Come Into My Web…

With the amount of vintage fashions that I make and wear, you’d think I’d have enjoyed Halloween in some wearable holiday-themed outfit from one of the popular decades of the 20th century – but no!  I always seem to do a fictional costume, or something historical, or just plain fun.  I haven’t ever done anything quite spooky ever, either.  In all, nothing is ever really a garment that I can include as part of my everyday vintage wardrobe.  All that has changed this year with a circa 1949 sultry femme-fatale outfit!  Using Gertie’s newest print, reproduced from a true vintage fabric, and scroll-work felt combined with raw buckram to make a curiously detailed hat, my ensemble is perfect for a jaunt out in the dark, rainy, and mysterious evenings of fall!

This is one of my very favorite, luxurious, and completely unique garment projects.  It was so fun to make a novelty outfit which is not just for an event but also for a season of the year.  The hat was super-easy make, and should work well for other outfits of any season, but truly compliments this set in a way far better than I had imagined.  However, if it wasn’t for the roses in the dress’ print, however, there is probably no way I would be even so much as trying anything with a spider theme.  The buggers creep me out!

The irony is that I added to what the webs were missing with my jeweled brooch – a vintage-style “Webster” pin ordered through “Nicoletta Carlone.com”.  He is not hair-raising, but rather cute (weird for me to say) and definitely glam.  After all – a web without a spider is a home without a tenant, right?!  All other accessories are true vintage items.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton sateen, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” 2018 print from Gertie with a sheer black chiffon for the neckline and a sweet pink broadcloth for the bodice lining; Hat – a felt placemat, buckram hat base crown, and black tulle netting

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4696, circa early 1950s for the dress…self-drafted hat

NOTIONS:  I had all the black thread and bias tapes I needed, and the modern tiny ball buttons (not vintage) were already in my stash.  I only had to buy a zipper for the side seam waist closure!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took about 15 hours to make and the hat was made in an hour and a half.  Both were finished on October 26, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  a combo of French and bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  About $35 was spent on the Gertie fabric alone, $5 on the chiffon, $2 on the zipper, and $8 for all the hat supplies (placemat from the arts and crafts store Michaels, and the buckram base from the Etsy shop “DanceCostumeSupply“).  $50 is my total.

This is my second time working with an Anne Adams vintage sewing pattern and what I found out from the first time rang true again.  Their designs seem to run quite small.  Just like before, my Anne Adams pattern was a size too large for me according to their chart, but it tuned out fitting me perfectly with 5/8 seams rather than the instructed ½ inch.  As unpredictable as vintage patterns are regarded by many to be, there are benchmarks to be found the more you sew with differing companies and various decades.  I’m not for certain that all Anne Adams will have their sizing off, but two times around is a pretty good confidence booster to know what I’m working with!  Size up with this brand, just in case.

Now, I did start with an early 50’s pattern, but I slightly adapted the design lines to make it more like a 1949 silhouette.  Post WWII fashion is remarkably similar between 1948 and 1952, minus slight differences.  All it basically took to change the date to this dress was eliminating the three paneled skirt front as designed and cutting out a slimmer, swinging, bias cut one instead.  The longer and leaner lines with a longer hem are trademarks of1949, whereas after 1950 there was more emphasis on a tiny waist and full hips (below the bust).  I was mostly copying off of an Aldens Department Store advertisement from 1949 (dated using the 60th anniversary emblem) by doing my adaptation, but nevertheless – the defined spider web print needed as few seams as possible anyway.  This pattern could certainly give what the fabric needed in my mind, which was minimal seam lines with no compromise on lovely shaping for a sultry air to the whimsical vintage print.  This dress sure delivered!

I can’t believe the neckline on this is original vintage.  The cheeky and bold taste that was around back then is much more alluring and lovely in my opinion than the modern baring-it-all fashion that leaves nothing to mystery.  The pieces for the bodice were so very basic, early on I was so doubtful that they would work out at all.  At the waist of the bodice, there are two sets of three stitched-down pleats in the front, and two small open pleats in the back but somehow they do their job turning odd shaped rectangles into something special.  There are small gathers at the shoulders too, though it’s not very noticeable in the sheer material…it just sort of helps to wrinkle up the front neckline a bit.

