Wearing the Colors of the Wind

Of all the Disney princesses, Pocahontas is perhaps the most underestimated and impressive, in my opinion.  She is the real deal, straight out of American history!  Not that an animated children’s movie did the best possible job at transferring a real life impression of her true story.  However, it is still a visually appealing treat and well-crafted interest point from which to find an incentive for reading up on the factual tale of Pocahontas.  She is portrayed as resilient, compassionate, understanding, beautiful in her selflessness, and remarkable in the way her life had a notable impact.  Yet, she is relatable royalty, and quite down-to-earth for a princess, er…daughter of the Chieftain.  For all of this, Pocahontas is coming sooner than later as part of my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.    

As a girl who has grown up with a deep love for getting out into the local wilderness to enjoy the wonders of nature, the 1995 Disney version of Pocahontas is my sister spirit.  I for one certainly know the ‘river is not steady, but always changing’ after exploring the same waterside haunts all my life.  I never know what surprise will be waiting for me each time I go.  The creek never looks the same for each visit.  There is always different animal activity.  Yet, for as much as I relate to, and enjoy the song “Just Around the Riverbend”, this outfit is more inspired by the theme of the movie, “Colors of the Wind”.  My top has a Pocahontas-worthy magical breeze of leaves sweeping across it, complete with a sneaky silhouette of both Flit the hummingbird and Meeko the raccoon.  My skirt is a rich color akin to the natural ‘gold’ of the earth the Native Americans prized so highly – ‘Indian corn’, also known as maize.  My earrings are vintage turquoise cabochons from my own grandmother, a hint towards the necklace Pocahontas wears which was her mother’s.

Yet, because the sequel in 1998 “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” is my favorite over the original, we took our pictures in a winter setting.  As much as I feel ‘at home’ visiting our local waterways, I especially love the hushed, majestic beauty of a wintertime creek.  This way I could wear cozy boots and also take full advantage of the combo of prevalent snow and mud to do some critter tacking!  Being inspired by the ‘post-John Smith’ part of Pocahontas’ tale prompted me to make some related outerwear to go along with this outfit.  This outerwear will be in a follow up post.  Hint – it will be London inspired!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  top – a custom printed Spoonflower polyester crepe de chine; skirt – a golden mustard color slubbed linen-look polyester

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was Simplicity #3626, year 1961.

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long separating ‘sports’ zipper, a waistband sliding hook n’ eye, a vintage metal 7 inch zipper, bias tapes, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces were quick to make – the blouse took me 4 hours and was finished on January 25, 2021.  The skirt was made in 5 hours and done on November 5, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  Both items have cleanly bias bound edges inside.

TOTAL COST:  The Spoonflower fabric was about $20 for one yard (with a sale discount), and the skirt fabric was a remnant cut from a rummage sale – thus practically free.  The long separating zipper for the blouse was a bit of a pricey buy, so my total for this outfit is about $27.

Just like the last time I sewed this same blouse pattern, my Pocahontas set is an outfit composed up of two different one yard cuts of fabric – so economical!  The skirt was easy-to-make.  These one yard pencil skirt patterns from the 50s and 60s always look nice, are so versatile, and are pretty simple to fit.  Yet, the pocket details alone took up most of the sewing time spent.    The blouse was comparatively fail proof as I knew what to tweak this second time around so it would fit me perfectly.  It’s happily comforting to have standby separates to sew, but they are even better when princess inspired!

I steered away from any ethnic references for this “Pandemic Princess” outfit (out of respect for the Native American culture).  Instead I stuck with pure aesthetic reasons.  To me, Disney’s Pocahontas inspired clothes should be earthy in tones and comfy to wear.  Here I have both needs fulfilled with a dash of vintage class through choosing two favorite styles of mid-century era patterns in my stash.  The added fact I was working with one yard cuts of fabric was also a great restriction.  It forced me to hone down my separate pieces into both a wiggle skirt and a simple, cut-on sleeve blouse.  However, I was not forced to scrimp enough to leave out the fantastic skirt pockets – yay!  I also made the most of the top’s border print, too.  When my arms are open, it seems as though I have a wave of wind going across me to send off as a goodwill blessing, just like in the end of the first Pocahontas movie.

