“Wallis” Chic

I always suspect that a good amount of the appeal of the 1930’s fashion is the flaunting of elegance with chic, completely accessorized outfits.  I can’t think of a better face for this in the late 1930’s than the famous Wallis Simpson.  As she was already gracing every news headline in 1937 for her marriage to England’s former King Edward VIII, she became the woman that the most talented designers of the times jumped at to clothe…and boy did she ever wear the fashions!  She is quoted as saying, “My husband gave up everything for me. I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.”  Whatever her reasons, she inspired my latest 1930’s outfit.  So many details of my outfit make this a very specific 1938 garment, with a heavy nod to ‘Wallis’ in my accessories. I’m not out to overdress, just dress “to the nines” in killer Tyrolean era, late 30’s style!

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Not only did I make the dress of this outfit, but I made the hat as well, and even broke out my prized 30’s gloves and vintage shoes to boot.  This is the kind of outfit I hate to take off!

Simplicity 1736, year 2012 hatsTHE FACTS:Hollywood 1647, year 1948, front cover-comp,w

FABRIC:  The dress – a 100% cotton print, with a selvedge marking of ‘“Nana’s Quilt” by Joan Pace Baker, Designs by Logantex’; the hat – a lofty and thick polyester felting

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1647, a Maureen O’Sullivan pattern from year 1938, for the dress and Simplicity #1736, year 2012 pattern, for my vintage-style hat

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – buttons, ribbon, thread, and bias tape.  The buttons are authentic vintage from the stash of my Grandmother’s.DSC_0559a-comp,w

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 10 hours and finished on May 14, 2017.  My hat was finished on May 19, 2017, in only 2 or 3 hours…easy-peasy!

THE INSIDES:  Half French seams and half bias bound (in red, too, for fun) on the dress while the hat is raw edged inside – it’s felt, after all.

TOTAL COST:  I’m counting this as free as the supplies were on hand and the fabric has been in my stash for so many years!

In the year 1937, Simpson made more than headlines, though.  She made fashion history Wallis' gown designed by Mainbocherin two dramatic ways – she wore the then shocking but now famous Schiaparelli-Dali “Lobster Dress” as well as sporting the “Wallis Blue” wedding gown designed by the Chicago-born designer Mainboucher.  Hollywood brand patterns were well known for imitating the rich and famous, bringing their styles to share with the masses, and there is a trickle-down effect which puts the newest fashion in the hands of those masses at a delayed time.  Thus, it makes sense for me to see details of Wallis Simpson’s influence in the Hollywood dress pattern I used to make my dress from the year afterwards – 1938.

Hollywood patterns that I see almost always stick with sweet princess styling, which can Hollywood 1647, year 1948, back cover-comp,crop,wbe complimentary in the way of thinning the body lines, yet overly youthful and conservative with Peter Pan collars and high necks.  Not for me – not with this dress!  Sure, there’s princess seaming to the front, but I changed up the neckline of the original pattern for an open, adult style, while the dress back (as designed) does have a very 40’s appearance (different from the front) with its darts and defined waist seam.  This is a dress which breaks both consistencies of the conventional Hollywood pattern!

I’m tickled at how I found a way to complement the original styling and make my dress more ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated by a mere change to the neckline.  A good friend of mine helped me realize one of the neckline shapes that are very specific to 1938 – an upturned curve to be the third ‘leg’ of a square neckline.  The late 1930’s frequently borrowed from historical garments for new features, particularly those that were severe or heavily restricting, and this type of curving squared neckline, which was popular in the mid to late 1500s 1, had a widespread use on women’s dresses of 1938.  See this Butterick Spring 1938 news flyer for a small example of this.  Period revivalism combined with modern touches was especially popular with one of Wallis Simpson’s designers, Elsa Schiaparelli – see her designs from winter 1937 to 1938 2 and many are strongly influenced by historic clothing from around the world.  If you read up on history, all that is old become new again at some point, it seems!

