A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, they have mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but they had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Danani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!

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Sweatin’ to the 80’s

My fascination with validating the 80’s is only just beginning after sewing my Givenchy Easter suit…and what better way to continue than with some fun and practical separates!

I absolutely love the feminine pinks to this outfit, the strategically straightforward details, and the casual chic aesthetic of it.  Each piece is comfortable and roomy yet well-designed enough to not be baggy.  Each has niceties enough to save them from being too practical yet they are so versatile and definitely made for easy living.  The top should work well dressed up, when paired with a skirt (thinking of this late 70’s one) in particular.  The shorts look good ‘fancied up’ as you see for this post but I want to also pair them with a tube top, tank, printed tee, or denim shirt for more casual options.

Does my new set scream 80’s to you?  I don’t think so, but that’s exactly what it is according to the patterns and even the fabric I used (for the shorts).  I even brought out my childhood hair scrunchies and ‘jelly’ shoes for a big time rewind.  I really do think the 80’s has more appealing styles to it than many people realize.  Let’s give it another chance – you just have to get past the stereotypes!  After all, I suppose we do need to welcome it into the sphere of “vintage” technically, now!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  shorts – a semi-sheer cotton/poly border print vintage 70’/80’s fabric lined in a solid blue cotton broadcloth; blouse- a cotton/poly blend linen look fabric in a pinkish purple orchid color (leftover from making this suit set)

PATTERNS:  McCall’s Easy pattern #9525, year 1985 for the bottoms together with a Mail Order Printed Pattern no.9251, from the very late 70s or early 80s, for the blouse

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, some interfacing, a hook-n-eye for the waistband, and two covered buttons to make to match the top.  The side zipper for the shorts was leftover from taking out one of the two zippers I had put into these past-made 1940s shorts.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The shorts came first and were finished on July 1 after about 10 to 12 hours, while the top took only 5 hours and was done on July 8 (both 2019)

THE INSIDES:  So clean, just the way I like them.  The shorts are fully lined for hidden seam allowances while the top has bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  The vintage fabric for the shorts was bought from Kirsten at “Verity Vintage Studio” through an Instagram de-stashing sale and cost me only $5 for the one yard.  The lining cotton for the shorts was about $6.  The material for the blouse was leftover from a past project (mentioned in the fabric section of ‘The Facts’) and before that had been in my stash too long to remember, so I’m counting it as free, along with the zipper.  My set only cost $11!

Pleated waist, roomy fit pants and shorts are back in force this 2019.  Whether those who influence and those who follow the trends know it or not, many current forms of this fad are just a rehash of the 40’s and – yes – the 80’s.  All you gotta do is compare design lines for proof.  (Check out the newest “French Poetry Patterns” Orion shorts or the Burda Style #107A “Pleated Bermuda Shorts” for two examples to sew!)

Many in the vintage making and/or wearing community have already been sporting the old style roomy trousers, but it is always nice to see a past style so many have been enjoying for years become mainstream, if only for a year.  The same applies to many modern summer crop tops and roomy pull-overs – they’re only sneaky vintage integrated into 2019 fashion.  Put both things together in 80’s style with my means of interpretation – and voila!  You have an outfit such as this!

With my newest 80’s outfit, I am mostly proud of yet another interesting and unexpected way to use a border print fabric along with what I think are my best scallops yet (despite the fact there are only two of them).  This is proudly a duo of one yard projects, as well!!  I am racking in all the good points I can here!  My wardrobe is sorely lacking in shorts anyway and a top that can both be casual or dressy is much appreciated.  I try not to get stuck in a rut with what I sew.  Making what I actually can use in my life and don’t yet have in my closet is always good to sew.  Doing so in a way that it is both a refresher amongst my sewing projects and also an opportunity for a new learning curve is a little creative niche that I love to find.

Now, let me start with the shorts.  I am not that big of a fan of pleated waist bifurcated bottoms admittedly, but hey – these looked really cute on the pattern and I figured the border print being vertical would help.  Only one selvedge edge having the border and only one yard at my disposal made me have to choose sides for the geometric, mock-embroidery print.  The back is plain and the front has both borders.  I had to fold the fabric in an unusual fashion for this to work out.  Most fabrics are folded selvedge to selvedge, the width in half (this is how I buy them off of a cardboard bolt in my local stores).  The shorts’ fabric had to be folded oppositely so my preferred border layout could work.  Even though this fabric was sheer, it was really a tight woven so if was going against the grainline it wouldn’t have mattered.  Luckily, it lined up anyways.

The pattern called for an elastic gathered back half of the waist, but really…that would be too obviously 80’s and is not my ‘cup of tea’.  So I catered the shorts to have a flat waist all around with darts above the booty, and a side zipper.  Of course, the full lining was also not part of the pattern and my idea, as well.  The fabric was super sheer…so I went with an opaque royal blue lining as it was a color already in the print, so lovely as a contrast, and definitely opaque.  Full lining sure makes for a smooth feel inside and deluxe look, though!  Finally, I left out the in seam pockets.  As sad as I am to not have pockets, I didn’t want them to puff out the pleated front more than necessary.  I just might come back to these shorts at a future date and add in a back welt pocket or two.  We’ll see!

My top – or is it really a blouse? – was just as easy to sew as the shorts.  Only a handful of hours to commit at a time is the most I’m really capable of this busy summer anyway, and that is all I needed to whip this sweet little number together.  I made this even easier by not having truly workable button closings at the neck.  It isn’t constricting to the dressing situation just to keep those lovely fabric covered buttons just for looking pretty and perfect, so I’m all in for a little sewing cheat.

The line drawing lies about the smart simplicity of its design and true finished shape.  The bust dart shaping on the left side is sneakily hidden within the seam which leads to the neckline detail – very nice touch – and the back shoulders have some darts that only appear on the pattern pieces themselves.  Also, as you can see, my top turned out so much boxier than the drawing would make you think.  At the same time, however, I am not at all surprised because this is a pullover top.  No zipper, no closures with a woven material means it has to be a slightly generous fit, right?  Overall, I think the actual garment is much nicer than the line drawing, but disappointingly not the same.  At least it’s better to have good surprises in store with a sewing pattern than be let down at the end of working with it, I suppose.

Never mind the difference, I freaking love this blouse anyway.  It ends up appearing so very 1950s to me.  I think it is the kimono seamed, cut-on sleeves and the feminine detailing.  This is only one of a handful of recent instances where I have seen the 80’s refresh a 1950s look, and the fact is insanely curious to me.  The 1980’s is well known for more exaggerated versions of WWII 40’s fashions.  If my shorts were long length they very well would look 40’s, much like these “Marlene” trousers I’ve made, no doubt.  Yet, the closer you look for variety in 80’s women’s clothing, you can see the occasional 1890s look (quaint puff sleeve dresses with full skirts, such as Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding) or the 1920’s drop-waisted flapper style dress and even some draped, soft 30’s inspired garments.  Yes, I’ll admit there are some just plain terrible ideas, too, that I can’t imagine looking good on any body type.  Check out my Pinterest board on the “Power 80’s” to see more inspiration.  However, it all makes me think that perhaps the 1980s was a decade that offered more options of dressing than we realize, rehashing all sorts of things from the 90 years before so that maybe the only think that quintessentially sticks to label it are the worst experiments (neon bomber jackets, “Hammer” pants, etc.).

Whatever – I love this post’s outfit combo.  It might not be the most body complimentary outfit but each are comfortable and useful handmades that are a successful experiment of a foray into a newly vintage decade.  I find my happy sewing place in the most unexpected ways sometimes!

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!

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!