My First Colette to Celebrate the Fourth!

Colette patterns seem to be the biggest deal in the indie pattern world, and so I feel a bit out of touch to admit this is my first – and very happily successful – foray into a new branch of the sewing community.  Courtesy of a Seamwork magazine subscription which I won from the “Sewing the Scene” Challenge last year, I have had the availability to now try out independent pattern companies and see what they are all about.  This year’s Independence Day celebrating gave me the reason to whip up a dress from a Colette pattern and finally dive right in!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft 100% cotton twill in blue and white stripes, remotely similar to ticking, with a chain stitched red border design along one selvedge.  This fabric was a JoAnn exclusive release.

PATTERN:  Colette “Hazel” sundress, no. 1021

NOTIONS:  One zipper, lots of thread, and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 8 to 10 hours and finished on July 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  No seams save the center back skirt seam are showing and its raw edge is bias bound.  All other seams are covered by the full bodice lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was rather pricey, even with a discount – which I why I made things work on only two yards.  The dress cost me just under $30.

Sarai Mitnick, the founder and Creative Director of Colette Media, started Colette Patterns in 2009 because she liked vintage patterns but found them difficult for beginners to work with.  This particular pattern has a lovely modern hint of mid-century vintage, which I played up through the fabric I used.  I was inspired by the occasional extant piece of 1950s clothing which has Scandinavian-style folk embroidery.  Also known as Swedish weaving or “Huck”, the distinctive red and blue heavy embroidery – in patterns of the well-known eight pointed star or the more floral motifs of the more Germanic people – was extremely popular in the 30’s, tapering off through the 40’s.  Due to the thickness of the huck material, this embroidery style was primarily done on kitchen towels and linens, but it is a weaving style in which the thread never appears on the back, making it perfect for garments too, once decorative dish cloths began to be replaced by the mechanical dishwasher.

I realized after my dress was done that in my efforts to make a patriotically red, white, and blue American dress, I channeled a vintage Scandinavian-inspired style.  But, hey – we are a country of immigrants, a nation merged by our diversity and desire for independence, so I don’t think the irony is out of place.  After all, I was appropriately sewing with an indie pattern for an Independence Day celebration, but I was wearing a vintage “West Germany” necklace and vintage-inspired flats from the Australian “Charlie Stone” shoes.  Freedom is universal.

I keep seeing the phrase “patterns that teach” associated with Colette patterns, and so I saw this as a nice base pattern – something to add to and customize to one’s own level of skill or preference.  Along that line, I tweaked the details slightly to add in a fully lined the bodice and also try out a new method of pleating.   Overall, though, I found the pattern to have great shaping and curving not seen in the “Big 4” patterns, clear directions, and sizing that runs on the small side.  It was just enough of a challenge yet not impossible to make for as amazing as it looks.  I think it was nicer than the “Big 4” patterns and yet not as good as Burda Style, in my opinion.  I’m glad I didn’t have to pay full price and yet I don’t think I would have felt that I overpaid if I had.  I’m not used to Colette patterns but I do like them enough to start picking out my next one!

The big things this pattern has going for it is the front bodice, the dramatic way it makes the most of a border print or a striped fabric (or both combined, in my case!), and the way I can still wear a normal bra under it.  So many sundresses need some special lingerie or something sewn in to support a woman’s assets, and this one is such an appreciated, effortless piece the way its wide straps and their placement worked out perfectly for me right where the pattern markings were.  When you can follow a sundress pattern’s strap markings to the letter and it works out well, I’m impressed.

I went up a size in this pattern (because it’s better to be safe than sorry) and tailored it in slightly for a perfect fit.  As I mentioned above, I also added a full bodice lining to keep the fabric from being see-through and cover up most all the seams.  The facing pieces for the neckline were cut instead as the interfacing ironed down to the inner edges.  About 5 inches were added to the original length of the pattern, and I also cut the skirt as one whole seamless piece, eliminating the side seams.  I know this left out the opportunity for side pockets (unless I do a welt or patch style) but that’s okay – I decided to make this the day before the 4th of July, so I just wanted simplicity.  I widened the straps by ¼ inch and used an exposed zipper rather than an invisible one as called for.  Finally, I made the whole dress come together using only 2 yards.  For my first time trying out a new pattern company, I sure wasn’t afraid to go rogue on many details!

