the pattern piece for the edging and used pre-made bias tape instead out of convenience.  Mitering the corners is still important whether you use the pattern for the edging or bias tape or ribbon for edging, though.  Perfect points make that overhang really appear as if it is mock-collar.

The instructions call for a lot more interfacing than I committed.  It called for the whole body to be stabilized on top of adding the boning.  To me that doesn’t sound comfy for a summer top…it sounds like sweaty, unbreathable torture to be.  I left out the interfacing through the body and added it instead in shoulder straps.  This makes more sense to me and feels better to wear.  The straps would be even better with an adjustable option like lingerie, but I really didn’t feel like something complicated and they were too wide to even work like that.  I didn’t want to make new skinny ones.  Perfect is being done, sometimes.

Well, I hope this post inspires you to think outside of the box and look at small cuts of fabric, what we consider remnants today, as having great potential.  Our grandmothers were onto something with their depression era practice of making scraps work in more ways than modern minds find imaginable.  Fabric is fabric to me, in any size cut!  It find it so funny how one little half yard turned into one complexly structured vintage top.  The many seams (10 vertically around) were my friend to help my idea along.  Between the bright print and the fun design and the thriftiness of it all, this make of mine really is a cheerful, ‘feel good’ summer piece.  Fruit salad, anyone?  I do love a healthy treat.

Domestic Alterations

There has been a really cool challenge just my kind of thing going on this month through Mia who blogs over at “Sew North” called “Alter It August” (read the full post here).  The summary of the challenge is to “examine your wardrobe and bring life and love to unworn garments”, aka, those that do not “spark joy”.  However, I agree with Mia – why perpetuate the “give it away, buy new, give it away, do it all again” vicious circle when you can fix up what you have until it does pass the Marie Kondo test?!  This is my mini montage post of some of my most recent refashions in honor of “Alter It August”.

These are all pretty basic refashions, made using garments that are everyday essentials of today – a blue pinpoint oxford, a nightgown, and a denim skirt.  These are all things that have been in our wardrobe for two decades now.  Yeah, perhaps I should be embarrassed how long we keep what we have, but we don’t buy a whole lot except what is necessary.  We are content enough to be happy with what we have as long as it is in good condition and working order.  However, I am very sensible about my “yet-to-refashion” stash, never wanting to reach “hoarder” status and wanting to keep it down to only a few drawers worth of items, and constantly weeding out what no longer fits or is too worn from our wardrobe.  All three of these pieces needed to go due to such reasons.  Yet, I see our unwanted items as equal to having fabric on hand, exciting ingredients in the recipe for a new project.  So, if it’s on its way out the door and I have the right idea with some free time, under the sewing machine it goes!

Firstly, I’ll start with my more polished refashion of the three I will be featuring.  This one has been a long time coming.  You see, I have been wanting a blouse made of pinpoint oxford blue shirting for the last few years.  I just never could figure out what weight and tone of blue I wanted so I kept putting off ordering any material!  Good things come to those who wait, I suppose, because my hubby’s standby shirt finally had the collar too filthy to clean with a rip in the sleeve and worn through cuffs.  What a dirty, messy boy!  It was mine now.

The collar was cut out into a simple round neck and the sleeves taken out.  Then the front side chest pocket unpicked off as well as the buttons removed.  It was being stripped!  I used a tight buttonhole stitch to close up the buttonholes and make new ones on the right side to make it a female right-over-left closing.  The same buttons were sewn on the closed buttonholes and when my blouse is on you’d never know the better.  His shirt was a slim fit style but I still brought the side seam in a bit and re-cut the armscye to put the new loose cut-sleeves in, albeit shorter sleeves now.  I used what was left from shortening the hem to make a skinny casing to cleanly bind the neckline and reposition down the front pocket.