There isn’t much I changed, eliminated, or added here – just the almost-unnoticeable small details.  First, I’ll talk about the blouse.  To accommodate the border print for the blouse layout I desired, I had to slash the underarms to make the pattern resemble a “T” shape.  I probably would have done this adaptation anyway, as this pattern needed reach room.  It’s no fun to pull out your tucked-in top just to move your arms up to take care of your hair.  Then, I took out 2 ½ inches vertically across the back to shorten the long waist. 

As I learned the hard way the first time I used this pattern, it has a very generous shoulder room which never works well when there is a center back zipper.  As my last version of this top had a back zipper that reaches only 1/3 of the way down from the neck, I chose to make this top stress-free to be dressed into.  No wiggling and struggling is necessary here because I adapted the back to have a center separating zipper.  Even the neckline finishing was simplified, too, with bias tape used in lieu of proper facings.  The fabric is so sheer that a wide inner facing would’ve been obvious from the right side and distracting from the border print.

The skirt did need some piecing of the pockets for me to keep them in my pencil skirt.  As I was so focused on just trying to squeeze a successful skirt out of leftover material, I half-heartedly ‘forgot’ to make the pockets deeper.  As of now, they are shallow pockets.  I should not complain because pockets of any size are useful and appreciated, but it’s handier to have them to be more akin to mini purses.  Out of a desire to make construction simpler and keep the tapered wiggle line shape to the skirt, I left out the back kick pleat.  The seam is all sewn up.  This doesn’t make the skirt harder to walk or move in – the hips and thighs are roomy enough.  I had to shorten the hem by about 3 inches due to lack of fabric, so the hem is a bit wider than originally intended anyway.  As you can see, it did not prevent me at all from exploring around my favorite creek haunts to capture these pictures.

I must have done this princess outfit right because the wildlife came to me as we were taking some of our pictures.  It’s too bad for picture taking (but good for them) that the wildlife is camouflaged with the environment well enough to not be noticeable behind me.  In the following post, you will more clearly see the one creature which amazingly came up to check me out!  My Pocahontas vibes must have been strong.  “Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth”, so she sang in “Colors of the Wind”.  Spending time outside in appreciation of Mother Nature is priceless. 

“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

An “Appointment” with the Baroque

The word “baroque”, widely used since the nineteenth century, comes from the Portuguese word “barroco” meaning “misshapen pearl”, a negative description of the ornate and heavily embellished music of this period (circa 1600 to 1750). The name has also come to apply to the architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, dance, as well as fashion of the same time period.  The Baroque style is characterized by exaggerated details and sensuous richness used to produce a sense of drama, exuberance, and grandeur. 

There is no better example of this rich style of dressing in our modern fashion than the two designer lines of both Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.  Am I a too much of a rebel to admire both enough equally to combine their distinctive elements into one self-made interpretation of Baroque dressing?  How about adding some Hollywood inspiration to the mix as the base for my creative efforts?  The film industry and designer clothing goes together quite often after all!  In this dress, I will pretend to be a wealthy aristocrat strolling to the music of Bach in my private rose garden for a true Baroque experience.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester scuba knit in a large scale paneled print, with the bodice edges faced in a beige cotton-poly broadcloth (which ends up being interfaced, too); the button placket edges are of a heavyweight cotton sateen (leftover from this blouse)

PATTERN:  Advance #5550, from July of 1950

NOTIONS:  All I practically needed was a lot of thread and some interfacing.  The closures of the dress required one small skirt side zipper (7 inch) and lots of buttons.  Luckily, back in 2011 I had bought two packs of “Dress It Up” buttons, and I used some from both the “Victorian Miniatures” pack as well as the “Nostalgic Treasures” pack.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finally finished on September 9, 2020 after about 30 something hours spent to retrace and grade out the pattern, assemble the dress multiple times to make up for the bad fit, and then all the finishing details.

