A 1917 Fairy-Tale

For some reason, circa 1917 garment styles for women are so dreamy, artistic, and fantastical, to me it’s like something out of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the First World War version.  Fashion was art, and art presented fashion in a way that is unrivaled, so that its appeal has not waned these past 100 years.  Women’s faces were drawn as delicate as a porcelain doll and their hands as graceful as a Goddess.  Their clothes are full of vivid and interesting color pairings.  Their silhouettes might be oddly inhuman in their attire, but somehow they appear harmonious, comfortable, with an entrancing complexity in design.  The background settings seem peaceful, idyllic, and dreamy.  It’s no wonder some teens’ era details are making subtle appearances on some modern runway clothes this year (see Chanel’s Haute Couture Collection, numbers 35, 38, 61, 63) and recently (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 dress or Gattinoni’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture).  The aura surrounding those old styles certainly were not a reflection of the reality of the times, however.

It is now the anniversary of Armistice, today November 11th.  This year’s Veteran’s Day is special as we are celebrating a benchmark century since a pact was signed for a cessation of the fighting of the Great War.  Thus, this year was high time that I figured out for myself the late 19-teens’ incredible niche in historical fashion, and an event this summer at the National World War I Memorial (in Kansas City, Missouri) had given me an excuse to do it, tangibly, in a glorious, flowing and feminine style.

Caught in between the 1920s and the late Titanic era, 1917 (1916 and 18, as well) clothes for women was neither the long lean lines of the era before nor was it the barreled torso silhouette of the one after.  Circa 1917 women’s fashion did take one thing to the extreme – the below the bust, almost Empire waistline, an interesting fad compared to the moderately high waist seen about 1914 and the almost hip length waist of the early 1920s.  Late WWI style was a beautiful middle ground that disappeared very quickly and only lasted a few years.  There was an overabundance of details, textures, interesting colors, and unusual features…many times in the same garment.  It was like an over-the-top display of quality, creative, and hand-crafted fashion before the clutches of mass-market RTW or the practicality following the post-stock market crash 10 years later would take over.

Now, let’s put a few things into perspective for a broader view of circa 1917 in my country.  By the late teens, the US had about 2,000 amusement parks.  As the culture of leisure carried over from the Gilded Age, and people seemed to be seeking thrills and adrenaline pumped delights with their free time, it was the beginning of the golden age of roller coasters (ca. 1919) due to the innovations of entrepreneur John Miller.  Menswear was beginning to break free of its Edwardian appearance and accepting the idea of “sportswear”, while women’s fashions were becoming more open to an independent woman, free to move through life without a full-length corset or a man to marry out of necessity.  The first Jazz music recording was commercially released to help usher in a whole new popular genre of listening pleasure and matching that with new active styles of dancing.  The United States officially acquired both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Things were looking up.

Yet, for a darker perspective, there were also three to five percent of the world’s population dead from the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918 to 1920).  WWI’s fighting was announced as begun for America in 1917 then hastily over in 1918, with about 13 major battles fought and counting about one man out of every thousand dead. President Wilson seemed to be wrapping it up for the nations, and the world was dealing with the aftereffects of the first Great War very unsuccessfully in my opinion.  On our own turf there were ‘problems’, as we had sixteen Americans executed by Pancho Villa and the southwest region in danger as part of our involvement in taking sides for the Mexican Revolution.  Dissatisfied workers in several unions in Seattle, Washington, seeking higher wages after toiling hard producing ships for WWI, went on America’s first general strike, where over 65,000 workers protested for 5 days.  Supposedly the strikers were under the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, leading to a “Red Scare”.

So – as much as the fashions of the late teens were dreamy, artistic, and evocative of ethereal beauty, the world of the mid to late 1910s was anything but a fairy-tale.  Face value can sometimes be just that…a dream, a wish for something better, visual trickery.  This is why the only modern item you will see on my 1917 dress is perhaps the most important one – an enamel red poppy flower pin from the National World War I Memorial.  We need to remember, respect, and learn of the sacrifices and the stories of the Forgotten Generation to make sure the Great War is not disregarded.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Cotton print (aqua background with a very Art Deco geometric design in purple) for the base layer of the dress, with a sheer lavender poly chiffon as the overlay for both dress and hat.  Basic white cotton sateen for the dress’ collar and ‘bib’ front panel.

PATTERN:  a Past Patterns Company reprint of a McCall #8159, from November 1917

NOTIONS:  Many prized notions went onto this dress to give it its necessary finishing touches – some are true vintage, some are special coming from family, and others are uniquely hard to find.  More about them in the body of my post.  Only the best…and I believe it shows!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I worked on this dress on and off for a few months and finally finished it on June 28, 2018 after 50 plus hours.  The hat took only 2 hours to refashion.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound with the sheer sleeves, over skirt, and bodice armscye French finished

TOTAL COST:  All my fabric was bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabric Store, with all the finishing trims and notions already on hand (free), I spent around $40.

Fashion was very important to women of the time and magazines of the latest modes of dressing even more so.  “A reaction of the emergence of fashion photography, an annual subscription to an exquisitely illustrated fashion and lifestyle publications could cost as much as a car in 1914”.  During World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s Magazine alone had over a million subscribers each. No wonder the best artists were hired for illustrations – for one case in point, the great couturier Mainbocher started off as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue after serving in WWI.  Erté and George Barbier are more examples.

However, for one who wants to sew a ‘copy’ of such fashions, these drawings are important only so far as to figuring out what colors, what details, what silhouette to achieve to look authentic.  Construction and closing methods are a mystery.  That is why I started with a copy of a true original pattern…because nothing beats the real thing, right?  So, I had a good starting point but not much to go on because if you think vintage a la 1930s or 40’s patterns are lacking in instruction thoroughness, well, you’ve never seen an antique pattern.  I literally had only two small paragraphs and one tiny layout diagram to go by as my guide.  This is why my next resource was both textual research and sourcing old 100 year old garments for sale online to see physical specifics.

