Hot weather and bright sunshine gives me no excuse to look any less cool and elegant with my year 1938 dress creation. Now I also have a frock for the upcoming fall weather, as well. The neutral tones work perfectly with blazers and cardigans for cooler temperatures. Yay for multi-season sewing!
As my dress is made of lovely rayon challis, the drapey, loose bodice is actually cooling and the high neck feels like I’m wearing a soft ascot to catch the extra sweat at my neck. For the cool temperatures, the neck will keep me cozy. The bias skirt is not at all restricting, moving with me at every step making me aware of the understated elegance of pre-War 30’s styling.
I am writing this post thanks to the help of another blogger, the awesome Emileigh at “Flashback Summer”. When I had a question about my dress, I couldn’t think of anyone better at addressing cultural influences and its history, especially when it comes to being part of vintage fashion. Thus, at my sending a query, she helped me recognize the Native American flair to my chosen fabric, seeing the geometric jagged triangle/diamond shapes and color scheme. She recommended this site to see the similarities.
FABRIC: a 100% rayon challis
PATTERN: McCall #3061, stamped December 5, 1938, for the bodice and a mid-30’s (probably 1935) New York #531 for the skirt portion
NOTIONS: I had all the thread needed, as well as the side closing notions, then I used vintage 100% cotton bias tape which had been given me by my Grandmother. The single back neck closing button is a wood-looking plastic coming from the stash of my hubby’s Grandmother.
THE INSIDES: All either French or bias bound
TOTAL COST: The 2 ½ yards I used were bought at Hancock as it was closing, so I got a good deal – maybe a total of $10.
Now, just to clarify, I am not attempting to knock-off something designated as special to this race, like how Pendleton has lately been misusing the Native Americans “trade blankets” and Navajo prints. I am merely trying to highlight and recognize the beauty and art of another culture through fabric, as well as taking this as an opportunity to learn about the past.
In 1930’s and the 1940’s, Native Americans were still not represented well at all…even though more than 44,000 saw service on all fronts. However, by the late 30’s things were taking a good turn. 1938 –the date of my dress – was the year the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) estimated the number of potential registrants for a draft in case of war (Hitler was then occupying Austria and Czechoslovakia). The Navajos especially answered the call in force, with many of those enlisting seeing a big city for the very first time and many being in their early teens posing as older young men. About 400 Navajos were chosen for a special WWII code unit (in 1942) to develop secret messaging for use on the Pacific front, offering the U.S. a code which could not be broken. On a more personal level, 1938 was also the beginning of the first established high schools and centers for education on reservations, to bring more progressive and wide spread learning sponsored by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs). Previously, the “Indian New Deal” of the Depression played down schools and learning for this race. The Indian division of the CCC was building more community buildings, lands were being granted back in 1938 and ’37, natural resources on their lands were protected by the “Mining Act”, and Anglo writers were transcribing oral tradition into written form. No group that participated in World War II made a greater per capita contribution than Native Americans, and between this fact and changing attitudes, the time period before and after 1938 was one of significance for these people. I would like to recognize this and let my dress do the extra showing of respect.
This dress’ design is stunningly complicated in appearance but ridiculously simple to construct. No kidding – it’s like the magically appearing pattern…only four pieces for my dress and 4 hours later…a dress! This pattern has one basic body design, but there are three sleeve options and the ¾ sleeve is by far my favorite. I meant to do the short sleeves but they seemed to overwhelming to the dress so were left off. The pattern I have was bought at a very reasonable price because it was missing the skirt pattern pieces but no biggie – this basic shape is on a pattern I already have used (not posted yet), New York #531. All the details are in the bodice and sleeves anyway.
The side closing here is one of its kind in my wardrobe. It is a combo of both a zipper and a snap closure to not constrict the silhouette of the dress. From the waist down there is a zipper, sort of a hard thing in a bias skirt, and from the waist up is a snap closure to keep the bodice draping well. This was kind of tricky to finagle, but it gave me the opportunity to use up two small remnant pieces of snap tape floating around in my “scrap notions” drawer!
My biggest fear with this dress was being sewn from a print might make the bodice details disappear, but I figured (I think correctly) that a larger, especially geometric pattern would show best what is going on at the shoulders with the triple rows of uber-ruching. I cannot wait to make another, dressier version of this dress out of a rich, deep colored solid jersey rayon. For now, I am quite happy to have a vintage dress that is so versatile and comfy, as well as a tribute to the history of America’s “first citizens”.