“Au Naturel”

As much as I absolutely love to be dressed up and nicely put together, I am finding myself more and more comfortable in an every day, no-fuss, modern casual style with vintage references.  That has been a process in itself, recently.  The last time I had a signature casual style was as a teen in the 90’s – I was either wearing tight, printed tees and hip-hugging pants or oversized shirts and jean shorts, but I was never happy with my body or self-confident in such a get-up…neither would I be now.  However, I was mostly always dressed up then, and for years afterwards, though – between working, church-related activities, and trying to be professional and taken seriously growing up.

Now, I find myself not needing as many fancy clothes as I used to wear in the last 10 years, as I mostly work from home, as society is so grubby, and as our town is sorely lacking in dressy events.  Taking up sports that I never had the chance to enjoy as a teen has helped me finalize an everyday style that makes me feel together, but is unassuming and totally, comfortably me.  Rest assured my penchant for vintage is not going anywhere, as you can pinpoint in subtle references of my outfit details.  Yet, I need something much more darkly punkish and rough-and-tumble worthy to practice my new pastime exercise of skateboarding!  Welcome to the new me for 2020!

I really don’t want to risk much of my own makes when I go out with my board (learning to be a better rider necessarily involves falling), but I am working on filling that gap.  After all, being a “ska8er” girl has a definite air about it…that frequently consists of a specific style involving Converse sneakers (mine are pink, by the way) and the color black (why I have on 1940’s inspired Hell Bunny brand dark jeans)!  Yet, I do always need something me-made or a part of me feels missing, incomplete.  The most practical and immediate need in my casual wardrobe was a good jacket.  Taking up an outdoor sport in winter where I live can be challenging in many ways but I’ll start with the one I can address.  I currently have only one casual coat amongst a closet of dressy ones, and that one was bought RTW in my late teen years and is slightly tighter in fit now than I remember.  That is now amended with my sewing of this versatile wool blend, fully lined, mid-weight jacket!  I used a relatively new Burda Style pattern and modern scuba knit for an updated jacket that is a blend of two classics – a blazer and a bomber.

The open front reminds me of a suiting blazer, especially the way the original Burda version was completed.  The no-closure front gives me just enough fresh air to keep from being overheated when I am skateboarding.  It really is a tough full body exercise, people!  With the cozy lining, this jacket is much warmer than it might appear.  The loose, straight sleeves and raglan shoulder seams are so comfy and provide plenty of room to move in while still looking tailored.  There is the classic bomber jacket waistband with welt pockets.  Yet, a fine woolen sweater knit tweed helps combine dressy and sporty together in a way I absolutely love!  The sweater knit was opaque black on the “wrong” side so it was reversible and would have been quite appropriate to use on its own.  However, I find anything rabbit hair blended to be incredibly itchy to my skin, but I know it lends a lofty warmth so it was perfectly suited for outerwear.  The design calls for a jacquard or something with body, but this sweater knit is anything but that – it’s very loose and drapes well.  I like the unfussy look a softer material lends to the Burda Style jacket.  Dressy yet sporty, as I said, soft yet warm…which is pretty much 100% me!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The black and white tweed is a wool, angora, acrylic blend, and it is fully lined in a flannel back satin, with poly scuba knit as accents

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Open Jacket” #106 from the February 2018 magazine

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread and interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took about 7 hours to make and was finished on December 11, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  …completely covered by the full lining!

TOTAL COST:  I found the tweed as a 1 ½ yard remnant so I got a good deal…$10.  The flannel backed satin was bought on discount but not as good as a deal…about $14. The scuba knit was remnants leftover from a skirt I have made but not yet blogged about.

This was so much easier to make than it looks, but maybe that’s because the instructions were good on this pattern.  Besides, I have more practice on creating welt pockets by now so they’re not as stressful or confusing as used to be!  In lieu of traditional ribbed knit “sweatshirt” trim for the traditional bomber jacket waist hem, I merely used the same scuba knit around the neck.  Doing so provided a continuity to the jacket and worked out just as nice as a rib knit.  The center front extension tab at the waist hem was a bit tricky to accomplish, and I took a few experiments to understand just what the instructions were telling me to do, but once I ‘got it’ everything turned out great.  I chose the Burda Style size I always use and the fit seems to right on, as well.

