City Wildlife

January is the depths of winter here and right now we are getting bombarded with frozen precipitation.  Yuk…this is not ‘my thing’.  As an August baby, I need a reason to remember the warm days when I could wear my favorite skin-baring sundresses!

I have not forgotten late last years’ beginning of my “Indian Summer of the Sundress” series, and so I’d like to add another installment to it with this post.  I figure it might help those of you in the depths of winter like me as well as inspiring those in the warm weather at the opposite side of my location!  This time I have a ‘modern-does-late-mid-century’ look in an animal print maxi.  It’s a properly classy yet subdued unruliness made to visit the animal and human wildlife for an event in our city zoo over this past summer.  Happily, a giraffe was more than willing to oblige to be in the background of some of our pictures even though I am wearing leopard (these big cats can be their predators in the wild).

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft quilting cotton print fully lined in your average soft cotton unbleached muslin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2180, year 2011

NOTIONS:  all I needed was a lot of thread, a bit of interfacing, and an invisible zipper, all of which was on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  about 15 to 20 hours went into making this dress; it was finished on August 25, 2018

THE INSIDES:  full lining means, “What seams? I don’t see ‘em.”

TOTAL COST:  As this has project idea been sitting in my stash for a while now, with the fabric bought a few years before that, I’m counting it as free by now.

This dress has been on my “to-make” bucket list for about 5 years now.  I remember it was one of the projects I wanted to tackle in the early days of my blogging, yet some of the details to it intimidated me at that time, so it got shoved to the back of the queue.  No longer!  However it was a good thing that I did put off making it because this sundress was challenging…not so much to make, just to fit and tweak to point where I am happy with it.  None of my changes are really noticeable when you look at the original design, though, so they are nothing major.  No, I wouldn’t do that to it – I love the style lines too much to really change them!

The back bodice triangular tied-together style is something I’ve seen again and again in mid to late 1950’s extant vintage dresses for sale at shops online.  I enjoy the fact that it is revealing yet you can still wear conventional brassiere under it!  It’s not like being completely backless but it sure gives off that air…so sexy with its teasing!  I can’t tell from the pictures whether or not the true vintage dresses really tie or are sewn shut in imitation.

Nevertheless, to make things easy for myself, I made the center back of my dress sewn down together.  The pattern calls for a tie back, but that sounds fiddly to me besides possibly creating a knot for me to sit back on – ouch!  I also didn’t want the complexity of ties to cover up the back design because I think the simplicity of the back is just beautiful.  It’s also perfectly airy for a hot summer day.  For my fix, I merely corrected the angle and left off the tie straps, which originally were and extension of the neckline facing.

I did not like the original neckline finishing though.  It was too wide and appeared stifling compared to the rest of the dress.  So I made my facing half the width.  I like the slightly more open neck and low key element to my version of the neckline facing.  However, I did have to slightly customize the shape of the front neckline because the bust (cutting out what should have been my ‘correct size’) turned out quite large in the chest.

To aesthetically correct the generous upper bust, I made two cross-bias darts that end at the upper bust and come out of either side of the bottom center neckline front.  This fix is something which is a fashion dart in my old tailoring books and you don’t see it on many garments.  Only (boo hoo!) it blends into the fabric print.  It takes out the excess right where it was at yet changed the neckline facing into something slightly more angular.  The original design has the neckline quite high with the wide facing and boat neck wide in style.  Personally, I like my version better (no surprise) but it was all just alterations I made along way of the construction process…in other words not planned ahead of time.  It is amazing how little ‘failures’ are only opportunities for happy creativity which makes things better you’d than hoped!

Now, the back bodice might be a 50’s element but the rest of the dress makes it seem more 1960s to me.  The long slim skirt with gathered waist and the high banded middle distantly remind me of Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy dress from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” of 1961 (it’s my big hat – see picture below – influencing my perception, too).  Ever since that famous costume, early 60’s fashion had recurring but occasional long slim skirts to dresses, especially when circa 1964 combined these with an empire waist for a resurrected Recency Era fad, thanks to the creations of Norman Norell (see the “Josephine” dress), the great Dior, the innovative Bill Blass (then working under Maurice Rentner), and Mod Mary Quant.  These designers made such a silhouette the mark of high fashion.

