The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

A Peggy Carter Outfit as Undercover as a Shield Agent

This post is a week later than I intended it to be, but for a girl like myself with a rich Irish heritage on both sides of my family, seven days after St. Patrick’s day isn’t bad for celebrating either.  Any and every day is good for reveling in one’s heritage!  I always find it so perfect that the holiday for wearing green comes around for us just as the season of spring does, as well.  Verdant hues are the newest cloak being worn by nature, as well.  Spring also means school break, however, and as a mom it is always such a challenge to accomplish anything I had previously intended during our son’s time off at home.   

Thus, finally, I’m so excited to be sharing another amazing Agent Carter recreation unlike all the rest I have finished.  It is secretly a one-piece jumpsuit – surprise!  By choosing two different colors and types of material for the top and bottom half I enjoy the appearance of separates.  Yet, my top stays perfectly “tucked in” and my high-waisted, wide-legged 40’s style trousers stay up in place…because it is an easy-to-dress-in, all one garment kind of jumpsuit!  I still faithfully recreated Agent Peggy Carter’s outfit from Season Two, episode 3 ‘Better Angels’, of the 2016 television series.  

It has pockets!!!

I laugh in enjoyment over the sneaky deception of the way I made my version.  As I make mention of in my title, I feel this jumpsuit version is so very suited to Peggy’s smart but sensible personality.  It is also a bit deceptive in plain sight just like so much of her life as an agent of the S.S.R. (or should I just say S.H.I.E.L.D., right).  Also, it is has a bright and cheerful “Leprechaun” green which, between the versatile fabrics I used that are perfect for cooler in-between temperatures, makes this my favorite classy-but-casual vintage inspired outfit for spring (or fall, too, of course).  The best part is the fact I used a modern (therefore relatively easily available) sewing pattern as my verbatim source for this outfit.  Leave it to Peggy Carter to keep inspiring me to sew myself clothes that become such wardrobe winners which I feel great wearing.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the top blouse half is a Kona brand all-cotton in “Leprechaun” color; the bottom trousers are a heathered grey brushed suiting bought here from Fashion Fabrics Club, in a 63% Rayon 16% Viscose 12% Linen 8% Silk 1% Lycra blend; the lining for the bodice was also used for the side seam pants pockets and that is a basic lightweight polyester in a dark green color.

PATTERN:  Butterick #6320, year 2016

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread, interfacing, one long 22” invisible zipper for the center back closing, and I used one vintage dark green Bakelite buckle for the belt.

THE INSIDES:  all nicely finished in bias tape for the trouser half, otherwise all other raw edges are invisible due to the bodice lining.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jumpsuit felt time consuming.  After over 30 hours put in, it was finished in March 2020.

TOTAL COST:  The trouser fabric alone cost me $35 for two yards, and the bodice was $7 for one yard.  The lining was on hand leftover from another project years back so I’m counting that and the buckle from my stash as free.  My total cost with the other notions is $50.

Now, one really never gets to see my project’s inspiration outfit on Agent Carter for very long in the “Better Angels” episode, and even then, it is mostly only her green blouse that we see in detail.  That’s okay.  The trousers are basic 40’s era suiting bottoms and the blouse carries the brunt of the meticulous design lines, after all.  Peggy’s green top had these shoulder panels which wrapped from the back to the front where they create a wide, curved sweetheart neckline before they end under the armpit.  The rest of the center front to the blouse has a dipped neckline which gathers into the bottom of the shoulder plackets to create bust fullness. 

All of these details were already there on Butterick #6320 pattern – yay!  The most obvious variance is having a plain, flat front with the lack of a buttoned front opening, such as what Agent Carter’s original blouse had.  I like this pattern’s smooth front better, just the same as I chose puffed sleeves over plain sleeves with a hem notch as Peggy’s original had.  I recreated those sleeves on this other Season Two blouse (posted here).  Also, these trousers are a comfy, pleated front while Peggy’s version had a smooth, fitted front.  I have made several smooth front 40’s pants for myself already anyway (see here and here).  For as much as I try to ‘copy’ Peggy’s outfits, I always make sure to stay true to my personal wearing preferences so I can have my Agent Carter garments be everyday clothes and not just cosplay costumes.  Also, I like to honor the ingenuity of the designer, in this case “Gigi” Ottobre-Melton, by not making an exact copy.