The sleeves were drafted to be quite long, and so I adapted them slightly.  I left out the separate sew-on cuffs for more of a casual option and to make it simpler to sew, but really – it was merely an easy way to leave off a few inches in the total length.  I did cut just one cuff in half and sew each of the two parts into the sleeve bottoms like it was a facing to finish the inside.  The sleeves end at my knuckles if I do not fold them over, but if I want the look of a cuff (or just to get them out of the way of my hands), adding the facing inside gives me the option of doing so.  This was the only adaptation to the pattern.  The rest says true to the original design.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole thing – the part which really brings this up to a level above – is the bagged lining.  You leave an opening in one side seam to the lining body and sew it, right sides together, along the neck and front edges.  Then, you sew the lining to the seam which connects the scuba knit waist band to the jacket body, stretching as you go just like when it was first sewn in.  The trickiest part to the whole jacket is trying to connect the corner seam points to the bottom front of the jacket.  After that is accomplished, the whole jacket is turned right sides out through that lining seam opening.  I love this part!  It’s so satisfying to cover up all the stitching and raw edges in such a cleanly professional manner with one step!  I ironed and top-stitched the edges down and hand stitched together the lining opening and the sleeve-to-facing seams.  Sewing is literally magic.

No matter what the original motivation to sew this jacket was, this is literally more than just an item for my skateboarding escapades.  It is just a practical and useful piece to make to fill in for those times in my life that are not as glamorous as I would like to daydream about.  It is for real living.  Many of my vintage me-made items do also fall into that category – such as this movie inspired 40’s outfit for one of my most frequently worn examples – but it’s nice on occasion to find a style for myself apart from it which appreciates what designs we have to enjoy today.  Just sharing this post in itself helps me break some sort of comfort boundary about publicly embracing my less than opulent side…the plain old me, just doing my “thing”.  In the French, it’s an “an unpretentious state” of an “au naturel” Kelly!

Merry Mary…Quite the Contrary!

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Well, for Merry Mary, who has been passed over, forgotten, and unwanted for her 30 something years of existence, that is a tough pill to swallow.  Sure – she might be a bit gloomy and not the most striking upon first sight.  It hurts to be called ugly, though.  However, Merry Mary had faith that just the right ‘beholder’ would eventually come across her lonely life and see her inner potential…make her feel beautiful…wanted…fulfilled.  She was waiting for someone to tell her, “You are special to me…let’s make memories together.”  Ah, happy endings do and can happen.  Otherwise, Merry Mary would not be having her glorious feature story here on my blog!

You have just read the true yet dramatic story…of a fabric.  Call me crazy (don’t let me hear you say it, though) however anyone who has sewn long enough can understand that fabric can speak to you in curious ways.  This vintage fabric is copyrighted to 1988, carrying the name “Merry Mary” along the selvedge, and was a practically free find in a rummage sale.  It was too good of a deal to pass up – especially being a soft and harder-to-find rayon poplin weave.

Between the unusual print (looking so 90’s in 1988!) and the very useful two yards length, I soon found I was actually excited to sew something of it right away.  A general idea came quite effortlessly.  Of course it was much too tempting, but I paired the fabric with a year 1988 sewing pattern to end up with a project very specifically tied to a certain moment in time.  My first public wearing of the completed modern-vintage dress I made of the fabric completed in my mind the general emotions and background to such a long forgotten material.  Merry Mary’s story until now might be as drab as her muted colors, yet even if I’m the only one who likes it, that’s all that matters!  Beauty is in the eye of beholder and we should not judge others.

Of all the unusual and vintage styles I make and wear, I happily generally garner a pleasant, friendly, or at least curious response and attitude from those who see me.  It’s not that the feedback is what I am seeking when I choose to make what I sew.  I march to the beat of my own drum and create my own clothes to be true to myself and inner creativity.  However, the positive vibes I receive back certainly do help matters.  This 80’s dress is the first garment I have made which is obviously polarizing to passersbys.  Apparently, Merry Mary does not rub off the same way to others as she had for me.  ‘Too bad, so sad’ I independently think, because it is such a comfy dress that has just the right amount of a hot low neckline and a satisfying use of scraps.  Yeah, the gaudy 80s jewelry from my wonderful Grandma might be appropriate to the dress, but doesn’t help people love my look any better.  What can I say…I like to live big!  Nevertheless, it is quite interesting to try and figure out why those sour reactions are the case.  Revisiting the 80’s seems to be so polarizing.

Related to that, I’ll just come out with some personal info for sake of context.  In 1988, I was only just coming into the age when you start to remember life’s big events and exciting occasions.  Looking back at old pictures recently, I never realized my mother wore really classic 80’s fashions back then!  She sported all those wide and padded shouldered looks with the skinny skirts, power sets, and occasionally a wide collared dress.  Of course I am partial, but I think she rocked them quite well from my perspective today.  I do remember, coming from a non-judgmental child’s perspective, all I thought of back then was ‘how pretty my mom is’…no realization of what she was wearing (other than learning from and admiring her ability to fix herself up and put together an outfit!).  Perhaps we need to look at more of the 80’s fashion through more of that innocent perspective and stick to re-imagining it for the people we are today.

