Checkmate!

There is safety in numbers…mathematical equations, that is.  The consistency and assurance of having a logical way to figure out a problem is helpful in other spheres of life because, as we are taught in school, math is not just pointless numbers on paper.  Mathematics can be found in science, space, biologics, industry, fashion, and more.  Games especially call for math skills.  Out of all the games to be played, there is perhaps nothing else that calls upon the exacting perfectionist in me, awakens my inner competitiveness, and leaves no room for my sense of graciousness to my opponent quite like a game of chess.  (Those are also all the reasons for me avoiding playing it.) 

However, that doesn’t mean I and others like me don’t have a great respect and fascination for those you enjoy and excel at the game.  Thus, it comes as no big surprise that such a powerful, mind provoking game loved worldwide could make related statement in fashion, yet the influence of “The Queen’s Gambit” came just over a month ago like an unexpected global storm.  It has become Netflix’s most watched scripted series to date.  Granted, “The Queen’s Gambit” is fiction loosely based on history, and sadly doesn’t really teach novices a whole lot about the game.  Nevertheless, the fashion for the time period it was supposed be set in (50’s to late 60’s) is spot on, visually stunning, and (most importantly) still very wearable for today.  So those of us who will not be playing the game more because of the show (raise your hand with me) can certainly copy the mid-century fashion. 

Say ‘hello’ to crisp angles and opposing colors, chic short dresses and straight lined silhouettes.  My mom says I look like Emma Peel (as fashionable as she was a smart espionage agent) from the 1960s British television show “The Avengers” in this dress!  I do so love the bold, mod fashion 60’s and forget that fact after so many other projects for other decades in between.  I am all here for a reason to jump back into the era headfirst through “The Queen’s Gambit” outfits!!  There will be more in the works very soon…this bow neck, babydoll dress will be next up for my early 2021 sewing.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  heavyweight 100% linens for both the exterior black and white fabric, yet the black is a smoother finish while the white is a textured (slubbed) hopsack; lined in a lightweight 100% cotton muslin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8588, year 1969

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was one 22” long zipper for the back, lots or thread, and bias tape to finish off the inner edges and hem.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was whipped up in 4 hours and was finished in the afternoon of November 26, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  in the remnant clearance bin at JoAnn Fabrics, I only spent about $6 on this dress!!!

Both linens on this dress were something I had bought about 3 years back now.  Yes, as on point as sewing this dress may seem in the light of “The Queen’s Gambit”, I had the idea for making this much earlier.  Pierre Cardin is a long-standing fashion icon for me and his creations are the epitome of the power of the avant-garde (next to Elsa Schiaparelli).  Only now, it took an entertainment fad of today to give me a very good reason to pull my needed supplies from my storage tubs and finally make room in my sewing queue to transform them into something wearable.  Amazingly, I only needed one sole yard of each color linen for this project…60’s era mini dresses aren’t much to wear so they don’t need much material, ha!  This is yet another one of my many “remnant” projects.  They never cease to amaze me – how good you can look on scraps!

In the final episode of the series, Beth proves her dominance in a chess tournament in Russia.  The nail-biting competition sees Beth don an array of elegant and high-fashion outfits to communicate she is a woman in control.  Among them is the black and white “I’m Chess Dress”, made in viscose material inspired by mid-1960’s London design.  Like many of Beth’s other outfits, the two-tone coloring, and strong lines subtly reflects the pattern on a chess board (from here).  I immediately recognized the series’ dress mimicked the idea that I had a few years back!  Beth’s dress in viscose has more drape than many such 60’s era dresses, which tend to have a soft structure like stable knit.  Linen is similar in quality but a bit more of a call back to timeless quality I adore.  So I suppose this is all me working at redeeming a slight ‘fault’ I saw I the series’ fashion.  I like my version better – it’s more wearable!

I felt a pattern from the year 1969 was a perfect place to start.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon.  It was the dawn of true “Space Age” and the imaginations of designers were wandering very futuristic.  Pierre Cardin took his space travel seriously: In 1969, he went to Houston and quizzed officials at NASA headquarters about how to stay stylish on the moon.  Like his colleagues André Courrèges and Mary Quant, Mr. Cardin proposed a sleek, forward-dawning fashion.  This was the height of the “mod” fad.  As I thought about it afterwards, my mom’s reaction to refer to Dame Diana Rigg from “The Avengers” (which series ended in 1969) for my dress ticks all the right boxes. Rigg (as Emma Peel) wore the most avant-guade and Op-art fashions of any Steed sidekick, frequently toned in black and white.  Costume designer John Bates outfitted her in clothes influenced by the 60’s trio – Cardin, Courrèges, and Quant.  Ironically, series 4 of “The Avengers” had a chessboard opening intro, too (for American broadcasts)!  This “Avengers” dress for Dame Rigg is strikingly similar to this “On the Cross” on Beth wears in “The Queen’s Gambit”.