It wasn’t until the 1930s (pretty much) that the way a garment closed on the body was visible and buttons were more than just a means of decoration or display of wealth.  The mid to late teens era kept the closures well hidden in seams or under more fabric and therefore a bit mysterious.  This dress has the very common (for 1916 to ‘18) ‘bib’ front bodice vest piece that does the double duty of both covering the front closures and completing the waist by continuing on as a cummerbund-sash to be tied in a fancy bow behind.  It’s sort of hard to show, but underneath the bib panel, hook-and-eye tape closes the center front, with a few more single hooks for the small side seam opening (covered by the cummerbund wrap around).

On its own, the front covering is a large T-shaped piece.  It has every edge self-enclosed in a facing double and was the last thing directed to be added on to the dress.  Even then it is only lightly tacked on at the right top edge while it hook-and-loops closed at the left corner.  I have seen some of these ‘bib’ frontispieces for sale separately and so I can conclude that some of these were meant to be removable.  This is quite smart, really!  They could easily be cleaned gently by hand this way, without needing to launder the whole dress, too, and most of the prettiest decorations and precious haberdashery could be added on the frontispiece with no fear of being beat up by a general washing.  Most of the antique original ‘bib’ pieces that I have seen have been in the finest linen or silk, since (at that time) most of the wool was going to soldiers’ uniforms and the cotton was making canvas gaiters, satchels, and tents for the war.  Mine is sateen so it has a slight shine that the camera images aren’t really picking up, but I more than made up for the basic material with lots of detail and meticulous hand work.

First of all, plain whites need something extra to make them look fancy and not, well…plain.  This is a dress from the teens, anyway and more subdued excess (within reason) the better was the rule!  My primary add-on was the buttons on the bib front, I knew these were a definite choice.  They are true teens era buttons, in glass, painted in a rich purple over the nubby top texture (see a closer picture on this Instagram post).  They look like fresh tiny mulberries to me – mmm!  To prevent the paint from chipping, as it was starting to do already, I applied a light painting of clear top coat, such as is used on fingernail lacquer.

Then came the lace!  This is a heavy cotton lace which my husband bought for me over a year ago in Italy when he went on a business trip to Milan.  As much as it pained me to use it and not stash it, the Belgium-style lace was just what I had in mind and looks like embroidery from afar.  If I could have come up with a shortcut way to tack it on I would have, but instead it took me several extra hours of hand stitching to tack it down along the bib top along the neckline, along the bib front waistline bottom, and the bottom end of the sash just above the tassels.  Do the sash end tassels make it look like I have servant call pulls?  Maybe, but crazy things work in teens fashion and not only do the tassels weigh the ties down but add color and interest from behind.

Finally, to connect the aqua in the under (base) layer of the dress, which you don’t see much of above the knees, I added matching colored feather stitching along the collar edge. Let’s briefly address some good, old-fashioned, quality hand-stitching – it used to be much more than just straight and basic. Until about the teens and no later than the mid-1920’s, hand sewing, even if was just necessary for top-stitching, was detailed, incredibly tiny, precise, and very understated for the time and high quality it shows. It is a skill too lovely to only admire, with feather stitching in particular as my new fascination for hand stitching. This stitch is an embroidery technique which can be ornamental sewing when worked with single threads and it uses loops caught and pulled to make a vine design.  My favorite tutorial to learn feather stitching from can be found here if you want to learn too.  It’s not hard, but the challenge is to be uniform and consistent with spacing.  My collar needed top-stitching and it needed something to give it pizazz while being authentic – feather stitching took care of all of that at once.

Other than the detailing, the dress was really pretty simple to make and the fit was spot on.  After all the skirt was just a basic gathered skirt.  Every pattern piece was pretty much basic geometrics – no darts or fancy shaping, either.  Once the front closing mystery was understood the bodice was simple, too, as were the sleeves…very modern with their flared shape known as “angel” style.  (Look closely and you will see the small fishing weight on the inner sleeve end to make the chiffon hang!)  I must add, the dress while in progress did look like a total piece of trash all the way up until it was almost done.  I just kept hoping for the better as it was being assembled and plugging through the project.  Now I’m so very glad I persevered.

The pattern was my size technically, but I don’t like the lack of a “mistake cushion” that tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances provide so I added an extra inch all along every seam allowance to make them bigger and also “just in case” the fit was wrong.  I remembered that the 1920 blouse pattern which I used before had small shoulders – and I have big arms – so I slashed and spread this pattern’s sleeve tops before cutting out in the chiffon.  With my little changes, this pattern fits perfectly and turned out just like a 1917 dress from a fashion magazine, so I think!

The hem ran very long, again similar to both the 1920 and 1914 skirt patterns I have already used, but this is meant to be for a wide hem.  These wide and deep hems in early 20th century historical fashions really help to shape them, kind of like a stiffening, and need to hand pick-stitched down.  This dress’ hem has a slight “Hobble skirt” reference by the way is tapers in slightly slimmer for the last 8 inches above the hemline.  To emphasize the widening of the upper half of the skirt, the sheer overlay was cut in a high-low hem.  The more fashion images you see in the 1916 to 1918 range, the more it seems that every skirt overlay (and they were popular) had either a hem decoration and/or a curiously shaped hemline.  I went with both because it struck me as working well for this dress.  The arching sheer skirt compliments the arching bodice panel and the purple flower trim I added along this edge brings an overall harmony to the dress with the same trim being used on the sleeves.

With slightly shorter hemlines making it easier for women during the War to move around, it was also the opportunity to show off one’s pretty ankles in fabulous decorated stockings!  I have been holding onto these flocked, floral, vine-patterned, ivory stockings for a very long time just because I knew they were unusual, and now they were just what I needed.  Highly decorative embroidered or painted stockings, “clocked” hosiery as it’s called, had been immensely popular in the 18th century, but had a very strong comeback in the mid to late teens as soon as the skirts were slimmer and shorter.  Many 1910s and 20’s stockings enjoyed the “new” aspect of fashion even to the point of being very fantastical – see this post for snake and bird hosiery!  To say ‘Clocked’ stockings means they have an added design up the ankle, where traditionally a ‘gusset’/wedge has been added to give it shape – very racy considering it wasn’t until the later 1920’s that hosiery was considered as something other than underwear!

