“Not My Own Crochet” Year 1936 Ensemble

I do not yet know how to crochet.  At some point in my life I fully intend to figure that amazing skill out.  Until then, I find sneaky yet creative ways to get around not knowing, which means that I wear crochet that is not really my own.  Saying this means I try to sew with tricky, delicate fabric that is the closest thing to crochet that can be found – like an open-work sweater knit.  To me, as someone who sews on an almost daily basis, this offers yet another “new and different” thing to try out.  Speaking of something unconventional, these aren’t just your normal open-seam sleeves…they are part of the entire bodice design in a way that blew my mind when I made it.

Of course, I go all out with my dress – a vintage sweater knit dress with awesomely elegant features deserves its own fancy, fashion colored under-slip (since it will be somewhat seen anyway) and a custom-made, Grecian-inspired rope-and-tassel belt to keep up the mid-1930s glamour!  Of course, as is our wont, we also found a historically appropriate and color matching Art Deco shop for the photo background so I could feel like I stepped back in time.

This outfit is rather a vintage way to interpret several modern (2018) trends – rope belts, sheer dresses, and statement sleeves.  For myself, I like to be informed as to the source of a modern trend and realize the when, why, and how of it from years back.  Nowadays, there is not a whole lot going on in fashion that is 100% “new”, it’s mostly just a re-inventions and all it takes is a peek into history to have a broader perspective of a fad.

Befitting my idealized mix of both old and new, this outfit is accessorized with modern 1930s D’Orsay style strap sandals by Aerosoles and true vintage pearl dress clips.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The sweater dress is made from a poly blended, almost shell-like stitched open knit in a cranberry color.  The under slip is made from an all poly crepe in a royal blue color.

PATTERN:  Butterick #6706, year 1936, for the dress and the “Slinky Bias Slip” came from Sew Vera Venus blog, on her free pattern page (link here).  (I know the year for the dress pattern Butterick #6706 because it was featured in “Butterick’s Fashion News” magazine for April 1936)

NOTIONS:  To make the dress and slip, I only used what was on hand already – thread, a vintage metal zipper, scraps of bias tape, and two buttons.  The rope belt and its tassels required very specific supplies, so these bought to match after the dress outfit was finished.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This set took me about 15 hours to make the dress and 3 hours to sew the slip.  Making the belt took me maybe 2 hours.  The entire outfit was finished and ready to be worn by October 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The sweater knit doesn’t ravel (the wonders of a man-made poly), so the edges are left raw to let the dress be flowing.  The slip is bias bound inside.

TOTAL COST:  The sweater knit, slip material, and subsequent belting were bought at our local Jo Ann’s fabric store for a rough estimate total (it’s been awhile since the fabric was purchased) of about $30 to $40 dollars.

First off, I need to give full credit to my hubby for finding the sweater knit among all the bolts in the store and knowing my creative brain’s predictability enough to recommend something 1930’s to pair with it!  I guess I’m training him well without even knowing it.  Now, it wasn’t just about following his idea – the project plan rang true for me, too, and both him and old fashion images together helped me decide what contrast color for the underneath slip and what kind of belt would complement well.

The pattern I used to make my dress was also one of the very first 1930’s vintage patterns I bought back in 2011 (when they were so much more reasonably priced)!  It’s so good, I had been “sitting on it” all these years waiting for just the right project plan for it.  I felt like it was high time to take it up – hubby picked out a special fabric for me so I would go use my special pattern.  No really, I feel like the fabric is a solid enough color to show off the design lines well yet curious enough to add depth and interest to an already luxurious design.  The knit makes it practical while the sheerness of it makes it, well, oh-la-la!  Yes, not only do I love what the 1930s has to offer for fashion, I also love how hubby and I can work together on my sewing projects to make something so interesting and creative that I can wear.

It was amazing how a few, large pattern pieces – only 4 to be exact (together with two incredibly tiny pieces) – can come together to make a dress like this.  Vintage generally does smart designing impeccably, whether in fashion or architecture, and this is only another example to prove it to me.  The sleeves of my dress are part of the bodice and only joined together at the front seam that runs from the neckline detail down the length of my arm.  There is no shoulder seam whatsoever.  It’s like an adapted kimono sleeve on steroids.  There are two small darts at the shoulder tops, coming out from the neckline, but that’s it – I do believe the weight of the sleeve volume is enough to shape the fabric, pulling it down over the shoulders.  The bodice front piece includes the sleeve front-bottom and the neckline “flap” detail, as well. From behind, there is the center seam so that a placket can be made for a neck opening (otherwise this dress wouldn’t go over the head), but besides that, the back bodice wraps around to the front bodice at the chest and front of the arms.

This design is not only amazing, it is also crazy easy to whip together with minimal seams (a big yay because with a delicate knit like this, the less seams the better).  It also made for some overwhelmingly large pattern pieces that just barely fit onto my 60” width fabric.  How these bodice pieces fit onto the old side fabric widths is something I don’t really want to figure out.  As it was, with 60” wide fabric, I still used over 3 yards…in 35” width this dress would definitely take way over 4 yards.  There’s Depression-era luxury for you!  Even still, making a dress like this in the 1930s probably would have been much more monetarily affordable than buying something RTW which would be similar.

Now, the style of sleeve I chose to make on my dress is a combo of both views offered in the pattern.  I wanted the slashed open style of the ¾ sleeve option, but something long, wrist length at the same time, so mine are a mix of both.  Not that this is the first incarnation of such sleeves – this slashed open look that was popular in the 1930s is one of the many fashion details the era of 80 years back which were borrowed from Tudor styles of the 15 and 1600s.  (See the artist William Larkin’s famous 1614 painting of Diana Cecil next to another 1936 pattern for comparison, or see this “Fashion-era.com” post on coat sleeve styles of the time of Henry VII for just two examples.)  Such sleeves also made a comeback for a short stint in 2014/2015.  Today, the dramatic sleeves and balloon sleeves of all styles and volume are trending for this coming Spring 2018 season (see Carlos Vogue Patterns and Glamour.com to read more).  Some things never change…what is forgotten, is doomed to be repeated.

All of that sleeve volume on my dress is pleated into skinny wristbands.  The pattern directed for a dizzying amount of pleats that I wasn’t willing to chalk or thread mark because there was no way I was going to get them straight.  So I did my own mathematical, segmented method of pleats, and it worked out just as fine (so I think).  However, whether I did the wrists my way or the way of the instructions I do believe either end would be just as bulky as the other.  All the pleating made the little “cuffs” more like binding or bracelets, but I like it, however they turned out.

For sporting such statement sleeves, I realize the 2017 “Year of the Sleeve” is over with now, but as I don’t see impressive sleeves disappearing from modern fashion anytime soon either, I am hoping that we are now in the ‘era of the sleeve’ because this is the best excuse to bring out and highlight more 1930s designs!  Either way, fantastic sleeves should never be “out-of-style”…they need to be more appreciated and enjoyed because they sure are fabulous.

To balance out the fabric heavy and detail oriented top half, the waist and below is slim and basic.  The skirt is just a really simple, two-piece 30’s bias skirt, plain in front and two waist darts in back.  The waist of the bodice is ever so slightly pleated into the slim skirt.  It is only for the skinny skirt’s sake that there needs to be a closure in the side of this dress, otherwise I would have preferred it to be left out.  The delicate sweater knit wasn’t easily willing to be restrained into a zipper, but using a small 5 inch vintage metal one minimized the difficulty, and, at least when it’s seen, will hopefully make my dress seem like a real piece from the 30’s.

