Mardi Gras Tricolor

The festivities of revelry are never as outgoing and widespread quite like what happens throughout the world before the Lenten season, whether or not one chooses to participate.  Trying to say goodbye to excess and habits by indulging in them seems rather odd to me, but nevertheless I like an opportunity to wear some great colors.  The trademark tones for the popular American “Carne Vale” are as bold in their pairing as the party antics which are carried on.  They are as rich in history as they are saturated in hue.  Yellow gold, dark yet bright purple, and a cheery grass green are quintessentially, visually recognizable of a New Orleans inspired pre-Lent celebration.

Not that this post’s outfit was originally intended to call to mind Mardi Gras…it was just an Art Deco fabric on hand and the inspiration of the 1930s penchant for bold color pairings which led me to make the dress you see.  This had been one of my early 1930s projects I had intended to make back when I started blogging, but I realized both that I was not ready for the challenge and I was perpetually undecided on a fabric choice.  Finally, everything came together and I am so happy with the results!  The geometric print is perfect for a dress from the very early 30’s, the fabric appears much nicer in quality than a modern poly, and the design has such great features I think it is so appealing even for today.

To keep with both the Mardi Gras theme and the 30’s inspiration, I am wearing a modern wool beret.  Mardi Gras is a French word after all, and New Orleans has a rich French heritage, so my beret fits right in!  Do you notice the fancy stylized French Fleur-de-lis on the wall behind me, as well?

Also, look for my special accessories, too.  The necklace is a true vintage gem – a 1920’s glass bead piece that needed my help by doing a restringing and adding a clasp for a whole new life.  My earrings are me-made to match (as best I could) using clip-on blanks.  My gloves are true vintage from the 30’s.  I even broke out my old timey Cuban-heeled stockings!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The main body of the dress is a polyester satin with a sheen on the printed side and a buff finish on the other.  The neckline contrast, sleeve bands, and belt are a burgundy-tinted, rich purple buff polyester satin remnant.  The dress is fully lined in poly scraps…mostly a pebbled satin purple supplemented with a black non-cling variety

PATTERN:  McCall #6957, year 1932 – I used the reprint from Past Patterns which you can buy here

NOTIONS:  The belt buckle is a prized Bakelite vintage item I’ve been holding onto for the perfect project like this!  (Subsequently, the buckle has sadly broken…and is tentatively glued back together for now.) All else that I needed was lots of thread and some scraps of interfacing for the sleeve bands and belt.  It’s a simple needs Depression-era garment!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours and was finished on April 18, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Left raw…but you can’t really tell because the dress is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress are more of my precious hoard of clearance deals which I bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  I don’t remember exactly but this dress can’t have cost me more than $15.

Now, I recognize that the Eva Dress Reproduction Pattern Company also sells copies of this McCall pattern, but I have always preferred Past Patterns.  Besides – their sizing is closer to mine which means less dramatic grading for me.  However, if you need a bigger size than Past Patterns’ 36” bust, Eva Dress’ repro is a 38” bust.  Even still, I often find 1930’s patterns from 1936 and before seem to run small and this one was no exception.  You want a slightly baggy fit with this dress because it is a slip-on with no side zipper called for.  Also this design was coming from a time that was still easing away from the 1920s, which is very obvious when I take off my belt!  I graded this pattern down to what was still technically a roomy size for me (with extra for a modern 5/8 inch seam allowance) and I feel it fits perfectly enough to both be comfy and land at the right points on my body.

I am quite impressed with this pattern.  Everything matched together well and it turned out just as the cover drawing portrays.  It was relatively easy to figure out how to sew together despite the fact that there are several tricky spots to take time on.  Many of my other 30s patterns made to date needed tweaking to the fit, or some of the panels were a bit off, or some of the instructions lacking…but not with Past Patterns.  The designs they choose to reprint have so far always turned out happily successful for me so far.

Making the many exact points and precise corners to this dress was quite time consuming and honestly a bit stressful along the way.  My fabric was a very slippery and always shifting material.  It was hard to be precise and avoid any bubbling out at the points, especially since (for the skirt insets) I was trying to connect two opposing grain lines together.  The insets were stitched together like a regular seam, making it harder, but the neckline contrast was invisibly top-stitched on to be exact and clean because it is more easily seen.

All of the pattern pieces were rather odd and almost unrecognizable on paper, but looking at the cover they all made sense.  It’s amazing how sewing works, isn’t it?!  The front is all one enormously long piece (as there is no waist seam) which appears like a giant capitol H, because of the insert panels at the neck and skirt center.  The back is mostly like a squared-off basic bodice, except with two ‘tails’ attached for either side of the middle panel.  The seemingly rectangular middle panels swerve out on the sides like the curve of half of the letter U to provide soft fullness to the skirt below knee.  The sleeves, dramatically opened up because of the numerous pleats, are almost 30” wide.  It’s no wonder that this dress needed a very anti-Depression era fabric amount of 3 ½ yards…and I was using 60” width material!

I have never done tucks quite like what was called for on these fun, poufy sleeves, and it was sure an experience.  You have to make them in a certain direction because they are layered on top of one another.  I have seen this type of mock-pleating on the skirt waist some couture garments (such as Dior).

You start from the side and pleat towards the center then move to do the same for the other side.  Both top and bottom have to be done separately because the center has to be left free.  All the pleats are folded into the skinny cuff band and attached to the dress…suddenly the sleeve looks amazing!  I had planned on an organza ‘filler’ to go inside the sleeve thinking it would need help poufing out, but no it doesn’t, even though my fabric is silky soft.  My printed fabric and the discrepancy of photography does not do these sleeves due justice for their awesome detail.

The neckline was definitely the most ingenious and usual piece of all, and I absolutely love the look of it in the contrast solid!  It reminds of an adapted jabot, but it is merely called “a vestee” according to the pattern.  A project I’ve already made from the next year in history, my 1933 McCall’s reprint set, also has a wrapped front drape at the neckline – a more dramatic and simplistic version of what is on this ’32 dress.  Neckline interest was very popular in the early to mid-30’s and I like all the interesting variety of it, especially neck drapes and ties.

I changed up the instructed making of the “vestee” for what I think is a cleaner and more straightforward construction.  It called for a single layer of fabric drape which connects to another single layer half piece which doesn’t have a drape.  This would have showed the underside of the fabric, been awkward to sew together at the center, besides showing the hemmed edge.  I made two, draped, full “vestee” style neck insets so that they could be sewn together like a facing for a clean edge along the center drape that doesn’t show the other color of the other side to the fabric.  I had to add the trio of pleats to each of the two pieces before sewing them together and on the vest.  Then I hand tacked the pleats together down the center.

The same beautiful, rich purple solid satin as what was used for my 1951 slip dress and the details to my 1955 Redingote jacket went towards the contrast here to break up the busy print and made the most of my remnant stash.  Just you wait, though, I am not yet done using this purple satin…there is one more project I’ve squeezed out of it (to be posted soon)!  I used the darker satin side of the fabric on this dress.