My biggest source of pride in this dress is actually the waist pleats.  The pattern called for a simple overall gathered waist, but why go conventional when there are other more complex possibilities yet to be attempted?!  I kept the center front and center back of the skirt flat because I think that is nicer over the tummy and bootie, but the rest of the skirt was knife pleated at every large stripe.  Each large stripe was folded over about ¼ inch deep to meet the nearest small stripe.  This process took me just over an hour in itself, mostly because I did one side wrong at first, but the finished look makes every minute worth it.  It is detailing like this that makes me and others so love vintage styles besides keeping past fashion highly sought after enough to be going up in value.  If I can bring a taste of that into my own sewing than my time is well spent.

I have seen several examples in their mailer leaflets (at right is one) of how JoAnn Fabrics thought of using this fabric and they were throwing me off at first.  I didn’t like their examples enough to try but I also had the hardest time deciding on using this Colette pattern for it…and I’m so glad went for it!  This dress really made me feel comfy yet festive, bright without being flashy, and proud of the quick work I put into it.  I do have a good chunk of the dress’ fabric leftover and I’m debating now between a purse or a little bolero to make out of it.  Decisions are the most fun, inventive, yet stressful part of home sewing.  Whatever I make, it’ll probably be much like the dress, though, in the way it was a happy experiment and a sudden ‘go-for-it’ type of decision.  Here’s to fun in the sun and more creative sewing!

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The Perfectly Ironic 50’s Play Set

Vintage play sets are cute enough the way they are, but most of the times the prints to them make them to die for.  This newest one that I’ve made has a print which perfectly combines the vintage-made-modern flair of it with a print which is a pun on the iconic classy lady of the 1950s.  Women in wasp waists and elegant dress might be the conventional womanly ideal flaunted on this playsuit, but it itself is meant for much more than swishing around and sitting pretty.  It is sassy yet classy fun all in one versatile, comfortable outfit.

A short romper as the first layer makes this set a bit easier to tackle by not having to make various pieces (i.e. a separate top and shorts).  It also is a lot more challenging to go visit the restroom, and even though it is a bit of an extra inconvenience, I am absolutely loving my very first romper.  The matching overskirt departs from the romper’s plan but self-drafting skirts with no pattern is my forte, if I do say so myself.  I am much happier with a skirt I ‘draped’ on myself, generally.  A fully separating zipper which can close either top-to-bottom or the other way around makes the skirt versatile, interesting, and different.

The print is everything!  I’ll admit my strong failing for Michael Miller fabrics, the prints are such first rate and they are always the one’s I gravitate towards even without knowing the brand as I browse fabric.  This one is so very well done, though.  The fashions on the ladies and stylization are so charming and appealing, drawn like a vintage cartoon of Parisian fashion illustration.  I want each and every dress to wear for myself out of the print!

If you look closely on the hat boxes stacked next to the woman in solid pink the Michael Miller name is hidden on them (he frequent buries his name creatively in his prints).  You might be able to see this better further down in my detail about the romper pocket.  I channeled the woman next to that in the pink polka dotted dress with my halter strap and me-made belt. That polka dot dress was my favorite…no…wait, it was the green two-piece outfit, or maybe the striped dress.  Ach!  They all are my favorites, I guess she was merely the most striking to pair with a roll of ribbon out of my stash!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton duck cloth from Hobby Lobby by Michael Miller called “Spring In Paris” lined in an all-cotton sheer batiste

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Vintage Capri Sunsuit” from their Vintage 1950s magazine special pattern collection from 2015 for the romper, while my skirt was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread, a sliding waistband-style hook-and-eye, two zippers (one 14” invisible for the romper and the other a 30” separating bottom one for the skirt), bias tape, and a bit of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on June 10, 2019 after a total of about 20 to 30 hours spent to make the whole set.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  On sale, 2 yards of the fabric only cost me $12, and as everything else I needed was out of my long time stash that is also my wonderfully frugal total!

If you read that last line of “The Facts”, you might be saying, “Two yards!? That’s all she needed?!”  Yes, indeed, and that’s what makes this set so awesome (…among plenty of other reasons, too)!  The multi paneled pieces, short bottoms, and the sleeveless style makes the romper pattern take under a yard for my size.  The overall pattern originally calls for much more than the 1 ¼ yards (leftover from the romper) I used to make my skirt, as the design shows a full, gathered waist dirndl-style skirt.  I would rather make things work on less money (because of a smaller cut) and according to my personal taste, though.  The fabric was not ideal for a full skirt, anyway, and I do love a good 50’s style skinny skirt on myself.

The instructions direct that you need a fabric with some body here, and this is absolutely true and not to be ignored.  Even with the thicker, stiffer cotton duck material which I used, I still felt my romper needed some extra support especially being practically strapless.  Luckily, the print was so bright and busy and the cotton thick so it was really not see-through despite being a faint ivory background color.  Nevertheless, because I wanted to support the bodice, I figured on going ahead and making the romper quite nice and do a full body lining.  There is nothing like the clean beauty of seamless inners to a garment!  The rough texture of cotton duck is not the best against the skin compared to the soft batiste of the romper lining.