French seams are the strongest seam possible in such a lightweight and unsupportive fabric as chiffon, so that is what is holding the shoulders – and the body of the dress – together.  Fully lining the bodice not only gives body to the soft fashion fabric but also is a great way to cleanly finish the wide arching neckline where the sheer and the printed cotton meet – with no seam there, it lays nice and smooth.  A little sneak peek of pink that can sometimes be seen of the inside makes it so worth it, too.

The upper bodice from behind is, to me, a very slight call back to Victorian times, when the necklines were high, severe, and replete with a multitude of tiny buttons.  During Halloween, Victorian times seem to be what is stereotypically associated with haunted mansions and creepy, cackling women in frilly black dresses.  There are only 5 buttons here, but still – the difficulty it presents to dress yourself is a goth reference to decadence and stuffy society.  I hand sewed thread loops along the edge to catch the buttons.

I suppose now is a good a time as any to talk about what’s on my head, now that you can see the full details from the back of my hat!  Yes, as I mentioned above, I started with a placement to decorate a dining table, but in my defense it was thick, dense felt after all, too similar to hat material to ignore doing some Halloween shopping one night.  It was on clearance too!  I have always admired the wide hats of the mid to late 1940s which have decorative ‘windows’ or fancy cut outs in their big brims.  Such vintage hats I have seen are either too costly for my wallet or disappear too quickly to act on buying them.  So, as I do with most else in my wardrobe, I make my own version!

The place mat was slightly oval but so is the buckram crown (luckily on hand…I do keep a stock of hat bases “just in case”).  Luckily the crown was just enough to replace the skeleton head cut out of the center!  Before hand-stitching the place mat’s inner edges to the wired crown edges, I did add a double layer of tulle to the top (upper) side to stiffen it up.  The tulle adds a mesh look that compliments to raw buckram plus it makes to hat brim flat and not wavy along the edges like a 70’s slouch hat.  I merely hand tacked the tulle halfway through the felt all around the outer edges, kind of like a very tiny pad-stitching.  Most of the time, the tulle and the buckram base used for my hat are only foundation materials which are not meant to be seen, only hidden under other, better, fashion fabrics to achieve a final end.  By leaving the raw supplies I used exposed, the effect reminds me both of the fragility of a spider web and the physical decay we frequently revel in around Halloween.

Spider web prints seem to have exploded in the vintage fashion scene.  They are incredibly popular and collectable today, so it’s no wonder that several retailers are reprinting such fabric.  It’s a good thing for those of us who sew because we can provide ourselves with what we cannot get our hands on – vintage spider web dresses!  These prints can be found starting in the 1940s, or very late 30’s at the earliest.  Spider web prints seem to have had their high point between the mid-1940s and mid 1950s, but still quietly persisting through the 1960s and 70’s through the work of some bigger named designers.  For some reason, though, the form of stylized web-and-roses print that I have used from Gertie is the one that is most frequently seen.

Although I and the world of today tend to automatically associate spider web anything with the holiday of Halloween, if you look closely at the old original vintage advertisements for such spider web print dresses they specifically are for spring, yet also mention that it is an “all year design”.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to “Spider Web Clothes Vintage and Modern” so please visit there and look closely to read for yourself.  It is so interesting to look at the primary sources for this new vintage trend, because when you do, you realize we are looking at it quite differently than they did.  Spider webs for spring?  As lovely as my own dress and hat turned out (if I do say so myself) and as wonderful as it feels to wear this swingy and sexy little number, I think I’ll take any and every excuse to wear this as much as possible!

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Graphic + Novel

There are unfamiliar clothing items that I would like to try and wear – things that the rest of the world is wearing.  I can remotely picture myself feeling good in such things, but the “play it safe” side in me pulls up my insecurities with my body every time.  I am so self-conscious about my physique.  Take into account that some of those things for my wilder-and-not-so-vintage side are really hard to find to suit my taste – like a really good quality pair of skinny jeans that will actually fit (with a high waist) or cool logo tees which are sustainable yet affordable.  I haven’t found either yet, which is why I don’t have them already!  In lieu of the misery of searching in vain I have used my sewing capabilities to fill in the answer.  After all, if I sew them, those bolder (for me) fashions become a source for a pride in what I made, a sense of accomplishment stronger than those insecurities which make me think I can’t wear what I fancy to imagine!