Sheer and see-through dresses are nothing new – they have been around in some form or fashion for about a century since the late Edwardian times had the lace bodices and the early teens came out with the “lingerie dresses” (so called, as they were lace and sheer linens or cottons).  The 20’s and 30’s began to be more experimental with what was used for sheer effect – crochet, netting, devoré (burnout velvet), chiffon, metallic mesh, and other open-work or tissue weight material for both blouses and dresses.  Don’t forget, however, past sheer fashions seem to have always understood that just because the garment is see-through doesn’t mean one should bare-all underneath nor use it as an opportunity to show off one’s lingerie.  Modern trends seem to be taking sheer garments a whole new “nothing there” kind of direction on the runways for all the designer’s collections.  Seeing legs, panties, or a ladies’ “headlights” is only distracting and does not do justice to an amazing, but sheer, dress as the garment is certainly not the first impression.  I’ve sewn a fair share of sheer dresses already from the 20’s (here and here) and the 30’s (here and here), and one from 1961 already so this will be my 6th now.

The slip underneath my 1936 dress needed to be simple yet elegant, slimming and interesting yet with coverage.  Who could ask for anything better than a free pattern?!  Besides the ‘free’ part, this really is a great pattern.  It was easy, came together beautifully, and fits well.  The pattern itself is assembled much like a downloaded Burda Style pattern, where you print out all the pages then tape them together like a fashion puzzle before you can have something to place on your fabric.  I do think the sizing runs a bit small, and although this slip fits, next time I will go up a size bigger.  For using a polyester crepe, my slip has decent drape and bias yet it’s still a bit stiff (as you can see), but with a true rayon or silk crepe this slip would have some drop-dead slinkiness that I need to try.  Other than these points, I couldn’t be happier.  There is plenty of room for adaptations and individuality with this pattern, but the only personal touches I added were two strips of leftover bias tape to decorate my lower décolleté.  My slip’s shoulder straps are stitched down to fit, but if they were made skinny, they could easily be made adjustable with a modern lingerie slide buckle.  The best part is that I was able to make this slip with only one yard of fabric!

With the garments done, I initially thought a normal belt would complete the outfit, but no – every one I tried on looked awful with the dress.  I knew what I saw in my inspiration pictures needed to be followed…go with the whole Grecian idealism of a rope belt.  My dress outfit needed a hanging belt to lengthen the silhouette, I felt, and a rope belt with tassels at the ends would not overwhelm like a traditional, buckle belt, only slightly define my middle yet draw interest away from the waist.  This is a much more feminine and delicate option to a boldly defining buckle belt.  Rope belts are the new ‘thing’ this year, anyway.  It’s listed as one of the top 5 trends of 2018’s Spring/Summer fashionBurda Style has also talked about it and provided a “how-to” make your own roped belt.  I might as well find a vintage way to love a current trend!

I took this as an opportunity to use my beginner’s knowledge of sailor’s knots to finish off the rope belt ends where the tassels are added.  I put the loop that’s atop the tassel through the end of the roping, then made my sailor’s knot, and ended it by stitching the raw end to the rope for a little over an inch’s worth.  Then, the end was finished by taking satin finish Mettler Metrosheen thread to wind tightly around and around until it’s nice and sturdy, and tie off the thread through the winding.  Suddenly, I have a very fancy rope belt end!

You know, I have experience with doing this already because of a church we used to attend.  Churches always have tassels on something, and for some reason all of theirs were coming off.  I have a suspicion that the cause was our deeply ingrained human instinct to pull at a tassel (really, you don’t have to think to do it).  Anyway, once I fixed only one for them, I ended up fixed them all.  Let me tell you, I made sure those tassels did not come apart at all the way I finished them…I also have method to it after fixing more than a dozen.  So, it was kind of nice to do tassel attaching again, sort of like bringing back something I know how to do like the back of my hand.  Yet this time it brought that up a notch because it was so much fancier this time and also for myself!  It was high time for some selfish tassel sewing.

It doesn’t really make sense to me – I can make and sew tassels, yet I do not crochet.  Oh well, I have finally tackled another challenging fabric and a perplexing pattern I’ve been holding out on.  I’m not out for the great instant “boom-and-pow” of doing everything big at once and burning out early.  I’m looking forward to many years ahead of enjoying all the differing ways to make something to wear.  Crochet is a whole new world yet to come for me and I really admire every and any one of you that I see who can do it.  Even my niece has started doing it!  I guess I’d better catch up, but until then I’m happy with this open work 1930’s dress set being in my closet as a substitute.

Advertisements

Metamorphosis

There can be no other garments to the home seamstress that feel unattainable, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than couture garments created by history’s greatest designers.  As beautiful as they are and after sighing over many for so many years, I recently was also thinking – why just gaze on such garments as a museum artifact?  Surely they are not being preserved, archived, and presented just to be admired a hands breath away or be a picture of what you read about in a book on fashion.  Could they be there not just to learn from but also to motivate one’s personal creativity?  Could they also be seen as a challenge to be understood?  How else to recognize or appreciate such stupendous, unrivaled garments unless their mysteries are deconstructed?

With these thoughts, I am now set on admiring such garments in a very tactile way, such as attempting the recreate one-off couture garments according to my own personal taste.  I am by no means claiming I’m in the same position of skill as history’s famous designers, nor do I see this as detracting from the uniqueness of the original garments of such designers when done with the proper respect and credit to the individuality of the existing garment.  An original piece from its maker is and will always be unique and unrivalled in matchless worth.  However, by trying to think like a designer towards both the sewing craft and the personality of fabric offers many opportunities to learn and advance personal ability.  But most importantly, there is the pure fact that by doing so, only increases the value of couture items in the eyes of one who tries to truly “copy” them, helping a sewist to realize the pure genius of designers and couture creators…details that others who know nothing of fabric are completely unaware of.  I have already successfully made a Vionnet design.  That was an amazing eye-opener.  Now, I’ve made my own version of Schiaparelli’s summer of 1937 butterfly dress and mesh duster coat.  Metamorphosis from the oppressive ‘shell’ of conventional home sewing habits like the insects on the garment I attempted to recreate is so redeeming and exhilarating.

I do feel as if I ‘broke free’ with this post’s make.  I did a whole lot of self-drafting and re-designing of existing patterns from the same time period which I loosely used as my base starting point.  I started with looking at a garment, understanding it from Schiaparelli’s perspective, then constructing from there. This method is a departure from the “normal” …”what pattern do I pick for this fabric” or “what fabric would go with this pattern” and following directions.  As I mentioned above, it was a very great learning process, but it also helped me see proportions and details of garments in a revealing way – this is the most important lesson I’m taking away from this, besides ending up with something so very close to my ultimate dream outfit!  Yet, for as wonderful as I feel wearing this, my face might not show because I was trying to imitate the emotionless stoicism of the classical-style 1930s designer photo shoots.  Believe me, I’m elated inside!

As this is my own knock-off interpretation of a designer garment, this is part of Linda’s “Designing December Challenge” at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  In this case however, from what I have discovered in my research on this particular set from Schiaparelli, my inspiration piece was not actually “designer” in the garment production sense of the word, not even made for commission.  It was a couture creation, a one-off, no-duplicates outfit made for her own enjoyment, herself to wear, and for fashion statement purposes, expressing the inner artist that she was.  If you would like to more pictures of her original outfit, visit my Pinterest board for that here.

For all that the butterfly print stands for on its own (more on that just below), I personally see this set as symbolizing a lovely elegance half confined, half complimented by the mesh duster coat, like a beautiful creature caught in a net.  The hood adds further restraint with an air of shy mystery, as beauty does not always like to be put on display, merely only respected for what is inherently is.