Back to the details on how I supported the romper’s bodice!  I added lightweight boning into the underside of the two back bodice seams, just on the lining.  The side seam had the invisible zipper to stabilize it and the front has good shaping together with the halter strap, which is why I only kept the boning to the back.  I know from many other halters that the back dip has the tendency to droop and I could mentally picture beforehand that that ‘problem’ might be especially worse off on the back of a sleeveless one-piece romper.  The back boning is the best thing ever for this!  I do not need to pull anything back up in place and the bodice has a wonderful body all on its own without having to tailor it to be tight in the fit just so it can stay up well.  I lightly tacked the lining to the fashion fabric exterior along the boning after I was finished and made sure to add gel cushions (little boning ‘comfort caps’ you can buy) before sewing the romper together so the bodice support is not bothersome in the least, rather it is not even noticeable.

Choosing my ‘normal’ size using Burda Style patterns to make this, the fit was so close I want to suggest people to go up a size to be safe.  It works to take clothes in a bit, but taking seams out is more of tricky story.  I like clothes I plan on playing around and being active in to not fit too closely – I do need room to move!  I had to make most all seams ¼ seam allowance (I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance when I cut it out) just to have it fit me a comfortable snugness as you see it.  That is not a spot on fit and accurate sizing.  I would have rather had all my seams still be a wider seam allowance and have the comfort of knowing I have room to adapt this if I need to, but not this time.  This is why I would suggest going up a size for this pattern unless you are of a thin build and relatively non-curvy.  Granted, I still fit in a good amount of my teenager clothes, but my body is still changing so I’ll just have to get the most enjoyment out of this set as possible just in case!

No play clothes would be appropriate in my opinion without a pocket!  Now, the romper pattern called for in-seam side pockets in the shorts.  For close fitting items, such pockets never really give that much room for anything, anyway.  They only create a weird bulge if you do store real life items like a phone or lip balm.  Yet, I was only left with a handful of small scraps after the outfit was finished.  There was one pink dress woman on the print which I noticed was weirdly cut off when I sewed in the right side dart for the front of the shorts.  I luckily had one full square of the pink dressed woman (next to the tower of hat boxes) as part of my scraps so I was able to accomplish making both sides of the front matching as well as give myself a better pocket with that one scrap.  You see, I turned that pink lady scrap into a small sew-on patch-style pocket which completes the print and is so much better than in-seam pockets.  The pocket fits only 2/3 of my phone and a tissue but who really wants to try in-seam pockets along the side of an invisible zipper anyway?!  Bring the print-matching challenge on!

The fashions on the print further inspired me in the way I drafted the skirt.  The lady in the yellow, green, and pink polka dotted dress (next to the Eiffel Tower) is only seen from a back view on the print and I copied her center box pleated waist from behind, with side knife pleats for good measure.  It is against reasoning to add more pouf over the behind, but between stitching down the pleats for an inch and a good ironing, I think it works!  The front shaping is simple – just a few more knife pleats – so that the closure can take center stage.

My skirt was skinny enough that I really didn’t trust a button closing because of the stress that would be put on them.  However, I wanted to be able to have this skirt close or open at any given point.  Luckily, I had recently acquired a stash of the most amazing variety of zippers – big and small, new and vintage – for a steal of a price and there was this unique separating zipper that I knew was just perfect for my skirt.  It was labeled as a “Parka Zipper” and had two pulls that could go up and down and close at either end…fully adjustable!  This zipper was in a special 30” length, too, so I knew this was an expensive notion and was tempted to hoard it.  When the right project is calling, nevertheless, my good supplies deserve better than to stay in a drawer, so I think!  I like the modern touch the zipper brings to this vintage crossover set.

This outfit has been my second make for the 2019 “Sew Together for Summer” challenge sponsored by “Sew Sarah Smith”.  The theme this year was jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms, and this project certainly applies even though with the skirt cover-up makes it not what it seems at first glance of the whole set.  (My first garment for the challenge, a 1962 embroidered denim culotte jumpsuit, can be seen here.)  I am also including this romper play set as also part of the “Made Like Maisel” 1950s challenge to sew something inspired by the Amazon TV show “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.  I know her swing coats are the iconic thing to make, but in Season Two, Mrs. Maisel had some killer play sets (especially episode 4 in the Catskills but also the pink and black gingham set in episode 7), which I interpreted my own way rather than literally.