Besides the serendipitous dating, the clean, angular lines and chic thoughtfulness in the design lines drew me into this particular pattern.  Don’t judge a pattern by its cover.  Just because a pattern seems simple at first glance doesn’t mean there isn’t a happy little complex variation waiting for you once you pull out those tissue pieces or study the line drawings.  The detail of note here is the lack of true side seams.  The side front panel technically ends a few inches over into the back half of the dress.  It is so subtle!  Also, there are no bust darts.  The dress is strongly A-line yet some slight bust shaping is cut directly into the shaping of the side panels.  Most 60’s era patterns have sleeves which fit my larger upper arms terribly but these are so comfortable and generous in ‘reach room’ right out of the envelope.  I am very impressed with this pattern, unlike any other 60’s pattern I’ve used so far.  I appreciate a design which seems suited to my body type but more importantly I enjoy finding a pattern seems to have a touch of higher quality.  Everyday wear in the era of the 60’s is not particularly known for it’s complex, meticulous tailoring in the anxiousness of the younger set to depart from the classiness of the decade before.     

The common pairing for the popular black-and-white color combo of 60’s dresses seems to be having the dark color on the sides and the light color in the middle.  Check out my Pinterest page here on this topic for more inspiration and to see what I’m saying.  I realize the color layout I used on my particular dress is the opposite.  However, I just have to prefer what will suit me accordingly.  Black down the center is more slimming for my body type (believe me, I experimented with draping it differently on myself before cutting out).  The black emphasizes the angular qualities to this design.  It also makes this more of an all season dress in my opinion.  I am wearing thick ribbed tights with this – just as any 1960s gal would do – but bare legs and metallic sandals or even tall go-go boots would be just as perfect of a pairing in other seasons.  White on a dress may not be a popular color for winter but when color blocked intentionally yet minimally, it works. 

However aesthetic my choice of color layout was, my heavy use of black over white visually voices my lack of dominance in the game of chess.  If Beth Harmon in “The Queen’s Gambit” wears all white as the reigning victor, well I am more of the ‘dark horse’ kind of player.  It is said that the person who plays the white pieces (and therefore starts the game) has the advantage.  I am certainly not the champion type because if I was, I wouldn’t be enjoying the game anymore…no one wants to see me that serious and obsessive, not even me.

I couldn’t ask for a better backdrop for our pictures than the local World Chess Hall of Fame.  In front (and behind me in many pictures) is the world’s largest chess piece.  Just a year ago (October 2019) we attended the opening night for two very relevant chess inspired fashion exhibits, which were apparently ahead of their time. 

Firstly, Michael Drummond, a multi-talented artist and veteran of “Project Runway” Season 8, put on the exhibit “Being Played”, described as “thematically marrying the issues of climate change and the stress the fashion industry places on the environment”.  See the online version of the exhibit here!  Drummond was inspired by the noted chess fan Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi film “2001: Space Odyssey”.  There was an amazing dress completely made of chess pieces as well as reclaimed remnants of sewing and art supplies reinvented into wearable art with a deeper message.  No wonder Drummond was interviewed by the New York Times regarding where to find clothes inspired by “The Queen’ Gambit” (see article here).

The second exhibit from back then was “A Beautiful Game”, showcasing the World Chess Hall of Fame’s artifacts of “chess-inspired beauty products, photographs, posters, and advertisements while illustrating how the sophistication and brilliance of the game have been celebrated and revered in chess and popular culture. Also highlighted was new, interactive artwork by chess champion and author Jennifer Shahade as well as Pinned! fashion designer Audra Noyes.” The online exhibit can be seen here.  It had the most appealing posters and glamorous chess sets from the last 100 years that made me want a perfume bottle or lipstick tube player set for myself (yes, for no real reason)!  The exhibit also taught me that the power of the queen piece was elevated to the status of “chief executioner” circa 1500 after a string of powerful female monarchs.

My husband and our son both enjoy the game of chess at least, with the occasional addition of my dad as another opponent.  One our son’s Christmas gifts from last year was the coolest ever variety of chess that has mirrors and lasers!  Nevertheless, I’ll just stick to chess inspired fashion for myself, thank you.  Sewing has the math and the strategy that I enjoy.