THE INSIDES:  left raw as scuba does best

TOTAL COST:  This material was sent to me in April 2018 for free.  It was part of my prize from “Minerva Crafts and Fabrics” for winning the 2017 Vintage Pledge sponsored by Marie at “A Stitching Odyssey”.

A recent purchase of a new-to-me vintage pattern had interesting features that I saw as a probable compliment to my paneled, oversized scuba print.  All the scallops along the bodice edges and the basic blocked bodice and skirt pieces were a natural pairing to my prize fabric and worked well with the rolling print and oversized scale of the fabric.  The scuba knit made construction a bit easier (no edge finishing needed, either) and provided the dress some ‘body’ without stiffness.  After all, this was my excuse to get around to using my amazing supplies of both pattern and fabric sooner than later!  Besides, after the previous post, I can still stay on-topic by continuing to explore the possibilities of neoprene material for something that is true vintage, designer inspired, and a movie style all-in-one. 

As is alluded to on the pattern cover, the dress’ design was first worn by the actress Jan Sterling, designed by Mary Kay Dodson, a costume designer who worked under Edith Head at Paramount, under contract between 1944 and 1951.  (If you’re feeling curious, just look at this fantastic chartreuse suit Dodson designed for another movie!

The dress from my pattern is out of an old Noir genre movie which tells the story of a fictional peril to the United States Postal Service, titled “Appointment with Danger” starring Alan Ladd.  The film was lucky to have just be seen by audiences – having gone through several names and stalling for almost 5 years before being released.  (This is why the pattern cover has a different title for the same movie!)  Besides the sultry Jan Sterling, there is no other real female fashion inspiration to “Appointment with Danger” so it’s a good thing her few dresses were fantastic when compared to the only other woman in the film, a religious nun, Sister Augustine as played by Phillis Calvert.   

Dolce & Gabbana have a religious flair to many of their creations, paired with the frequent Sicilian influence (the cultural roots of Domenico Dolce), and so for me the gold scrollwork often calls to mind an old church or Renaissance opulence.  One of the pieces from their fourth collection was labeled “The Sicilian Dress” by the fashion press, and was named by author Hal Rubenstein as one of the 100 most important dresses ever designed.  Rubenstein described the piece in 2012 by writing, “The Sicilian dress is the essence of Dolce & Gabbana, the brand’s sartorial touchstone.”  

Yet, at the same time, the 2018 Met Gala theme of “Heavenly Bodies” solidified the manner by which the house of Versace could also mimic the same vein as Dolce & Gabbana, as seen on the late but great Chadwick Boseman.  Versace is commonly known for its striking use of chains as a print and large scale panels.  However, both do frequently use the primary colors of white, black, a golden yellow as well as interesting textures and feminine styles. 

I heavily referred to Dolce & Gabbana directly by my details – choice of buttons, the red rose hair corsage I made, and my Sam Edelman brand leather platform heels in animal print.  I really don’t have many sets of 12 buttons, and none of them paired well with this dress, so I went with the showy and eclectic answer of using all different buttons on this unconventional dress project. (See the “Notions” section of “The Facts” above.)  All the buttons luckily need the same size button hole and all are fully workable buttons (and button holes) – no fakes just for show. The most interesting ones – a cherub’s head, a Fleur-dis-lis, and a sun – are all along the shoulder while several miss-matching round golden buttons are along the sides under my arms.  I love the subtlety but unusualness of it, but in reality doing so helped clear out my random buttons from my stash and stayed true to the “more is more” spirit of Dolce & Gabbana. 

My Versace tribute is in my fabric’s print and by wearing vintage chain jewelry.  My jewelry is from my Grandmother and by a well-respected small Italian designer who came to America at the end of WWII.  “Jewels by Julio” items are said to be are hard to find today.  Such marked pieces are by Julio J. Marsella, who created high quality jewelry from 1946-1957. He was a perfectionist who sang Italian Opera with the same skill that he created jewelry. His jewelry was considered to be on par with Hobe, Hattie Carnegie, and Dior (by Kramer) pieces for quality and desirability.  It is most likely only plated and has a warm authentic gold color that has aged nicely and pairs well with my dress.  Even though the actual print of my fabric is more Dolce & Gabbana, the colors and the way it is laid out is very Versace.  There are still chains in the borders to the panels, after all.   

