Having a Monochromatic Summer

My go-to sundress of 2019 actually is a carryover of a favorite make from the end of last year’s summer. I had been putting my idea off for a few years because I was not sure it would work. It is so different from the rest of my summer wardrobe! It is not bright and bold, flowery or frilly, like most of my other sundresses but the color scheme and the effortless wearing ease of the style and its material cools me down in thought and body. I’m having a monochromatic summer moment in my favorite vintage 1940s style!

This is such a sneaky vintage dress – it certainly doesn’t strike me as coming from 1949! Although dating from the fabulous post-WWII era, the pattern is one of the more popular modern Vintage Vogue line of reprints. It has such simple lines, and such a body complimentary design that this is a great example of the classic timelessness for which I love to make and wear vintage fashion. Whatever the era the dress shows, it proves I am still not over my recent fascination with the late 40’s, apparently!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a cotton denim with a touch of spandex, lined in an interlock knit

PATTERN: Vintage Vogue #8974, year 1949

NOTIONS: I only needed basic, simple stuff – some interfacing, lots of thread, and a zipper. After it was finished, I also used an old bra…but more on that later!

TIME TO COMPLETE: This was finished on September 21, 2018, and took me about 10 hours to make.

THE INSIDES: All cleanly bias bound while the bodice is fully lined.

TOTAL COST: I vaguely remember picking this fabric out at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics years and years back. So, as it has been in my stash this long and well deserved to ‘break free’ of the fabric stash, I’m counting it as free!

It’s funny how things come full circle. It’s always so poignant when you realize that after the fact! You see, a year 1949 dress was actually the very first piece of vintage reproduction me-made (see it here from an old 2012 post). It was also in brown! Apparently, my go-to color is a pretty variation of dirt. The classic “little black dress” doesn’t get as far as a brown one. I personally love how brown tones work for so many seasons and are a good base for brighter colors and pastels without being as heavy as a navy or black, for example. To me, a good brown color is cool tone, very calming. Monochrome palettes (referring to a color scheme comprised of variations of one color) are themselves supposed to be soothing and create a good mood. Maybe the khaki, dark brown, rust, cream, and ivory tones in the subtle striping to my dress’ fabric was an instinctual choice for me to choose for yet another project on the verge of the 1950s.

Of course, the pattern showcases stripes to show off the grain line ingenuity and I followed along happily. I’m just trailing on the heels of my last striped sundress by posting this, anyway. My fabric’s striping is so small I did a general matching effort – nothing too meticulous because I was really pushing the limit anyway to make this work out of only 2 yards of material – and it turned out great. After all, this was a simple project to sew and I wanted it to stay as effortless to make as it is to wear. I think the mitered stripes do a lot for the slimming and trim appearance of this but it is so cute and attractive in any print, from what I’ve seen of all the awesome versions other seamstresses have made. It’s weird but this dress reminds me very much of my plaid 1940 sundress (posted a while back here) even though I know it is different and the styles are 9 years apart.

I have learned from years of summer sundress sewing that wearing them is so much more fun and easy if the lingerie situation doesn’t call for any extra thought. Thus I am a big fan of adding decent lining or even lingerie directly into the sundress to make it an-all-in-one garment that supports my “girls” in one easy step as I dress. I used a no-longer-worn bra from on hand – there are some whose clasps and straps bother me so I only keep them because the cups are still in good condition and fit. This was sewn directly into the dress at the proper place making this so comfy to wear, with all the good shaping I want yet not compromising on the breezy skin-baring qualities of my favorite sundresses.

I know the support should have been sewn in between the lining and the dress fabric to be ‘properly’ done, but I like the easy access of it if I ever want to adjust or change. Besides, my favorite part of having the bra visible to the interior of the dress is the linear symmetry it adds when it is laid out. Anyone who has followed me for a length of time should realize I am big into the mathematical perfection of sewing, and love to visibly play upon that with what I make. Besides, creative design lines, stripes (and plaids) offer great opportunities for such calculating. This dress gave me another taste that!

