A Parisian and Venetian Staycation

Listening to music can sweep you away, reading a book can draw you in, and viewing art can mesmerize you.  I would like to propose that sewing is yet another means that can transport you away from your reality of time and place.  I can easily lose track of time when creating, even (embarrassingly so) to the point I forget to realize when my body is telling me I am hungry!  It’s funny how every time I sew, I get wrapped of in the excitement of that first try-on of my new garment.  The thrill of seeing something made – by yourself – is captivating and never gets old.  Then, there is the joy of sashaying around in my newest creation for the first time, which is especially fulfilling when it comes to the taking pictures part!  I love to find the perfect location and set the whole scenario up in my head so our pictures can tie in with the very ideals that led me to sew such an outfit in the first place.  Every aspect to sewing takes me away. 

Realistically speaking of taking me away, traveling to many varied locations in Europe is high up on my bucket list.  I want to return to the towns I saw in Italy during my teen years, but want to see other cities that would be new to me – such as the unusual and watery Venice.  I have read extensively on the old Venetian-Genoese Wars (year 1256 to 1381) and have already explored Genoa for a day, so Venice is on my list.  I want to visually connect for myself some of the history I have internalized!  Besides Italy being my knee-jerk reaction choice, I want to explore more of the French capitol town of Paris than what I had seen in a brief days visit, years back. 

As much as I am sad that fulfilling this checklist is not on our plate for this year, I can at least make a “staycation” version.  Well, two new themed skirts – each featuring Venice and Paris – will just have to fill in for the real thing for now!  It was time to test the spellbinding powers that I attest to believe the process of sewing possesses.  I at least did find some locations around town which helped me imagine myself far away in Europe.  Now it is quite another question if I can actually remember to bring these skirts with me when I do eventually get to have my real trips to Paris and Venice!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  JoAnn Fabrics’ Casa Collection Polyester organza in an aqua “Blue Radience” color was used to make both the skirt hem and the matching top to my Venetian outfit.  The Venetian print fabric was a 100% cotton JoAnn Fabric exclusive design print while the main skirt body is “Snow” (an ivory off-white) Kona cotton. The French skirt’s fabric was named “Paris Ville” on the selvedge edge and is a 100% cotton print from the Michael Miller “Springtime In Paris” Collection.  This skirt has a lining of cling-free polyester with a waistband and ruffle of printed cotton leftover from making this gift apron (posted here). 

PATTERN:  no pattern was used except for a very loose rendering of Burda Style’s “Wrapped blouse” pattern #119, from April 2013, to make the sheer organza top to pair with my Venetian skirt

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a couple strips of interfacing, and waistband slides (hooks and eyes)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Venice skirt took me 7 hours to make. The little organza top to match took me about 5 hours.  Both were completed at the end of June 2022.  The Paris themed skirt was made much earlier, back in June 2019, in about 6 hours.

THE INSIDES:  the skirts have seams that are cleanly double zig-zag stitched over in lieu of overlocking, and the top has all French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea when or where I bought the Michael Miller Paris fabric as it was something my mom gave to me from her house after we were married (over 11 years back now) saying she found it but this was mine.  I am now chalking it (as well as the scraps I used to complete the skirt) to being as good as free!  The Venetian fabric was a purchase 6 years back and since I only bought one yard, I am assuming the price was somewhere around $10.  The “Snow” Kona cotton was $6 a yard for 1 ½ yards, while the blue organza was $5.50 for ¾ of a yard (remnant discount).  All other notions I needed came from my Grandmother’s stash (also being counted as free).  My total for two skirts and one top comes to about $22…that is absolutely terrific, isn’t it?!

As I said in the facts above, these skirts are proudly my own design.  The “Venetian canals” skirt is the one that I am more proud of than the “Paris Ville” skirt just due to the complexity and the successful interpretation of my crazy idea.  However, my Paris skirt is more low-key wearable besides being a scrap-busting project…and that is something I am always thrilled over!  I have the chance to use math the way I enjoy it when it comes to self-drafting skirts.  My mind feels all the better for the extra effort.  A little bit of mental exercise is fun when I do it for sewing!  I had a specific project idea for each of these skirts and finding the perfect pattern felt like a complete waste of my time when I knew I could just draft what I wanted for myself.  I get these clear mental pictures of the finished item being worn on my body when I am really honed into an idea…something I was having that for these outfits here.  More often than not, I disbelieve in my capabilities, and thus (darned on me) I always doubt I can fulfill in real life what I envision mentally.  Sometimes I do fail in such an aim, but here I fantastically succeeded – both times!

