“Dark Academia” of the 1940s

This is just a small sampling of my favorite old books in our home library.

Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia.  Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents. 

I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child.  Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects.  Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural. 

As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here.  As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s. 

I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016.  This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned.  I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting!  I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made.  Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.

Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos.  A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired.  You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does!  It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe. 

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945  

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020.  The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours.  Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.

THE INSIDES:  So clean!  The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store.  It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount.  The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free.  The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1.  My total was about $12 in total.

The book store’s kitty was such a dear to me!

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre.  It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. 

I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes.  Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen!  I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school.  My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time.  I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne).  At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well.  See?  My list could go on.  Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing.  It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.

Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic.  By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones.  Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life.  To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society.  Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard?  Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option.  I am just as happy at my local University.

Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term.  While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources.  This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible.  A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood.  As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator.  Thus, I still have a preference.  To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!

This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear.  Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find.  The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007.  I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew.  The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download.  That’s right – free!  Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not.  My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment).  I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless.  They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit. 

Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well.  The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps.  It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze.  I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid.  This was a very stressful step.  I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut. 

Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias.  At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions.  So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part.  Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that.  The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer.  The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway).  All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.

I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt.  This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily.  Luckily the fit was not snug.  I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular.  After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid. 

To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor.  It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible.  I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.

Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket.  I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in.  Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted. 

This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams.  Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt.  There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining.  The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button.  I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision.  At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest.  The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt.  Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look.  The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit.  Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.     

It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia.  It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet.  Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits.  It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight.  Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with.  It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure!  I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that.  I’ll join in anew with them on it!

Remembrance Day

“We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

Poem penned by Moina Michael in November 1918

I’m remembering Armistice Day this year with a French inspired outfit that places me in the late 1910s, so I can observe this holiday dressing the way a woman like me might have done back then.  Worn for a visit to the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri to see their exhibits, these clothes helped me place myself in a position of empathy and insight for the experiences of people from those times.  Well done, informative exhibitions always bestow upon me a view through a lens outside of my own.  For me, though, also wearing the corresponding era of clothing is a level up in re-enacting an alternate reality for the purpose of gaining understanding.  I always take our trips wearing my handmade clothes (the greater percent of my wardrobe now), and most often that is in vintage style…well, now I have done my first escapade traveling in historical fashion!  

The blouse I’m wearing is a special teen’s era original “Armistice” style blouse to match the old antique logo pin on my collar lapel which pledges “I will parade – Armistice Day”.  Together, my blouse and pin is a 1918 statement of support for the end of the fighting, and a promise to be there for the enlisted when they come home.   This is worn with my handmade circa 1917 cotton skirt, based off of late WWI catalog images which inspired me.     

For those who wear historical fashions, it is often said that one feels like a time traveler, especially when those clothes are worn in a period appropriate setting.  However, I recently got to thinking – what would I wear if I was actually time traveling?  It struck me, that out of all the pretty, fancy outfits I would like to wear, the most sensible, useful, and, necessary kind of dressing for going back in time would also be the hum-drum, practical, everyday clothing.  I was considering these ideas because our trip to the National WWI Museum included going to the front lines in the trenches of Passchendaele (1917) through the overwhelmingly immersive “War Remains” virtual reality exhibit.  Then, I was also going to see the “Silk and Steel” exhibit as well, and learn about the French fashion for women of WWI…a much lighter topic.  I felt like a nonchalant kind of historical garb – this not the time or place for a flashy outfit.

Both exhibits opened my eyes to a picture that shows the personal trials, heroic acts, and unimaginable sufferings of those who did and did not survive, not just some numbers and dates to remember.  A casualty can be more than just the passing of a life…the veterans who committed suicide in the years following Armistice, the civilians who were collateral damage, or the long term misery of disfigurements from poison gas do not officially get added to the death count of a battle.  Thus, even though Remembrance Day commemorates the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., the lost lives before that time were not the end of the story.  Their sacrifice lives on.  Their legacy is beautiful, complex, terribly tragic, and of the utmost importance.  This is what makes the poppy such a powerful, simple, silent witness for such an overwhelming bequest.  Wearing one is such a small gesture, and so easy to do, but it means so much!

