City Wildlife

January is the depths of winter here and right now we are getting bombarded with frozen precipitation.  Yuk…this is not ‘my thing’.  As an August baby, I need a reason to remember the warm days when I could wear my favorite skin-baring sundresses!

I have not forgotten late last years’ beginning of my “Indian Summer of the Sundress” series, and so I’d like to add another installment to it with this post.  I figure it might help those of you in the depths of winter like me as well as inspiring those in the warm weather at the opposite side of my location!  This time I have a ‘modern-does-late-mid-century’ look in an animal print maxi.  It’s a properly classy yet subdued unruliness made to visit the animal and human wildlife for an event in our city zoo over this past summer.  Happily, a giraffe was more than willing to oblige to be in the background of some of our pictures even though I am wearing leopard (these big cats can be their predators in the wild).

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft quilting cotton print fully lined in your average soft cotton unbleached muslin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2180, year 2011

NOTIONS:  all I needed was a lot of thread, a bit of interfacing, and an invisible zipper, all of which was on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  about 15 to 20 hours went into making this dress; it was finished on August 25, 2018

THE INSIDES:  full lining means, “What seams? I don’t see ‘em.”

TOTAL COST:  As this has project idea been sitting in my stash for a while now, with the fabric bought a few years before that, I’m counting it as free by now.

This dress has been on my “to-make” bucket list for about 5 years now.  I remember it was one of the projects I wanted to tackle in the early days of my blogging, yet some of the details to it intimidated me at that time, so it got shoved to the back of the queue.  No longer!  However it was a good thing that I did put off making it because this sundress was challenging…not so much to make, just to fit and tweak to point where I am happy with it.  None of my changes are really noticeable when you look at the original design, though, so they are nothing major.  No, I wouldn’t do that to it – I love the style lines too much to really change them!

The back bodice triangular tied-together style is something I’ve seen again and again in mid to late 1950’s extant vintage dresses for sale at shops online.  I enjoy the fact that it is revealing yet you can still wear conventional brassiere under it!  It’s not like being completely backless but it sure gives off that air…so sexy with its teasing!  I can’t tell from the pictures whether or not the true vintage dresses really tie or are sewn shut in imitation.

Nevertheless, to make things easy for myself, I made the center back of my dress sewn down together.  The pattern calls for a tie back, but that sounds fiddly to me besides possibly creating a knot for me to sit back on – ouch!  I also didn’t want the complexity of ties to cover up the back design because I think the simplicity of the back is just beautiful.  It’s also perfectly airy for a hot summer day.  For my fix, I merely corrected the angle and left off the tie straps, which originally were and extension of the neckline facing.

I did not like the original neckline finishing though.  It was too wide and appeared stifling compared to the rest of the dress.  So I made my facing half the width.  I like the slightly more open neck and low key element to my version of the neckline facing.  However, I did have to slightly customize the shape of the front neckline because the bust (cutting out what should have been my ‘correct size’) turned out quite large in the chest.

To aesthetically correct the generous upper bust, I made two cross-bias darts that end at the upper bust and come out of either side of the bottom center neckline front.  This fix is something which is a fashion dart in my old tailoring books and you don’t see it on many garments.  Only (boo hoo!) it blends into the fabric print.  It takes out the excess right where it was at yet changed the neckline facing into something slightly more angular.  The original design has the neckline quite high with the wide facing and boat neck wide in style.  Personally, I like my version better (no surprise) but it was all just alterations I made along way of the construction process…in other words not planned ahead of time.  It is amazing how little ‘failures’ are only opportunities for happy creativity which makes things better you’d than hoped!

Now, the back bodice might be a 50’s element but the rest of the dress makes it seem more 1960s to me.  The long slim skirt with gathered waist and the high banded middle distantly remind me of Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy dress from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” of 1961 (it’s my big hat – see picture below – influencing my perception, too).  Ever since that famous costume, early 60’s fashion had recurring but occasional long slim skirts to dresses, especially when circa 1964 combined these with an empire waist for a resurrected Recency Era fad, thanks to the creations of Norman Norell (see the “Josephine” dress), the great Dior, the innovative Bill Blass (then working under Maurice Rentner), and Mod Mary Quant.  These designers made such a silhouette the mark of high fashion.

This sundress’ skirt is really very straight rectangle on paper, and only appears a lot slimmer than it is when my legs are together or one knee is jutted out as I shift weight when standing.  I actually went up two size larger than my size because I didn’t want this dress to be too confining to walk in.  The above-the-knee slit helps movement freedom (and adds to the sultry aura of the dress, certainly) but I don’t want to rely only on that…I like my sundresses to both look nice and be ready for moments of family fun!  I was able to ride the jungle animal themed carousel ride with my son that day, but only side saddle for fear of ripping the side slit sky-high!