It took me awhile to completely ‘warm up’ to play sets, I suppose.  For comparison’s sake go check out my previous playset, which was also my first, and is from the proceeding decade of the 1940s.  Funny, it also has a self-drafted skirt!  The general feel of that play set is more about a tropical-themed, sultry poolside lounging look compared to the sporty, activity-friendly, versatile use of my new 50’s one.  Perhaps I have another challenge here – to make more play sets from more eras?  Ugh, so many ideas, so little sewing time, and not enough places to go or a long enough summer!  Yet, I do have everything ready for both a 60’s play set and a 1980s one as, well.  Maybe this whole summer is my own “Summer of the Play Set”.  Would anyone be with me on this one?!

Origami Neck Blouse

Just as you fold and manipulate flat, one-dimensional paper to create something magical and 3-D in the practice of origami, so too does the same thing happen with sewing.  You start with flat panels of fabric and fold, tack, and manipulate it into something that forms to envelope the body in the most fantastic way.

I know I’ve mentioned this opinion before, but this blouse’s post deserves to have it stated again – 1950s blouses really do have the most intriguing and unique details.  This top, with its mitered cornered collar that reminds me of origami folds, I saw as having a strong Japanese influence which I stressed by using a print for the placket which has bright and beautiful hand fans.  After all, it already had kimono-style sleeves (as they are called in fashion terms) and pleated bust darts which radiate from the neckline much like the “Rising Sun” flag.  All of that symbolism together into one scrap-busting project and now I have one lovely blouse that is both a wonderfully dressy-casual wardrobe addition as well as being an opportunity to learn more about another culture!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a solid burgundy red Kona cotton together with a fan printed quilting cotton

PATTERN:  Butterick #6567, from the Summer of 1953

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, some interfacing scraps, bias tape, and buttons (which were leftover from the buttons I used at the neckline of this movie inspired dress from the year before)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse only took maybe 4 or 5 hours to make, and was finished on May 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly bias bound on the side seams with French seams for the shoulders

TOTAL COST:  Well, the solid Kona cotton was leftover from making this dress awhile back now, and the printed placket material was a discounted ½ yard remnant…so I can estimate that this blouse is under $5.  Pretty awesome!

As lovely as this turned out – if I do say so myself – what I am most proud of is the fact that this used up scraps.  Yes…a garment from seemingly worthless remnants can go towards something amazing and wearable!  I save pretty much everything that is leftover from all my projects, yet I do not count myself as a hoarder because I really do use that stuff up, as this proves so clearly!  The solid Kona was only about ¾ of a yard, and the placket was (as I said) a quilter’s fat quarter, but by turning the blouse pieces oppositely to mirror each other, and by piecing the placket strips together (you’d never guess, would you?) I made my idea work.  Blouses and tops with cut-on sleeves are so awesome for fitting in the smallest cuts of fabric.

Now, I can actually back myself up, historically speaking, with using the fan print for this 50’s blouse.  It was originally chosen to make both the most of a scrap and to explore understanding a culture other than mine.  (I have made a few Chinese inspired garments – here and here – so it was time to dive into Japan!)  However, I have found fan prints in some extant vintage 1950s garments, the best example being this dress sold on Etsy.  Interest in the Asian culture through fashion was extremely popular in the 1950s but unfortunately the decade was not differentiating between the nations nor appropriating appropriately.  Hopefully this blouse does a better job at that!

The collar area called for slow, exact sewing and my favorite, under-used technique…mitered corners! I was worried that between piecing the placket and interfacing it, the neckline would be too stiff compared to the soft Kona cotton but I think that is the point.  The stiff, stand-up collar is like a portrait frame for the face…I am fascinated with its unusualness and love the way the look of it changes at every manner it lays – open, buttoned, or folded back.  The envelope back description calls this collar style “…the newest cardigan look” “inspired (by) Paris”.  Hummm, I never heard of this, and sadly have not found any research info about it.  Neither does it exactly look like a sweater cardigan, and I do have a small collection of vintage 50’s ones to compare.  However, there is a more famous designer, or at least famous novelty blouse I should say, that does have the exact same collar with the mitered origami one of this post.  I’m talking about Hollywood designer Edith Head’s “Birds and the Bees” blouse offered through Dial brand soap in 1956.  This is 3 years after my blouse’s pattern date with no name listed for the collar style.  There is a new fashion terminology mystery here yet to explore and understand.