Also, I would like to recognize the “le bleuet” cornflower badge that is the French equivalent to Canada and Commonwealth nations using the poppy as a symbol of WWI remembrance. After all, one in three French men died between the ages of 18-30 by 1917 alone.  What is so sad to me is the way many soldiers on all sides thought that they would be comfortably settled back home by the Christmas of that year.  The Armistice did not come as soon as expected.  I waited to have my picture taken in these faux poppy fields (on the front lawn of the National WWI Museum) until after our virtual reality “War Remains” experience so as to have the full realization of that symbolic flower hit me… and wow, did it ever!  I let myself be emotional invested into the living exhibit and it left me ready to bawl… but I heartily recommend it, nonetheless.  As the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele’s last living survivor had said, “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”  It was a battle of mud, blood, and futility through Belgian fields, with 500 thousand casualties, making it one of the war’s most costly battles of attrition.  So whether you choose a poppy or a “le bleuet”, the Remembrance Day message is the same – the legacy on the living to honor the sacrifice of the heroes who are gone but not forgotten.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  lightweight 100% cotton plaid, lined in a cling-free polyester, with a hem extension of a cotton knit leftover from this Burda Style dress project

PATTERN:  None!

NOTIONS USED:  four fabric covered button blanks, one metal vintage zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This skirt was worked on in 2019 for a few hours and halfway completed, but finally finished up after a few more hours’ time in August of 2021.

Gosh, look how basic the skirt was originally!

TOTAL COST:  My only cost was for one yard of eyelet material – $12 – otherwise all else was free on hand items from out of my stash

Not only is this unusual for being a historical outfit that traveled out-of-town with me, but this was a refashion project of a dated ready-to-wear item from my old wardrobe, as well.  Both factors combined give this skirt a historical appearance, but not when it comes to my manner of making.  This is one of those “what you can’t see won’t hurt” kind of sewing projects that I almost never make.  Not that this is a messily finished refashion – on the contrary, everything is cleanly serged (overlocked) insides…see what I mean?  I usually never use a serger.  It’s just that I was making-do with what I had, using up scraps together with some unwanted garments on hand to create something that gives an authentic late WWI era appearance.  What was underneath to create that look is not something exactly true to the era.  Simplicity (as in straightforwardness) was my key word here.  I wanted to travel without the need to bring the proper era undergarments (such as this slip I made) which I usually wear to create the French ‘tonneau’ barrel skirt shape (widest from mid-thigh to the knee) so classic for the late 1910s.  

Fashion ads and catalog images I was inspired by for my skirt refashion

The “Silk and Steel” exhibit made several interesting points about the barrel skirt silhouette.  The woman who wore the ‘new look’ of 1917, started by French couturiers such as Jeanne Paquin, was deemed as a fickle woman, one easily turned by the whims of fashion, by some public opinions.  A steadfast woman was expected to be constant, waiting for the return of her husband, boyfriend, brother, fiancée.  Her clothes were to reflect such qualities.  It was feared that the changed silhouette would be a shock to the soldiers returning home after the war, making it clear they were out of touch with the life back at home.  Thus, out of consideration, many postcards and images for the enlisted show a constancy of style in women’s wartime garb (yes, a small propaganda campaign). 

New and exciting fashion was also considered tasteless when 1917 was the hardest WWI year for the French, with bloody battles, mutinies on the front, economic inflations, increasing food prices, rationing, and widespread shortages.  Fashion was crucial to whether there would be a wedge or a bridge between the sexes at home and on the front.  Barrel (or ‘tonneau’) skirts were, however, pushed as being economical, needing less fabric with its shorter hem and lighter petticoats, thus it was popular with the middle class as well as those who bought from designers.