As the printed cotton was ivory (light colors tend to be see-through) I took the extra time to fully line the inside of the dress and it was so worth it!  It makes dressing in this so much more simplified not needing a slip, besides so soft on the skin.  I like a good layer of natural fabrics during summer, it wicks away moisture and breathes unlike any polyester, so I don’t mind doubling up on a good quality cotton.  Besides, the inside looks so professional even if it is just your average muslin lining!  Sandwiching a perfect invisible zipper up the side between the layers and matching up all the horizontal seams was tricky, though.

At first, I was afraid my outfit would be a bit “too much” but I had a happy time in comfort, received lots of smiles and a few compliments from passer-bys, and stayed classy despite my day in the hot sun wearing my sundress make.  I can’t wait to get more wear out of this sundress as soon as our weather turn balmy again!  It’s funny to realize I never used to enjoy animal prints as much as I have in the last few years, but when I do use them, for some weird reason it always tends to be leopard!  I have a Dior inspired late 40’s wool coatdress with leopard printed flannel accents which I plan on making this year, so my habit of using one kind of animal print doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon!

There is an interesting article I’ve read recently called “The Trashy, Expensive, and Contradictory Reputation of Leopard Print” and as much as I enjoyed the info it made think about why I tend to leopard.  Strangely, it’s not because I feel any of the stereotypes associated with it – power, exoticism, eroticism, punk, or glamour, probably why most of my leopard print makes are relatively tame.  I think I like it because I see it as a mere print, more like a curious twist on polka-dots, even though I know it is the natural camouflage of an animal skin, to a wild cat that needs respect and protection.  So there – either I’m admitting to a watered down mentality, or I’m fully duped by fashion idea of leopard, or perhaps merely admitting to agree with Dior (which makes me cringe a little to say, but that’s for another post).  He used leopard print as a “house motif” and mainstreamed the usage of it as more than an unnatural item and not just a fur (continuing the practice to this day).  Since such a print can be found on practically any material nowadays (thanks to advancements made in the 1930s) – from cotton to faux leather and scuba knit – my mind is so far removed from the actual idea of the real fur…don’t know if I’ve ever seen real leopard clothes nor would I ever want to buy or wear them (and probably couldn’t afford them, anyway).  Dior is quoted as saying, “If you are fair and sweet, don’t wear it.”

What side are you on when it comes to animal prints, because I realize I am some weird in between…I like wearing fabric based fashion reproductions but they by no means are my favorite nor do they garner my repugnance.  It is good on an occasional basis for me.  Do any of you animal print lovers also favor leopard like me?

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Revamp

It’s a new year, and there are another 360-something days to come of fresh memories, novel occasions, unexpected changes, and general happenings to be made for 2019.  In my experience, where we begin the year is normally quite interesting and different as compared to when it ends.  Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to start a new year of posting with a project similar to the way the world rolls from one year to the next…a refashion.  Every refashion is a new beginning for something from the past which is remembered in a different manner by the time it is reworked.  A refashion is a fresh start.

This particular refashion is quite basic and fancy at the same time.  It has been – and now continues to be – my basic “little black dress”, which now takes a very classic vintage spin from the basic modern piece it had been!  This is my fanciest refashion yet, I believe, as well as my most used.  It is comfier than it ever has been thanks to my re-vamp, and it is versatile enough for a funeral, wedding, night out, or fancy party (such as this!).  You name it, and in all probability this dress can step up for the occasion.  To think…all I did was use something I already had on hand!

Of course, the happenstance of finding matching material was the only reason this refashion was possible.  What I needed practically fell into my lap.  This good luck does not come around often!  When such an event does pop my life, I listen and act.  It’s these good chances that help let me know I’m on the right track, especially when they come without my trying too hard to make things happen.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  some sort is polyester knit, thick like a Ponte with limited stretch and more of an open mesh finish at close inspection

PATTERN:  the few skirt pieces I added were based off of a year 1948 vintage McCall’s #7226

TIME TO COMPLETE:  several hours were spent on one afternoon in the summer of 2017 to do this refashion

THE INSIDES:  The original dress was serged stitched (overlocked)…but even my new additional seams were finished to match

TOTAL COST:  $5 for one yard of new knit – the dress I’m counting as free!

The original dress was something that my mom had bought for me through a ready-to-wear catalog when I was in late teens.  I appreciated the fancy neckline and the dressy but forgiving fabric that washes, wears, and packs like a breeze.  She correctly figured that a “little black dress” was something I would find indispensable going into young adulthood.  Now that I am a full-fledged adult (and mother to boot!), these last few years I realized my favorite dress now longer fit me as well as I remembered, but I loved it nonetheless.  Thus, after coming across the perfect material, I took the ‘cue’ given me but still hesitantly cut it open and put it under my sewing machine to make it work for the “me” I am today.

Luckily, the bodice still fit so it was the only part of the dress (besides the armscye) that I left alone for my refashion.  It is an awesome, well-designed upper half, anyway, for being an affordable RTW item!  The square neckline was made with the pleated front middle that I have not seen the likes of again.  The whole bodice was double layered, fully lined in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, and ends at an empire height.  The skirt portion was an incredibly basic two piece skinny and short style which fit like a second skin, probably at least two sizes smaller than the bodice proportions.  I suppose having kids really makes ones hips fill out – I remember the dress fitting like a nice pencil skirt when I first had the dress!  The sleeves were also very basic and extremely small fitting for a ¾ length.