My heart will always be tied to Italy, especially Milan, the founding place for both companies.  My first trip out of my country and into Italy was a 3 day visit to that town!  Thus, this outfit takes me back in sentiment to a place I remember so vividly as the experience of a lifetime.  As a 19 year old, I was unfortunately not equipped with the pocketbook to splurge on things I had then admired in the store windows.  Yet, now I can sew whatever I set my mind to.  This outfit is my hometown, homemade version of a replacement!  Thus, my post’s outfit is also my submission for Linda’s “Designin’ December 2020” challenge at the blog “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!”

For the 2 ½ yards of fabric which were gifted to me, there were 3 ½ panels for me to work with for my dress.  Two of the panels immediately went towards the front and the back of the skirt respectively.  The last full panel went toward to the bodice, both front and back.  I added a center front vertical seam to accommodate the way I wanted the print to lay.  With the main border running up either side of the front center seam, the torso is lengthened visually to offset the full, wide skirt.  The angled, radiating front bust darts nip in the waist perfectly – just as I hoped – by creating the image of the sides to the bodice wrapping over the center border.  The back bodice reminds me of a glorious chandelier the way the scrollwork seems to drip down from my shoulders.  I wanted to widen my shoulders from behind with this layout, and thereby complement the waist in a different manner than what I employed for the front.  I had to get inventive as I had limited fabric to work with.  I do love a good sewing challenge…with exceptions.

After all the raving and seeming glowing words I have given my outfit so far, reaching the point where the dress was actually wearable and properly fitting me was a very frustrating journey.  The proportions to the dress pattern were so completely off whack that I was mind blown.  Yes – I love the final result of my dogged determination to see this project perfected.  Yet, what was shown on both the cover drawing and the line art specifics was something so very different than what the actual tissue paper turns out.  All the details shown were still there.  However, where the skirt and bust landed on me were all wrong.  I should have listened to my gut instinct when I noticed such on the tissue…only I’ve never seen a pattern this far off and considered that I must have been the one measuring wrong.  Nope!  This one pattern has both a sizing and proportions problem, the likes of which I have never seen.  If I hadn’t been using the very forgiving and easy-to-work with scuba knit, this dress would have easily become a sewing project straight from hell.  

The actual size of the pattern was very tiny (a 28 inch bust!!) and so I graded up an inch less than what I assumed I needed due to working with a stretch knit.  Width wise grading was the only adaptations I traced out when prepping this pattern, and my work was not the cause of my issues with the design.  I did notice right off the bat when laying out the pieces and checking measurements on the tissue pattern that the waist length from shoulder to skirt seam was really quite long…and I only trimmed off 2 inches because even that much taken off seemed extreme, right?!  I also lengthened the center-radiating, French-style bust darts to actually come up to where they should on me.  I sewed up most all of the dress, stitching once and tried it on.

Agh!  The ‘waistline’ ended at my high hip, the front bodice was still huge, and the neckline was so small I couldn’t even button it closed.  After lots of unpicking of thread, cutting of new seams, and even some crying, I started fresh again.  I cut off another 2 inches from the bodice length, stitched in the vertical center bodice seam making the front smaller by 2 inches, and cut the V neckline lower by 2 inches as well, then finally sewed the uber-gathered skirt in again and called it good.  Let’s realize I took out a total of 4 inches from the length of the bodice!  The line drawing shows the ‘waistline’ should have where my hips are…so weird!  Something went wrong with this pattern because even a long-torso woman could not be 20 something inches from the shoulder to the waist. 