A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

There’s been a lot of overly basic sewing going through my machine over the past months – and I’m talking about more than just masks.  The couple that wears handmade clothing stays together…did I get that right?!  Thus, I might as well spice that necessary stuff up a bit to make my practical sewing more interesting.

Not content with once around, the leftovers of one recent refashion plus some lace remnants were enough to eke out a special little sewing for my intimate wearing!  Then, some one yard novelty fabric remnants went towards making some quirky new boxers for my hubby.  Sorry if this is quite “too much personal information” to share, but I am proud of all the sewing I do and this stuff would never be seen otherwise if I didn’t post about it!  (That might be a good thing…anyway.)  I do think these look nice enough to share, especially my pretty bra, and yes – they are brand spanking new at this point.  It’s so hard to show how wonderful these items are without modeling them, but we’ll spare you that!  You’ll just have to believe our words and settle for my beginner’s ability to pull off an interesting flat-lay.  I paired the items with something that recalls the era of the pattern date.  You can see a peek of my silk true vintage 1930s pink bias slip as the backdrop for my bra, while hubby’s favorite vintage 60’s skinny tie and his monthly magazine subscription are the accessories paired for his boxers.

I think it is important to post about making underwear and lingerie so as to show others that it is much easier to make your own basic necessities than you might think.   These items are 100% more comfortable on us and much better fitting than any store-bought RTW items.  No wonder – they were tailored along the way to fit each of us, besides being incredibly personalized with the materials chosen, turning into an everyday treat to wear.  Also, everyone can see how pricey it is to buy quality, name-brand underwear and lingerie.  With remnants and under a yard of material, you can sew yourself something better than RTW at a very low or even free (if using scraps on hand) cost.  It’s a win all around.  Especially when these are such easy-to-make patterns, and vintage designs to boot!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  except for the little bit of lace on my bra, every item shared here is in comfy cotton – each one is just a different variety and weight of cotton (I’ll explain in further down in the rest of the post)

PATTERNS:  the brassiere – Simplicity #8510, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1937 sewing pattern (originally Simplicity #2288); the men’s boxers – Simplicity #5039, year 1963, from my personal pattern collection

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Luckily, I had the specialty bra making supplies already as part of a $1 grab bag of notions I bought a while back at a rummage sale.  Besides that, everything else I needed was basic – thread and elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The brassiere was made –from start to finish – in 3 hours and was made in the afternoon of July 27, 2020.  His boxers were made here and there over the past few months and only took 1 ½ hours each to make.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of the bra are cleanly hidden, encased between the layers, while hubby’s boxers are zig-zag stitched finished along the edge.

TOTAL COST:  Each boxer cost about $2 to $4 (what a deal) while the bra materials are as good as free, being mostly leftovers from something 15 plus years ago.

So – where to start?  At first, the motivation for such sewing was both pure necessity as well as an inability to shop for such things in person (as we prefer).  But you know, what?  Somewhere along the line such basic sewing became more enjoyable.  We normally make sure to save my time and buy such items, yet the amount of 1 yard or less cuts that I have on hand are so plentiful and the perfect resource.  Besides, they both were quick projects that required barely an hour and so were practically perfect for the small segments of time I have for sewing recently!  It is nice to have a fast turnout item in between more complex projects, like the over the top dresses that my pandemic brain has been needing as of late (more on that soon).  It’s wonderful to have a completely handmade wardrobe inside as well as out, and it is also really special to be able to share that feeling.  I suppose doing such would be weird to share with anyone else but a partner, anyway!

I will start off with my selfish sewing.  The 90’s plaid skirt I refashioned to become this 1940s blouse had a basic cotton lining underskirt to it which was left behind.  It was a very small amount, about a half yard wide by about 25 inches long, but in simple A-line shape with only the two side seams so it was as good as a folded fabric remnant.  While it was out and not stashed away yet, why leave that good fabric neglected without a productive idea to match with it?  That would not be me!  So I reached for something that would need very little fabric, be different to make, and be something I could use at a practical level.  The basic ivory color and semi-sheer thickness dictated using the leftover lining cotton for some garment that was not to be seen.

This vintage year 1937 lingerie set has been a pattern I have been itching to try ever since I picked it up when it came out and so it was the natural choice.  Even though I was only able to use the skirt lining for a half set – just the bra (and the leftover fabric went towards two face masks) – this refashion was an immense success that makes me excited to pick up the pattern again and make a full set in a fashion fabric.  This is a very lovely surprise project, and a totally wearable muslin test.