Here comes Wonder Woman help me out with that!  With a little ½ yard of graphic printed cotton and some too tight t-shirts back from when I was a mid teen, I have a new tank to remind me to own confidence, strength, and inner beauty.  But the remnants for making the Wonder Woman tank were enough to also update another yet uninteresting and unworn top from my wardrobe, too!  I totally ended up with the best deal ever, and made thoughtful and purposeful reuse of what I had on hand to now have new – novel – items that I am so happy with.  It’s a win all around. I swear – refashions are like a gift that keeps on giving. They make me feel like a wonder woman of the sewing world.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: Pants: 100% cotton twill, in 7 oz. weight with a brushed finish on the ‘right’ side, bought from “ebpfabric” on Ebay (here is the listing).  The color is a bright orange-undertoned red, “cayenne pepper”. Tops: two girls size cotton knit tees (at right), one in a semi-sheer slub knit in white and the other a solid navy double knit, were my starting point with a 100% cotton woven print for the front of my tank.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s “Vintage High Waisted Trousers”, from year 1957, #129, from April 2015 and self-drafting for the two tops.

NOTIONS:  I used whatever was on hand, which was thread, some bias tape, and a zipper for the pants fly

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The two tops only took a few hours to make on the afternoon of May 9, 2018, and the skinny pants were made on two afternoons and finished on October 7, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  I only spent $10 on the jean material and as my mom had bought these so far back, I’m counting them as free!

These tops I will show you are not the most stupendous things I have made by far, but everyone needs basic yet fun pieces in their wardrobe, right?  Mine will be all me-made if I keep this up…and I intend to!  You see, I’m systematically going through many of the clothes I still have from my teen years and updating them for my current fashion taste and place in life rather than immediately sending them to a resale store. This is the most eco-conscious means to refashion, not to mention a cheap and challenging way to have something new, but I sense that this is helping me find myself in a very special way by evolving my wardrobe while still remotely staying the same.

The white tee was originally way too small on me – duh.  It was for a 15 year old, not the woman I am today.  Something that is too tight and doesn’t fit never seems proper when I actually know how to tailor, besides not even being comfortable for me.  I began my re-fashioning by first cutting off the confining sleeves, side seams, and shoulders.  Using the back body of the old top as my starting point to draft the front panel, and knowing my own personal body measurements, I traced the existing shape onto sheer medical paper and graded up to what it needed to be to fit me.  Yet, remember – only the back was going to be used on my new tank and it was way too small.  The front was not going to stretch.  So I added an extra 3 ½ inches to the side seams of the front panel draft, arched the armhole around to the back slightly, and added an extra inch to the shoulders.

When you take something meant for a knit and want it to work with a woven you automatically have to add in a handful of extra ease.  A knit has negative ease – meaning, you subtract wearing ease and the stretchier the knit, the more inches you have to take out for it to fit.  Not so with a woven.  Depending on what fit you want, 2 and 3 inches added make for a snug fit, and 5 and 6 inches give a roomy ease.  My top was half-and-half, though, and so went in between when drafting my pattern.  No matter how simple a tank top might seem, finding the perfect fit and learning the nuances of pattern drafting is always important to me.  Besides – no matter how simple, anything you make is worth the extra effort to make sure you yourself ends up happy with it!

I kept the original neckline for the back half of my tank, to make things easy, and the rest of the edges on the new addition were finished with some black and some red bias tape from on hand.  I also kept the cute little logo on the front of my old white tee – It was of a colorful bejeweled Italian Vespa motorbike…vroom, vroom!  This left some good, still usable remnants still, and of course, while I was on the re-fashioning mindset, I picked out something else to update.

There has been this plain knit tee in navy, way too conservative with its high neck and basic sleeves, but so luxuriously soft in pima cotton, languishing in my closet for just as long as the white tee which I had already cut apart.  I only ever used this navy top as layering piece.  The body, shoulders, and sleeves still fit me so it merely needed a slight change.  Therefore, it was the first thing I thought of to cut into.  Granted, I’ll admit what I did do to the top was probably not the best and most unique choice.  However, I did want something basic (navy and white is pretty easy to match with).  Even just a simple V-neck, short sleeve re-fashion is a major improvement that I feel okay with to wear now.  A couple of facing strips later and I have a fun contrast edged tee.