Firstly, the original skirt was cut off (keeping the bodice seam).  I needed – wanted – a skirt that actually sits at a waistline for my idea to work.  Thus, I drafted my own midsection panel to be the in-between connection to the bodice and skirt.  This way there is a defined middle which is more complimentary and classic than an empire dress.  The midsection is double thickness like the bodice, because it has to support a lot…this is a pull-on garment.  The dress is all knit so a zipper would only mess up the fabric, anyway.  I stitched everything in a zig-zag “lightening” stitch so everything wouldn’t pop – only stretch – putting this on.

Next, I cut a whole new skirt back half using my newly bought fabric from the most available vintage pattern…McCall’s #7226 happened to be out at the time so I used it.  It has the basic, common 1940s three-piece skirt rear which I wanted for my dress’ refashion because such a design provides wonderful booty room and hip shaping.  I re-used the original front half cut off of the dress and, after sewing the sides and hem, the new skirt was sewn to the bottom of the midsection.  Now the hem falls at my favorite just-below-the-knee length.  The skirt is the same length as on the original garment but between the better fit and added middle panel, it suddenly hangs better and has more swish in it.  Perhaps this can be a swing dance dress, too!

Finally, the sleeves were shortened.  The original ¾ sleeves were uncomfortably confining around the elbows and the length seemed weird compared to the rest of the dress in its partial refashioned stage.  However, to match the little bias edging along the pleated neck front, I added the same detail to finish the sleeve edges.  The sleeves were cut to end at the horizontal middle between the top of the midsection and the pleated front neck detail.  It’s my mathematical geekiness coming out, sorry!  The short sleeves really make this an all-season dress.

Accessories worn with this dress change literally every time I wear this, but for this picture I chose items I have from some of the people dearest to my heart.  My husband had given me the amazing vintage hat you see on my head last Christmas.  He picked it out from my very favorite vintage shop in town, which happens to be the same place my vintage Cordé handbag is from, as well.  My hat has the label of the esteemed Henri Bendel brand, a women’s accessories store based in New York City which was open between 1895 and 2018.  There is an amazing quality and design to this hat, but it also happily happens to be in pristine condition.  The rich red velvet wraps around, over, under, and through the hat so that it looks different but still lovely from each and every angle.  The thick, black wool is a wonderful contrast to the velvet, lending a richness to the whole hat.  Of course, I did a twisted, complex, fancy hair up-do to match the hat and help keep it on my head!  My necklace and silk scarf (filling in as my bracelet) are from my dearest Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mom had bought me my earrings (black jet in the middle of a twisted gold rope) as a Christmas years back to match with this black dress.

I have had plans on my backburner of sewing projects to make Marvel’s Agent Carter’s Season Two deep purple dress.  It’s the one with the lattice detail at the neckline and sleeve hems that she wears to meet Dr. Wilkes at the nightclub for some dancing and a little undercover information.  The way this refashion has turned out, however, secretly yet strongly reminds me of that dress, and although it is not the same, just might fulfill my frequent “need” for yet another Agent Carter look-alike.  Do you see the similarity, too?

A refashion holds a memory of the past yet starts off with a fresh face and another beginning. A refashion makes the most of what we have and presents a challenge which is only an opportunity for us to shine.  I hope all of you have a fantastic year ahead, with good wishes for some awesome sewing, fun fashion, and creative enjoyment as well.  I have some exciting projects lined up for the next few months, not just for myself either, so I have a feeling my sewing skills and personal style will be taking an interesting turn this year.  You might not see it on my blog just yet, but I wanted to let you know that it’s there and I’m excited.  What are some of your inspirations and motivations for 2019?

Tree Skirt

As much as I love Christmas trees, I am always so drawn by what is under them…and I don’t just mean the presents!  I mean the displays of nativity scenes, tiny winter dioramas, scale train sets, or even just a tree skirt that is made out of a fantastic material.  Every tree is as special and wonderful as each one of us are!  So here I am imitating the tree as well as staying warm “in the bleak mid-winter”, all the while finding a way to be fancy for the big holiday with this ankle-length, uber-full, 3-tiered, velveteen skirt.  It is a plush forest green color accented with delicate gold mesh ribbon trim…to me, a wearable version of all the glitz and glamour I love about a Christmas conifer!  Worn with a metallic yarn sweater (not made by me), poinsettias, and even ornaments, I am the second tree, I suppose.