The sizing was pretty much spot on for this pattern, maybe even a tad on the roomy side along the top bodice edge, but I don’t mind. The dress also ran really long, and would have been to my ankles if I had cut according to the pattern. I left it a mid-calf (midi) length because I think it makes the dress look more elegant as well as hang well. A longer length is very circa 1949-ish, anyway! Finally, I raised the dip of the front neckline V so it wouldn’t be so revealing but that is the last of the tweaks I made. This was a pretty quick and satisfying make! I do want to come back to this pattern and make the killer cute cropped swing jacket that comes with the dress. It will definitely have to be a different fabric, though, as I have nothing but a few measly scraps leftover. So many projects on my mind and so many sewing decisions to make!

The earth monotones matched perfectly with my favorite comfort sandals from Hotter brand shoes as well as my “Cinnamon Spice” brownish undertone lipstick from the brand “Wet n’ Wild”. Too bad I don’t have more of a bronze glow on my skin to match, as well. A simple walk through our neighborhood was the casual backdrop to our pictures.

This is my 1940s installment in my “Indian Summer of the Sundress” post series which began with the making of this sundress when we had an extended time of unusual warmth. This just about wraps it up, unless I happen to crank out a 1970s sundress! I had to basically end it with my first sundress, the one that started it all anyway! Kind of like that other 1949 brown dress that started all my vintage sewing…

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My First Colette to Celebrate the Fourth!

Colette patterns seem to be the biggest deal in the indie pattern world, and so I feel a bit out of touch to admit this is my first – and very happily successful – foray into a new branch of the sewing community.  Courtesy of a Seamwork magazine subscription which I won from the “Sewing the Scene” Challenge last year, I have had the availability to now try out independent pattern companies and see what they are all about.  This year’s Independence Day celebrating gave me the reason to whip up a dress from a Colette pattern and finally dive right in!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft 100% cotton twill in blue and white stripes, remotely similar to ticking, with a chain stitched red border design along one selvedge.  This fabric was a JoAnn exclusive release.

PATTERN:  Colette “Hazel” sundress, no. 1021

NOTIONS:  One zipper, lots of thread, and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 8 to 10 hours and finished on July 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  No seams save the center back skirt seam are showing and its raw edge is bias bound.  All other seams are covered by the full bodice lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was rather pricey, even with a discount – which I why I made things work on only two yards.  The dress cost me just under $30.

Sarai Mitnick, the founder and Creative Director of Colette Media, started Colette Patterns in 2009 because she liked vintage patterns but found them difficult for beginners to work with.  This particular pattern has a lovely modern hint of mid-century vintage, which I played up through the fabric I used.  I was inspired by the occasional extant piece of 1950s clothing which has Scandinavian-style folk embroidery.  Also known as Swedish weaving or “Huck”, the distinctive red and blue heavy embroidery – in patterns of the well-known eight pointed star or the more floral motifs of the more Germanic people – was extremely popular in the 30’s, tapering off through the 40’s.  Due to the thickness of the huck material, this embroidery style was primarily done on kitchen towels and linens, but it is a weaving style in which the thread never appears on the back, making it perfect for garments too, once decorative dish cloths began to be replaced by the mechanical dishwasher.

I realized after my dress was done that in my efforts to make a patriotically red, white, and blue American dress, I channeled a vintage Scandinavian-inspired style.  But, hey – we are a country of immigrants, a nation merged by our diversity and desire for independence, so I don’t think the irony is out of place.  After all, I was appropriately sewing with an indie pattern for an Independence Day celebration, but I was wearing a vintage “West Germany” necklace and vintage-inspired flats from the Australian “Charlie Stone” shoes.  Freedom is universal.

