Face Value

Yes, this is a cliché phrase but oh-so-appropriate for this post’s project.  You can’t judge a book by its cover, so the saying goes.  Well, even a line drawing to a garment design, heck – even the finished garment itself – can hide construction secrets…I’m specifically talking about the good and wonderful kind.  This jumper is definitely a case in point!

It’s made of a warm and soft common flannel made to look like a much fancier woolen suiting, with pockets and a front closure that are really not workable, and a back zipper that you can’t tell is really there (that’s why they’re called invisible, duh).  This garment carries a vintage vibe yet is a very modern release.  The pattern itself is called a deceiving “Waistcoat Bodice Dress” to designate that it is a jumper made to look like a dress that has a vest-style top half.  You’d never guess how I finished the inside, either.  Confused much?  All you really need to know is that I love this make!  It came together wonderfully, is freaking cute, and is crazy cozy for chilly weather.  It really brings a jumper to another level, and makes the most of its on-point details.

This was made as my last 2018 “Burda Challenge” make for the month of December.  I know, I’m running late to post it on my blog, but better late than not at all!  I HAD to make this Burda “Jumper Dress” after seeing their version paired up with the vintage 1963 ruffled neck “Beatnik Blouse” which I had made in November.  However, the jumper has such great wardrobe potential for me that it matches up to almost every other winter blouse I have, especially the Burda scrunched neck Turtleneck.  I paired it in these pictures with an older RTW blouse which I felt brings out the 1970s vibes that the jumper has…besides, it is more paisley and it brings out the turquoise in my outfit (one of my favorite colors!).  I am wearing my Grandma’s vintage 70’s drop earrings, and some modern T-strap wedges to match.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton flannel printed with a navy, tweed-like, imitation texture pattern; fully lined in both cotton and polyester…reasons explained down later

PATTERN:  Burda Style #109 “Waistcoat Bodice Dress” from August 2018

NOTIONS:  All I needed to complete this was luckily on hand – thread, a bit of interfacing, cotton and polyester lining remnants, an invisible zipper, and true vintage buttons from the inherited stash of hubby’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 8 hours and finished on January 5, 2019

THE INSIDES:  Full lining means smooth insides with nary a seam showing…I love it!

TOTAL COST:  The flannel was found at JoAnn, and it was on sale on top of a coupon, so with the free scraps I had on hand for the lining, this cost about $15 or less.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

When tracing it out and doing the cutting, I realized the individual pattern pieces themselves seemed quite small and easy to work with.  I was almost doubtful that they would turn out a garment which would actually fit a normal human body.  But, yes – it did turn out beautifully without any confusion or problems.  The sizing was right on, and it came together rather quickly…I actually spent just as much (maybe more) time on the finishing touches.  The fabric appears so dressy and I wanted to keep up the sham by taking the extra time to invisibly hand-stitch all the edges together, even on the pocket flaps, as well as the inner linings.

The only tiny thing that I did change to this was the button placement.  I felt that three buttons down the front mock closure is overkill, while free-flapping pocket flaps are weird without buttons.  The buttons that were in my stash on hand which I did like for the jumper were only four in number anyway.  I wasn’t only justifying what I had on hand, though!  If you’re going to make part of the ‘dress’ look real, do it all the way.

Flannel is one of those “sticky” fabrics (like corduroy) that need a lining to hang gracefully or have the proper body, especially if one plans to wear more winter layers under them.  I find that the more flannel gets washed it loosens up and changes shape, and I didn’t want that to happen to this jumper…at least the top half of the body.  This, I lined the waistband and above in an all-cotton broadcloth which also sticks to the flannel, keeping it in its original shape, besides feeling sturdy and warm.  I did iron a 3 inch width of interfacing to the wrong side of the flannel all around the entire neckline before sewing together to also help keep the flannel in check.  However, for the skirt portion I chose a silky buff finish polyester.  The skirt is slim and cut on the bias so it has a lovely body-hugging shape that is slimming.  Choosing a poly to line the skirt keep it flowing and cling free when I wear tights or even pants under this jumper.  As the skirts (lining and flannel) are cut on the bias, I have left the hems unfinished and raw.  The bias keeps them from fraying so they are good as they are with no hem confining the shape there!

I had been saving this projects flannel for a vintage winter shirtdress, complete with faux leather accents as I had imagined.  However, a jumper is a more versatile in between the choice of wearing either separates or a dress, and – as I said at the top of this post – this Burda one is so smart!  It really lets the blouse underneath still shine (most jumpers don’t do that) by having an open front bodice that is shaped so well by panels and darts it actually stays in place nicely over one’s curves while being so open in styling.  I’m such a sucker for clothes that are chic enough you forget to realize they are both cozy and comfy at the same time.  Things are not what they seem at first view when you sew…especially when you’re talking about something off of my machine tables!  Tell me about a sewing project of yours that has some great surprises to it!

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Peace, Love, and a Jumpsuit

Finally…at long last, I have made my first jumpsuit and I love it like I never thought I could!  Wearing this, I have mostly got over my feeling that I am wearing either a grown-up’s baby onesie or nightwear pajamas, and am loving how comfortable a jumpsuit is…although it does feel weird to have both a top-and-bottom without two separate pieces (besides being even weirder to use the toilet)!  I went for the Disco era as my source and inspiration for this…the era when the jumpsuits were killer and at the height of their perfection, in my opinion.  A jumpsuit of the 70’s was the body-conscious and fuss-free dressing option preferred for superstars like Abba, Cher, Bianca Jagger, and Diana Ross…so many also flaunted their look that decade!

I wanted a slimming, detailed, and utilitarian option classic to the 70’s era which had a slight nod to the military reference in this garment’s history.  The pattern I used had everything I wanted, it was bought for 25 cents locally, and yet it made my first dive into jumpsuits so much more challenging than already was the case!  It was very petite in height as it was for teens, and in a very small size proportions, so it needed dramatic work on my part to even consider it being usable.  I am not only impressed with my re-grading and re-sizing (I can’t help but pat myself on the back here), but what amazes me is how this pattern was a “Learn to Sew” project for teens…complete with a visor-style hat!  This would probably be labelled an intermediate pattern, or even an advanced one, today.  This helped me gain further respect for the sewing skills expected of even the modern 1970s.