I will start by expounding upon the project I finished first – my “Paris Ville” skirt.  Previous to making this skirt, I had just finished up my 1950s playset (posted here), which was made from yet another Michael Miller fabric with a Parisian theme to it.  I was in the mood for another similar project and finally had a reason to pull this “Paris Ville” material from my stash.  I was put out to realize I only had one yard.  At that rate, I highly suspect that an apron or a simple top was what was originally planned to be made when I bought it…I don’t exactly remember anymore.  Currently, though, I wanted a poufy, pleated, little feminine skirt that would be every bit as fun as my 1950s playset.  At a weirdly small 41” width in one measly yard, that was going to be a bit of a creative challenge.  

As the print was in long panels that ran parallel to the selvedge edge, I started my skirt project by cutting the 41” width in half between the middle of the panels.  This left me with a duo of one yard long strips, both only 20” wide.  After sewing the two strips together, I had about 2 yards of material to pleat into my waistline.  I opted for overall box pleats to give my skirt maximum poufiness.  I did remember to add in generously sized side seam pockets, hidden within the box pleats.  After all, pockets make everything better!  With the skirt having such a fullness to it already, I can practically keep all the contents of my purse in these pockets and no one would know!!  This is the real winning feature to this skirt, even if the print wasn’t so darn cute I could squeal.  I love self-drafting garments to my liking.

My Paris skirt still needed a contrast waistband and – at a finished length of 19” – also was a bit short for my liking.  It also seemed to need a slip (it is a thin white cotton), and some sort of fluffy underskirt.  Thus, I figured that whatever I use for the waistband would dually become a fluffy hem ruffle at the bottom of the skirt’s lining to give some continuity. 

I went through so many agonizing decisions over what the contrast would be.  I wanted something a bit more of a neutral color, yet still something fun, and so the scrap fabric from making this 1940s apron was just the thing…and also just enough material!  Ribbon (which was what I used on my last Michael Miller fabric project) would have been too stiff and I was reluctant to cut into any yardage from my stash. 

Even the skirt’s lining was something I rescued from my stash, but it was still fun, too, being in a pretty pastel pink color.  It had originally been cut out to match with a skirt I made about 20 years back now – sewn together but never used – and subsequently saved.  I pulled it out to pare it down for what I now needed, re-shaping it to work for my Paris skirt.  The poly lining keeps my skirt nicely swishy, and the handmade hem ruffle not only adds a bit of extra length, but it is fun, cute, and practical in the way it helps to puff out the shape of the skirt.  I had to piece together so very many little pieces to make the cotton scraps turn into both a waistband and a hem ruffle, but you’d never guess by looking at it.  Seeing the finished look makes the extra effort worth it in the end.

an inspiration piece for my own “Venice Canals” skirt

The “Venice Canals” skirt is meant to have a clear 1950s air about it, as that era was well known for its novelty, custom painted, and “tourist” skirts (i.e. souvenirs you could fashionably wear).  However, this project was not going to be in a circular shape like most 1950s novelty themed skirts.  Besides, I wanted this skirt to be classier than your average “tourist” skirt.  I was intending to imitate some couture inspiration, hoping that, by aiming high, my skirt will therefore not look like something haphazardly pieced together…something I was afraid may be the case.  When you combine three different weights and textures of fabrics together, I wasn’t 100% sure my idea of a Venetian skirt would be anything other than a failure.  The Kona cotton of the main skirt body has a significant weight and bulk to it, making it perfect to keep a 1950s bell silhouette, while the stiff organza helps the much thinner weight of the printed cotton border keep in shape with the rest of the skirt.  I think I intuitively figured out such fabric engineering in the back of my head but didn’t realize how perfectly I actually imagined it until my skirt was successfully finished. 