Purple normally is the color for royalty, and many Mardi Gras celebrations to have a King (and Queen) that is crowned to preside, but the southern American symbolism for it during the pre-Lent partying is “Justice”.  The green represents “Faith”, gold represents “Power”.  It all relates to both heraldry symbolism as well as the fact both United States and French flags are tri-colored.  My green is the new spring grass, and the rest of the colors I’m wearing.  I don’t always wear the dress accessorized like this – tans, or ivory, or black tones mellow out the bright but rich colors.  Finding vintage accessories in my size, in decent condition, in a reasonable cost, in more unusual colors is a challenge otherwise I would also try out pale yellows, or light purple, and other colors with this dress!

My first sewing project from 1932 has been long in coming but I’m glad I can enjoy it now.  I have been straying at the very strong shouldered and cultural influenced styles of the late 30’s for quite a while recently and this is such a refresher!  This has me thinking about what will fill in my empty spot for the year 1930…hummm.  Look for that this summer!

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A 1917 Fairy-Tale

For some reason, circa 1917 garment styles for women are so dreamy, artistic, and fantastical, to me it’s like something out of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the First World War version.  Fashion was art, and art presented fashion in a way that is unrivaled, so that its appeal has not waned these past 100 years.  Women’s faces were drawn as delicate as a porcelain doll and their hands as graceful as a Goddess.  Their clothes are full of vivid and interesting color pairings.  Their silhouettes might be oddly inhuman in their attire, but somehow they appear harmonious, comfortable, with an entrancing complexity in design.  The background settings seem peaceful, idyllic, and dreamy.  It’s no wonder some teens’ era details are making subtle appearances on some modern runway clothes this year (see Chanel’s Haute Couture Collection, numbers 35, 38, 61, 63) and recently (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 dress or Gattinoni’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture).  The aura surrounding those old styles certainly were not a reflection of the reality of the times, however.

It is now the anniversary of Armistice, today November 11th.  This year’s Veteran’s Day is special as we are celebrating a benchmark century since a pact was signed for a cessation of the fighting of the Great War.  Thus, this year was high time that I figured out for myself the late 19-teens’ incredible niche in historical fashion, and an event this summer at the National World War I Memorial (in Kansas City, Missouri) had given me an excuse to do it, tangibly, in a glorious, flowing and feminine style.

Caught in between the 1920s and the late Titanic era, 1917 (1916 and 18, as well) clothes for women was neither the long lean lines of the era before nor was it the barreled torso silhouette of the one after.  Circa 1917 women’s fashion did take one thing to the extreme – the below the bust, almost Empire waistline, an interesting fad compared to the moderately high waist seen about 1914 and the almost hip length waist of the early 1920s.  Late WWI style was a beautiful middle ground that disappeared very quickly and only lasted a few years.  There was an overabundance of details, textures, interesting colors, and unusual features…many times in the same garment.  It was like an over-the-top display of quality, creative, and hand-crafted fashion before the clutches of mass-market RTW or the practicality following the post-stock market crash 10 years later would take over.

Now, let’s put a few things into perspective for a broader view of circa 1917 in my country.  By the late teens, the US had about 2,000 amusement parks.  As the culture of leisure carried over from the Gilded Age, and people seemed to be seeking thrills and adrenaline pumped delights with their free time, it was the beginning of the golden age of roller coasters (ca. 1919) due to the innovations of entrepreneur John Miller.  Menswear was beginning to break free of its Edwardian appearance and accepting the idea of “sportswear”, while women’s fashions were becoming more open to an independent woman, free to move through life without a full-length corset or a man to marry out of necessity.  The first Jazz music recording was commercially released to help usher in a whole new popular genre of listening pleasure and matching that with new active styles of dancing.  The United States officially acquired both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Things were looking up.

Yet, for a darker perspective, there were also three to five percent of the world’s population dead from the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918 to 1920).  WWI’s fighting was announced as begun for America in 1917 then hastily over in 1918, with about 13 major battles fought and counting about one man out of every thousand dead. President Wilson seemed to be wrapping it up for the nations, and the world was dealing with the aftereffects of the first Great War very unsuccessfully in my opinion.  On our own turf there were ‘problems’, as we had sixteen Americans executed by Pancho Villa and the southwest region in danger as part of our involvement in taking sides for the Mexican Revolution.  Dissatisfied workers in several unions in Seattle, Washington, seeking higher wages after toiling hard producing ships for WWI, went on America’s first general strike, where over 65,000 workers protested for 5 days.  Supposedly the strikers were under the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, leading to a “Red Scare”.

So – as much as the fashions of the late teens were dreamy, artistic, and evocative of ethereal beauty, the world of the mid to late 1910s was anything but a fairy-tale.  Face value can sometimes be just that…a dream, a wish for something better, visual trickery.  This is why the only modern item you will see on my 1917 dress is perhaps the most important one – an enamel red poppy flower pin from the National World War I Memorial.  We need to remember, respect, and learn of the sacrifices and the stories of the Forgotten Generation to make sure the Great War is not disregarded.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Cotton print (aqua background with a very Art Deco geometric design in purple) for the base layer of the dress, with a sheer lavender poly chiffon as the overlay for both dress and hat.  Basic white cotton sateen for the dress’ collar and ‘bib’ front panel.

PATTERN:  a Past Patterns Company reprint of a McCall #8159, from November 1917

NOTIONS:  Many prized notions went onto this dress to give it its necessary finishing touches – some are true vintage, some are special coming from family, and others are uniquely hard to find.  More about them in the body of my post.  Only the best…and I believe it shows!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I worked on this dress on and off for a few months and finally finished it on June 28, 2018 after 50 plus hours.  The hat took only 2 hours to refashion.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound with the sheer sleeves, over skirt, and bodice armscye French finished

TOTAL COST:  All my fabric was bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabric Store, with all the finishing trims and notions already on hand (free), I spent around $40.

Fashion was very important to women of the time and magazines of the latest modes of dressing even more so.  “A reaction of the emergence of fashion photography, an annual subscription to an exquisitely illustrated fashion and lifestyle publications could cost as much as a car in 1914”.  During World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s Magazine alone had over a million subscribers each. No wonder the best artists were hired for illustrations – for one case in point, the great couturier Mainbocher started off as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue after serving in WWI.  Erté and George Barbier are more examples.

However, for one who wants to sew a ‘copy’ of such fashions, these drawings are important only so far as to figuring out what colors, what details, what silhouette to achieve to look authentic.  Construction and closing methods are a mystery.  That is why I started with a copy of a true original pattern…because nothing beats the real thing, right?  So, I had a good starting point but not much to go on because if you think vintage a la 1930s or 40’s patterns are lacking in instruction thoroughness, well, you’ve never seen an antique pattern.  I literally had only two small paragraphs and one tiny layout diagram to go by as my guide.  This is why my next resource was both textual research and sourcing old 100 year old garments for sale online to see physical specifics.