My skirt, with its hem extension, very well could be seen as a conservative attempt of a woman of modest means in 1917 to keep up with the popular fad.  A plaid like this was not high fashion, after all, even if it was in a very French combo of blue and white.  Truth be told, I really was cobbling this together, trying to make a 1917 style out of a year 1997 casual skirt which had a shot elastic waist and overly basic shape.  I did wear this skirt a lot as a teenager.  Back then, I preferred long cotton skirts for the summer more than shorts…they kept me from getting too much sun, were breezily cool, and made me feel pretty.  However, the passing of time for both me and the skirt rendered it no longer wearable, but that didn’t mean I was done with it by any means!  I’m way too thrifty, practical, and imaginative to just give up on it now.  I had been looking for a good plaid to make an everyday teen’s era skirt anyway, so I might as well use what I already had on hand!

There was no way to save the disintegrated elastic – it was sewn as part of the waistline – so I merely used the skirt as-is…no unpicking, no cutting, no re-sewing needed.  There was still a bit of gathering in no-longer stretchy waistband and I liked the stability its thickness would provide, two reasons for my not cutting it off.  I did not want my skirt to become shorter, anyways.  I merely made two pleats to the front sides at the waist so I could bring it in to fit as well as add more shape and definition to the skirt.  That was all there was to it, and everything else was the details and finishing.    

Here’s a quick run-through of my remaining steps. I cut a 7 inch slit and hid a vintage zipper in the fold of the left waist pleat, which gives me just enough room to put it on.  Two hook and eyes help keep that zippered pleat closed.  As the cotton plaid is whisper thin, it needed a lining.  I keep all my poly lining fabrics in their own drawer in my stash (yay for being organized), and there I found a dark navy skirt lining draft I made from about 20 years back.  It was a basic A-line shape, with an opening slit about 10 inches down from the waistline, and was just the perfect length.  I hand stitched this liner into the waistband of my refashioned skirt.  It was slimmer than the skirt itself so there was no room for historical undergarments, but I wanted an easy travel skirt, after all, as I mentioned above.  Thus, I added a couple rows of ruffled cotton eyelet (made by me, cut from rows of fabric) directly to the lining under the plaid skirt layer to fill the “tonneau” shape out better.  The layers of ruffles weigh down the flimsy lining, happily keeping it from creeping up on my body. 

Finally, I added a bit of contrast (and length extension) with the solid blue cotton knit.  I had one ½ yard remnant of it left, just enough to make a band to wrap around the bottom visible part of the lining.  Little odd shaped scraps left from the hem band went towards making four fabric covered buttons to decorate the waistline pleats.  They unify the solid fabric hem extension, and (I hope) make it appear as it my waist pleats are buttoned down (which they aren’t, though, ha).

The rest of my outfit is put together with (as I mentioned at the beginning of my post) a true antique Armistice blouse and whatever else I had on hand.  My old blouse should be taking the center stage to this outfit, more than my skirt, but that is part of the beauty to it.  Such a maze of intricate details gets lost to all but me, the wearer, because they are best appreciated up close and personal.  It is a wonder it has survived over a hundred years to still be strong and stable enough for me to even wear it (delicately, I must add…I do not want the guilt of being the one to destroy this in any way).  Its details are mind blowing – that complex handmade Irish lace, those impossibly tiny 1/8 inch French seams, and the amazing delicate yet durable traits of the sheer linen are a lesson in themselves to appreciate the lasting, artistic quality that clothes once were.  All else to my outfit is modern – my sash belt is a rayon scarf held in place by a reproduction brooch (also blue).  My earrings are 1950s from my maternal Grandmother, my hair comb is a new re-make, and my suede heels are vintage style from Hotter. 

This 1917 outfit was every bit as easy to wear for the day as anything else I might have worn.  I was so happy to wear such an outfit for my visit back to WWI.  I will be the first to admit many of the housedresses of the 1910s era are almost too quaint or cute for my taste.  They still are much more appealing to me than the sweatpants, t-shirt, yoga leggings, and sports bra of today.  I myself can feel more comfortable in the older type of ‘everyday’ clothes much better, oddly, and can’t help but wonder what place our daily wear is going to have in the regard of history 100 years from now, in comparison.   Stuff to consider!     

Behind me is the National WWI Museum’s exterior “Great Frieze”,
one of the largest sculptures of its kind in the world at 148 x 18 feet.
It represents the progression of humankind from war to peace.