I keep seeing the phrase “patterns that teach” associated with Colette patterns, and so I saw this as a nice base pattern – something to add to and customize to one’s own level of skill or preference.  Along that line, I tweaked the details slightly to add in a fully lined the bodice and also try out a new method of pleating.   Overall, though, I found the pattern to have great shaping and curving not seen in the “Big 4” patterns, clear directions, and sizing that runs on the small side.  It was just enough of a challenge yet not impossible to make for as amazing as it looks.  I think it was nicer than the “Big 4” patterns and yet not as good as Burda Style, in my opinion.  I’m glad I didn’t have to pay full price and yet I don’t think I would have felt that I overpaid if I had.  I’m not used to Colette patterns but I do like them enough to start picking out my next one!

The big things this pattern has going for it is the front bodice, the dramatic way it makes the most of a border print or a striped fabric (or both combined, in my case!), and the way I can still wear a normal bra under it.  So many sundresses need some special lingerie or something sewn in to support a woman’s assets, and this one is such an appreciated, effortless piece the way its wide straps and their placement worked out perfectly for me right where the pattern markings were.  When you can follow a sundress pattern’s strap markings to the letter and it works out well, I’m impressed.

I went up a size in this pattern (because it’s better to be safe than sorry) and tailored it in slightly for a perfect fit.  As I mentioned above, I also added a full bodice lining to keep the fabric from being see-through and cover up most all the seams.  The facing pieces for the neckline were cut instead as the interfacing ironed down to the inner edges.  About 5 inches were added to the original length of the pattern, and I also cut the skirt as one whole seamless piece, eliminating the side seams.  I know this left out the opportunity for side pockets (unless I do a welt or patch style) but that’s okay – I decided to make this the day before the 4th of July, so I just wanted simplicity.  I widened the straps by ¼ inch and used an exposed zipper rather than an invisible one as called for.  Finally, I made the whole dress come together using only 2 yards.  For my first time trying out a new pattern company, I sure wasn’t afraid to go rogue on many details!

My biggest source of pride in this dress is actually the waist pleats.  The pattern called for a simple overall gathered waist, but why go conventional when there are other more complex possibilities yet to be attempted?!  I kept the center front and center back of the skirt flat because I think that is nicer over the tummy and bootie, but the rest of the skirt was knife pleated at every large stripe.  Each large stripe was folded over about ¼ inch deep to meet the nearest small stripe.  This process took me just over an hour in itself, mostly because I did one side wrong at first, but the finished look makes every minute worth it.  It is detailing like this that makes me and others so love vintage styles besides keeping past fashion highly sought after enough to be going up in value.  If I can bring a taste of that into my own sewing than my time is well spent.

I have seen several examples in their mailer leaflets (at right is one) of how JoAnn Fabrics thought of using this fabric and they were throwing me off at first.  I didn’t like their examples enough to try but I also had the hardest time deciding on using this Colette pattern for it…and I’m so glad went for it!  This dress really made me feel comfy yet festive, bright without being flashy, and proud of the quick work I put into it.  I do have a good chunk of the dress’ fabric leftover and I’m debating now between a purse or a little bolero to make out of it.  Decisions are the most fun, inventive, yet stressful part of home sewing.  Whatever I make, it’ll probably be much like the dress, though, in the way it was a happy experiment and a sudden ‘go-for-it’ type of decision.  Here’s to fun in the sun and more creative sewing!

The Perfectly Ironic 50’s Play Set

Vintage play sets are cute enough the way they are, but most of the times the prints to them make them to die for.  This newest one that I’ve made has a print which perfectly combines the vintage-made-modern flair of it with a print which is a pun on the iconic classy lady of the 1950s.  Women in wasp waists and elegant dress might be the conventional womanly ideal flaunted on this playsuit, but it itself is meant for much more than swishing around and sitting pretty.  It is sassy yet classy fun all in one versatile, comfortable outfit.

A short romper as the first layer makes this set a bit easier to tackle by not having to make various pieces (i.e. a separate top and shorts).  It also is a lot more challenging to go visit the restroom, and even though it is a bit of an extra inconvenience, I am absolutely loving my very first romper.  The matching overskirt departs from the romper’s plan but self-drafting skirts with no pattern is my forte, if I do say so myself.  I am much happier with a skirt I ‘draped’ on myself, generally.  A fully separating zipper which can close either top-to-bottom or the other way around makes the skirt versatile, interesting, and different.