This over-a-decade old skirt project is something I am quite proud to still be wearing.  This was a something I made for a Christmas circa 2006.  I realize it is often frowned upon to both keep and wear clothes for this long, but my skirt is made so well (not specifically meaning to brag), nicely treated (it gets worn maybe twice a year around Christmas, thus in newly made condition), and is a such a basic design that I feel is perennially elegant.  Besides…it still fits me anyway! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton blend velveteen lined in pastel mint green poly

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5005 pattern for skirts, year 2005

THE INSIDES:  cleanly serged (overlocked)

From what I remember this was an easy make that became challenging due to the copious amount of fabric (3 yards in total) and all the gathering.  How I afforded that many yards of fabric back then I don’t remember so I must have found it at a steal of a price or convinced my mom to pitch in for me.  This is a really nice, heavy, fluffy velvet that makes you want to cuddle up with it.  I was on a velvet “kick” back then (see this wine velveteen skirt I also made way back) and I still have some of my acquisitions from that fabric buying high sitting in current stash, so one winter yet I will go on another spree of sewing more velvet creations.

As usual, I adapted the pattern.  My change only was to make my life easier back then because I was not 100% comfortable with zippers, much less invisible ones.  I went a size up higher for what had been a faced, form-fitting waistline of the top panel so that I could add elastic to make it a pull-on skirt instead.  There is a casing to my skirt with elastic for only the sides and back ¾ of the waistline so that the center front over the belly could be smooth and bulk-free.  In hindsight, I am glad I made a waistline that is adjustable – because of it I’m probably able to wear this for 12-something years.  However, I did not bother to finish off the top edge of the waistline because I really never tucked things in to my skirts or pants at that time (I mostly liked to wear stuff at my hips as a teen, anyway).  Now that I do tuck more tops in and am not as afraid of a defined waist, and wish I had bothered to take the extra time to do that art of my skirt better “just in case” my style changed.  Oh well, the rest of the skirt was done nicely!

My second major change was to make the bottom third panel of the skirt longer.  I did not like the idea of the bottom tier being an obnoxious ruffle, which is the way it would have been had I stuck to the pattern as-is.  By lengthening the third row, it appears to be more like another panel to the skirt rather than a hem ruffle, besides making it the elegant ankle length I wanted.  I am so glad I made this adaptation.  This skirt brings out the inner princess in me the way it swoops, swishes, and covers a staircase when I walk down steps.  When I hold my skirt up to turn or walk sometimes, it reminds me of the way Cinderella or Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” hold their dresses up while dancing.  Twirling is especially great in this skirt…the sweep is tremendous!  I suppose I’ll never grow out of my old childhood dress-up dreams!

As velveteen (just like corduroy) has the tendency to “stick” to other materials worn both over and under it, I fully lined the inside of the skirt with a slimmer two-piece bias skirt out of the mint colored polyester.  The lining’s A-line shape does not match the width of the velvet skirt, I know, but a full underskirt would have only poufed out my velvet skirt in a way that would not have made it as wearable, only more costume-y.  The slim lining skirt underneath lets the gathers hang on their own and actually keeps my body heat in nicely.  I can totally wear some skinny knit pants under this skirt when it is really cold out and no one would know the better.  Between the poly lining and velvet, dressing up doesn’t mean I have to compromise class.

I don’t exactly remember how I cut the velvet out, but I must have cut each of the tiered panels on a different nap.  This is something I would never do today, but I do quite like it on this skirt.  Because the plush of the velvet brushes a different way, each panel has a slightly variable color to it.  The middle panel especially has a frosted overtone to it that I love because it reminds me of the most picturesque part of winter – snow!

I really don’t frown upon my older and earlier makes even though I shake my head to see how far I’ve come and smile at the same time to see how I appreciate my work at any level.  I like them nonetheless for not being up to my current sewing standards.  I’ll admit, I had a “thing” in the 2000s for skirts that were flowing and feminine due to bias cut panels, ruffles, gathers (like this one), and all in longer lengths, more so than today.  However, three rectangles of fabric can’t be that old-fashioned (can they?) and the 90’s and 2000 look is coming back today in conjunction with the 70’s hippie style, anyway.  So here’s to rocking your own personal style in handmade fashion from whatever skill level you are!  You made it…be proud of that and own the fact you created something wonderful.  Respect those older sewing makes.  Christmas is a time (besides many other things) for me to celebrate family and memories, and wearing this skirt lets me dress up in comfort while remembering my past and ruminating over the present.

I hope all of you had a wonderful, joyous Christmas that filled your heart and your mind with good memories, peace, and happiness.  From my family, to you and yours – warm Holiday wishes!

Undomiel and her Numedor Knight

Fantasy worlds can be quite lifelike and believable.  Fiction can seem more convincing than reality, especially when – in book form – the writing is realistically superb.  Then the reader’s imagination is traveled through space and time by the magic of the written page.  This can be especially true of stories which have make-believe creatures that have been known for centuries, such as dragons, elves, dwarves, and wizards to name a few.  The stories of the great J.R. Tolkien stand high as a remarkable, memorable tale of very credible and well-crafted fantasy, even rising to the likes of a cult classic.  To tell you the truth I am more of a C.S. Lewis Narnia gal, but I am almost as equally ‘into’ the Lord of the Rings world, as well as my husband.