After it was finished, I was worried that my stash busting Japanese-inspired blouse would not match with anything.  However, I just need to wear bottoms with color – like my purple 40’s trousers (posted about here), my pink skinny pants (posted here), or a pink linen short A-line skirt (an old RTW item), or even some dark denims.  Usually I’m very conscious about my ideas for separates, making sure they actually are versatile and will pair with what I already have.  What’s the use of fulfilling an idea if it never is worn and enjoyed?  I disregarded thinking about that this time, and got lucky.

We took our pictures at our local Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Garden.  They have the most peaceful combed rock beds, and artful bonsai.  Bonsai, the artistic cultivation of small trees, is another one of the many wonderful traditions of Japan, but hand fans are much older to the culture.  Did you know that the folding fan was invented in Japan, with the earliest visual depiction date from the 6th century?  The Japanese believe that the top of the handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life and the ribs stand for the roads of life going out in all directions to bring good fortune and happiness.  Where would women’s history be without such a beautiful and practically useful invention!?

As the hand fan had eventually been universally adopted, many forget to think of the country of its origin.  The tradition of origami is so much more understood to be Japanese.  However, no matter what culture you are, it is still so universally enjoyed.  I think the art of paper folding is so special because it’s great to help people who don’t sew understand the art of creating with fabric and thread.  There is a form of fashion drafting that is called origami for a fantastic crossover, only it is one of the most challenging sewing imaginable (in my opinion).  Check out the origami sleeves on this Badgley Mischka dress!  However, it was Issey Miyake was one of the first designers to explore how origami could influence design.  The Spring 2009 collection by designer André Lima was also directly inspired by origami.  Art and garment design, form and functionality finds Zen through origami.

Red Roses for a Vintage Style Lady

Admittedly, for someone that briefly worked as a florist, I’m not much of a real roses fan.  Don’t misunderstand, I regard them as simply beautiful, and when in quantity add up to a good day’s total at the cash register.  As a customer, though, they just wilt too quickly for their cost.  Even the outdoor bush and plant variety always seem to soon enough become sick or mutated and die in our yard, sadly.  Now I have the kind of roses whose beauty will last and make for a great deal!  Heck with the old song, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.  These are roses for a lady who likes vintage styles!

Here is yet another garment where I’ve repeated what I know I love in a project – channeling a feminine ‘Betty’ outfit from the television show Mad Men again (second season this time; other Betty dresses here and here) and also using a true vintage fabric (my most recent one here).  As good fashion never really goes out of style, I do think this dress has the same qualities as the costumes of Mad Men, period-appropriate but also timeless and fashionable even to modern viewers.  I paid attention to details like I had all the time in the world, and did tons of hand stitching, even adding seed beads, for a dress which is my own perfect Valentine’s Day treat!

My fabric choice is a pristine condition, polished, printed cotton from the 1950s (surmised from many recurrent similar extant garments of that era).  I found it as a lonely piece at a steal of a price thrown in the corner of an antique mall shop.  How could I just leave it with its saturated red goodness at that cost?!  So – a good fabric deserved a really great pattern…one that has intimidated me every bit as much as I adore it.  I came upon a find, I saw a perfect project in mind, and I have conquered it!  However, the finished wiggle shaping ends up making my body look like a very shoulder-and-hip-heavy hourglass ‘Joan’ silhouette that I really am not used to but am completely taken by nonetheless!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a true vintage cotton lined and contrasted in a solid black cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2727, a ”Slenderette” pattern, year 1958 (I plan on coming back to this and making the jacket, yet!)

NOTIONS:  The basics I needed were on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, a hook and eye – but the zipper (22”) and the beads I bought recently just for this as I realized exactly how I was going to detail it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 10 hours to finish, but I actually spent a handful of hours just on figuring out the pattern piece layout before cutting out…there was no room for error…or the pattern pieces, really…

THE INSIDES:  A fully lined dress means all inner seams are not to be seen…

TOTAL COST:  This vintage fabric was only 8 freaking dollars, people!!!  The cotton lining I received for free, and the beads were only $2.  So this is an under $10 dress!  Such a deal.

Why, oh why is it that the best fabrics I find seem to frequently come in small cuts?  It’s like some sewing Karma wants to test me at every turn and always make sure my projects are a challenge.  This rose fabric was in a ridiculously small 35 inch width (one of the reasons I can estimate the vintage) and was a hairs breath under 2 yards long.  Under the envelope back listing for 35” width fabric, it says I needed 3 yards for this dress.  Yikes!