It wasn’t until the 1930s (pretty much) that the way a garment closed on the body was visible and buttons were more than just a means of decoration or display of wealth.  The mid to late teens era kept the closures well hidden in seams or under more fabric and therefore a bit mysterious.  This dress has the very common (for 1916 to ‘18) ‘bib’ front bodice vest piece that does the double duty of both covering the front closures and completing the waist by continuing on as a cummerbund-sash to be tied in a fancy bow behind.  It’s sort of hard to show, but underneath the bib panel, hook-and-eye tape closes the center front, with a few more single hooks for the small side seam opening (covered by the cummerbund wrap around).

On its own, the front covering is a large T-shaped piece.  It has every edge self-enclosed in a facing double and was the last thing directed to be added on to the dress.  Even then it is only lightly tacked on at the right top edge while it hook-and-loops closed at the left corner.  I have seen some of these ‘bib’ frontispieces for sale separately and so I can conclude that some of these were meant to be removable.  This is quite smart, really!  They could easily be cleaned gently by hand this way, without needing to launder the whole dress, too, and most of the prettiest decorations and precious haberdashery could be added on the frontispiece with no fear of being beat up by a general washing.  Most of the antique original ‘bib’ pieces that I have seen have been in the finest linen or silk, since (at that time) most of the wool was going to soldiers’ uniforms and the cotton was making canvas gaiters, satchels, and tents for the war.  Mine is sateen so it has a slight shine that the camera images aren’t really picking up, but I more than made up for the basic material with lots of detail and meticulous hand work.

First of all, plain whites need something extra to make them look fancy and not, well…plain.  This is a dress from the teens, anyway and more subdued excess (within reason) the better was the rule!  My primary add-on was the buttons on the bib front, I knew these were a definite choice.  They are true teens era buttons, in glass, painted in a rich purple over the nubby top texture (see a closer picture on this Instagram post).  They look like fresh tiny mulberries to me – mmm!  To prevent the paint from chipping, as it was starting to do already, I applied a light painting of clear top coat, such as is used on fingernail lacquer.

Then came the lace!  This is a heavy cotton lace which my husband bought for me over a year ago in Italy when he went on a business trip to Milan.  As much as it pained me to use it and not stash it, the Belgium-style lace was just what I had in mind and looks like embroidery from afar.  If I could have come up with a shortcut way to tack it on I would have, but instead it took me several extra hours of hand stitching to tack it down along the bib top along the neckline, along the bib front waistline bottom, and the bottom end of the sash just above the tassels.  Do the sash end tassels make it look like I have servant call pulls?  Maybe, but crazy things work in teens fashion and not only do the tassels weigh the ties down but add color and interest from behind.

Finally, to connect the aqua in the under (base) layer of the dress, which you don’t see much of above the knees, I added matching colored feather stitching along the collar edge. Let’s briefly address some good, old-fashioned, quality hand-stitching – it used to be much more than just straight and basic. Until about the teens and no later than the mid-1920’s, hand sewing, even if was just necessary for top-stitching, was detailed, incredibly tiny, precise, and very understated for the time and high quality it shows. It is a skill too lovely to only admire, with feather stitching in particular as my new fascination for hand stitching. This stitch is an embroidery technique which can be ornamental sewing when worked with single threads and it uses loops caught and pulled to make a vine design.  My favorite tutorial to learn feather stitching from can be found here if you want to learn too.  It’s not hard, but the challenge is to be uniform and consistent with spacing.  My collar needed top-stitching and it needed something to give it pizazz while being authentic – feather stitching took care of all of that at once.

Other than the detailing, the dress was really pretty simple to make and the fit was spot on.  After all the skirt was just a basic gathered skirt.  Every pattern piece was pretty much basic geometrics – no darts or fancy shaping, either.  Once the front closing mystery was understood the bodice was simple, too, as were the sleeves…very modern with their flared shape known as “angel” style.  (Look closely and you will see the small fishing weight on the inner sleeve end to make the chiffon hang!)  I must add, the dress while in progress did look like a total piece of trash all the way up until it was almost done.  I just kept hoping for the better as it was being assembled and plugging through the project.  Now I’m so very glad I persevered.

The pattern was my size technically, but I don’t like the lack of a “mistake cushion” that tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances provide so I added an extra inch all along every seam allowance to make them bigger and also “just in case” the fit was wrong.  I remembered that the 1920 blouse pattern which I used before had small shoulders – and I have big arms – so I slashed and spread this pattern’s sleeve tops before cutting out in the chiffon.  With my little changes, this pattern fits perfectly and turned out just like a 1917 dress from a fashion magazine, so I think!

The hem ran very long, again similar to both the 1920 and 1914 skirt patterns I have already used, but this is meant to be for a wide hem.  These wide and deep hems in early 20th century historical fashions really help to shape them, kind of like a stiffening, and need to hand pick-stitched down.  This dress’ hem has a slight “Hobble skirt” reference by the way is tapers in slightly slimmer for the last 8 inches above the hemline.  To emphasize the widening of the upper half of the skirt, the sheer overlay was cut in a high-low hem.  The more fashion images you see in the 1916 to 1918 range, the more it seems that every skirt overlay (and they were popular) had either a hem decoration and/or a curiously shaped hemline.  I went with both because it struck me as working well for this dress.  The arching sheer skirt compliments the arching bodice panel and the purple flower trim I added along this edge brings an overall harmony to the dress with the same trim being used on the sleeves.

With slightly shorter hemlines making it easier for women during the War to move around, it was also the opportunity to show off one’s pretty ankles in fabulous decorated stockings!  I have been holding onto these flocked, floral, vine-patterned, ivory stockings for a very long time just because I knew they were unusual, and now they were just what I needed.  Highly decorative embroidered or painted stockings, “clocked” hosiery as it’s called, had been immensely popular in the 18th century, but had a very strong comeback in the mid to late teens as soon as the skirts were slimmer and shorter.  Many 1910s and 20’s stockings enjoyed the “new” aspect of fashion even to the point of being very fantastical – see this post for snake and bird hosiery!  To say ‘Clocked’ stockings means they have an added design up the ankle, where traditionally a ‘gusset’/wedge has been added to give it shape – very racy considering it wasn’t until the later 1920’s that hosiery was considered as something other than underwear!

Of course, none of this outfit would have the proper look and feel without a good foundation.  Happily, I already had my under layers already me-made and available.  The late teens was in a weird position with regards to underwear.  Things were starting to change over to the looser, more modern two-piece “bra and bloomers”.  The corsetry that was around no longer had such long, lean lines and full body coverage (like what I wore under my 1914 ensemble).  I do not have a shorter late teens corset (like what the blogger “The Dreamstress” has put together).  The main idea is to have no bust support (keep the girls flat!) and volume around the knees with your slips and knickers, so I opted for the early 20’s underwear set I did have…envisioning myself as a very fashion-forward woman doing so!  Over the underwear went a reproduction sleeveless slip which was identical in style lines to this earlier teens era slip which I blogged about here.  The front is a lovely eyelet and the lack of sleeves was perfect for the sheer arms of my dress.