The print is everything!  I’ll admit my strong failing for Michael Miller fabrics, the prints are such first rate and they are always the one’s I gravitate towards even without knowing the brand as I browse fabric.  This one is so very well done, though.  The fashions on the ladies and stylization are so charming and appealing, drawn like a vintage cartoon of Parisian fashion illustration.  I want each and every dress to wear for myself out of the print!

If you look closely on the hat boxes stacked next to the woman in solid pink the Michael Miller name is hidden on them (he frequent buries his name creatively in his prints).  You might be able to see this better further down in my detail about the romper pocket.  I channeled the woman next to that in the pink polka dotted dress with my halter strap and me-made belt. That polka dot dress was my favorite…no…wait, it was the green two-piece outfit, or maybe the striped dress.  Ach!  They all are my favorites, I guess she was merely the most striking to pair with a roll of ribbon out of my stash!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton duck cloth from Hobby Lobby by Michael Miller called “Spring In Paris” lined in an all-cotton sheer batiste

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Vintage Capri Sunsuit” from their Vintage 1950s magazine special pattern collection from 2015 for the romper, while my skirt was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread, a sliding waistband-style hook-and-eye, two zippers (one 14” invisible for the romper and the other a 30” separating bottom one for the skirt), bias tape, and a bit of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on June 10, 2019 after a total of about 20 to 30 hours spent to make the whole set.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  On sale, 2 yards of the fabric only cost me $12, and as everything else I needed was out of my long time stash that is also my wonderfully frugal total!

If you read that last line of “The Facts”, you might be saying, “Two yards!? That’s all she needed?!”  Yes, indeed, and that’s what makes this set so awesome (…among plenty of other reasons, too)!  The multi paneled pieces, short bottoms, and the sleeveless style makes the romper pattern take under a yard for my size.  The overall pattern originally calls for much more than the 1 ¼ yards (leftover from the romper) I used to make my skirt, as the design shows a full, gathered waist dirndl-style skirt.  I would rather make things work on less money (because of a smaller cut) and according to my personal taste, though.  The fabric was not ideal for a full skirt, anyway, and I do love a good 50’s style skinny skirt on myself.

The instructions direct that you need a fabric with some body here, and this is absolutely true and not to be ignored.  Even with the thicker, stiffer cotton duck material which I used, I still felt my romper needed some extra support especially being practically strapless.  Luckily, the print was so bright and busy and the cotton thick so it was really not see-through despite being a faint ivory background color.  Nevertheless, because I wanted to support the bodice, I figured on going ahead and making the romper quite nice and do a full body lining.  There is nothing like the clean beauty of seamless inners to a garment!  The rough texture of cotton duck is not the best against the skin compared to the soft batiste of the romper lining.

Back to the details on how I supported the romper’s bodice!  I added lightweight boning into the underside of the two back bodice seams, just on the lining.  The side seam had the invisible zipper to stabilize it and the front has good shaping together with the halter strap, which is why I only kept the boning to the back.  I know from many other halters that the back dip has the tendency to droop and I could mentally picture beforehand that that ‘problem’ might be especially worse off on the back of a sleeveless one-piece romper.  The back boning is the best thing ever for this!  I do not need to pull anything back up in place and the bodice has a wonderful body all on its own without having to tailor it to be tight in the fit just so it can stay up well.  I lightly tacked the lining to the fashion fabric exterior along the boning after I was finished and made sure to add gel cushions (little boning ‘comfort caps’ you can buy) before sewing the romper together so the bodice support is not bothersome in the least, rather it is not even noticeable.

