Neutral Surrealism – a 1930’s Inspired Tunic Top

Apparently, some things that are black and white, also happen to be grey, too – such as my latest project circa 1930’s.  To keep things abstract, my fabric’s print is a swirling psychedelic floral, like a dream world painting from Salvatore Dali (one of my favorites).  It’s the perfect weight for chilly weather yet still lightweight.  Surreal – isn’t it?

Soft and flowing, relaxed and cozy, but incredibly feminine are just a few adjectives to begin with when talking about my 30’s style tunic top.  It is not an actual 30’s creation but, nevertheless, it is 100% vintage inspired with era authentic features.  It tics off another box in my checklist of different 30’s clothing.  The best part about my tunic top is the fact that it came together in a flash!

100_3834aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon knit, with a tiny percent of some sort of spandex.  The fabric is a medium weight knit, almost heavy in its drape and the way it hangs.  It was bought from Hancock Fabric store about 8 years ago.  I LOVE this fabric and its print and have been holding onto it in my stash for that long, waiting for the perfect project for it to come along.

NOTIONS:  All the notions my top used was thread and a little interfacing – very simple and convenient.  I had both on hand already.McCall's 6200 tunic dresses

PATTERN:  a modern McCall’s 6200, now out-of-print.  I almost used this pattern to make my ‘Camouflage knit dress’.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  only 4 hours!  It was done on August 28, 2014

THE INSIDES:  This knit doesn’t run or fray, it just rolls in on itself.  To keep with the flow and stretch of the fabric, I did a “lightning stitch” zig zag finish on the edges and seams.

TOTAL COST:  Zero, zippo, nothing!  After being held on to in my stash for so long, I’m not counting cost at this point.

Whoo Hoo!  I love finding really cool Art Deco era doorways…even if they are no longer used.  Here I am also wearing a neat chenille fedora to keep my head warm and add to the vintage theme of my outfit.

100_3808     See how my tunic top gives me the long, lean and skinny silhouette that was the aim of the 1930’s?  Of course the slim mid 30’s skirt which I made to wear with my tunic helps achieve this look.  (I’ll make up a post for this skirt next; it’s a Pictorial Review pattern.)  Think of the 30’s lean and slim style as the vintage equivalent of the modern “tunic top and leggings” style.  My sleeves are big and over-sized, too, which is another main feature of the 30’s, especially mid-point in the decade (that’s when sleeves became ridiculously Evening-dress-1939-Charles-James-dress, Jean-Cocteau-textile, printed-silklarge).  Modern and obnoxiously beautiful floral, geometric, and surrealist fabric prints were popularly used in the 20’s and 30’s – prints much more modern than one would normally expect.  My favorite example of modern Surrealism being used in the prints of high fashion clothing is the amazing Charles James green gown (at left), which can be seen in more detail here at the V&A Museum site or here.  Knit wear was also increasingly popular for its sexy shaping, drape, and easy comfort.  After all, it was still new, but always is (and was) exciting.  Rayon, which makes up 98% of my tunic top’s fabric content, was a new technology for commercial manufacturing in large amounts, and was immensely popular in the 20’s and 30’s as a silk substitute (see this post by “The Dreamstress”).  Enough similarities? Nope!

Check out my inspiration collage.  I had two 1930’s New York patterns, #203 and #368,30s tunic top inspiration pattern combo and a DePew pattern which had very similar necklines and raglan sleeves as the modern McCall’s 6200 I chose to use.  The 1920’s pattern in the bottom right of my inspiration collage is a Butterick Deltor #1753, with – look! – a very long tunic style top, to show the style started early.  So, between, all four of these pictures, I ended up with the top you see.  I really debated with myself about adding a neckline scarf like the one on the DePew pattern, but decided the fabric is busy enough and didn’t need any more fluff to be going on here.  I also was hoping to turn the bottom hem of the sleeves into some sort of cuff or gathered finish, like most of my inspiration pictures.  However, hubby liked the sleeves just the way you see them, loose and flowing, and, to be honest with myself, I think they look the best with the rest of the tunic top.  If something is good, it’s best to leave it be sometimes.