Of course, none of this outfit would have the proper look and feel without a good foundation.  Happily, I already had my under layers already me-made and available.  The late teens was in a weird position with regards to underwear.  Things were starting to change over to the looser, more modern two-piece “bra and bloomers”.  The corsetry that was around no longer had such long, lean lines and full body coverage (like what I wore under my 1914 ensemble).  I do not have a shorter late teens corset (like what the blogger “The Dreamstress” has put together).  The main idea is to have no bust support (keep the girls flat!) and volume around the knees with your slips and knickers, so I opted for the early 20’s underwear set I did have…envisioning myself as a very fashion-forward woman doing so!  Over the underwear went a reproduction sleeveless slip which was identical in style lines to this earlier teens era slip which I blogged about here.  The front is a lovely eyelet and the lack of sleeves was perfect for the sheer arms of my dress.

After all my efforts invested in the dress, there was no way I was starting from scratch for my headgear, too.  Thus, the hat is a refashion of a dated 80s or 90’s piece which became a very plausible authentic match.  I made use of something from my wardrobe I never really wear and not only beautified it, but turned it into something I needed anyway – win-win, right!?  Many summer hats in the teens had wide but sheer brims, whether it was made of lace in a wire frame, rows of ribbon, chiffon, or an open mesh.  The last kind was exactly what I had in my dated hat, it only needed a rounder, mushroom-style crown that needed to be much fancier before being closer to authentic.  In order to totally match with the dress, I used the small remnants left of the purple chiffon to loosely wrap (and gently, invisibly hand tack) around the crown, finished off with an intricate burgundy and purple ribbon remnant to match the colors of the buttons and the tassels.

My accessories are all some sort of vintage, except for the waist watch hanging from a chain at the waist of my ‘bib’ front bodice panel.  That was bought new because it looked like a hanging watch I have from my Great Grandmother, only I wouldn’t dare use that one out and about so this is a memory-free and guilt-free replacement.  However, I did have no qualms about using and bringing the umbrella you see.  This is a treasured find, though.  It is a true 1910s (or early 1920s at the latest) piece I found for a deal in perfect condition.  The fabric is dyed silk, and so is the tassel to match, with the handle is covered in leather.  My necklace is vintage 1930s I believe, and carved mother of pearl, actually.  The earrings are of the 1940s from my Grandmother.  The purse is something I actually made for my 1920 outfit, but luckily the colors and the style pairs up perfectly here, too, I believe.  I did find some vintage 1960s leather heels to match, since strappy shoes, and especially French heels, too, were what was popular back then.

Our photo location is an appropriate backdrop as this building was originally built after the turn of the 20th century as a publication headquarters for a women’s’ fashion magazine mogul, Edward Gardner Lewis.  It was constructed in the fancy French neo-classical “Beaux-Arts” style, and acres of the surrounding area were bought up by Lewis to build an equally beautiful upper middle class neighborhood.  Luckily, most of this area of University City is well preserved and the homes look every bit as beautiful as it probably did in the teens and twenties.  They just don’t make architecture like they used to.

There is something so inherently satisfying to spending such excess in time, materials, and personal investment on something beautiful, worthwhile, and creative weather it’s a building or on a dress. I can attest that in the sewing sphere, it is addictive. It hails back to a time when sewing was a true art using one’s hands, when making clothes was more about crafting beauty than just getting clothes for one’s back, and before commercial-fast fashion had its full stranglehold on the garment industry. Quality in the small details is sorely needed today…only our world today needs to understand that it doesn’t come quickly or in bulk quantities.

When you think about WWI in terms of this, though, society needed bulk quantities of lasting quality in order to supply the troops, and yet somehow the world stepped up to provide.  What wool moths and decay have left behind, luckily many of these uniforms are still in great condition and fully wearable today.  It is heartening to see the amount of extant WWI items that are being worn and displayed with pride and a spirit open to seeing and learning from the past anew!  Even though this great centennial will now be over, I hope this era of history keeps being understood and remembered.  My next Great War project will be a women’s military uniform.

“WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” quote from Anita Shreve.  I hope my dreamy, fairy tale style dress outfit tells one small part of the great story.  Let us commemorate the fallen yet celebrate what peace we have today.

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Come Into My Web…

With the amount of vintage fashions that I make and wear, you’d think I’d have enjoyed Halloween in some wearable holiday-themed outfit from one of the popular decades of the 20th century – but no!  I always seem to do a fictional costume, or something historical, or just plain fun.  I haven’t ever done anything quite spooky ever, either.  In all, nothing is ever really a garment that I can include as part of my everyday vintage wardrobe.  All that has changed this year with a circa 1949 sultry femme-fatale outfit!  Using Gertie’s newest print, reproduced from a true vintage fabric, and scroll-work felt combined with raw buckram to make a curiously detailed hat, my ensemble is perfect for a jaunt out in the dark, rainy, and mysterious evenings of fall!

This is one of my very favorite, luxurious, and completely unique garment projects.  It was so fun to make a novelty outfit which is not just for an event but also for a season of the year.  The hat was super-easy make, and should work well for other outfits of any season, but truly compliments this set in a way far better than I had imagined.  However, if it wasn’t for the roses in the dress’ print, however, there is probably no way I would be even so much as trying anything with a spider theme.  The buggers creep me out!