Vintage 1950s Parisian Novelty Print Border Skirt

“Tourism” skirts of the 1950s had a theme about a particular city or they could be more general like a nod to a culture.  The given design was either hand painted on or custom printed so as to wrap around the garment.  I was instead working with a one yard cut of cotton that – like the Paris skirt above – had a specialty print confined into many long panels which run parallel the length of the selvedge (as can be seen in the first picture below “The Facts”).  All I had to do for the Venice material was cut out panels of the design and piece them together into one very long strip, enough to encircle the hem.  Also just like the Paris skirt, I cut the Kona cotton (for the main body of the skirt) in half along the fold that is created when you put the two selvedges together.  Thus I ended up with a duo of 22” by 1 ½ yard strips, which were sewn together to give me 3 yards of fullness for my skirt. 

By adding on a 1 ½ inch wide waistband (cut from the hem’s print), the 3 ½ inch Venice panel, and a 2 ½ inch organza strip, this skirt ended up much longer than the Paris skirt.  I needed the extra length because I intended on wearing my extra fluffy tulle petticoat to fill out the wide skirt.

The Kona cotton was too thick and stiff to lay flat as gathers in at the waistline, and (as I said above) I wanted a tailored option more akin to something couture, at least on a smaller scale.  I was primarily inspired by designer James Galanos’ skirt of 130 darts from McCall’s #4045, a dress pattern from 1957 that “The Celebrity Dressmaker” has sewn (see her post here).  To me there was something about the clean ivory color of my skirt that just called for some equally clean shaping.  I used some math crunching to figure out how to use only darts to bring my given 3 yards down to my 28” waist. 

This was where the real fun started! I didn’t want the darts to be too deep and make the shaping clunky, so I ended up doing 42 overall darts that were just over 2 inches in depth each (measured in half).  Doing 42 darts wasn’t as bad as it sounds…it took me about 3 hours alone to both mark and then sew.  I interspersed the length of the darts so the shaping wouldn’t be too harshly defined – one dart is ¾ of a yard long while the next one is ½ a yard long…and so laid out in an even pattern.  That finished effect is more wonderful than I expected and just what I wanted! 

I was going for a certain aesthetic at the hem that unfortunately is as subtle as my 42 darts.  The organza is meant to reflect like the glimmer of sunlight touching the water of the main canals.  A gondolier sits right above the organza like so it looks as if he is really boating along!  The organza at the hem also softens up the line of blue that finishes off the skirt. 

I really couldn’t find a top in my wardrobe that added to the skirt’s look and general theme exactly the way I wanted – I was being very picky with perfectly fulfilling the air of this outfit I envisioned!  So I used the generous amount of organza to whip up a little last minute, unexpected, cute little pullover crop top which compliments everything I felt was I going for with the skirt.  After taking my Venetian idea this far I had to go the extra mile and make something useful out of every last bit of organza scraps!

My top was easy and quick to whip up on account of both knowing exactly what I had in mind as well as severely simplifying a pattern on hand.  I had Burda Style’s “wrapped blouse” pattern already in the back of my mind, as I had just recently pulled out my 2013 magazine for some reason.  I turned it into a Vintage inspired, simple, unfussy top that was basic, with just enough detailing to make it interesting, and in a cropped length that just came to my waist to accommodate my full circle skirt. 

The main adaptations were to lay the center front seam to the wrap front on the fold and raise the neckline, then choose a size bigger than my normal size was chosen to make this a pullover.  Everything else was kept the same on the pattern.  I added the little center front neckline gathers to dually add an interesting feature and take out the excess fabric leftover from the wrap front which I didn’t do from on the original pattern. I also darted the sleeve caps rather than gathering them. 

For being a quick sew, every seam is still French for strong seams and a scratch-less inside.  Literally, though…you can see through this top so I felt it *had* to be in the nicest finishing possible.  Clear mesh non-stretch “Stay Tape” was added into the hems and neckline to invisibly finish off those edges.  I laugh at myself because my easy projects may not have hand sewing or intricate details but they are just as meticulously finished as my labor intensive projects.

