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!

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“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.

I haven’t posted yet, but 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 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.

The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

A trip to ancient Egypt with or without James Bond calls for the right dress, wouldn’t you say?  Even if I’m only dreaming, and even if I never really leave town, my newly made “Bond Girl” dress is still a wonderfully chic way to channel the “safari” fashion of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Following the lines of my inspiration – Barbara Bach from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – my dress pattern was adapted to be more ‘explorer’ oriented while still keeping a pocket-free, clean silhouette to be suited for a warm weather environments other than the land of the Sahara.

The perfect vintage accessories were on hand to make my outfit so very “Bond Girl” matching.  The imitation alligator leather briefcase is vintage from my mom, circa late 60’s early to mid-70’s when she was beginning her professional career.  I love how it compliments my outfit in so many ways, especially in era appropriateness, besides being similar to what was used in the movie.  It really was my purse for the evening, not just a prop, and the nicely divided pockets inside made it very handy!  The earrings and necklace are also 60s or 70s era, from my Grandmother.  My shoes are my longtime standby comfortable wedge heels, Sam & Libby brand, although much more restrained than Barbara Bach’s high heeled Mary Janes.  Not everything is carbon copy to the movie – my buttons are a bit darker and I did wear my hair in an ultra-high, fluffy ponytail just like it was drawn on the pattern envelope cover!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – soft, slubbed, off-white, and near handkerchief weight – for the main body of the dress and 100% cotton sateen in a rich ivory color for the belt, collar, and front buttoning placket.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some interfacing remnants, and a card of vintage wooden buttons from my Grandmother’s stash were all that I needed, and were all on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a two evening dress project – very fast and easy, even with my changes!  I spent maybe 5 or 6 hours in total, divided between two evenings.  It was finished literally as I was getting ready to go out wearing it – October 6, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  French seams with the rest covered by the collar and button placket.

TOTAL COST:  My dress’ two fabrics were bought at JoAnn’s a few months back for under $30 (as best I remember).  However, I did not use all of each, I have 2/3 yard of linen left and 1/3 of sateen, both of which will go to other projects.  Thus my total price for this dress should be about $20 or less.  Since when can a woman have a linen dress of this quality and design for such a price?!  Awesome stuff happens when you can sew…

Afar from the dusty regions of the world, the safari style mostly finds its place in the grimy urban jungle.  Hollywood’s choice of subject matter of the times helped popularize this style idealism – Born Free of 1966, The Extraordinary Seaman of 1969, Mississippi Mermaid of 1969, and Hatari of 1962 to name a few examples.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway became the poster girls for the style.  The real credit, however, to the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent for his expedition line of clothing.  It was supposed to bring a powerful sort casual class, that’s comfortable with an air of Amazonian confidence and capability to women.  1967 and ‘68, the year of the McCall’s pattern I used, were when his safari designs were in the limelight, with several famous pictures of both him and two models wearing his creations at the doors to his groundbreaking Rive Gauche prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) boutiques (one picture here).  It was his “Saharienne,” or Safari jacket, that was part of his first wave of RTW in September 1967.  However, this branch of culturally influenced clothes branched out into laced up dresses, pocket-laden suits, one-piece rompers, and now this Safari look has many forms and is in perennial popularity.  Visit my “Safari” Pinterest board for more inspiration!

My expedition dress has a gentle nod to the Saint Laurent style with its simpler style.  It seems most safari styles are in hue of tan or khaki, and have a plethora of patch, pleated pockets and fine details.  My own Bond girl dress has details but with more of a flawless sophistication I appreciate, no doubt because I associate myself from the woman who wore it in the movie.  Barbara Bach and I both have brown hair and a darker skin tone, and this is not my first dress from this movie, so forgive me!  Egypt does have sand and heat like Africa, but a slight twist on the style – bringing it to a glowing ivory – seems to put her above the elements (as if Bond girls are angels!), in a deceptive play with perception, rather than an earthy tan like true safari styles.  Ancient Egyptians would have frequently worn clothes in undyed linen, anyway, especially for sacred functions.  For me, the ivory brings it out of the casual side more easily, depending on how I style it.  Not that this dress isn’t comfy as if it were a casual dress, because the relatively wrinkle-free linen and the fit makes this effortless to wear.  I guess you can tell I just really think the costumes are first rate in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  As this project is my second time around, I also think I definitely have another style icon in Barbara Bach.