Fabric is here both full, flowing, and unrestricted yet also structured at the same time.  Fashion can be restricting or freeing, depending on how you wear it, choose to clothe yourself, or follow society’s expectations.  We tell others about ourselves by what we wear without ever needing to make a sound…let that message be a beautiful one that’s exactly what you want to say.  This outfit says a lot about how I feel in my current sewing skills and where I’m going.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is in a thick yet soft premium 100% cotton, a M’Liss brand print from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  The mesh duster coat is made of a Kathy Davis brand knit, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.

PATTERN:  Patterns I loosely based my own re-drafted designs on were – Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (made already – see the blog post); Butterick #8078, circa 1939; Simplicity #8447, a modern reprint of a 1940 pattern; and Hollywood #1391, a Glenda Farrell year 1937 pattern.

NOTIONS:  All I really needed was pretty basic – thread, interfacing, hook-and-eyes, and some ribbon from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 20 hours (not even counting the many hours drafting and tracing out patterns) and finished on August 1, 2017.  The mesh coat was made in another 20 plus hours and finished on August 19, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw to keep the bias free flowing, while the coat’s seams are finished by being covered in grosgrain ribbon to keep it clean, interesting, and stabilized with a hint of contrast.

TOTAL COST:  The mesh knit for my duster coat was bought over this past summer for about $30 on sale for the 3 ½ yards I bought…it was expensive but so worth it!!!  The butterfly cotton for my dress was bought at least 5 years back when I first had the idea to somehow make my own version of a Schiaparelli outfit.  After that many years back, I don’t remember cost, but knowing the price of M’Liss cottons I’m supposing about $12 for 3 ½ yards.  The rest of the notions I needed only cost a few extra dollars so I suppose my total is about $45, spread out over the course of several years.  This outfit has been so long in coming!!!

Butterflies were one Schiaparelli’s trademark symbols that she used on many occasions, along with her penchant for postal stamp prints.  Butterfly prints were one of the many custom printed fabrics made exclusively for her to create with and 1937 was a big year for it.  All in butterfly prints, she also made a simple dark crepe evening gown, another dress in a less formal “waltz-length”, a butterfly parasol (which you can see in some pictures we recreated in our own way), scarves (of course, she loved scarves!), and a suit jacket.  Wow!  That’s at least half a dozen butterfly creations in one year, counting my own outfit’s inspiration piece.  The next year, in 1938, she created an insect necklace and in 1940 she created an evening dress with a dramatic butterfly bodice.

Butterfly prints and embellishments have been and are still quietly but perennially popular even today, all thanks to Schiaparelli I would like to say.  See this beach set from Versace’s Spring 2018 RTW, or Moschino’s Silk tie-neck blouse for just two examples of butterfly prints for the year ahead, and this Burda Style magazine page from July of last year (2016) for a look behind.  Alexander McQueen is another well-known modern muse for the butterfly trend.  There can be found random examples of butterfly prints from most of all past decades since her (my favorite is this one from the Harper’s Bazaar in 1942).  Although insects were added on many ladies gowns in the earlier Regency period (roughly 1810 to 1820) as well, up until the last 70 years insects were seen as something oddly repulsive and unusual to have on women’s wear.  So, technically she wasn’t starting anything completely “new”, just finding a whole new way to express it to a receptive audience at the perfect moment in time.  People seem to have moved on from a fabric print or clothing decoration reminding them of creepy crawlies on their body.  I’m assuming that the popularity of butterflies in fashion has been lost in the muddle of frequent use and is not manifested for the same lovely reasons as the ones Schiaparelli for which was entranced by the transforming creatures.

Elsa Schiaparelli felt that she herself and many of her friends and clients did not have the expected societal norms of beauty in face and/or figure.  The manner in which one has to wait and see through the unsightly caterpillar stage to see the final gloriousness of the flying butterfly stage gave a message of internal beauty and hope for redemption.  Also, a butterfly was also seen to mirror the work she could do with her garments – the way a well-designed and expertly constructed piece of clothing can transform any body into something only imagined is indeed magical!  Besides, there was the Surrealist movement’s influential touch, of which she was a major participant in as she was friends of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray, often collaborating with them on sewing projects.  The Surrealist movement wanted in itself to challenge accepted notions and ways of thinking, and find new outlooks of seeing everyday objects and situations in a new light.  Using butterflies showed their desire for change, offering the unexpected in a background others can generally relate with in a way that dares our set conceptions.

My own fabric is admittedly not entirely butterflies – it also includes dragonflies.  However, I see this as very appropriate and only adding to the message.  Dragonflies also undergo a sort of metamorphosis – they live a good part of their lives as ugly, mud-colored slightly monstrous looking nymphs or naiads in the water.  Then they come out of the water to break from their shell complete with beautiful, sun reflecting wings to enchant us with their color and agile movements.  Sadly, the stage that we know them by out of the water is the end of their lives, only lasting a few weeks or so of bittersweet beauty.  My fabric is also only a basic cotton, while Schiaparelli’s original sundress was a fine silk satin.  If these facts don’t further embody the whole “transformation of understanding loveliness” ideal, I don’t know what will.

From what I have seen on juniors and teens patterns of the late 1930s, Schiaparelli butterflies were popular in print and style suggestion with young fashion.  I have seen several patterns with giant poufy sleeves which are gathered down the middle to resemble butterfly wings at the top of the arms.  This McCall #9335 pattern from July 1937 is the best example of young ladies’ Schiaparelli inspired style!  In fact Schiaparelli’s style in general was popular with the youth and it makes sense that the younger people (besides her rich socialite clients) would be happy and willing to accept her idealism. Thus, I found it appropriate to use another junior misses’ design, a Butterick #8078 pattern from my stash, as the base to adapt and redraft my pattern for this sundress’ bodice.  Butterick is a year 1939 juniors ensemble which reminds of the style of Schiaparelli (in the late 30’s Butterick came out with a few “designer inspired” patterns).  It is very similar to her fascination for playful yet structural interest around the neck, face, and shoulder line that would reoccur every so often (see this 1948 winter set with even more exaggerated features than my sundress).

It was the neckline that takes the main interest and was the greatest challenge to making this dress.  I had to put myself in the mentality of working with the nature and drape of the fabric to figure out how part of it can be so structured yet supple, with the rest flowing on the bias.  In the end, I interfaced the edge about 5 inches down from the neckline edge, and faced it.  Then a self-fabric, interfaced strip was attached underneath to invisibly hand tack down the neckline rolls.  Interfacing the straight necklines worked out well to keep them crisply linear and support the rest of the long dress.  I have no idea if this method is anything close to how Schiaparelli engineered her neckline, but this was the way that seemed the most simple and made the most sense to me.  She probably made her neckline in some way that would blow the mind.

I realize the original dress had some sort of soft pleats at the front ends of the neckline, where the shoulder straps join.  But as my dress did not seem to like that in the front, I let the fabric do its own thing and keep the pleats in the neckline ends at the back only for a smoother front.  I do love how the wide neckline over-exaggerates the shoulders how have a strong T-silhouette to lengthen the body line in this bias dress.  The original dress had deep armholes and I followed that on my copy to have the free and breezy free arm look of this sundress.  Luckily, though, my placement of the sleeve straps and the armpit dip was adjusted so that I can still wear my regular lingerie!

Schiaparelli’s original dress also had an inverted-V bodice which comes to just above the hip bones at the side seams.  The bodice also has a slight poufy fullness to it at the seam, with a two piece bias skirt below.  I was able to get all of this by redrawing the bodice and skirt of my nightgown Simplicity #3508.  However, to further shape my dress, there are tiny tucks in the skirt where it meets the points of the bodice at the side seams.  This is where I realized proportions are very important to get a specific fit and drape on the body for the desired effect.  I also realized there is no closure needed, amazingly…this is one of the most elegant slip-on dresses I could have imagined!