From the soft shine of the original blouse on Agent Carter, I assume it was silk.  I cannot tell what material her trousers were but they seem to be a thick rayon suiting to me.  My chosen fabrics are more basic and casual, albeit very nice.  Kona cotton is synonymous for quality, especially being a Robert Kaufman product.  It is thick but soft, durable with minimal shrinkage, and the colors don’t bleed (important as I am making a dual color, two material jumpsuit).  I always appreciate the fact Kona cotton certifies that no harmful chemicals were used in its production, processing or finishing. 

I felt it was important that my trouser fabric be something a lot more textured than the blouse to imitate the appearance of two separate items.  The material I chose is a blend of most of all my favorite materials (rayon, linen, and silk) in a very unusual way – a twill with a flannel finish.  Nevertheless, it has a wonderful drape, great medium weight, and a finish which has it perfect for a menswear-inspired suiting look. 

The brushed finish makes this a slightly bit itchy (but I wear pants liners underneath to counter that) and the linen in it makes this wrinkle some, too.  However, the blend it is in also has the pants portion to this jumpsuit be much more breathable and multi-seasonal than one would expect by the look and feel of it.  I am happily surprised by the success of this jumpsuit project.  The way I was combining two such opposite fabrics had me worried from the outset, as did the fact I had spent a decent sum of money on the supplies in the first place.  The bodice was a beast to sew (more on this in a minute).  This had to turn out or I would have been devastated. 

I found the ‘bust-waist-hips’ sizing of this pattern to be spot on, yet the fit and proportions were off.  The way this is drafted on paper, the pattern is only made for tall ladies.  I do not consider myself truly petite at about 5’3” in height, and my torso length (from the back of my neck to high waist) is a common 15” (plus some).  As it was, the bodice was far too long, as were the trousers.  The pattern called for a 2-something inch hem…I had 10 inches in excess to hem these trousers on the long side for me (I have to wear heels in this jumpsuit).  I had to bring in the shoulders by about 2” to pick up the bodice so that the underbust seam rests where it should be landing.  

This pattern will NEED some adapting for most anyone who tries out this design, from my experience.  It is especially important to learn this from the outset at the pattern stage as the complex and fully lined bodice doesn’t give much room for adapting after it is completed.  Take into account that the curved shoulder panels have to be redrawn at the joining seam if you also need to take this design in to fit if you choose to sew this for yourself, too.  Please do not let my warning dissuade you from trying this pattern – I highly recommend it.  I love the many options it offers with the variety of sleeves and the option of a skirt bottom.

The bodice was extremely fiddly and tricky and takes some slow, meticulous going to sew it right.  I have seen some sewists who have made this pattern for themselves skip some details as well as the lining, but I recommend going all the way for this fabulous design.  Yes, interfacing the entire bodice seems like overkill, but I did it anyway.  Now that my jumpsuit is finished, I think it does help the bodice become a stable ‘anchor’ to the pants below and not be pulled down by that much fabric. Yes, it looks like there are way too many markings needing to be made to the fabric at the cutting out stage.  As a stickler for doing things right from the outset, I sucked it up and copied all of the balance marks, squares, triangles, and circles.  They all end up being extremely necessary and very helpful towards making construction much less confusing.  Even still, the gathering around the curved shoulder placket above the bustline was the trickiest part of all to perfect.  Luckily, the smooth inner lining (completely different pattern pieces from the exterior front top) help to bring the bodice together and right the seam allowances. 

Before I added the lining, I thought the bodice looked messy and was being pulled too much by the attached trousers.  Sure, I ironed the top along the way, clipping where necessary and pushing the seam allowances the right direction.  Once the lining was in, I had matched the lines of both the lining bodice and exterior bodice so I could hand tack them together ‘in the ditch’ of the seams.  My doing this interior seam matching was over and above what the instructions told me to do, but worth it.  After all, it was only then that the bodice was suddenly substantial enough to hold the weight of the 2 something yards of attached pants and therefore not have unreasonable wrinkles.  All the ‘good side’ edges have no visible stitching because I had stitched the seam allowance edges for the neckline to the lining as further hand finishing over and above what was called for.  I love the chic and professional appearance my extra efforts give, even though it is not clearly noticeable until up close…which nowadays, social distancing prevents that!  The lining, though a bother to cut and sew (besides being unseen), completely makes this jumpsuit work out.