As the lining cotton was a plain ivory and almost sheer (even with two layers), I realized mere dyeing to change the color would not add both a special touch and a bit of decency to this bra the same way layering it with some leftover lace did.  As the pattern is not complex and has very few seams I chose a posh French lace from on hand to layer over the outside.  Wow, does that lace addition really elevate this bra!

Yet, without realizing ahead of time, I found out it is a good thing that the lace was so delicate and the cotton was so soft and thin because it was quite hard to gather the middle seam of the bra down to the length the pattern intended.  As it was, I could not gather any tighter and that spot is still ½ inch longer than supposed to be.  If I had used a fabric any thicker this detail would have been even more difficult.  It is important to get this section as closely gathered as possible because it provides the bulk of the bra’s shaping, beside the small underbust darts.  The lesson learned (without having to recover from a failure) is to keep to lightweight, thin, and drapey for at least the brasserie half of this vintage reprint design.

Other than the challenge presented from the fabrics I was using, this pattern was a breeze to sew.  I found the size spot on and the instructions good.  The shaping of the bra is well done and the support is gives is just enough to do its job while still being comfortable to the point of feeling heavenly.  Of course you can see I upgraded to modern bra notions when it came to the notions used just so that this can be a vintage merge to get the best of both worlds.  There are times where I like to go all out vintage so I can both learn a new, different way of doings and also come from a historical perspective to try to understand how things used to be.  I did that already, however, for this earlier 1930’s lingerie set (posted here).  That aqua bra was finished the way the old vintage instructions dictated – with twill tape straps and such in the non-adjustable manner – and it needs constant tweaking to be brought back up fitting me as perfectly today as it did when I made it.  This time, I was determined today’s pretty little project was going to be more enjoyed than the last vintage lingerie, and what better way to do that than make it fully adjustable for my body and a touch more up-to-date?!

Next comes my unselfish sewing project!  This trio of boxers were very much mindless sewing I really didn’t have to think about how to construct.  They were pretty much the same as the 1940s pajama pants I had made him (posted here).  To save on interfacing for the front fly, I merely tripled up on fabric layers.  Interfacing and elastic still seems hard to come by, but luckily I had a pretty good stash of 1 inch wide elastic from my deceased Grandmother.  Thus, with the exception of the first pair of boxers I made for him – the animal print ones – which were two channels of ½ inch elastic, all the rest were a single piece of wide stretch waistband.  The instructions said to make two channels, but he seemed to find the dual channels of elastic would twist and line up wrongly as they get worn, so a single wide elastic waistband is always less fussy…and who wants fussy underwear?!

I gave myself a bit of a break when laying out the pattern for these boxers.  I laid the lower bottom edge out along the selvedge to save myself a bit of extra time to do hemming.  Also. I cut them opposite the grainline to save on fabric and better align with the directional prints on two of the boxers.  All of the pairs are cotton wovens that are not shifty and so going a bit against the rules of sewing and fabric isn’t a big deal, especially when you’re talking about mere underwear.  I normally never do such a thing so I was really in a special mood for such a disobedience to happen in my sewing projects.

Each pair is a different weight and kind of cotton.  As I said, I was not only using what was on hand but was experimenting to see what he would prefer.  The animal print ones as a tissue weight voile, the Captain America print is a medium weight quilting cotton, while the red print is something you might recognize, leftover Indian block print from making my sari ensemble choli blouse (posted here).  The Indian cotton was actually my part of a deal he made with me.  He encouraged me to not be feeling bad for placing a big fabric order from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy (yes, I honestly sometimes feel guilt for adding to my already generous sized stash of sewing supplies) as long as he gets a little something made for himself out of it.  I said I would use one of the fabrics to make him boxers, because I know how luxurious Indian cotton is, and underwear is the best way to appreciate good material.  It seems this is his favorite pair on account of the fabric – it is almost like a silk in the way it is very breathable, cooling, and weightless.

The voile is lightweight, yes – but not as silky the Indian cotton.  I know, he put up with me sewing him the animal pair, but I couldn’t help but think of Tarzan when I saw this one yard remnant.  Those were my crazy choice and my hubby has humored me.  The quilting cotton is a thick and tightly woven, as I’m sure many of you know (us vintage enthusiast always get tempted by its pretty prints for day dresses!), that has way too much sizing in it so it’s not the best choice for underwear.  Many washes will fix that eventually and break it in…and by then it might be looking almost worn out.  Ah, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with printed quilting cotton.  Yet, the Captain America print is so darn fun it has to be the winning boxer pair, though!  It is a print that is practically made for our family interests.  I actually ordered enough of this official Marvel brand fabric to make several face masks for each of us, with a yard still leftover to sew some pajama pants in the future for our little guy out of it as well.

