I Dream in Reverse Jacquard

My analytical brain likes to focus too much at times on some of the everyday mysteries of life.  Do I time travel when I take a 4 hour flight across two time zones in only 2 hours of my life?  Am I still dirty after cleaning myself in a shower for the towels to appear soiled so quickly?  Does a mirror really reverse an image for it to only cross up our front to back (in what seems to be a left-right reversal) but not up or down?  ‘Apparently not’ is the answer for all of these mental queries, but a scientific explanation doesn’t quite solve things for me.  So what do I do?  I play with at least one of those ideas through fabric.

In this case, I have created an elegant two-piece 1950s outfit that plays on the idea of the reverse image.  Jacquard is the perfect medium for such an idea.  It has a soft structure, is easy to sew, comfortable to wear, and not as fancy as a brocade or silk (i.e. more wearable for more occasions).  Most importantly for my idea, is the fact that either side is the ‘right’ side, more or less a reversible fabric.  Is it really a mirror image, though, when the loftiness of the nap is not the same on each side, creating shine in different places and therefore not a true reverse…in appearance only?  Ah, I think too much sometimes.  Nevertheless, I do love how this outfit turned out, with its play on maximizing the potential of my chosen fabric and making a deluxe combo that echoes everything I adore about the perfection of true vintage clothing.  The dress has dark navy, textured leaves against a blue satin background, while my bolero has satin blue leaves against a matte dark navy background.  It’s a trick of the eyes.

Speaking of the beauty I admire to past styles, that includes architecture…especially when it is as regal and extravagant as the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California!  Hot off of our camera, and the perfect backdrop for my fancy set, are these pictures from my most recent trip to the American west!  After I had stayed in Las Vegas for several days, we came to stay at what is described as the “premier luxury hotel destination in Downtown Los Angeles”, the Biltmore hotel.  Built in 1923, this immense beaux arts-inspired hotel will be the backdrop in yet another post as well, more appropriately an early 1930s dress.  Stay tuned!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton and rayon blend jacquard, with the dress bodice and jacket facing being in navy all-cotton broadcloth, and the bolero lining a basic ivory poly

PATTERN:  For the dress: Burda Style #121, a year 1957 pattern reprinted in August 2019; For the cropped jacket: Simplicity #8250, a year 1951 pattern (originally Simplicity #3775) re-issued 2016

NOTIONS:  All I needed was a whole lot of thread, some interfacing pieces, one long 22” zipper, two vintage buttons from the notions stash of the Grandparents, mesh seam stabilizer tape, and bias tape…nothing too unusual.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was my last sewing project for 2019.  After about 25 hours put into the dress it was finished on Christmas Eve, December 24, just in time to wear to the holiday celebrations.  The cropped jacket was made in about 3 or 4 hours and finished on January 2, 2020, as my first project for the new year.

THE INSIDES:  The dress bodice is covered by the lining and the rest of the seams are bias bound.  The little jacket is fully lined so no seams are to be seen!

TOTAL COST:  The jacquard had been found at a local rummage sale for only $2 for the whole 6 yard cut.  I only used about 4 yards out of those 6!  The cotton contrast and the lining for the jacket were scraps from on hand sitting for years in my stash, so I’ll count them as free, just as the notions.  This whole outfit cost me little over $1…how’s that for amazing?!?

This set happened to be my marker for the end of one decade and the beginning of the present one.  The dress was my last 2019 sewing project and its jacket the first for 2020 (as I mentioned in “The Facts” above).  What a way to show how far I have come!  This was a challenging project to make (mostly on account of the dress’ bodice details and the jacket adjustments), and I made it with all the trademark finishing of a well-made garment so I am very proud of myself for this set.  I could not have seen myself doing so well on it, even if I did manage to sew something like this, a decade back.  Enough of my reminiscing – let’s get down to the useful information.

I found the sizing on both pieces to be slightly off.  Vintage reprints and reissues often have such problems, especially so when it comes to Burda Style.  The dress, when cut in my ‘normal’ size, had a snug fitting bodice and loose fitting hips and waistline.  I had to take the waist and below in dramatically at the side seams.  Granted, you want the bodice of this dress, by the very way it is designed with its shelf bust, to fit closely, so I am not complaining that it is a good fit.  Luckily, it just fits for me.  The short jacket had snug sleeves and shoulders according to several online reviews from others who have tried it out already.  My shoulders are athletic, so I went up a whole size larger than what I needed according to the chart (for the entire jacket, not just the sleeves), and I am so happy with my decision.  A little crop jacket is the last thing you want to turn out tight fitting, and I wanted to hold onto my extra jacquard and not have to use it to make up for a mistake.  Thank goodness for sewing blogs, right?!