I lost each one of the bottom side scallops in the process of re-fitting.  See how the movie dress has four on each side and I only have 3 on each side.  That worked for me because I didn’t have any more buttons anyway.  How in the world did the four button arrangement work on the movie dress with actress Jan Sterling still having a naturally placed waistline for the dress?!  Were the scallops drafted smaller, maybe half the width as the Advance pattern’s?  Did Ms. Sterling have an impossibly tiny Barbie sized neck?  Perhaps the Advance pattern wasn’t even directly drafted from the movie dress at all, like I am assuming. I’ll never know.  Nevertheless, all is well that ends well, as the saying goes, and the good thing is no one would ever guess the troubles and frustrations it took to finish my outfit.

There was a nearby companion to my photo shoot who did not have to go through the bother I did to look so striking.  It was a Yellow Garden Spider, waiting it in its web for an evening snack.  This is a larger spider than what I am used to seeing around town – several inches in diameter when you include the long legs – and it was rather creepy to see an arachnid in the garden which would take up the whole palm of my hand.  It was matching me in color and was too dramatic of a creature to not appreciate, though!  This is exactly the kind of thing I could see becoming inspiration for a designer dress.  Let’s talk about the killer print that spider is wearing on its back!!  Its scientific Latin name translates to “gilded silver-face”.  For having a plain term for its English name, this spider could be baroque by the way it has drama, loads of interest to its details, and it still respectfully regal.   

This is a fun and different thing for me to make that is still so very wearable.  Dressed in this, it brightens my day, brings a smile to my face, and makes me swish around feeling imaging myself a princess for the moment.  The fact that I have on some higher-end brand, extreme 5 inch heels feeds my unreasonable enjoyment for tall shoes.  (They not only lengthen my legs but bring me up to my hubby’s stature level, he he).  Being a modern scuba print and not something heavily embroidered or fine silk like a true designer item keeps it more akin to ‘normal’ – albeit fancy – clothes.  Upon arriving at the first place I wore this dress, I immediately received compliment.  Apparently my dress must share with its viewers the same happy feeling I have when wearing it!  This is proof that making my own spoof on something designer I have admired for years ends up doing good all around, much more so than if I had broken my bank account to splurge on a true Versace or Dolce & Gabbana.  Dolce himself has said, “A dress should live the personality of the woman who wears it.”

There is still time to create your own designer inspired ‘copy’ for “Designin’ December” since the challenge runs until the end of the year!  

The Tradition of the Sari

“The sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver.  He dreamt of a woman – the drape of her tumbling hair; the colors of her many moods; the shimmer of her tears; the softness of her touch.  All of these he wove together. He wove for many yards; he could not stop. When he was done, as the folk tale goes, he sat back and smiled…for he had created a sari.” (Legend copied from here.)

Coming off of the annual celebration of the Partition, which gave India and Pakistan national independence on August 15th, I would like to feature the humble, beautiful, sari of India.  Did you know it has a history more than 5,000 years old!  It’s weaving is mentioned in “Rig-Veda”, one of the oldest surviving literature of the world, written circa 3,000 B.C.  The sari, originally intended for both men and women, is therefore probably one of the longest continuously worn clothing in the history of mankind.  A sari (saree in English) is a rectangular piece of cloth usually 5 yards (for everyday use or ones composed of cotton) to 9 yards (for some of the fanciest silk or embroidered ones).  Their approximate width is about 47 inches.  For one continuous piece of cloth, the fabric and design of the sari is well thought out to accommodate the intricate tradition of wrapping for each region’s heritage so that it becomes a pure work of art…the world’s marvel in clothing design.

The main field of the sari is framed on three side by decorative borders.  Two of these borders run longitudinal sides of the sari, while the third comprises the end of the sari, the wide and highly decorative Pallau – the part which hangs free when worn.  It is more than just a source for many yards of pretty fabric, as is often the outlook of American and Western World clothiers and sewists.  There is so much more to a sari than that – it is a shame to not explore that well of information behind the crafting of a sari and appreciate for how it is truly used and regarded.