The frequent wearing of loungewear along with finding ways to be self-dependent both are having a strong moment this year.  As we are all staying at home and outdoors more frequently, whether for work, play, or eating.  Crafting your own ‘unmentionables’ for your own personal comfort and enjoyment might just become as much of a thing as the “Nap dress” or food canning.  I love to be on trend using old trends.  Drive-in movie entertainment is coming back, so hey – anything is possible!

Handmade lingerie is really not as impossible a task as it might seem at first, and it is a fantastic way to use up small fabric scraps and bust that stash you’ve been holding onto, as well as be as sensible, sustainable, and thrifty as possible.  Besides, the holidays are coming and a handmade intimate garment would be an easy and cute little gift – just saying!  The world will never know how handmade your outfit really is when you make your own underwear…it’s merely a little undercover secret about your modern day superpower.

Peony Blush

Peony buds are so pretty but quite fussy to appreciate in their prime beauty, much like finding the perfect ripeness of an avocado.  The peony bushes are one of my favorite spring blossoms in our backyard except they have a very small time frame before they get musky in smell, with wilted petals and droopy stems.  It’s as if they are either bashful beauties or merely overwhelmed by their own superfluity.  This year though, we not only were able to photograph that ‘sweet spot’ for our peony bushes, but I also matched with their particular color, too!  So – small, urban backyard ugliness be darned – I happily sported my newest vintage-style make for the occasion.

This simple dress has all the qualities to be a chic, versatile, comfortable, yet easy-to-sew wardrobe staple item.  There is no interfacing and closures needed (no zippers, hooks, snaps, or extra notions) so it’s perfect for these Covid times when sewing supplies and mail deliveries are hard to come by.  You pop it over the head and you’re good to go!

Only two yards was enough to work with (no matter what the envelope back says) so it is not good for smaller remnants – unless you use one fabric for the front panel and a different one for the back…just a wild thought!  Crazy prints, large scale florals, and hard-to-match designs are all great fabric choices for this pattern as there are basically two very large cuts with nothing to break them up except for two, small, French-style bust darts in the front panel.  Unlike many of the other “Jiffy” line of patterns in the 60’s and 70’s which I have tried, this one does have the best shaping and fit out of all of them.  As you can tell, I am completely sold on this pattern and wish I had sewn this dress a few years back as I originally intended!  I am so glad I finally got around to whipping it together.

The shoes (60’s era), bracelet (80’s from my childhood), and earrings (from my Grandma) to my outfit are true vintage items, but the flower accessory you see along the waist was made by me.  It is a trio of airy rosettes composed of lime green chiffon leftover from this retro dress project.  It was a quick and relatively easy accent to assemble that I think provides the right contrast to the overwhelming amount of pink in the print.  As I used a duckbill clip on the back, I can also wear this in my hair if I please!  There is a Threads magazine tutorial which I used as my guide – you need no pattern – and a scrap of heavy muslin or interfacing as a base.  It’s all in the article “Coming Up Roses” by Kenneth D. King from the Threads magazine #142.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer polyester crepe print fully lined in a solid light pink sheer cotton batiste

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1356, also sometimes numbered as S0567.  It is reprint from 2014 of an original Simplicity #8125, year 1969

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making it from start to finish took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on May 3, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  What insides? All raw edges are encased by the cotton second dress I sewed inside lie a lining.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember.  I bought this on deep clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  Two yards of each fabric probably didn’t cost me much!