The irony is that I added to what the webs were missing with my jeweled brooch – a vintage-style “Webster” pin ordered through “Nicoletta Carlone.com”.  He is not hair-raising, but rather cute (weird for me to say) and definitely glam.  After all – a web without a spider is a home without a tenant, right?!  All other accessories are true vintage items.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton sateen, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” 2018 print from Gertie with a sheer black chiffon for the neckline and a sweet pink broadcloth for the bodice lining; Hat – a felt placemat, buckram hat base crown, and black tulle netting

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4696, circa early 1950s for the dress…self-drafted hat

NOTIONS:  I had all the black thread and bias tapes I needed, and the modern tiny ball buttons (not vintage) were already in my stash.  I only had to buy a zipper for the side seam waist closure!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took about 15 hours to make and the hat was made in an hour and a half.  Both were finished on October 26, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  a combo of French and bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  About $35 was spent on the Gertie fabric alone, $5 on the chiffon, $2 on the zipper, and $8 for all the hat supplies (placemat from the arts and crafts store Michaels, and the buckram base from the Etsy shop “DanceCostumeSupply“).  $50 is my total.

This is my second time working with an Anne Adams vintage sewing pattern and what I found out from the first time rang true again.  Their designs seem to run quite small.  Just like before, my Anne Adams pattern was a size too large for me according to their chart, but it tuned out fitting me perfectly with 5/8 seams rather than the instructed ½ inch.  As unpredictable as vintage patterns are regarded by many to be, there are benchmarks to be found the more you sew with differing companies and various decades.  I’m not for certain that all Anne Adams will have their sizing off, but two times around is a pretty good confidence booster to know what I’m working with!  Size up with this brand, just in case.

Now, I did start with an early 50’s pattern, but I slightly adapted the design lines to make it more like a 1949 silhouette.  Post WWII fashion is remarkably similar between 1948 and 1952, minus slight differences.  All it basically took to change the date to this dress was eliminating the three paneled skirt front as designed and cutting out a slimmer, swinging, bias cut one instead.  The longer and leaner lines with a longer hem are trademarks of1949, whereas after 1950 there was more emphasis on a tiny waist and full hips (below the bust).  I was mostly copying off of an Aldens Department Store advertisement from 1949 (dated using the 60th anniversary emblem) by doing my adaptation, but nevertheless – the defined spider web print needed as few seams as possible anyway.  This pattern could certainly give what the fabric needed in my mind, which was minimal seam lines with no compromise on lovely shaping for a sultry air to the whimsical vintage print.  This dress sure delivered!

I can’t believe the neckline on this is original vintage.  The cheeky and bold taste that was around back then is much more alluring and lovely in my opinion than the modern baring-it-all fashion that leaves nothing to mystery.  The pieces for the bodice were so very basic, early on I was so doubtful that they would work out at all.  At the waist of the bodice, there are two sets of three stitched-down pleats in the front, and two small open pleats in the back but somehow they do their job turning odd shaped rectangles into something special.  There are small gathers at the shoulders too, though it’s not very noticeable in the sheer material…it just sort of helps to wrinkle up the front neckline a bit.

French seams are the strongest seam possible in such a lightweight and unsupportive fabric as chiffon, so that is what is holding the shoulders – and the body of the dress – together.  Fully lining the bodice not only gives body to the soft fashion fabric but also is a great way to cleanly finish the wide arching neckline where the sheer and the printed cotton meet – with no seam there, it lays nice and smooth.  A little sneak peek of pink that can sometimes be seen of the inside makes it so worth it, too.

The upper bodice from behind is, to me, a very slight call back to Victorian times, when the necklines were high, severe, and replete with a multitude of tiny buttons.  During Halloween, Victorian times seem to be what is stereotypically associated with haunted mansions and creepy, cackling women in frilly black dresses.  There are only 5 buttons here, but still – the difficulty it presents to dress yourself is a goth reference to decadence and stuffy society.  I hand sewed thread loops along the edge to catch the buttons.

I suppose now is a good a time as any to talk about what’s on my head, now that you can see the full details from the back of my hat!  Yes, as I mentioned above, I started with a placement to decorate a dining table, but in my defense it was thick, dense felt after all, too similar to hat material to ignore doing some Halloween shopping one night.  It was on clearance too!  I have always admired the wide hats of the mid to late 1940s which have decorative ‘windows’ or fancy cut outs in their big brims.  Such vintage hats I have seen are either too costly for my wallet or disappear too quickly to act on buying them.  So, as I do with most else in my wardrobe, I make my own version!

The place mat was slightly oval but so is the buckram crown (luckily on hand…I do keep a stock of hat bases “just in case”).  Luckily the crown was just enough to replace the skeleton head cut out of the center!  Before hand-stitching the place mat’s inner edges to the wired crown edges, I did add a double layer of tulle to the top (upper) side to stiffen it up.  The tulle adds a mesh look that compliments to raw buckram plus it makes to hat brim flat and not wavy along the edges like a 70’s slouch hat.  I merely hand tacked the tulle halfway through the felt all around the outer edges, kind of like a very tiny pad-stitching.  Most of the time, the tulle and the buckram base used for my hat are only foundation materials which are not meant to be seen, only hidden under other, better, fashion fabrics to achieve a final end.  By leaving the raw supplies I used exposed, the effect reminds me both of the fragility of a spider web and the physical decay we frequently revel in around Halloween.

Spider web prints seem to have exploded in the vintage fashion scene.  They are incredibly popular and collectable today, so it’s no wonder that several retailers are reprinting such fabric.  It’s a good thing for those of us who sew because we can provide ourselves with what we cannot get our hands on – vintage spider web dresses!  These prints can be found starting in the 1940s, or very late 30’s at the earliest.  Spider web prints seem to have had their high point between the mid-1940s and mid 1950s, but still quietly persisting through the 1960s and 70’s through the work of some bigger named designers.  For some reason, though, the form of stylized web-and-roses print that I have used from Gertie is the one that is most frequently seen.