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Anyway, this 1938 neckline adaption coordinates perfectly with the likewise arching bust detail.  Wallis’ wedding dress had the exact same upward curving side panel bust gathers!  It is such a lovely, subtle, and slightly-tricky-to-sew touch that I don’t really see that much (whether on an extant garment or pattern).  If you would want to snag your own true copy of Wallis Simpson’s wedding dress, good news if you can sew! There is a reprinted pattern of it as Superior #114 (year 1939) up for purchase here at the Etsy shop “tvpstore”.  Go and drool over it at least, like I did!

Besides the redrawing the neckline change and making the bust gathers, the rest of theDSC_0520a-comp,w dress was a cinch to sew together.  The lines are really simple for the rest of the frock.  I did have to grade up to over the amount I really should have needed, and it’s a good thing I did!  Most 1930’s era patterns I come across run small, besides the fact that a full button front dress cannot be snug, and so I made sure to have extra room rather than too little. I ended up being able to have 5/8 inch seam allowances, rather than the original pattern allowance of 3/8…too little!  The modern sized seams allowed me ‘wiggle’ room to make clean finishing French seams and give myself space (if needed) to take it out if I need to in the future.  I want this baby of a dress to last me a good long while ‘cause I love it!

The cotton print is a rocking awesome re-print of an original 30’s print.  Sadly I do not remember where it was bought.  I do have proof of historic authenticity for it, though – see this original dress, sold over at Dorthea’s Closet Vintage.  Seeing that original dress ‘sold’ me on the idea of actually using this prized fabric which I had been hoarding…I mean saving for the perfect pattern.

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For as cute as the print is with its cheery daises and red contrast, my cotton is not the softest…it is actually quite stiff.  For once, a stiff cotton actually comes in handy!  The stiffness lends itself wonderfully to the puff sleeves and the button front as well as keeping the long princess seams smooth and non-wrinkly.  Anything softer and I would have had to use some powerful interfacing, with would be too noticeable to look great, I would think.  As it was, I used only a small strip of lightweight cotton interfacing down the front buttoning self-plackets and zero supports for the sleeve caps to do their glorious late 30’s obnoxiousness.  I had just enough material, too – 3 ½ yards of fabric to work with, which seems like a lot to me, and I just barely fit all the pattern pieces in on it.  Whew! Talk about making the most of what you have!  This was obviously a serendipitous match of pattern and fabric.

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What do you think about that two-at-a-time button placement?  Now that I see it done, it was worth all the bother, time, and trouble…and boy, was it ever!  It took me 3 hours just to make the buttonholes, cut them open, match them to the other side, and sew the buttons on… all 13 of them.  But like I said, so worth it, so unique!  The buttons themselves are vintage of a mystery era, but amazing nonetheless with their deep-set wells for the stitching spots and the faceted shiny outer edges.  They had been a set that I have been itching to use from the first I set eyes on them from in my Grandmother’s stash.  They make the bits of rich red in the fabric pop a little better.

I know what also adds to the red contrast – my lobster pin!  Again, I’m not sure what vintage era this is from, but the back pin mechanism is so rudely simple, I’m assuming it’s 50’s or older.  I’ve had this as long as I can remember so I don’t know where it came from or who gave it to me.  I’ve always seen it in my jewelry box ever since I first had such a thing.  Finally after all these years of keeping the lobster brooch and having mixed feelings about the combo of weirdness, ugliness, and cute quirkiness of it, I like that I have now found a way to enjoy and wear a time honored piece from my jewelry collection.  I feel it properly ties together the colors, the historical significance dating my outfit, and the ties to famous personas of the past.

1938 Dobbs womens hat trends make headlines & German 1938 vintage millinery adSpeaking of famous persons, too many past Hollywood starlets and fashion designs have included a killer fedora to their ensemble like this one!  And this was so easy to make, and it turned out so well, it is ridiculous.  This pattern is like a hidden gem, because everyone seems to make the View E 1920s style cloche hat (they are all awesome) but I only found one other version of the fedora style on the internet.  It is the perfect style for anything late 1930’s into the early to mid-40’s, and really should be labelled as retro or at least vintage.  Just look at how it matches up to these images from 1938!  Find this pattern for yourself, and please do sew this hat!