I didn’t really want the refashioned blouse to look the same as any women’s oxford you can buy with very masculine features.  All the men’s-inspired women’s oxfords I have tried on before are stiff and uncomfortable, always wrinkling up my body, and too stiff and proper.  I wanted this one to be softer and unique.  So I took the most liberty with the sleeves.  I played around with several tweaks to the hem until I found what I liked.  I made a handful of ¼ pin tucks up for a few inches to lightly puff the sleeves out and add interest and shaping, like a mock cuff.  I might have seen something like this as inspiration, but I don’t remember where or if I did, so perhaps it was all my idea, so I’d like to think.  This was pretty much just what I wanted without having a specific idea for the sleeves – something subtly standout that adds yet doesn’t distract.

My new sleeves did not fit very well after all was done – they pulled at the underarms.  So I unpicked and added in a self-drafted underarm gusset.  That was the perfect fix for a loose fit that grazes over my body and stays relaxed in wearing ease.  Happily my self-drafted gussets turned out so much better than when I have to use a pattern.  The mid-weight cotton-poly blend was really easy to work with, too, so that helped.  Gussets are so hard to capture in a photograph!  An armpit picture is rarely graceful.

The best refashions happen when I don’t force ideas but let what comes naturally into my head be translated through my sewing.  It might not be the most complimentary thing I have made but I love it.  This blouse is comfy and all my own design – no pattern!  It is finally the blue pin point oxford I have always wanted with no cost on my part and one less item saved from the garbage!

My second project to be featured is something that will not be seen out of the inner household sphere.  Two nightgowns that were now too small and no longer interesting for me were turned into one quaintly freshened up little dress for bedtime.  I really liked the prints of both of the two and I had a housecoat to match the polka dot one so they were worth saving to me.  The main issue was the too small bust and shoulders on both.

The tank polka dot one was too short for my taste so it was designated to be the add-on to the floral print one.  I cut off the short little cap sleeves on the floral one and then cut several inches down into the side seam to open up the bust.  Those old sleeves were used to re-draft new ones off of the tank nightgown, based on both the measurements of the new armscye and this stray vintage pattern sleeve I had on hand.  My new sleeves disguise the fact that the sleeve is too far into my shoulder and they are generous enough to fill in for where the old ones failed…besides being so cute!  The self-faced, fold-over style also saved me from having to do a hem!

Okay, so the fit was saved on the nightgown. Next was the challenge of figuring out what to do with the extra polka dot knit.  I cut a total of four rectangle strips out of the leftovers and sewed them into one long continuous strip to make a giant ruffle for adding on the hem!  The fun contrast of the two prints and the quaint frill along the hem makes this real treat because it is something I would not try for my real dresses and blouses.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, though, because I secretly have a crush on the “shabby chic” aesthetic.  There’s nothing better than having your home clothes for relaxing being something which automatically cheers you up and makes you smile…exactly what my new refashioned nightgown does for me!

This last item to be featured is nothing special to look at, and very hard to see the real change my refashion causes.  However, this simple denim skirt had the most memories attached to it compared to most of what I do refashion.  I think I’ve had this skirt since I was about 13, and it was a go-to piece for my teen years.  It is a “Cherokee” brand (anyone else remember how great this Target brand was?) heavy cotton denim, and is still in awesome shape for the amount of wearings and washings it has seen.

However, the larger size of my current “mom hips” have prevented me from being able to even button it closed for the last few years.  I missed wearing it.  Thus this refashion was nothing special, just something to adjust the fit and keep the appearance of it basically the same so I could feel like I had a mere updated version of my old standby item to still wear

Anyways, all I did was I cut off just over 8 inches the hem, and used that to add in a center back panel.  What was a maxi length skirt was basically only turned into a knee length skirt and widened.  The add-in strip was tapered in at and just below the waist for a better fit and a fit-and-flare shape, since this was a very straight and skinny skirt originally.  The little bit of the button placket I had on the hem panel blended in perfectly with the existing waistband.  When the center belt loop was sewn back on, I was very happy with how well the alteration is not noticeable.  The raw edges were serged (overlocked) inside for a clean finish and top-stitched down in matching golden denim thread to further match with the rest of the skirt.