Choosing my ‘normal’ size using Burda Style patterns to make this, the fit was so close I want to suggest people to go up a size to be safe.  It works to take clothes in a bit, but taking seams out is more of tricky story.  I like clothes I plan on playing around and being active in to not fit too closely – I do need room to move!  I had to make most all seams ¼ seam allowance (I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance when I cut it out) just to have it fit me a comfortable snugness as you see it.  That is not a spot on fit and accurate sizing.  I would have rather had all my seams still be a wider seam allowance and have the comfort of knowing I have room to adapt this if I need to, but not this time.  This is why I would suggest going up a size for this pattern unless you are of a thin build and relatively non-curvy.  Granted, I still fit in a good amount of my teenager clothes, but my body is still changing so I’ll just have to get the most enjoyment out of this set as possible just in case!

No play clothes would be appropriate in my opinion without a pocket!  Now, the romper pattern called for in-seam side pockets in the shorts.  For close fitting items, such pockets never really give that much room for anything, anyway.  They only create a weird bulge if you do store real life items like a phone or lip balm.  Yet, I was only left with a handful of small scraps after the outfit was finished.  There was one pink dress woman on the print which I noticed was weirdly cut off when I sewed in the right side dart for the front of the shorts.  I luckily had one full square of the pink dressed woman (next to the tower of hat boxes) as part of my scraps so I was able to accomplish making both sides of the front matching as well as give myself a better pocket with that one scrap.  You see, I turned that pink lady scrap into a small sew-on patch-style pocket which completes the print and is so much better than in-seam pockets.  The pocket fits only 2/3 of my phone and a tissue but who really wants to try in-seam pockets along the side of an invisible zipper anyway?!  Bring the print-matching challenge on!

The fashions on the print further inspired me in the way I drafted the skirt.  The lady in the yellow, green, and pink polka dotted dress (next to the Eiffel Tower) is only seen from a back view on the print and I copied her center box pleated waist from behind, with side knife pleats for good measure.  It is against reasoning to add more pouf over the behind, but between stitching down the pleats for an inch and a good ironing, I think it works!  The front shaping is simple – just a few more knife pleats – so that the closure can take center stage.

My skirt was skinny enough that I really didn’t trust a button closing because of the stress that would be put on them.  However, I wanted to be able to have this skirt close or open at any given point.  Luckily, I had recently acquired a stash of the most amazing variety of zippers – big and small, new and vintage – for a steal of a price and there was this unique separating zipper that I knew was just perfect for my skirt.  It was labeled as a “Parka Zipper” and had two pulls that could go up and down and close at either end…fully adjustable!  This zipper was in a special 30” length, too, so I knew this was an expensive notion and was tempted to hoard it.  When the right project is calling, nevertheless, my good supplies deserve better than to stay in a drawer, so I think!  I like the modern touch the zipper brings to this vintage crossover set.

This outfit has been my second make for the 2019 “Sew Together for Summer” challenge sponsored by “Sew Sarah Smith”.  The theme this year was jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms, and this project certainly applies even though with the skirt cover-up makes it not what it seems at first glance of the whole set.  (My first garment for the challenge, a 1962 embroidered denim culotte jumpsuit, can be seen here.)  I am also including this romper play set as also part of the “Made Like Maisel” 1950s challenge to sew something inspired by the Amazon TV show “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.  I know her swing coats are the iconic thing to make, but in Season Two, Mrs. Maisel had some killer play sets (especially episode 4 in the Catskills but also the pink and black gingham set in episode 7), which I interpreted my own way rather than literally.

It took me awhile to completely ‘warm up’ to play sets, I suppose.  For comparison’s sake go check out my previous playset, which was also my first, and is from the proceeding decade of the 1940s.  Funny, it also has a self-drafted skirt!  The general feel of that play set is more about a tropical-themed, sultry poolside lounging look compared to the sporty, activity-friendly, versatile use of my new 50’s one.  Perhaps I have another challenge here – to make more play sets from more eras?  Ugh, so many ideas, so little sewing time, and not enough places to go or a long enough summer!  Yet, I do have everything ready for both a 60’s play set and a 1980s one as, well.  Maybe this whole summer is my own “Summer of the Play Set”.  Would anyone be with me on this one?!