The design of the hat is like a hidden surprise.  It wasn’t until I began to make the fedora that I realized its lovely tailoring, something that isn’t even apparent from the line drawing even.  Every panel to the crown is its own specialized piece, cut once, and once sewn together, all of them have an elegant effect of motion by the way the seams are on the diagonal around the brim.  Even the top of the crown adds to the wonderful shaping by being a unique, long, oblong oval.  The brim accommodates to the overall drama by being shortest in the back, short on the one side, and longest in the front – again, very specialized shaping for a lovely final, finished hat.  I did make the front of the brim ½ longer just to make sure to give my face full sun protection.  The pattern doesn’t specify lining the hat, and I didn’t since I wanted my hat to be for the summer.  It didn’t even say to sew an inner sweat band or ribbon or anything to the inside of the crown/brim seam…rather odd.  I merely sewed a wide, cotton, bias band to the crown/brim seam inside for comfort against my head and a clean finish.  I played around with the ribbon placement for quite a long time, and had some bold, different experimental ideas (as many hats of those times had fun, unexpected decoration), but ended up going with a rather basic hat band treatment.

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Part of my success with this hat, I suspect, is the great quality felt I used.  I’m not meaning to brag – I don’t even remember where it came from, it has just been in my stash since I’ve been in this house.  I know it is polyester, at least 1/8 inch thick, but from the look and the feel of it, and the way it holds its shape so well, it acts like a nice wool felt.  Awesome!  This gives me the best of both worlds – and my hat is even crushable and washable yet still holds its shape…believe me, I tested this!  But really, for best results, find a material that has body for this hat, something easy to work with, washable, and that doesn’t need lining to make it oh-so-practical yet stylish at the same time – like mine.  You won’t find that combo with a true vintage hat, and even if you did, you wouldn’t want to treat it like that, so come on, sew up your own fedora!  I love this hat.

There is a tinge of nautical (ahem, cue the lobster, especially) and summer luxury-themed undercurrents to my outfit and our amazing background building for our photos is the icing on the cake!  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is was designed by a local architect, Eduoard Mutrux (an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright) in 1936 or 1938.  It is a very strong, very odd but wonderful combination of Streamline Moderne and International Style.  This masonry building has all the best of the avant-garde forward thinking that the 1930s did best.  However, this building sneakily looks like a lovely white cruise ship when you go and look at other views, as if it had just moored on the parking lot and been swallowed up by asphalt and ground, with its sweeping front facing the busy street below.

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The Streamline Moderne architectural style is after all about movement merging with stationary objects.  Originally intended to cut down on drag for cars, ships, planes and trains, Streamline Moderne designers and architects wanted a classicism to their buildings so they would last and span the test of time.  This is the kind of buildings you see in all those vintage travel advertisements of the 30’s that are so enchanting and appealing.  Streamline Modern buildings are also almost strictly inspired by movement (visit this Flickr group to see what I mean).  The International style is a friend of stark simplicity – form has to follow function and ornament for its own sake is an outrage…to the point of harsh sterility. Cubical balance and proportion was key, along with white being an important color.  This style of building was rare in Missouri before WWII. International is a major style that re-blossomed in the 1960s as Mid-Century Modern, and it was also the founding idealism for our modern business spaces made of metal and glass!

My sewn outfit is the best of combo of architecture and fashion I could ask for – ornament with a purpose and message, streamline shaping, comfortable practicality, and chic styling which looks good no matter what era it technically originated from.  The light and fun bright colors are perfect for reflecting my current summer mood.  Hello fun!  I have the perfect outfit for you…

Footnote links :  #1.) Detail from Mary Magdalene, 1519.Oostsanen Van (1475-1533); Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen (Flemish, 16th century); Queen Catherine Parr reproduction gown; and info on sporting carcanet necklaces

#2.) Woman’s Evening Jacket, Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1937-1938; Silk Cape, Designed Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1937; An Elsa Schiaparelli couture black velvet ‘highwayman’ coat, circa 1935

Modern Delineator Girl

What happens when I want to imitate the cover of a vintage Delineator magazine I own, but I only have one measly yard of matching fabric to work with?  This…I become a modernly basic version of a year 1931 Delineator girl.