This sundress’ skirt is really very straight rectangle on paper, and only appears a lot slimmer than it is when my legs are together or one knee is jutted out as I shift weight when standing.  I actually went up two size larger than my size because I didn’t want this dress to be too confining to walk in.  The above-the-knee slit helps movement freedom (and adds to the sultry aura of the dress, certainly) but I don’t want to rely only on that…I like my sundresses to both look nice and be ready for moments of family fun!  I was able to ride the jungle animal themed carousel ride with my son that day, but only side saddle for fear of ripping the side slit sky-high!

As the printed cotton was ivory (light colors tend to be see-through) I took the extra time to fully line the inside of the dress and it was so worth it!  It makes dressing in this so much more simplified not needing a slip, besides so soft on the skin.  I like a good layer of natural fabrics during summer, it wicks away moisture and breathes unlike any polyester, so I don’t mind doubling up on a good quality cotton.  Besides, the inside looks so professional even if it is just your average muslin lining!  Sandwiching a perfect invisible zipper up the side between the layers and matching up all the horizontal seams was tricky, though.

At first, I was afraid my outfit would be a bit “too much” but I had a happy time in comfort, received lots of smiles and a few compliments from passer-bys, and stayed classy despite my day in the hot sun wearing my sundress make.  I can’t wait to get more wear out of this sundress as soon as our weather turn balmy again!  It’s funny to realize I never used to enjoy animal prints as much as I have in the last few years, but when I do use them, for some weird reason it always tends to be leopard!  I have a Dior inspired late 40’s wool coatdress with leopard printed flannel accents which I plan on making this year, so my habit of using one kind of animal print doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon!

There is an interesting article I’ve read recently called “The Trashy, Expensive, and Contradictory Reputation of Leopard Print” and as much as I enjoyed the info it made think about why I tend to leopard.  Strangely, it’s not because I feel any of the stereotypes associated with it – power, exoticism, eroticism, punk, or glamour, probably why most of my leopard print makes are relatively tame.  I think I like it because I see it as a mere print, more like a curious twist on polka-dots, even though I know it is the natural camouflage of an animal skin, to a wild cat that needs respect and protection.  So there – either I’m admitting to a watered down mentality, or I’m fully duped by fashion idea of leopard, or perhaps merely admitting to agree with Dior (which makes me cringe a little to say, but that’s for another post).  He used leopard print as a “house motif” and mainstreamed the usage of it as more than an unnatural item and not just a fur (continuing the practice to this day).  Since such a print can be found on practically any material nowadays (thanks to advancements made in the 1930s) – from cotton to faux leather and scuba knit – my mind is so far removed from the actual idea of the real fur…don’t know if I’ve ever seen real leopard clothes nor would I ever want to buy or wear them (and probably couldn’t afford them, anyway).  Dior is quoted as saying, “If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it.”

What side are you on when it comes to animal prints, because I realize I am some weird in between…I like wearing fabric based fashion reproductions but they by no means are my favorite nor do they garner my repugnance.  It is good on an occasional basis for me.  Do any of you animal print lovers also favor leopard like me?

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Living with Coral

Personally, I don’t ever put much weight or mental thought into the chosen Pantone Color of the year.  I kind of think it is some sort of gimmick or ruse to ‘sell’ a certain dye lot, besides being rather silly, if you ask me.  Fashion chosen for the populace through those companies higher up who run the money and production is not an organic trend by the populace, no matter what advertising makes it out to be.  Anyway, never mind my conspiracy theory rant because I am weirdly head over heels for the 2019 Color of the Year choice…”Living Coral” (#16-1546).

It is described as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.”  Subconsciously this color is not a new tone for me to sport, but the chosen Color of the Year has opened my eyes to see it is already in my wardrobe and has been part of my fabric choices more than I realized. (This can be clearly seen in this 20’s style dress, my 1954 qipao, ’57 striped sundress, my convertible 40’s pinafore, or even this 80’s style outfit.)  I do love a good bright color but this 2019 color is something with more pop than a pastel but not overly confident.  I feel a softened orange-borderline peach tone highlights my light olive skin.  So, Pantone’s “Living Coral” announcement only gives me a reason to bring out an old favorite color and find original and absolutely awesome way to wear it with my classic vintage panache – with this post’s dress as my first example.  Made with THE goldmine of rare fabric, this dress’ lovely true vintage rayon gabardine shows a unique and special way circa 1949 to incorporate “Living Coral” into more than just summer frocks (a default item made of the color).