After all my efforts invested in the dress, there was no way I was starting from scratch for my headgear, too.  Thus, the hat is a refashion of a dated 80s or 90’s piece which became a very plausible authentic match.  I made use of something from my wardrobe I never really wear and not only beautified it, but turned it into something I needed anyway – win-win, right!?  Many summer hats in the teens had wide but sheer brims, whether it was made of lace in a wire frame, rows of ribbon, chiffon, or an open mesh.  The last kind was exactly what I had in my dated hat, it only needed a rounder, mushroom-style crown that needed to be much fancier before being closer to authentic.  In order to totally match with the dress, I used the small remnants left of the purple chiffon to loosely wrap (and gently, invisibly hand tack) around the crown, finished off with an intricate burgundy and purple ribbon remnant to match the colors of the buttons and the tassels.

My accessories are all some sort of vintage, except for the waist watch hanging from a chain at the waist of my ‘bib’ front bodice panel.  That was bought new because it looked like a hanging watch I have from my Great Grandmother, only I wouldn’t dare use that one out and about so this is a memory-free and guilt-free replacement.  However, I did have no qualms about using and bringing the umbrella you see.  This is a treasured find, though.  It is a true 1910s (or early 1920s at the latest) piece I found for a deal in perfect condition.  The fabric is dyed silk, and so is the tassel to match, with the handle is covered in leather.  My necklace is vintage 1930s I believe, and carved mother of pearl, actually.  The earrings are of the 1940s from my Grandmother.  The purse is something I actually made for my 1920 outfit, but luckily the colors and the style pairs up perfectly here, too, I believe.  I did find some vintage 1960s leather heels to match, since strappy shoes, and especially French heels, too, were what was popular back then.

Our photo location is an appropriate backdrop as this building was originally built after the turn of the 20th century as a publication headquarters for a women’s’ fashion magazine mogul, Edward Gardner Lewis.  It was constructed in the fancy French neo-classical “Beaux-Arts” style, and acres of the surrounding area were bought up by Lewis to build an equally beautiful upper middle class neighborhood.  Luckily, most of this area of University City is well preserved and the homes look every bit as beautiful as it probably did in the teens and twenties.  They just don’t make architecture like they used to.

There is something so inherently satisfying to spending such excess in time, materials, and personal investment on something beautiful, worthwhile, and creative weather it’s a building or on a dress. I can attest that in the sewing sphere, it is addictive. It hails back to a time when sewing was a true art using one’s hands, when making clothes was more about crafting beauty than just getting clothes for one’s back, and before commercial-fast fashion had its full stranglehold on the garment industry. Quality in the small details is sorely needed today…only our world today needs to understand that it doesn’t come quickly or in bulk quantities.

When you think about WWI in terms of this, though, society needed bulk quantities of lasting quality in order to supply the troops, and yet somehow the world stepped up to provide.  What wool moths and decay have left behind, luckily many of these uniforms are still in great condition and fully wearable today.  It is heartening to see the amount of extant WWI items that are being worn and displayed with pride and a spirit open to seeing and learning from the past anew!  Even though this great centennial will now be over, I hope this era of history keeps being understood and remembered.  My next Great War project will be a women’s military uniform.

“WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” quote from Anita Shreve.  I hope my dreamy, fairy tale style dress outfit tells one small part of the great story.  Let us commemorate the fallen yet celebrate what peace we have today.

A 1920s Aesthetic for Today

It has been a while since I have posted anything 1920s here!  Unfortunately, part of the reason is not only the fact that the decade’s silhouettes can be hard to love on myself, but also the fact that I want something from that decade to wear today without looking like I am doing historical re-enacting.  It seems to me that something pre-early 1930s can easily be obviously vintage.  I generally love to bring my vintage style into my everyday life and wardrobe in a way that keeps it modernly appealing yet still true to the history of the decade’s fashion.  This is a hard balance to find all the time, which is why you don’t see as much 1920s things in my list of makes…and also why I am posting (with great excitement) about my newest Burda Style dress!

I somehow feel like life is so much more fun, free, and easy in this dress.  There are no closures (zippers, or the like) needed with the bias crossover bodice.  It is a popover dress that is flowing, comfy, unconfining, and freshly different.  I absolutely LOVE the garment make of mine.  It embodies the late 1920s crazed hype that lived life to its fullest – and foresaw many of the modern conveniences (television, computers, etc.).  The late 20’s overdrive (1927 to the crash of 1929) produced both short above-the-knee skirts and many avant-garde inventions that would not been seen for many decades later.

This era of the 20’s had an amazing modernity that I feel has been captured by this dress.  There is a zig-zag print on the skirt to pay homage to the hardened, mathematical form of Art Deco that flourished in the time.  The bodice is a mock-wrap to pay homage to the popular fashions of the few years before (1926 and 1927).  It’s also made from a soft textured gauze which reminds me of the lace, sheer, and interesting fabric bodices of many fashions in the 20’s.  The high-low hem with a fishtail skirt ‘train’ is later, very 1927 to 1929, though (see this post for more info).  All of these years are my favorites to this decade.  So – yes – this dress is a rather accurate combo of everything I love best in the 20’s from an unexpectedly modern source!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton gauze for the bodice, with a poly blend gabardine for the waist ‘belt’, a poly print lined in cotton muslin for the skirt

PATTERN:  Burda Style #118 “Wrap Dress” from April 2015

NOTIONS:  nothing complicated was needed to finish this – just thread and scraps of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  maybe 30 plus hours…it was finally finished on May 28, 2018

THE INSIDES:  a combination of French, bias bound, and raw seams

TOTAL COST:  This is a project that spanned 3 years, so I do not remember anymore but I know it didn’t cost much with 1 yard for the bodice, and about 2 yards for the skirt, with only scraps left over from these two projects (here and here) for the contrast belt.

My 20’s style dress project counts for my monthly “Burda Challenge 2018”, my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” blog series, plus the “Sew Together for the Summer of the Wrap Dress” challenge.  Now, you might say this is only a mock wrap and not a proper wrap dress.  Well, yes and no!

The name for the pattern is “Wrap Dress”, for the first thing.  More than that, though, the full ‘lap’, cross-body, tie-on dress that we tend to think as a proper wrap didn’t quite look the same 90 years back.  In the 1920’s, a wrap dress was a garment that was often faking it, with a cross-over bodice, a one-piece skirt, and a sash or tie of some sort on one side to continue the deception.  A mock wrap to us of today was a full wrap dress in the 1920’s.  Not only this, but mock wraps were immensely popular in the decade anyway, even in the blouse or jacket form.

By the next decade of the 1930s, wrap-on dresses were normally a one piece, full tie on garment, closer to what we are used to today, with a caveat.  They were often reversible and considered more of an apron or pinafore like garment meant for housework or grocery errand duty…the hum-drum efforts which only result in sweat and grime appearing on one’s clothes.  Many of these full wrap-on dresses were called “Hooverettes”, after the American president at the time of the Great Depression.  These were like a gloried robe for women to iron easily and look sensibly cute yet incredibly comfy to do all the things that the hard times required of them.  With the rationing of the 1940’s, an easy-to-make full wrap-on dress was glamorized even further to being included as possible for evening looks (with the right fabric).  The 1950s and 60’s widely used wrap dresses with great ingenuity in many of their designs, but Diane Von Furstenberg and the trending Boho Hippy look in the 70’s democratized the wrap dress as we know it today for all shapes, occasions, and materials.  Yet, according to this article, even for Ms. Furstenberg, her early “wrap dresses” started off as a cross-over top paired with a skirt!