For the mesh over-jacket, I realize that Schiaparelli’s original was more of an open netting over a tighter, smaller netting.  Mine is similar in styling and ideal, and every bit of luxurious practicality.  I mostly stuck to the original basics of Hollywood #1391 from 1937 (the right year!) to cut it out.  I over-laid the pieces together so that there would be none of the original princess seams and therefore minimal design lines.  The main seams were going to be clearly obvious and showing – that is part of the intended appeal – so I was paring unnecessary ones down.  Where the princess seams had been, I changed the amount of difference to simple darts above and below the waist instead.  As I was working with a knit, and it was only a jacket, this was also a very good fail proof way to sort of muslin this Hollywood pattern since I intend to make another version into a dress at some point!  It was really the easiest part of the whole set to make, just tricky due to the open fabric.

The pointed collar to the jacket needed to be interfaced and have structure like the neckline of the sundress underneath, so I used navy blue mesh tulle netting.  This worked like a charm and indistinguishable!  I also added inner sleeve cap supports of more tulle at inside at the shoulder tops so that I would have uber-poufy sleeves that would obnoxiously stand out on their own just like on the original!

I could not find what the hood on the Schiaparelli original looked like in shape so I allowed myself whatever was available.  The new Simplicity vintage winter and fall 1940 separates was an opportunity to again test out (at least, in part) a pattern I want to make again, and stick to the same time frame of years with the patterns I am using.  I had no trouble making the hood, although I needed to add in an extra pleat to make the neckline smaller.  Only, I liked the way the jacket looked both with and without the hood!  I didn’t exactly want to commit to one or the other, so I made the hood removable!  How?  I added half a dozen snaps along the bottom of the hood to match with other side of the snaps in the inside of the neckline to the jacket.  I will definitely make the next hooded dress, jacket, or whatever I make with it removable in this same way!

The front of the jacket has the option to close with sliding hook-and-eyes.  Most of the time I like it open, or just the one at the waist closed.  When I wear the dress’ matching neck ascot scarf with my jacket on, it really has the summer ideal of winter bundling!  Surrealist contrasts in action!

To complete my outfit, I adapted a long rectangle scrap of my dress’ fabric to have flared ends and interfaced inside with organza for an easy ascot.  My wood and fabric parasol is something I acquired about 12 years back at a re-enactment.  It has a simple floral design hand-painted on a small section of it.  What I did in the blank section to simulate idea of the original matching parasol was to add a handful of my Grandmother’s many butterfly pins and brooches.  Butterflies had been a source of joy and interest in her life, especially as she had a thriving flower garden for many years.  She loved nature and appreciated it in a way I can only wish to emulate.

Butterflies have a way of entrancing us.  Their fragility yet endurance and strength lends a mix that is their privilege.  Their freedom to come and go across our path as they please, to randomly and unexpectedly light up a moment in our life, is no doubt a big part of their charm.  A favorite author of mine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said that “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  I’ll leave you with that.

Winter Holiday 2017 Vintage Pattern Releases

For their 90th anniversary, Simplicity Pattern Company is really killing it with a plethora of amazing designs being reprinted from past vintage releases.  This year’s Winter Holiday collection is no exception from their trend of copious, interesting, and variable decade re-issues.  Vogue Patterns has come out with a stellar designer lineup which includes a single, but stunning, vintage “original” design as well.  As much as I am so happy to see patterns like these coming out and available to buy, yet at the risk of sounding like a whining, nit-picking critic, I still have some things to mention about the newest patterns.

 My disclaimer is that I just purchased these patterns and have not sewn with them yet, so with my critique, I am going by the line drawings and viewing the physical details of looking at the tissue pieces.  However, unless the pattern companies want very disgruntled customers, the line drawings should be good enough to go by and match with the actual design of the pieces.  As I could find pictures of the old original envelopes for these re-releases, it is comparatively easy to see any changes or differences in line drawings.  Here goes!

First, I’ll start with the newest vintage Simplicity patterns – a total of 12 actually, when you count the two that are obviously inspired by the past (the #8513 bodysuits and the #8534 dress from Sew Chic)!  That is just about 1/3 of the total 38 patterns this season’s collection.  This in itself is making a statement – Simplicity apparently knows their own strong point, listens to feedback, and recognizes a ready and willing market for vintage.

I’ll begin with the 70’s pattern and go backwards.  Simplicity’s new #8505 is a 1972 re-issue, originally #5315.  This is a wonderful pattern with an appealing cover image and two completely different options to sew.  I am so drawn to the solid dress with the exotic, fancy trimming…wouldn’t this be wonderful in a slinky stretch velvet for the main body!!!  The long caftan is equally appealing though, and someone’s version of it on the wiki page for the original pattern makes me want to whip one up for myself for summer lounging or dream backyard socials.  However, in the old original pattern, the caftan was one large pattern piece with a facing to finish the slit made for the arms.

Now, in the re-issue, the caftan is in two pieces with a seam under the arms at the sides, and simple turned under hem for the sleeve opening (original envelope on left, reprint on right).  I prefer the basic simplicity of how the caftan was originally drafted (less sewing of seams the better, right?), and will be adapting it, taping the two pieces into one, to cut and sew it like the 1972 version.  Nevertheless, this is a nice change from the rather basic 60’s and 70’s designs that they’ve released as of late.

The 50’s decade is well covered with a variety of garments this time around!  First there is the 50’s style “Sew Chic” #8534, which I hope to make into something similar to this vintage original dress so I can use up two smaller cuts of fabric from my stash!  There is a striking apron, Simplicity #8533, originally #2750 from year 1958.  Look at those handy, generous pockets!  However, what is so unusually special here is the way that the bib top can button on or off as desired.  This is all too similar to the convertible 1941 pinafore I just posted not that long back!

Simplicity #8509, originally #8449 from year 1951, is yet another to the long list of 50’s swing coats that they’ve released over the years.  This one luckily has a longer length version, and is indeed a lovely design with killer model photography.  The only change I see between the original and the re-issue is that the new pattern has pre-notched darts at the View C sleeves.

Simplicity #8507 is another pattern originally from year 1951, a “Simple to Make” #3655.  This is another unusual offering!  Sure, it is another pencil skirt, but the back pleating is stunningly tailored.  The stole might not be the most usable or practical item except for certain occasions and weather, but whatever…the way it is mitered with a point down the back and the slanted pockets at the end is such eye candy!  The skirt having bands for the stole to go in is an excellent way to keep it in place on the shoulders, I would think.  Wearing a belt over the straps when not using them for the stole would probably prevent them from becoming a nuisance, which I can see happening.  In my mind, I might make the skirt’s stole straps removable.  I find it funny that the re-issue actually adds a pattern piece for the skirt’s stole straps, whereas the old original merely has you cut a tiny strip so long by so wide.  Modern reprints seem to take nothing for granted and vintage patterns (to me) seem to trust their users’ capabilities a bit more.  Maybe modern patterns are just trying to make things easier and I just don’t see it but I hate keeping track of minutely small pattern pieces…I feel like they want to get lost in or out of the envelope somehow.