We all know getting rid of something connected with memories is hard, but with a refashion of a treasured piece of clothing, it’s the best kind of letting go. It’s like moving on and owning your life, past and present.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not about trying to keep my stuff forever.  I’m always conscious not to stockpile things…we don’t keep what we cannot use.  There’s no room for that in a small house and life is better without being bogged down by “things”.  However, if you can make something you will use, do want, or even need from things that are already on hand, well how cool is that?!  Something for nothing is good in my book.  Besides, the current statistics of the percent of waste we are making is astounding, as well as the numbers counting up how much clothing is wasted and unwanted.  At this rate we’ll ruin the earth just for our buying habits…hey, we’ve already got a head start in that, sadly!

I do not think fashion needs to be as consumptive and impactful a commodity as it is today, and I’m trying to do my little part to be a sensible solution within our little household sphere.  Keeping up such wardrobe recycling practices, I’ll get around eventually to reaching my dream of a fully handmade closet!

A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, they have mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but they had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Dalani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!

A Very Mod British Summer Sun Suit

I am truly infatuated with shorts-inclusive vintage play sets this year!  After my 1940s set a few years back (see it here), and then the 50’s (posted here) and 80’s (previously posted here) sets from this 2019, I’ve now also rounded out things by whipping up a 1960s sun suit, as well!

This set is a special oddity in my sewing – its pattern is a little known “Le-Roy” brand printed by the Associated British Paper Patterns Company out of Bletchley.  (I am rather confused by an English pattern having a French name, though!)  This is only the second English pattern I have used (first one here) and certainly the only one of the brand I have in my stash…but then again I haven’t seen many of Le-Roy designs for sale either.  I picked this one up on a whim for a steal of a price years back and I’m so glad I did.  I definitely want to come back to this pattern in the future and make the tunic length overblouse, too.

Unfortunately, the rarity of the brand makes it hard to date precisely, but the trend for this type of set and the styling on the envelope is the key.  My estimate for this is that it is possibly as early as 1964 yet no later than 1968.  Why do I believe this?  The famous actress Audrey Hepburn wore a very similar two piece sun set in the British 1967 movie “Two for the Road”  We all know how fashion likes to follow what is seen on the stars and starlets of the silver screen!  Yet, my Simplicity brand calendar of vintage pattern cover images has an almost exact two piece summer outfit labelled as the year 1964 on the page for August 2019.

So my visual proof gave me a 5 year range, and I channeled it by using the print that I did.  After all, if you just had the line drawing to reference, this play set is not all too different from a two piece summer set from the 40’s or the 50’s (scroll through this Pinterest board of mine to see).  Thus, I felt I needed the material to be the visibly identifying factor (besides the close fit) to testify to its publishing date from very modern-looking 60’s era.  As luck would have it, the FDIM museum (in Los Angeles, California)recently shared through their Friday “Unboxing” videos on Instagram a designer Emilio Pucci blouse from 1967 with a geometric, two-color green print over a white background.  Seeing that reminded me so much of the leftovers to some modern designer pants I made a while back.  I just had to make what I feel is a perfectly Mod era outfit for a British style summer!  I’ve made so many dresses from the 60’s era this is such a fun kind of a change!

These two pieces were an under-one-yard, scrap-busting project that also now gives me full outfit options to some pants I made years back from the same material.  There is nothing quite like matching mix-and-match separates to make me feel like I am both ready for a trip and completely up to rocking this summer!  This is what optimizing one’s fabric stash looks like.  The ¾ yard leftovers from these Odeeh designer Burda Style pants were just enough to squeeze in these little pre-70’s short shorts and a crop top reminiscent of a vintage-style sports bra.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton duck cloth for the printed portion of the set, a 100% satin finish Pima cotton for the solid contrast, and a bleached cotton muslin for the lining material to each piece

PATTERN:  a mid to late 60’s LeRoy #3195

NOTIONS:  I had to custom order the little 6 inch separating sports zipper for the crop top, but otherwise I had all the thread and interfacing I needed.  The shorts have a true vintage metal zipper, painted in a lime green, also from on hand out of the notions stash in the drawers of my 1960 Necchi sewing machine cabinet.  I figured it was probably era appropriate!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The hand-stitched zipper took an hour and a half to sew in itself, but the overall two pieces were finished on July 12, 2019 in 15 to 20 hours.