The National WWI Museum educator Camille Kulig says “clothing is a barometer of change.”  I hear fashion experts of today also applying the same phrase to what we wear in these times following the craziness of 2020.  The changes that prompted the transition of fashion from the 1910s into the “Roaring 20s” does have its own parallels to what we have so far experienced of our own decade – inflation, widespread illness, rationing, as well as changing roles for men and women, to name a few matches.  Nevertheless, for as much as I love to enjoy studying history, I do realize it is so much easier to look back than forward.  What helps me is to see history as merely the story of people much like you and I, much like your neighbors or your friends, only placed into a different setting. 

I love Remembrance Day for the opportunity to stop and reflect on all of these points.  Today, or any day, remember the humanity of our collective history and give thanks for those who are serving, have served, or those who have passed on from their service for their country.

Hawaii of ’59

Riding on the heels of my last post, a play set inspired by the Disney Polynesian princess Moana, here’s a quick little post on yet another tropical outfit – one that is much more elegant, but simpler, yet just a fun and versatile as the last.  I just finished these pieces after being further motivated by my diving into the history of Hawaii, particularly what led up to the year when it became America’s 50th state.  That specific history is sadly rife with colonialism, division, greed, and cultural identity issues.  Yet, Hawaii finally becoming part of the Union in the year 1959 is something to celebrate that deserves its own fantastic outfit here on my blog, especially when I had some amazing fabric a friend brought back for me her trip to the island!  This is my outfit for my pretend getaway while still comfortably staying in my hometown, he he.

My new crop top dates to 1959, but my skirt is my own self-draped design using the Hawaiian fabric from my friend.  She has family ties to the island herself and was excited to see what I would make of it after discussing my ideas for the skirt with her.  This is not a cultural outfit, nor is it trying to be.  This is merely a vintage top infused with a bit of a Hawaiian flair because of the skirt.  Yet, it is enough of a cultural nod with the traditional hibiscus print on the skirt that I wanted to clarify myself.  For these pictures, the local Botanical Gardens’ greenhouse conservatory, the “Climatron”, was my background setting – it was opened in 1960, the year after my top’s pattern, and houses many tropical vegetation. 

Inside the “Climatron”

I have never been to Hawaii myself, so I don’t know anything to compare to location-wise, but at least my fabric is properly sourced.  Even for my last Hawaiian inspired sewing creation (an Ana Jarvis from Agent Carter outfit), I also ordered that fabric direct from a Hawaii barkcloth shop via online.  I always try to make sure a cultural fabric I’m using comes directly from the ethnicity which is my inspiration – it helps the artisans, promotes their craft, and gives proper respect to the heritage.   This is especially important to recognize in light of the fact that yesterday was “Discoverer’s Day” in Hawaii, celebrated on the second Monday in October since 1971 “to honor all discoverers, including Pacific and Polynesian navigators”.  Many experts now believe that the Polynesians ‘discovered’ both North and South America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, anyway!  It is important to remember that Hawaii has been annexed as a U.S. territory since 1898, but America has had an interest in the island since the 1840s, so the native cultures have had a long struggle to keep their own traditions and identity alive.  Let’s honor the Polynesian culture as well as Indigenous people!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon for the Hawaiian skirt fabric and a 100% linen (leftover from this 40’s jumper) for the top

PATTERN:  for the top, Simplicity #8460, a year 1959 design reissued in 2017, originally Simplicity #3062

NOTIONS NEEDED:  two 9 inch zippers and lots of thread

THE INSIDES:  The top is all French seamed (even the armscye) and the skirt only has one seam, and that was closely zig-zagged along the edge for a faux serged (overlocked) clean edge

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was finished on October 4, 2021 and took only about 4 hours from start to finish.  The skirt took me longer, as I didn’t use a pattern – maybe 6 hours altogether – and was finished a few days after the top.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt was reasonably priced for the two yards I had my friend pick up for me (yes, I paid her later) and the linen had been in my stash so long it’s free in my mind!