The sari needs to be deemed as clothing and not just called fabric.  A sari is pretty much the same as a top, or a dress, or pants which are worn America.  It is an article of clothing.  It has existed for so long, there is a history to it as rich as the indigo color I’m wearing.  It should not be merely called fabric – that is a term for talking about the fiber content of a piece of clothing.  Doing such for a sari is dismissive to its cultural usage and history.  For many cultures and faith traditions, what is worn is considered purer, more perfect, or better pleasing to God to wear something unaltered by a needle and thread.  As a people, we would definitely not have a problem with finding sizes to fit our individual body physique with a sari…one length accommodates all!

Every sari has a rich and beautiful story to tell as unique as the wearer.  How it is put on the body, embellished, and colored has long served as a marker of identity in the Indian subcontinent. The hues of a garment denote not just personal sartorial preference but convey all sorts of social data, ranging from the wearer’s age and marital status to his/her community of origin.  Red is as dynamic as fire, and the symbol of joy, yet it is well known often for its use as a bridal color.  The red bordered sari with the indigo field that you see me in is more of a bridal guest or a very special occasion garment as evidenced by the jacquard weave through the blue and also the heavy goldwork along the edge.  Blue is a special color to India, especially in Hinduism – it is the color of the Diety (“Krishna Blue”) and embodies kindness, bravery, and determination.  The golden ivory field of the other sari sets this one as a sort of “everyday finery” sari, as it still has the red borders.  This one is a much lighter weight sari and slightly shorter in length.  It has the Kashmiri paisley and pomegranates along the pallau (very Northern), while the blue and red sari has its decoration imagery coming from “Bandhani” – the unique, subtle lack of dye in very pre-meditated spaces (trademark western Gujarat).

“Bandhani” is Sanskrit for tie-dye (also known as “Lehriya”).  The word refers to both the finished cloth as well as the practice of an ancient technique – tying the cloth off in very small, dotted, patterns before dipping it in a dye bath.  The decoration is so subtle, an untrained eye could completely miss it, thus making it all the more the marvel.  Rajasthan and Gujarat are famous for these brilliant tie dyes.  The more dots and the smaller they are tied, the more skill of the maker and therefore the display of a higher social status of the wearer, or at least the nicer the occasion for which such would be worn.  The multi coloring method involves working in the lightest shade first, after which the fabric is tied and darker colors introduced.  “Bandhani” saris are associated with festivals, seasons, and rituals for which there are particular patterns and colors.  Northern India – particularly Gujarat – has a few traditions of colors that varies from much of the rest of (central and below) India as well as the visually obvious front pallau hang, right shouldered wrapping.  You’ll also find this region’s clothing to be decorated with mirrors and beads or gold work embroidery.

A sari is often a family heirloom, and when one is gifted upon a special occasion that is really special.  The latter was the case with these two saris I am wearing.  It was just over a year ago we went to Memphis to visit our close family friends of Indian heritage.  My husband has known them for many years (longer than I have!). It has not been since my husband and I were married that he has seen those friends’ parents.  They were born in India around the time of its Independence and immigrated to America with their own family several decades ago.  We as a family finally met with them, and it was a wonderful time!  I also asked a lot of questions and they were so kind enough to teach me so much about the culture and ways of dressing for their home-away-from-home in the District of Kutch.  Before I left their house, I was gifted with some beautiful saris to take with me.  Now, I am honored to be able to wear them with their proper provenance for a truly special occasion of joining in to celebrate India’s long-fought, long-sought Independence.

The one piece I was lacking before now to have a complete traditional Indian sari set was an important base layer – the choli blouse.  Yes – this isn’t completely a non-sewing related post!  I did make something to this set!  The sari top and the underskirt (also called petticoat) are the base layers for which the sari is anchored to and wrapped over.  The underskirt is simple in shape but unrestrictive, and often a useful solid color of a fabric that is comfy and breathable.  Here, my base layer is a RTW long bias cut linen skirt.  The choli blouse is a close fitting cropped top that is structured, lined, and has any shaping or support which the wearer prefers built into it.  Think of it like underwear and your blouse top all-in-one, but highly tailored to your body so it stays in place while making you look really good.  A true authentic Indian choli for special occasions is an engineering work of art to examine, which I tried to imitate with my version.  I found mine very comfortable to wear.  I didn’t want to take it off at the end of the day, and could wear this every day for as good as I felt wearing it!