Although I and the world of today tend to automatically associate spider web anything with the holiday of Halloween, if you look closely at the old original vintage advertisements for such spider web print dresses they specifically are for spring, yet also mention that it is an “all year design”.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to “Spider Web Clothes Vintage and Modern” so please visit there and look closely to read for yourself.  It is so interesting to look at the primary sources for this new vintage trend, because when you do, you realize we are looking at it quite differently than they did.  Spider webs for spring?  As lovely as my own dress and hat turned out (if I do say so myself) and as wonderful as it feels to wear this swingy and sexy little number, I think I’ll take any and every excuse to wear this as much as possible!

Graphic + Novel

There are unfamiliar clothing items that I would like to try and wear – things that the rest of the world is wearing.  I can remotely picture myself feeling good in such things, but the “play it safe” side in me pulls up my insecurities with my body every time.  I am so self-conscious about my physique.  Take into account that some of those things for my wilder-and-not-so-vintage side are really hard to find to suit my taste – like a really good quality pair of skinny jeans that will actually fit (with a high waist) or cool logo tees which are sustainable yet affordable.  I haven’t found either yet, which is why I don’t have them already!  In lieu of the misery of searching in vain I have used my sewing capabilities to fill in the answer.  After all, if I sew them, those bolder (for me) fashions become a source for a pride in what I made, a sense of accomplishment stronger than those insecurities which make me think I can’t wear what I fancy to imagine!

Here comes Wonder Woman help me out with that!  With a little ½ yard of graphic printed cotton and some too tight t-shirts back from when I was a mid teen, I have a new tank to remind me to own confidence, strength, and inner beauty.  But the remnants for making the Wonder Woman tank were enough to also update another yet uninteresting and unworn top from my wardrobe, too!  I totally ended up with the best deal ever, and made thoughtful and purposeful reuse of what I had on hand to now have new – novel – items that I am so happy with.  It’s a win all around. I swear – refashions are like a gift that keeps on giving. They make me feel like a wonder woman of the sewing world.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: Pants: 100% cotton twill, in 7 oz. weight with a brushed finish on the ‘right’ side, bought from “ebpfabric” on Ebay (here is the listing).  The color is a bright orange-undertoned red, “cayenne pepper”. Tops: two girls size cotton knit tees (at right), one in a semi-sheer slub knit in white and the other a solid navy double knit, were my starting point with a 100% cotton woven print for the front of my tank.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s “Vintage High Waisted Trousers”, from year 1957, #129, from April 2015 and self-drafting for the two tops.

NOTIONS:  I used whatever was on hand, which was thread, some bias tape, and a zipper for the pants fly

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The two tops only took a few hours to make on the afternoon of May 9, 2018, and the skinny pants were made on two afternoons and finished on October 7, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  I only spent $10 on the jean material and as my mom had bought these so far back, I’m counting them as free!

These tops I will show you are not the most stupendous things I have made by far, but everyone needs basic yet fun pieces in their wardrobe, right?  Mine will be all me-made if I keep this up…and I intend to!  You see, I’m systematically going through many of the clothes I still have from my teen years and updating them for my current fashion taste and place in life rather than immediately sending them to a resale store. This is the most eco-conscious means to refashion, not to mention a cheap and challenging way to have something new, but I sense that this is helping me find myself in a very special way by evolving my wardrobe while still remotely staying the same.

The white tee was originally way too small on me – duh.  It was for a 15 year old, not the woman I am today.  Something that is too tight and doesn’t fit never seems proper when I actually know how to tailor, besides not even being comfortable for me.  I began my re-fashioning by first cutting off the confining sleeves, side seams, and shoulders.  Using the back body of the old top as my starting point to draft the front panel, and knowing my own personal body measurements, I traced the existing shape onto sheer medical paper and graded up to what it needed to be to fit me.  Yet, remember – only the back was going to be used on my new tank and it was way too small.  The front was not going to stretch.  So I added an extra 3 ½ inches to the side seams of the front panel draft, arched the armhole around to the back slightly, and added an extra inch to the shoulders.

When you take something meant for a knit and want it to work with a woven you automatically have to add in a handful of extra ease.  A knit has negative ease – meaning, you subtract wearing ease and the stretchier the knit, the more inches you have to take out for it to fit.  Not so with a woven.  Depending on what fit you want, 2 and 3 inches added make for a snug fit, and 5 and 6 inches give a roomy ease.  My top was half-and-half, though, and so went in between when drafting my pattern.  No matter how simple a tank top might seem, finding the perfect fit and learning the nuances of pattern drafting is always important to me.  Besides – no matter how simple, anything you make is worth the extra effort to make sure you yourself ends up happy with it!

I kept the original neckline for the back half of my tank, to make things easy, and the rest of the edges on the new addition were finished with some black and some red bias tape from on hand.  I also kept the cute little logo on the front of my old white tee – It was of a colorful bejeweled Italian Vespa motorbike…vroom, vroom!  This left some good, still usable remnants still, and of course, while I was on the re-fashioning mindset, I picked out something else to update.

There has been this plain knit tee in navy, way too conservative with its high neck and basic sleeves, but so luxuriously soft in pima cotton, languishing in my closet for just as long as the white tee which I had already cut apart.  I only ever used this navy top as layering piece.  The body, shoulders, and sleeves still fit me so it merely needed a slight change.  Therefore, it was the first thing I thought of to cut into.  Granted, I’ll admit what I did do to the top was probably not the best and most unique choice.  However, I did want something basic (navy and white is pretty easy to match with).  Even just a simple V-neck, short sleeve re-fashion is a major improvement that I feel okay with to wear now.  A couple of facing strips later and I have a fun contrast edged tee.

There isn’t much to say that I haven’t already said in the post about the last (also the first) time I had made pants with both this fabric and pattern.  I cut the pattern out as-is again, and turned it inside out to do a body fit again, too.  The waistline was significantly harder to do this time for some reason, but it turned out okay.  I splurged on the inside edge finishing and made my own bias tape from the fun floral cotton leftover from this 1943 blouse.  I did make the legs a bit longer at the hemline, and despite my hopes to make these more like jeans I did the same invisible zipper front as last time.  Only, these red hot pants forced my hand to turn them into what I had said I would do with them.