There isn’t much to say that I haven’t already said in the post about the last (also the first) time I had made pants with both this fabric and pattern.  I cut the pattern out as-is again, and turned it inside out to do a body fit again, too.  The waistline was significantly harder to do this time for some reason, but it turned out okay.  I splurged on the inside edge finishing and made my own bias tape from the fun floral cotton leftover from this 1943 blouse.  I did make the legs a bit longer at the hemline, and despite my hopes to make these more like jeans I did the same invisible zipper front as last time.  Only, these red hot pants forced my hand to turn them into what I had said I would do with them.

Have I ever said that I have a thorough love-hate relationship with invisible zippers?  I do.  They look so nice and give me such a challenge to accomplish…when they work, and it seems there is never any guarantee to that.  They are like a time bomb to me, waiting to fail, so although I do use them here and there, I never fully trust them.  For good reason! I was trapped in my 1930s royal blue satin evening gown because of an in visible zipper fail and unable to wear it to the occasion for which I made it years back.  These jeans were luckily only being worn in the house at the time when the invisible zipper I had installed popped open.  Thank goodness I had not yet left the house that night!  I had to carefully cut myself out of the jeans from the front.

Thus, I went back to my original plan and drafted my own mock-fly to cover the sturdy, vintage metal zipper which is sewn in the front instead.  This meant I needed back pockets, too.  I drafted some petite sized pockets and subtly monogrammed them with a fanciful cursive initials of my own design before sewing them down.  Do you see the ‘K’ then a ‘B’?  Yes, to make it easy for you to see the initials without staring at my behind, I took a close-up picture of them while they were off of me.

For starting with a vintage reprint pattern and outdated tees, this set really turned out fresh for my taste to try something more upbeat.  The 1950s really had some killer skinny pants that preceded the modern fad for the same thing (except back then they often relied more on good tailoring than the fact there is stretch in its fabric to fit)!  It would have been a bit bold to see Wonder Woman sported so overtly for the 1950s, because during the “Silver Age” comics she underwent significant changes which softened and adapted her image in the absence of her creator.  With the resurgence of a powerful and popular Wonder Woman today, this is the perfect retake, in my opinion!

Two 1956 One-Yard Sports Blouses

A sewing project that calls for only one yard is good, but two vintage patterns – from one common year in the past – that are unique designs is even better!  These are casual blouses which I reach for when I need something nice, yet comfy, and sporty.  Their timeless designs possess a sneaky vintage air that is very much ‘me’.  I like to be different yet also blend in.  I appreciate vintage yet want to be fashion forward.  I like fine details yet don’t want them to flag people down, and with all that these two tops help me ride that balance in my me-made style.

The one blouse was specifically chosen firstly to match with my husband.  The other blouse was made because I realized I had so many fancy clothes from the 50’s and not enough casual options!  Both are go-to easy separates that work with a variety of bottoms, both skirts and pants in all sorts of colors, so they are super versatile.  From a sewing standpoint, they were just challenging enough to be good for me yet still easy enough in certain ways to not feel like a project that requires commitment.  They have been seeing some good wear recently, with the plaid even going with me to Florida earlier this year, thus it is long overdue to post about them!

Not content with just making my own clothes, I – more often than not – enjoy making jewelry to match.  Look for my vintage 40s and 50’s style chili pepper necklace!  It was made from little glass handmade charms ordered from Etsy.  Then they were attached at intervals to a slightly oversized brass chain to have a very authentic reproduction of a very popular style of jewelry from back then.  It was so easy to do, and is such a cheerful, bright novelty to spice up an outfit!  The rest of my accessories are true vintage pieces.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The green and ivory plaid is as soft as washed cheesecloth in 100% Madras cotton while the zig-zag print is a Waverly brand thick, textured, decorator’s cotton

PATTERNS:  Butterick #7771 and Simplicity #1782, both from 1956

NOTIONS:  Amazingly, I had everything I needed on hand already…yes even the long separating zipper for the striped blouse’s back closing!  The buttons on the green plaid blouse are true vintage from the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother, while the buttons on the zig-zag striped blouse are new, and one of those cheap multi-pack of half a dozen buttons for only $1.99!

THE INSIDES:  bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The green plaid odd-collar blouse took me about 8 hours and was finished on July 22, 2017.  The zig-zag Waverly blouse took about the same amount of time and was done on May 1, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  Both tops cost less than $3 EACH as they only needed one yard and both fabrics were on clearance as a remnant.