A “Mini-Me” Vintage Lounging Jacket

“Like father like son…” is a cliché that absolutely applies more often than not to my husband and our son.  So…one grown up vintage smoking jacket (previous post) deserved a half-pint version, too!  I kept with the family ties and made my son a fleece housecoat, or lounging jacket, using a vintage 60’s pattern that my husband’s mom had used to sew something for him when he was little.

Kiddie catered, this has a frog theme of my son’s choosing, with a printed fleece that reminded him of lily pads (they do see things differently and more creatively), with cute frog face buttons.  Anytime he is slightly chilly in the pajama time of the evenings or after his bath, this fleece housecoat is the perfect thing for him.  It was his Easter morning garb to rush outside from bed and look for eggs in the backyard!  He looks so grown up in this and it makes him so cuddly cozy to hug!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  fleece

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7407, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I used of some ribbon from my stash (leftover from the suspender straps to his 2017 Halloween costume) and he picked out the buttons on clearance at JoAnn

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The way I made it kept it fast and easy.  It was finished in October 2017 and it took about 6 to 8 hours to make.

TOTAL COST:  As with my presents, I don’t really count the cost, but I only needed just over one yard of clearance fleece so my total wasn’t much at all!

I made my son’s housecoat pretty much the same way as I had made mine own (posted here).  Fleece does need any edge finishing, which is so weird to me as I always sew with material which does fray where cut, so just like my housecoat I merely sewed ribbon along the edges for both decorative and stabilizing purposes.  I love the contrast ribbon edging gives.  It is just enough of a pop of color and keeps the fleece edge from rolling.

Of course no house robe is complete without a pocket (he loves to stash tissues, by the way!) so I gave a nice big oversized pocket.  I really don’t see how two pockets work when house coats wrap over almost asymmetrically, but the patterns almost always call for two.  The wrap edge would meet along the edge of the second pocket (if I would add it) and that seems weird to me.  Anyone know what’s up with the two pocket wrap-on house coat problem?

This was pretty much his exact size.  I just added a little more length in the sleeves to make sure and account for his growing like a weed!  The only thing I really changed was to leave out the waist tie.  Kids don’t need fussy clothes.  I just sewed down more of the ribbon around the waist to bring it in, anchoring it down with the buttonhole.

My son may not be as dapper as his dad is in his smoking jacket, but this one is perfect.  My son might look a bit serious in his photos but believe me he is hiding his giggles as well as the teeth he has lost.  I make sure not to forget to be fair with my sewing and make time to create for my family – they deserve nice things, too!  I know in my experience that home-time garments might not provide that fantastic of a post but they are the most worn and loved.

Hubby’s Vintage “Non-Smoking” Jacket

With Fathers’ Day here today, let’s address something relevant which is in my craw.  Menswear seems so ‘bleh’ nowadays, in my opinion.  They do not get fantastic creations from off of the red carpet (when they do, it sure never makes headlines).  Their fashions relatively stay the same (most guys probably like it that way, though), which is not bad in itself, but the scales are disproportionately tipped between the sexes.  As style is so casual for pretty much all occasions (at least where we live) there is no real variety of clothing to give men an opportunity to express themselves…beyond printed tees.  Ah, men deserve better.  I believe it’s time to bring back a garment that always used to embody masculinity, giving men a sense of personal ownership of their own leisure time, and my hubby is happy with the creative result of my sentiment because he now has a wonderful, custom-made 1940s ‘Smoking Jacket’.