My self-fabric belt is the “cherry-on-the-top” to the two-piece deception of this jumpsuit.  This was something not originally part of the pattern but something I added.  However, it is not your normal belt on account of the center back zipper closing.  I slid my vintage belt buckle over the belt strip and centered it between the two ends.  Then the center of the belt with the buckle was lightly hand tacked to the center front of the jumpsuit’s waistline.  I further attached the belt to the side seams of the jumpsuit.  This was done out of convenience for both dressing and bathroom visits.  Nobody wants to pick up something off of a public bathroom floor!  Also, I had no plans on wearing this outfit without the belt at all.  Two oversized snap help the loose belt ends lap closed over one another across the back once the back zipper is closed.  I am always justly wary of having anything Bakelite – normally buttons, but here it’s the buckle – going through a washing machine cycle so I now realize I will either have to clip away the threads that tack down the belt or hand wash this jumpsuit.  Oh well.  The finished project here makes up for any bother needed to take care of it along the way.

Here I’m at my parents’ front yard mailbox, wearing an old 90’s corduroy blazer over my Agent Carter jumpsuit. I love that my mom decorates for every seasonal holiday!

This month’s green outfit of mine not only celebrates the equinox and St. Patrick’s Day, but also has a subtle nod to Women’s History Month.  This outfit honors the strong ladies who have influenced my life.  Agent Carter has inspired my fashion style, my sewing preferences, and my personal confidence.  Yet, no vintage outfit of mine is ever complete without something of my grandmother’s – whether it be her earrings, gloves, scarves, or such accessories I have inherited.  My Grandma is so sorely missed these past four plus years. She was the strongest, bravest, most resourceful, intelligent, caring, compassionate, and beautiful woman I could ever aspire to be.  It is her gold “Lady Elgin” 1940s watch which is the item I am never without for every Agent Carter outfit of mine.  Peggy Carter was never without her Nana’s watch in the first half of Season 1’s show…and I guarantee you my watch will not have the same sad fate as her’s did.  

I think it is a fantastic tradition for women to honor the previous generation’s women though continuing to wear (albeit gently) their heirlooms.  I like the keep some familial treasures stored away, yes indeed.  However, there are others which I feel deserve to be enjoyed and thus have a renewed appreciation through the connection they carry.  You know, many people have said I look like my Grandmother when she was young…but I also have people I don’t personally know tell me I look like Agent Carter on many occasions. What a happy connection this is as well as the best compliments I could ever hope to receive!  I know my Grandmother would want me to be as proud of myself as she was of me.  I can only hope and try to be as amazing a woman as she.   If I can sneak in a little Agent Carter reference by just doing my own vintage style along the way, too, well…I am blessed.  It must be the lucky Irish in me. 

London Logo Plaid

As this is a follow-up to my Disney-inspired Pocahontas outfit, made for my “Pandemic Princess” series, it is aptly tied to the songs from the 1998 sequel “Journey to a New World”. To Pocahontas in the sequel, that new world is Britain, specifically London – “What a Day in London” song.  With her visit (following her marriage to John Rolfe in real life), her history became even more deeply linked to both Britain and America – “Between Two Worlds” song. I couldn’t think of a more glaringly ironic match (in many ways I will address later on in this post) than for me to make a trench-style coat made of cheap but iconic English Burberry plaid fleece.  Yet, the logo plaid must not have been out of place in the forest as a wild deer was photo bombing me throughout, totally edging in on my spotlight – “Things Are Not What They Appear” song.  Beyond adding a watermark, these are real, unaltered pictures!  How can I brag about my coat when the deer has an even prettier, more useful one on her back?!?