For the dress, I did leave out the addition of boned panels to the lining, as the instructions suggest.  I felt that a stiff mid-section would have been overkill and becomes obvious under such a soft material.  As long as you find a snug body fit as I did, I do not think boning the middle panel is necessary at all.  Definitely do heavily interface all of the lining pieces to the bodice instead, as well as the neckline.  You will definitely thank me later.  Some things you can leave out according to your judgment in sewing, but the shaping and the details, as well as the fit of this dress, demand significant stabilizing.  The sole spot I left out interfacing was along the skirt back’s open asymmetric vent slit.

For the jacket, I went ahead and significantly changed up the pattern to revise it back to the way the original pattern portrays it.  In the reprint, the jacket fitting more like a shrug – only covering a small portion of the upper body (shoulders and upper arms, not extending past the shoulder blades or covering the bust) and thus little more than a pair of sleeves joined at the back.  Not that I don’t like shrugs, but the original pattern cover from 1951 shows the fit and fall of the short jacket to be closer to a true bolero.  That is what I felt would match with my dress the best anyway, so I lengthened the jacket by 1 ½ inches, adding that amount horizontally midway between the hem and the bust.  This was a tricky re-adjustment because the hem is extremely curvy and the back is longer than the front.  The darts needed re-positioning, as did the front neckline curve, but I kept everything basically the same.  I feel that it fits me much better than if it was a short little shrug.  After all, tailored this way, I can have the option of closing it at the center front!  I made a little oriental-style frog using elastic ‘thread’ to achieve a low-key, workable closure.

I also adjusted the dress to bring it up to par with its vintage original.  Thank goodness Burda shares the original images because something about the extremely low dip of the neckline had me doubting this reprint’s credibility.  The center of the 1957’s sweetheart neckline was much more of a horizontal curve, a higher, more decent décolletage.  The reprint has a very angular sweetheart neckline that is closer to a V-cut than anything, and doesn’t look like it supports or holds the bust in at all.  I was not a fan of the model garment in that one detail.  Thus, I raised the center dip of the neckline by 3 ½ inches (yes, you read correctly!) to bring it up to what I feel is a truer imitation of the vintage original, yet still providing a hint of cleavage, a sexy open neck, true sweetheart curving, and better support for the close fit across the bosom.  Many times not letting it all hang out is more of a tasteful appeal than leaving nothing to the imagination.

The dress’ bodice by far took up about ¾ of all the time and effort, but just look at it!  It was worth it, in my estimation.  I have such a failing for sweetheart necklines, especially one with details like this.  The instructions were good, but for something as tricky as this, worded commands are only going to get you so far.  There was a lot of experimenting with the pieces, and unpicking a few times, before I finally hit upon what seemed to be right way to accomplish to the goal.  Granted, the steps did not make sense at first, but working it through – and under stitching every edge from the inside, even for the armscye – gave me a no-thread-visible, how-did-that-happen, complete pattern awe.

For all its faults, this is a really fantastic design.  If you want to advance your sewing skills, try this.  If you want a good challenge that will give you something to be so very proud of if you can do it, try this dress.  If you want to make something that will stand out from anything you can buy, that will bring you to the level of making your sewing equal to those vintage garments you are in awe over because of their craftsmanship – try this pattern.  It gives you a dress that is amazing to wear, after all!  I feel like a princess in it!

Except for the outer hem edge to the bolero, everything else to my outfit is hand finished.  The jacquard has such a satin finish, any thread showing would be glaringly obvious.  The bodice has all of its stitching reserved for the inside so as much as I wanted the easy way to completion, I hand stitched the hemline, skirt back vent, and the long back zipper.  I love the precision that installing a hand-picked zipper offers!  Even though I did not use an invisible zipper, I am getting so used to hand stitching in the conventional exposed teeth zippers almost invisibly.  I’m not meaning to brag, but really not sorry if that’s what I’m doing.  Practice really does make perfect, folks.  There isn’t anything wrong with being proud of your own personal accomplishments.