A smoking jacket doesn’t necessarily have to do with practicing the habit of smoking cigarettes or a pipe (it does as far as history is concerned, but more on that in a minute).  My husband doesn’t even smoke, hence my post’s title.  Neither does it imply a compliment to a man degree of hotness.  What we women know as a housecoat or lounging robe, men have had for the last several centuries termed as a loose informal jacket, donned after dinner to enjoy leisure activities, to cover up one’s nice clothes in between stages of undressing, or to receive guests in the privacy of one’s abode.  This type of garment is luxurious in materials and decoration, and is not as private as women’s lingerie, but have been immortalized by popular, public pictures of many famous men in history being seen wearing their smoking jackets.  The poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is THE man to have brought the smoking jacket to both popular and public consciousness, but even in our modern times, the great Martin Luther King wore a satin smoking jacket for press pictures during his recovery in the hospital in 1958, after being stabbed by a letter opener during a book signing in Harlem.  My hubby’s smoking jacket always comes with him on our travels, and the Art Deco halls of a 1920s hotel became the perfect setting for some blog photos.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit this smoking jacket is glaringly made from the wrong (traditionally speaking) materials.  Smoking jackets are supposed to be make of posh, deluxe fabrics like satin, velvet, and brocade for some examples.  However, as this was going to be all his own – and a very useful, around-the-house item at that – I let him pick out all the fabrics, materials, and color scheme himself to perfectly accommodate his taste.  He is quite good at the preliminary creative process to garment crafting, although he doesn’t want to admit it!  I believe presents should be personalized to the recipient’s wants, after all, and what better way to do that than having them involved.  Besides, I figure this very basic version of a smoking jacket can be my uber-useful test run for learning how I want to approach the next one…a truly proper and over-the-top fancy smoking jacket.  I have some quilted burgundy velvet, and some black satin cording, so his next smoking jacket will be more in the style of the Victorian times, the height of the garment’s popularity as a status symbol.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a brushed all-cotton flannel lined in a crepe finish polyester lining with faux suede collar and pocket detail

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2172, year 1947

NOTIONS:  I needed lots and lots of thread, plenty of interfacing, one button, and lots of macramé cord (I’ll explain why below)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 40 plus hours to make and was finished on September 6, 2017

THE INSIDES:  What insides?  This is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  Well, my Mr. Cheapskate picked out everything for his smoking jacket from the clearance section at our local JoAnn store, so the total must have been reasonable although neither of us was really counting too much as this was his present!

At-home Robe (Banyan) with Matching Waistcoat France, 1720s

It is very telling that this pattern is from 1947.  The Second World War was over and men could again reclaim their right to rest and relaxation, and take time to building up their household and adding to their bank account with a job less life-or-death related.  The post war period of the 40’s was reclaiming the feelings that created the smoking jacket in the first place.  Sure, the trend for the popularity of Turkish tobacco and the Egyptian cigarette, adopted by the British, French, and Russian soldiers of the Crimea War (1853 to 56), had to do with the creation of men’s lounging rooms for them to enjoy their new found habits in a social setting that celebrated leisure time and stereotypical masculine pastimes, such as newspaper reading.  By 1903, Turkish cigarettes accounted for 25% of the American market, and smoking was considered an expected masculine activity all the way into the mid-century.

At-home Robe (Banyan) England, circa 1880

However, beyond the tobacco portion of the smoking jacket’s history, the idea of a robe for personal leisure time began all the way back with (again) Turkish and also Oriental influence of international trade and political climates in Europe of the late 17th century.  Foreign textiles, and the fashions which inspired them, were being highly sought after as imports, and a form of the Japanese kimono called a “banyan” began being worn by men of the elite classes for informal home time, such as non-physical games, fireside discussions, or letter writing.  “Caftans” – a full length, long sleeved loose jacket-like garment traditional to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe – were also popular because of their textiles which were often used for the popular fancy, floral, frilly waistcoats which men, especially those deemed as “dandies”, were wearing, particularly in France, during the 18th century.

In the mid—19th century, the Industrial Revolution was adapting traditional Kashmiri shawls’ traditional motifs into a commercialized paisley print and this influenced a change in the ethnic influence of the smoking jackets.  They became more Turkish (again) and even India-inspired as the tobacco influence of the Crimean War settled into many various cultures as the soldiers settled into their respective homes.  Satin smoking jackets are a slight carry-over from the more Oriental influence, but after World War I, the smoking jacket of the 1920s and later seemed to lose any obvious cultural significance and become a sexy and intimate part of a man’s home life, if looking at advertisements and silver-screen movies is telling the truth of the times.  At least post-WWI eras equalized the smoking jacket for all men of all classes.  Only then in the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent confused the traditions of the smoking jacket with the release of his tuxedo-inspired collection for women in 1966, calling it “Le Smoking”.