The gloomy side of such a happy shade is the facts that the real world living creature of coral is dramatically dying in growing numbers.  I’m not meaning to be melodramatic here, but nature is the original, pure form of color in all its most breathtaking and inspirational sources.  Fashion is a major world polluter and this year’s color is sadly ironic if it is not also used as a source for awareness.  Man-made colors do not level up the bright and glorious shades of nature.  Just think of a Birds-of-Paradise, a butterfly, and a show stopping sunrise or sunset for only a few examples.  What good is it to have the shade of “Living Coral” paraded in paint cans, on garments, and stationary if the real living coral is becoming so bleached out it is now only drab and sickly?  I’ll step off my soapbox now, but as one who is staunchly emotional about sustainability and thoughtful fashion choices, I had to share my two cents.   Let’s turn this Color of the Year trend around to actually do good rather than just promote sales for once.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and cotton gabardine blend vintage original fabric.

PATTERN:  a New York brand sewing pattern #867, a “Louise Scott” design, circa 1949

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a little interfacing, and a zipper (I used a vintage metal one).  All items were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on November 15, 2018 after at least 25 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  SO nice!  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost only about $20…I got a great deal on the fabric!

What is so special about vintage gabardine?  I don’t really know why it is so rare, but I do know quality modern (as in no polyester) gabardine is hard enough to come by.  Yet I have found some primarily made of cotton over the years and it can be found in many of my sewing projects.  Gabardine fabric is defined as “a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth” and I love how it is durable yet soft and flowing at the same time with an interesting texture when you look closely.  It is one of my favorite fabrics but this vintage gabardine absolutely takes my breath away with its high caliber of excellence…why, it actually has a satin sheen and is not just a solid color!  It is so silky and wrinkle-free.  It was a dream to work with and is fantastic to wear and touch.  The underside is a smooth solid grey and the right side is a very detailed floral pattern with the twill weave showing through.

Looking at the inventory of vintage fabric sellers who can authentically date their products, I have been able to roughly date this material to the late 40’s or 1950s, one of the reasons I chose the pattern I did for it.  Also, American post war fashions did not need the 4-something yards that a Dior style dress would require and I didn’t have much more than 2 yards to work with!  Nevertheless, I did want to pair two lucky finds together – the pattern had been found for a steal of a price during our last trip to the fashion district of Kansas City, Missouri, and the fabric had been a lucky gamble for a reasonable deal bought to support a “Makerspace”.  What went into making this dress could be counted on a “Top 10 Best Finds Ever” list, if I had such a thing.

This dress might look simple at first glance, because it inherently is just that…which at the same time only shows off the smart, quality style of it.  It has details – they just aren’t flashy.  This is to me the lovely epitome of post-WWII New York fashion (and I don’t mean the pattern brand).  American late 40’s styles were so much more sleek, slimming, and subtle compared to the strongly padded, statement silhouettes of French fashion so often used to define this time.  Both had impeccable tailoring and lovely design lines, and I know (as and American) I am no doubt biased, yet to me it seems that there is a great art in being understated.  Dior styles overemphasize both hem width and the hips to create a tiny waist but many American late 40s fashions preferred slimming skirts, longer hems, simple design lines, and relied on details (such as pocket flaps, peplums, pleats, etc.) to softly visually widen the hips.  This latter I see as more universally flattering and working for more body forms versus the former.  I think I can personally work both sides of the post war profiles, but I appreciate the low key appeal and practicality of late 40’s state-side vintage while also enjoying creating it.

So – can we take few minutes here to let me detail the fine points that a camera doesn’t seem to capture very well?  Of course the double hip pleats on each side are the main event, even though you might have glanced over them.  They were drafted as part of the skirt side panels making for two very long and skinny cuts of fabric.  They stand in for a true peplum.  Post war 40s peplums, especially ’48 to ’51 were very low on the body line at and just below the hips much like the pleats on this posts dress.  I was afraid that the print would drown out the detail, so I made sure the hip pleats were not ironed down flat but kept their rolled edge appearance.