For being labeled as a “Quickie” pattern, this dress pattern is top-notch!  Most other “Jiffy” and “Simple” and “Quickie” pattern I have tried have all been alright, but either they were so simple they did not need fitting or were just a plain mess to get tailored to myself…until now!  It totally reminds me of what I normally find with the vintage Vogue patterns and 1940s era McCall’s.  There is nice curving along the side seams and perfectly proportioned darts.  This pattern is another one of those that pretty much fit me directly out of the envelope, too.  I have a handful of these patterns that seem meant for my body, and it is like a seamstress’ security blanket to know you can rely on them to be easy to make and like on yourself.  Once you find a pattern like this, it’s a form of gold!

It really took some math to draft my own placket here because this is the widest one I’ve sewn yet.  It wasn’t really hard through, but I did have to remember to cut the dress front on the fold to eliminate the center seam.  Once the placket was in, then I figured out how much longer to draft the collar so I would reach parallel with the edges of the button placket.  I had the temptation to go all out and attempt to make an all-in-one collar and placket piece, but no…a “Quickie” pattern doesn’t deserve to have something added to it which would blow my brain up trying to figure it.

Both collar and placket strips were stabilized with sturdy interfacing so that they would standout somewhat from the rest of the dress and give it something to body, dimension, and interest.  (Something closer to this Yves Saint Laurent dress from Winter 1967.)  Granted the fact that the collar and placket was in a richly creamy colored sateen with a subtle shine already provided some contrast without clashing with the rest of the linen dress.  With the stiffness of the placket, I was luckily able to get by with only 5 buttons leaving some major spacing in between.  The way the collar opens up and stands on its own away from my face…I’m so in love.  I do also adore the way the changes I added bring out the basic but well-tailored fit of the pattern without any add-on details to detract from it.  As much as I cannot do without pockets, this dress needed to go without.

Small details unnoticed at first glance really do make all the difference here.  Lovely French darts were used for the bust and waist shaping while shoulder darts (which actually end at the top of the shoulder blade) offer superior freedom of movement.  For some reason I even found the sleeves and armholes to be much more generous and comfortable than most other 60’s and 70’s patterns I’ve used.  I even cut to the pattern’s original hem length too, and it ends at a nicely demure mid-knee length which comes up to a more risqué mid-thigh when I sit – yay for a sneaky hot little number!  The skirt rides up only because of the slight pencil skirt shaping from the hips down.  This is not an A-line dress but more of a straight cut with subtle curving.  My 1967 plastron jumper had the same kind of skirt, too.  I often assume that most 60’s dresses are A-line so I wanted to point out that this one is a good kind of different from the era’s ‘norm’.  I cannot wait to make another version of this dress for the winter in a long sleeve, perhaps slightly shorter version.

Going back to my title, it is regrettable that the thing which my Egyptian explorer dress shares in common with any kind of Yves Saint Laurent African safari dress is ivory.  This time I’m not just talking about the color of my dress.  Sadly, modern Egypt harbors one of Africa’s largest domestic animal ivory markets.  Hippos are (surprising to many) very lethal and kill about 3,000 every year and elephants can be equally dangerous – quite a different story from the cute nursery drawings of them we grow up seeing.  Many do get killed because of the encroaching of civilization upon the animals’ territory. With bone and man-made imitation being attractive and suitable substitutes, using animal ivory for inlays and carved accessories and artwork at the cost of endangering nature’s most fascinating creatures is even more irresponsible.  Yet, this practice is still going on.  In Africa and elsewhere, it is the elephant and the boar that are targeted.  In Egypt, it is the hippopotamus’ ivory, together with imported elephant tusks which are popular.  The Egyptian government has apparently been working to reduce the trade, but the illegal black market still works to both supply and demand.  Sorry to include a small soap box preaching here, but facts are facts and sadly this doesn’t seem to be recognized as a world problem.