Now, for as easy as this dress is to wear and put on, it was one of my most difficult makes, especially among Burda patterns.  As you see the dress now, it is in its re-fashioned form.  Yes, I do re-fashion my own makes…I’ll do whatever it takes to save a project and turn it into something I love!  So, this dress is not the original design – very close but still slightly adapted.  I did make the dress according to the pattern back in 2016 (at left), and it did turn out well after some difficulty with the curved, drop waistband.

However, as nice it looks on the hanger, the final fit on me was less than complimentary.  The gauze had more of a give/stretch than I expected, the dress’ fishtail train hung past the ground on me, and the drop waist back was way below my booty.  I really didn’t like that much of the contrast waistband, after all, too.  I did like the general shape, the colors I chose, and the print/texture combo.  So, the dress had been saved to sit in my “projects half finished” pile (which is quite small, I can brag) for these last two years until I felt I had the right idea of how to re-work it.  No wonder it feels so good to finally wear this!  This dress makes shaking my booty so good looking with such a swishy skirt!

A good drop waist dress should fall (in some small portion) somewhere through the hip area, slightly above the true hip line yet at least 5 inches below the true high waistline.  It technically should not be much below the bend of your body when you sit, from my understanding.  Thus, to ‘fix’ my dress, I figured on leaving the hem alone and making a new straight line (taking out the curved “belt”) across and around the mid-section, parallel to just below the bottom of the front contrast waistband.  I did want to keep a small portion of the contrast “belt” to transition the two fabrics with a solid color and give the appearance of a mock half-belt panel.  It was sure tricky to straighten out the skirt in turn around the back with that amazing bias to the skirt!  In the 1920s, the waistline traveled all over from very low to almost non-existent, but this dress’ waistline is a slightly higher, later in the decade style to match with the skirt.  Otherwise than this re-fashion step, I kept the bodice as it was except for pulling up the shoulder seam slightly.  To keep the full skirt weighted down nicely (so it wouldn’t turn wrong way up like Marilyn Monroe over an air vent) and keep it opaque, I fully lined it.

This dress’ skirt does need a tiny 1/8 inch hem so that it doesn’t get stiffened at all.  At the same time, such a tiny hem on a skirt like this was a major pain.  It might not be immediately obvious, but the length of hemline just seemed to keep going, and going…but all that turns out well in the end is worth it in my opinion.  Do tiny hems wear you out and seem overly tedious like they do for me?

It was entirely my idea to make a long tie piece and stitch it to the left side of the bodice, thereby continuing the mock wrap dress deception!  I especially like how much this little touch adds to the dress.  This is again another true 1920s feature, as most of the era’s mock wraps had ties on the corresponding side to continue the illusory appearance.  To me, the tie also adds a touch of asymmetric that was also so popular in the 1920s.

Somehow it seems so much easier for me to interpret a modern take on the 20’s when I am starting with a pattern from today, versus starting with an old original pattern.  I almost always recommend others to use vintage patterns because I think that they offer so much to learn from and have better details.  However, there are so many modern patterns that have veritable 1920s features if you know what to look for.  This presents two interesting points.

Firstly, here I am saying it’s hard to make an old 20’s pattern look modern, yet I’m also saying that many modern fashions (patterns and ready-to-wear) have very 1920s features.  Perhaps the era between WWI “The Great War” and the Depression of the 1930s has more in common with us of today than we think.  Looking at old fashion plates or extant garments might not make this as obvious as it could be…it just takes the styles of today to give us a new perspective!

Secondly, this proves how important it is to pepper one’s awareness of current styles with a knowledge of fashion history.  A good overall view of the big picture might just be something specific to me as others have told me, but looking around and seeing the beginning of a trend is always a good idea. Actually, style is something that seems to only be recycled over and over again the more one sees.  Besides, often finding the source, or at least seeing the ways a detail is re-interpreted, is fun, interesting, and always worthwhile…not to mention the benefit of giving me more ideas for my projects!  Don’t be afraid to dive into some fashion research next time you start wearing the “newest” thing and find out the reference of where it came from!

Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part Two, 1920s and 1930s

Here is the second part of my post on vintage and historical lingerie that I have made in the last year.  Part one was a princess seamed slip from the 1910s era.  As in my title, this one will focus on 10 years during two decades primarily – the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.  Between these two posts, I hoping to provide an overview that will give a good picture of how fast things had changed between 30 years to give a backdrop for “modern” underwear as we know it to be now.  Not all that long ago, the first layer for women was quite different, but not a bad different.  After all, I hope to show, too, how this lingerie from the past had a ‘what’ with a ‘why’ that explained its presence, and it is wonderful to wear and easy to sew.  If you haven’t experienced this for yourself, you need to – and if you have made some vintage undies, let me gush with you and say…isn’t it awesome?!

I went for two landmark, quintessential styles – the Kestos bra of the 20’s and the bandeau and tap pants set of the 30’s.  This was for three major reasons.  First, I had patterns of these available and on hand.  This is the practical and basic reason.  Secondly, I wanted to see what the big deal was about these and find out for myself why they were so popular and groundbreaking (besides shocking) for the times.  Thirdly, these filled in a gap for me. I have a vintage original 1950’s corselette bra, a deadstock 1940s bullet bra, a pair of 20’s style bloomers, a whole set of underclothes for the 1910 era, as well as a few individual tap panties (here and here), so a Kestos bra from the Flapper era with a full-out fancy, novelty colored 30’s set was just what I needed for a whole 50 years of undergarment history at my availability.  I did need some new underwear anyway, and I’ve wanting to try my hand at some brassieres, so these pieces were my first step.

Compared to the slip of the last post, the pieces presented in this post see much more wearing.  First of all, they are closer to “modern” skivvies.  They are very comfortable to wear and I actually prefer them over undies of the current style.  They also work great with fashions from the matching, appropriate eras (of course!) and, although they do not sculpt the preferred present-day shape, they complement what I am endowed with for a more natural appearance that does work with clothing of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All cottons for the 20’s lingerie, a poly satin for the 30’s set, with matching cotton scraps for the linings

PATTERNS:  A vintage original McCall #7823, dated November 1934 in the closing flap of the envelope, for the aqua set, and a pattern from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen for the Kestos bra.

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand already.  I had been wanting to make these pieces for a while now and so I had everything, even the lingerie notions such as the buttonhole elastic, foam bra cups, and plastic rings for the straps.  Besides those notions mentioned, nothing really unusual was needed anyway – twill tapes, hook and eyes, and thread.  The buttons I used are authentic 1920s pearled shell notions from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The 20’s bra was made in a flash in only 3 hours and finished on January 4, 2016.  The 30’s set was made in about 15 hours and finished on November 13, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All nice and cleanly finished by being self-faced or bound.