The only way I could make things work was to piece together a full one side back bodice panel and to add a horizontal waist seam to what had been intended as a smooth center front.  The print is complex I do not think the extra seams are noticeable but I know they are there, nonetheless (well, so do you now).  The center dress panel change especially makes me a bit sad (seen or not) because I loved the streamlined look of it with one-piece, streamlined, princess-style drafting as on the original design.  Not too shabby of a compromise, though, and at least the lining was cut properly without extra seams!  Granted, every piece was butted up against one another when laid out, so it’s a lucky thing I did not have to grade up in size at all.  The skirt had to be shortened by about 5 inches and the kick pleat eliminated to make things work, so I was literally left with nothing but tiny triangles of scraps leftover.  Although stressful, even mind stretching, it feels so good to be super-efficient and determined with a project idea!  If there’s a will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.

I am glad I had put off tackling this sewing project until now when my sewing skills are where they are at.  The overall dress was not hard to make.  It was the detail points that were the challenge, which was a difficult one that I have not had in a while.  Luckily, I had some practice ahead of time to help me out on the trickier spots of this dress.  A few of the projects I have made already have had some of same the details I encountered in making my red roses dress when all of them were in one project.  The underarm bodice panel/kimono sleeve combined into one element reminds me very much of my 1955 Redingote, as does the belt attached in at a front waist dart.  The side paneled bodice shaping is just like on my recent 70’s style Burda jumper.  The pleats which cover up a seam, like the ones at my waist, are call to mind the pockets on my “Spring Green” Easter suit of 1954.  It is good to challenge oneself, but at the same time I want to stress it is beneficial to work up to that scary hard pattern by finding projects ahead of time which prepare your skills for a successful turnout.  A fruitful finished sewing creation makes all the difference in confidence and estimation of worth in time and effort.

The bodice panels turned out the best I’ve ever done yet, happily, thanks to knowing what to expect.  I do love the way such a design element in the garment provides the best ever shaping for ones bodily curves, besides being the most comfortable form of a kimono sleeve…better than one with underarm gussets.  Look for something similar to try for yourself – you will love the way it wears!  Only, I thought the bust for this pattern ran large until I put on the period-appropriate longline bustier.  Then, suddenly I had that curvaceous 50s figure and a perfect fit that put me in awe.  So, a word of warning – in a 50’s pattern, beware that their curving accounts for more than what modern women are used to with the lingerie of today.  Unless you are willing to try a different style of underwear, or unless you find such a design element in a pattern from another decade closer to now, the wonderful shaping which you will find with a bodice panel/kimono sleeve combo might be more than you expect.

Those front waistline pleats where the belt is attached were the toughest part to tackle.  It took me about 4 attempts to figure them out correctly…but just look at them!  They remind me of the interesting pleats which can be found on some 50’s or maybe 60s couture garments.  Two of the pleats that provide the slight hip poufiness are angled out and folded down.  The pleat that encloses the belt and bodice side panel seam is perfectly vertical and folded towards the other two pleats away from the center front…so confusing on paper but awesome finished properly.  The fabric makes it really hard to photograph these details as clearly as I see them.

I’m not complaining about this wonderful fabric one bit, though!  Modern cottons are sadly missing out on the lovely sheen which vintage polished cotton has, not to mention the saturated dying process that makes it almost reversible.  Yet, vintage polished cotton is a bit sheer and stiff on its own, thus another solid opaque layer was needed under my dress for a non-transparent and natural-bodied hand to the fabric.  Besides, I am silly and would rather make a whole second dress as a lining so as to have an impeccable, second skin finish inside…not just to cover all the seams but mostly to eliminate the fussy neck facings.  Having more than enough cotton lining gave me an opportunity to cut the dress out the way it should have been with no adaptations.

Except for the major seams inside, all else to this dress was hand stitched invisibly.  This has been the first garment where I really sense that my hand sewing skills have grown to be similar to my machine skills – accurate, fast, and efficient.  The lining is hand tacked to the zipper (which was also hand installed to the point it is as good as invisible); the neckline, sleeve hems (after a machine added ¼ inch bias binding), and skirt hems (after lace tape added to the under edge) hand finished.  Not that it matters – who else but me really sees inside or even gets close enough to notice the details?  Whatever.  It’s that choked-up, happy emotion I get inside seeing the unnecessary extra particulars so fine as I’m dressing.  It makes you feel special, and reminds me that the beauty inside a person, like a garment’s inside, although unseen, is the best part.