Now, for the lone but no less wonderful year 1948 re-issue, Simplicity #8508, originally #2323.  As much as I love this pattern, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to come out with this when women’s’ suits seem to be making a comeback, at the same time I am sorely disappointed by the terribly wrong proportions.  I’m sorry to sound like a vintage pattern purist, or a snob about images, but what was worn in the past has a reason and story behind it.   Fashions of the post WWII times were changing, yes, but the styles of 1948 and 1949 have a very distinctive air of creating the image of long, lean bodies with skinny waists and emphasized hips.  Hemlines were also an awkward longer mid-calf length not seen since the early 1930s – about 4 inches above the ankle.  Every nuance of most garments from 1948 and 1949 are masterfully crafted to achieve the ideal body image through masterful placement of proportions and garment details.  All of this is not Simplicity #8508.

This pattern re-print is not holding true to its heritage and instead appears as if it were an early to mid-1940’s suit with the barely below the knee skirt and higher suit hemline with high, tame hip fullness.  If you really look at the original 1948 cover of Simplicity #2323, the bottom button is at the waistline, and the first hip-lapel flap only begins below the button-waist horizontal line.  This way the mock pocket lapels are a sort of mock-peplum which compliments a longer skirt and defines the hips, therefore complimenting the waist.  At least this is how it should work.

Look at old photos of other similar suit sets I’ve found on Instagram, and they all have the same “mock-pocket flaps below the waistline button”, too. The line drawing of the new re-print stays true to the details of placement on the old original, but the model photo and the actual printed pattern inside the envelope has it wrong.  See how the top mock pocket lapel is above the waistline, almost level with the bottom button?  Together with the shorter skirt, what had been a 1948 pattern with a special silhouette has lost its identity.  What is worse to me is that the line drawing of the modern re-issue doesn’t match up with what the actual pattern will have you end up with.  Technically, I have nothing against the fit on the model on the cover of Simplicity #8508, but this design is better suited to different proportional placement, and untruthful examples of what one is buying is never good, leading only to possible confusion and disappointment.

If you like the higher pocket flaps and what you see on the cover of Simplicity #8508, then make this pattern as-is.  If you want a finished suit set which turns out both like the old original and the line drawing to Simplicity #8508, you will need to make a small adaptation.  From what I see on the pattern, you need to lower the horizontal angled cut which marks the beginning of the top pocket by 3/4 inch, and lower the line for placement of the second lapel flap by the same amount.  Please see my picture for guidance – my pencil is pointing to the true waistline.  The skirt also could benefit from about 4 more inches in length to truly become a 1948 style…a 27 inch length is a bit too short for that year.

Some of the same problems which apply to the last patterns also apply to Simplicity #8504. This is bittersweet to me because this is one of the most breathtakingly detailed vintage re-issue, especially from the decade of the 1930s which is not seen of as much as other decades’ fashion.  Originally this pattern was Simplicity #1140, year 1932, but for some strange reason the web page for the re-printed pattern #8504 wrongly labels it as circa 1930.  How do I know?  I’m not meaning to brag, but I currently have an extensive stash of old original patterns, with my oldest dating to 1926.  With an Excel spreadsheet of pattern info that fills in every year up until the 1980’s, I can now have somewhat of a database that helps me date and identify the original years of patterns.  A number Simplicity #1140 is definitely from 1932, not just relying on numbers alone, but also looking at the style…of the original not the modern re-make!  Like the 1948 suit above, the proportions of the model dress on #8504 and its actual pattern are so off, it is now more suited to the mid and late 30’s from the waist and below rather than an entire dress from the early to mid-30’s as originally intended.

You see, this general design is technically called a “girdle waist” (so I believe) and is frequently seen in the early to mid-30’s, especially when it comes to a garment that is designed for these shirred cap sleeves.  I have “preview posted” (something I’ve not yet blogged) on my Instagram – a circa 1935 dress, made from a vintage New York pattern, which has similar sleeves and waist styling to Simplicity’s new re-print.  My dress has its girdle waist added on in the form of a wide waistband, but the sleeves are the same, only my dress has a body fit, two-piece, bias skirt.  You kind of more or less need the body of a garment – especially the waist – to be slimming to compliment such overpowering sleeves. The new Simplicity re-print is dramatically different from the original cover and convoluted in such a way that there is bulk and gathers were it should not be, as I mentioned above.  “Long and lean” was the early and mid-30’s ideal, and all the girdle waists I see from this time period only have trim darts or tucks at the waistline.  Post mid 30’s, after 1937, hemlines were shorter with fuller skirts, with a wider silouette and more of a defined waist – like Simplicity #2527, a later version from ’37.  This latter is the style on the new Simplicity re-print and I think it harshly jars with the earlier puffy sleeves, totally wrong in many ways.

This isn’t even taking into account the fact that the arching, curved bodice seam should come down to the waistline at the side seams and it doesn’t in the reprint.  By having the bodice seam end at the waist, the skirt would skim out over the hips the way the original intended, but with the seam ending a few inch too high, I guess adding in a harshly obvious waistline with gathers was the “solution”.  Nit picking incorrect proportions is needed because small details do make all the difference to end up with a harmonious and complimentary finished garment.  This isn’t just my thought – even this dress from autumn of 1993 by the fashion icon Anna Sui has the same proportions and seam lines as the year 1932 original Simplicity #1140 (and it’s oh-so-stunning in velvet, too)!  Now this is a modern day reference that shows when things are done right, they never really go out of style.

My suggestion, if you want the pattern Simplicity #8504 to actually look like the original shown, is to slash the dress’ bodice horizontally through the bustline and lower the whole thing enough inches to get the side of the arched panel ending at or just above the natural waistline.  Pinch out the gathers of the girdle front waist panel and raise (shorten) the waist line the amount you lowered on the upper bodice.

At least Simplicity reprinted the sleeves the right way!  When I made my similar sleeves from that vintage original New York pattern, there was an under sleeve piece which acted as both the guide for the shirring of the upper sleeve as well as the support to sew the shirring down.  This modern re-issue is happily the same method.  It works out well, I must say, but gathering that many rows of shirring is not without its challenges.

The rest of the 1930s Simplicity patterns are to die for!  Finally, one out of the many “sleeves only” patterns which came out in the decade!  Look at Simplicity #8506.  With the “Year of the Sleeve” wrapping up, a pattern like this just might continue the trend!  Statement sleeves really can do wonders to the right pattern – here is one example of how I switched to an interesting sleeve to better match with the rest of the body design.  Why, oh why, does Simplicity again list this one as “circa 1930” though when it was originally Simplicity #1794, from year 1935?

Simplicity #8510 is another very welcome, good kind of different offering – vintage lingerie!  This set is so lovely and basic enough for sewists of any skill, as well as being something that should assimilate well into modern wear for those who do not want to also wear vintage garments over them.  Originally this pattern was Simplicity #2288 from 1937.  The only major updating I see made to this reprint is the practical fact they call for wide elastic across the back closure.  This makes the bra easier to wear and more understandable to construct.  However, my “purist” mind towards vintage pattern releases has me wish they had only shown this as an option because you really don’t need elastic down the back – the original wouldn’t have had it.  I tested this out for myself…I’m not just spouting.

I haven’t posted yet, but I have made myself a similar tap panty and brassiere set from a vintage McCall’s of a few years before, a 1934 #7823 which you can see on my Instagram.  Granted, a non-elastic back requires precise, customized fitting and leaves no room for body variables.  But really, ladies – admit with me that elastic is the first thing to go out and show its wear on your underwear and bras.  A soft all cotton and satin bra with no elastic is actually very, very comfy, anyway, from my experience with my 1934 set!  Making yourself a custom fitting bra is not a bad thing, anyway!  My biggest “problem” with a vintage bra is non-adjustable straps, actually, but modern slide buckles never stay in place anyway (at least for me).  In the 1930’s, ladies bras would often tie closed at the top of the shoulder, that was how they were adjustable.  Single long ties sewn on each side of the front and back would be the old fashioned way of adjustable straps, rather than a one-piece over the shoulder strap.  I really wish Simplicity added more historical info to their primer inside so you can get to know your pattern and understand how it was used by real women of the past (which would help real women of today) rather than just opening it and following instructions.