I know there are many right now who are all grown up and were children in the 80’s (like me).  I sense that the era is too ‘new’ for that bunch to do anything but find a gag reflex to those styles.  It is common to hate the era you feel is associated with your childhood or awkward teen years!  There were some bad fashion decisions then, I know, I’ll be the first to admit it, and yet I like to keep an open mind.  Check out what the great designers were creating.  Take a fresh outlook on it like I do, interpret it how you would like to have it instead, and own it for our current times.  Look out for the details in 80’s clothing which originated from past decades you do like (such as the 40’s or 50’s).  Realistically, it’s now 40 years since the 80’s and it is due for a refresh to be popping up at some point of this 2020 decade’s ‘fads’.  I’m just sayin’!  Nowadays, what comes ‘in style’ isn’t always what people want – things become popular out of social circumstance and Hollywood influence.  When that does happen, I’m already here for it.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon twill for the floral and poly faux suede remnants (leftover from making this 70’s jacket and sweater vest) for the front and back middle contrast (I used the satin side out)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8736, year 1988

NOTIONS:  I had all I needed, which was nothing special – thread, interfacing, a 22” zipper, and bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 18, 2019 after spending a total of about 8 to 10 hours to make it.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished in bias tape

TOTAL COST:  A total of only $2                                                                             

This was a total experiment kind of project that I’ve ended up liking because it’s different, it’s comfy, doesn’t look at all as terrible as I was worried it might be on me, and also on account that I took the time and thought to make it in the first place.  If I saw such a dress on the rack of a vintage store, I confess, I probably would not be appealed by it, as it really only comes to life once on a body and fully accessorized.  I took the dive for this design mostly on account of knowing a plastron works on my body and is yet another feature of the 1940s which the 80’s refreshed.  My curiosity of fashion history frequently can only be appeased and sorted out if I create the object in question.

Making my dress was so unexpectedly easy.  It helped this experimental project not place too much stress on being a big success because the time investment was low.  There is no lining, minimal facing, and it is loosely fitting so no precise tailoring was needed.  Also, I was somehow able to make this out of two yards when the envelope back grid suggests to use 3 yards!  Every single piece was butted up against the other, with no room for error, but I did not have to compromise on grain lines at all, luckily.  I only had to shorten the hem line by a few inches.  The front contrast just barely made it out of the remnants I had from using the faux suede twice before, which was very lucky.  Many times I think ahead and plan to leave space around my cuttings for what I might be using in the future…such foresight was not here.  There was nothing but inconsequential shreds left over of both fabrics after some extreme pattern Tetris.  I do love it when a project I don’t hope to revisit doesn’t add to my scrap bin at all!

Due to the loose fitting design (such as those ah-mazing batwing sleeves!), I made a straight size, despite usually grading between sizes for the bust-waist-hips for most other patterns.  The only thing there is to fit is to make sure the hips were no too tight and find a comfortable elastic waist length.  Yes – it has an elastic waist…eww, right?!  That’s what I thought, too, until I realized it is not seen, only covered by the attached waist band which comes out of each side to the pointed bottom of the plastron.  I can deal with that!

It was quite tricky to make sharp, cornered points at the bottom of the plastron because the waistband, the front skirt pleats, and the elastic casing all ends at the same spot on either side, as well…so there was a lot going on there!  I had to do some stitching of those spots by hand to be precise and avoid frustration from trying to lay my dress under the machine just perfectly.  If the rest of the dress came together in the blink of an eye, I don’t mind spending a bit more time on the only detailed spot to the dress.  I didn’t have to deal with a installing a zipper, after all, as this a pop-over-the-head dress.

I found a photo shoot location setting which calls to mind the American suburban shopping malls.  They sure saw their heyday in the 80’s.  Those were the days when you could do more than clothes shopping there – does anybody remember the game rooms, toy stores, pet shops, very Punk-Goth looking “Hot Topic” stores, and “Glamor Shots” photography studios which were in malls during that decade?  Don’t forget the hanging out with friends, and the great people watching!  Ah, those were the days.  That is what I love about re-making the clothes of the 1980s, it brings back good childhood memories I can reminisce in.  I can image myself back in the 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s wearing my older vintage outfits based on what I know and have learned, but I personally did not relive those decades like I did the 80’s and 90’s.  First-hand experience is everything.

I hope I’m re-creating the 80’s in such a way that makes it more appealing than the initial go-around of the decade.  This was a project which stays true to its original date more so than many of my projects, and yet by making it – in what felt like a flash, too – I felt that I owned it in my own way.  I loved letting my full head of hair and dated accessories go towards my advantage to channel the full 80’s effect!  This is probably only a late fall or winter dress due to the colors and suede material, which is good because my cold weather wardrobe is significantly smaller than my current amount of warm weather clothes.  I want to fill up the yearly slots on my decade page for the 1980s anyway!

Stay tuned for a look-alike outfit to follow on the heels of this post’s dress.  As I mentioned above, this style calls back to the 1940’s, so I will be sharing a WWII era twist soon!

Dior Animal

If – according to Stacey Londonanimal prints are really a neutral, than what color do I pair best with itI have made a few other animal print garments before, so how do I make yet another stand out from the rest?  Which direction do I go to sew something fantastic with some precious leopard print scraps from my Grandmother?