Delineator 1931, front cover-comp,w, & my tank dress pic

I’ve made vintage fashion up-to-date before, but never to this point.  I’ve also never used stripes in the sometimes uncomplimentary horizontal direction before, and I am still being won over to the result.  Nevertheless, this is comfy to wear, cool for summer, and as easy to sew up as it is to accessorize.

DSC_0856a-comp,wThis dress was made so I could have a patriotic set for Independence Day as part of the “4th of July Proud Dress Project” sponsored by the blog “Akram’s Ideas”.   It was worn with my handmade necklace of Lapis Lazuli beads, blue sapphire earrings, and my own navy nail art for a full American color combo – complete with sun hat!  Unfortunately, temperatures were lower than normal and a bit too chilly for me to be completely comfortable in my dress for long, so I’m looking forward to much more use of this once the full heat of summer kicks in here…especially for those dash out of the house errands or after school pick-up occasions!

THE FACTS:McCall's 6559, tank dresses with cardigan

FABRIC:  The red and white striped fabric is a lovely 100% rayon knit; the lining is an ultra-lightweight polyester interlock in white

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6559

NOTIONS:  Nothing but white thread was needed, and of course I have plenty of that!

THE INSIDES:  Pretty nice for a knit dress – as this dress is fully lined (yes!), all the seams are covered except for the raw edges of the bias binding around DSC_0859a-comp,wthe arm openings and the neckline

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on June 22, 2017 after only 4 or 5 hours. 

TOTAL COST:  The striped rayon knit was a folded up remnant, not even on a bolt, bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  Thus, I believe I bought this for about $2.  The interlock is something I have a stash of on hand, so I’m counting it as free making this one awesomely low cost yet high quality dress!

Rayon is my ultimate favorite fabric.  When it comes to a rayon knit, there isn’t anything more dreamy and luxurious to me.  Nevertheless, rayon knit is terribly thin and delicate.  Thus I figured my striped fabric, being a rayon knit, needed a lining if it was to be DSC_0860-comp,wpractical and wearable for me.  Giving this tank dress a full body lining eliminates any see-through issues, feels wonderful on the inside with no seam allowances rubbing, makes my dress a total step above any store bought tank dress, and helps keep the rayon dress in its proper shape.  It was a win-win all around, especially since I used the lining to even cover up the hem, doing a hand-stitched finish to “make-up” for the rest of the dress’ simple design and ease in sewing.

I have long been wanting to use this tank dress pattern and it pretty much sewed up to my high expectations.  The fit is nice only because this dress’ pattern seems to run generous and I had to take it in by an extra inch or two to get a loosely close shape.  The length was dictated by the amount of fabric available (not much – a 55 by 30 inch square) and so it is a tad shorter than I would like.  The bias binding on the armholes and neckline is interesting and was an easy and conventional means of finishing off the edges.  Somehow, though, I wish I would have made it skinnier (that is, less noticeable) as well as sewing them so that they covered up the seam allowance from the inside.  However, it works, and as I didn’t want to spend too much time working on such a basic dress, I’m happy with it how it is.

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I did choose the racer-back option, but for some reason I do not think it turned out quite as it should have.  The racer-back ends up looking (to me) like a half-hearted attempt and not a full, shoulder blade baring style as I expected.  I left the dress’ bodice back as it was because I do like the fact I do not have to adjust or change my lingerie strap configuration, as I would have had to do for a true racer-back.  However, I think it makes me seem like I have swimmer’s shoulders from behind.  I don’t swim, and although my shoulders are my strong point, I feel they are big enough and am sensitive about emphasizing them like this.  Sorry, off topic!  My point is, if you do want the full racer back to this pattern, I think you will have to do some re-cutting first.

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Here’s yet another good example of what can be done with only a yard of fabric and a vintage inspiration.  Not too often do modern patterns seem to lend themselves to being a one yard friendly project – sometimes I wonder if they’re in bed with the fabric companies.  That compatibility with small cuts of material is usually something I see provided through vintage patterns.  However, I hope this dress project of mine inspires you to keep your eyes open for both old and new opportunities to use those discounted small cuts, those remnants taking up room in your stash, or those pretty fabrics of second-hand clothing you no longer fit in.  Open them up and start experimenting with the layout of some pattern pieces and you might be surprised!