My accessories are special in their own way, and a combo of different styles and eras.  My necklace is a “Downton Abbey” jewelry piece, in other words a copy of 1910s era style.  My gloves are a great true vintage find on my shopping in Burbank area shops of Los Angeles.  They have a “handmade in France” label and are probably 1930s.  My hair flower is a vintage silk millinery decoration, from the 1940’s, yet another good find on my visit to L.A., this time from fashion district.   The very best purchases of my travels were an immediate part of my fanciest outfit for my trip!

I think all of this must come down to the fact that my mind has never ‘grown up’ in the modern conception of the term.   I haven’t forgotten how to be curious and ask questions about the world around me, or even enjoy playing dress up just because I can or I want to.  Getting out to go on travels helps promote that amazement and interest in life, past and present, too.  It also makes sure I don’t get overly used to the daily grind and get out of my comfort zone to see and do new things.

Finally, this most recent trip was extra special because I caught up with a good friend!  That friend is the one that helped me decide which side of the jacquard to use for the dress after all, so it was appropriate to bring it on my travels spent with her.  Ah, it’s amazing the unlimited possibilities this world has to offer!  Let’s make sure to take the time to be creative and open our minds, in whatever way you need, and I’ll keep my mind open.  I’ll keep asking those deep questions and searching for their answers, continue to challenge my creative skills, and prioritize time for friends and family.

Pulling a ‘Kelly’…

Did you know I have a card game move named after me (in our family circle that is)?  In the card game UNO, when you lay down a card that is the duplicate of the one which is to be matched (the one placed there from the last player to have a turn), we call that “pulling a Kelly”.  That is the way I frequently like to play in that game, so whenever someone else does the same, we all have a name for that move.  I have more than one way to “pull a Kelly”, though…through clothing!  Every so often, I love to dress in imitation of the great fashion icon and actress Grace Kelly, due in no small part to the fact her last name matches my first.  This is my other way of “pulling a Kelly!  My first full scale handmade attempt at copying Ms. Kelly has been fully documented here in this post.  Once again, I will channel Princess Grace of Monaco on my blog, this time recalling her famous outfit from the 1954 Hitchcock movie “Rear Window”.

Admittedly, there is not a whole lot of me-made here (just my skirt), and – for its vintage appearance – the only thing truly from a past decade is my blouse and the underwear that suits it.  But this was a recent special outfit for a nicely joyous and dressy occasion, and it’s combined with pieces all of which are so very meaningful to me, so I might wax sentimental (you have been warned).  Yet, it deserves a feature.  Besides, it is nice to see an outfit which is something other than pink, red, or valentine-themed at this time of the year, isn’t it?!  Let’s dive in.

My true vintage, 1950s era, cotton velveteen blouse is the only garment I have from my late Grandmother, on my father’s side.  I have mostly jewelry, a few hats, lots of sewing notions and written mementos, but most importantly possess plenty of memories from her so this top is by no means the only thing I hold onto of hers.  Yet, it means a lot to have something to wear like this, especially since I am so invested in vintage style.  She was a very fashionable young woman in the 1950’s, as young bride and mother during that decade.  I have no doubt this was something she wore.  She probably saved it for special occasions and probably wore it with pearls – just like I did – if I know her.  She always remembered the story around each item she had…too bad I never got to ask about this fancy blouse while there was still time.

There is a label to the inside which marks it as “A Linda Original”, for which I unfortunately cannot find any information.  It is made very well, with rayon seam binding hand-stitched inside, a metal zipper in the side, and impeccable tailoring.  There is a decorative asymmetric tab which comes out from the center front, tacked down with a velvet covered button.  The wide, shoulder-skimming neckline (which is the same in the back as it is in the front) is so classic 1950s and strongly reminded me of the photoshoot session Grace Kelly had in her Edith Head dress from the movie “Rear Window”.

I am an hourglass figure with strong shoulders so this was perfect for me.  Luckily, too, the top just fits.  Even still, I needed a little help.  After all, my Grandma had bragged to me many times that when she was married she was a 19” waist!  To match the tiny hourglass figure the blouse was made for and let my shoulders be clear of any lingerie straps I chose a late 1940s true vintage, strapless, boned, corset-style bra to wear underneath.