Christian Dior, Paris, France autumn-winter 1947

By using that old opinionated quote to start things in this post, I am only hinting that I merely went back to the very source of a very long-running ‘trend’.  That was the best way in my theory to find suitable direction.  I happily ended up with the ultimate self-made designer copy of a standout garment which is burned indelibly in fashion history.  I drew direct inspiration from a rich green, leopard contrast, fur-muffed coatdress in the premiere collection of Dior in late 1947.  Now I have my own fabulously warm yet classy home couture garment for “Designin’ December” 2019 challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice Dress! Thanks, I made it!!”.  I totally look forward to the chilly weather just for the opportunity to wear this special yet unusual combo of both coatdress and muff with a strong vintage panache!

There is perhaps no other designer of the 20th century who has remained so perennially popular and widely imitated quite like Dior.  Next to Chanel’s “little black dress” stereotype, Dior’s “New Look” of 1947 has become its own icon, a bigger than life story.  Yet, with all popularity and familiarity the Dior silhouette has become, it is not always recognized back to its proper designer source by people.  To highlight the most modern example of this, the popularity of the show “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” is now encroaching on the Dior glory, and many recognize the nipped waist, full-skirted, multi-seamed “princess” silhouette as being linked to the personal style of a fictional character.  The situation is not too different with the ever popular animal print in fashion.  It has been so overused as a movie character’s visual aid and featured in the collections of many prominent designers up until this day, that I wonder just how many people really know the influence Dior had on popularizing such a material design.  The silver screen has a powerful way of influencing fashion like no runway show has!

The democratizing of couture fashion, which started in the 1930s, certainly made a major impact on the Dior New Look post WWII, with many companies (from the “American Dior” Anne Fogarty to home sewing patterns like the one I used here) offering means of achieving a French high end style on any budget no matter where you live.  Although many countries, especially the United States (I’m thinking of you, Claire McCardell), showed their capability to offer creative, trend-setting fashion during WWII privations.  As soon as peace was signed, French clothiers were more than ready to regain their previous place of esteem.

With his premiere collection in the year 1947, Dior has afterwards never been really far from the spotlight of fashion, never not making some reflection into the current clothing trend of the time.  Yet for all the commonness of the princess silhouette of the 50’s, it still has not lost its luster of attractiveness, that aura of beautifully crafted design lines which makes both those lacking in sewing knowledge and those well-versed in it marvel alike at the creation of such structured, wonderful garments.  Here’s what I hope is a worthy tribute to the perfection of the very first vision of Dior’s popularity, wild animal that it is!  Practicing couture techniques, working at a slower pace, trying to primarily use invisible hand-stitching, executing professional finishings, and using high quality materials on this project all were due in part to being inspired after attending the exhibit earlier in the year at Denver, Colorado “Dior: From Paris to the World”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  COATDRESS: 100% wool felt, 1/8 inch thick, in a forest green and a 100% cotton flannel for the animal print contrast; MUFF: a faux fur and anti-pill fleece

PATTERN:  COATDRESS – Vintage Vogue #9280, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1948 pattern, originally Vogue #491 Couturier Design; MUFF – Simplicity #4851 (also printed as no.8910) a circa 1840s to 1860’s accessories pattern from 2003 by designer Andrea Schewe

NOTIONS:  nothing extraordinary was needed – thread, interfacing, a zipper for the side, and a button (in my case I used a kit to cover my own to match the leopard print), and stuffing with decorator’s cording for the muff

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My version of this dress involved much hand-stitching because I wanted invisibly finished edges and higher-end techniques, but even then, it took a relatively reasonable time for those details – it was made in about 40 hours (maybe more) and finished on March 25, 2019.  The faux fur muff was made in 2004, if I remember correctly, and only took 3 hours or less to make from start to finish!

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ flannel is interfaced along its edges, and the wool felt needs no finishing, so all edges are au natural!  The muff has all enclosed edges.

TOTAL COST:  The wool felt was from my local fabric store, and was originally over $20 a yard, but with my discount on top of a sale, I bought all of the 3 ½ yards I needed for only $30…how’s that for a deal?!  The leopard print is free, coming out of the fabric stash of my Grandmother.  I am also counting the muff as good as free because the materials were bought for me by my mom and I made it so long back…but in reality I used less than half a yard of both materials so this was probably a pretty low cost project…even with me picking out some really nice fake fur!  Altogether, the only real cost was the $35 for the dress!

Leopard print and a saturated green seem to be the quintessential combo (next to leopard and bright red) when looking through past fashion inspiration beside Dior’s 1947 coat.  I’ve noticed an explosion of green paired with animal prints starting in the 1920s and most frequently used on such items as nice suits and detailed coats.  Such a pairing was featured through respected sources – fashion illustrations, style magazines, pattern book covers, and Hollywood starlets.  I in fact have a 1930s French fashion print of a green coat, with leopard accents and a muff (see it here), framed on the wall of my sewing space!  You can browse through my related Pinterest board “Animal Prints“ for further sources and inspiration.