This was yet another one of my many remnant stash-busting projects.  I only had one yard of Burberry plaid fleece, half a yard of black fleece, and leftovers from other projects to help me finish this one off.  Yay for a smart use of fleece, the fabric I love to hate, in a print I very much enjoy!  This coat is a very versatile and a breathable weight of warmth.  It was a quick undertaking which ended up looking much better than I imaged it might.  My projects which use up scraps really make me inventive in a way for which I am proud.  In conjunction with that incentive, my “Pandemic Princess” series is also inspiring me push my Disney dreams farther than just one outfit per leading lady.  Oh, what have I started!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: the exterior black and Burberry plaid fabrics are polyester fleece, the inside lining is burgundy polyester crepe (leftover from sewing this 1930s lounging robe), the inner layer is pre-quilted cotton covered batting, and the under collar together with the front facings are cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1320, year 2014

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand already – interfacing, a few buttons (ornate brass ones, leftover from this historical skirt), and lots upon lots of thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This coat took me about 25 hours to make.  It was finished on February 19, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  any raw edges inside are cleanly concealed by the full lining.

TOTAL COST:  As I have had the two fleece remnants on hand for the last 10 years, and the all other supplies were leftover from past projects, I’m counting this coat as free!!!

The prestigious Burberry Company began in 1856, but found its home in London by 1891 when Thomas Burberry opened a shop in London’s West End.  Thomas Burberry is credited invented and patenting gabardine in 1888 – the breathable, weatherproof and hard-wearing fabric revolutionizing rainwear – which up until then had typically been heavy and uncomfortable to wear.  Then, its fine, waterproof outerwear happened to make the term “trench coat” an anchor in fashion history by having an adapted version of his “Tielocken coat” the standard issue for officers during World War I.  The recognizable Burberry logo plaid was then introduced in the 1920s.  Afterwards, in the 70’s and 80’s, the brand’s tartan print suddenly was no longer solely worn inside their garments as a lining when it turned into a preppy U.K. elite symbol (aka, the “Sloane Rangers”).  It became a visible status symbol.  Yet by the next decade, it was also one of the most widely counterfeited brands of the turn into the 21st century.  Over the years, Burberry has evolved and today it’s much more of a lifestyle brand that you can see on catwalks and fashion shows – no longer just known for making a trench coat.

British soap opera star Daniella Westbrook in that infamous head-to-toe Burberry outfit of 2002

In the late Nineties, the Burberry print began a trendy revival courtesy of the “logo wave”, which was all about sporting Gucci belts to Chanel bags and Louis Vuitton wallets.  As a teen at that time, I was one of the biggest fans of the tacky, over-the-top usage of the knocked-off Burberry tartan on anything under the sun.  (Oh, what was I thinking!?!)  Now, I am much more restrained but still enamored by the fashion plaid print.  All I ever bought of the Burberry brand as a teen was an expensive Pashmina Burberry neck scarf at a fine retailer and the brand’s classic eau de toilette.  Now, I am breaking out of that shell by making of this coat.  I’m returning back to my teenage fascination and half reliving something I never got to do growing up…only half because this is not a true, trademarked Burberry material.    

I am not one for brand flourishing myself – of course not, when I sew my own clothes.  Yet, a Burberry plaid is my long restrained weakness.  At the same time, however, it is so gaudy in my mind that I never knew what to do with it or how to pair together with a pattern.  I figured to tone it down with a darker contrast remnant on hand and – even though both cuts are only cheap fleece – treat them like a finer coat fabric to hopefully end up with something which might not be tacky.  At least the coat turned out better than I expected while being nicely tailored and cozy warm!  This was a successful experiment and yet also a weird one to see finalized after all these years.

I sort of blended the lines between a trench and an over coat, just for practical purposes. A trench coat is designed to protect you against rain while an overcoat is designed to protect you against the cold. A trench coat is lightweight while an overcoat is heavyweight.  For my coat, the fleece outside is fluffy polyester, so it really doesn’t get wet easily even though it is not waterproof.  I tested this truth out later the night of our pictures when I played in our son’s snow fort, which was beginning to melt.  I stayed warm and dry and most of the wet snow either rolled off or could be brushed off of me.  Usually one has to layer up to be warm in a trench coat because it is merely supposed to be waterproof appropriate gear for all seasons.  Yet, I am a person sensitive to the cold so I upped the game on my version with the cozy quilted cotton layer between the exterior fleece and polyester lining.  It is a coat which is in between lightweight and heavyweight, as all materials are pretty lofty load individually. 