THE INSIDES:  all covered up by full lining

TOTAL COST:  Next to nothing!  As I was using scraps from another project that was made several years back this is pretty much free in my mind, excepting the $8 zipper.

This was easy in theory to make.  The tricky part was nailing the fitting.  The underbust seam had to be snug enough to stay down but not tight like a bra.  I did not want the shorts to look like any other ill-fitting RTW item I have tried and left behind.  A quick tissue fit revealed this was pretty much spot on my size, but when working with a new pattern company and aiming for a very tailored fit I always give myself some extra room in seam allowance.  Technically this should have been a bit large for me going by their size chart, so I’m assuming either the company’s designs or merely this particular one ran small.  In a few places – such as over my hips – I had to bring the seam allowance out to only ¼ inch so I am so thankful I gave myself some wiggle room when I cut.  That was not an easy thing to do.

I might have made this set on ¾ yard, but with the extra room I added when cutting, every piece ended up touching the other.  This is always a bit unnerving because there is absolutely no room for error and I have to think of everything.  I do not encourage this.  When it does work out, however, such an economical pattern and fabric layout is the source of both relief and self-amazement, not to mention the euphoric happiness great stash-busting can bestow!

Contrasting the shorts hem and top neckline with a solid was sort of a semi-stash busting effort, as well.  It all started with some satin-finish Pima fabric bought for – but no longer needed – as a lining under a sheer silk.  It has now been tentatively slated to be pleated 40’s era shorts in the future.  The edges of the cut length were sacrificed as part of an experiment before committing to a whole garment in such a color.  You see, I have never really been a fan of chartreuse, but I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts.  I do like myself in yellow and in green individually, but both combined in one shade is something that makes my skin look sickly.  However, I know never to say never!  Using a bit of chartreuse as the contrast “edging” for these two pieces was a good trial to see how if the color in small amounts is more tolerable…and I do believe it is!  Anything in a satin Pima cotton will be beautiful, though.  The true shade on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellowed than the lime green in the print, I see it as a chartreuse in person, not captured by the pictures.

The design itself was very basic.  Yet, between a good handful of darts on both the shorts and the crop top as well as fantastic real-life curves tailored into the seams I think such a simple little set ends up with a great fit I really never expected.  I like the way there was a lack of a waistband yet the shorts still hug my true waist.  The way the wide U-shaped neckline really squares up my shoulders and frames the face…and is easy to dress into with the front zipper!  Cotton duck can be rough and aggravating on the skin and the background of the print is white after all, so even though the instructions tell me to make a full lining I would have done so anyway.

I feel happy and confident in this play set in just the way I had dreamed of and only half-hoped for.  My squishy midsection makes me feel naked when I think about what I am wearing and become self-conscious.  My bigger booty and power hips and thighs have always made me self-conscious, too, in close fit bottoms, even more so in shorts.  That, combined with the fact I have never really found a pair of close fitting bifurcated bottoms – short or long – that could fit me, have made me shy away from such a thing in the mistaken belief they would not work for me.

Well, this is why I sew.  I am able to make what I want to wear and do so in a way that actually fits me and compliments me.  After a sewing a few skinny jeans that I love (posted here and here), this set was an opportunity to redeem something I never supposed I could or would wear and enjoy.  I believe fashion should be glorious fun, thoughtfully interesting, and individually personalized if anyone is going to feel truly comfortable in it.  It has to be an extension of oneself.  Achieving such a sweet spot with certain items that people are unsure about from the beginning – whether it’s someone who doesn’t like skirts or (like me) with a play set such as this – and ending up totally won over enough to feel as if you suddenly have a new type of garment that you can love your body in…that is when fashion helps you be your best self.  I am showing more skin than I am normally comfortable doing, but between my maker’s pride, the fun colors, the curious oddity of the fashion, and the joy of something new, I love myself in this Mod British summer sun suit!