My outfit is completed with my mother’s vintage sunglasses bought in 1969, new old-style leather platform sandals, and my husband’s guitar!  This was the era of peacefulness compared to the tumultuous 60’s so here I am hanging out in a city park, on a calm Sunday afternoon.  The 70’s, dubbed the “ME Decade”, were focused on equality, self-expression, personal betterment, and awareness…so I even hugged a tree in its honor!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A medium weight, raised pin-striped twill, in a soft and forgiving 97% cotton, 3% spandex blend.

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #5421, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I needed very simple notions, everything which was on hand already – thread, some interfacing, bias tape, and a long vintage metal zipper down the front.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours (not counting time to adjust the pattern) and was completed on May 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Every seam edge is individually bound in pastel yellow ¼ inch bias tape for a neat and clean inside.

TOTAL COST:  A few yards of the twill cost me about $23 (including shipping) from the Etsy shop “Fabric Genie” in California.

I’ll admit, I was ready for a failure here when I started this project and am ecstatic that it is a success.  Not that this was expensive fabric, but it is very nice material that I was terrified to waste both money and time as well on something I could not estimate how it would end up.  I do think that the sizing and design for the pattern are really good (so it wasn’t all my pattern re-sizing work), and some notes that whomever made this before me wrote down were extremely helpful.  The written note to make a 3 inch hem was just what I needed.  Overall, I had to add in 4 inches vertically around the body and two inches horizontally between the chest and the waist.  Usually I re-trace out patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper when they need cutting and splicing, but I worked on the original pattern this time.  There was no way I was going to retrace pattern pieces so overwhelmingly one-piece.

You see, for my jumpsuit, the design has not one horizontal seam so the pattern pieces were skinny and just seemed to keep going when laid out.  The neck down to the hem is one long 60 inch length!  There is a front princess seam that runs the length of the side fronts, starting from the armscye seam, over the bust and down through the hips, waist and thigh.  This was a very wavy princess seam on the pattern and I knew that was a good sign for a nice curvy fit.  Otherwise the back was in a basic right and left paneling.

The deep hip pockets and the belt that grazes over the top of them both run into the front princess seam and are attached there so that the middle is left beautifully smooth, lengthening the appearance and focusing on the zipper.  This is why I ‘splurged’ (in my mind) and used a long 20 inch vintage metal zipper from my stash of notions which came with the cabinet for my vintage 1960 Necci sewing machine.  Metal zippers are so sturdy compared to the modern plastic ones, and give a vintage garment an authentic feel when they are added to a sewing project using an old pattern.  Yet the longer the length, the harder to come by…at least in my experience. Thus, I wanted to do things right.  The instructions more or less had you slap it on the seam edge, but I wanted things to look nice so I buried the zipper in between the front and the inner front facing so that the top 6 to 10 inches that I leave unzipped below my neck would be cleanly impeccable.

This military-esque jumpsuit needed a metal zipper.  I possess an authentic WWII flight suit (jumpsuit) and it has a long front metal zipper, even though such a thing was still a novelty at the time.  There was no beating around the bush when it came to making uniform of quality back then – manufacturers made these long metal teeth zippers only for government use so mine is probably post-WWII yet older than the 70’s (with its all-cotton twill tape on the edges).

Besides cleaning up the way the zipper is added on, the only other change I made (not counting re-sizing as a change) was to add binding along the outer edge of the sleeveless armhole.  I needed to bring the top shoulder seam to take out about an inch in the body, and this left the armholes a little more open than I wanted.  In order to not make them any smaller than they would be by facing them and turning the edges in, I made strips of fabric and had these be both the finishing and interest along the edge.  I think that going sleeveless will help this jumpsuit be a real seasonal transition garment, good for spring and fall with a blazer and summer as it is, especially since the fabric color is muted.

I think I owe a good part of my success to my happiness with the fabric I picked out.  This fabric in particular is a novelty pinstripe so it is much more interesting, fun, and ornamental, but nevertheless – I am so sold on a stretch twill for a jumpsuit.  It is stable enough to feel pretty close to a lightweight denim, but stretchy enough to be forgiving in a garment like a jumpsuit that can always benefit from some body-hugging fabric properties.  The whole garment moves along with you when you move, there is no blouse to come untucked!  Of course, this struck me as the style of jumpsuit that was meant for a sensible and durable fabric, after all – not a slinky, fancy, or luxuriant material.  I think either an older vintage form of a jumpsuit or at least an extravagant evening version will be in order in my future projects now that I have made my first one!

In today’s fashion industry, a jumpsuit, playsuit, romper, dungarees and pantsuit are all the same terms used to mean a one piece outfit. This is rather confusing and not true, technically…even though all but the last are all-in-one piece.  A playsuit has short pants legs and is normally only the base part of add-on garments pieces (such as a skirt) to transition between adult play and career time; a romper is a loose-fitting children’s version of a playsuit; dungarees are in heavy material and a coverall for construction work or painting; a pantsuit is generally a trousers with a suit coat (two separate items).  What is a jumpsuit is commonly considered long length pants connected to a one piece body, with or without sleeves or a collar.

Sadly, what is not even considered to be lumped into the ‘all-in-one trousers garment’ inclusion are the wrap-on, easy, breezy and chic beach ‘lounging’ pajamas that were so popular during the 1930s for the warmer seasons while holidaying.  I see them as distant yet distinct relative to jumpsuits.  After all, the first fashionable pyjamas were actually invented for a very somber purpose – for citizens to wear to bed during the First World War in expectation of being roused out of bed (and home) at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night to go find public shelter when there was a zeppelin raid.  WWI air raid pyjamas were an amazing organic item, being created and taken up by the populace as “civilian armour” (before any designer claimed fame for them) and started out as two separate pieces which quickly turned into one for many reasons. They might not have been for jumping out of planes, but they were originally meant for ease in wearing during war…and war is the human tragedy that has claimed a portion the jumpsuit usage ever since.