I want to believe that finding enjoyment in your surroundings, discovering something new, and having a bit of fun is what you make of what you have.  Neither are those happy things in life always tied to where you are or what you are limited to.  This is why I love how sewing is attainable for all nowadays – it is a very democratic action that is there for anyone and everyone to enjoy and something all people of all places, ages, and races can enjoy equally if they so choose.  Now that refashioning, and secondhand supplies are easier (and frankly plentiful in our age of fast fashion), it makes more sense now more than ever to regard sewing as an answer to some of today’s problems and a general unifying action.  Most importantly, however, what you create for yourself needs to be for you and about you – an outlet, a happy place, a source of pride, a hobby…whatever you need it to be.  Whichever way you look at it, a good sewing project can promise the same as the jingles on a pamphlet advertising for a faraway trip – discover yourself, expect the unexpected, be ready for a journey, and you’ll find a new treasure at the end of it all.  What creative project has carried you away to a happy place?

Botanical Garden Block Printed Dress

It’s comforting to know that some of the best things in our world have not changed and only stayed the same as they have been for centuries.  As India just celebrated their Independence Day August 15th, I’m specifically thinking of how so many of the heritage fiber arts in that country are practiced the way they were so long ago.  Why mess with a good thing when it is perfect as-is, right? 

What comes from the earth is kept a part of the earth the way the fabric of India is produced.  Indian cotton is grown and harvested naturally, first of all.  Then, plants, spices, and vegetables are used for dye, the earth is utilized for resist stamping or setting, and artisans turn everything together into an organic whole.  All this adds up to a very eco-conscious manner of creating some of the most beautiful and wonderfully comfortable fabric this world has to offer.  It is an honor and a special experience to make and wear something that involved so much love and attention just for these few yards!  There’s no better way I can think of to celebrate India’s long fought freedom than to enjoy a respectful all-in dive into appreciating the beauty to one of the many fascinating facets of their culture.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton content for the print, fully lined in a tan beige tone Bemberg rayon satin

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7894, year 2019

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I just needed lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on June 9, 2022 in about 20 hours

THE INSIDES:  loosely zig-zag stitched along the raw edges to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  The Indian cotton fabric from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy cost me $15 (I got this on a half-price sale) for 3 yards, while the rayon lining was another $15 for 3 yards from Fashion Fabrics Club.

There are many sites that dive into the nuances of block printing so I will not overly dive into the process here but this link through Saffron Marigold and this page through Vogue of India can be a good start to inform yourself.   I merely want to stress that it is of utmost importance to make sure you are buying from a source which employs fairly paid workers and does the craft the traditional way…no mere printed fake outsourced versions, please.  There are many knock-offs to be found, especially in ready-to-wear (which is in it for the visual aesthetic and nothing more), but this does the opposite of esteeming a craft that deserves only awe-inspiring admiration.  Historically, the textile history of India is not about being carelessly machine made but being the work of caring human hands.  Support the heritage craft of India by doing some conscious purchasing if you want some block prints for yourself!

This being said, there are some pro and cons to keep in mind.  Be aware that most block prints are in a width no wider than 45” so take that into account when planning out a project.  This is why I was squeezing this dress in on 3 yards when 4 yards probably would have been better.  Rich toned block prints can bleed out their dye in the first one or two washings so be careful to wash them with similar colors.  The cotton of India, though, is buttery soft, whisper thin, and among the easiest to sew material you could ever imagine.  It is a dream to wear, sew, and work with!  Besides, this material is the best way possible to effortlessly stay cool in the heat of summer. 

The positive qualities of Indian cotton also means that it is often less than opaque.  Busy prints hide any see-through issues more than not.  For this dress, however, I did not feel like a sheer look nor did I want to feel obliged to wear an underslip, so I fully lined the cotton.  Bemberg rayon is magnificently breathable, moisture wicking, and a very good imitation of silk, so it is the perfect pick for keeping this dress lightweight, comfortable, and an effortless summer staple.  Knowing how to work with fabric and how to use it to its best advantage is a large portion of the planning and figuring that goes into any sewing project.

With all of this positivity I am expressing towards this dress, it was really difficult for me to successfully sew.  I may sound crazy, but I loved doing the yards and yards of ruffles which go in between the seams.  Doing the ruffles in this buttery soft fabric was easy after all but the process really centered me, calmed me down, and helped me enjoy the extra effort.  I just think I relaxed a bit too much and didn’t think to look ahead at the pattern for issues.  Then, I had to be creative and fix the dress’ fitting issues after it was fully finished.  Also, there was a total oops moment where I sewed in the most perfect invisible zipper – even matching it through the intersecting points where the ruffles meet – only to realize after the fact that it is on the right side and not the left.  Considering the effort it would take to switch sides, I am leaving the zipper well enough alone. 