The sleeve cuffs mirror the hip pleats.  However the cuffs are slightly pointed under the arm in front of the elbow.  This little drafting point actually helps the cuffs stay folded up and keeps them from catching on things as compared to other cuffs on clothes I have which are straight cut in circumference.  That is smart engineering there!

The skirt is similarly fine-tuned.  I noticed it at the ‘cutting out’ stage when the sides of the center front panel had a concave bottom half, like a very gentle slope outward.  This way the center skirt panel flares out and rolls over the side panel seams from mid-thigh downward…just beautiful and unique.  Such a little difference in pattern shaping does so much!  Not only does this feature make walking elegant and easy-to-move in, but also it’s not every project that the finished garment actually turns out to pretty much have the same drape and qualities as the cover drawing.  Many drawn garment examples (both vintage and modern) only prove to be an idealized or a lame version of the actual draft on paper of a design, and it frustrates my detail-oriented brain to no end that the two don’t match up more often or not.  New York patterns sometimes do get a bad rap (from what I have read) for only offering a colorless sketch on their envelopes, but here, the drawing captured the exact small nuances of this style.  Needless to say, I am impressed.

Hopefully, this dress could fool a fashion historian or curator.  I wanted nice finishings to please myself, but also I felt the special fabric deserved to be made particularly well.  Hardly ever do I sew with true vintage fabric, so I wanted to only use notions and techniques which could be seen on a dress of the era which I was creating.  The only thing glaringly modern is the shoulder pads and maybe the thread I used, the second of which could only be ascertained by someone trained to know.  Otherwise, the French seams, the cotton interfacing, and the vintage metal side zipper do not date this dress as current.  The design certainly won’t!  The edges of the neckline and sleeve cuffs, the zipper, as well as the hem, were meticulously hand-picked for invisible stitching, adding to the subtle high detailing and because the wonderful fabric deserved it (saying it again).  These might also confuse anyone looking to date this garment.  All of this was something of an experiment, and the result brings just making another garment into something at a whole other level.  I actually get giddy just thinking about it.  Reliving the past isn’t old-fashioned or second-rate…it is really fun and a very nice treat.

After all my raving about how the dress turned out, what was not lovely about this was the sizing.  I have made New York patterns a few times now and they have consistently had small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  This dress’ pattern was the opposite fit.  Of course, the difference is they have been pre-mid 1940’s.  But it is surprising that just 5 or so years later could show such a marked difference.  I have nothing to back my theory up, but I wonder if the New York pattern company had new owners or at least new body standards after WWII.  I know the company did make it to the mid-50’s.  The dress had a very long waist (common for 1950’s dresses), very wide hips, and normal shoulders.  I had graded down to my body size but I had to take out in the waist and below what accounts to two sizes smaller still.  Any vintage pattern never ceases to hold a fitting surprise, I suppose.

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything on the purported designer of this dress, Louise Scott.  I did find several other Louise Scott New York patterns (from 1950, some of which I passed up) along with this one, and any Internet search I have tried so far only shows New York pattern envelope covers.  Thus, I’m guessing she might have been an independent, small designer hired by this one brand of sewing patterns to get her fashion concepts out there and help their company, which was in its last years of business, step things up.  She might have just been their in house pattern drafter, too, even.  I don’t know, but it is distressing that for as many patterns as Louise Scott offered through New York Pattern Company we know nothing about her wonderfully classy and meticulous designs.

I wore 1950s accessories to emphasize the fact that it could even be a design from early in that decade, or make it an obvious late 40s style at least.  My Grandmothers vintage 1950s black glass jewelry set (bracelet and necklace) pairs with some older, some modern pieces – mid-1940s gloves, a 50’s velvet beaded head topper, me-made sterling earrings, and my decade-old favorite strappy dress heels in black satin.  I believe my handbag might be from the 1980s but it has that classic 50’s style.  Of course, I had to play up the “Living Coral” color in my dress by tying a vintage 40’s silk scarf to my purse.  It also doubled as very pretty neck scarf that day.