From there, fashion pyjamas, or the early jumpsuits, became a fashion forward option for relaxing.  From the color-blocked or crazy striped bright and bold versions in cotton, linen, or crepe, to the elevated status of the elegant versions for evening at the hands of Chanel (as early as 1922), Schiaparelli, and Vionnet (see pattern no. 15, year 1937, from the Betty Kirke book), all of whom offered silk satin or jersey options in very full pants legs, the likes of a chic vintage pyjama has not been seen since the emergence of 1970s palazzo style jumpsuits.

A Florentine artist and designer who went by the name of Thayat has the popular claim to fame for creating the first ever jumpsuit in 1919 as a practical piece of clothing worn by parachuters and sky divers (quite literally a suit for jumping!) as well as race car drivers and aviators.  During WWII of the 1940s, it seems as if the jumpsuit had a sole purpose of being for paratoopers or women in service.  Following conflicts, such as the Korean War and especially the Vietnam War, continued and established the jumpsuit, in a very utilitarian and very literal sense of its term.  A jumpsuit used during war is specific to the needs of those who are jumping into unknown situations and require a garment which will stay on, protect, and cover the body as naturally as a second skin, but better, with pockets and straps and handles to be there for your every need.  After all, when preparing for or fighting a war, clothing is the last thing that should get in the way!

In the same breath, jumpsuits have the amazing adaptability to be for every other human need, fashion or otherwise.  In 1937, while studying at Reed College in Oregon, US, fashion designer Emilio Pucci designed a jumpsuit for the college skiing team and ten years later they were featured in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, afterwards quickly ordered for sale in New York’s Lord and Taylor store.  The famous actress Katharine Hepburn gave the jumpsuit a touch of Hollywood glamour when she wore a monogrammed silk one-piece in the 1937 film Stage Door.  The white jumpsuit, embellished with rhinestones, worn by Elvis in his performances during the 1950’s might just about be the most quintessential and commonly recognized, however!  We are so used to it, most of us might not even think of it as a jumpsuit.  The 1960’s youth trend and rebellious societal undercurrents picked up the jumpsuit for the liberated woman, the hippie peace movement, or the man who wanted to be the stud on the dance floor alike.  The panache the 1970s continued to have for jumpsuits was somewhat lost with the exaggerated silhouette, futuristic versions in the 80’s, and the naughty, sexy versions of Madonna and Britney Spears of the 90’s.  Today it seems as if a jumpsuit encompasses anything under sun.  For being such an unusual garment, it sure is versatile both in history and design!

Perhaps the oddest use of a jumpsuit that encompasses all of the garment’s uses and purposes is to be found in the old original Star Wars film trilogy.  Their costumes were the main inspiration to my choosing this design jumpsuit (with pockets) from the decade of the 70’s and in a military olive green.  Did you know that jumpsuits were used liberally in all the three original films as the base for many of the costumes, from the Empire’s stormtroopers (who had plastic ‘armor’ attached to bodysuit-style stretch jumpsuits) to the fighter pilots (whose flight suits were jazzed-up copies of those won by the astronaut crew of Mercury 7 mission, from 1961), to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and his father Janga (their outfits are fiberglass and aluminum parts added to military surplus jumpsuits), and finally Chewbacca (whose costume was a knitted wool jumpsuit base with 15 pounds of yak and mohair sewn on).  I learned all this upon visiting the exhibit “Star Wars and the Power of Costume”, and it was a real eye-opener in many ways.  One major surprise was realizing the secret yet smartly handy jumpsuit usage that blends in so well as a starting point for costumes that send a message of a future that is not that far removed from our own times.

Have I helped you see jumpsuits in a whole new light or at least a bigger picture?  Are you a jumpsuit lover already (if so, what is your favorite style?).  Are you in the “I hate them” camp, or are you on the fence?  Did you Simplicity just came out with a new pattern this week for Star Wars/military inspired flight suit (#8722)?  Can a jumpsuit be considered a garment utilitarian enough to actually be anti-fashion, which is why they have lasted so long in so many incarnations (read the full article discussion here)?  Let me know your thoughts, and in the meantime I will rock the 70’s in my new and only jumpsuit!

A Sybil Connolly Skirt Suit

Of all the items I have made in my life, it is hard to believe that only now is my very first sewing using a designer Vogue pattern! Even though this might not be the most spectacular or glamorous project to start with, the beauty is in the details and the rich, significant background of the designer.  This is also a very comfortable and useful dressy set, to boot!  I present my year 1976 suit set of Sybil Connolly, the leader and founder of Irish Couture.

First of all, I want to say that I am counting this as part of my 21st century progressive Easter day creations I have been making since 2013, starting with a dress in the year 1929 style.  Since that Easter day outfit, I make something from the following decade for the next year’s holiday.  (See my 1930s Easter dress here, and my 1940s one here.)  Only since I made this set from the year 1954 did I begin keeping with suiting. This year 2018 was naturally supposed to be something from the 1970’s (after this one last year from 1960), but as our Easter day turned out to be incredibly cold and snowy, this suit set had to be put off being showcased until the next spring holiday – Mother’s day!  Happily, the grass and trees were overly lush and green by the time I wore my new vintage suit set!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton-rayon blend “linen-look” material, in a solid orchid color for the contrast and a floral for the rest of the set.  Leftover polyester lining (in a matching orchid pinkish purple) from my stash was used to line the jacket inside.

