Queen Bee

This year will be the 6th anniversary for celebrating World Bee Day, which comes yearly on May 20, the day Anton Janša, the pioneer of beekeeping, was born in 1734.  This commemoration is observed in order to have a worldwide celebration of bees as pollinators for the ecosystem and to appreciate the efforts of beekeepers. World Bee Day was first proposed by the country of Slovenia, and after 3 years of lobbying, was approved by United Nations members in 2017.  The Slovenian website for World Bee Day asks that “the world will begin to think more broadly about bees, in particular in the context of ensuring the conditions for their survival, and thus for the survival of the human race.”  That site says that studies have shown about every third spoonful of food depends on bee pollination, and this to me is the most striking (and scary) statistic.  That we owe so much of our daily bread to these little creatures who go about minding their own beeswax doing their humble work, rarely being valued for their benefits to society, is a daily wonder when I think about it.  Being that my father-in-law had long been a beekeeper and the honeybee is the unofficial family symbol, it was high time I took this holiday to heart and sewed myself an appropriate dress to pair with the day!  This gives me perfect excuse to indulge in my love for wearing yellow and orange, anyways!

     World Bee Day 2023 has the specific theme of “Bee engaged in pollinator-friendly agricultural production”.  This makes me think back to the origins of the organic earth stewardship movement where people began to make intentional efforts to reduce usage of pollinator harming chemicals and practices that deplete the environment.  What better year to channel that specific message than with a dress from 1962, the year that is considered the benchmark beginning for the organic movement. That year the famous book Silent Spring, which chronicles the effects of DDT and other common pesticides on the environment, was published by the prominent scientist and naturalist Rachael Carson.  Her book was a bestseller in the US and many other countries and has been called “an iconic piece of literature”.  The book is credited for launching a mass determined effort to act sustainably which led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as the eventual passing of the ban on DDT in 1972.  As it was, connecting oneself to nature and being a good steward of the earth was a popular social issue during the 1960s era, and the message of Silent Spring came at the right time.

Notice the honeycomb hexagon printed fabric at the top of the fabric pile in Mary Quant’s arms?

     On the topic of a message being in touch with things, I thought it would be the perfect time to use the designer Mary Quant’s 1962 “Georgie Dress” pattern as my basis for my honeybee inspired project.  The world just saw the loss of the designer Mary Quant on April 13 this year.  She was another catalyst type of person like Rachael Carson, only Quant was the main influencer behind the London-based Mod and youth fashion movements of the 1960s, popularizing miniskirts, ‘hot pants’, bold color combinations, and the gamine look.  The free “Georgie Dress” pattern (offered through the V & A Museum in London) had been on my mind before Quant’s passing, but her death suddenly reminded me that the “Georgie Dress” would work out perfectly for the pile of honeycomb print cotton scraps that I had to work with.  It was the year I was looking for, would be a great way to honor the people and topics I wanted to include, and would be a fun and unexpected way to use both my material and the pattern.  With my choice of fabric, I knew this dress was going to be a bit out-of-the box, so I might as well channel a designer that did the same thing with her designs.  Nevertheless, being from early in the decade, this particular design is more unadventurous and 50s inspired than her styles offered later in 60s.  Even, still it turned out a comfortable and cute garment that is simple enough to be perfect for customization…such as what I did! 


FABRIC:  a Robert Kaufman brand 100% Kona cotton in two different color schemes of the “Spring Shimmer” print by Jennifer Sampou

PATTERN:  Mary Quant “Georgie Dress” dated to 1962

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, three buttons leftover from this past project (posted here), bias tape for finishing the edges, and a spool of glimmer tulle

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This project took me just under 20 hours to make, and was finished at the end of April 2023.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly finished with a mix of bias tape, using the selvedge edge, and zig-zag stitching

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me next to nothing!  The fabric came from a rummage sale in which all you could stuff in a grocery bag was $2! The tulle was a clearance item from JoAnn Fabrics store and I used a coupon to have the spool come to 50 cents.  Everything else I needed was on hand.  This dress cost me no more than a few dollars.  What a deal, right?!

     I am the “Queen Bee” in my own close family circle, and so I am embracing that sort of role with my thoughts towards this dress and also the facts I am trying to learn about bees in general.  I didn’t want this dress to be a costume or have a cosplay type of feel, so I kept my honeybee influences subtle.  It is wonderful to see how people I interact with when I am wearing this dress only realize as they are talking to me that the print is honeycomb!  Far away distance viewing is for appreciation of the overall dress silhouette while admiration for the details is only possible when comin’ on up to me.  Don’t worry – I don’t sting!

     The print itself has no bees but only features the hexagonal comb inside the hive.  The hive is the colony’s home and life’s work as well as the only setting the queen ever sees (she doesn’t get away from her domestic duties).  A print that features the comb is more low-key to wear and also a better homage to bees, I figure.  The honey that bees make in the hive is the commonly associated and enjoyably palatable connection they have to humans, after all, and a small miracle in my opinion.  The bee brooches are vintage and meant to be like the drones (the only male bees) following the queen (the big pin closest to my neck).  The big bee and one of the small bees had been bought by me from a thrift sale back when I was a pre-teen.  The other two smaller bee pins were from my paternal grandmother, and it was amazing when I found they matched with my own!  The delicate sparling mesh along my neck reminds me of the dainty, beautiful wings of a honeybee, which are said to beat about 200 times per second.  Every little fact about bees is mind-blowing.