Sure, this might be a pattern from 1969, but I think it is quite timeless in design, if a bit unusual.  A kind and knowledgeable reader commented on this post on my wrap-on, 70s era, apron-sundress to let me know about Andrea Zittel and her “Smockshop” project of 2006.  Andrea Zittel’s basic smock pattern – with her simplified outlook to the basis for creativity – is really no different than this vintage pattern when you look at the basic outline.  A little tweak here and a tweak there to Zittel’s basic idea and we have this pattern.  I am not saying that either copied off of the other, but I’m just sharing a different way to look at this style of garment.  If you Google all the amazing versions artists and creators came up with using Andrea’s smock pattern (A wrap-on evening gown? Yes, please…), I am envisioning all the different ways this vintage 1969 pattern could be tweaked to make something completely different than where it started.  This pattern has so much hidden potential. Certain slight details to this dress have won me over.  For instance, I am completely enamored by the squared neckline.  It is such a subtle feature yet so different and appealing.  Something I never expected from making this dress is the way the back wrap half opens up when you walk or when the breeze blows and gives the impression of an overskirt.  The front skirt half fully wraps around to the back for full coverage and no fear of a peek-a-boo of thigh, but at the same time this makes the skirt seem more slim fitting than the back half which wraps over it.  Yes, the fact that I used a solid contrast color to fully line the inside of this dress emphasizes the impression of an overskirt.  But either way, this pattern’s neckline and lovely skirt were two surprises I did not see coming when looking at the tissue pieces as I was cutting it out.  Beforehand, I looked at plenty of other reviews on blogs as well as Instagram, with no hint or mention of these features, so perhaps it has to do with the very lightweight fabrics I chose.  Yet, I believe it has more to do with the slight changes I made to the pattern.

The most obvious change is the fact I added sleeves.  Sleeves to a wrap-on dress are not the norm, and you all know I like a challenge!  I traced out the little cap sleeves which are part of this mid-1940s dress because I liked how the ‘hem’ is really a fold so that there is two layers, i.e. self-faced sleeves for a pretty underside.  For a wrap dress, pretty undersides are important because fabrics’ wrong sides and any raw edges are easily seen unless the garment is fully lined or has French or bound finishing.  I slightly altered the sleeve pattern to have a longer armscye to work with the wrap under the arm and I also added more curving to the shoulder portion so as to match with the dress’ non-40’s style of a sleeve which is set further into the main body.  It was really much easier to add on than I expected and completely upgrades the overall appearance to the dress from saying “summer fun” to also “chic” in a really subtle way.

As a side note for clarification, I keep calling the solid light pink cotton side of my dress ‘a lining’ because I do not like polyester against my skin.  Because of that, I only intend on wearing this with the floral side out.  Technically, this dress is completely reversible, and the pattern intends it to be that way but I just do not really like this solid color when worn on the outside.  I look too washed out and think the dress seems more like nightwear that way.  I have a few reversible dresses already (here and here) and so I felt I did not really need this particular one to be yet another.  The blush pink is pretty enough as a sweet flash of a contrast.

The second major change I made to the dress is how I redrafted the tie closures of the front to be just above my waistline.  The pattern design has the front ties end at an empire level, just below the bust.  I am not a big fan of the empire waist on myself unless I am wearing a historical Regency clothing, or a style with similar proportions.  So I lowered the arching of the front overwrap, which is on the back panel, by just over 2 inches and redrew the curve.  I am so glad I did this adjustment but – as I said above – I do think it changed how the overskirt lays.  Even if some small intricacies to finished dress’ features came out as a very good surprise to me, I did engineer the rest of the features to be just how I wanted them.  Those turned out just as nice as I expected.  Every little tweak you do to a pattern has an effect on other parts to the overall design you might not expect.  Sewing is so interesting, exciting, and complex, isn’t it?!

The appearance of the dress can be slightly changed up just depending on what you do with the long closure ties.  If I want more of a loose and straight A-lined dress I merely tie the front ends in a bow or leave them hang.  If I want more of a defined waistline I wrap the long ties around my waist twice and knot in back.  I did choose to make my ties half the width as the original pattern.  To be clear, one tie cut out according to the original pattern gave me two ties because I cut the width in half.  They are just as long still, but I personally like the delicateness of skinnier ties.  They are much easier to tie anyway than wide ones, even though skinny ties are miserable things to turn inside out when making them.

The back closures you don’t see and the dress length were the last things to mention that I also changed.  I added a whopping 8 inches to the hem.  Yes, it might have been overkill, but I am all about midi length dresses at the moment and I like the elegance of it on this dress compared to the very 60s style shorter length of the original.  After making this 40’s era wrap top, I knew I didn’t want a repeat of the fussy way it closed behind my back.  This 60s pattern called for the same deal – two sets of ties.  The ties on that 40’s top tend to come undone on me after some time of wearing and if I make a sloppy bow they are a tad bulky.