PATTERN:  Vogue #1503, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I pretty much had everything I needed – thread, zipper, interfacing, and bias tape.  The only thing I needed to buy for this specifically was a button making kit for matching fabric buttons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a relatively easy pattern for being a detailed designer project – but of course leaving out the skirt lining step helped, too.  I made my suit set in about 25 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on April 8, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  I’ll admit I took the easy road here for the internal finishing.  My seams are covered by the lining for the jacket body, left raw for the sleeve seams inside the arm, and bias bound for the skirt.  Bias seams are not my preference for making my own copy of a designer garment, neither are raw edges, but this fabric doesn’t really fray and I wanted my set done for Easter-time…only I didn’t wear it for Easter anyway!  Oh well.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics had been closing several years back.  I believe I bought the fabric for about $2 a yard. With about 3 yards used, and the notions I bought, this suit set cost me just over $10…how awesome is that?!

For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to find a dressy suit set from the decade of the 1970s.  I have a sneaky suspicion that this is due to the casualness that the youthful-oriented and stretchy knit fashions introduced, as well as the greater political and social liberties of women.  Enough said.  Whatever the reason, suits of the 1970’s seem to be quite relaxed, mostly with pants for the bottom half, and frequently with a tunic-style jacket or a safari-style over shirt.  Leave it to a designer to offer my taste just what I was hoping for but having trouble finding!  This suit feels unpretentious, but still polished, as well as being timeless with a 70’s flair.  It was just enough of a challenge to make, yet still easy enough to enjoy the sewing.  It has unexpected details to make my creative heart flutter yet these are subtle enough to go unnoticed to the casual observation.  Besides, now I have the opportunity to both appreciate and share the story of a designer that deserves to be better known.

Ireland had long been considered a country without its own fashion.  Sybil Connolly changed that.  She had been brought up in Waterford County, and trained as an apprentice dressmaker in London starting in the late 1930’s at seventeen and by the time she was twenty-two (WWII times) she was a workroom manager and company director for Jack Clarke, a fashion retailer in Dublin.  In 1954, Carmel Snow, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, discovered Sybil Connolly who had just come out with her first collection, featuring the use of her native Irish fabrics and embellishments, most notably Irish linen, only the year before.  With the combined help of the Irish exports board, Connolly launched Irish Couture into an international spotlight with her introduction to New York’s fashion scene.  What she made often showed a woman’s natural body form (in contrast to the likes of Balenciaga) with such dresses as her white crocheted evening dress that was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in August 1953.  Her inspiration the sentiment A woman’s body is inside. It breathes. It moves. So I must see movement in a dress.”  By being true to herself, her tastes, her roots, and her determination, she stood out in the fashion world, gave women attractive options to wear, and gained a new respect from the world for her culture.  By March of 1955, Vogue magazine was mentioning Dublin in the same sentence as Paris, London, and Milan!

Connolly was adamant about using her fashion line to support business and export trade in Ireland, by not only using Irish textile manufacturers, but even employing over 50 local women to hand make some of her laces. At the Glencolumbkill Agricultural show in 1956, she had said, “I feel that as long as we can show such beauty in design and texture as we do in our Irish cottage industries, we cannot ever be called a vanishing race.”  Click here for a “Glamourdaze” article to watch (in color!) Sybil Connolly’s 1957 fashion show at a lovely Irish castle.  Most of her designs at this time were inspired by rural, traditional garments and materials.  This is cultural approbation at its finest.

For me, I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my family, Sybil Connolly’s work is a personal thing that touches a tender spot.  I too love and appreciate the fine laces that my Irish (paternal) Grandmother hoarded (which I now have) as well as the Irish simple beauty of life that my Irish (maternal) Grandfather enjoyed.  If you follow my blog you have already seen and read my great appreciation for linen, in all its forms.  Now, I know – my suit is not real linen.  It’s made from modern linen-look fabric.  It’s also not in a solid color, as was her wont in her creations.  However, I feel that this is me personalizing my own Sybil Connolly fashion, and I can see this step as something she would approve.  I love a linen-look fabric, and I LOVE a purple print…so, this is a set that is all me, for me, designed by a woman that I respect who has my same cultural ties.

This pattern is from 1976, though, decades after the height of her career (the 1950s).  She had dressed all the most well-known social and political names such as Jackie Kennedy, the Rockefellers, and Liz Taylor through the 60’s and began designing for Tiffany & Co. (glassware) as well as releasing luxury home goods (such as fine table linens) by the 1980s.  So this, pattern was at the far end of her fashion career, when she was trading talents.  I have seen that her mid-to late 1970s patterns have very similar, repetitive qualities to my own pattern’s set.  Many of her skirts (excepting her trademark hand-pleated, taffeta-backed linen skirts) have the same paneling with pockets (see Vogue #2998).  Many of her garments had a recognizable continuity even in 1992 as they did 40 years earlier.

Often, designers who began in the pre-WWII times (such as Mainbocher) had difficulty dealing with the harshly contrasting ‘hip’ and youthful trends of the 60’s-70’s-80’s.  However, she was a multi-faceted woman (she even wrote books!) and found a way to keep her head up apparently to still have wonderful, lovely designs like this pattern for many decades.  That is pure ingenuity and a stamp of a classic style.  Connolly maintained that she knew, as all women designers should, that “good fashion does not need to change”.

One of the major details which slightly dates this suit is the enormous collar.  This is so 1970s and a natural style for Connolly to adopt here to be on point for 1976.  An oversized collar is the most common, recognizable feature to shirts and jacket necklines that I see and make from the 1970s.  Other than that, the rest of the details are pretty timeless, and finely crafted.  The sleeves are the classic two panel style seen on most suits.  The body of the jacket has a princess seam running vertical down through the bust, starting from sleeve and running to the hem, separating the front from the side panel.  The side bodice panel has a sneaky extra shaping dart close to where the side seam is while the back is pretty bare bones, yet still shaped nicely.  As this is supposed to be a warm weather jacket, I didn’t line the sleeves and I left out the shoulder pads to keep this lightweight.

As I left off the bias tube belt the pattern called for to wear over the jacket, I instead made sure to keep another accessory detail that can be spotted on the example garment shown on the pattern envelope cover.  Can you find it?  I made my own clip on fabric flower to match for the collar!  I used the 1950’s Dior-style bias method (which you can see here or here) to start with and slightly adapted it so the flower is more compact like a double rose.  Making fabric flowers is my new favorite thing to do with my scraps.  Not only does it use leftover fabric, but I end up with a wonderful matching accessory.  Plus it’s fun (very important) and is an excellent way to practice precise hand sewing.  Small-scale, often time-consuming details like this fabric rose remind me of the labor of love which went into Connolly’s creations.