Rather than creating a line-for-line recreation of the Dior coat, I preferred to mix the influence of other pieces that inspired me and use a Vogue Couturier reissue for my means of interpretation.  No matter what designer I am inspired by, I love to stay true to my own tastes and respect the original creation I have my eye on by varying my version.  This Vintage Vogue reissue was supposedly directly inspired by Dior’s coats and dresses of his first big year, but the pattern itself is dated to the year after – 1948.  That is enough of a provenance for me to be happy, but also not feel like I am taking anything away from the designer except a good lesson in sewing.

I kept closely to the pattern, except for switching up the contrast box pleat in the skirt from the back to the front, making the added collar and cuffs not removable but permanent, as well as simplifying the means of bodice button closing.  I personally hate skirt back box pleats – they never stay looking perfectly creased and I always see them as progressively becoming more messy and out-of-place with every sit.  When you smash a complex fabric fold like a box pleat under your bum, things cannot bode well.  Thus, I switched that detail to the front, using the exact same pattern piece as was given for the back.  I love the fact that the front box pleat makes my version of the pattern appear to be even more of a coat-and-dress combo piece than the original design intended.

The pattern called for cufflink-style button closing in the bodice, and as much as I like the idea of it and how unusual it would be, thinking about that detail actually enacted brings to mind something bulky and fussy in the wrong place.  I wanted to make my own buttons out of the contrast leopard as well as continue the aura of this being a coat, and so one simple button in the front does more, in my opinion, with less.  My sole button also keeps the tummy area nicely flat and the bodice flaps out of the way!  I had to add a small leopard print square panel underneath the front closing just to fill in for when it does gape slightly (because there is only one button there), but as I mostly wear a lightweight knit top underneath my dress, I don’t really need that extra piece anyway.

As intimidating as this might look, this design was not hard to sew – it’s just tricky and needs precise execution.  I love every item that I sew (otherwise I would re-work it ‘til I was!), but not too often am I left in absolute wonderment and find myself humbled and respectful of what I just made.  I am not meaning this in a bragging way, only meaning that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to use such an ingenious pattern and successfully made something of it, this is really that good.  The front is practically one long piece with dizzying curves and odd bust darting.  The back is one piece brought in by darts which meet together to form a V above the waistline (quite tricky).  The back of the collar joins to the bodice in a lovely point (weirdly not in the line drawing).  The sleeves form the perfect fit for elbow room the way they subtly flare out, just right for showing off the cuff lining if you don’t always want to fold up the hem.  Everything altogether feels very fine indeed, and is so complimentary in all the best ways.  I found the fit to be pretty spot on – I graded between sizes according to the chart and I didn’t need to do any additional tailoring.  The bust and the sleeves tend be on the smaller side, just a bit, than I would like but all’s well that ends well!

The wool felt that I used for my dress was important for me to use on several levels.  However, first of all, it is such a beautiful material – so lofty for winter wear that keeps you warm yet breathes, easy-to-sew, easy to iron, and not itchy at all!  That being said, it had the perfect structure for this dress, as well.  The thick wool felt is stiff enough to make this coatdress keep a very stable shape without the need to add interfacing, horsehair trim at the hem, a crinoline slip, or boning along the insides like many tailored 50’s garments (and all Dior one’s!).  At the same time, it is soft enough to work with the curving seams perfectly, and be comfy to wear as well as simple to use.  Now that is a big win!

Mostly, though, aside from aesthetics, I wanted to use felt for the historical significance.  As I talked about in the beginning of my post, the Dior look was so popular that fashionistas on a budget immediately found ways to acquire the same thing through a different means.  Perhaps no other attempt at this is as well-known as the stereotypical “poodle skirts”.  The performer/singer Juli Lynne Charlot is credited for inventing the felt circle skirt in 1947.  Today they are loosely called “poodle skirt” because of the popularity of one of her many (frequently dog inspired) novelty pictures above the hem.  They had a humble beginning as her response to both finding a cheap and practical way to wear the newest Dior look as well as find a means of making money.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it, and as felt is made with a wide width, it’s perfect for a seamless circle skirt…just a hole in middle for the waist and you’re done!  By 1952, Juli Lynne had her own factory and was producing patterns.  You can read an excellent interview with Juli Lynne on this blog page from “The Vintage Traveler” where you can see images of her life and career, and more recently (August 22, 2019) “Dressed” had a podcast on this subject.