Also, just because a vintage garment or image inspires you doesn’t mean it has to translate into something old-fashioned…like my tank dress, your garment can be whatever you want it to be, for whatever occasion or era you would like!  Keep being inspired and creative out there, dear readers, and happy sewing!

“South of the Border, Down Mexico Way…”

The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely.  A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

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This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion.  The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts.  Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack.  Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me.  I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way.  If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.

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In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.

THE FACTS:Simplicity 1412,front cover-comp,w  

FABRIC:  basic 100% cotton

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1412, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse.  The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage.  My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.

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This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well.  It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this.  I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an 1945 LIFE magazine aricle on wrapped clothing to make yourselfunrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe.  I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top.  I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar.  This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board.  At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did!  However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams.  It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.

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My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me.  This fitting designation is unique.  Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”.  According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small.  No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much.  Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!

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There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success.  Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck.  In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down.  Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams.  Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam.  Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be.  Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches.  Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel.  Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.

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The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel.  With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath.  Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug.  So – my answer is two-fold.  Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie.  Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic.  The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining.  This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties!  I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me.  A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.

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This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it.  Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade.  Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s.  There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a Grandma pics,wfeatured sequin neckline detail.  Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article.  See?  Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…

I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time.  Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe.  I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty.  The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism.  My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions.  Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”.  Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow.  However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.

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My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs.  “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes.  No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song.  I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.

I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post.  I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.

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“Retro Forward” Burda Style – “Fill in the Blanks” Gather and Tuck Dress with Purse

If garments could be reasonably conscious, this dress would definitely be very confused.  My original plan was to make a knock off a Dolce & Gabbana outfit from fall of 2016, but the pattern which I used for the dress is from 2013.  The knit tulip fabric I used is vintage from the 1970.  My husband says the finished dress reminds him of the 1980’s, and here I thought it reminded me of the 1930’s!  Finally my purse was self-drafted off of an existing 1940’s leather purse from my wardrobe but has more of a 1950’s air now that it’s completed. Gosh – almost every decade from the past 80 years has some sort of influence (in our eyes) to this outfit.  Confused much?!  Is your brain alright?  I know my head is swimming.

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Linda of “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” hosted the “Designing December” months back now and personal illness combined with a busy holiday season made for my being unable to even get around to making this dress and purse until recently.  Besides, everything that had to come together for me to even work on this project was slow and time consuming, but don’t get me wrong totally worth every minute.  Thus, my outfit is being blogged late but perfect for those chilly spring season days that hang around right about now.  It might be spring, but it feels like winter some days in our climate…and this subtle but cheery, long sleeve black dress with a season-less hound’s-tooth fashion purse suits those times perfectly.  I know because it was quite brisk and windy the day we took these photos, and I am sensitive to the chill.  Sigh…a warm enough spring is so long in coming sometimes.  That’s why I need to wear some bright tulips!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  for the dress: The tulip fabric is a polyester interlock knit vintage from the 1970s ordered through an Etsy shop, the skirt flounce is a modern, newly bought solid black poly interlock while the lining fabric is the same except in white.  The neckline facing is a cotton broadcloth remnant.  For the purse:  novelty hound’s-tooth felt and polyester imitation snakeskin (leftover from this dress) for the outside, light blue lining on the inside with a big pocket made from a scrap of cotton leftover from this apron.#112 Gather and Tuck dress, line drawing

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s Gather and Tuck Dress, #112, from September 2013; no pattern for the purse, it was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  This dress and purse used up a lot of what was sitting around on hand – such as charms, buttons from my Grandma, elastic, interfacing, and thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I have no idea how much time I spent to prep the tulip fabric, but the making of the dress took about 8 to 10 hours.  The purse was started and finished in 4 hours.  Both were done and ready to be worn on March 13, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The vintage tulip knit was about $10, the modern interlock knit (in both black and white) for the bottom flounce and the lining were just under $20, and the cost for all the fabric pen packages was $15.  Everything for the purse was already on hand (bought years back) so I’m counting that and all the notions used from out of my stash as free.  I suppose this outfit is a total of $45.  This is more than I typically spend for many other outfits I like much better than this one, but I had a creative itch I needed to scratch!