“Living Coral” is such a versatile and cheerful color, more adaptable than many might imagine, almost like it’s a neutral.  Here, it goes with a blue-undertone grey and the black with cream flecks are a complimentary muted contrast.  “Living Coral” tones were often paired with a ‘dove brown’ or ‘avocado green’ in the 1950s.  Of course, I think  bright royal blue pairs well with coral, too, after making my 20’’s style “The Artist” dress mentioned earlier.  Please, just don’t forget that the real living coral in our oceans need to stay just as bright and just as much in the limelight as 2019’s fashion color is!  If you have another interesting color you’ve paired coral with, do let me know because I’d love to try it!

Revamp

It’s a new year, and there are another 360-something days to come of fresh memories, novel occasions, unexpected changes, and general happenings to be made for 2019.  In my experience, where we begin the year is normally quite interesting and different as compared to when it ends.  Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to start a new year of posting with a project similar to the way the world rolls from one year to the next…a refashion.  Every refashion is a new beginning for something from the past which is remembered in a different manner by the time it is reworked.  A refashion is a fresh start.

This particular refashion is quite basic and fancy at the same time.  It has been – and now continues to be – my basic “little black dress”, which now takes a very classic vintage spin from the basic modern piece it had been!  This is my fanciest refashion yet, I believe, as well as my most used.  It is comfier than it ever has been thanks to my re-vamp, and it is versatile enough for a funeral, wedding, night out, or fancy party (such as this!).  You name it, and in all probability this dress can step up for the occasion.  To think…all I did was use something I already had on hand!

Of course, the happenstance of finding matching material was the only reason this refashion was possible.  What I needed practically fell into my lap.  This good luck does not come around often!  When such an event does pop my life, I listen and act.  It’s these good chances that help let me know I’m on the right track, especially when they come without my trying too hard to make things happen.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  some sort is polyester knit, thick like a Ponte with limited stretch and more of an open mesh finish at close inspection

PATTERN:  the few skirt pieces I added were based off of a year 1948 vintage McCall’s #7226

TIME TO COMPLETE:  several hours were spent on one afternoon in the summer of 2017 to do this refashion

THE INSIDES:  The original dress was serged stitched (overlocked)…but even my new additional seams were finished to match

TOTAL COST:  $5 for one yard of new knit – the dress I’m counting as free!

The original dress was something that my mom had bought for me through a ready-to-wear catalog when I was in late teens.  I appreciated the fancy neckline and the dressy but forgiving fabric that washes, wears, and packs like a breeze.  She correctly figured that a “little black dress” was something I would find indispensable going into young adulthood.  Now that I am a full-fledged adult (and mother to boot!), these last few years I realized my favorite dress now longer fit me as well as I remembered, but I loved it nonetheless.  Thus, after coming across the perfect material, I took the ‘cue’ given me but still hesitantly cut it open and put it under my sewing machine to make it work for the “me” I am today.

Luckily, the bodice still fit so it was the only part of the dress (besides the armscye) that I left alone for my refashion.  It is an awesome, well-designed upper half, anyway, for being an affordable RTW item!  The square neckline was made with the pleated front middle that I have not seen the likes of again.  The whole bodice was double layered, fully lined in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, and ends at an empire height.  The skirt portion was an incredibly basic two piece skinny and short style which fit like a second skin, probably at least two sizes smaller than the bodice proportions.  I suppose having kids really makes ones hips fill out – I remember the dress fitting like a nice pencil skirt when I first had the dress!  The sleeves were also very basic and extremely small fitting for a ¾ length.

Firstly, the original skirt was cut off (keeping the bodice seam).  I needed – wanted – a skirt that actually sits at a waistline for my idea to work.  Thus, I drafted my own midsection panel to be the in-between connection to the bodice and skirt.  This way there is a defined middle which is more complimentary and classic than an empire dress.  The midsection is double thickness like the bodice, because it has to support a lot…this is a pull-on garment.  The dress is all knit so a zipper would only mess up the fabric, anyway.  I stitched everything in a zig-zag “lightening” stitch so everything wouldn’t pop – only stretch – putting this on.