     I’m always a big fan of Robert Kaufman fabric, but it is a coincidence that this is the second time I have gravitated towards a Jennifer Sampou print.  I bought one of her gradient ombré “Sky” prints two years ago and have since turned that into its own fantastic project yet to be posted.  Here, though, I only found out that my honeycomb cotton was by her once I got home to layout my rummage sale findings.  The Sampou “Spring Shimmer” cotton was found as a pile of cut squares, only remnants and not a whole yardage.  As impossible as the task seemed, I still *had* to try to do something with them because I adored the print, the luxurious quality of the Kaufman cotton, and the golden colors.  Luckily the squares were bigger than a quilter’s fat quarter – about 21” by 22”.  I had 4 squares of each (thus 8 in total) of the two colors I used in my dress as well as two more colorways (a grey/red and a blue/white).  I used 3 out of the 4 squares of the two best complimenting colors, and will save the rest to sew a shirt for my husband in the future. 

     The Mary Quant pattern pieces were small enough in my size to just fit onto the odd shaped squares of fabric.  I was thrilled!  The fit chart was spot on and the instruction booklet was clear and easy to follow.  Many 1960s dresses and tops provide me with limited reach room because of my larger upper arms, but this design is easy for me to move in, with good reach room, and roomy in its proportions.  There is a lot to print out for this dress so it was unexpected to find that the PDF download only gives you 3 pattern pieces to tile together and use.  Besides the bodice and the sleeves, the rest of the pattern needs to be self-drafted.  This ‘forced’ me to be creative and customize the pleated trim and the skirt to my own imagination.  I did still use the fork pleating method that the pattern instructions provided for making the tulle trim along the neckline.  That was really fun and the easiest yet most consistently precise pleating I have done.  Otherwise, I made some changes to the dress in a way that does not at all affect the design lines.

      The “Georgie Dress” is supposed to be a mock wrap dress…well, I took it one step further and made this a real working wrap dress!  This way the style stays the same but the faux look (as well as a side zipper) was avoided.  The bodice is designed to fully wrap from side seam to side seam anyway, so the only thing I had to do was extend the skirt to further encompass the entirety of the waistline and – boom!  It is a real wrap dress.  It find this so much more satisfying and easy to get dressed in than having a mock-wrapped look and I had enough fabric to make this idea work.  I also left out the full bodice lining as the instructions direct.  Being a designer pattern, it makes sense to have a fully lined bodice for a higher-end finish, but this dress was not at that level and I wanted to keep the construction easy.  Besides, what is the use of having such a luxuriously soft and stable cotton is you don’t get to feel it directly on your skin, sans lining?!?  Part of the breezy and joyful energy to this dress is not just the print but the happiness I have from the way I simplified and streamlined this dress.

     I have said time and again how I love using the type of mathematics that sewing requires and pleating skirts is on my top 5 list.  I had a total of 4 fabric squares available for the skirt (two of each color since one panel of each color went towards the bodice and sleeves).  I figured the entire length of what I had for the skirt (20” multiplied by 4 equals about 2 ¼ yards), figured the length that the skirt would have to go (being a wrap this was trickier) and went from there.  The part of the skirt where the skirt is wrapped under is plain and not pleated to keep the skirt from being too poufy.  Then the center front has a smooth area over the tummy.  However, the rest of the skirt is knife pleated to radiate back to the box pleat I have at the center back.  The entire deal took me some 3 hours of doggedly doing the math, sewing the panels, making the measured markings, and folding and pinning the pleats to finally staystitch them down.  I am in a total zone when I do something like this and I love it!  The skirt is shorter than I originally wanted (and not what the pattern directs) but that is the 22” length of the squares and the best I could do.  I rather like the flirty and sporty little skirt after all, though now that it is finished.  I feel it is better suited to the cheerful and fun aura I wanted for the dress.  In sewing, setbacks are indeed design opportunities.

     Since I made this a working wrap, I’ll explain how I keep it closed to further help you to do same adaptation of the “Georgie Dress”.  The wrap ends of the bodice are squared off just enough to leave room for about three evenly spaced half inch buttons.  To support the outer closing, I traced out my own interfaced placket to go underneath the side that needed buttonholes and then sewed the corresponding buttons down through the side seam allowance.   Since I was not lining this dress the one layer of cotton would not have been enough to make the wrap closing work well otherwise.  In the inside closing, I sewed down two loops of ¼ inch wide elastic to comfortably catch two buttons which were (again) sewn to the side seam allowance on the opposite side.  Easy does it best!

     My background has the controversial “Honey Bears” by popular San Francisco street artist known as Fnnch.  This particular mural reminds of the Pop Art of the 1960s era, something akin to the Campbell’s Soup can art of Andy Warhol from 1962.  These bears nod to the handful of musical venues nearby, the World’s Fair of 1904, the Arts and Education Council, and the local hockey team “the Blues” (as this post here fully explains).  As I am in the Midwest, we have only one piece of his so I feel a bit alienated from the debate and dislike the rest of Fnnch’s plethora of art has garnered in the Golden Gate city.  I just seen these bears as quirky and cheerful…as long as this is all we have.  With my dress’s fabric print being a honey comb and since the body of his art work is so very similar to Warhol’s 1962 art, I am thrilled to have the best reason ever to include this special corner from our city’s downtown Art District. 

     After a post like this, is there any little step that you can make to help our little pollinators and honey producers “bee” healthier and happier in the future?  Even if it is just planting some extra flowers, buying honey from your local beekeeper, or choosing organic produce, every little action can make a difference if we all join in.  Then every day can be a time for appreciating the bees!

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