As for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced off of the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

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First off, I will say that my first impression of the dress at the pattern stage was one of strong dislike.  The comments on the bottom of the pattern’s page online express “terrible look” and “reminds me of Downton Abbey”, and yes, I agree. However, the line drawing is what kept pulling me in…the style lines are lovely and indeed vintage inspired.  This is why my dress is included in my ongoing “Retro Forward Burda Style” blog series.  As to the vintage inspiration, I listed most of it at the top of this post.  My favorite vintage pattern that I think looks quite similar is a Pictorial Review Pattern from the 1930’s, no 6459 (picture on Pinterest).  It is labelled as a “Duchess de Crussol (d’Uzes)” personal pattern design, and as that is one of the oldest premier dukedom in France, this design must have been a big and rare deal for Pictorial Review to offer.  After all, Dolce & Gabbana’s summary of their collection references “the ’30/’40s shoulder line of the Cinderella-referenced puffed sleeves.”  Modernly, though, I feel like the “Gather and Tuck” dress is a slightly poufier version of another one of their patterns – Burda #7127.  Perhaps I should have chosen this dress design instead…oh well, too late for this thinking.

I had the feeling the “Gather and Tuck” dress design needed something bold and not in the least cutesy or else I could not pull off wearing/liking it.  Enter one of my favorite fashion houses – Dolce & Gabbana to the rescue courtesy of their Fall 2016 ready-to-wear Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear -comp,comborunway releases.  I love all the details of that whole entire line (especially this one), an occurrence unique to me, but the tulip dress especially struck me…it was just something I had to have for my own and it would be something unique for my wardrobe.  Luckily, it strongly reminded me of Burda’s “Gather and Tuck” dress.  Now I had a tip as to what fabric print might work for such a quaintly designed pattern!  Then came along Linda’s “Designing December” sewing challenge and I knew what I had to make for it.  Finally, because I love to go all out for an awesome outfit, I even imitated the purse.  The model’s handbag reminded me of a project I had been wanting to make for the last 3 years, with the hound’s-tooth fabric and everything I needed to make a purse luckily (and conveniently) waiting downstairs to be whipped together.  Granted I know my outfit is not an exact copy, but to make a carbon copy would have resulted in something I might not have liked as much as this version which still stays true to my own taste.  I do not know if I fully succeeded in achieving what I’d hoped and envisioned originally in my head for this outfit, but I feel like it’s a successful attempt.  If I can’t buy designer, I’ll have my own designed style!

What is the most special and time-consuming part to making this project is the fabric.  It is hand colored!  That’s right – why just leave the current coloring craze to be restricted to paper pages in books?! This was a complicated yet invested choice – a desire to have something incredibly personal, creative, and out-of-the-box, as well as out of necessity. I could not remotely find any tulip print I liked to also have a lovely drape except for a 2 DSC_0882a-comp,wyard remnant piece of old 1970’s era knit in a black and white tone.  So I used fabric pens to color in the yellow tulips and draw in two-tone green leaves to end up with the closest possible match to the original Dolce & Gabbana fabric.  I worked in spurts, setting aside about an hour or two at a time to fill in a portion of the fabric until it was done.  Yet, I didn’t just color – a tried to add texture when drawing the leaves and a hint of yellow to the flowers, not an overpowering brightness, with a random tough of black for the stamens.  Too bad the true-to-life colors do not translate well enough through the pictures as they are in real sight.

Using fabric pens was fun, but also sort of a nightmare.  I actually had to end up buying 5 packages (two different brands) just to finish.  The fabric pens were brush tipped and between the material soaking up the ink and also fuzzing up the tip of the pens, there was a disappointingly short life to them.  The tough part was the specific green colors I was using.  The dark forest green and the lime green were hard to find in the heat-set type of fabric pens I preferred to use.  I found some online but the seller on Ebay that I ordered from was dishonest and sent me something I did not order.  Desperate, I ended up finding what I needed to finish from Wal-Mart, which had these cheap $3 packs which worked well enough.  From this experience, I can say that three things – I think Crayola fabric pens are the best working brand of fabric pens, I definitely prefer heat-set fabric pens, and make sure to have several back-ups of your colors before doing a project.  This is advice from a lesson well learned.