According to the blog interview at “The Vintage Traveler”, Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  I like that idea, too.  My clothes frequently get people talking, asking, me questions, or sharing the memories my style conjures!  This Dior inspired coatdress of mine so far has garnered many compliments, a few “oh, I sew too!” shares (this is the best), and even a few of the older generation telling me I remind them of classic Christmas movies or something a dear relative wore in their younger years.  It is all very sweet!  I am secretly a very social and people-loving person at heart, anyway, but experiences like that connect what I do (sewing) and the vintage styles I wear in a very meaningful manner both to me and the world around me.

The ‘Dior-ness’ of my outfit is fully continued with my accessories.  I am quite proud to sport a true Dior belt buckle.  I realize it is of a newer vintage (probably 80’s), but it has the name across the middle and carries the same idealism of the 1947 original that I was imitating.  Not too often do I get to go ‘all out’ and both find and buy a pricey designer brand item to complete one of my outfits, so doing it this time was a real treat!  I my garment is not instantly recognized for its Dior influence, my low-key but still obvious belt buckle will spell it out.  My earrings are French Dior-style studs, with a ball in front and one behind the lobe to cover the stud.  I couldn’t find a true Dior pair of earrings I could rationally afford after splurging on buckle, so I ordered the bronze ball/crystal back ones you see here from the Etsy shop “ArtandFact“.  My hat is a true vintage post WWII piece, and my shoes are Miz Mooz brand vintage reproduction heels.

Last but not least, my faux fur muffler needs a few words to be said for it!  It was made by me about 15 years in the past now when I wanted to get into Civil War reenacting and start with something fun which might be worn for other occasions.  I don’t remember much about it other than it was super fail-proof and ridiculously easy for a newbie like me (back then) to sewing with fur, and I used a bag of fiberfill polyester.  I rather wish I would have used something nicer than fleece for the inside but it does keep my hands so very warm!  I added the cording to make it less fussy and wearable over the shoulder or around the neck.  Without its cord, the muff would always need to be held, and I am the type who would grow weary of that and set it down to mistakenly forget it somewhere…never to be seen again.  Can’t you tell I’ve done such a thing before?!  A furry muffler is such a practical luxury item (it’s both glamorous yet good at keeping your hands from freezing) that happily came back as a trend in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  One day, I want to tweak this pattern and make another version in a faux astrakhan that is secretly a wallet inside, just as they did in the 40’s!

If you’ve made it this far down reading through my thorough post, thank you!  Well, this about wraps it up here for this decade.  I’ve been blogging for 8 out of the last 10 years, and am so grateful to each and every one of you for following, liking, and commenting!  I’ve been putting pressure on myself to decide what would be perfect to share in a post before a new decade.  Nevertheless, I realized it is just yet another year, and I have plenty more good stuff to share here and to do in the background just like this past one!  Life goes on and I’m looking forward to many more years of sewing and writing about it here!  This Dior coatdress was my chosen holiday outfit for this year.  It was the one I wore for our Christmas card pictures, after all, so I felt my end of year outfit to share was rather a natural choice.  Taking part in the “Designin’ December” challenge always ensures that I have a really amazing project to reveal and wear at the end of the year, anyway!

Preparing for ‘Ruff’ Weather

It must be miserable for dogs to have to do their potty business outside no matter cold or rain or whatever the weather.  Here where we live, it’s the cusp of when we normally start having all of winter’s most nasty weather, and our little fur baby does not at all like stepping outside in any such clime (not that I blame him!).  Being a dachshund – both long and short – most RTW coats do not fit him correctly and he waddles around in them unable to move naturally.  I’ve made coats for myself, I’ve made a coat for our son (posted previously, see here), and I have everything ready to sew a coat for the husband, but I realized there is one family member that really needed winter wear – our dog!

I had some scraps (literally just a few pieces) of quilted fabric leftover from the previous winter’s sewing.  The scraps were too small to warrant stashing away and an annoyance by keeping out.  Bingo! Our little companion can now go outside in relative comfort and style in a coat I made for just his body type!  Soon, everyone in my family circle will have a custom coat handmade by me.

His breed of dog has a German heritage, and so I put a bit of a Bavarian spin on the coat.  At first, that wasn’t intended – I was merely adapting the pattern to accommodate fitting his body, my shortage of available pieces to use, and easy finishing techniques.  However, I love everything about how it turned out!  In just over an hour, I had a made my pup a new coat.  Since the rest of the quilted fabric was used to make things for me, I personally know that stuff is super warm and cozy so I do hope he is as happy to wear the new coat as pleased as I am to see him in it.

I chose the extra small for the body of the coat and a small for the longer length plus under belly straps.  As it turned out, I only had to use one of the two under belly straps because he is such a little guy!  Also due to his smaller chest, a tissue fitting (tough to do on a wiggly animal!) seemed to show that the neck and tummy straps were at the wrong placement for him so they were the last things I attached at new spots for a custom fit.  He has a box of RTW coats which have been gifted to him and this is the only one that fully covers his back yet has him moving around and doing his outside business like he isn’t even wearing anything.  It’s about time…why hadn’t I thought of this before?!