My favorite feature to this set is possibly the smart button placket to the jacket.  It is only on the exterior front, made a bit more obvious by my solid contrast color.  There is only a wide facing on the inside.  This is unusual but lovely.  I couldn’t find it in my heart to break up the color and texture of the front placket by using anything other than matching fabric buttons, so I bought a kit to make them myself.   I feel like this brings the jacket’s detailing to a whole new level equal to a designer pattern.

My next favorite feature is the smart pockets in the unexpected gore design of the skirt.  It is a four panel (or gore) skirt with no side seams.  There are center panels in the front and the back, with one wrap-around panel to either side.  The waistline has small darts coming out of it, ending at the high hip, adding shaping there in the absence of a side seam.  I think I have only seen no side seams with a side seam darts with my 50’s pencil skirts (here and here), so it is another uncommon feature for the 70’s.  With such seaming, do you know where the zipper closing went?  In the left back side seam.  This makes it kind of tricky to close unless I twist it around to the front of me while dressing.  The pattern called for a flap closing back much like the front buttoning fly to men’s trousers and historical breeches.  I simplified that by sewing one side closed then adding a zip in the other.  Then I continued with the contrasting color I had been using on the jacket to make the skirt waistband out of the solid orchid color linen-look, as well.

I suppose you have noticed my hands slipped into some well hidden front skirt pockets.  What you may not have detected was how the skirt is a straight A-line shape from the front, while the back is gently fuller.  Anyway – back to the pockets!  They are so handy in the way that they are deep and generous to hold many things, and they are at the perfect height for my arm length.  The pockets inside swoop in towards one another, and to keep them that way there is a small length of bias tape to connect the two.  Whenever there are pockets like this I always think of them in connection to a kangaroo, because they give me room to hold things over my tummy!

The pattern I had was a slightly bigger size than what I needed, so I used the same method I used for this 60’s dress.  I cut off the seam allowance on the side and shoulder seams, and made slightly wider seam allowances.  Read more about it in this post.  I’m really liking the perfect fit I end up with this method.

I am now quite eager to dive into my next vintage Vogue designer pattern.  I have already bought a few more while I was in the post-project happiness – among them ones from the 80’s and 90’s for my Easter suits of the next two years!  I love how designer patterns give me a reason and opportunity to learn more about the talents, individuality, and biography of garment creators that made it big.  Unfortunately some of them have been better remembered in history than others!  In fact I prefer the forgotten or little known designers because it helps me associate myself better with them.  I might be sewing using a designer pattern, but most importantly anything I make means I become my own designer.  Home sewing is so underestimated.  One person does all the jobs of a whole fashion house.

Sybil Connolly had bystanders remark of her (at a party she attended in 1946, before she had her own line of clothing) that “Wearing her own designed dress, she was her own best model.”  That is my ideal, to have me – the creator of what I make – be the foremost representation for what can be accomplished at the hands of a dedicated seamstress.  It’s like wearing your art on your back and being your own silent spokesperson for what you do.  Whether it gets seen or appreciated, that fact should alone make one who sews happy.  You don’t need what you make be strutted down the runway to be proved it’s worthwhile…nowadays, half of what is seen on the runways is trash in my opinion anyway.  Just make sure what you make for yourself is 100% you for you to show the beauty, individuality, and artistry to the powerful talent of sewing!

“Retro Forward” Burda Style – a Vintage Inspired Novelty Knit Dress

Waffles aren’t just for breakfast anymore!  Silly me, you probably knew that.  However, I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a thing as a waffle knit fabric.  Plain, flat surface knit isn’t the only option in my mind anymore, and this opens up a whole new world of fashion ideas to me.

This dress, made from a novelty, reversible (yes!) textured knit, is sewn using a modern Burda Style pattern with strong features of 1960s and 70’s fashion.  Thus it is part of my ongoing blog series, “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester blend knit bought from my local JoAnn’s Fabric store

PATTERN:  Burda Style #116, from February 2014, “Dress with Buttoned Back” view B, or “Jackie Dress” view A.  (Both views look the same to me, by the way!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some cotton scraps, and some buttons and snaps were needed and I had all of that on hand already.  Yay!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours and finished on October 15, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  As this knit is a polyester and it is a dense weave, it does not fray so the innards are left raw.  Hey – even the dress hem is left raw and unfinished!

TOTAL COST:  I don’t clearly remember, but I believe it was between $15 to $20.

When you look around at it, novelty knit fabric is ah-mazing, especially this waffle version, which is totally reversible, too (in a “photo film negative” sort of way), making it all the more open to crazy fun possibilities.  Novelty knits hold a certain balance that amazes me about modern fabrics – they keep their surface quality while still having a forgiving stretch which still acts like a normal knit, with a “memory” to go back to its original texture.  From what I have seen in my research, I have realized modern knitwear has been around since the 1920’s, but it seems as if novelty manufactured knits exploded into the designer fashion scene beginning with the end of rationing after WWII (in the 1950s), and have been out there ever since.  Look at this 1950 “blistered” textured knit dress from the great Claire McCardell, or this 50’s puckered knit wiggle dress for two examples of how a solid color becomes so interesting with this kind of fabric.  Then, after the 50’s, avant-garde fabrics (made of plastics, paper, and metal, to name just a few) were popular in the late 60’s and in the 70’s, so I feel this unusual fabric especially suits a design of that era.  After all, the pattern is called a “Jackie” dress, and as Burda calls it a “classic” design (which I really don’t agree with), I would like to think they are referring to the Presidential fashion inspiration for the 1960’s, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis.