Next, I cut a whole new skirt back half using my newly bought fabric from the most available vintage pattern…McCall’s #7226 happened to be out at the time so I used it.  It has the basic, common 1940s three-piece skirt rear which I wanted for my dress’ refashion because such a design provides wonderful booty room and hip shaping.  I re-used the original front half cut off of the dress and, after sewing the sides and hem, the new skirt was sewn to the bottom of the midsection.  Now the hem falls at my favorite just-below-the-knee length.  The skirt is the same length as on the original garment but between the better fit and added middle panel, it suddenly hangs better and has more swish in it.  Perhaps this can be a swing dance dress, too!

Finally, the sleeves were shortened.  The original ¾ sleeves were uncomfortably confining around the elbows and the length seemed weird compared to the rest of the dress in its partial refashioned stage.  However, to match the little bias edging along the pleated neck front, I added the same detail to finish the sleeve edges.  The sleeves were cut to end at the horizontal middle between the top of the midsection and the pleated front neck detail.  It’s my mathematical geekiness coming out, sorry!  The short sleeves really make this an all-season dress.

Accessories worn with this dress change literally every time I wear this, but for this picture I chose items I have from some of the people dearest to my heart.  My husband had given me the amazing vintage hat you see on my head last Christmas.  He picked it out from my very favorite vintage shop in town, which happens to be the same place my vintage Cordé handbag is from, as well.  My hat has the label of the esteemed Henri Bendel brand, a women’s accessories store based in New York City which was open between 1895 and 2018.  There is an amazing quality and design to this hat, but it also happily happens to be in pristine condition.  The rich red velvet wraps around, over, under, and through the hat so that it looks different but still lovely from each and every angle.  The thick, black wool is a wonderful contrast to the velvet, lending a richness to the whole hat.  Of course, I did a twisted, complex, fancy hair up-do to match the hat and help keep it on my head!  My necklace and silk scarf (filling in as my bracelet) are from my dearest Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mom had bought me my earrings (black jet in the middle of a twisted gold rope) as a Christmas years back to match with this black dress.

I have had plans on my backburner of sewing projects to make Marvel’s Agent Carter’s Season Two deep purple dress.  It’s the one with the lattice detail at the neckline and sleeve hems that she wears to meet Dr. Wilkes at the nightclub for some dancing and a little undercover information.  The way this refashion has turned out, however, secretly yet strongly reminds me of that dress, and although it is not the same, just might fulfill my frequent “need” for yet another Agent Carter look-alike.  Do you see the similarity, too?

A refashion holds a memory of the past yet starts off with a fresh face and another beginning. A refashion makes the most of what we have and presents a challenge which is only an opportunity for us to shine.  I hope all of you have a fantastic year ahead, with good wishes for some awesome sewing, fun fashion, and creative enjoyment as well.  I have some exciting projects lined up for the next few months, not just for myself either, so I have a feeling my sewing skills and personal style will be taking an interesting turn this year.  You might not see it on my blog just yet, but I wanted to let you know that it’s there and I’m excited.  What are some of your inspirations and motivations for 2019?

I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.

Tree Skirt

As much as I love Christmas trees, I am always so drawn by what is under them…and I don’t just mean the presents!  I mean the displays of nativity scenes, tiny winter dioramas, scale train sets, or even just a tree skirt that is made out of a fantastic material.  Every tree is as special and wonderful as each one of us are!  So here I am imitating the tree as well as staying warm “in the bleak mid-winter”, all the while finding a way to be fancy for the big holiday with this ankle-length, uber-full, 3-tiered, velveteen skirt.  It is a plush forest green color accented with delicate gold mesh ribbon trim…to me, a wearable version of all the glitz and glamour I love about a Christmas conifer!  Worn with a metallic yarn sweater (not made by me), poinsettias, and even ornaments, I am the second tree, I suppose.