I had practice for the green plaid blouse after doing hubby’s shirt with the same collar.  Again, as I said in the post about his version, I believe this is called an “Italian Front” closing, but I cannot concretely verify that.  So, until then, I will say I could be mistaken.  The back of my pattern’s envelope calls this a “two-button horizontal closing”.  What I find most interesting is that the men’s pattern for a shirt with the same collar came out before the women’s’ version.  I wonder if it was due to popular demand or just plain fairness on Butterick’s part?  Anyway, I do see many more copies of the men’s version pop up on the Internet for sale, but the women’s is much rarer with one showing up here or there.  I wonder if the women’s version was an unsuccessful release, but maybe Butterick merely did not print as many copies.  The ladies version was a dime cheaper than the men’s version (45¢), where you get multiple views….surprising because most of their patterns in the years before and after 1956 were about 50¢.  Butterick #7771 only has one view – this style neckline blouse is the only thing this pattern offers (besides the obvious long or short sleeves), something quite unusual in an era where most patterns had two or three different options to make from them.  Either way, “if you wanna help sell it, reduce the price”, must have been Butterick’s idea.  I love this pattern, between my husband and me we see a lot of interesting options to tweak this wonderful neckline in the future.

I do wish they would have made it the same collar construction as was designed for the men’s version.  This ladies’ version is more complicated and fussy with the collar being a separate piece from the facing – the men’s was all-in-one!  I call for equality!  At least I knew what to expect, because it was much harder than my first time and would’ve lost me completely if I had made this before the one I made for hubby.

Part of the impetus behind this was of course, as I mentioned, the gushy matchy-matchy factor with my sweetie, but also because I had to give away an old favorite top that didn’t fit anymore which had the exact same color plaid Madras.  Granted, the neckline on my old top was not anywhere this cool, but it’s okay to have things better than keep it the same, make it all my own.  Unlike my old green plaid top, mine is meticulously matched up!  I am not used to the boxy, shorter, untucked blouse shape of this, but it is comfy and easy to move in, but only works with body hugging skirts and pants.

Now, the other blouse is very curve-hugging in a way that forgives the horizontal striping!  I really think I had some strong luck on my side for this blouse because, as the cotton is a woven, there was to be no forgiveness and a perfect body skimming fit was necessary here.  There was no way I was doing a muslin on such a basic project.  A pattern tissue fitting on myself seemed promising, but those are not always accurate as paper doesn’t fit like fabric.  Take note that this is a Junior’s pattern for teens.  I did not re-size the overall top like I probably should have, as I both didn’t have room on my one yard of 45” width fabric and I wanted a close fit.  Beyond a bit of tweaking and resizing as to the dart placement, and lowering the underarm portion of the side seam slightly, this top turned out great as-is, as you can see!  The fit is snug, but the pattern is first-rate for being an “Easy-to-Make” design because it is still easy to move in.  I love the fact I can have the classic 50’s hourglass shape in such a basic tee!

This was ridiculously simple – one front piece, two back pieces, and some fun little details.  No sleeves to even set in!  As you can see in the pattern front for Simplicity #1782 there are lots of options, so I mix-and-matched to make a combo of three views.  That’s what those options are there for, after all.

I definitely kept the cute little “mock-placket” feature up the front chest.  It is really just a glorified strip of fabric that is sewn down in a very interesting way.  There is an open loop in the top of the tab at the neckline, and when my neck is a bit chilly in the evenings, that tab is great for holding one of my vintage silk scarves, just as the pattern front drawing shows.  As bold as the buttons are that I chose, I love the crazy fun they add to my top.

The one little arm pocket felt a bit ridiculous to make and add on, but hey – I love pockets and they are useful no matter where they are placed or what their size.  Granted, I like to wear this top with an old favorite RTW skirt that has giant cargo pockets (in the pictures) – but I digress.  I will not be pocket prejudiced.  It is just enough to fit a few fingers in so it normally holds some spare change or a nose tissue.  My little pocket seems to hilariously bother my husband who likes to check it every so often when I wear this top.

I added the hem band as an afterthought because I needed a few inches extra to use this matching blue separating zipper that I had on hand.  I was determined to use such a special notion on my blouse because there was no way I was doing two separate closures as the pattern called for – a side zip up to the armpit and a small 5 inch neck zip behind.  A basic, sporty, and easy-to-sew garment like this needed some modern simplicity in order to be enjoyed both wearing and making!  This way all the curious details are not solely in front, either!