The wrong-sided zipper just added to the many little ways this dress was such a frustrating bother to sew, even though I love everything about it…the details, the fit, the style, and how perfectly it matched with my fabric.  I’m actually happily accepting of all the dress’ ‘faults’ which happened because I’m working on being gentler on myself with my self-imposed expectations of perfection.  I actually love my dress all the more for reminding me what it feels like to embrace the fact I am only trying my best and cannot always be up to par.  The beauty of a handmade block print are the little irregularities in the coloring or stamping.  Why shouldn’t my sewing be all the more beautiful for showing the way I persevered and made the most of my ‘mistakes’?!

I rounded up to a size bigger because I wanted a looser fit, and this worked out great.  Having a looser fit keeps the overall garment easy and comfy to wear.  Tight clothes are uncomfortable in the summer for me.  Nevertheless, having a loose fit is especially important here since I wanted the option of wearing silk Indian trousers underneath for a more ethnic look, as you see it in my pictures.  With a looser fit, the bodice front wrap stays closed without gaping open.  Most importantly, though, I discovered the hips in this pattern run really small, even with going up a size!  By letting out the seam allowance to 3/8” on each side seam I had just enough to recover the fit and keep this wearable.

Another point to mention is how this pattern seems to have been drafted for very tall girls.  The torso is very long and not average proportions.  Comparing the line drawings to my finished dress, everything seemed to droop lower on my body.  The bodice-to-skirt seam needs to be slightly above the waist and the left point where the two ruffles meet at the side seams needs to land at the high hip.  The finished dress wasn’t doing this on me.  I needed to pick up the upper bodice to raise up all the rest of the dress without ruining the design lines. 

Disguising while correcting this faulty fit after the fact was all done before I had set the sleeves in, so I luckily had I bit more freedom to alter the bodice.  First, I made a 2 inch horizontal tuck across the back bodice right across the shoulder line, making my dress appear as if it had a shoulder panel much like a man’s dress shirt has.  This picked up the dress, for sure, but the front became wonky.  To evenly pick up the front half of the dress, I took 2 inches of the front bodice under the shoulder line and tucked that under the shoulder seam.  Then I top stitched down along the shoulder seam.  The excess fabric was not taken in evenly in the front as on the back I realize, but the dress doesn’t give any funky fit for this fact, and I am thrilled to have found a way to fix the fitting issues with no marring of the original design or unpicking of stitches.  The sleeves merely have a bit more gathers to them for my alterations to the bodice, but I love puffed sleeves already from sewing designs of the 1930s era.  All is well that ends well, here. 

A handful of further personal variations to the design deserve a mention, as well.  The asymmetric look of the skirt’s ruffles struck me as a tad odd in the way they abruptly end at the bodice.  I realized that the front ruffle joins the bodice seam at just shy of the same point where the underwrap to the bodice ends.  So I ran with this detail and added extra ruffles to just that half of the neckline, thereby continuing the asymmetric line and adding some unity between the bodice and skirt.  I had the neckline ruffles go across the back of the neckline and end at the shoulder on the opposite side so they can be visibly a part of the bodice from behind, as well.  I also lowered the slit opening so it didn’t open up so high up on my thigh.  Finally, I also disregarded the elastic guide for the sleeve hems and cut whatever length felt comfortable around my arms.  Sewing for yourself is all about customizing to your personal taste and desires, so don’t forget to throw those instructions out the window every so often and make what you want, how you want!

Even though I make what I want how I want it, for Indian and other ethnic material I always do my research and let a respectful interpretation of that culture influence my sewing in such cases.  I want to give cultural fabrics their proper place so I can learn from and honor those cultures yet still also invest my own personal story into what I sew.  In the case of this project, I first bounced some design ideas off of our Gujarati Indian friends to see if I was on the right track.  Then, I got in touch with the seller of my fabric and found from her the details to the print that I chose for this dress.  Apparently, these types of multi floral designs on a single print are called “bagh” – which means “garden”.  Lotus, marigolds, hibiscus, rose, Chameli (Jasmine) are common depictions.  Gardens are often shown as the setting for many joyful and sacred artistic depictions in Indian art of both Hindu and Muslim manuscripts.  Thus, I found a beautiful blooming wall of flowers at a local Garden shop to pose in front of to emphasize the glorious theme printed on my dress’ fabric.  I was bringing my own garden to a flower garden…oh, the lovely irony!