TOTAL COST:  The 20’s Kestos bra was practically free to me as it was made with scraps on hand.  The supplies for the 30’s set were bought several years back at (the now defunct) Hancock Fabrics, so I don’t really remember.  As I only needed scraps, on yard of lace, and ½ yard of fabric this probably cost me $10 or less.

I’ll start with the older set of the two!

First off the bloomers you see are bought reproductions, yet (as far as I know) true to the time frame of the bra I made.  Thus, I now have a set that works perfectly to wear under my 1920 ensemble, or any other outfit from the late teens up until 1926 or 1927, when hemlines began shortening up (to the knees by 1929!) as well as slimming down before 1930 came.  Technically, I have read this type of undergarment called ‘pettibockers’, as they are full yet drawn in by ribbons at the knees, but also called ‘drawers’ and ‘knickers’.  However, I have an old original Pictorial Review year 1926 pattern (very much like the Butterick #6194 seen in this post) to make such undie bottoms and they call them ‘bloomers’, so I’ll stick with that term here.

I was tempted to use two handkerchiefs to make this bra, so it could be much like the way the first divided ‘cup’ bra was made by Caresse Crosby in 1913, as the story goes.  The early bras were really that simple and barely supportive, but compared to the corseted figure or the unibosum styles, this kind of bust definition was dramatically innovative!  The Kestos form of this bra in particular is a brand of sorts – it was one of the first commercially manufactured with separate cups.  It was a trademark by circa 1925 (or 1927-ish; accounts differ), and was invented by Rosalind Klin, a Polish-born female designer residing in London.  It also has a very creative and unexpected way of closing, the main visual and wearing trademark that ladies cared about!  The straps for the chest wrap around the body to button closed in front again under the bust.  From my experience wearing this style, it is immensely comfy and so easy to close and put on oneself.  The criss-crossed back prevented any riding up of the straps, and made the bra versatile for many garment styles.  The overlapping front cups supported the straps and stayed close to the body.  I really don’t know why bras ever stopped being made like this!  None of this modern trickery of a back closure you can’t see with its many problems of fit!  Kestos bras had a strong popularity through the 30’s, and even the 40’s as well, yet dissipating after circa 1937.

I really made my version a bit thicker and substantial than the pattern calls for, besides definitely downgrading on the original design, as well.  As you see, the original garment for my pattern was very fine indeed, with progressive early tap panties.  My 20’s bra was a trial garment for me, so I made it basic and straightforwardly simple (much like this one from 1941).  I guess I could add some lace or such now, or even dye it a different color, after the fact that it’s done.  I do now feel confident in making an amazingly fancy version, though!

Jill Salen’s book “Vintage Lingerie” offers 30 patterns of all the vintage/historical garments shown in the book but they are almost all practically Barbie doll size.  Either you need a knowledge of how to transfer sizing using graph paper (which is what her patterns are on) or go to a copy place that will figure out the percent and do large size prints.  I opted for the copy place option, and ended up enlarging this bra pattern 200%, but most of the rest of the 1:1 scale patterns, including the matching panties, need to be enlarged 400%.  Then, add your own either 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch seam allowances.  I have had pretty good successes so far with using patterns from this book.  All of the patterns offered are drawn off of the existing garments shown, and fall in the ballpark of somewhere between a 32 to a 36 or 38 inch bust. I fall in that range and so can generally grade up or down as needed.  For the 1920s Kestos bra pattern, according to how well it fit me with no changes needed, I estimate it is for a 33 to 34 inch bust.

I doubled up on the thickness, to have more support, no see-through, and easily finished off edges.  Each cup on this pattern is two pieces, and I had four cups to have assembled, so I ended up with a bunch of little pieces to keep track of!  This was the downside to making this bra super simple.  The straps on old originals generally are elastic covered in self-fabric casing, but as a wanted to go basic and keep the bra all-cotton, I merely used raw twill tape and bias tapes for the straps.  For my bra, I still needed some elastic to have some give, so the ends of the straps that go around the chest had the last 6 inches become attached to modern buttonhole elastic.  I had this elastic on hand and I’ve been dying to find the perfect opportunity to use it, but I still can’t help but wonder if all my 1930s kestos adefforts to be ‘historical’ (even old 20’s shell buttons, too!) went out the window using such a modern notion.  Nevertheless, I have found a year 1936 Symington Kestos bra, from the Leistershire County Council, which does have very similar looking buttonhole elastic.  Whatever – I love it.  Well, yeah!  It was whipped up in 3 hours, of course I do!

The back the bra closure creates is indeed special.  The way the straps criss-cross behind makes them less confining than the one-restricting-band-around-the ribcage from a comfort point of view.  Once you wear a Kestos bra it’s like a breath of fresh air you never knew you could have with a brassiere.  It also makes the Kestos bra the best thing ever for any low backed dress or top.  No wonder it continued to be a hit in the 1930’s when a wide open back was the popular for evening wear, and slitheringly sexy, manner of showing off both skin and body…as if a bias cut gown needed something like that!  Granted the body form doesn’t fit the bra as well as it fits myself, so it is lower than normal for me.  However, I draw the line at myself publicly modelling this post’s pieces.  If I want the back lower, I could fix that the way they used to in the 30’s and 20’s for a Kestos – make a loop that hooks closed at the back center of my bloomers or tap panties, and connect it to the straps to bring them down…down, to the waist…for the ultimate backless bra!  There are so many options with a Kestos closing bra.  It is the ultimate in comfort, ease, and versatility.

Now, the 30’s brassiere and tap panties I made is the next step in chest closing, bust supporting, and body conscious covering, bringing women’s lingerie recognizably close to today’s methods. The tap pants are feminine and freeing compared the previous era’s style, yet still covering one’s bottom discreetly under skirts and dresses.  The brassiere is basic in design yet Depression-era fancy and more about supporting and shaping than the 1920s were.  Luckily, with the advent of talking motion pictures in 1929, and the advancements of film and filming methods thereafter, there are many glimpses to be had of the early 1930s style underwear for women.  Some of my favorite 30’s lingerie sets seen on film come from Carole Lombard in “Twentieth Century” (1934), Joyce Compton in “Anabella’s Affairs” (1931), and Loretta Young in “Born to be Bad” (1934).  The Hays Code of Decency put an end to such displays of intimates after 1934, the year of the pattern I used for my sewing.

However, there are two films in particular that show an interesting side to the two differing styles of women’s underwear that existed between the 20’s and 30’s – “Three Wise Girls” from 1932 and “The Smiling Lieutenant” from 1931.  You know how some people find it hard to accept change or adapt to the newest mode, even if it is “in”?  Well, undies are not seen, so no doubt many women went back to wearing the old style pre-1927 bloomers and such that they were used to wearing, getting away with it, too, when hemlines came back down to calf length in 1930.  It wasn’t cut and dry, black-and-white, when it came to when, who, and how the two styles underclothes I’m presenting in this post where worn.