My pearled necklace with the little diamond pendant at the center is yet another special piece to my outfit.  It actually was one of several pearls necklaces I received as a gift from my youngest Aunt (on my mother’s side) as a teenager.  Then, once the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I always saw this necklace as a form of Arwen’s “Evenstar” (silly, me!).  It is from the well-esteemed Monet line of high-end costume jewelry, in business since the early 1920s and known for its quality.  Now that look at my jewelry drawer, almost all of the jewelry I received as gifts a teen was from the established, vintage-inspired brands such as the 1928 jewelry brand company.  My family had good taste in gifts!  This was one of my early pieces that made me look into and appreciate old-time styles.  Brands such as these made quality, vintage styles of accessories as easy to find as your local department store, and I guess my taste in dressing of today was being formed back then without even realizing it.

The skirt I am wearing to complete my outfit is yet another one of my old favorite makes – a basic four-panel, elastic waist, done-in-two-hours cotton skirt which I made 20 years ago.  Yes, you read correctly, it is really from two decades back!  All the skirts (and there were many) I made around the turn of the last century using McCall’s #8796 (from 1997) are special to me because I am still wearing and enjoying them, still finding new ways to incorporate them into outfits not tried before.  This was the first time I paired this particular skirt with something so dressy – I am ecstatic.  Being a basic printed cotton, it never struck me before that I could fancy it up the way it did here.

It is really a very tiny scale floral which blends into one muted tone that works well for many basic tees, sweaters, blouses, and – now – a fancy vintage top!  Go check out the last post about my very first two-hour skirt, made from a flowing rayon challis, and you will be surprised to see how the choice of material makes all the difference.  Compared to the other body sweeping rayon version, this one has a straighter, ballroom-style appearance although being fully lined in cling-free poly.  Even with a full, tiered, poufy slip, it has room in its hem to spare.  I do enjoy the elegance of an ankle length skirt every so often.

The occasion itself for such an outfit was to celebrate 50 years of our local Symphonic Orchestra having a special Youth branch.  It was wonderful to see the lasting memories and bonds of friendship formed through such an outreach program, and even better to celebrate it with dessert, champagne, and a fabulous performance by the members of the Youth Orchestra from all of the years of its history.  It’s always great to find an occasion to dress up and enjoy oneself, but better yet when our presence can be combined with the first reasons to show support for something good happening in the community.  I’m hoping to have more very delightful reasons to wear many of my favorite pieces – both new and old – yet to come!  Also, let me know if you play the game UNO and have yourself “pulled a Kelly” kind of move!

“Soft with a Touch of Tailoring…”

Many times I take a cue for a sewing project from the cover image envelope, but this time my post’s outfit 100% takes its cue from the entertaining original descriptive text to a pattern.  There is a lot of things which give this outfit unique qualities amongst both my wardrobe and my list of items I have made, though, besides following an old leaflet’s text for inspiration.  “Important silhouettes destined to go places…” as the tag line says!  With an outfit like this, I find myself actually loving my winter wardrobe enough to be totally okay with spring taking its good old time coming around!

Firstly, I considered few things coming into my outfit idea.  What material has both structure and softness?  Is it possible to find a fabric which will simplify the creation of the tricky details on the designs I have chosen?  How can this be comfortable, warm, and possess a 50’s appropriate classiness all at the same time?  Is there something I haven’t yet done, something new, that I can integrate into this project?  Can combining two different sewing patterns dated exactly 10 years apart – years 1948 and 1958 – even work or at least be made any less risky?  Happily, this my first project with scuba knit – and a lovely floral suede finish version at that – has both answered and solved many of those considerations.  Making my ‘dress’ (one-piece in appearance only) into two versatile separates, a blouse and a skirt – solved the last concern.  Ah, I love the unlimited creativity available through sewing.

I think I nailed interpreting “Soft with a touch of tailoring” my own way.  The brushed, textured suede finish compliments the softly rounded pleats and angles to the lines of both blouse and skirt achieved through the foam-like thickness of the material.  The raw, unfinished edges of the scuba knit – one of the features for which this material is so handy – brings what might otherwise be a very dressy style a par down to being unpretentious, easy-to-wear, and unique.  The floral print might be a bit dark but it lends an undeniable femininity to the designs.  It hints at the promise of spring in a dreary, leafless season.  Having a golden yellow and black primary palette pairs perfectly with gold jewelry, yet can be fancied up or down as I please.  Scuba knit is quite cozier than I expected, yet is a light warmth for a providing a wonderful winter set without the weight of a wool or tweed.  You get the idea.  I am loving this set, yet another very good sewing project!