There isn’t much to say about making my tunic top.  It was so easy that when I was done, I kept thinking there was more to do.  I guess I’ve been accustomed to more involved projects as of late.  Three pattern pieces are all that are needed to make McCall’s 6200 – one piece for both the front and the back panel, one piece for the two sleeves, and one piece for the oval shaped neckline and its facings.   The sleeves are attached to the front and back, the neckline centers get gathered in between the sleeves, and the oval collar and its facing are sewn down.  Next, the side seams are ‘zipped’ up with a long stitch, and…voila!  You’re done except for the hems of the bottom and sleeves.  Easy as pie, as the phrase goes.  It’s quite enjoyable to come up with a garment this quickly.

100_3829     I must say that this pattern runs large everywhere from the waist up and long in length.  One whole foot (twelve inches) were taken off the bottom hem, and see how long my tunic top still runs.  I went down a size, but still did my usual grading just to make sure I didn’t end up with it being too tight.  I am so used to exactly fitting all my garments very precisely, that I find it an interesting change to wear my tunic top, since it is generous and rather unfitted.  There two features of McCall’s 6200 that do stand out to me, now that I have made it and wear it.  The first is the fact that the armpit seam is very low – it turns to the sleeve almost halfway down to the waist.  Secondly, the neckline is very wide.  It is a very large oval that skims over the tops of the shoulders, so much so that the outer edge of the neckline band ends right where my shoulder blade ends.  Differing just a bit from instructions, both the neckline band and the facings were interfaced lightly to make a stable, perfectly shaped neckline, and this was a good idea since my top’s fabric is rather heavy.  Not to worry, though, there isn’t really any tricky part or bad spots to watch for here with McCall’s 6200.  If you’d rather not have a neckline so open, just pinch out a bit from the pattern’s neckline center, and a higher armpit seam requires a slight re-drawing of the pattern.

100_3839     Funny thing about making my 30’s style tunic top is I had to make sure to label the front and the back with pieces of paper, and keep them there.  There is no real way to tell which is which once it’s done and on a hangar!  I decided to make my very own label, using a small leftover piece of bias tape.  A ‘rub-a-dub’ water and wash proof pen marked out my initials and went into the back neckline piece for a very special and fun utilitarian customization.  The last time I initialed one of my creations was to stitch on my personalization to my refashioned black silk tap pants.  Personalizing one’s wardrobe was popular in the 20’s and 30’s.  I suppose it gave women a way to jazz up their wardrobe without spending much at all, and at the same time made them feel like it was truly theirs.  People of those decades lived through the depression so they knew to have something be “their own” was a precious blessing.

Surrealism is defined by a basic Google search as “a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images”.  Perhaps one of the reasons that Surrealism appeals to me is because, in some rational irrational way, I understand it because that is the precise way I use my artistic talents.  Many times I just go with my gut, or intuition, and relax to let my creative juices help things fall naturally into place…and these times often yield good results.  I don’t necessarily do the “irrational juxtaposition” part because many of my hobbies (sewing, jewelry making, painting, cooking, etc) need a sensible order.  However, I would encourage other seamstress to try a Surrealist-type of approach to creating their projects.  There is so much inspiration out there, and an infinite possibility to make exactly what you want to wear by using your talents.  Make something amazing that feels right to you and you will love wearing it!

100_3828a     It’s so enjoyable for me to be able to make, re-create, and re-invent fashions from the past and understand them in light of today.  I especially like finding a new way to wear a past fashion that slenderizes oneself, especially for me being someone on the smaller/shorter side.  Plus, I didn’t have to do some precise fitting!  Trying new “old” things are fun.

Please visit my Flickr page, Seam Racer, for more pictures.

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