The bias tape finishing the raw edges used up a color I never need otherwise and was the perfect solution to making this a quickly finished project.  My fur baby certainly doesn’t mind and I like the different combo of colors.  The tape highlights the extra collar that hangs over a half-hidden small pocket.  I will never know why dog coats have pockets – it is one of the world’s great conundrums.  Usually pockets are for the wearer of the garment to use, but I will be the one using it to carry things for his needs (if anything) so…is the pocket really for him?  If anything, it adds some extra interest and was a good way to use up the second chest strap I no longer needed otherwise.

I had a rectangle only big enough to cut out the main body without attached neck/chest strap, but as I mentioned before, they didn’t seem like they were going to fit as they were anyway.  The way to get the neck to fit was to have a separate chest piece…that was all I could manage out of my scraps anyway!  Those buttons are purely decorative because out of convenience the neck/chest piece is sewn down.  It’s one less thing to deal with to get him dressed because when he has to go, he sometimes can’t wait!  The sole side closure of the belly strap closes with Velcro loop tape.

This time every year I have so much more incentive to sew for others, anyway, but this is the first of my sewing going for a pet!  I don’t really expect to do much more sewing in that department, yet it is exciting to find a new use for my scraps.  I mean, dachshunds do show up on so many of the few pet patterns which do get released.  He probably hopes I don’t get carried away with my new discovery because he doesn’t necessarily like to model or be the subject of the camera.  He is so accommodating, though.   Don’t worry little buddy, the coat you were born with is plenty handsome…

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  two-sided, 100% cotton covered quilted batting

PATTERN:   Butterick #4885, year 2006, View C

NOTIONS:  I only used what was in my stash – matching thread, bright orange bias tape, and some 1980s buttons out of the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  From start to finish, this coat only took me an hour and a half!

TOTAL COST:  Basically nothing – a few dollars or less!  This was made of the scraps leftover from 2 ½ yards of quilted fabric which has already went towards two different outfits.  A third re-iteration of the same fabric is practically free in my opinion!

In the Spirit of the Rani

Even today, women of India grow up with the name of the Rani, a warrior for Independence and queen of Jhansi (circa mid-1800s), as a household celebrity and role model, so I have heard.  Now that her inspiration has transcended the continent of India, thanks to some authentic representation through Hollywood (the likes of which has not been seen before), women of American can now also love the exciting historical story of Laxmi Bai.  “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie, released November of 2019, is purported to be the very first United States movie starring an Indian woman as the main character, besides being produced, written, and directed by the mother-daughter team Swati Bhise and Devika Bhise.

As the manifestation of finding a new personal hero, this vintage mid-60’s style dress is the visible result of me channeling my own inner “Spirit of the Rani” since I first found out about Queen Laxmi Bai a few months back.  This outfit mirrors both the traditional clothes of Maratha province of India, besides imitating the outfits worn by the leading lady in “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie.  Now more than before, I am fully invested in continuing to add to my wardrobe of Indian inspired fashion (see my 1947 Independence Remembrance dress here and my 70’s inspired Sherwani jacket here).

I love the beautifully rich complexity that every Indian inspired outfit offers – a whole new aspect of their culture and history is opened up every time I dig deeper into the traditions of every different region.  I am in awe of the detailing and thought that goes into the practices and the fashions of India every time I sew something related to it.  This dress is not as culturally compelling as my last two Indian inspired garments and the ones I have plans for next, but the feelings behind it are just as strong as for the others…especially with the Rani as my muse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rich-toned cotton print with gold foil accents; the bodice is fully lined in an all-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #5702, year 1964 (Is it just me or does the middle woman in black remind you of Sophia Loren?)

NOTIONS:  All of what I needed was on hand already – zipper, thread, seam tape, bias tape – but the authentic Indian trim which is on my sleeves was ordered from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about13 hours and finished just in time – November 13, 2019 – for us to see the movie on its premiere weekend for United States showings.

THE INSIDES:  all either cleanly bias bound or covered by the bodice lining

TOTAL COST:  The foil-printed cotton fabric is something I have been holding onto since the late 90s or early 2000’s.  It came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  I always received the best deals from Hancock but after about 20 years in my stash, this fabric is as good as free to me and more than deserves to be seen and worn – finally!  My only cost was the lining cotton and the trim…$15 or less altogether.

The actual design lines to this dress are deceptively simple.  It is basically a standard sheath dress with a few lovely tweaks for a very nice fit.  The neckline is a rounded boatneck, the skirt has a mock-wrap look with its deep-set asymmetric knife pleat, and the full back zipper makes this easy to get on.  It fit great right out of the envelope, after only slightly shortening the rather long bodice.  I left the length long for more elegant air.