To balance things out, the skirt is a true vintage pattern from my stash and the blouse is a modern reprint coming from Burda Style.  Together I feel that this outfit – worn together or each on its own – has a very sneaky vintage look.  It is not in your face, unmistakable old-style, and can pass as a sort of call-back modern spin.  I like that!  As I said above, versatility is what I like, in more ways than one, and as much as I love vintage styles, I do love the flexibility to merge it indistinguishably into today’s fashion.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Polyester suede finish scuba knit

PATTERNS:  The skirt’s pattern is a true vintage Simplicity #2616 from October 1948.  The blouse’s pattern is Burda Style #121 “Cross Neckline Retro Blouse”, a reprint from December 1958 included in their October 2018 magazine issue

NOTIONS:  All I needed was plenty of thread with a strip of interfacing, a zipper and a hook-and-eye set for the skirt waist

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made first and was finished on February 27, 2019 after 8 hours.  The skirt took me only about 5 hours to make and it was done on March 3, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  This was bought from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  It was on sale, with a coupon, so it came to about half the original price – about 3 yards cost me about $30.

There were no recognizable changes I made to each design, just slight adaptations to make this set work as separates made out of scuba.  Otherwise, it was really pretty easy to sew in the way it was straightforward and quite simplified.  Firstly, the fact my material has stretch gave me a reason to eliminate the need for a zipper or neck button for the ultimate cute slip-on top.  Manipulating the pleats in the skirt was the trickiest part of this outfit because they were layered on top of one another at a slightly fanned out angle.  Sewing in the underarm gusset panels was immensely easier than ever before in scuba, though.  Also, ironing down interfacing to the underside of a plain waistband I cut for the skirt was easier than I expected.  The scuba is thick enough that I wasn’t too worried about eliminating the facings to the ties and having them be one layer.  I just don’t pull the ties too tightly, but I wouldn’t want to do that anyway because it would twist the blouse out of shape as well.

I lengthened the ties so I have the option of multiple ways to tie the front – getting back to the idea of versatility.  There’s the twisted criss-cross thing I mostly do with the ties, or I can merely lap them over each other on my chest.  In any other fabric, this design would be equally as interesting – such as a tissue-weight silk (like the Burda sample), yet a structured wool would be on the opposing end of the spectrum.  A sharply tailored woolen adaptation of this blouse could very well end up looking like the bodice of this dress from the film “Motherless Brooklyn”, a 2019 American neo-noir crime drama set in 1957.  The original pattern actually called for a soft jersey knit as the material, though, admitted in this Burda blog post.  As it was, I made this outfit last year primarily for the blouse because I wanted to be part of the “Sew Twists and Ties” challenge.  Either way, I need to have my neck covered in the cold because of my sensitive thyroid gland, and the ties on this blouse make for a much more fancy way to do so fashionably, compared to a neck scarf or a turtleneck.

The belt is adapted from the arched waistband of the Simplicity 40’s dress pattern.  It’s worn on the reverse side and cut of a single layer of fabric, since scuba knit doesn’t fray!  I love how scuba knit is often reversible, this one especially so.  I played with that here.  Because the neck tie edges are raw, a bit of the solid underside shows and highlights a feature which might otherwise be lost in a busy print.  That also worked for the belt, and was a way to easily match with the rest of my outfit as well.  The only places where there was a conventional hem – the sleeve ends and skirt bottom – were stitched down by hand to have the thread be invisible and accommodate the stretchiness of the fabric.  Otherwise, as I learned, for both the neck ties and the belt piece, you can’t be messy with your cutting practices in a scuba knit or a jagged edge clearly shows!

My first project-from-scratch experience with scuba fabric was fun and successful. (I’ve worked with scuba to refashion RTW fashion for my paid commissions for others.) It is a great fabric, I will admit.  As I recently told a friend, scuba knit goes against everything I believe in about quality, earth-conscious sewing (there is no seam edge finishing needed, besides it being non-breathable, plastic polyester) so I was initially a skeptic.  Scuba knit is so forgiving to sew, you don’t have to be perfect stitching it together, but it still looks good nevertheless…so it would be perfect for a beginner to knits. As long as you use a wide zigzag stitch, you don’t need to stretch it as you sew, unlike other knits. An all scuba garment can be hot to wear in the summer though, as it is lofty and thick like foam, but these are good qualities for a winter piece.