Have I ever said that I have a thorough love-hate relationship with invisible zippers?  I do.  They look so nice and give me such a challenge to accomplish…when they work, and it seems there is never any guarantee to that.  They are like a time bomb to me, waiting to fail, so although I do use them here and there, I never fully trust them.  For good reason! I was trapped in my 1930s royal blue satin evening gown because of an in visible zipper fail and unable to wear it to the occasion for which I made it years back.  These jeans were luckily only being worn in the house at the time when the invisible zipper I had installed popped open.  Thank goodness I had not yet left the house that night!  I had to carefully cut myself out of the jeans from the front.

Thus, I went back to my original plan and drafted my own mock-fly to cover the sturdy, vintage metal zipper which is sewn in the front instead.  This meant I needed back pockets, too.  I drafted some petite sized pockets and subtly monogrammed them with a fanciful cursive initials of my own design before sewing them down.  Do you see the ‘K’ then a ‘B’?  Yes, to make it easy for you to see the initials without staring at my behind, I took a close-up picture of them while they were off of me.

For starting with a vintage reprint pattern and outdated tees, this set really turned out fresh for my taste to try something more upbeat.  The 1950s really had some killer skinny pants that preceded the modern fad for the same thing (except back then they often relied more on good tailoring than the fact there is stretch in its fabric to fit)!  It would have been a bit bold to see Wonder Woman sported so overtly for the 1950s, because during the “Silver Age” comics she underwent significant changes which softened and adapted her image in the absence of her creator.  With the resurgence of a powerful and popular Wonder Woman today, this is the perfect retake, in my opinion!

Oktoberfest “Black Forest” Dirndl

As a girl of strong German heritage, and a lover of vintage fashion, an old-fashioned ethnic outfit to celebrate Oktoberfest has long been on my to-make list, and is now – finally – a reality!  Here’s my year 1942 dirndl! Each piece is separate for ultimate mix-and-matchability, so can wear each on its own in the future or change up my dirndl in the future. This is something I am so happy with…it tuned out every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  Prost!

I was inspired by the traditional late 30’s/40’s “Black Forest Maiden” when making this.  The “Black Forest” is a very ancient, forested, mountainous region in southwest Germany.  It was already being named in Roman times.  The cultural dress and traditions of this region is likewise very old, and the rich dirndl customs associated with it have been around for the last several centuries.  Thus, I find it so sad that an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, temporarily became twisted by Hitler, used to suppress and subjugate women nationally in the late 30s and early 40s.  As a girl with very German roots I recognize that interpreting this can painful, but this is an outfit made to honor a woman I don’t know with a story I will never forget.

At a WWII reenactment two years ago, I met a wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable man with a thick German accent. As we chatted, I seemed to bring to mind something for him by wearing my vintage garb, and he proceeded to tell me about his mother. She was 11 or 12 when Hitler started his invasions, and the local Nazi Youth Movement chose her as the town’s “Black Forest Maiden” since she had the “perfect” body, hair and eye color. Terrified and crying, she was forced to lead the town’s parades, forced to wear what they chose, and be the “mascot” with her official photo. When I was shown that woman’s picture from back then, in her beautiful dirndl vest, with her stereotypical ‘Gretchen’ braids, she was so sad through that ‘perfect’ smile – that image is burned in my memory. And you think image crafting and body shaming is hardcore today…!  All the advancements that women of central Europe had been fighting for during the 20 years of the Inter-War period (and they were many) were threatened by the Nazi Idea of the model German woman.

I had no idea before hearing his emotional maternal story that a “Black Forest Maiden” was so forced on women and young girls who happened to fit the “faultless” Aryan mold, much like living out a punishment.  As if the way we are made is by choice!  Instead we have been incessantly fed a need to change one’s own inherent individual beauty for ages.  I have read that blond hair dye was extremely popular and encouraged back then for the brunettes, and posters and publications pressured a certain living ideal, too.  There is nothing like a first-hand account from those who lived through those times to get the real stories of the past.  Luckily, I can choose to wear what I want, and be happy celebrating heritage the way I choose in the fall, but making this dirndl reminds that was not always the case.  This is why I did not strictly adhere to the “Black Forest” ideal with my outfit – this is (to me) a freedom-of-expression version for a non-pale skinned, brown hair and dark eyed girl like me of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all fabrics are authentic to a vintage dirndl of the times – cotton for the skirt and a ribbed cotton velveteen for the vest, lined in basic broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4230, year 1942

NOTIONS:  I only wanted to use supplies that were on hand already, and all I absolutely needed to buy was the front zipper!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 20 hours to complete and was finished on October 13, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  As everything I used had been on hand in my stash for at least a few years (yay for whittling down my hoard of fabric), and (knowing me) I probably got it all on a good discounted price anyway, I’m counting this outfit as free!

I had the best surprise as I opened up the dirndl jumper pattern, the kind which don’t come that often (and I believe I have seen and opened up a lot of vintage patterns in my life).  This one copy of mine is in top tier condition.  It was still factory folded inside, no discoloring, smell, or brittleness and the trailing floral embroidery transfers were miraculously as pristine as the day they were made – never used and still shiny and waxy beaded up on the tissue paper strips.  I always see transfer papers either missing, used already, or the ink dry and crumbly.  Needless to say I really have no intention of actually using them, but it is neat and rather tempting knowing they are there and fully usable!  Perhaps once my commitment to full scale embroidery is more guaranteed in the future, I might make a copy of these transfers and try the design, but I would have to start such a project two seasons ahead at my rate and I have enough going on in my life.

The bodice vest’s novelty velveteen – already thick, sturdy, and lovely to touch – was fully lined and fully interfaced with sew-in muslin so it would end up almost like a corset, or at least a very substantial jacket weight.  Lining is always such a nice and easy way for both a professional finish and a clean way to finish all your edges and hide all your seams!  It was chilly the day of our town’s Oktoberfest, so my vest kept my entire middle so warm I needed no coat.