Now the Vintage Vogue release is ah-mazing, and I plan on making my own micro-suede and animal print version in the next few months!  I’m talking about the new Vogue #9280, originally a Vogue #491, a “Couturier design” dated to 1948.  The week after the pattern came out, McCall’s was really advertising for it on their social accounts, showing how it is a “look-alike” to a Dior design from the year before – in 1947.  Dior was ahead of his time, setting the fashion trends others followed so it makes sense that this pattern is from 1948.  McCall’s keeps blatantly advertising this #9280 pattern as if it is something it’s not – it might be Dior inspired, but it’s not directly labeled as such and neither is it 1947.  Oh well – this is again, me, nit-picking, being the pattern purist.  Mislabeling is still confusing mislabeling, though.

Anyway, the design itself is glorious, with many options for Post WWII drama.  The actress Vera-Ellen in the 1954 movie “White Christmas” wears a coat which looks strikingly similar to the new Vogue reprint…hers is in a buttery yellow with an animal print scarf (see pics of it here).  The only change I see in the reissue is the lack of a lovely little detail – the back neckline collar seam having a triangular point to it.  The new pattern has a straight seam back to the collar seam – so boring, plain, and predictable.  How many patterns have that section in a geometric interesting point?  This little detail Vogue left out is one of the many reasons I like vintage patterns in the first place…but the rest of the dress is enough to excuse this change that I myself will add in on my own.  I have the perfect hat to wear with this dress, so stay tuned on my blog!

I hope the Thanksgiving weekend sales have given many of you opportunities to buy some or all of these patterns.  I also hope many of you even like these patterns enough to have heard me out on my critiquing.  What do you think?

This long winded post brings me to an internal question, “When is a copy no longer a copy?”  My studies with medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and paleography have made me aware of this viewpoint.  What makes a re-issue have the respectability to hold true to its ideal of passing down the details of the original where it came from?  Should a reprint or reissue have these qualities or are small details which are left out, adaptations, or personal changes admitted as a given?  The more vintage style in the hands of those who sew, the better for it in my humble opinion, but fashion is directly associated with history.  Fashion has the power to change behavior and attitudes.  Let’s get it right for a greater good.

Autumn Maize

The thing that many downward spiraling leaves and a dizzying corn maze have in common in the season of fall is a golden rich hue.  I’m talking about the color called “saffron” that has been popularly seen everywhere beginning in the early fall of this year…it’s also called mustard, goldenrod, and harvest gold among other things.  However, I love word puns, so I’d like to associate my dress as being more the color of the traditional grain maize, with a title that calls to mind one of the joys of autumn that a field of corn can provide!

This dress is so comfy, the skirt is so swishy, and the details are so unique I can’t help but love it, although I’ll admit it was a bit hard to like at first because it is so quaint and more blatantly dated in style than much of what I make.  This dress does have rick-rack and an obvious vintage metal zipper in the side closing, after all.  Nevertheless, I enjoy trying novel things, and that includes new styles, new colors, new sewing pattern companies, and new techniques.  This dress has all of that in one project…so hooray for a feminine and fun vintage dress in the latest color for those warm “Indian Summer” days of fall!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  American Weekly No. 3545, circa year 1941

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, and the oversized rick-rack and vintage metal zipper I used were from my existing stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with the tricky paneling and added rick rack, this dress was still relatively easy, made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on September 10, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All the seams are either enclosed in bias tape or French finished, with just the armholes left raw edged. 

TOTAL COST:  This was bought at Jo Ann’s Fabric store within the last few months, for a total of about $10 to $12.

That American Weekly dress pattern has been stumping me for the last few years since I bought it.  As much as I liked the design and wanted to make a garment of it, I could not figure out how to picture myself in the dress or get past the example drawing to see my own interpretation.  On a completely different strain yet a similar situation, when I bought the golden floral rayon, I loved it and knew what era of vintage it would be perfect for – the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Yet once it was brought home, I realized I was stumped with how or what to make of it.  Both the pattern and the fabric were dually stumping me in their own ways.  Maybe this is why the two of them felt right for one another in some vague way when I was sorting through my pattern stash for ideas!  I am so glad I have found a way to conquer the rut I was in and make something I love wearing!  For me, pairing a pattern with fabric and notions is something deep down inside I can’t always pin down, a sort of creative intuition.  No matter what I want to do, sometimes I need to wait for right moment of inner approval for me to sense that I have made the perfect match.  Many times the process of a project coming together is different, such as pairing fabric off first, or being inspired by the notions or merely a picture, but it all feeds my creative intuition that keeps cranking out ideas which keep me going.

Although I see it mentioned nowhere at all on the pattern, when I was doing my preliminary fitting of the tissue pieces I realized this was a petite Junior miss pattern, not in adult proportions in other words.  I can’t help mentally pat myself on the back for finding this out ahead of time and not just whipping it up.  Never assume too much when it comes to vintage patterns!  Check them out fully and figure them out before you reach for those cutting scissors, especially with old mail order patterns…I’ve made enough to know by now you can’t exactly know what to expect.  I retraced the pieces out onto my roll of sheer medical paper so I could then cut, tape, and otherwise re-size the pattern.  I suppose this time I had an obligation to preserve this pattern by being ‘forced’ to make a copy if I wanted to sew a dress out of it!

The sizing read as a nicely “normal” bust-waist-hips combo for me, and it should have technically been a tad big.  Just to be safe, however, as well as to have bigger seam allowances than the given ½ inch, I did add some ease to the side seams.  Good thing I did this!  Even with the extra width, the pattern still ran small enough to fit perfectly…I would not want it any more snug, especially in the hips.  Apparently not only is their sizing chart off when it comes to the finished dress but there was not a designation for body height sizing either.  McCall’s and Simplicity would use the term “junior’s” on their patterns and generally would be in the small sizes like a 30” bust.  My pattern was a size 16, for a 34”-28”-37” body, so it was not a small size by vintage standards.  Although there have been other mail order patterns I have come across which had some mysterious, slightly shortened proportions, this pattern was so short…it made it look so tiny!  It needed over two inches added to bring the bust, waist, and hips down to where they needed to be.  Just how many American Weekly patterns are actually in a junior’s size and no one would know the better until the tissue pieces get fitted on someone?

Sizing complaints aside, American Weekly patterns were offered through a Sunday supplemental magazine of the same name produced by Hearst for inclusion in their newspapers – kind of like the modern day “Parade” leaflet.  At one point, it was billed as having a circulation of over 50,000,000 readers!  Apparently this magazine only offered patterns from circa 1940 through the 1950s.  As I can find proof of one of the first American Weekly patterns, dated to year 1940 with a number that slightly precedes the numbers on this post’s pattern, I am pretty certain at dating my dress as year 1941, when the patterns just started being offered (besides basing the date on the style).  My instruction sheet says that their patterns only come in 5 sizes for anyone between a 30” to 38” bust, so that is not a whole lot of variety!  The actual construction directions were some small line drawn pictures and several brief paragraphs of text – not much for those you who would need assistance.  American Weekly patterns do have some really lovely styles, nevertheless!  Nothing I’ve seen is really is jaw-dropping, but they strike me as subtly complex and harmoniously designed.