The overall creative stylization of Indian block prints are such a heritage craft that my dress’ fabric can be recognizably similar to an 18th century skirt or a textile dating from the Renaissance.  The floral imagery to Indian block prints has not changed all that much and my historian heart rejoices at such a continuity.  My original plan for this fabric was to make The Dreamstress’ “Amalia” jacket (ca. 1780) from Scroop patterns, after all.  However, Indian block prints have a history of being very desirable and sought after in olden times when imports had long lead times and exporting was a dangerous job.  Thus, many countries sought to “knock-off” the visual look of such fabrics with their own colonial practices.  I do not want to be the source of continuing a painful narrative history and wanted this garden fabric to be turned into something practical, wearable, and a source of joy.  I believe I succeeded. 

Happy 75th anniversary of being an independent country, India!

Refashioning My Own 60’s Style Babydoll Blouse

When the items I sew for myself no longer fit or work for me in some way, they are not given up on but treated just the same as – if not better – anything else in my wardrobe.  They either get refitted, resized, or mended.  If any of those three actions are not possible for one reason or another, they get refashioned.  This has especially been an important task for me to tackle since 2020.  Ever since that year, the reasons and occasions for which I leave the house has decreased, so I sensibly expend my sewing efforts on the wardrobe I do have versus only adding more new (me-made) pieces.  Just recently I refashioned a project I made almost a decade ago, and this has now turned out to be a much more appealing creation for me than when I completed its first iteration! 

I sewed up the original blouse in 2013, and it was a success, but never as interesting to begin with as I have turned it into today.  As I said in that original post, I struggle to like myself in peter pan collars, and overly sweet styles.  I liked it, to be sure, but never felt ecstatic over how it turned out enough to be ranked as a ‘favorite’.  I wore the blouse for only a few years after it was made since it quickly became too snug to be comfortable.  To be fair, I originally cut it out in a smaller size – I was severely short on fabric.  Long story short, I haven’t worn this for the last 8-something years and now that problem has been amended in the most fantastic way I could have ever hoped for! 

This is the old original top, for comparison.

Measuring the old top as compared to my current body, I realized I needed to add in about 3 inches widthwise to have this fit me comfortably again.  My main focus was on adjusting for my shoulders, and I (correctly) figured that a good fit for the bust of the blouse (which had been snug, too) would then follow, as well.  Aiming for about 3 inches was ideal because I had no scraps of any worth to use and needed to cannibalize from the current blouse itself.  Cutting off that much from the hem meant that the new blouse’s length would be just below my natural waistline…perfect!  The puffed sleeves do give a bit of leeway over the shoulders so I didn’t worry about an exact re-fitting.  If I would have added in much more than 3 inches my refashion would have been too dramatic and obvious of an addition, anyways.     

Most of the original blouse was left untouched, but the little bit I did do made such a bit difference!  My first step for this refashion was to cut 4 inches horizontally off of the bottom hem (the 3 inches I needed plus enough for two ½ inch seam allowances).  The side seams were cut off to make two rectangular panels.  Then I cut vertically down the center front and the center back, separating up the collar.  One of the two panels cut from the bottom hem went right away into the center back.  With this step, I was able to get my first taste of how my refashion would fit and look and I was so excited!  I realized ahead of time that the tiny polka dot print of the back’s added panel would be running oppositely of the main body.  The print is so small, I didn’t really care nor did I have much of a choice with what to work with.  I rather like the interest it adds to have the print contrast itself ever so slightly.  According to my idea, the front was going to have most of the attention so I like how the back is low-key appealing, too.

The front panel required a bit more effort than the back, since I had a grand idea for ramping up the femininity and eclectic detailing to this new version of my old blouse.  Luckily, I am quite organized when it comes to my sewing notions (not to brag, but I am proud of this fact).  Thus, I was happily able to find the little bit of aqua bias tape leftover from what I used to make the elastic casing on my blouse’s puff sleeved hems.  The bias tape was extra wide and double fold, so I found that opening it up fully made it just about 3 inches wide…I suppose you can guess how thrilled I was to discover this!  The solid toned bias tape, which was opened up and ironed out as if it was a cut of fabric, was layered over the remaining blouse fabric panel.  Doubling up here both used up all of my fabric cut off from the hem and kept the front from being see-through (the bias tape was tissue thin), besides lending some wonderful continuity to the overall look of the blouse. 