As I am a married woman, I have no red trimming (meant for single ladies) and my vest is primarily black.  There is a matching color separating front zipper wedged in the middle to close the front of my dirndl vest.  Happily it is not very noticeable at all.  I really considered a laced up front, but as zippers were the latest and greatest fashion edge in the late 30’s, I wanted this traditional-influenced dirndl to follow suit.  Besides, a simple closing accommodated the fancy trim I planned on using.

The braided trim is complex and dramatic, perfect for a dirndl where your haberdashery cannot be too fancy or your details too scrumptious.  It is a Simplicity brand roll that I had bought on deep discount years ago.  It is something so novelty that I had no clear idea of what to use it on at the time, but as something like this is hard to come by – and normally expensive – I had to have it.  I’m glad I did, because it was meant for this dirndl…the 4 feet on the roll was exactly the length needed to go completely around the front and neckline edge.  Even an inch less would have not worked.  It is a cotton rayon blend of a white satin soutache-style rope braided with multiple strands of twisted black rope which reminds me of what is on decorator’s tassels.  As much as I wanted a quick and easy way to attach the trim down, I put up with hand-stitching it down for a precise placement with threads unseen.  I am in amazement at how this special trim made my dirndl vest go above par. 

My skirt is self-drafted of a 40’s reproduction print.  The color is not as green as I would have liked, but neither is it solidly turquoise.  Whatever the tone, happily my skirt is very much a copy of the skirt and apron colors worn in the West German movie “The Black Forest Girl”, made in 1950.  The story for this movie is based on the operetta “Schwarzwaldmädel” by Leon Jessel, who died in the same year as my dirndl pattern – 1942.

It’s merely your basic gathered skirt, and for a good amount of pouf I brought in just over twice my waist length into a very nice, 1 ½ inch wide, lightly interfaced waistband.  In order to use the whole of my fabric with minimal cutting, I hand-stitched down a 12 inch hem to shape some fullness into the skirt, weigh it down, and keep it opaque.  There is a true vintage metal zipper in the side for an old-fashioned touch.  It should definitely be a great basic wardrobe staple during the spring and summer worn on its own with a tee or blouse apart from this dirndl.  I hope to make another skirt like this one, using a completely different print and material, to see how that changes the overall feel of my Germanic outfit.

An apron is a must with a dirndl!  I am using a handcrafted fine cotton apron that my mom had ordered from a vintage reproduction company, so it is not of my own making, but the details are just what I would want to pair with my outfit.  There is crocheted lace and both pintucks and ½ pleats for more texture and interest to the outfit.  The apron I had on for the day is a very wearable new version that reminds me of the apron I would have preferred to wear (but wouldn’t dare out of respect) – my Great-Great Grandmother’s apron handmade apron from circa 1890 (pictured at left).  This family history treasure was made on her way over to the United States, and the fine details are mind-blowing.  Just studying it is improving my sewing skills by practicing to imitate such tiny, regular feather-stitching on other items.

I do intend on sewing up the dirndl vest’s matching underblouse in a sheer white organdy just like the cover shows, but I ran out of time for this weekend.  It will be made soon, anyway, and be ready for next year.  Until then, I wore a fine linen blouse already in my wardrobe, one that has lovely floral-and-vine shadow work along the neckline, visible above the sweetheart neckline of my dirndl vest if you look closely.  The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother (on my father’s side).

There is heavy German influence on all sides of my family, and around the last turn of the century they had immigrated over (before the First World War, when eight million German-Americans comprised this country’s largest non-English speaking group).  This was at a time when being a “Hyphenated American” was paramount to asking for the finger of suspicion to come to you.  Yet, during the First World War, when Ellis Island immigration was high, about 20 of all Americans who answered the call to arms were foreign born.  Quick assimilation was important to “Hyphenated Americans” for both their safety and because of their likelihood for a successful new start.

Even still, our families have not forgotten our past heritage over the last 100 years.  My dad has memories of going to Oktoberfest celebrations as a child in his little Lederhosen, and his Grandfather – who operated his own bakery for many years – always had stollen and coffee on hand to enjoy with him every Sunday after church.  My husband’s paternal side had originally settled in a city actually called Germantown, with German still on the tombstones and street signs.  Conversely, our relatives did their part for America fighting against the Reich in both wars.  The German influence that still surrounds me in the Mid-Western United States where I live is all good stuff – stately, impressive churches, strong homes made to last, delicious and hearty food, creative micro-breweries, beautiful winery vineyards, and happy, down-to-earth, hard-working people.  So why did I not make a dirndl earlier than now?!

Two 1956 One-Yard Sports Blouses

A sewing project that calls for only one yard is good, but two vintage patterns – from one common year in the past – that are unique designs is even better!  These are casual blouses which I reach for when I need something nice, yet comfy, and sporty.  Their timeless designs possess a sneaky vintage air that is very much ‘me’.  I like to be different yet also blend in.  I appreciate vintage yet want to be fashion forward.  I like fine details yet don’t want them to flag people down, and with all that these two tops help me ride that balance in my me-made style.

The one blouse was specifically chosen firstly to match with my husband.  The other blouse was made because I realized I had so many fancy clothes from the 50’s and not enough casual options!  Both are go-to easy separates that work with a variety of bottoms, both skirts and pants in all sorts of colors, so they are super versatile.  From a sewing standpoint, they were just challenging enough to be good for me yet still easy enough in certain ways to not feel like a project that requires commitment.  They have been seeing some good wear recently, with the plaid even going with me to Florida earlier this year, thus it is long overdue to post about them!