This was really an easy-to-make dress that is so versatile and comfortable.  I found the sizing right on, and the instructions very good. Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did not make any changes to the design, but I did take advantage of it by using both sides of the reversible fabric.  The main body of the dress is in the side that has more grey than white undertones, while the belt which is sew-in to the front shaping tucks was made from the side which is mostly white.  I love how using the other side of the fabric for the belt helps it blend into the dress without getting lost over it at the same time.  I kept the dress a little on the shorter side, and I think it looks better that way…it also gives me a reason to wear fun colored tights in the winter!  Looking back on it, however, I now wish I would have left out the center back, between-the-shoulders, vertical closing because when this dress is sewn out of a knit it is not necessary.  I could have sewn a basic center back seam rather than making a proper placket with fake, sewn on, non-working buttons as I have.  It looks good in the end, so I shouldn’t complain.

I am proud and happy with the way I figured out how to interface the back placket and back belt after all.  I have seen but never tried the interfacing fabric stores sell that is labeled for knits – it is a lightweight tricot mesh with an iron on adhesive back.  I do not see how this would help much or even really work well.  A good knit dress needs certain areas to be non-stretchy, and this is what true interfacing should do.  However, anything iron-on can rip off a knit if stretched too much, and a thick facing would not look good.  Thus, I used a basic 100% cotton broadcloth and basted it in place of the interfacing with some stitching, and have it inside the waist belt straps.  This works wonders to let the back facing and belt be pliable without stretching and be stabilized without undue bulky thickness, besides being an easy, on-hand solution to something that could have been more complicated.  Basic cotton bias tape was used to finish off the neckline edge, as well.  The cotton tape, though on the bias, is not all that forgiving – it is primarily stable in character – which is what I needed to keep the wide V-neckline from losing its shape.  Cotton woven fabric used as interfacing or a stabilizer for stretchy knit fabrics is a match made in heaven and one of the best tips I have discovered!

I’d say the trickiest part to the whole dress was the back belting.  Now, it wasn’t hard to do.  It was just fiddly and required my being precise with matching up the alignment of where the belt straps came into the bodice tucks.  I did lower the belt pieces slightly by about 5/8 inch so they would land just above my natural high waist rather than be at a true empire waistline.  Even still, I was and sort of still am self-conscious about the style and how it compliments (or doesn’t compliment) the tummy and hips.  I do receive tons of compliments by people when I wear this, so it must look alright.  I fudged with the closures of the back straps and sewed on fake buttons to hide the oversized snaps underneath…so much easier to do on myself blindly reaching behind.  Thread loops at the sides and center back keep the belt in place.

This “almost-mini-dress with a back waist band that comes from the side front seaming” is something I see a plethora of when it comes to sewing patterns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I see variations of it in patterns from every single year from 1967 to circa 1972, even with many designer names attached, so this must be good style for it to persist for at least 5 years straight in the Disco era!

Simple, straightforward and uncomplicated fashion is needed and has its place.  Solid colors and basic fabrics are staples that many times become a most-reached-for item to wear.  However, stretching the limits of what is conventionally available (the boon of sewing) can be such a likeable refreshing change for both yourself and others to see.  Doing so also stretches one’s habits of dressing and provides fun to an everyday need and unique personal expressiveness.  Novelty fabrics and creative uses for patterns can do all this!  Don’t be afraid to go find that odd fabric that speaks to your wild side and whip something up with it!  I have thoroughly enjoyed my trial with a newly discovered fabric, and a newly found vintage-does-modern fashion style only helped me like it all the more.

Winter Holiday 2017 Vintage Pattern Releases

For their 90th anniversary, Simplicity Pattern Company is really killing it with a plethora of amazing designs being reprinted from past vintage releases.  This year’s Winter Holiday collection is no exception from their trend of copious, interesting, and variable decade re-issues.  Vogue Patterns has come out with a stellar designer lineup which includes a single, but stunning, vintage “original” design as well.  As much as I am so happy to see patterns like these coming out and available to buy, yet at the risk of sounding like a whining, nit-picking critic, I still have some things to mention about the newest patterns.

 My disclaimer is that I just purchased these patterns and have not sewn with them yet, so with my critique, I am going by the line drawings and viewing the physical details of looking at the tissue pieces.  However, unless the pattern companies want very disgruntled customers, the line drawings should be good enough to go by and match with the actual design of the pieces.  As I could find pictures of the old original envelopes for these re-releases, it is comparatively easy to see any changes or differences in line drawings.  Here goes!

First, I’ll start with the newest vintage Simplicity patterns – a total of 12 actually, when you count the two that are obviously inspired by the past (the #8513 bodysuits and the #8534 dress from Sew Chic)!  That is just about 1/3 of the total 38 patterns this season’s collection.  This in itself is making a statement – Simplicity apparently knows their own strong point, listens to feedback, and recognizes a ready and willing market for vintage.

I’ll begin with the 70’s pattern and go backwards.  Simplicity’s new #8505 is a 1972 re-issue, originally #5315.  This is a wonderful pattern with an appealing cover image and two completely different options to sew.  I am so drawn to the solid dress with the exotic, fancy trimming…wouldn’t this be wonderful in a slinky stretch velvet for the main body!!!  The long caftan is equally appealing though, and someone’s version of it on the wiki page for the original pattern makes me want to whip one up for myself for summer lounging or dream backyard socials.  However, in the old original pattern, the caftan was one large pattern piece with a facing to finish the slit made for the arms.

Now, in the re-issue, the caftan is in two pieces with a seam under the arms at the sides, and simple turned under hem for the sleeve opening (original envelope on left, reprint on right).  I prefer the basic simplicity of how the caftan was originally drafted (less sewing of seams the better, right?), and will be adapting it, taping the two pieces into one, to cut and sew it like the 1972 version.  Nevertheless, this is a nice change from the rather basic 60’s and 70’s designs that they’ve released as of late.

The 50’s decade is well covered with a variety of garments this time around!  First there is the 50’s style “Sew Chic” #8534, which I hope to make into something similar to this vintage original dress so I can use up two smaller cuts of fabric from my stash!  There is a striking apron, Simplicity #8533, originally #2750 from year 1958.  Look at those handy, generous pockets!  However, what is so unusually special here is the way that the bib top can button on or off as desired.  This is all too similar to the convertible 1941 pinafore I just posted not that long back!