I do believe it is the rich-looking, detailed print of the thick cotton I chose (look at all the colors in it!) as well as the proper ethnic accessories which add so much to my dress.  There is no sense making an Indian inspired dress without the proper attributes!  Except for my shoes, which are vintage-style Chelsea Crew brand, my vintage golden belt, and my hair comb, which I made myself, all else was bought from local stores who carry ethnic sourced items.  Although this is a modern merge of Indian traditions, I would be remiss to leave out a dupatta shawl.  This one is woven rayon from India.  My necklace is composed of beads made from recycled sari remnants and my earrings are blue agate beads – both handmade in India.  However, my prized and proper, true ethnic addition is the mirror-work trim sewn down to the sleeve hems of my dress.  This was ordered direct from India out of a shop that specializes in supplying traditional buttons, trims, as well as woven and natural dyed fabrics (Fibers to Fabric on Etsy).

Looking back, Indian inspired fashions had seemed to explode in the global fashion scene in the 1950 era, especially so in the 1960s.  Sewing patterns (particularly ones idealized for border prints) which call for saris as suggested material and saris made into fashions according the mode of the day can be easily found popping up in vintage selling spheres today.  Sadly many such designs lack any sort of traditional approbation.  (See this Pinterest board of mine for some visual examples.)  These are great examples of the many ethnic influences which were prevailing in the Mid-Century Modern times.  I am wondering if the Indian influence of these decades past is due to something else besides a general outward-focused interest or desire for foreign inspiration, perhaps.  Maybe there was a steady influx of immigrants from India sharing their culture in America and elsewhere?  If so, was this maybe because of good visas abroad or because of some homeland political upheavals popping up in the decades following the 1947 Independence?  I have so many unanswered questions.

Either way, my dress follows the norm of such loosely influenced Mid-Century designs, with greater attribution coming from my accessories and idealism of the Rani.  Even the foiled cotton print is something which would have been very popular for the times as well, with fabric pioneers such as Alfred Shaheen bringing such a basic material up to a whole new level of classy with metallic accents and rich, vibrant colors and patterns.  Not everybody knows that old cotton prints in their pristine gloriousness can put contemporary versions to shame.  A cotton dress was by no means plain in the Mid-Century – I mean look at this vibrant Valentine’s Day dress I made of true vintage 50’s cotton!  This dress is only made of a newer version of an old style.  Yet, as I stated above in “The Facts”, the cotton I used for this Indian dress was edging dangerously close to becoming modern vintage in its own right, though – it has been in my stash for the last 20 years!  All the more reason I am so happy with my new dress!

For someone trying to make something from practically most of the last century, finding a pattern that appeals to me from the year 1965 is still a will-o-wisp I cannot capture.  Nevertheless, this year 1964 project is a satisfying close-call.  After all, 1965 designs seem to be either quite plain or a mere repeat of the same styles I see in the years both before and after, such as this Pierre Cardin design, Vogue Paris Original no.1443 from 1965 (also with a pleated, mock-wrap style skirt to the dress).  I’m hoping the right year 1965 pattern will eventually fall into my lap, but in the meantime I’ll secretly be counting this dress as close enough to the middle of the 60’s.  There are other projects with a louder siren call to listen to!

I really did not see or plan for this project in my sewing plans queue, but was an easy make, an opportunity to learn more about my favorite foreign culture, a very good use of some lovely materials (if I do say so myself), and fulfilled my personal ‘need’ to honor the Rani at our viewing of such a wonderful film.  Many critical reviews are scathingly hard on it, but ignore them…the movie was beautiful. I cannot stress how important such historical and ethnic representation like this is to have today.  Besides the inclusiveness this film affords, the historical fact that the Rani – a woman – was the first popular freedom fighter and one of the top icons for Indian nationalists is not something only one country should acclaim. She believed women were just as powerful, smart, and worthwhile as men in a time (1850s) and place when she was fighting every side of societal and cultural norms for those ideals, not to mention standing up for her homeland first in diplomatic relations then in valiant battles to free it from the grip of the East India Company. Please make an effort to see this film for yourself or at least learn about the wonderful life of Rani of Jhansi.

Happily, my Rani inspired dress has prompted some discussions and sharing of my limited knowledge about her to those who happened to compliment me on my outfit the night I wore it out.  Any woman with an independent mind, courageous will, compassionate heart, loving temper, and patriotic fire inside manifested outwardly is the “Spirit of the Rani” today.  Not to be reckoned with lightly, such a woman is a powerful force in the world of today.  When women believe in their worth and capabilities they can do whatever it takes to fulfill their destinies and bring any dream to life. The Rani became more than a heroine, she became an idea.  When someone acts on an idea, anything can happen.  When the men around the Rani did not believe they had a chance of successful rebellion, she set up a formidable women’s corps to fight…which idea was also repeated during WWII with the ‘Rani of Jhansi regiment’ under Lakshmi Sahgal.  Let’s follow the Rani and act on those inspired ideas for the good of ourselves and others!  I started with only a dress, in this case