“Bond girl” or ivory trade subjects aside, I now have a great new dress to explore my own urban jungle and take on the errands and duties of my city living in a new vintage style.  Maybe that’s the deeply set attraction of Safari styles – we all have some degree of desire for an expeditionary adventure of some sort which teaches us new things and enlivens the spirit.  Even if it’s just an article of clothing or a book or a piece of art, a tactile thing can still give a small taste of that.  Are you an “explorer” soul – in your own city or abroad?

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…Sewing for My Little Motor Boy

My son sees what I do when it comes to creating and sewing.  Happily for me, he seems to pretty well understand and appreciate it…especially when he becomes the recipient!  He is enthralled and absolutely fascinated by anything that “goes” – planes, trains, and automobiles – so that it gets naturally chosen for him, as if on default.  But not any old print will do.  He likes emergency vehicles especially well and fast sports cars…this second one makes him more like a mini me!  Thus, every so often we come across a printed fabric that makes him particularly happy.  Sometimes he finds the fabrics and sometimes I find them…he does enjoy fabric stores!  Then, it is fun to pair me and my 5 year old up to find what to make with it!  Here’s some of what I have made from the most recent fabric finds which have tickled my son’s fancy.

Now that he is a bit older and no longer a baby, life with him includes more customizing to his age and paying attention to his individuality.  This includes updating his room, too!  So I’ve made him some novelty print ‘race car pets’ curtains that make him giggle and a Disney “Cars” movie flannel pillow cover which he uses every night.  Lastly, I’ve sewed a “Things that go” print shirt which he just loves wearing.  I am mostly proud of the shirt, for several reasons I’ll expound on later, although I did find the curtains to be an interesting learning experience, as I have not made any real home decorating items before.  The best part?  I think I get ‘awesome mama points’ from him for making this stuff – score!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all are 100% cotton – the curtains and his shirt are quilting prints and the pillow cover is a brushed flannel.

PATTERNS:  The pillow cover and the curtains were self-drafted, but the shirt comes from a year 1975 McCall’s #4741

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread for all of this (of course), but I also used scraps of interfacing from on hand and some specialty buttons.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The curtains and the pillow cover was made in several hours’ time awhile back for my son’s previous birthday.  The shirt was made in 4 hours and finished on July 27, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The little guy’s shirt has fun, random colors of bias tape finishing the inside.  A few seams are merely edge stitched, but the grown-up style facing makes this a very nice shirt.

TOTAL COST:  The curtain Fabric is a M’Liss brand “Traveling with Pets” series, bought from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics back in 2015.  I think I paid no more than $25 for the curtain fabrics, including the contrast remnant.  The pillow cover fabric was bought at Jo Ann’s fabric for a few dollars.  The shirt fabric was a recent ¾ of a yard remnant bought from Jo Ann’s, too, for about $5 and the buttons were on clearance for only 94 cents.

The mathematics I used to draft the curtains became a bit more challenging than drafting garments or purses and belts because it was on such a big scale, but also because I barely had enough fabric to make work.  The same “close call” happened for my son’s shirt – I was literally cutting the front, back, and sleeve with the pieces butting up against one another.  I don’t know why that always seems to happen – every time hubby or our son find a fabric that they really like, there is such a discrepancy of amount left for me to work with it makes my efforts at making something of it a bit more challenging.  The way this happens almost every time I’ve made a project for a family member is so odd!  Anyway, at least I’m putting to good use the last of what is left of these fabrics.

I have no idea if there is a “proper” way to make curtains, but the wide tabs to hang from the rod were relatively easy to make and have a bold yet relaxed, fun look to us.  The tabs and the curtain pulls might look like they are a basic yellow but they have a sneaky fun star print on them!  Nothing, however, can beat the hilarious cuteness of the print to the curtains themselves.  The “newness” of the curtains have worn off on our son by now, but for the first several weeks they were up he could be “caught” staring at them with a look that belies the proof of an inspired imagination and a smile which is between laughing and just plain happy.  After all, we are a family that loves animals, especially dachshunds (look at the giant stuffed “Gertie the dachsie” on the sill), as well as fast cars, so even if I didn’t want to sew this fabric into curtains, I pretty much had to because these are perfectly catered to us!