Our pictures were taken in the middle of doing our living…between errands for the one and at a semi-pro soccer game (football, depending on where you live) for the other.  It’s awesome to wear what I make to everyday events that are the bulk of the memories that stay with you.  Admittedly, I am always a sucker for making a special outfit for a special occasion, but I find myself appreciating the ones that are there for the commonplace events and prove their worth like an old friend.  I like making friends with the ordinary and unpretentious side of the mid-1950s!

White Poppy

The Poppy is one of the most widely used symbolic flower around the world.  The blood red poppy flower is often (and rightly so) associated symbolically with a remembrance for those gone out of this life, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.  However, the pure white form of the same poppy flower has a very lovely meaning in the Asian culture.  Chinese flower experts recommend the Poppy for couples because it means a deep and passionate love between two people, but white Poppies are tied to death in those cultures, too.  Even still, poppies are also seen as a cheerful plant to have in a garden due to its large size and available variety of cheerful colors.  One flower can mean love, happiness, loss, sleep, or death all at the same time.  It sounds like a summary of life.

Here is something symbolical, combined with a garment already so very symbolical – the qipao.  This is a Mandarin-derived word for a one-piece garment for women which has evolved itself rapidly in the last 100 years, even surviving being outlawed (when communism rose in China circa 1949).  Many fashion details have been added or taken off them, many fabrics from either end of the price rage have been used for them, and they have changed fit to suit each era and feminine ideal, but a qipao – a derivative of traditional menswear – has nevertheless persisted in being a statement for the freedom and knowledge available to the modern woman.   Although it originated in Shanghai of the 1920s, it was emerged in full force circa 1950s in Hong Kong, after that, as that country was a British colony at that time, it became a strong part of Western Europe and American fashion through the 1960s.  It is this tumultuous, transitional history that I would like to highlight and honor with my modern vintage Mandarin dress.

My coral pinkish-orange color is as bright as a cheerful paper lantern or the flashy electronic street advertisements of Hong Kong.  My satin edging is as black as the poppy seeds which have caused so much fighting and human misery through the ages of the opium trade.  The printed poppies, thanks to a full body lining, are as snowy as a classic bride’s dress.  A qipao was deserves much more respect than to be whipped up without a thought behind the details.  This one of mine strikes me as sending a bold, cheerful, yet peaceful message, faintly touched by sadness.

Now, I am by no means in any position to explain the qipao (sometimes informally called a cheongsam in Hong Kong).  It is not my culture and there is so much symbolism, meaning, and national beauty to this garment that I could never know it all nor explain as well as others.  Yet, I am wearing it not to ignorantly continue to Europeanize or secularize it, as was done especially in the 1950s, but to learn more of what I do not know, and interpret what I do know of the qipao in my own way to add to the respect of the garment.  The more we know about others from around the world, the more I would expect it should bring a greater compassion and understanding of humanity (yet this is sadly not always the case).  We are all going through life together be it our neighbor next door or one on the other side of the globe.  Today more than ever – with all of our means of communication and social networks available – we are able to connect and learn about each other.  Let us take advantage of that to be well-informed and thoughtful to others.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  printed quilting cotton lined in solid white cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8244, a re-issue of a year 1954 design originally Simplicity #1018

NOTIONS:  I had to go out and buy the knot closures as I was finishing the dress, but everything else was on hand – interfacing, thread, zipper, and black satin binding – only because I have been wanting to make this dress for the last few years.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After about 10 to 15 hours, my qipao was finished on May 29, 2018

I have been wanting to make this for far too long, and it is a relief to be finally able to wear it.  You see, for some reason, I had expected this to be difficult looking at the design.  Perhaps it was the fact that the one shoulder where the neckline closes and opens is sewn on as a separate panel.  Sometimes when you add pieces like that it’s easy to cut them out of the wrong side of the fabric or find it fiddly to match if the connecting points are not clearly marked on the pattern.  However, it was much easier to make once I thought the construction out and just dove into it.  The most time consuming parts are actually making all those fish eye darts that give this dress its amazing wiggle shape, and doing the hand stitching on the frog closures along the neckline.  I guess making my own satin bias tape was a bit time consuming too, but I enjoy that step so much more than sewing darts or closures!