If you see what “The Smiling Lieutenant” and “Three Wise Girls” show, it seems as it is was other women and not just clothing styles that convinced (or shamed) women to give up the old styles.  In “The Smiling Lieutenant”, the character of Claudette Colbert is “helping” the married Princess, played by Miriam Hopkins, to “save” her marriage by ditching her mid-20’s style bloomers and wearing the newest tap pants and bra, even adding in the habit of smoking too!  It’s a very dramatic scene that the storyline revolves around, and Claudette Colbert has the Princess lift up her long, ruffled dress to reveal her undies, then performs a tune “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to convince her otherwise (watch it for yourself here).  “Be happy! Choose snappy! There’s music with every ribbon…”  Thereafter, we see the old style bloomers burning in the fireplace, and the princess in a skimpy “teddy” with cut off bobbed hair!  It’s the new feminism winning out over old-fashioned morality. The anachronistic setting suddenly makes sense: the Victorian Age must give way to the Jazz Age.

In “Three Wise Girls”, one of Jean Harlow’s many attempts at finding a job is becoming a model for a dressmaker’s salon, showing off gowns that clients are interested in purchasing.  The lady in charge of the dressing room, Mae Clarke , wearing a one-piece 30’s ”step-in” slip, sees Jean Harlow before she dresses in a slinky 30’s evening gown, and Harlow is criticized on how she looks, with the old bloomers causing wrinkles and bulkiness.  She gives Harlow the newest style of tap pants and bra to wear, telling her (more or less) that if she is going to work for them, this is what underwear she’ll be wearing.  After all, being a model is about the most body conscious job out there!  When Jean Harlow quit working for the dressmaker’s salon, she is seen again wearing her 20’s style bloomers in 1932.  I’m now supposing that it wasn’t just a matter of comfort zone or attachment when it came to not adopting the new styles – perhaps it was also due to a Depression-era thriftiness or just plain lack of money that some women stuck to the old 20’s style skivvies in the 1930’s.

I’d like to think that if I was living back then, in 1934, and had the money and the means, that I would be a woman that would adapt a pair of lingerie just like what I have made!  I made the set out of a wonderful novelty color, as you see, because how could I resist when all the right notions needed just happened to fall in my lap in matching colors!!!  No really, though, ladies of the 30’s did have fun when it came to the underwear made and offered.  There were not only novelty colors and plenty of lace, but also suggestive designs, sheerness galore, and decorative details aplenty.  Check out my Pinterest board on vintage lingerie for more inspiration! 

For being a printed McCall’s this pattern was quite clear in its instructions and generally easy to make.  According to the size, this pattern should have technically been several inches too big for me, so to test it out I made the tap pants first.  They fit me well, and thus I made the bra up unchanged, too, and it just fits me exactly…any smaller and it wouldn’t fit.  Thus this pattern definitely runs small.  This is important to share, as it seems this particular McCall’s is frequently seen for sale on Etsy or Ebay as well as having been re-printedSimplicity Company recently released a year 1937 bra and tap pants set pattern that looks awesome (I have yet to try it) for an easily accessible, slightly later style, and cheaper option if you want to make a set for yourself.

I did do some “updates” to the pattern, mostly when I was sewing the bra.  There is satin outside and cotton inside for my person taste and comfort, when the pattern seemed to expect one layer.  However, the biggest difference is that I added lightweight store-bought bra foam liner in between the inner and outer layers of my bra.  Again, the original design called for cups thin and basic.  I do like how the foam insert makes the bra feel more like a modern piece, with more support and no see-through.  What I don’t like is the center horizontal seam to the foam insert.  Using a pre-made foam cup liner is something I won’t do again, although it fit perfectly with the pattern I was using and made little to no difference as I was sewing.  From now on, I’ll buy my own foam and make my own padding if I want such an add-in again.

I did stick to the original design with the completely non-elastic, no-stretch design.  Everything is non-adjustable and all stitched down in cotton twill tape.  I even made my own back bra closure from scratch to match using the pattern’s pieces (no pre-made notion here)!  Although the straps might need tailoring to be adjusted every so often, it is quite comfy this way.  Nothing is going to move on me or pinch me or fall apart as quickly as elastic does.  Once you ditch the elastic in your bras (as scary as that might sound!), it is really freeing.  You don’t really need it.  It does force you be better at customizing what you make to yourself, though!

The only real change I made to the tap panties original design was to add in an extra dollar in change to weigh it down.  No, I’m not crazy!  The fact that these are a poly satin creates static cling when I wear these in the wintertime.  In order to keep these bias panties hanging down properly and not clinging or bunching up to my waistline, I made lace pockets at the two side seams to hold two quarters each.  It kind of makes these feel like a true Depression era garment…with extra change safely hidden on me!  The waist has no trick – only hook-and-eye closed.  The bias cut to these gives them a body clinging fit that flare out at the hem.

The panties’ faced crouch gusset is sorely understated by these pictures since the mannequin wasn’t fully adjustable to stand on a right or left “leg”.  On me however, the design is ah-mazing!  Much like an underarm sleeve gusset, you clip into the center bottom of the front and back to connect the two with an adapted rhombus diamond shaped piece, then faced that on the inside so the seams are covered.  Wearing History has pattern #4005 from the 1940s that is shocking similar, and her blog provided a tutorial on sewing the faced crouch gusset which was very helpful.  Even still, having something so small with points and curves be faced in such a way that the two sides perfectly line up was…well…exhausting.  But I did it, and it looks just as nice inside as out, only no one sees it.

So – this conclusion of my post brings me to contemplate a few things.  Is it the egg or the chicken?  Does the lingerie influence the fashion or does the fashion influence the lingerie?  Or, does the primary layer for our bodies have its own organic progression?  I do find it interesting that undergarments almost always have not just been about coverage or support, although that is the basic reason for their being worn.  Even today, it’s about molding women into a desired shape, not necessarily customer (or recipient) feedback based.  Is it society based?  What do we women want to wear for our bodies?  What shape do we like for ourselves?  Who really controls our choices in this field?  We generally wear what is out there, much like the rest of fashion nowadays, and if you’re anything like me, searching for the “perfect” lingerie is exhausting, worse than searching for a needle in a haystack.  However, with sewing skills, that is not the only option nowadays!  We have every past era to choose from, and notions, fabrics, and patterns available to order.  Set those sewing talents to good use making something for your body, your comfort and your taste because the first layer of garments is the most intimate, personal, unique!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this duo of posts.  Writing this now makes me want to bust out some more patterns from Jill Salen’s book or that Simplicity re-issue I haven’t tried yet!  As always thank you for reading and please – share your thoughts and ideas!  What do you think about vintage lingerie?

Simple Luxury: a Vintage Hair Curling Tutorial

Yay!  I’ve reached 200 posts here on my blog!