For my son’s pillow cover, I made it very basic, practically because it was whipped overnight for my son’s birthday.  I probably should have, or at least could have put a zipper into one end, but the pillow cover ended up fitting so snugly over the pillow itself that I didn’t want to take it off so I just hand stitched the opening closed.  I figured correctly that the cover wouldn’t need to come off for it to survive a trip through the washer and dryer.  He sleeps either with this pillow or on it every night (so excuse the worn appearance), and even likes it enough to want to bring it sometimes for sleepovers at the grandparents. Many people asked him what Mommy gave him for his birthday, and many of those who do not sew had a weirdly disappointed reaction when he would excitedly tell them I made something, as if I didn’t give him anything at all.  It’s a shame to see this misunderstanding.  A handmade personally-catered gift can mean so much between the recipient and the maker!

Now to get on to the best part – the shirt!  This is very special for me to sew for him mostly because of the family connections which bring things full circle.  The pattern I used is one that I had given to me by my mother-in law when we were first married.  It is one that she had from her stash.  She herself used this very pattern to make my husband a shirt when he was 5 years old, just like our son is now.  She even had the body measurements written on the pattern for when my hubby was our son’s age, and amazingly the body measurements are all too similar.  Thus, I happily knew it was finally high time to whip up a second generation version of this family pattern.  We explained the connection to our son, but he seems to rather focus on the fun print and details.  Like father, like son…they are both very engineering, detailed oriented persons – our little tyke now has his own version of his dad’s McCall #4741 shirt.

I know the pattern is for nightwear.  However, this pattern deserved to be used (because of the family ties), it was going to fit him without any alterations, and it was dated to a year I’ve never sewn anything from before.  Besides all this, a shirt is relatively classic for a boy of any age.  Even a nightshirt, in vintage terms, can pass as street wear easily and a novelty print can make it too fun to just restrain it to indoor-only wear.

One of the most entertaining aspects to a fabric store is definitely the button section.  My son certainly agrees!  He frequently wants to pick out buttons, and although I have such a generous stash of vintage notions, every so often the need for a store bought item arises and our son happily rises to the occasion.  I will say he does do very, very well for a 5 year old when it comes to finding the perfect button for both some of my own projects as well as his own.  In other words, yes…he picked out his own buttons for this shirt.  They are large planes in his favorite color red.  They don’t exactly match with the ‘theme’ of the shirt, but those buttons give him a special sense of personal pride in the making of this shirt.  He himself had a part in it, and he hovered over my shoulder watching me sew the shirt, so yes he did have a big part in making this.  He likes to brag about this fact, too.  No store bought shirt could have such a bonding, empowering influence!

My title is partly borrowed from a series of 1910 to 1920’s era books which were popular with the youth back when motor vehicles were the newest and most exciting ‘thing’.  There was the earliest and most popular “Motor Boy” series, as well as the “Motor Rangers” and (for the young ladies) the “Motor Maids” which came a bit later.  These are two books currently in our collection and date to 1911.  I cannot think of a better attribute for my son at this point in his life than calling him a “motor boy”, too.  Even in our modern age, the fascination with things that carry us, transport us, and help us travel faster than our basic human capabilities still never fails to captivate.

I do have plans for some fabric on hand to make our son the matching robe, as well as those amazingly dated bell bottom pants which are also part of the pattern for his shirt.  Between his growing so fast, the amount of clothing for him we receive from the grandparents, and the low cost of many kids’ clothes, the greater percentage of his closet is store bought, unlike my own wardrobe I must admit.  I can only sew so much!!! However, the handful of items I do sew for our little man gives me a reason to make sure and keep up sewing items for him and getting him involved with what I do in a large part of my life.  Sewing for the younger crowd is its own wonderful inspiration.  We need the next generation to continue stitching, creating, and imaging in terms of fabric!

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