Whew!  As exhausting and complicated as the history of the smoking jacket is – and believe me when I say I just gave you a general overview here – making a proper one is equally arduous and time consuming!  Every detail counts on a smoking jacket.  This one has full body lining.  There are several belt carriers around the waist to hold the belt tie.  The sleeves are the two panel construction similar to a suit jacket.  The solo closing button is vintage and came from the notions stash of hubby’s grandmother, so it is very appropriately on something for him.  I wanted to add some fringe or a tassel to the ends of the ties, but he hasn’t been keen on the idea quite yet.

Whenever I let my man choose how he wants his garment to be made, he tends to choose materials which make construction a challenge.  Luckily, I convinced him that a shawl collar, and not pointed lapels, were the only, true smoking jacket version of the pattern to go with, or else my work would have been much more challenging than it already was.  At least he now has an item that he loves to wear the heck out of, something he never knew how he did without before.  Those kinds of makes are the best kind!

For this, he wanted piping to match the creamy tan lines in the printed flannel, and I agreed that doing so was necessary to ‘the look’.  It’s only that fact that the perfect pre-made piping was not to be found!  I had to make myself all the 5 yards which were necessary, using macramé cord and extra of the same material I used for the full body lining.  Granted, my custom made piping was so much better than the pre-made stuff, but it was an exhausting effort that ultimately paid off since I think makes the smoking jacket overall fantastic.  I personally think this has been my best installed piping to date (it was so hard to make a complete circle around the cuffs, finishing the ends smoothly) so of course I am biased.  It is always nice to see going the extra mile was worth it, though!

What really made me question my offer to make this for my hubby was ultimately working with the fake suede he chose.  It was more than a micro-suede, it was every bit as think and stiff as a real leather with all the problems of being a polyester…horrible stuff to work with that appears remarkably nice to touch and see.  Wherever the faux leather met up with the piping was hard on my machine, my hands, and my nerves but I eventually wrestled it into proper submission to be exactly what it was supposed to be.  The faux suede was not interfaced, it was troublesome enough, and it is on the contrast pocket top edge as well as the whole length of the collar-facing piece which goes from hem end to hem end wrapping around the back of the neck in the process.  Most of the corners were hand-stitched to give my machine a break, but even still, the darn faux suede was too thick for my regular leather thimble and poked my fingers too many times.  Not too many of my own projects do I bleed over just to make, so either my hubby is a lucky man or I was crazy to keep going!  I really don’t want an answer to that…

Just because you are comfortable doesn’t mean one has to quit being stylish, and oppositely, sophistication doesn’t mean an end to ease.  I like Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic ideals behind adopting the smoking jacket as a visual and material manifestation to his creativity.  He wanted “to exist beautifully”.  There is something very uplifting about lounging around your own domicile in something nice, by which I mean something other than your lowest grade clothing.  I do believe that clothing for your relaxation should be something we look forward to putting on in a way that makes us appreciate the beauty of the little things around us.

Luckily there have been some luxury brands bringing back versions of a smoking jacket in the forms of velvet of brocade lounge suit – looking at you, Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in 2005, in particular, but Tom Ford deserves some credit, too, as well as Alexander McQueen’s 2013 Fall collection…ah, the classiness of the old-style lounging man.  See this page for some serious eye candy.  The jackets all are something like a cross between a sumptuous robe and a casual tuxedo.  Let’s re-claim those personal hours (or minutes, if that’s all you have) of recharging and personal enjoyment as a continuation of our individual beauty.  No one needs help in this area more than men, since they rarely care for any extra fuss and nonsense on their own.

A picture from the exhibit “Reigning Men”, with (from left to right) a May’s Co. Dept. Store short jacket from 1948, a Victorian-era engraving, and a Smoking suit in satin from ca. 1880