It’s these same sentiments and the urge to try something new that prompted me to add a bit of beading to the neckline.  Not that the neckline is not a statement in itself!  This is one of the best fitting boatnecks I have come across, and the little notched front heightens the neck and shoulder emphasis by centering under the pit between the collarbones.  I merely added some clusters of 4 to 6 seed beads at a rose center which might be near the neckline center top edge, with a few smaller 2 or 3 bead accents on some petal tips as shading.  I was tempted to go and add the whole package of beads so it would show up better, but there is something I love about the understated elegance to not going overboard.  I do not want gaudy or distracting details to subtract from the dress and its fabric, and the more I bead, the more there is pressure to turn it into some sort of defined design…then my beading skills have to be better.  I did attempt to make a simple 3-D flower out of strings of beads to add on the end of the back waistband.  It’s not perfect, but pretty nonetheless, and just the perfect touch if I do say so myself.

Vintage is admired and long lasting because of its understated quality and beautiful ingenuity…these are the details I miss the most in modern ready-to-wear.  So, if I can bring a small part of that back in my own life and be the example, then I am happy.  If I can remind others they are worth feeling good in their skin by a wonderful dress, and that creating is good for the soul, than my garments are beneficial to more than me alone.  Hopefully with the time, attention, and care I put in towards my dress project, this red roses vintage fabric will have a lovely new life for many more years to come!  I know this dress will be seeing more than just a Valentine’s Day wear!

Hermes Helmet

Hooray!  This is my 300th post!  To celebrate, I’ve dressed up in the 1950s finest.  This will be a bit of a different post in the way that the only thing me-made is a curious hat.  My dress is the true big deal here, though…it is an “Anne Fogarty” label!  Not only is it currently my most prestigious true vintage garment, but it is such a learning experience to examine, as well as a wondrous treat to put on.  This dress gives me a dream figure, and I hope my little handmade hat is the proper extravagant finishing touch to such a formal outfit!  More about that later.

For those of you that do not know who this dress’ label refers to, Anne Fogarty is summarized as “an American fashion designer, active 1940–80, who was noted for her understated, ladylike designs that were accessible to American women on a limited income.”  She was discovered because someone had the open-mindedness to see her potential, and she learned as she worked her way up…a true American story.  Her designs emphasized femininity especially seen in her “famous paper doll dress”, also the reason I am so excited to have found this dress in my size.

The dress I have on is a great example of the “tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats” which were the trademarks of an Anne Fogarty “paper doll” dress, seen as an American and inexpensive option to the Dior silhouette popular since the late 40’s.  I remotely dated my dress to the early side of the mid-50’s, and the happenstance of finding a similarly designed frock in an advertisement from 1955 has concreted my assumption.  There had to have been yards upon yards of rayon satin finish taffeta needed to make this dress with such a full skirt that is over and above a circle shape, so a ‘reasonable’ price must still have been expensive.  My Grandmother’s brooch even matches the one in the advertisement!

Fogarty seems to receive harsh flack in any write-up nowadays on account of her book, “Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife”.  I think this is sadly unfair because it not only overshadows her wonderful, resourceful career but, as a product of her times, it is going to naturally have stereotypes.  However, in my opinion, there is still a lot of good said in her book that can be relevant and followed today, just as her designs have such a lasting beauty and magnificence of craftsmanship that the couture world (or anyone interested in sewing) of today would do good to look and learn from.  We seem to live in a world where the runways have become a place to make a statement, show one’s art, entertain extravagantly, or display an idea, making it less about presenting something truly wearable to any but rich starlets who have somewhere to go in view of the paparazzi.  Goodness, with some of Balmain’s Spring Couture 2019 models going topless and the last few years’ trend of sheer fashions (these have a ridiculous amount of nothing there), even what clothes do come out of high design still make women practically naked!  One cannot put on a dress like this Anne Fogarty creation and – miss in some way – the covered up, but still sexy as all get out, appeal of a body sculpting garment which can craft a tasteful yet enticing figure with superior quality of artistry, yet still be accessible to an everyday fashionista.

Taking pictures of a solid black dress is very challenging, so we didn’t even really try to take many detail shots, but I can tell you about them instead.  The most obvious and perhaps the most confusing is the drop-waist/skirt seam.  The curving is ingenious, especially taking into account the many tiny cartridge pleats that comprise the skirt attaching into that seam.  Yes, it is not plainly gathered…mind blowing!  There is no boning of any kind for this bodice, but from the bust down the inside is double layered of fabric and all the princess seams double stitched and pressed out.  It kind of just molds my body into shape as I zip it on (there is a sturdy metal center back zipper).  Granted, I did follow Anne Fogarty’s advice and wear a petticoat with a vintage, strapless, full body corselet under this for the full and properly 50’s experience, and I actually lose a few inches in my waist!  She seemed to recommend two petticoats under her dresses, but this dress already has one built into it, made from the same material as the dress itself.  The skirt seams are almost all on selvedge seams, while the rest are simply pinked.