Simplicity #8509, originally #8449 from year 1951, is yet another to the long list of 50’s swing coats that they’ve released over the years.  This one luckily has a longer length version, and is indeed a lovely design with killer model photography.  The only change I see between the original and the re-issue is that the new pattern has pre-notched darts at the View C sleeves.

Simplicity #8507 is another pattern originally from year 1951, a “Simple to Make” #3655.  This is another unusual offering!  Sure, it is another pencil skirt, but the back pleating is stunningly tailored.  The stole might not be the most usable or practical item except for certain occasions and weather, but whatever…the way it is mitered with a point down the back and the slanted pockets at the end is such eye candy!  The skirt having bands for the stole to go in is an excellent way to keep it in place on the shoulders, I would think.  Wearing a belt over the straps when not using them for the stole would probably prevent them from becoming a nuisance, which I can see happening.  In my mind, I might make the skirt’s stole straps removable.  I find it funny that the re-issue actually adds a pattern piece for the skirt’s stole straps, whereas the old original merely has you cut a tiny strip so long by so wide.  Modern reprints seem to take nothing for granted and vintage patterns (to me) seem to trust their users’ capabilities a bit more.  Maybe modern patterns are just trying to make things easier and I just don’t see it but I hate keeping track of minutely small pattern pieces…I feel like they want to get lost in or out of the envelope somehow.

Now, for the lone but no less wonderful year 1948 re-issue, Simplicity #8508, originally #2323.  As much as I love this pattern, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to come out with this when women’s’ suits seem to be making a comeback, at the same time I am sorely disappointed by the terribly wrong proportions.  I’m sorry to sound like a vintage pattern purist, or a snob about images, but what was worn in the past has a reason and story behind it.   Fashions of the post WWII times were changing, yes, but the styles of 1948 and 1949 have a very distinctive air of creating the image of long, lean bodies with skinny waists and emphasized hips.  Hemlines were also an awkward longer mid-calf length not seen since the early 1930s – about 4 inches above the ankle.  Every nuance of most garments from 1948 and 1949 are masterfully crafted to achieve the ideal body image through masterful placement of proportions and garment details.  All of this is not Simplicity #8508.

This pattern re-print is not holding true to its heritage and instead appears as if it were an early to mid-1940’s suit with the barely below the knee skirt and higher suit hemline with high, tame hip fullness.  If you really look at the original 1948 cover of Simplicity #2323, the bottom button is at the waistline, and the first hip-lapel flap only begins below the button-waist horizontal line.  This way the mock pocket lapels are a sort of mock-peplum which compliments a longer skirt and defines the hips, therefore complimenting the waist.  At least this is how it should work.

Look at old photos of other similar suit sets I’ve found on Instagram, and they all have the same “mock-pocket flaps below the waistline button”, too. The line drawing of the new re-print stays true to the details of placement on the old original, but the model photo and the actual printed pattern inside the envelope has it wrong.  See how the top mock pocket lapel is above the waistline, almost level with the bottom button?  Together with the shorter skirt, what had been a 1948 pattern with a special silhouette has lost its identity.  What is worse to me is that the line drawing of the modern re-issue doesn’t match up with what the actual pattern will have you end up with.  Technically, I have nothing against the fit on the model on the cover of Simplicity #8508, but this design is better suited to different proportional placement, and untruthful examples of what one is buying is never good, leading only to possible confusion and disappointment.

If you like the higher pocket flaps and what you see on the cover of Simplicity #8508, then make this pattern as-is.  If you want a finished suit set which turns out both like the old original and the line drawing to Simplicity #8508, you will need to make a small adaptation.  From what I see on the pattern, you need to lower the horizontal angled cut which marks the beginning of the top pocket by 3/4 inch, and lower the line for placement of the second lapel flap by the same amount.  Please see my picture for guidance – my pencil is pointing to the true waistline.  The skirt also could benefit from about 4 more inches in length to truly become a 1948 style…a 27 inch length is a bit too short for that year.

Some of the same problems which apply to the last patterns also apply to Simplicity #8504. This is bittersweet to me because this is one of the most breathtakingly detailed vintage re-issue, especially from the decade of the 1930s which is not seen of as much as other decades’ fashion.  Originally this pattern was Simplicity #1140, year 1932, but for some strange reason the web page for the re-printed pattern #8504 wrongly labels it as circa 1930.  How do I know?  I’m not meaning to brag, but I currently have an extensive stash of old original patterns, with my oldest dating to 1926.  With an Excel spreadsheet of pattern info that fills in every year up until the 1980’s, I can now have somewhat of a database that helps me date and identify the original years of patterns.  A number Simplicity #1140 is definitely from 1932, not just relying on numbers alone, but also looking at the style…of the original not the modern re-make!  Like the 1948 suit above, the proportions of the model dress on #8504 and its actual pattern are so off, it is now more suited to the mid and late 30’s from the waist and below rather than an entire dress from the early to mid-30’s as originally intended.

You see, this general design is technically called a “girdle waist” (so I believe) and is frequently seen in the early to mid-30’s, especially when it comes to a garment that is designed for these shirred cap sleeves.  I have “preview posted” (something I’ve not yet blogged) on my Instagram – a circa 1935 dress, made from a vintage New York pattern, which has similar sleeves and waist styling to Simplicity’s new re-print.  My dress has its girdle waist added on in the form of a wide waistband, but the sleeves are the same, only my dress has a body fit, two-piece, bias skirt.  You kind of more or less need the body of a garment – especially the waist – to be slimming to compliment such overpowering sleeves. The new Simplicity re-print is dramatically different from the original cover and convoluted in such a way that there is bulk and gathers were it should not be, as I mentioned above.  “Long and lean” was the early and mid-30’s ideal, and all the girdle waists I see from this time period only have trim darts or tucks at the waistline.  Post mid 30’s, after 1937, hemlines were shorter with fuller skirts, with a wider silouette and more of a defined waist – like Simplicity #2527, a later version from ’37.  This latter is the style on the new Simplicity re-print and I think it harshly jars with the earlier puffy sleeves, totally wrong in many ways.