I am further tying this outfit in with my previous Moana inspired outfit on a basic level because I used the same fabric for part of both sets.  Yes, that is correct!!  That brown jumper I made was originally bright orange like my top because this is what I sewed out of the one yard (plus scraps) that was leftover before dyeing that project a new color.  However, this is much more culturally influenced that that previous set.  Even still, as much as Moana has been the starting point of interest to whatever recent historical inquiries or research I have carried out on the Pacific Islands, she is actually the second protagonist of Polynesian descent in a Disney animated feature.  The first was Lilo with her older sister Nani from Lilo & Stitch.   

These pieces were a refreshing project because I was both going rouge and being inventive.  I have been doing this a lot with my sewing lately.  It keeps my creative juices flowing to draft something myself, or at least interpret a pattern in an unexpected manner.  I went through a bout of no-sewing in July through the end of August, although you wouldn’t have guessed it on my blog.  I have such a backlog of good things I’ve made but haven’t posted so my blog’s supply of material seems endless sometimes!  Anyways, these creative projects that are just what I want to make at the moment are giving me life.  I don’t care if it is October, this is exactly what I wanted to sew and wear.  Luckily, the combo of the orange and the purple here gives me an opportunity to still wear this for the last throes of summer warmth that we often have in October.  I hope to be wearing this set much more again as soon as it gets warm again next year.  For now I plan on wearing the orange top with all my fall season skirts the next month! 

Along that vein, I guess I will dive into the details about my little vintage linen crop top.  The original pattern calls this an “unlined, sheer, short jacket” actually because it is shown sewn in a lace and meant to be worn as a cover up to the included “sleeveless sheath dress” (the base item to this set).  I am surprised the ’59 pattern calls it a jacket.  After all, it is sheer and designed to have an open back with no closures, other than hem and neckline bindings which extend into ties.  I guess this is not much different from a short cropped, no-closure bolero jacket, however looking at the line drawing alone gave me a different idea.  Line drawing are such a basic starting point, devoid of any influence, it always helps me come up with original thoughts.  I chose to see this garment reinvented as a wear-alone top, aka blouse. 

I cut it out with no changes, and sewed it up just the same as I would have if it was sheer lace – French seams inside.  Down the center back, though, I installed a 9 inch zipper which opens up only to the middle of the shoulders and closes at the bottom hem.  Above that zipper, I sewed the center back together just for a few inches only to open up again into a neckline keyhole opening.  This is a top that has a close fitting neckline and the back keyhole vent is just enough for me to slip this over my head.  Only then did I finish the neckline as the pattern directs, with the back neck closing in extended ties that are one with the binding (cut from the same fabric as the top).  I could finally try on the top at this point…only to discover it was terribly boxy and oversized.  It was also much more of a ‘belly top’ than I had realized it would be, only because of the way it was pulled up when I reached up to fix my hair.  The only place it fit was in the shoulders.  I was glad I had saved the hem binding for the last step.

I am wearing my Grandmother’s vintage jewelry set here!

I started fitting it to myself at the side seams, which had originally been very vertical, by tapering in a large 1 inch chunk which started at the hem and ended in the armpit at my original French seam on each side.  Then, I added in under bust darts which come up from the hem and called it done, finishing the edge with similar binding as the neck.  I knew a snug fit would not be ideal here with a tight woven linen and after the way the shoulders fit so comfortably as-is.  So I have my top tailored with a relaxed fit that does its proper job by not flashing others my lingerie…only some of my midsection skin, which I really don’t mind.  As long as my high-waisted bottoms are on, whether a skirt or pants, I am fine!  I love this fun little number.

The skirt is definitely my favorite of the two, nevertheless.  It is so elegant and, best of all, a custom one-of-a-kind design made by me.  This is even better than my self-drafted items because this was draped with myself as the mannequin.  This was tricky, as I was draping in an unconventional manner, but well worth it.  Draping is different than drafting – patterning is optional if you start with a good fashion fabric and very little goes to waste.  Drafting produces a technical design base from which to pattern and cut material to turn it from 2D to something 3D that fits the curves of a human figure.  Draping is a very ‘organic’ way of approaching design because there is no pattern needed and one only has to work with the fabric, and pinch, pin, tuck, dart, or otherwise shape the material as inspired to then fit the body form (in my case, myself).    