This is still double-breasted like a proper trench coat, with a large stormproof collar that can be turned up enough to completely protect most of my face from the elements, if I so need.  However, my coat’s collar is wonderfully modern in the way it is asymmetric and the tailored princess seams and color blocking reflects the new fitting and color options which the new Burberry line has to offer.  The length of a trench coat is traditionally to just below the knee. However, nowadays one can find trench coats in various lengths: full, knee, three-quarters and short.  So I suppose I can call this a very personalized, updated version of a 90’s Burberry inspired trench coat.

Amazingly, this was a very easy coat to make, even with complicating the construction by fully lining and layering it.   There are no darts, no chalk markings to make, and every seam is straightforward with first rate shaping drawn into the seam lines.  The fit was spot on, too.  I went up one whole size because I was planning on adding extra layers into the coat and that was to right move.  I have full and unrestrained freedom of movement.  More or less, I cut out 3 whole coats – fleece, quilted cotton inner layer, and lining poly – so I was happy the two pieces for the front (doubled into four) and two pieces for the back (double cut sides with one center on the fold) were simple.  The facings and the under collar had sew-in interfacing to back them up as they were a thinner material in key areas which got double-breasted and needed structural support. 

I did sew each layer to the coat separately, but hand tacked the quilted cotton inners to the eternal fleece plaid along their matching seam lines “in the ditch” to eliminate shifting of the layers.  It was important remember to shorten the sleeves and the bottom hem of the quilted inner layer by cutting off 1 ½ inches.  It is very difficult and bulky to hem quilted cotton and thus I wanted to account for the turn-under hemming to the fleece and lining only.  I also had to make the seam allowances ¾ inch to the quilted cotton and poly lining so the inner layer fits inside as slightly smaller than the eternal coat layer.  I found out some these tricks of how to work with pre-quilted cotton material (as well as how breathable but pleasantly warm it can be) as I made this 1940s jerkin vest for our trip to Denver, Colorado back in 2019.  I also knew from making this 60’s cocoon coat how shifty fleece could be when you try to sew it into something structured.  So, I combined both of what I learned from two separate winter past projects into this newest, latest, dare I say, just about the best coat I have finished so far.   

I like the unusual and slightly easier route of making handmade chain stitched thread loops along the right front closing edge in lieu of buttonholes.  The fact it is black on black color along the front is the only way I like this feature, otherwise I think thread loops would be too weirdly obvious.  The instructions called for fabric loops.  However, I know how those sort of things are fussy to add in a seam and more often than not pull out of a seam anyway if not anchored to a base of some sort (seam tape, bias strip, etc.) along the seam allowance.  I used heavy upholstery thread for making my coat’s thread loops and attached the loop bases to the interfacing inside the coat edge, so these closures are definitely stable. 

For some weird reason, my last Pocahontas inspired outfit finally gave me a decent idea as to what to do with long hoarded, one yard remnant of Burberry looking fleece.  Luckily, I was able to sew it together quickly enough to take advantage of the same photo shoot against the breathtaking backdrop of my favorite creek after the most recent snowstorm.  This coat’s earthy colors pair nicely with my Pocahontas separates (in the previous post), but also work well as an item from the era of the release dates to the Disney films.  All the elements I desired for this project were fulfilled, only Pocahontas’ Disney story is the opposite of everything this logo plaid stands for.  At the same time, it suits her aesthetic so well at the same time.  Let me explain.

I like using irony to drive home a point.  Pairing an overworked fashion print with the raw, pure beauty of nature is amusingly contrary enough.  Yet, modern fashion is synonymous with the throwaway culture severely detrimental to our world of today, threatening the very existence of living things, and fleece is one of worst offenders being a petroleum-based product which will not break down.  Thus, I only use fleece when I do because it is already on hand in my stash from before I became more conscious of the environmental impact of what we wear.  For many years now, fleece is something I will not buy and love to generally hate (ugh, plastics).  However, I am a firm believer in making use of what one has, and doing that effort well enough so that item lasts.  I believe this is the most sensible thing to do with questionable products such as fleece.