I have been wanting to recreate something from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies ever since all three were out, thus this project is very fulfilling as it has been so long in coming!  Even better yet, I was extremely happy to have my son want to jump on board with my costume and match me for yet another themed Halloween!  Recently, the film trilogy had been out again to re-watch in the big theater near us and my son has now seen snippets of them, as well, so the fire for these films were renewed for us.  With a medieval and renaissance themed event going on at our local Science Center, too, and everything I needed for my own outfit on hand (thanks to having everything ready to whip the dress up for the last 14 years), I felt now was the time to make good of an extended sewing project plan!

Besides the fact I saw the films again now, why am I just writing about our Halloween outfits when it’s almost Christmas, you may be wondering (guess if you weren’t thinking about it before, you are now).  Well, as other detailed oriented Lord of the Rings movie fan will understand it is around the middle of December that the trilogy films were always released.  Everyone who has seen our outfits always guesses my son and I are supposed to be Guinevere and King Arthur (kind of a gross pairing for us when you think about it), so I’m wondering how many die-hard fans of Lord of the Rings are out there today.  Unfortunately, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy most likely killed off a good part of the fandom (those movies are SO bad, it’s no wonder).  Yet, I merely remember that the enduring beauty of the original written tales still remain and there are many more of Tolkien’s stories yet for me to read and many more costumes yet to be remade for myself, he he!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress – crushed panne polyester velvet, red hammered-finish crepe-back satin, and a golden small mesh netting; My son’s ‘chain mail’ tunic – silver oversized mesh netting

PATTERNS:  My dress – Simplicity #4940, year 2004; My son’s tunic – no pattern but my own…self-drafted!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took about 20 hours to make and my son’s tunic took about 3 hours both were finished at the end of July 2018.

THE INSIDES:  all clean from serged (overlocked) seam edges

TOTAL COST:  Having all the materials on hand for my dress since over a decade cut down on costs, and the grommet setting machine (more on this later) was paid for with a birthday gift certificate, so the only costs were on my son’s ‘chain mail’ – about $10 or less.

These outfits were incredibly fun to make, they turned out great (better than expected, actually), and were much easier coming together than envisioned.  I actually can’t wait to dive into more medieval and renaissance garments, because these time periods are my favorite specialty to study and research in non-fashion related fields.  I’m contemplating a 14th century low class woman’s set and a 16th century noblewoman’s gown, besides more Lord of the Rings costumes that are still tantalizing me.  My son would look so cute in a jerkin and doublet, I think, and I’d love to turn my hubby into a 14th century pilgrim on the El Camino de Santiago.  There’s too many ideas in my head and too little time!  Luckily, my hometown is actually a small hub for what we call “Medievalism studies” and “Creative Anachronism” so we would definitely have places to wear such old historical fashions and reasons to study them if I want to wear and sew more! Yay!

I realize that there are many historical inaccuracies to both of our outfits.  But hey – these are costumes based on a fantasy movie, and made with the purpose to go out and have fun, so I love the fact that the craving to do thorough research beforehand, like my other historical creations, as abated and I could merely sew our outfits to completely please ourselves and have them finished sooner than later.  This is my first dive into a new era of clothing and I couldn’t be happier!  If both me and my son don’t want to have to take our outfits off once they are on, but continue to swirl around and pretend play, than that is the best sign of success I could hope for.

It might be selfish of me, but can I just start by addressing my Arwen gown?  It was the more involved to make anyway.  This was inspired by her famous “Death dress”, worn when her strength was fading away as she is becoming less elf and more human in “Return of the King”.  “I wish I could have seen him (Aragorn) one…last…time…” she says in this dress as her Evenstar falls and shatters.  That scene was so emotional in the movie.  There is a large influence of early medieval Celtic in the swirling detailing of the Rivendell elves and so I incorporated much of that into my version as well.

However, I could not reconcile myself with (nor achieve) the long and perfectly shiny and wavy tresses like Arwen, so I choose a more historical, half fictional (Star Wars, anyone?) hairstyle option of braided side buns option I liked better on myself, anyway.  The chiffon headcovering was left off for some pictures so you can see the gown better or just to make this outfit easier to play in, but a medieval woman would not have went without one!  My simple ‘crown’ (as my son calls it) is a brass sheeting strip from my father-in-law toolbox of scraps leftover from old jobs.  We folded it into thirds and rounded into a headband ring.  I have a faux leather strip taped to the inside otherwise the brass turns my forehead green.

The main body of the dress has some a-mazing shaping (see this Instagram post of mine), especially for the upper body, thanks to the multiple princess seams (which are a big ‘historical’ no-no for medieval gowns, but whatever).  I sized down so I would have a snug fit since I knew my fabric, the panne velvet, was very stretchy.  Choosing this sizing was a good idea here.  There is over 4 yards of material just for the dress body and most of it is the full, flare of the dress’ panels below the hips.  This makes this such as elegant dress with lovely, princess-like swing as I walk, but the dress is very heavy.  I had to raise the shoulders by just over an inch to accommodate the dress being pulled down by the skirt portion.  I am secretly wearing my 1905 Gibson Girl era petticoat under this dress.  “Kind of weird” you might say, but the dress looked like an awkward, limp, wet rag of a thing hanging on me without the mid-calf fullness the 1905 slip provides.  With the slip, there is a much better silhouette overall plus it keeps the back train from tangling up under my feet!