What I love about draping is the way the fabric can dictate the design, as was the case for this Hawaiian skirt.  I worked around what would let the print of the pattern shine to its optimum level while still becoming a pleasing and elegant design.  When a fabric is really good – and this Hawaiian rayon is absolutely luxurious – it is best to be attuned to its own “personality” and let it dictate of what it wants to be.  Sometimes, as is often the case for one-off couture creations for famous people, the occasion they have to attend or even the personality of the wearer (think of the MET gala) can be the driving force behind the crafting of a custom draped design.  In this case, a pattern is often made from the designer’s original draping creation, to be patterned up and re-made out of the final fashion fabric by employees.  In my case, I had enough confidence to dive right into my good fabric because I had a general idea of what – hopefully – my final result was to be. 

Two different views of the same front closure – because a zipper in a dart is confusing to show!

I aimed for a design that needed as few as possible seams.  I had two yards of a 35 inch width fabric and wanted to leave it as “untouched” and natural as possible.  I experimented in front of a mirror wrapping and pinching the fabric on myself to estimate what design might work best and also figure out how much (and where) to take out the excess material.  As it turned out, with only four tapered darts, 6 inches wide for a few inches below the waist tapering to nothing for the length of 20 inches, were placed in between the blank spaces left by the upward trailing border print.  The two center darts were turned outward away from one another to create a kind of “sack-back gown” effect.  The next two were turned to run the same direction, thus creating another layer of the “sack-back gown” effect along each side of my hips.  The only other seam, running the full length of the width, was created by stitching the two cut edges together.  This became the center front seam. The zipper was installed into the dart that was also put into the center front, just the same depth and length as the other previous four darts.  As the final step, I turned both selvedges inside by 2 inches and this was both the finished bottom hem and upper waistband.  I was able to fulfill my goal AND fit an aesthetically pleasing layout to my body. 

As I clarified above, I was not trying to make this a cultural garment, but as I was experimenting with draping placement there may have been subconscious inspiration from the vintage early 60’s Polynesian line of sewing patterns.  Many of their dresses have a slight nod to 18th century garments with their frequency of either a gathered or pleated sack-back to their Hawaiian muu-muu dresses.  Check out pattern no. 150, pattern no. 183, or the popular no. 121 (as modeled on the fantastic Tanya Maile) for just a few examples.  I will admit, I have the 18th century on my mind…I just finished a 1780s gown and just planned out a pattern for a shorter hip length sack-back gown (called in French a “pet-en-l’air”; see picture below at right).  A ‘watteau back’ is formed by wide box pleats hanging from a high shoulder yoke and extending to the hem in an unbroken line.  I translated this into a skirt form, unintentional at first then only realizing it as my skirt was coming along. 

Wide watteau pleating really makes the fabric print look like it was meant for this design, I think, but the true effect comes to play when I walk in this skirt.  It has a controlled flow around me in a way that makes me feel like a queen and silently, happily squeal inside.  The visual impression is still slimming because of the straight, tapered, and columnar effect of the front half of the skirt that the side pleats form.  There is something so indescribably graceful to authentic hula, and that was the elegance I wanted to translate into my Hawaiian fabric skirt.

I hope you enjoyed this tropical foray for these last two posts, and that whatever the weather you may have where you live, your day was uplifted for a few moments.  I will be continuing the rest of October with more posts related to the stereotypical seasonal celebrations of the month – such as fall, Halloween, and princesses with Germanic heritage to their stories.  I hate to see summer go, every dang year, though.  I always make sure to send out the warm weather with some grand finale outfits, and this year’s creations were especially delightful in more ways than one. 

Thanks, as always, for reading and following along! 

Blue Rose of Unattainability

If there is anything that symbolizes the impossible, it is a natural blue rose.  A true color blue just isn’t genetically possible for the thorny flower.  The closest color naturally or scientifically created ends up as a lavender, or violet, or a sort of mauve-ish pink.  Sure, you can dye or paint a rose whatever color you may want, yet science has been beat so far when it comes to growing a rose in an azure tone. 