Hopefully what I have done here would be Pocahontas approved if she knew where I was coming from with my reasoning.  It does have colors I believe she would like – after all, a deer I met out in the wild didn’t seem to mind one bit!!

“For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains…

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind”

Besos

There is still all that snow outside you saw in my last post because we are in a rut of deep cold, with temperatures below freezing.  Having no place to go, nevertheless, can’t put a damper on the warmth of my Valentine’s Day sewing!  I’ve turned things up a notch for this year’s occasion with a spicy little number in a print so fun but totally out of my comfort zone.  I am literally covered in shiny red lipstick marks!  A lovely viscose blend base gives my bias flounced dress a flamenco flair.  It’s a perfectly swishy and showy to move in for such an outspoken print.  It has a bold and playful air.  I couldn’t resist to copy exactly the pattern’s model version when a similar fabric happened to come my way.

The word “besos” is used in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese languages to mean “kisses”.  I think this multi-national word is an appropriately simple title for such a make, which is of a European pattern, fabric, and inspiration after all.  Personally, though, I cannot get the song “Botch-A-Mi” by Rosemary Clooney (year 1952) out of my head when I wear the dress.  As terribly hacked up the Italian language is in it, the fun song conveys the flair and energy I receive from my “Besos” dress, too.  After all, I do love a good, rich red lipstick…although in Covid times, I leave no lip print behind anymore in a 24-hour-wear formula.  Mwah!  Sending out some virtual love with this post.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a metallic foil printed viscose challis ordered from Minerva Fabrics

PATTERN:  Burda Style #110 “Flounce Dress” (now re-named the “Twill Dress”) from May 2015

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Nothing but thread and a bit of interfacing was needed.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  In total I spent 16 hours to make this dress, but that needs a breakdown which will be explained later in this post.  The dress was finished on January 8, 2021.

I made a fabric rose to match, as well as bought some earrings from Etsy to complete a heart bracelet my Aunt gave me years back.

THE INSIDES:  I cleanly covered the raw edges to the main body of the dress in a double zig-zag stitch.  The flounce hems were hand rolled – more on this further down.

 TOTAL COST:  a few yards of fabric cost me about $30

As odd as the print is for my taste, the construction was similarly interesting.  Sewing the dress itself was easy but the finishing was a long, straining process.  The main body fit me perfectly when I traced out my normal Burda size verbatim off of the magazine pattern insert (no extra fitting needed).  The princess seams were curvy but long, basic stitching to do.  To make things simple I eliminated the neckline facings to save myself some fuss and used wide bias tape instead.  I have installed too many invisible zippers to count now so doing so down the back seam was a bother yet not difficult.  Even the flounces were a bit challenging to add to the dress but not terrible to work with.  I did adapt the shoulders to add my own sleeves, but that wasn’t a problem either, only the fun part.  The hemming of all those flounced edges was the tiring part, because I reluctantly took the path of a higher quality.

First, though, more about my change to the sleeves and the shoulder line that led to the extra flounce hemming anyway.  The original design called for a thin sundress-style strap over the shoulders, to be covered up by oodles of ruffles which go around the entire arm opening and front chest to the dress.  I liked the look of this detailing, otherwise I would not have been interested in this pattern.  Yet, I found a similar ruffled sleeve and shoulder detailing in many mid 1930s evening gowns enough to sell me on the idea early on, even before I found a kiss print fabric. 

I was sorely disappointed.  Once pinned together, I did not like the original Burda pattern’s design which I admired through some 30’s inspiration and couldn’t go through with it.  The ruffles caused too much busyness for the elegance and princess-seamed slim lines in the body of the dress, and were very fussy to wear.  I felt like I always had to beat the ruffles down away from my face!  I could immediately picture some ugly staining upon the black crepe at the underarm ruffle – what a bad position for such a detail.   

Time for some customization!  I used the original strap pattern as a base to draft out my own piece which stretches over to the shoulder corner and fills in the armscye.  Then I chose to draft my own circle sleeves to complement the bottom flounce, the 30’s style, and swishy elegance of the rest of the dress.  I do believe such sleeves give my dress a very Spanish ‘flamenco dancer’ kind of air.  However, they did add a lot more length of hemming that needed to be done, for as much as I liked what they added to the dress’ appearance. 