This isn’t even taking into account the fact that the arching, curved bodice seam should come down to the waistline at the side seams and it doesn’t in the reprint.  By having the bodice seam end at the waist, the skirt would skim out over the hips the way the original intended, but with the seam ending a few inch too high, I guess adding in a harshly obvious waistline with gathers was the “solution”.  Nit picking incorrect proportions is needed because small details do make all the difference to end up with a harmonious and complimentary finished garment.  This isn’t just my thought – even this dress from autumn of 1993 by the fashion icon Anna Sui has the same proportions and seam lines as the year 1932 original Simplicity #1140 (and it’s oh-so-stunning in velvet, too)!  Now this is a modern day reference that shows when things are done right, they never really go out of style.

My suggestion, if you want the pattern Simplicity #8504 to actually look like the original shown, is to slash the dress’ bodice horizontally through the bustline and lower the whole thing enough inches to get the side of the arched panel ending at or just above the natural waistline.  Pinch out the gathers of the girdle front waist panel and raise (shorten) the waist line the amount you lowered on the upper bodice.

At least Simplicity reprinted the sleeves the right way!  When I made my similar sleeves from that vintage original New York pattern, there was an under sleeve piece which acted as both the guide for the shirring of the upper sleeve as well as the support to sew the shirring down.  This modern re-issue is happily the same method.  It works out well, I must say, but gathering that many rows of shirring is not without its challenges.

The rest of the 1930s Simplicity patterns are to die for!  Finally, one out of the many “sleeves only” patterns which came out in the decade!  Look at Simplicity #8506.  With the “Year of the Sleeve” wrapping up, a pattern like this just might continue the trend!  Statement sleeves really can do wonders to the right pattern – here is one example of how I switched to an interesting sleeve to better match with the rest of the body design.  Why, oh why, does Simplicity again list this one as “circa 1930” though when it was originally Simplicity #1794, from year 1935?

Simplicity #8510 is another very welcome, good kind of different offering – vintage lingerie!  This set is so lovely and basic enough for sewists of any skill, as well as being something that should assimilate well into modern wear for those who do not want to also wear vintage garments over them.  Originally this pattern was Simplicity #2288 from 1937.  The only major updating I see made to this reprint is the practical fact they call for wide elastic across the back closure.  This makes the bra easier to wear and more understandable to construct.  However, my “purist” mind towards vintage pattern releases has me wish they had only shown this as an option because you really don’t need elastic down the back – the original wouldn’t have had it.  I tested this out for myself…I’m not just spouting.

Posted here on my blog, I have made myself a similar tap panty and brassiere set from a vintage McCall’s of a few years before, a 1934 #7823 which you can also see on my Instagram.  Granted, a non-elastic back requires precise, customized fitting and leaves no room for body variables.  But really, ladies – admit with me that elastic is the first thing to go out and show its wear on your underwear and bras.  A soft all cotton and satin bra with no elastic is actually very, very comfy, anyway, from my experience with my 1934 set!  Making yourself a custom fitting bra is not a bad thing, anyway!  My biggest “problem” with a vintage bra is non-adjustable straps, actually, but modern slide buckles never stay in place anyway (at least for me).  In the 1930’s, ladies bras would often tie closed at the top of the shoulder, that was how they were adjustable.  Single long ties sewn on each side of the front and back would be the old fashioned way of adjustable straps, rather than a one-piece over the shoulder strap.  I really wish Simplicity added more historical info to their primer inside so you can get to know your pattern and understand how it was used by real women of the past (which would help real women of today) rather than just opening it and following instructions.

Now the Vintage Vogue release is ah-mazing, and I plan on making my own micro-suede and animal print version in the next few months!  I’m talking about the new Vogue #9280, originally a Vogue #491, a “Couturier design” dated to 1948.  The week after the pattern came out, McCall’s was really advertising for it on their social accounts, showing how it is a “look-alike” to a Dior design from the year before – in 1947.  Dior was ahead of his time, setting the fashion trends others followed so it makes sense that this pattern is from 1948.  McCall’s keeps blatantly advertising this #9280 pattern as if it is something it’s not – it might be Dior inspired, but it’s not directly labeled as such and neither is it 1947.  Oh well – this is again, me, nit-picking, being the pattern purist.  Mislabeling is still confusing mislabeling, though.

Anyway, the design itself is glorious, with many options for Post WWII drama.  The actress Vera-Ellen in the 1954 movie “White Christmas” wears a coat which looks strikingly similar to the new Vogue reprint…hers is in a buttery yellow with an animal print scarf (see pics of it here).  The only change I see in the reissue is the lack of a lovely little detail – the back neckline collar seam having a triangular point to it.  The new pattern has a straight seam back to the collar seam – so boring, plain, and predictable.  How many patterns have that section in a geometric interesting point?  This little detail Vogue left out is one of the many reasons I like vintage patterns in the first place…but the rest of the dress is enough to excuse this change that I myself will add in on my own.  I have the perfect hat to wear with this dress, so stay tuned on my blog!

I hope the Thanksgiving weekend sales have given many of you opportunities to buy some or all of these patterns.  I also hope many of you even like these patterns enough to have heard me out on my critiquing.  What do you think?

This long winded post brings me to an internal question, “When is a copy no longer a copy?”  My studies with medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and paleography have made me aware of this viewpoint.  What makes a re-issue have the respectability to hold true to its ideal of passing down the details of the original where it came from?  Should a reprint or reissue have these qualities or are small details which are left out, adaptations, or personal changes admitted as a given?  The more vintage style in the hands of those who sew, the better for it in my humble opinion, but fashion is directly associated with history.  Fashion has the power to change behavior and attitudes.  Let’s get it right for a greater good.