This is why a blue rose mural is the perfect backdrop for a finished sewing creation which was so very challenging for me to make.  I seriously had the “what if I can’t figure this out” thought during the construction process to my dress.  I was terrified I had met the project which would beat me.  As you can see, I ended up working through it successfully!  Besides, this dress is also another 1950s Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” motivated outfit as a follow up to my previous post.  I cannot just have one princess inspired garment, when it comes to my favorite Disney film, for my “Pandemic Princess” series!  The blue rose theme also lets my choice of color for Princess Aurora’s gown be quietly known.  As much as I love the color pink, her enchanted sleep was taken and awakened in her blue dress.  With her blonde hair, Aurora needs to leave the pink dress to Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in my opinion. 

White may be thought of as a ‘neutral’ or blank color but the funny thing is, I find it hard to find a pure white fabric that doesn’t have a blue undertone. This is a true rarity from a sewist’s perspective!  Only recently have I found out this occurrence is either due to a fabric treatment called “bluing” or an accumulation of acid in the water from deteriorating pipes.  It is hard to escape the frequency of blue in my wardrobe, even when wearing white apparently.  I went along with the theme and wore my blue tulle 50’s poufy slip underneath for full vintage drama.  With the subtle blue tint to the white, the wild rose flower all-over print of the fabric, and the elegant lines to this full-skirted, pretty frock I have an outfit that makes me feel like a princess in more ways than one.  The fact it is a hard won accomplishment to even be wearing this makes the wearing of it so much sweeter of a treat.  I found a different kind of ‘blue rose’ that is attainable…and I absolutely love it. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft but thick Indian cotton bedsheet set

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern #121 “Jacquard Dress” from February 2020, a ‘re-issue’ of a July 1957 “Burda Moden” design

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the time to trace and assemble the pattern, this dress took about 10 hours to complete.  It was finished on August 7, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  This bedsheet set was picked up at a thrift sale for $1.00…pretty awesome, right?!?

From the get-go, there are a few hurdles that set this dress pattern up to be challenging even before reaching the sewing and construction stage.  Firstly, the pattern pieces for this dress are out-of-control ginormous.  They are rather awkward shapes, too.  This was a big, exhaustive deal for me to trace out the pattern pieces form the small and cluttered magazine inserts.  I spent way too many hours bent over on the floor, tracing lines onto see-through medical paper, and taping pieces together.  The larger the pattern, the more I get confused over the lines, and there were several mistakes along the way.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a Burda Style pattern prepped because I add on the seam allowances as I cut.  An online version of the pattern would be a downloadable PDF that then needs to be printed out and assembled together, and this option sounded like too much paper for me to want to deal with. 

Laying out the pattern pieces on the bedsheets took up ALL of our living room floor.

Of course, all of these facts also mean that this design is a complete fabric hog.  You can only choose a fabric at least 60 inches wide (or more) and need about 4 yards.  A directional print or plaids were discouraged in the Burda info, for good reason.  My use of bedding with an overall print was perfect here.  It offered a lot of fabric in a wider width with a print that doesn’t overwhelm the dress’ design lines and all at a cheap cost.  Opting for a reasonable material rather than using any of the nice fabrics from my stash eliminated any extra stress on me to not mess up on this project.  The fabric was such a dense cotton it does have some structure to it – something very necessary for this dress – yet at the same time it is broken in enough to be so very soft and supple.  Yet, being a bedsheet, I could not tell grain line, just the bias, so I just followed the hem as it seemed the tightest woven direction of the fabric.  For this dress, cutting the bias correctly is almost more important than choosing a fabric with body, as the most interesting panels to this design are on the cross grain.