Now onto the dramatic sleeves!  It took some training while wearing to figure out how to move, think ahead, and overall deal with these kinds of sleeves, but once you learn how not to clear a table mistakenly, get your arm stuck in a door, or drop them in a toilet (all of which I’ve done), they are so poetic.  I loved finding ways of doing fight scene moves so that the hanging sleeve would swirl around and look awesome, like what the actress Bridget Reagan did in the tv series “Legend of the Seeker”.  My ultimate sleeve action inspiration is from the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and what she was able to do (playing a blind girl) in the beginning action scene to the “House of the Flying Daggers” 2004 martial arts movie (watch it here).  I know it sounds silly to play-act with your sleeves but movies have a strong influence and with all this odd amount of extra fabric, you have to admit that sounds entertaining, right?!

The fashion folds that are holding the top forearm extra sleeve length out of the way of my hands were directly inspired by both Olivia De Havilland’s costumes in the year 1940 “Robin Hood” movie and this Balenciaga coat from the fall of 1950.  It was a simple matter of tacking the sleeves down at regular intervals to a stable runner (like ribbon) underneath.  I think this is much, much nicer than a tie gathered casing (as the pattern calls for) and much better not having a sleeve top seam (I cut on the fold, instead).  I did make the sleeves a lot longer (by about 12 inches) than the pattern calls for, too, in order to do this pleating.  I also lengthened the hang of the sleeve bottom so it would end closer to the floor and could come to more of a point than a rounded curve as the pattern dictated.  The inner seam through the bottom sleeve drape was flat felled as it is visible.  I guess you can tell already, but I chose the satin shine for the outside and the crepe for the inside.

My sleeve’s upper half (bicep portion) has so many layers to it!  The first layer is the panne velvet, the same as my dress.  Then it is layered over with a golden mesh material.  Finally, my fancy ribbon (expounded on the next paragraph) was stitched along just on the other side of the seam allowances at my shoulder top and lower sleeve seams.  Next to the neckline – which has multiple layers of fabric with the facing, interfacing, and woven golden trim stitched along it – the upper sleeves are the thickest and most complex to finish parts to the dress.  I needed to add little snap-closed ribbon lingerie straps inside the tiny shoulder seams of this dress just to keep the sleeves from slipping off.

The ribbon I used for both my belt and sleeve trimming is the pride and joy of my whole outfit.  It looks like a reproduction of the margin decorations from the Book of Kells (800 A.D.) combined with the saturated tones of a 16th century Safavid manuscript and is amazing…quite heavy, rich in color, and detailed…woven like a tapestry.  I had about 6 yards of it stashed away since about 2004, and I must have found it at an incredible deal or else my mom would not have let me buy it (she never liked me spending a lot towards something I liked without an immediate plan to use it).  Its swirling designs are just like the crowns worn by Arwen or Galadriel.  This ribbon is subtle enough to not overpower, yet detailed enough to add a touch of complexity and finery suited (so I feel) to an Arwen inspired dress.  There is actually a heavy nail sewn to the bottom hang of my belt to weigh it down.  A snap connects the elbow of the Y around my waist.  I know a belt is not part of Arwen outfit, but just like my hair, it is a bit more of a historical touch that helps my version please me better than an exact copy.

There were no corsets but a natural look for women of 14th century dressing, and the lacing to their clothing closings were just that…closures.  From what I have seen, back then eyelets would have been hand worked or (later) metal rings sewn on along the edge for the lacings to go through.  I needed to make about two dozen eyelets and wanted the flashy prettiness of golden metal modern ones.  Only, I was not going to hammer each one of them in by hand, but that was the only way I had available.  Thus, I put a birthday gift certificate to good use, did a last minute run to the fabric store, and splurged on a mechanical hand pressed hole punch and eyelet setter.  It looks like a pliers on steroids!  I chose the “Crop-A-Dile” by “We R Memory Keepers” brand tool and it is so ridiculously easy, makes very uniform eyelets which are sturdy, and it has so many useful function options (it can even do snaps!), I love it.  In 30 minutes I did all two dozen eyelets cut and set through four layers of fabric with interfacing in between.  It was so fun to have such a helpful tool that takes any stress out of a complicated technique.  I have been disappointed by fancy tools before but this might be the one that has worked so much better than expected – best gift ever, even if I did pick it out.

Now, for my son’s mock chain mail tunic!  From close-up, the mesh material reminds me of tiny backyard fencing.  I had been looking for something for a while beforehand and this was the best, the most reasonable, and most available material we found.  I do believe it conveys the jist of a chain mail tunic well enough though, and when it gets wet (it rained Halloween evening) it only becomes all the more sparkly!  He loved his tunic, most importantly, but I’m glad the medieval event we attended in our outfits had examples of the real deal armor, weapons, and chain mail both on display and on re-enactors so he could get a hands-on realization of the genuine thing!