I found the sizing to be pretty good – maybe even a tad roomy.  For my dress, I did go up a half size just in case it ran small.  The finished garments measurements told me I probably would have been fine following the size chart to choose sizes.  However, I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry because you can always take a dress in just a tad but when you need extra inches…that can be a problem.  I get so used to working with true vintage patterns that I am actually unsure of the re-printed re-issues because you never really know how it’s been ‘modernized’.  In the end, I left my dress a bit roomy because I don’t want the horizontal body wrinkles show up as the tell-tale sign when something is just too tight.  I know this is a wiggle dress and all, but it still has such good shaping that it can be a comfy dress and still show off one’s silhouette!

There is one small tweak I did to the pattern to incredibly simplify the construction and save the print of the fabric.  It makes all the difference in the world.  I eliminated the full center back seam and cut the back on the fold instead.  Yes, I did lose some of the curving and shaping to the dress, but that was remedied in another way.  You see, to cut the center back on the fold, only the bottom half – from the high hips to the hem – was actually straight enough to line up.  The waist and above curved in too much.  Thus, my solution was to I mark the curving I was going to be missing with a disappearing ink pen and stitch in smaller that difference as a dart.  This way there is a seam that only extends to the waist in the back, and the rest of the print is not disturbed.  I find a small dart a lot less bulky than a full seam, and quicker to make anyway!

Other than this dramatic seam adaptation, there are several fine-tunings I made to end up with a dress I was finally happy with!  As I fully lined my dress, I buried the interfacing in between the two fabric layers.  As I was bias binding the edges, I left out the facings along the neckline and sleeve hems.  I also left out the facings for the side slits to the skirt portion, and merely turned the edges under and stitched like a regular hem.  The overall length ran long, and the pattern called for a wide hem, but I liked the elegance of the longer length so I did a tiny hem instead.  The back bodice poofed out as if for a hunched back woman, so I trimmed the back neckline lower by 1 ½ inches to easily smooth the excess out.  Other than these little modifications, I really did leave the general dress design as-is!  I’m especially proud of the clean and hard-to-find hand-picked side zipper.

To complement my dress, I added some dangling hair flowers (which actually rather remind me of half of a pair of Hana kanzashi – sorry!), my summer fancy patent wedge heels, vintage gloves, my Grandma’s vintage drop pearl earrings, and a fun thrift store find of a handmade slatted wood purse.  My lipstick is a classic Revlon color, true to the year 1953 called “Cherries in the Snow”.  It seems that heels, a hair updo, and little white gloves are rather classic to wear with a 1950’s era qipao, so I suppose I am sticking with the safe and predictable outfit pairings here.

‘Classically’ paired together or not, this is still a standout dress, I think, and I rather like it like that…not to draw attention to me or my clothing, necessarily, but because a qipao to my understanding is a form of art, a message with fabric, a cultural beauty.  This is what I miss the most about being an American – most other countries have a garment, a way with fabric, which offers a special cultural outlet for native personal expression.  If I want to honor my country’s past by a garment, I tend to make historical clothes for attending a living history event or participating in a re-enactment.  In other countries, there is a dirndl, a qipao, a kimono, a sari or a kurta, and an ushanka hat to name just a few of the most well-known examples of wearable culture.  However, just wearing one of these items is not respect enough without awareness behind it.  “Knowledge is power” is a phrase degraded because it is too often thrown out today, but when it comes to cultural garments, this is so very important.  Is there a culture other than your own that you particularly appreciate and enjoy?

The One Piece That Made Two

Refashions are just my recipe for having a great time at my sewing.  A slightly ill-fitting vintage 1980s dress came out from under my sewing machine a very fresh and fun 1950’s two piece set of a crop top and simple skirt.  One vintage era went backwards in time through my sewing to suit another era…what a time warp!

I do love a good summer-time-fun combo, and more separates that work well with my existing wardrobe are most welcome.  This is no exception.  If you follow my blog you may notice or might have read that I have a weakness for turquoise (and purple) so this set matches with so much!  Besides, it is really lovely floral that is like flowers scattered in the wind, in a basic white print…something I don’t have.  This fabric is so soft and semi-transparent, too, making this a cool, fun, and breezy set that’s put-together enough for dashing around the city in summer yet made for lounging around by the water.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Well, it’s more than just fabric, really, since I started with a dress that that from the 1980s, but it is a soft cotton and polyester blend knit.  A remnant of cotton knit, leftover from this project, went towards the waistband of my new skirt.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4213, year 1953, was used for the top and I self-drafted the waistband for the skirt

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This re-fashion project only took me a handful of hours and it was finished on May 29, 2015.