The Burda Magazine page sums this dress up as “a masterpiece” with its “couture draping at the neckline and waist…shaped in the fashion of a French triangular scarf.”  This is not just bragging on the part of Burda as I have come across a few designer couture dresses that have similar design lines with the ‘wrap-around-to-the-front’ skirt pleats that are part of the back skirt’s fullness.  Here is a 1950s Mingolini Guggenheim Italian couture gown and a golden 50’s cocktail dress from the RISD Museum of Costume and Textiles

The old original Burda Moden summary is a hilarious but still wise call back to 70 years ago in the way it warns “Never wear it in the morning, never combine it with a sporty coat and only wear it with at least mid-heeled pumps!”  To match, I am wearing reproduction “Miss L Fire” leather snakeskin and suede bow pumps and a vintage 50’s era netted hat. The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother and my pearl necklace is the same as the ones I gave to my bridesmaids for our wedding.

Let’s dive into the dress’s details, starting with the trickiest ones first!  There is a full ¾ circle skirt, with two pleated panels on each side that are seamed in with both the right and left back skirt panel.  Those panels wrap around horizontally from the side back, along the side waist, into and around the front draping.  The paneled strips are on the bias and actually one piece (cut-on) with the back skirt…and thus there are no side seams whatsoever from the waist down here.  At the center front, half of the back skirt’s incorporated panels (two on each side, remember) end by joining in with the waist seam.  The other half suddenly opens up to become unrestricted, individual tube-like ties.  These are then wrapped under and through the incorporated neckline drape, which is itself seamed into both the dropped shoulders and center front waistline. 

The skirt panels eventually end under a deep front skirt pleat on each side of the center front.  This way the entire front draping affair is one big interconnected “give-n-take” game, equally pulling on all parts of the dress and keeping everything in place.  My brain is still blown away over all this, and also rather stretched thin trying to explain how magical this Burda retro design is.  Not since I sewed this Jacquard dress using another Burda retro re-issue, which also happens to be from 1957, have I experienced this kind of intricacy in a pattern.

Under all of this complexity, the bodice is a basic dart fit.  A good starting point, a blank canvas, is needed for every masterpiece, right?!  There are several knife pleats in the back shoulders that open up to provide fullness for ease of “reach room” movement.  They also then become a low-key mimic to the more ostentatious origami-like folds to the front drape.  The center back waist has a pointed, lowered, dipped seamline, with an invisible zipper coming from that point up to the neck.  This dress has a slight ‘train’ to it and dips longer in the back by a few inches, nicely countering out the weight of the front and opening the pleats.  

I personally am not a big fan of the slight train.  It almost looks like I merely hemmed the dress wonky.  The train looks really odd when I wear this dress with a poufy petticoat, which I do on occasion when I desire a less of an over-the-top vintage appearance.  However, wearing a fluffy slip underneath is the only way to do this dress justice, otherwise I would suggest horsehair braid or another stiffening method to be added in the hem.  This is a couture dress – there’s no way around it, even though my version is in a fine cotton.  This dress requires plenty of time to perfect its details and master the silhouette.  There is no room for a half-hearted effort here, otherwise the dress will only turn out messy.  This is not a project for the faint of heart!   

It might be complex and fancy but this is also a dress which is comfy and very wearable, making the time and effort invested into sewing it very worthwhile.  It could equally be paraded down a red carpet or worn to a nice outdoor picnic party depending on the fabric chosen or how you accessorize it.  My one and only complaint is that the pattern’s sizing seemed to run smaller than usual.  I had to let out the sides and center back seam allowances to a scant 3/8” for a close fit in the bodice.  Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this pattern in every way possible, even with its difficulties.  It is not for a novice, or even an intermediate skills individual who needs more than a words-only instructional text.  Yes, it may be a project that presents a challenge, yet it is worth it in every way when you end up with a dress like this! 

What is your “blue rose” – metaphorically speaking?  Do have a goal that seems an insurmountable hurdle, but you aim to conquer it?  Good for you – that is a “blue rose” kind of aim.  Do you also get annoyed at how blue all the white clothes end up?  Also, what do you think a blonde girl looks better in – blue of pink?  The funny thing is, these two colors were the choices (out of availability of the chosen dresses) I was down to for my wedding’s theme…and my two bridesmaids were both blonde haired.  They wanted pink to wear over blue.  I happily chose a soft pastel pink as the color scheme.  I will be following up this post with one more (final) “Sleeping Beauty” inspired project…and yes, this time it is in pink!