I have sighted smartly crafted scuba knit garments carrying respected designer labels on them when browsing my local Neiman Marcus store, so this kind of fabric has surprisingly really progressed in status over the last 10 or so years!  I really don’t want scuba to be something I reach for on a regular basis, but I do enjoy the fact I have come to terms with it and found some of the reasons behind its popularity. This is not my last project in scuba, believe me!  I had a little bit of scuba knit on the collar and waistband of my most recent bomber jacket, after all.  Let me know what your experiences with scuba knit are!

Dior Animal

If – according to Stacey Londonanimal prints are really a neutral, than what color do I pair best with itI have made a few other animal print garments before, so how do I make yet another stand out from the rest?  Which direction do I go to sew something fantastic with some precious leopard print scraps from my Grandmother?

Christian Dior, Paris, France autumn-winter 1947

By using that old opinionated quote to start things in this post, I am only hinting that I merely went back to the very source of a very long-running ‘trend’.  That was the best way in my theory to find suitable direction.  I happily ended up with the ultimate self-made designer copy of a standout garment which is burned indelibly in fashion history.  I drew direct inspiration from a rich green, leopard contrast, fur-muffed coatdress in the premiere collection of Dior in late 1947.  Now I have my own fabulously warm yet classy home couture garment for “Designin’ December” 2019 challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice Dress! Thanks, I made it!!”.  I totally look forward to the chilly weather just for the opportunity to wear this special yet unusual combo of both coatdress and muff with a strong vintage panache!

There is perhaps no other designer of the 20th century who has remained so perennially popular and widely imitated quite like Dior.  Next to Chanel’s “little black dress” stereotype, Dior’s “New Look” of 1947 has become its own icon, a bigger than life story.  Yet, with all popularity and familiarity the Dior silhouette has become, it is not always recognized back to its proper designer source by people.  To highlight the most modern example of this, the popularity of the show “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” is now encroaching on the Dior glory, and many recognize the nipped waist, full-skirted, multi-seamed “princess” silhouette as being linked to the personal style of a fictional character.  The situation is not too different with the ever popular animal print in fashion.  It has been so overused as a movie character’s visual aid and featured in the collections of many prominent designers up until this day, that I wonder just how many people really know the influence Dior had on popularizing such a material design.  The silver screen has a powerful way of influencing fashion like no runway show has!

The democratizing of couture fashion, which started in the 1930s, certainly made a major impact on the Dior New Look post WWII, with many companies (from the “American Dior” Anne Fogarty to home sewing patterns like the one I used here) offering means of achieving a French high end style on any budget no matter where you live.  Although many countries, especially the United States (I’m thinking of you, Claire McCardell), showed their capability to offer creative, trend-setting fashion during WWII privations.  As soon as peace was signed, French clothiers were more than ready to regain their previous place of esteem.

With his premiere collection in the year 1947, Dior has afterwards never been really far from the spotlight of fashion, never not making some reflection into the current clothing trend of the time.  Yet for all the commonness of the princess silhouette of the 50’s, it still has not lost its luster of attractiveness, that aura of beautifully crafted design lines which makes both those lacking in sewing knowledge and those well-versed in it marvel alike at the creation of such structured, wonderful garments.  Here’s what I hope is a worthy tribute to the perfection of the very first vision of Dior’s popularity, wild animal that it is!  Practicing couture techniques, working at a slower pace, trying to primarily use invisible hand-stitching, executing professional finishings, and using high quality materials on this project all were due in part to being inspired after attending the exhibit earlier in the year at Denver, Colorado “Dior: From Paris to the World”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  COATDRESS: 100% wool felt, 1/8 inch thick, in a forest green and a 100% cotton flannel for the animal print contrast; MUFF: a faux fur and anti-pill fleece

PATTERN:  COATDRESS – Vintage Vogue #9280, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1948 pattern, originally Vogue #491 Couturier Design; MUFF – Simplicity #4851 (also printed as no.8910) a circa 1840s to 1860’s accessories pattern from 2003 by designer Andrea Schewe

NOTIONS:  nothing extraordinary was needed – thread, interfacing, a zipper for the side, and a button (in my case I used a kit to cover my own to match the leopard print), and stuffing with decorator’s cording for the muff

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My version of this dress involved much hand-stitching because I wanted invisibly finished edges and higher-end techniques, but even then, it took a relatively reasonable time for those details – it was made in about 40 hours (maybe more) and finished on March 25, 2019.  The faux fur muff was made in 2004, if I remember correctly, and only took 3 hours or less to make from start to finish!