To celebrate I will offer you something that is definitely different.  Here’s my very first hair tutorial to show you one of my very favorite way of achieving a curly hair style.  This method of pinning or setting my hair for curls was shown to me through my good friend, 'Pickwick Papers' curl-paper illustration-compwho is a hair stylist, by her salon’s owner, Cecil.  Apparently, it is the real-deal old-fashioned way that they used to do it before we women had metal, foam, plastic, wire, and electric devices to resort to for a hairstyle we wanted…ladies resorted to paper and fabric!  I have no idea when “rag rolls” and “curl-papers” originated in history, but my first introduction to this type of pinning up one’s hair was in high school when I read Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”.  There are several references to “curl-papers” in both Nancy’s and other ladies’ hair throughout the book, with the most prominent citations in Chapter 13 (find it yourself here).  Just think – this book was from circa 1840!

It might be the best looking way to set curls (hubby thinks I look rather funny in it), but it is natural, easy on the hair and head, and requires only very simple and readily available supplies.  Little or no money is needed to try it out…only a little time.

This is the final part, number 3, to my post series on easy and simple ways to stay comfy, cozy, and effortless but authentically vintage when it’s time to unwind.  Post number 1 is a 3 hour, bias-cut nightgown and post number two is a fleece, very coat-like housecoat.  The pictures below show my finished style after using my hair curling method. Enjoy the following tutorial!

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This might sound weird to start off with, but I will demonstrate how to make your own “curlers” using something menial but soft and readily available – toilet tissue paper.  This is how Cecil first showed me.  In “Oliver Twist” and Jane Austen times, women used paper – and you still can try this with strips cut from a lunch bag or such if you’d like.  In addition to toilet paper, you can even use paper towels.  I also have “curlers” made from real rag portions or scrap fabrics, the reason this kind of set is often known as “rag rolls”.  However, learning to use toilet tissue paper means wherever you go, you’ll never lack the necessary tools for lovely curls…just sayin’!  Later on you’ll see my curlers made from velvet leftover from this blouse, but just basic cotton is actually the best material, in my opinion, for rag rolls.  You don’t want to use any material silky or slippery in feel.  You want a fabric that will somewhat “stick” to itself.  Here’s your fabric scrap pile’s big opportunity to become useful!

Best perk ever – this set is the most comfortable to sleep through the night in that I have found yet!  This is due to the fact my method of rag rolls is not just wrapping hair around a strip of fabric and tying a knot.  Who wants to sleep on that?!  My rag roll method is all about making the perfect “curler” that eliminates any knotting, tying, or any little bird’s-nest of hair to sleep on overnight.

First off, you need to start with a rectangle that is about 4 inches by 12 inches (or 3 squares of toilet tissue paper to be exact).  You can make your rag rolls longer (maybe 15 inches) if you want them to be a bit easier to work with and you can also make them wider (maybe 5 or 6 inches) if you want thicker “curlers”, but I would not recommend going smaller with the proportions.

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You are going to take this rectangle and fold it first in half towards you, long wise (step #1 & #2), and then in half again (step #3).  In other words, the rectangle is being folded into fourths along the length.

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This done, you hold both ends and twist only 3 times.  A semi-twisted rectangle piece, not a tightly wound ‘rope’, is the ideal.  A few twists of the wrist while holding each end is all it takes.  Now, put your finger into the middle and fold the whole piece in half, keeping it twisted.  Voila!  You have your curler!  You can do this as you go to see how many you’ll need or you can do about a dozen and work with that.

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Now, I usually only do my rag rolls when my hair is completely dry or partially dry.  Starting off with wet hair would only soak the rag scrap and prevent your hair from ever drying (unless you sit under a hood hair dryer for a long, long time).  Wet hair with toilet paper “curlers” seems like the formula for a gunky mess, so make sure your hair is dry for this option.  My hair is naturally curly so maybe starting off with hair completely dry will not work for everyone without adding on some sort of setting lotion or the like…I don’t know, I’m not you!  You’ll just have to try and experiment to see what works best for you.

The same thing goes for the portions of hair you want to use – you’ll have to experiment.  I usually grab a portion about 2 inches square from the scalp and always curl under (unless I want a 60’s ‘flipped end’ style).  Now’s the time for some rapid fire quick tips.  Smaller portions make tighter curls, larger portions make looser curls. You can also twist your portions of hair like you did for the rag “curlers” – this helps the hair stay in place but also makes for a loose, wavy sort of curl.  Rolling in with the hair at a 90 angle or more from the scalp creates volume, versus rolling in at a 45 degree angle which creates a curly style that lays closer to the head.  Rolling in all the way to the scalp creates more, tighter curls while rolling only half way up to you scalp leaves a flat crown with curly ends.  There are so many possibilities for changing it up for a different look!DSC_0348-comp,w

I like to make the front side portion as tighter, smaller portion curls rolled in a vertical angle.  The same goes for the bottom back hair along the nape of my neck.  These two spots come un-curled easily over the course of a day and I like tighter curls falling down one side of my face. My hair is cut in long layers, with the front angled down so curling this way pairs up well with my haircut.

Once you have a hair portion, hold the end of your hair because you’ll start curling there.  Find the middle of the rag “curler” (still keeping it twisted and looped in half) and put your other finger over it.  Roll the end tips of your hair twice over both the “curler” and your finger. Then pull your finger out and keep rolling in from there.  Having your finger over the rag roll at the beginning of the curl keeps the tips of your hair from being kinked or rolled way too tight.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a finished curl that has an end which is very frizzy and terribly ugly (called “cow licked”).  Believe me, I tried a set without my finger there at the end just to see what it would do and won’t do it again!

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Once you’ve rolled up as far as you want to go, take your two “pinchy fingers”, thumb and index finger, and peek them out through the loop at one end of the rag “curler”.  Grab the two “tails” at the other end of the rag “curler” and either stuff or pull them through the loop.

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It takes practice to get the loops just right because if they are too big they won’t hold the curl or tails.  If the loop is too small, well…it won’t work at all either, especially if you’re using toilet paper (it breaks and you have to start over).  Again, this step takes a bit of practice.100_6439-comp,w

With all curls looped closed and hair pinned up, I’m ready for bed!

After a night of sleeping sometimes a few curls do come undone.  However, they almost always survive intact well enough to do their job.  All taken out, below at left is what my rag rolls look like un-combed.  After a thorough brushing with a bristle brush, this (below right) is my finished hairstyle.  The curls do relax a bit over the course of the day, more so with extra brushings, but generally last me for two days.  Of course, as my hair is naturally curly, it probably takes to the set better than others might find.

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This hair set works for many decades depending on how you use it.  A loose set is something I can use for the 40’s and especially 50’s, while a tight set I use for both the 30’s and the 80’s.  Look what fabric can do for your hair!

Please do let me know if you try this and how it works for you.  It took me several times of experimental sets before I felt like I had it down and was doing it decently enough.  Please do ask me if you have a question – whether it’s something you need clarified or whatever!

P.S. I will have a “short and sweet” version of this hair curling tutorial on my Instagram, just done with velvet rag “curlers” rather than the toilet paper used in this post.  Also, in case you were wondering, the printed tee I am wearing in some of my pictures is my newest Agent Carter acquisition…to see the whole thing, go on my Instagram post here and figure out the meaning to it!