I traced a pattern for a two-piece kimono sleeve tunic off of an existing t-shirt that currently was a tad roomy.  This had to be a pullover so I added a bit extra room around the t-shirt, besides seam allowance.  The shoulders and side seams were the only thing I stitched (the edges don’t fray) and I’m glad because sewing such a stiff metallic material that was mostly open was a pain.  I used mesh seam tape to give the stitches something to hold onto.  Next, his hood was drafted using the proportions of and existing hood, and then changing the shape so it would cover his neck and fall over and around his shoulders and chest.  The hood was lined in black cotton to keep the mesh from scratching his face and keep the texture of the material in the spotlight.  He wore a black turtleneck top under the tunic, and quilted black pants which kind of reminded me of a fencer’s padded practice gear.

His serious face cracks me up. Anyone recognize the Monty Python reference?

His armor is admittedly cheap plastic but it really added a lot to the tunic and it makes him feel oh-so-tough.  For my dream outfit (which are quite extra sometimes!), I was really tempted to find some fake bird wings in white to add on the sides of his helmet or even a black capelet so he could be more clearly a Numedor knighted guard of Gondor (the White City).  Yet, I realized that no one would “get it” and the extra fuss would be make his costume more complicated…meaning less fun for him.  For example, when we came home Halloween evening after trick-or-treating, hubby was trying to get decent pictures and our dachshund was incredibly curious and acting hurt at being left out, so our son, with his armor on, only began using his imagination.  It’s the tale of when our “killer” dachshund came with “vicious plans” to lick to the death (ha!) and my brave 6 year old knight threatened with his sword and shield to rescue the fair maiden. My hero…

Fiction is very much intermingled with the truth when it comes to history, for better or for worse, and the older you go (like medieval) it is even harder to separate the two.  Sometimes you have to accept them both when it comes to manuscripts because some legends, whether true or false, were part of those time’s belief system and culture.  To take such fanciful understanding away would leave a blank spot in our modern understanding of ancient pictures and thought processes.  A large percent of manuscript illuminators and textual writers were monks who never left their monastery walls, after all, while the rest were mostly young students with an extremely fanciful and active imaginations (margin doodles are sometimes quite shocking!).  The difference between fact and fiction is something we still have to define and process even today with all the information availability we have at every turn.  Perhaps our modern medieval mish-mash costumes are seriously more perfect than if we had be wearing veritable real thing.  I still open up wardrobes with a playful curiosity which makes me feel I’m in Lucy Pevensie’s shoes and can clearly picture the mischievous, animated face of Bilbo Baggins!

Graphic + Novel

There are unfamiliar clothing items that I would like to try and wear – things that the rest of the world is wearing.  I can remotely picture myself feeling good in such things, but the “play it safe” side in me pulls up my insecurities with my body every time.  I am so self-conscious about my physique.  Take into account that some of those things for my wilder-and-not-so-vintage side are really hard to find to suit my taste – like a really good quality pair of skinny jeans that will actually fit (with a high waist) or cool logo tees which are sustainable yet affordable.  I haven’t found either yet, which is why I don’t have them already!  In lieu of the misery of searching in vain I have used my sewing capabilities to fill in the answer.  After all, if I sew them, those bolder (for me) fashions become a source for a pride in what I made, a sense of accomplishment stronger than those insecurities which make me think I can’t wear what I fancy to imagine!

Here comes Wonder Woman help me out with that!  With a little ½ yard of graphic printed cotton and some too tight t-shirts back from when I was a mid teen, I have a new tank to remind me to own confidence, strength, and inner beauty.  But the remnants for making the Wonder Woman tank were enough to also update another yet uninteresting and unworn top from my wardrobe, too!  I totally ended up with the best deal ever, and made thoughtful and purposeful reuse of what I had on hand to now have new – novel – items that I am so happy with.  It’s a win all around. I swear – refashions are like a gift that keeps on giving. They make me feel like a wonder woman of the sewing world.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: Pants: 100% cotton twill, in 7 oz. weight with a brushed finish on the ‘right’ side, bought from “ebpfabric” on Ebay (here is the listing).  The color is a bright orange-undertoned red, “cayenne pepper”. Tops: two girls size cotton knit tees (at right), one in a semi-sheer slub knit in white and the other a solid navy double knit, were my starting point with a 100% cotton woven print for the front of my tank.

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s “Vintage High Waisted Trousers”, from year 1957, #129, from April 2015 and self-drafting for the two tops.

NOTIONS:  I used whatever was on hand, which was thread, some bias tape, and a zipper for the pants fly

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The two tops only took a few hours to make on the afternoon of May 9, 2018, and the skinny pants were made on two afternoons and finished on October 7, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  I only spent $10 on the jean material and as my mom had bought these so far back, I’m counting them as free!