The upper bodice is very classic 50’s – kimono sleeves with a parallelogram underarm gusset so I have full arm movement (amazing for a fancy dress).  The neckline has a rolled edge which ends up looking like a collar.  There is a plunging back which more than accounts for the high covered front.  The bodice also has the very tiniest of flaws in this otherwise amazingly excellent condition vintage piece.  There two are pinhead size holes at the left front chest which I really wonder if they aren’t from a brooch, making me kind of feel badly for adding one myself.  However, I am careful to not poke roughly through the fabric.  The nature of this dress’ fabric is so stiff, tightly woven, and structured it is perfect for a design like Fogarty’s but it keeps frays in check.  I think I’ll leave those little spots be as they are.

Now, to talk about the hat I made since you get to finally see it best from behind!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a thick vinyl faux crocodile skin, ivory with gold foiled accents

PATTERN:  McCall’s #1571, year 1950

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, some cotton and interfacing scraps, and some wire for the “headband” that is part of the lining…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 4 or 5 hours

TOTAL COST:  I spent $5 for a half yard of the vinyl, and only used half of what I bought, so I suppose this hat only cost me $2.50!  I should just be able to squeeze in a little fancy purse out of what’s leftover, to be made in the future (but I will probably choose a view from an OOP Vogue #7354).

This hat ended up in a whole different direction than I originally intended, but that’s okay – I love it just how it is better than I had imagined.  The pattern I used actually came from my mom’s pattern stash.  I doubt it came from her mom or has a story behind it or I probably would have heard about it by now, but I’m now thinking I should ask her just in case there is a tale that just hasn’t come out yet.  Even with my small changes to the pattern it still is classic 50’s style of full crown coverage.  Only, here it received what I see as an avant-garde upgrade, too.

At first I sewed the hat up just like the pattern designed (sans lining) and it turned out mimicking something between a religious bonnet and a swimmers cap.  It completely covered my ears and hair.  Bummer!  Although difficult to sew on my machine, I was super excited because the three layers came together quickly.  It did fit my head quite well once I top-stitched the seams down (by hand).  The front needed to be pruned down and given interest to be made fashionable.

My solution was to work with what I already had.  The side curves had “wings” cut out of them.  The “wings” are still attached to the hat at the inner corners at the top of the head, and were left free of the lining when I stitched it around the edge.  The wings are tacked down on the sides of the head further back and decorated as you see them with vintage metal shoe clips.  This way, without adding anything new or doing drastic changes, there is room to show my ears and hair as well as have a sort of interesting underlying theme…my post’s title gives that away.

You see, Petasos is the closest thing that my hat reminds me of.  An ancient petasos was a metal helmet worn by a member of the Athenian cavalry, and it later became associated with the god Hermes (also later known as Mercury to the Romans) when it had the side “wings” on it.  Hermes was the messenger god as well as “moving freely between the worlds of mortal and divine”, and to accommodate his quickness, his petasos became more streamlined to the head, too, besides losing its wide traditional brim.  He was also the god of commerce, his very name under the Romans is related to the Latin word for “merchandise”, so anything of monetary value, especially precious metal and coinage has been associated with him.  My 50’s hat oddly aligns with all of this.  Its construction is plated, in a mock form of those crescent-shaped overlapping pieces which can be found on the back of an armadillo or on a knuckle in medieval armor.  I never really meant for such an association…the wings I added to my hat do add a lot to the original frumpy design and seemed like a natural adaptation.

Sometimes I do believe there is a lot of either subconscious planning going on or projects just make themselves what they are supposed to be.  Whatever the case, and whatever connotation my hat has, I always like what I make best when I don’t try too hard…thinking that is!  I just make beautiful and creative stuff that I do need more often than not and always do enjoy even when it’s made for others.  Makers gotta make, as the popular saying goes.

There are some designers that I can associate myself more easily than many others, and this is so with Anne Fogarty’s story and beautiful creations.  I don’t ever really go out for the purpose of buying vintage (I like to do controlled browsing), and goodness knows I don’t have enough fancy occasions to wear nice stuff to, but this was in my size by an well-known designer and it was too good of a deal to pass up.  As I have said in past posts (here and here) where I addressed the care for, benefits, and details to true vintage, this dress is worthwhile alone by being something I can learn from and aspire to.  Let me know if you have a garment that has a quality or story that has taught you something, or at least inspires you to create!

I am so happy to be writing my 300th post to all of you.  Thank you for all the comments and support you have shared with me along the way.  I pulled out the good stuff for you this time and hope you enjoyed this slight change of pace.  Here’s to many more blog posts yet to come!