With the idea that “more is more”, I also sandwiched some vintage cotton lace into the seam when stitching on the front panel.  The lace is a slight ivory tone to complement the yellows and greys in the collar.  Then, I found a half a dozen vintage ivory pearled ball buttons from my paternal grandmother’s notions stash.  The buttons really filled in the big empty front panel and matched with the lace bordering the front.  It seemed to be a popular design element to have a decorative-only contrast chest panel to blouses and dresses of the 1960s.  I suppose I was kind of vaguely inspired by seeing such patterns in my own stash (such as Simplicity #6801) or through perusing online (see Simplicity 7736).  Honestly, though, my refashion was merely the best I could do with what I had available…which wasn’t much to begin with!  I wanted to add pintucks or some other sort of extra details to the front panel but I felt lucky to get by the way it was.  My blouse is immensely more appealing to me than how it first was, so good enough is as good as done for this refashion project.  

I wanted to keep the popover simplicity of getting dressed in this blouse, for all its extra elements it now had.  However, it turned so very boxy in shape with the new panels added!  I had to sew in four deep, curved, vertical darts to the bust of the front and shoulder line of the back for shaping the blouse.  I made sure to not take in enough to necessitate a side zipper.  I was trying to ride a fine line of having it fitted yet still staying as a popover-the-head top.  I never mind installing zippers (I half enjoy the process, really) yet if I can avoid doing so, I will in no way turn down the opportunity.

Not only is my refashion an improvement on the overall blouse, but I am thrilled over the way I love the collar so much better by it having a wide open neck.  Most babydoll style blouses (and dresses) have a peter pan collar that closely hugs the neckline.  It takes a very specific interpretation (such as the 1930s; see my “Snow White” dress) in a select few colors (see this 40’s “Candy Stripe” blouse I made) for me to like what a peter pan collar does for my face.   I can afford to be picky when I sew my own wardrobe!  Then again, taking such an approach helps me hone my taste in fashion and cater to my personality unlike a dependency on ready-to-wear could ever offer. 

Re-working something your own hands have already made not only is sensible, eco-friendly, and responsible, but also it requires a greater amount of creativity and determination.  I will not deny, there is a dopamine rush from the amazing process of starting a sewing project from scratch and seeing it go from paper laid out on fabric to a wearable garment.  Sure, it would be much easier to merely donate and move on, but landfills do not need a single more item added to them when a few extra hours of my time can give me back a new and improved version of my own makes.  

I find a more innate sense of personal pride in my every effort to alter, tailor, or otherwise extend the life of the wardrobe I already have.  For me, doing such actions also shows me just how far I have come with my sewing skills to be able to add significance and worth to what I have made in the past.  I am constantly mending, letting seams out and taking them in, darning sweaters, dyeing, patching or doing some other sort of garment care for me and my immediate family (even for my parents, too, on occasion).  This blouse’s refashion is merely the most visually stunning recent example of all the mundane clothing care that I do behind the scenes of my blog!  I hope this post has inspired you to “give a darn and mend”!   

Tennis Top

In the quest for more sportswear that is also part of my handmade wardrobe, I have branched out to make something perfect for playing one of my favorite games – tennis!  This top had been part of a previous project back from 2016, only to be left unfinished when my ideas changed.  However, I detest sewing items lurking on the backburner and am a stickler for needing the projects I start to be fully finished.  At last I have conquered this little odd dress bodice to make it a top that does the job of a sports bra but with a fashionable, fun, me-made flair! 