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ flannel is interfaced along its edges, and the wool felt needs no finishing, so all edges are au natural!  The muff has all enclosed edges.

TOTAL COST:  The wool felt was from my local fabric store, and was originally over $20 a yard, but with my discount on top of a sale, I bought all of the 3 ½ yards I needed for only $30…how’s that for a deal?!  The leopard print is free, coming out of the fabric stash of my Grandmother.  I am also counting the muff as good as free because the materials were bought for me by my mom and I made it so long back…but in reality I used less than half a yard of both materials so this was probably a pretty low cost project…even with me picking out some really nice fake fur!  Altogether, the only real cost was the $35 for the dress!

Leopard print and a saturated green seem to be the quintessential combo (next to leopard and bright red) when looking through past fashion inspiration beside Dior’s 1947 coat.  I’ve noticed an explosion of green paired with animal prints starting in the 1920s and most frequently used on such items as nice suits and detailed coats.  Such a pairing was featured through respected sources – fashion illustrations, style magazines, pattern book covers, and Hollywood starlets.  I in fact have a 1930s French fashion print of a green coat, with leopard accents and a muff (see it here), framed on the wall of my sewing space!  You can browse through my related Pinterest board “Animal Prints“ for further sources and inspiration.

Rather than creating a line-for-line recreation of the Dior coat, I preferred to mix the influence of other pieces that inspired me and use a Vogue Couturier reissue for my means of interpretation.  No matter what designer I am inspired by, I love to stay true to my own tastes and respect the original creation I have my eye on by varying my version.  This Vintage Vogue reissue was supposedly directly inspired by Dior’s coats and dresses of his first big year, but the pattern itself is dated to the year after – 1948.  That is enough of a provenance for me to be happy, but also not feel like I am taking anything away from the designer except a good lesson in sewing.

I kept closely to the pattern, except for switching up the contrast box pleat in the skirt from the back to the front, making the added collar and cuffs not removable but permanent, as well as simplifying the means of bodice button closing.  I personally hate skirt back box pleats – they never stay looking perfectly creased and I always see them as progressively becoming more messy and out-of-place with every sit.  When you smash a complex fabric fold like a box pleat under your bum, things cannot bode well.  Thus, I switched that detail to the front, using the exact same pattern piece as was given for the back.  I love the fact that the front box pleat makes my version of the pattern appear to be even more of a coat-and-dress combo piece than the original design intended.

The pattern called for cufflink-style button closing in the bodice, and as much as I like the idea of it and how unusual it would be, thinking about that detail actually enacted brings to mind something bulky and fussy in the wrong place.  I wanted to make my own buttons out of the contrast leopard as well as continue the aura of this being a coat, and so one simple button in the front does more, in my opinion, with less.  My sole button also keeps the tummy area nicely flat and the bodice flaps out of the way!  I had to add a small leopard print square panel underneath the front closing just to fill in for when it does gape slightly (because there is only one button there), but as I mostly wear a lightweight knit top underneath my dress, I don’t really need that extra piece anyway.

As intimidating as this might look, this design was not hard to sew – it’s just tricky and needs precise execution.  I love every item that I sew (otherwise I would re-work it ‘til I was!), but not too often am I left in absolute wonderment and find myself humbled and respectful of what I just made.  I am not meaning this in a bragging way, only meaning that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to use such an ingenious pattern and successfully made something of it, this is really that good.  The front is practically one long piece with dizzying curves and odd bust darting.  The back is one piece brought in by darts which meet together to form a V above the waistline (quite tricky).  The back of the collar joins to the bodice in a lovely point (weirdly not in the line drawing).  The sleeves form the perfect fit for elbow room the way they subtly flare out, just right for showing off the cuff lining if you don’t always want to fold up the hem.  Everything altogether feels very fine indeed, and is so complimentary in all the best ways.  I found the fit to be pretty spot on – I graded between sizes according to the chart and I didn’t need to do any additional tailoring.  The bust and the sleeves tend be on the smaller side, just a bit, than I would like but all’s well that ends well!

The wool felt that I used for my dress was important for me to use on several levels.  However, first of all, it is such a beautiful material – so lofty for winter wear that keeps you warm yet breathes, easy-to-sew, easy to iron, and not itchy at all!  That being said, it had the perfect structure for this dress, as well.  The thick wool felt is stiff enough to make this coatdress keep a very stable shape without the need to add interfacing, horsehair trim at the hem, a crinoline slip, or boning along the insides like many tailored 50’s garments (and all Dior one’s!).  At the same time, it is soft enough to work with the curving seams perfectly, and be comfy to wear as well as simple to use.  Now that is a big win!