These tops I will show you are not the most stupendous things I have made by far, but everyone needs basic yet fun pieces in their wardrobe, right?  Mine will be all me-made if I keep this up…and I intend to!  You see, I’m systematically going through many of the clothes I still have from my teen years and updating them for my current fashion taste and place in life rather than immediately sending them to a resale store. This is the most eco-conscious means to refashion, not to mention a cheap and challenging way to have something new, but I sense that this is helping me find myself in a very special way by evolving my wardrobe while still remotely staying the same.

The white tee was originally way too small on me – duh.  It was for a 15 year old, not the woman I am today.  Something that is too tight and doesn’t fit never seems proper when I actually know how to tailor, besides not even being comfortable for me.  I began my re-fashioning by first cutting off the confining sleeves, side seams, and shoulders.  Using the back body of the old top as my starting point to draft the front panel, and knowing my own personal body measurements, I traced the existing shape onto sheer medical paper and graded up to what it needed to be to fit me.  Yet, remember – only the back was going to be used on my new tank and it was way too small.  The front was not going to stretch.  So I added an extra 3 ½ inches to the side seams of the front panel draft, arched the armhole around to the back slightly, and added an extra inch to the shoulders.

When you take something meant for a knit and want it to work with a woven you automatically have to add in a handful of extra ease.  A knit has negative ease – meaning, you subtract wearing ease and the stretchier the knit, the more inches you have to take out for it to fit.  Not so with a woven.  Depending on what fit you want, 2 and 3 inches added make for a snug fit, and 5 and 6 inches give a roomy ease.  My top was half-and-half, though, and so went in between when drafting my pattern.  No matter how simple a tank top might seem, finding the perfect fit and learning the nuances of pattern drafting is always important to me.  Besides – no matter how simple, anything you make is worth the extra effort to make sure you yourself ends up happy with it!

I kept the original neckline for the back half of my tank, to make things easy, and the rest of the edges on the new addition were finished with some black and some red bias tape from on hand.  I also kept the cute little logo on the front of my old white tee – It was of a colorful bejeweled Italian Vespa motorbike…vroom, vroom!  This left some good, still usable remnants still, and of course, while I was on the re-fashioning mindset, I picked out something else to update.

There has been this plain knit tee in navy, way too conservative with its high neck and basic sleeves, but so luxuriously soft in pima cotton, languishing in my closet for just as long as the white tee which I had already cut apart.  I only ever used this navy top as layering piece.  The body, shoulders, and sleeves still fit me so it merely needed a slight change.  Therefore, it was the first thing I thought of to cut into.  Granted, I’ll admit what I did do to the top was probably not the best and most unique choice.  However, I did want something basic (navy and white is pretty easy to match with).  Even just a simple V-neck, short sleeve re-fashion is a major improvement that I feel okay with to wear now.  A couple of facing strips later and I have a fun contrast edged tee.

There isn’t much to say that I haven’t already said in the post about the last (also the first) time I had made pants with both this fabric and pattern.  I cut the pattern out as-is again, and turned it inside out to do a body fit again, too.  The waistline was significantly harder to do this time for some reason, but it turned out okay.  I splurged on the inside edge finishing and made my own bias tape from the fun floral cotton leftover from this 1943 blouse.  I did make the legs a bit longer at the hemline, and despite my hopes to make these more like jeans I did the same invisible zipper front as last time.  Only, these red hot pants forced my hand to turn them into what I had said I would do with them.

Have I ever said that I have a thorough love-hate relationship with invisible zippers?  I do.  They look so nice and give me such a challenge to accomplish…when they work, and it seems there is never any guarantee to that.  They are like a time bomb to me, waiting to fail, so although I do use them here and there, I never fully trust them.  For good reason! I was trapped in my 1930s royal blue satin evening gown because of an in visible zipper fail and unable to wear it to the occasion for which I made it years back.  These jeans were luckily only being worn in the house at the time when the invisible zipper I had installed popped open.  Thank goodness I had not yet left the house that night!  I had to carefully cut myself out of the jeans from the front.

Thus, I went back to my original plan and drafted my own mock-fly to cover the sturdy, vintage metal zipper which is sewn in the front instead.  This meant I needed back pockets, too.  I drafted some petite sized pockets and subtly monogrammed them with a fanciful cursive initials of my own design before sewing them down.  Do you see the ‘K’ then a ‘B’?  Yes, to make it easy for you to see the initials without staring at my behind, I took a close-up picture of them while they were off of me.

For starting with a vintage reprint pattern and outdated tees, this set really turned out fresh for my taste to try something more upbeat.  The 1950s really had some killer skinny pants that preceded the modern fad for the same thing (except back then they often relied more on good tailoring than the fact there is stretch in its fabric to fit)!  It would have been a bit bold to see Wonder Woman sported so overtly for the 1950s, because during the “Silver Age” comics she underwent significant changes which softened and adapted her image in the absence of her creator.  With the resurgence of a powerful and popular Wonder Woman today, this is the perfect retake, in my opinion!