TOTAL COST:  Not counting – this was a special gift! Read on…

This the original dress before re-fashioning

The 1980s can be a hard era to re-fashion, especially with this dress.  When something is frumpy from the beginning, with a lot of extra fabric, it can be tough to envision anything else working better!  This dress was so worth it to save, though.  This was something from my hubby back when we were only dating in 2009.  I remember we were out and about in downtown on a bitter cold winter day after an early morning breakfast one Saturday.  I had on so many layers to stay warm that I didn’t first try on this dress that caught my eye in a vintage resale shop, but he bought it for me anyway.  As it was, it really didn’t do anything for my figure, so I didn’t wear it, but was determined to make it into something I would enjoy.  Thus, it was kept it on my backburner of my ‘to-be-re-fashioned’ queue until the right idea struck.  Well, it took a few years to get the feel of what I wanted to do with that 80’s dress, and a few years more to post about it, but here it is, finally!  When good memories are attached to what you are wearing, it somehow seems to make the current moments so much sweeter.  This is definitely not my most interesting sewing project, but to my mind, with the background history to it that I know, it feels so very interesting to wear.

Now, at first glance this set probably appears to be a dress, and I intended it that way.  You see I really wanted to keep the dress, well, a dress, but ideas for doing that were not popping in my head.  Besides, to make a divided dress that deceptively seems like a one-piece would be just as good, maybe even better.  I made sure the top was only long enough to reach the skirt when I’m standing straight and the waistband was wide enough to look like some sort of belt or middle cummerbund.  In all, I love this!  When I reach around it feels so subtly sexy to have a crop top, and wide waistband is great to wear and doesn’t roll.

The blouse/top pattern is labelled “Simple to Make” and boy are they ever right!  It was the perfect answer for my desire to leave as much of the original seaming intact.  Keeping with the kimono sleeves, the bodice was more or less only trimmed a little.  I re-cut half of the shoulders and side seams only, marking the darts after the skirt had been detached.  I left the neckline as it was because I love a V-neck for my face but did remove the sleeve elastic.  Then the top came together before I knew it and fits like a glove.  As the fabric is a knit, I am able to slip this on over my head without a zipper or any closure, which always surprises me every time I put it on.  The waist is so tapered in and defined!

For the skirt, I adored the triple rows of shirring at the waist, so I made sure to keep them.  They do stretch, since there is elastic thread sewn into the stitching, which is good because this is a pull-on skirt with no closures, like the top.  I chose 2 ½ inch wide elastic for the waist, and drafted the casing accordingly – double the width plus two seam allowances.  Then the empty casing was stretched and stitched on, the elastic run through it, and the opening closed up.  Easy-peasy!  I left the hem alone, so that is original to the dress, and also was able to keep the original side pockets that added to the appeal this garment had on me from the beginning.

I kind of feel bad for my hubby actually because this outfit reminds me of a conundrum.  He really likes me in what I chose to make for myself, yet he used to like to buy things for me, too.  Sewing for myself has completely cured me wanting anything from a store nowadays, and it has taught both of us to look for quality…which we generally do not find in ready-to-wear.  So – he really can’t buy me clothes anymore!  I make what I need and I like it that way.  I guess my dress re-fashion merely reminds me of a sweet thing he used to do for me that my current sewing practices (which I wouldn’t change) have curtailed.  Now, he is really getting good at picking out neat fabrics for me, though!!

Have any of you also found some interesting aftereffects to sewing for yourself?  Do you (like me) also find yourself unhappy with much RTW the more you find yourself pleased with how you feel in your own handmade garments?  Do you also find fabric so very inexplicably exciting, much more than buying a new outfit in the store?  Does your significant other or friends understand that wonderful “hooked on fabric” bug?  (If so, they’re a keeper!)  Let me know because this re-fashion project has made me ponder just how far I have come along in what I wear and who it comes from over the last few years.  At least with my sewing skills, I was able to hold onto a little bit of the past and continue to wear a good memory.