This is a totally different side of me that is uniquely lacking in my normal glamour to show here on my blog.  Thus I am a bit unsure about sharing it yet too happy with what I’ve made to hold it back.  I felt it tied in nicely with my previous post of 1940s sporty, bibbed “short-alls” so I am sharing this now versus waiting until it is officially summer.  This is not a vintage piece, coming from a Burda Style pattern from 2016, but it does incorporate one of my favorite things – color blocking.  All of my favorite tones are here present – rich purple, bright pink, and a royal blue – all in a way that calls to mind a lovely stained glass window.  The black piping becomes likened to the “cames” of grooved lead which hold together the panels of color in a glass window.  I love the irony of recalling delicate stained glass for an item used for an activity that is quite the opposite – slamming of balls and full body movements.  Tennis is not listed as a high impact sport but it is the way I play it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a shirting basics stretch cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s ‘A-Line Cocktail Dress’ #122, from 03/2016 (see the German Burda Style page for actual pictures of the pattern, though)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I had to buy an extra pack of piping to finish this, as well as the back separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was lots of thread, which I always have on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The original piped bodice took me about 5 hours back in 2016, but then for the recent fitting and finishing I spent another 4 hours

THE INSIDES:  left raw…the stretch in the cotton keeps the fraying of the fabric in check

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember because the fabrics had been on hand from before 2016!

The sizing definitely ran small and quite wonky for the original Burda dress pattern that my top came from.  See a full recap on this post here. Such a sizing discrepancy luckily didn’t extend to the skirt portion of the dress, but the top half was another story.  Neither did I have any more fabric to recut anything.  All the vertical seams together with the fact I added in piping to them set up any fitting adjustments to be a major headache.  I definitely had to come back to adjust such an unfinished object when I was fully ready and equipped with a definite purpose and incentive to complete this.

It was a sewing project I truly wrestled with to just barely make it fit enough to be salvageable.  Letting out the 5/8 inch seams to 3/8 inch in some places was barely just enough to have this squeeze on my body as well as get the piping back in again.  The piping makes the color gradient panels pop with the definition but definitely restrains the stretch of the fabric in between.  It restricts the curvy seams significantly yet I loved the overall effect too much to give up on the idea.  Now that it is done, I feel that the piping makes sure the fabric doesn’t over-extend its elasticity and also helps this have such a snug fit, which I normally wouldn’t like but found a purpose for this time.   

I took advantage of the fact this top has wonderful stretch and is skin tight to wear this as my sports bra.  I have only worn loose tee shirts for tennis before and have never been happy with how I move and feel sloppily clammy while wearing them.  This top is like a second skin, and keeps my assets securely in place.  The top itself stays in place on my body, is fuss-free, and does not get in the way of my movement at all like my loose tee shirts were doing.  Plus, the sateen doesn’t show sweat, keeps me cool while wicking any moisture away, and still looks nice.  I never knew what to do with it before now since I formerly saw it only as a failure left behind from an unfinished project.  Now that this top is not only finished but also useful with a purpose, I am so taken by it.  I have something I always needed but never knew I wanted…and I made it myself, which is even better! 

In lieu of the side seam zipper I originally planned for when this top was to be part of a dress, I changed to a center back separating sports zipper.  A sports zipper is more heavy duty, with chunkier teeth, and the fact it opened up at both ends makes this top very easy to put on.  I left the zipper exposed to not only save every little bit of room I could spare but also because it visually gives a black line in the seam similar to the piping in all the other seams.  The black back zipper gave me the ideal combo of functionality and aesthetics in one easy step.

Not that I would highly recommend this pattern, but this is the perfect stash busting project.  The pattern pieces for this top could probably even fit on some cotton “fat quarters”.  When I was originally making this, I happened upon three colors of the same fabric in my stash, all in a stretch cotton shirting, in colors which complimented each other.  They just had to be made into a garment together! 

The pink is a whole 2-something bolt, still in my stash meant for a future project, while the other two colors were under ¼ yard scraps.  I just gleaned a small amount off of the total cut of pink, not enough to dent my greater plans for it.  With some recent re-organizing of my fabric bins I happened to come across this pink fabric again, and so I took the opportunity to shave off a tad more to cut bias strips to finish the armhole openings.  At the same time, I also happened to find some scraps of black stretch cotton sateen on hand, leftover from a store bought dress I had re-fashioned years back.  I then used this to finish off the neck and bottom hem edges.  I was left with the feeling my top was very barely cobbled together but also amazed that such little amounts were all I needed.  The stash busting redemption of this top has left me further satisfied with it even though the fit of the design is much lacking.

You see on my blog what kind of styles I stitch together for everything else in my life.  Now that I’ve finished making this tennis top you see what I wear for sporting exercise fun!  Have you made some athletic wear pieces for yourself?  What is your favorite sport?