Thus, for this dress I made small loops across from oversized buttons for a secure and simplified closing that is super easy to execute blindly behind my back.  The top closure to my dress felt better on me with an extra extension so I added a second loop for more than one option of comfort.  I was also able to make useful two random, mismatching, oversized buttons, too!  I know I said this dress was wonderful because it needed no closures, but then I go and add some so I can sound like a hypocrite.  Ah, anyone who has sewn long enough can sympathize with how sometimes a project can take an unexpected turn.  However, I suspect I secretly love to overthink things sometimes.  That is life.  I forget I tend to be a perfectionist.

To talk about trying to think about everything, not only did I come up with a clip-on flower, but I even made a face mask to match my dress!  This mask and all the ones I make have several layers for protection (one is polyester, two are cotton, with one extra interfacing layer).  I only had enough of my dress’ floral print scraps to make a second copy of this exact mask for my husband’s mother.  The pattern I use for all my masks is a free download from here (youtube.com/anjurisa), and I highly recommend it.  I slightly altered the pattern to give more room in the nose (many members in my and my husband’s family have a more endowed schnozzle than I) and figured out how to save on elastic by having most of the strap be a fabric tube, except for a little 2 inch stretchy section in the side of the mask.  Yes, here I go overthinking again.  Yet, my efforts do yield a very good, full coverage, highly filtering mask I do believe!

They are a necessity of the times, and all the other colors besides pink in this particular floral print – the green and purple – help the mask co-ordinate with plenty more outfits besides this one.  I personally don’t completely mind matching my mask so exactly to my outfit of the day, yet it brings up my self-consciousness that I am making it way too obvious to viewers I am wearing a self-made outfit.  Not that this is a bad thing, because I am proud of what I sew and am personally confident in my creations, it’s just I have been careful not to be overwhelmed by mask making efforts.  If you highlight the fact you make masks, there is the chance you can get inundated by peoples’ orders.  My stress levels have been high over these last few months and that is causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects to show up on my body by now.  Mask making stresses me out further, but I do realize over the past months, it is one of the most important efforts one can perform using a sewing machine.  Self-care is also very important in our world today, too, so I limit my mask making and keep up my sewing projects in between everything.

This is so far off from where I started talking about how peony flowers are like avocados, isn’t it?!  I’ve covered everything between my inspiration leading up to this outfit, making a flower brooch and a mask, to Andrea Zittel and her ‘Smockshop’.  It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem, nor do my ‘simple’ projects always end up so straightforward.  It is often the more basic sewing which leaves room for extra creativity, anyway.  After all of this, I hope you pick up this 1969 dress pattern and find your own way to personalize it the way I did so you can enjoy this easy but cute wrap frock the way I am!

“Milk and Sugar”

It was just Father’s Day weekend here in America…so it’s time for another one my infrequent but recurring posts on vintage menswear!  My husband’s birthday and Father’s Day are practically a month apart and so I annually take some time between the two dates to sew him a shirt.  This years’ gift was something completely new and different – both for me to work with and for him to wear.  It’s a 1960s era shirt made out of that easily recognizable, and cool-as-a-cucumber cotton we call seersucker.  I equate it to my giving him his own personal air-conditioning.

“Seersucker is the quintessential warm-weather fabric known for its crinkled texture and breezy quality. Seersucker’s texture creates a space between the skin and the fabric that helps improve heat dissipation and promotes air circulation” says Fabric.com.  Yet, “It is a low-profit, high-cost item because of its slow weaving speed” says Wikipedia, and so it is produced in much smaller quantities than other textiles.  Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together – “slack-tension weave” – giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places…which also means ironing is not necessary (yay).  Many seersucker fabrics are striped (much like butchers’ or railroad workers’ “hickory stripes”), but I have had this shirt’s plaid seersucker in my fabric stash for well over a decade, so no wonder it is on the more unusual side!

Now to explain my post’s title.  “Milk and sugar” is the translation of “shīroshakar”, a combo of Persian and Sanskrit, and the derivative to the word seersucker, which came into English from Hindi.  It calls to mind the smooth rippling of milk poured around lumpy sugar.  I love the picturesque richness of some words such as this!  This reminds me of the beauty of baking and how the ingredients take such differing appearances at every step.

Our picture of a WAVES summer uniform, United States Naval Reserve, circa 1942, from the exhibit “Making Mainbocher” exhibit in Chicago back in 2017.