Enough facts…look at the dress’ lovely details!  It has mock tabs on the hem of the gathered-top sleeves, and a mock-jacket look to the body.  The curving to the bodice panels was amazing on the pattern and really make for an interesting, unusual, yet quite complimentary fit.  The dress elongates the bodice and puts emphasis on the hips, yet the full skirt and wide, strong shoulders (thanks to the sleeve tabs) balance it out.  The bodice dips lower in the back than in the front, but as the hips turned out snug, this feature is not as obvious as I’d liked.  The skirt is 6-gored for a very pre-WWII fullness, with each of the skirt seams perfectly lining up with the bodice darts in the back and the two bottom points to the bodice angles in the front…simply marvelous symmetry of design.

This sure gave me an opportunity to use up a pack of giant rick-rack from my stash of never-touched notions in order to make sure the lines of the panels didn’t get lost!  The points, curves, and corners of the dress sections were tricky already, made trickier by the rick-rack, but I just love the interest the exposed notches create.  I probably could have achieved sharper points had I not included the rick-rack but – oh – how it brings this dress to a whole different level I’ve never had before!

Previously, I always had this idea that rick-rack was very home-sewn distinguishable, and for feedback dresses or aprons, even though I do have a generous stash of it.  I tested rick-rack out on this 1945 top, loving the results, and the more I’ve recently looked at really creative uses of the stuff, the more I felt I need to dive in with a major project, and that this was the one.  Similar dress designs from about the same time frame use the “half-rick-rack” method on the edges (see Marion Martin #9547 and my fabric inspiration dress New York #1368 from the late 30’s/early 40’s), so it seemed like the proper thing to do for a style like this anyway!  Adding the rick-rack was really time consuming, especially as I went to the extra trouble to tack the points down to the fabric so they would lay flat nicely.  I realized after the dress was done that the rick-rack actually does much to stabilize the bodice seams of shifty rayon, thinking practically.  Going out on a limb can be so amazing when it’s this successful.

“Three inch hem” according to the instructions, my eye – the dress, unhemmed, came down to my ankles!  I ended up doing a hand-sewn hem that was actually 8 ½ inches deep (see picture above at “The Facts”)!  Initially it was because I didn’t want to cut that much off my dress, but then I realized by making the wide hem it actually helped the dress immensely.  Firstly, the wide hem weighs down the otherwise very full and floaty skirt.  It keeps me from having a “Marilyn Monroe” moment of my skirt coming up on me and gives it a very feminine swish when I walk and especially twirl!  Secondly it makes my skirt opaque, much like a self-lining, so my lingerie slip doesn’t always have to be the perfect length.  Lastly, I didn’t have to commit permanently to a certain length.  I like my clothes to have the versatility to be tailored and changed if need be so that they’ll be something I’ll be happy with and fit into for many years.

One of the good surprises to this dress is actually how versatile it is to accessorize.  In these photos, I went for the brown and snow white tones, but is also works well with black shoes and earrings, as well as dusty greys as well as maroon brown-reds or orange tones.  My two-tone, brown and cream, slingback spectator heels are actually a good example of how the 1970’s era can imitate the 1940s era so closely the difference is almost indistinguishable.  What I like about 70’s-does-40’s shoes are the chance of finding them in a much more wearable state, as well as cheaper prices!  The rest of my accessories are true older-era vintage, however.  My gloves, my earrings, and the little beetle brooch are all from my Grandmother, while the 40’s hat is my very first vintage piece of headwear I acquired from a second-hand shop so many years back now.  It’s so hard to find brimmed hats from the 40’s and earlier in decent condition, and this one is a winner that has some stunning petersham ribbon decoration to boot!  In fall weather my allergy sensitive nose needs attention too, so I couldn’t resist grabbing this lovely seasonal handkerchief from my collection to pair it with my outfit for the day!

Yellow does have the connotation (at least so I’ve heard) that it does not “work” for many people, but I think this stylish golden hue is a bit more promising than other ochre shades!  Granted, I suppose I am a bit biased…I have made a hat in this shade already!  Besides, I know that just because something is pushed as a style ‘trend’ or ‘fad’ doesn’t mean people really like it on their own terms, after all.  My hope is that I have presented an attractive way to style and accessorize this golden maize color, though.  I have taken what is on trend, and interpreted it for myself using the way the past had done it before.  What goes around comes around and fashion is persistently resurfacing in surprising ways.  In the hands of someone who sews, fashion is whatever you make it!  Are you or have you worn a similar golden tone, or have you used your sewing talents to find a way to better like a style or shade of color?

Smart Pockets, a French Beret…Year 1934

I do love pockets (…and probably say that way too much on the blog), so really smart pockets that I see on vintage patterns are even more appealing.  You know, just because pockets are utilitarian, they don’t have to ‘look’ that way or be hidden.  Why should pockets just be tucked in the side seams or merely top-stitched on…why not make them not only obvious but also part of the styling?!  I’m glad I sew, because following this train of thought, I found a comfortable and practical early mid-1930s blouse whose stunning design is highlighted by using stripes.  And… just because I could without much extra effort, I whipped up a matching velvet beret from a pattern of the same year.  What proper 30’s lady would be out and about without a hat of some sort, after all?  Amidst a plethora of bias cut gowns and fancy wear, a chic everyday 30’s set is so refreshing and welcome.

This outfit has been so darn long in coming to completion!  For many years now, I have wanted my own vintage beret, and after much searching, I finally found an easy-to-make, reasonable to afford, yet true vintage option to sew.   Furthermore, speaking of past project connections, back in 2014 I sewed a skirt, the bottom half from the same pattern as this post’s blouse, using fabric from my Grandmother (post on my skirt here).  That same year was when I actually found the shirting fabric to make the coordinating blouse in this post.  Sheepishly, I’ll admit I only just recently got around to finally sewing some of what has been long planned out to now have all three pieces – hat, blouse, and skirt – together.

I have made other blouses of the same era to go with my basic black 30’s skirt (see some here and here), showing how the bottom half of the garment pattern is truly a wardrobe staple for me.  However, now that this properly coordinating striped blouse (which certainly gets top billing among any previous 30’s tops) has been made, my outfit feels complete and every bit as stylishly awesome as the pattern intended.  This is probably my very favorite make, as well as the most useful and frequently worn, from the decade of the 1930s.  Beret hats are not necessarily just for one decade either, and in a lovely grey velvet, this too will be an understated yet elegant and warmly basic accessory in putting together outfits.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a striped, textured cotton shirting, with basic cotton broadcloth in a solid black for both the collar and full body lining; Hat – a lofty polyester velvet, in a grey two-tone with a tiny, slight windowpane print on it

PATTERN:  Pictorial Review #7379, year 1934 (as I said above the skirt has its own write up here), with a 1934 reprinted pattern from the Etsy shop “kalliedesigns” for the beret hat.  The original pattern for the hat is (I believe) Simplicity #1532, view 4.

NOTIONS:  I really had everything I needed already on hand – some thread, a little interfacing, bias tape, a metal jewelry chain remnant, and buttons. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I finished the blouse on December 18, 2016.  Making it only took me about 15 hours.  The hat was whipped up in a few hours about a month after the blouse.

First, I have to address my giving a definite year to this design.  I have yet to see a Pictorial Review pattern with a date on the pattern itself, yet I am quite confident in narrowing this one down to late 1934.  Styles of the 1930’s were very specific to certain years when you look at certain details such as hem length for both tops and skirts/dresses, shoulder styles, sleeve and pocket trends, as well as hairstyles, accessories, body images, and the like.  Taking all of these details into account, I initially estimated this pattern could even be very late 1933 at the earliest, but no later than early 1936.  Finding a few Pictorial Review magazines and dated patterns helped me narrow down my estimate, especially this Pictorial Review “Goddess Gown” #7363 adapted from a Lanvin design for Winter of 1934.  It is a number very close to my pattern (#7379).  Besides, it would make practical sense for my pattern to be from Fall and Winter anyway based on the long sleeve option.