Often, but not always, the prettiest things to sew sometimes also take the most time.  Bias cut flounces have not always been on that list, but they now are.  In years past, I have done a 3 step machine stitched hem of a bias flounce.  Staystitch ¼ inch from the raw edge, turn the edge under, stitch on the fold, clip the excess, and turn under again for a small machine made hem.  (This was done on the sleeves of my blue 30’s gown.) Such a process would’ve been much too complex for the yards and yards of hemming which this kisses dress needed.  I’ve never had good success with a specialty foot for such a purpose either, especially when there are seams to get in the way, although I made it work on this skirt

Most recently, I’ve normally relied on a local sewing room’s rent-to-use machines to make a tiny serged hem such as what I did here on this flounced edge wrap dress (post here).  As much as I did like how that stitching turned out it was not a rousing success.  The tiny hemming has tended to rip off of the edge of the fabric – bummer.  Did I really want to do that again, anyway?  Besides, I don’t currently have convenient access to a serger (overlocker).  No, I needed a better, cleaner way. 

I wanted to use this project as a spur to learn the proper way to make a hand worked rolled hem.  I see such a detail on all of the couture gowns I have been able to examine at museums and fashion exhibits.  It is not hard to do, just very tiny, time consuming work, one of the favorite stamps of pride to anything designer.  Not that this dress is remotely close to anything like that, but the color black hides lots of flaws.  Thus, I figured this would be my ‘training’ piece to get the knack down before needing it for a high-class project.  

After watching a few different internet videos and written tutorials to have a preliminary lesson, I dove right in.  I soon discovered I needed to wear a head lamp for the whole hemming job and could have used some magnifying glasses, too.  You need to only grab a few threads at the points you catch the fabric.  It is tricky, but after a few hours in on the job I found my pattern of both proper stitch spacing and a comfortable arm level at which to sew.  In all I spent 8 hours on the dress and then I am crazy enough to go and spend 8 hours on the hand stitching – 5 hours for the bottom flounce, and 1 ½ hours on each sleeve hem. 

This hand rolled hem job demonstrates more than anything else recent my dedication to both what and why I sew…only it is such a sadly subtle, unnoticed detail.  I would almost prefer it to be a bold statement, but then, my whole me-made wardrobe is a testimonial to that in itself.  Rather, I’ve had the privilege to look at the famous original Schiaparelli “Lobster” dress up close, as well as the best Dior and Lee McQueen garments, for just a few instances.  You know what?  The unassuming details on all of them combine with the pretentious particulars to make such iconic pieces all the more impressive.  A hand rolled hem is the wall-flower, who deserves all the credit, in the back of a room while the person hailed by the crowd only did half of the work.  To make that amazing outfit which delights the eyes from afar, well-crafted finishings are only a silent whisper which adds to the loud presence of a good-looking sewing creation. 

This simple little Valentine’s dress has something in common with them now, and even if I’m the only one that sees that, I’m happy.  There is in inner drive behind such a detail, I do believe, a love of the beauty to the craft of sewing, no matter if the maker you or me or McQueen.  It’s nice to feel that these techniques make couture feel attainable for the home seamstress, but I find it more fulfilling to find through them a camaraderie with the designers I respect.  It gives me a personal sense of pride, too.  I’m not just making clothes to wear.  It’s bigger than that – but this post also needs to be shorter than the time it would take me to emotionally vent about it here. 

So, I’ll wrap this post up by saying I’ll imagine all the kisses on my dress are for all of you my blog readers, all of those along the way whose posts have inspired me, the relatives and friends who have supported my sewing journey, and the wonderful people who have brightened my day with a compliment or a chat because I am wearing something I made.   My love goes to my family, especially – yes, always.  My little photo bombing fur baby is always there to give his canine compassion, help me laugh, and share the love, too.  I hope this Valentine ’s Day finds you and yours happy.  Hopefully, it will be a good day to wear something that signifies how you feel inside, like me!  Besos!