Not content with just making my own clothes, I – more often than not – enjoy making jewelry to match.  Look for my vintage 40s and 50’s style chili pepper necklace!  It was made from little glass handmade charms ordered from Etsy.  Then they were attached at intervals to a slightly oversized brass chain to have a very authentic reproduction of a very popular style of jewelry from back then.  It was so easy to do, and is such a cheerful, bright novelty to spice up an outfit!  The rest of my accessories are true vintage pieces.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The green and ivory plaid is as soft as washed cheesecloth in 100% Madras cotton while the zig-zag print is a Waverly brand thick, textured, decorator’s cotton

PATTERNS:  Butterick #7771 and Simplicity #1782, both from 1956

NOTIONS:  Amazingly, I had everything I needed on hand already…yes even the long separating zipper for the striped blouse’s back closing!  The buttons on the green plaid blouse are true vintage from the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother, while the buttons on the zig-zag striped blouse are new, and one of those cheap multi-pack of half a dozen buttons for only $1.99!

THE INSIDES:  bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The green plaid odd-collar blouse took me about 8 hours and was finished on July 22, 2017.  The zig-zag Waverly blouse took about the same amount of time and was done on May 1, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  Both tops cost less than $3 EACH as they only needed one yard and both fabrics were on clearance as a remnant.

I had practice for the green plaid blouse after doing hubby’s shirt with the same collar.  Again, as I said in the post about his version, I believe this is called an “Italian Front” closing, but I cannot concretely verify that.  So, until then, I will say I could be mistaken.  The back of my pattern’s envelope calls this a “two-button horizontal closing”.  What I find most interesting is that the men’s pattern for a shirt with the same collar came out before the women’s’ version.  I wonder if it was due to popular demand or just plain fairness on Butterick’s part?  Anyway, I do see many more copies of the men’s version pop up on the Internet for sale, but the women’s is much rarer with one showing up here or there.  I wonder if the women’s version was an unsuccessful release, but maybe Butterick merely did not print as many copies.  The ladies version was a dime cheaper than the men’s version (45¢), where you get multiple views….surprising because most of their patterns in the years before and after 1956 were about 50¢.  Butterick #7771 only has one view – this style neckline blouse is the only thing this pattern offers (besides the obvious long or short sleeves), something quite unusual in an era where most patterns had two or three different options to make from them.  Either way, “if you wanna help sell it, reduce the price”, must have been Butterick’s idea.  I love this pattern, between my husband and me we see a lot of interesting options to tweak this wonderful neckline in the future.

I do wish they would have made it the same collar construction as was designed for the men’s version.  This ladies’ version is more complicated and fussy with the collar being a separate piece from the facing – the men’s was all-in-one!  I call for equality!  At least I knew what to expect, because it was much harder than my first time and would’ve lost me completely if I had made this before the one I made for hubby.

Part of the impetus behind this was of course, as I mentioned, the gushy matchy-matchy factor with my sweetie, but also because I had to give away an old favorite top that didn’t fit anymore which had the exact same color plaid Madras.  Granted, the neckline on my old top was not anywhere this cool, but it’s okay to have things better than keep it the same, make it all my own.  Unlike my old green plaid top, mine is meticulously matched up!  I am not used to the boxy, shorter, untucked blouse shape of this, but it is comfy and easy to move in, but only works with body hugging skirts and pants.

Now, the other blouse is very curve-hugging in a way that forgives the horizontal striping!  I really think I had some strong luck on my side for this blouse because, as the cotton is a woven, there was to be no forgiveness and a perfect body skimming fit was necessary here.  There was no way I was doing a muslin on such a basic project.  A pattern tissue fitting on myself seemed promising, but those are not always accurate as paper doesn’t fit like fabric.  Take note that this is a Junior’s pattern for teens.  I did not re-size the overall top like I probably should have, as I both didn’t have room on my one yard of 45” width fabric and I wanted a close fit.  Beyond a bit of tweaking and resizing as to the dart placement, and lowering the underarm portion of the side seam slightly, this top turned out great as-is, as you can see!  The fit is snug, but the pattern is first-rate for being an “Easy-to-Make” design because it is still easy to move in.  I love the fact I can have the classic 50’s hourglass shape in such a basic tee!

This was ridiculously simple – one front piece, two back pieces, and some fun little details.  No sleeves to even set in!  As you can see in the pattern front for Simplicity #1782 there are lots of options, so I mix-and-matched to make a combo of three views.  That’s what those options are there for, after all.

I definitely kept the cute little “mock-placket” feature up the front chest.  It is really just a glorified strip of fabric that is sewn down in a very interesting way.  There is an open loop in the top of the tab at the neckline, and when my neck is a bit chilly in the evenings, that tab is great for holding one of my vintage silk scarves, just as the pattern front drawing shows.  As bold as the buttons are that I chose, I love the crazy fun they add to my top.

The one little arm pocket felt a bit ridiculous to make and add on, but hey – I love pockets and they are useful no matter where they are placed or what their size.  Granted, I like to wear this top with an old favorite RTW skirt that has giant cargo pockets (in the pictures) – but I digress.  I will not be pocket prejudiced.  It is just enough to fit a few fingers in so it normally holds some spare change or a nose tissue.  My little pocket seems to hilariously bother my husband who likes to check it every so often when I wear this top.

I added the hem band as an afterthought because I needed a few inches extra to use this matching blue separating zipper that I had on hand.  I was determined to use such a special notion on my blouse because there was no way I was doing two separate closures as the pattern called for – a side zip up to the armpit and a small 5 inch neck zip behind.  A basic, sporty, and easy-to-sew garment like this needed some modern simplicity in order to be enjoyed both wearing and making!  This way all the curious details are not solely in front, either!

Our pictures were taken in the middle of doing our living…between errands for the one and at a semi-pro soccer game (football, depending on where you live) for the other.  It’s awesome to wear what I make to everyday events that are the bulk of the memories that stay with you.  Admittedly, I am always a sucker for making a special outfit for a special occasion, but I find myself appreciating the ones that are there for the commonplace events and prove their worth like an old friend.  I like making friends with the ordinary and unpretentious side of the mid-1950s!