Beyond the sensible reason, Pictorial review patterns were known to be fashion forward, working with foreign, well-distinguished designers, couture houses, and nobility to release some truly top-of the line and rare styles which would not be available to many ladies of the 1930’s otherwise.  Thus, when I found a copy of the same style as my blouse out of a Butterick company Summer 1935 catalog, as well as similar designs in Simplicity #1812 and #1724 (both ca. 1935), I realized what I already assumed about Pictorial Review patterns – that they were the leader of fashion for their time or at least ahead of the trends.  Their patterns are printed after all…another factor adding to their prestige!

This blouse was not that hard at all to make – what was hard was matching the stripes (mostly) together with re-drafting the pattern.  The stripes are not mirror matching and were playing tricks on my eyes when I was figuring out the placement of the pattern pieces.  Also, I had to add in four whole inches because this pattern both runs super small (something I learned from making the skirt already) and I wanted modern 5/8 inch seam allowance (verses the 3/8 called provided for).  I spread the four inches out properly and evenly across the entire blouse, like a good girl, for as much as I wanted to take the easy route, I didn’t just add it in on the sides.  Nor did I cut apart or otherwise draft a new pattern piece.  Yes, I know I made this extra hard for myself.  I do that sometimes.

My blouse might look somewhat straightforward at first glance of the pattern but it has lovely details.  The link closure neckline is my top favorite feature, so I’ll start at the neck.  Two buttons and a chain to link them connects the dual buttonholes and closes the shirt neckline.  I opted for a more decorative and showy jewelry style chain in sterling silver rather than the very basic thread looping together as recommended in the pattern. I do love how the neckline link closure almost doubles as a necklace with the chain!  Button link closures are something primarily seen in the 30’s for main fastenings down bodice fronts, jackets, sleeves, and necklines.  Depression era practicality, a desire for accessorizing, as well as accommodating the rough means available of washing garments all contributed to the popularity of removable buttons.  Many buttons were “change” or “clip on” buttons (read more about them here on Vintage Gal blog); others were link-style, connected by metal or thread.  As we just had National Button Day (which was started in the 30’s, by the way), this can be an idea to let those precious and amazing buttons you’ve been saving shine on a garment without feeling like you have to sacrifice them to the wear and tear the rest of the garment will receive.  Whatever the reason, I do love the singular and useful practice of link button closures.  My fellow blogger, Emileigh, has also made several 1930’s garments with link closures (see her dress here, and jacket here), just like me!

As lovely and soft as the striped shirting is on its own, I decided to fully line only the main body of the blouse.  Otherwise, it was thin enough to show seam allowances, underwear, and even the pockets…how racy to think of!  There are more reasons than that, though.  The black broadcloth renders my blouse a better warmth weight for chilly days as well as perfectly opaque.  I was also able to eliminate the facings with this trick…the lining finished off the front neckline opening easily and cleanly.  The collar is then the same fabric as the lining.  This was not only convenient but also great for matching especially when the collar is open!  The sleeves are unlined to keep my blouse from being too heavyweight.  Besides, at least with the sleeves I can feel the lovely soft shirting on its own!

The sleeves are also ‘hiding’ a secret detail – what I believe are darted French cuffs.  The outer side sleeve pattern was laid out with what looked like on paper to be a long and wide dart.  Except for the last 2 inches being open at the end of the sleeves where the wrist is, the French cuffs smoothly assimilate into the sleeves as a dart which ends to nothing at the elbow.  I have never seen anything remotely like this sleeve!  The darted part of the French cuffs makes for such a lovely, shapely, tapered sleeve shape that ends in a bang!  The cuffs were directed by the pattern to be closed with more link buttons, but I generally use cufflinks instead.  Cufflinks would probably not be something a 1930’s woman would have worn in the era were times were hard and pennies pinched, especially not the wrap-around mesh cufflinks that I used (this kind date to the 1960s and 1970s – mine are coveted Anson brand).  However, people also liked escapism in the 1930s to forget their hard times, so just maybe I can envision a 1930’s woman doing what I was doing her with my accessories – go big or go home! If Marlene Dietrich wore cufflinks, so will I!

I’m terribly distracted, though.  The above-the-hem hip pockets were meant to be the main attraction!  The side panels to the bodice fronts actually extend down to the hem and the top edges of the bottom “legs” of the middle section are hemmed and left open.  When the hem is tuned under and the side seams sewn, the pockets are then closed.  I love how the pockets are right there is front of me – so handy yet so subtle and hidden into being part of the design!  The stripes in my blouse also hide the fact these pockets can hold so darn much!  Hipline line front pockets must have been “a thing” in the mid 1930’s, as I have seen numerous versions of them on jackets, dresses, and blouses in patterns offerings at that time from all companies.  See this Butterick design from Summer of 1935, Simplicity #1812 from 1935, or McCall #9242 of 1937 for just a few of the examples I have come across.

I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with the action-back, though.  Sewn up as-is, the center back box pleat is open from below the shoulder panel (as you see in the the right picture).  I wore it like this one or two times, but it just made it feel oversized and fussy.  I felt like I needed to wear a belt just to keep it in place.  This is silly, I thought!  So I hand tacked the box pleat together from the hemline up to a few inches above the waistline.  I wanted to make sure to have full movement across my shoulders so I left some of it open.  Now it had the right 1930’s “skinny hip” appearance and unfussiness!

Last but not least is the head topper – my hat!  I’m sorry but I was so happy with this beret that in my rush to just wear it and enjoy it, I have totally forgotten to properly iron flat the many darts.  I suppose this is a good sign!  I’m rarely this excited to omit the finishing touch, an ironing job!  An ironing session almost felt like too much work for it when this hat came together so quickly.

The pattern itself could be much nicer – it is rather crudely traced.  However, it gets the job done and gives a nice basic piece to use on its own or build off of.  After all it is only two pieces, and a bunch of darts to sew, then voila – a finished hat!  Most importantly it did turn out well and ran true to size.  It is listed as a 22” to 23”, and my head is a consistent 22 ½” hat size.  This could not be any more perfect for me, but those who need it bigger, slash and spread more (while keeping the same size darts) and those who need it smaller, I would recommend the easy route of just adding a tiny casing around the head for skinny elastic.  I personally left off the recommended head band for the edge, and merely turned under the edge like a traditional hem.  This way the hat stays closer to my head and slouches better than with an added band to keep it around my head.  The slouch part is designed into the pattern, not just an effect of too much extra room.  The pattern is cleverly asymmetric, so if you would want the slouch to be on one side versus another, that needs to be figured out before cutting.  I didn’t care…I just dove right in as it didn’t take much of my time, nor did it take much fabric either to have a new hat.  If it turned out badly, it was no biggie, but oh did it turn out well!

My background location is earlier than my outfit’s date, but it is an early Art Deco wonder so we just had to include it in a 1930’s photo shoot sometime!  The grand “Moolah Temple” was originally built for a Masonic organization, but it is now a posh movie theatre and bowling lanes at the floor level and below, with apartment spaces above.  The meticulous and respectful renovations have happily left the building pretty intact and one can see it in its original teens-era splendor.  It has dizzying details, with a strong Moorish and orientalist influence which is both unique and lovely.  Extravagant ornate terra cotta outside, opulent marble work inside, with original fixtures makes me feel like I stepped back in time, especially when I can wear my vintage appropriate outfits such as this Pictorial Review one!