Unfortunately, both the 19th century old Southern America and the British colonial period of India popularized the wearing of seersucker as a means to stay tolerably cool in the hot, humid climate of those regions.  Yet, post Victorian times, seersucker’s use had expanded to become the preferred material for cooling bed linens or preppy student-inspired fashion.  Captain Anne A. Lentz, one of the first female officers selected to run the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during the Second World War chose seersucker for the summer service uniforms of the first female United States Marines.  The designer Mainbocher produced the WAVES summer WWII uniform for the government using blue and white striped seersucker.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ outfit.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ uniform.  This unusual material seems to have a quiet staying power.  It can be a fabric you sleep upon, or one that a suit is made from, but either way it’s an easy-care, attractively distinctive material for warm weather comfort!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  pure cotton puckered plaid seersucker, with the inner shoulder panel lining being an all-cotton broadcloth remnant

PATTERN:  a vintage year 1964 original Butterick #2124 (in my personal pattern collection)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, a bit of interfacing, and a few buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this shirt took me about 10 to 12 hours, and it was made this spring of 2020

THE INSIDES:  The armscyes are French seamed but all else is cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  As this shirt project makes use of a fabric cut which I have been holding onto for at least a decade, I’m counting this as a free and worthwhile stash-busting project! 

This shirt – as is often the case for the majority of vintage menswear from the 1950s and on – is not easily recognizable as originating from an older design.  Most of the time, I do believe that one would not guess the shirts I make and sew for him are vintage.  Mid-Century menswear often lacks standout features to date it to specific eras and generally stays pretty classic, so I feel it is the choice of fabric, the style of the pants to match, and the slight details which give such garments’ true age away.  This shirt (as is the case for many 50s and 60s men’s styles) has a boxy body and a very skinny shoulder panel which does not extend much into the main body.  I can tell this was a pattern meant to help make a dress shirt with the separate collar stand and separate button placket (which I did not include) but I rather brought it down to a fairly casual level by choosing seersucker.  At this point in my husband’s professional life, casual yet dressy shirts are what he will be the most likely to wear on a regular basis, and so I wanted him to get the most use out of what I had sewn for him with my special fabric!

I know I tend to say this every time I post a shirt I’ve made for him, but it is the literal truth – I was so short on needed material for this project.  I had to cut some small ‘corners’ to make this work out successfully.  Yet, I was still somehow able to match the plaid…luckily so, because the analytical and perfectionist side of me would never tolerate anything else, otherwise!  I did not have any extra room for a separate button placket and the layout of the pattern pieces on my under 2 yard cut of fabric was conducive to only the shirt’s bare bones – slightly adapted – and one chest pocket (a must-have because we all love pockets, right?!).  The pattern design already had small turn-under edge down the front closure edges, so I doubled that to be a cut-on, self-fabric facing.  The separate button placket was an extra piece which was easy to sacrifice.  Granted, I did fully interface the newly drafted facing in lieu of stabilizing the add-on button placket, which I was not using.  The switch I made actually avoids breaking up the plaid and gives me less to stress over and match up.  He can’t miss what he should have had on his shirt when it is just as good without it!  Besides, a happy sewing wife is a happy life – don’t I have the phrase correct?

Making this shirt was a nice change of pace in my sewing and totally unique gift, besides.  I just don’t find seersucker in person anywhere anymore – RTW shopping or fabric stores – and I say it should be brought back.  I remember, as a young teen, my mom had bought me a plaid seersucker skirt I liked out of a catalog.  It was in a straight A-line shape, in a middy length, and printed with a plaid which had more blue and brown tones in place of the green and yellow as seen in his shirt (but otherwise a similar sized plaid).  I enjoyed how that skirt always looked good no matter what.  The print and the rough, puffy texture hides stains, and I could stuff it in a backpack to bring it with me as a change of clothes but still not look I was impromptu.  It was so lightweight to wear, it was almost imperceptible to feel it was on (weird to explain, but kind of like the weightlessness of bias cut silk without the cling).  If I did get sweaty, the cotton wicked it away without itself becoming damp.  If I could find that skirt again (I think it might be packed away somewhere downstairs) I would totally wear it or at least re-fashion it so I could!  So I can totally understand why this 60’s shirt is his newest favorite.

I still have not even posted the vintage shirt I made for his birthday-Father’s Day gift from last year!  My blogging proficiency doesn’t always keep up with the speed with which I crank out my sewing projects.  However, I can assure you, it’s another really good shirt which is yet another different and unique make.  So far, though, this post’s shirt is a definite high contender to the previous popularity of that one!  In a world when menswear is generally so very blah, I enjoy seeing him happy and bold enough to wear the singular things I make.  Sewing gifts for others is so amazing – to see someone else get to enjoy my handmade clothes just the same as I makes my gift not just about sharing a present.  It shares a special feeling.