I started by using a vintage crop top pattern reprint as my starting base – Simplicity #8645, a 1955 reprint from 2018, originally Simplicity #1203.  I went for View D.  As I went along, I added sleeves (drafted of my own pattern), a hem panel to add a bit of length (remember, these are not a belly dancer’s top), and altered the neckline to be more open and interesting, taking my inspiration from Gujarat chaniya choli.  My outer fabric is block printed Indian cotton ordered from Mumbai through the Etsy shop “Fibers to Fabric” and my inner lining fabric is local store bought cotton broadcloth in navy.

There are molded foam bra cups sewn into the wrong side of the lining to add in hidden structure to my choli.  I had to take the size in a little extra to get this top to fit closer than the vintage pattern had planned.  Most choli tops are tied, buttoned, or hook-and-eye closing, primarily down the back, but for my ease of dressing and to stabilize to tight fit I chose a small 5 inch metal separating zipper.  The bottom hem band closes with two hook-and-eyes, still, though.  Once this top is on me, it isn’t going anywhere and it forms me into shape…but that doesn’t mean it’s restricting.  I tried it on again and again in between its construction for a little tweak here, an unpicking there to ensure a custom, perfect fit for myself.  The perfect fit ensures the garment will not be restrictive because it should be a ‘copy’ of your body when something like this has practically zero wearing ease.   If this had been made of a fancier material I might have also added light boning, but the wonderful block print disguises the fact this is just cotton, and so a comfortable everyday choli.  It took a while of searching to find a print like this that matched with both of my saris!

Not to be content with just the handmade choli, I also made my own jewelry set to match my indigo and red sari.  Jewelry is important to the Indian culture and an unashamed display of wealth, keeping one’s security right where you (and others) can see it.  Wearing jewelry also symbolizes wealth, power, and status – the heavier the nuances of these jewelries are, the bigger role they play in the legacy of the family. (Read an excellent article on this subject here.)  Gold is the primary medium.

The jewelry set worn with my ivory and red sari is much more subdued, and was made in India and highlighted in this past Indian-inspired outfit of mine.  However, the blue and gold set worn with my fine indigo and red sari is the self-made jewelry I am talking about.  It is not genuine gold, and not the normal expensive jewelry you would see with an outfit like this yet it adds to the individuality of my outfit and has a personal meaning behind it…all factors which are important when choosing Indian accessories.

I love to wear gemstones and enjoy the symbolism and interesting compounds that compose them.  I’ve been attending local Gem and Mineral society shows since I was 10.  Therefore my unjeweled, round bead necklace I strung of Lapis Lazuli, and my carved rosette dangle earrings are Sodalite, both of them semi-precious dark blue rock-forming minerals used as a decorative gems.  My more decorative necklace was something I bought loose, as a bag of broken glass jewelry, and I reassembled the pieces back into how I thought they would look good as a necklace.  There was just enough supplies to squeeze in a matching bracelet as well (a wrist bangle used to signify a married woman).  The hanging jewels look like bees to me, witch is a sort of emblem for my husband’s side of the family that I have taken to.  My father-in-law had been a beekeeper for many years and our last name’s initial is a ‘B’ so the little honey-makers are a family symbol that we enjoy.

There is so much to learn and share about the Indian culture, so I hope this post was not too overwhelming for those of you to whom this subject is completely new!  Thank you for reading my post.  This is a very special subject to me.  These sari outfits are quite different from what I am used to wearing (and posting here), I’ll admit, but understanding them through the proper cultural respect helps me to do more than just put on certain unusual clothes.  I hope it can open your mind and heart by doing so, as it has done for me.  Caring for others by putting yourself in their shoes is an important perspective to remember to take, even if that journey starts through clothing.