This over-a-decade old skirt project is something I am quite proud to still be wearing.  This was a something I made for a Christmas circa 2006.  I realize it is often frowned upon to both keep and wear clothes for this long, but my skirt is made so well (not specifically meaning to brag), nicely treated (it gets worn maybe twice a year around Christmas, thus in newly made condition), and is a such a basic design that I feel is perennially elegant.  Besides…it still fits me anyway! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton blend velveteen lined in pastel mint green poly

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5005 pattern for skirts, year 2005

THE INSIDES:  cleanly serged (overlocked)

From what I remember this was an easy make that became challenging due to the copious amount of fabric (3 yards in total) and all the gathering.  How I afforded that many yards of fabric back then I don’t remember so I must have found it at a steal of a price or convinced my mom to pitch in for me.  This is a really nice, heavy, fluffy velvet that makes you want to cuddle up with it.  I was on a velvet “kick” back then (see this wine velveteen skirt I also made way back) and I still have some of my acquisitions from that fabric buying high sitting in current stash, so one winter yet I will go on another spree of sewing more velvet creations.

As usual, I adapted the pattern.  My change only was to make my life easier back then because I was not 100% comfortable with zippers, much less invisible ones.  I went a size up higher for what had been a faced, form-fitting waistline of the top panel so that I could add elastic to make it a pull-on skirt instead.  There is a casing to my skirt with elastic for only the sides and back ¾ of the waistline so that the center front over the belly could be smooth and bulk-free.  In hindsight, I am glad I made a waistline that is adjustable – because of it I’m probably able to wear this for 12-something years.  However, I did not bother to finish off the top edge of the waistline because I really never tucked things in to my skirts or pants at that time (I mostly liked to wear stuff at my hips as a teen, anyway).  Now that I do tuck more tops in and am not as afraid of a defined waist, and wish I had bothered to take the extra time to do that art of my skirt better “just in case” my style changed.  Oh well, the rest of the skirt was done nicely!

My second major change was to make the bottom third panel of the skirt longer.  I did not like the idea of the bottom tier being an obnoxious ruffle, which is the way it would have been had I stuck to the pattern as-is.  By lengthening the third row, it appears to be more like another panel to the skirt rather than a hem ruffle, besides making it the elegant ankle length I wanted.  I am so glad I made this adaptation.  This skirt brings out the inner princess in me the way it swoops, swishes, and covers a staircase when I walk down steps.  When I hold my skirt up to turn or walk sometimes, it reminds me of the way Cinderella or Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” hold their dresses up while dancing.  Twirling is especially great in this skirt…the sweep is tremendous!  I suppose I’ll never grow out of my old childhood dress-up dreams!

As velveteen (just like corduroy) has the tendency to “stick” to other materials worn both over and under it, I fully lined the inside of the skirt with a slimmer two-piece bias skirt out of the mint colored polyester.  The lining’s A-line shape does not match the width of the velvet skirt, I know, but a full underskirt would have only poufed out my velvet skirt in a way that would not have made it as wearable, only more costume-y.  The slim lining skirt underneath lets the gathers hang on their own and actually keeps my body heat in nicely.  I can totally wear some skinny knit pants under this skirt when it is really cold out and no one would know the better.  Between the poly lining and velvet, dressing up doesn’t mean I have to compromise class.

I don’t exactly remember how I cut the velvet out, but I must have cut each of the tiered panels on a different nap.  This is something I would never do today, but I do quite like it on this skirt.  Because the plush of the velvet brushes a different way, each panel has a slightly variable color to it.  The middle panel especially has a frosted overtone to it that I love because it reminds me of the most picturesque part of winter – snow!

I really don’t frown upon my older and earlier makes even though I shake my head to see how far I’ve come and smile at the same time to see how I appreciate my work at any level.  I like them nonetheless for not being up to my current sewing standards.  I’ll admit, I had a “thing” in the 2000s for skirts that were flowing and feminine due to bias cut panels, ruffles, gathers (like this one), and all in longer lengths, more so than today.  However, three rectangles of fabric can’t be that old-fashioned (can they?) and the 90’s and 2000 look is coming back today in conjunction with the 70’s hippie style, anyway.  So here’s to rocking your own personal style in handmade fashion from whatever skill level you are!  You made it…be proud of that and own the fact you created something wonderful.  Respect those older sewing makes.  Christmas is a time (besides many other things) for me to celebrate family and memories, and wearing this skirt lets me dress up in comfort while remembering my past and ruminating over the present.

I hope all of you had a wonderful, joyous Christmas that filled your heart and your mind with good memories, peace, and happiness.  From my family, to you and yours – warm Holiday wishes!