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Now, to get to some info on the actual sewing of the dress!  I found the sleeves to be rather skinny, the top half of the skirt to run small, and the rest of the dress a tad on the generous side.  It sewed up pretty well, but some of the directions were just plain bad and ended up a little silly and bulky.  The “slash-and-gather” darts at the waist and the mid-shoulder line are by far my favorite feature but kind of turned out a little weird looking where they end to meld into the dress.  Two of my 1940’s projects (see here and here) have very similar “slash-and-gather” dart details at the shoulder line, although this Burda pattern has them on the back as well…very nice!  The pattern originally called for only one button at the top of the closure, but I felt the pull from the gathers made me feel that the neckline needed another.  The bottom third button is decoration only.  I did leave out the wrist button closing on the sleeves, as my fabric is a stretchable knit.  Other than the button closures, I made no real changes to the design.  When you see the V-neckline in some of my pictures that is not a permanent thing.  See – it’s merely me folding half of the high neckline inside for an easy and quick change to the look of the dress.

Perhaps you didn’t notice, but there are no closures needed to be dressed in this frock.  The waistband gathers are mostly from an elastic casing made out of the waist seam allowance, and besides the neckline buttons, that is everything it takes to put this dress on.  I’m so used to zippers in a dress that it kind of felt as if I was forgetting something.  This one feature offering both easy dressing and lack of zipper setting was a nice change for me to come across.

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So…after everything I’ve said, I am not all that crazy about my dress.  Pooh pooh!  It is comfy, easy to move in, feminine, and flowing.  Wearing a sweater with it makes the dress better in my opinion, but then you can’t see all the details…meh.  I just am not 100% decided that I love it or even look good in it.  “Is it only weird or obviously dated?” I wonder.  That lack of full confidence is what’s holding me back, but the amount of time and work invested in this project makes me think, “I’d better darn well wear this and be proud of what I made…”  I have to throw some of my indecision to the wind (literally as it was breezy the day of these pictures) and just be content.

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To be definite about one thing, I am absolutely tickled about the purse.  I really could not be happier with it and it should see much use being so roomy, practical, and stylish all at the same time.  I am resigned to not having an awesome buckle (like the original Dolce & Gabbana one) because my purse has a perfectly matched novelty hound’s-tooth printed zipper instead!  This was combined with the opportunity to use some snazzy “Hilary Duff” brand charms from out of my jewelry stash to ‘bling’ up the closing flap.  I do love Fleur-dis-lis anything!

DSC_0302a-comp,wThat hound’s-tooth print of the purse is felt, but is was first strengthened with iron on interfacing then re-enforced, as was the rest of the purse, with stiff sewing interfacing.  This way it keeps its shape well.  The edges were covered and stitched with self-fabric binding but every other seam is self-enclosed by the combo of lining/flap facing.  There are buckles coming out of the side panel pleats, so I can totally change out purse straps into something else if I so please.  The zipper was hand-sewn in last, not to necessarily make things hard for myself, but because there was no seam to connect to on one side and I wanted invisible stitching.  All in all, my one regret is that I did not make a pattern out of what I was doing so I can re-create it or even share it, too.  I just wanted to enjoy making it and get it done so I could use it!  What a one track mind I have at times…

Simplicity 1727, year 2012For the record, I did go the extra mile to make a removable collar out of the black imitation snakeskin that went on my purse.  The original Dolce & Gabbana dress has a black swede collar on it and I intended to imitate that but hated it on me on the dress.  I’m so glad I didn’t sew the collar into the dress!  I used a Simplicity #1727, a pattern of nothing but various removable collars.  My make from it turned out great and I will show it to you, just not with this post.  I seriously don’t know how the model pulls off the whole outfit so well with the collar, though!  I will try to match my collar with something yet and show you then.

Investing so much effort in this outfit might not have given me the best results, but I learned from it, did new things, and followed an idea.  Taking the safe and sure route for a sewing project doesn’t always do all of those things, right?!  It’s all part of what sewing and creating is about, anyways.  “Fashion makes people dream—this is the service fashion gives,” Stefano Gabbana has said.  I agree.

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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!