Mostly, though, aside from aesthetics, I wanted to use felt for the historical significance.  As I talked about in the beginning of my post, the Dior look was so popular that fashionistas on a budget immediately found ways to acquire the same thing through a different means.  Perhaps no other attempt at this is as well-known as the stereotypical “poodle skirts”.  The performer/singer Juli Lynne Charlot is credited for inventing the felt circle skirt in 1947.  Today they are loosely called “poodle skirt” because of the popularity of one of her many (frequently dog inspired) novelty pictures above the hem.  They had a humble beginning as her response to both finding a cheap and practical way to wear the newest Dior look as well as find a means of making money.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it, and as felt is made with a wide width, it’s perfect for a seamless circle skirt…just a hole in middle for the waist and you’re done!  By 1952, Juli Lynne had her own factory and was producing patterns.  You can read an excellent interview with Juli Lynne on this blog page from “The Vintage Traveler” where you can see images of her life and career, and more recently (August 22, 2019) “Dressed” had a podcast on this subject.

According to the blog interview at “The Vintage Traveler”, Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  I like that idea, too.  My clothes frequently get people talking, asking, me questions, or sharing the memories my style conjures!  This Dior inspired coatdress of mine so far has garnered many compliments, a few “oh, I sew too!” shares (this is the best), and even a few of the older generation telling me I remind them of classic Christmas movies or something a dear relative wore in their younger years.  It is all very sweet!  I am secretly a very social and people-loving person at heart, anyway, but experiences like that connect what I do (sewing) and the vintage styles I wear in a very meaningful manner both to me and the world around me.

The ‘Dior-ness’ of my outfit is fully continued with my accessories.  I am quite proud to sport a true Dior belt buckle.  I realize it is of a newer vintage (probably 80’s), but it has the name across the middle and carries the same idealism of the 1947 original that I was imitating.  Not too often do I get to go ‘all out’ and both find and buy a pricey designer brand item to complete one of my outfits, so doing it this time was a real treat!  I my garment is not instantly recognized for its Dior influence, my low-key but still obvious belt buckle will spell it out.  My earrings are French Dior-style studs, with a ball in front and one behind the lobe to cover the stud.  I couldn’t find a true Dior pair of earrings I could rationally afford after splurging on buckle, so I ordered the bronze ball/crystal back ones you see here from the Etsy shop “ArtandFact“.  My hat is a true vintage post WWII piece, and my shoes are Miz Mooz brand vintage reproduction heels.

Last but not least, my faux fur muffler needs a few words to be said for it!  It was made by me about 15 years in the past now when I wanted to get into Civil War reenacting and start with something fun which might be worn for other occasions.  I don’t remember much about it other than it was super fail-proof and ridiculously easy for a newbie like me (back then) to sewing with fur, and I used a bag of fiberfill polyester.  I rather wish I would have used something nicer than fleece for the inside but it does keep my hands so very warm!  I added the cording to make it less fussy and wearable over the shoulder or around the neck.  Without its cord, the muff would always need to be held, and I am the type who would grow weary of that and set it down to mistakenly forget it somewhere…never to be seen again.  Can’t you tell I’ve done such a thing before?!  A furry muffler is such a practical luxury item (it’s both glamorous yet good at keeping your hands from freezing) that happily came back as a trend in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  One day, I want to tweak this pattern and make another version in a faux astrakhan that is secretly a wallet inside, just as they did in the 40’s!

If you’ve made it this far down reading through my thorough post, thank you!  Well, this about wraps it up here for this decade.  I’ve been blogging for 8 out of the last 10 years, and am so grateful to each and every one of you for following, liking, and commenting!  I’ve been putting pressure on myself to decide what would be perfect to share in a post before a new decade.  Nevertheless, I realized it is just yet another year, and I have plenty more good stuff to share here and to do in the background just like this past one!  Life goes on and I’m looking forward to many more years of sewing and writing about it here!  This Dior coatdress was my chosen holiday outfit for this year.  It was the one I wore for our Christmas card pictures, after all, so I felt my end of year outfit to share was rather a natural choice.  Taking part in the “Designin’ December” challenge always ensures that I have a really amazing project to reveal and wear at the end of the year, anyway!