A Tale of Gujarat

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FACTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Very Mod British Summer Sun Suit

I am truly infatuated with shorts-inclusive vintage play sets this year!  After my 1940s set a few years back (see it here), and then the 50’s (posted here) and 80’s (previously posted here) sets from this 2019, I’ve now also rounded out things by whipping up a 1960s sun suit, as well!

This set is a special oddity in my sewing – its pattern is a little known “Le-Roy” brand printed by the Associated British Paper Patterns Company out of Bletchley.  (I am rather confused by an English pattern having a French name, though!)  This is only the second English pattern I have used (first one here) and certainly the only one of the brand I have in my stash…but then again I haven’t seen many of Le-Roy designs for sale either.  I picked this one up on a whim for a steal of a price years back and I’m so glad I did.  I definitely want to come back to this pattern in the future and make the tunic length overblouse, too.

Unfortunately, the rarity of the brand makes it hard to date precisely, but the trend for this type of set and the styling on the envelope is the key.  My estimate for this is that it is possibly as early as 1964 yet no later than 1968.  Why do I believe this?  The famous actress Audrey Hepburn wore a very similar two piece sun set in the British 1967 movie “Two for the Road”  We all know how fashion likes to follow what is seen on the stars and starlets of the silver screen!  Yet, my Simplicity brand calendar of vintage pattern cover images has an almost exact two piece summer outfit labelled as the year 1964 on the page for August 2019.

So my visual proof gave me a 5 year range, and I channeled it by using the print that I did.  After all, if you just had the line drawing to reference, this play set is not all too different from a two piece summer set from the 40’s or the 50’s (scroll through this Pinterest board of mine to see).  Thus, I felt I needed the material to be the visibly identifying factor (besides the close fit) to testify to its publishing date from very modern-looking 60’s era.  As luck would have it, the FDIM museum (in Los Angeles, California)recently shared through their Friday “Unboxing” videos on Instagram a designer Emilio Pucci blouse from 1967 with a geometric, two-color green print over a white background.  Seeing that reminded me so much of the leftovers to some modern designer pants I made a while back.  I just had to make what I feel is a perfectly Mod era outfit for a British style summer!  I’ve made so many dresses from the 60’s era this is such a fun kind of a change!

These two pieces were an under-one-yard, scrap-busting project that also now gives me full outfit options to some pants I made years back from the same material.  There is nothing quite like matching mix-and-match separates to make me feel like I am both ready for a trip and completely up to rocking this summer!  This is what optimizing one’s fabric stash looks like.  The ¾ yard leftovers from these Odeeh designer Burda Style pants were just enough to squeeze in these little pre-70’s short shorts and a crop top reminiscent of a vintage-style sports bra.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton duck cloth for the printed portion of the set, a 100% satin finish Pima cotton for the solid contrast, and a bleached cotton muslin for the lining material to each piece

PATTERN:  a mid to late 60’s LeRoy #3195

NOTIONS:  I had to custom order the little 6 inch separating sports zipper for the crop top, but otherwise I had all the thread and interfacing I needed.  The shorts have a true vintage metal zipper, painted in a lime green, also from on hand out of the notions stash in the drawers of my 1960 Necchi sewing machine cabinet.  I figured it was probably era appropriate!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The hand-stitched zipper took an hour and a half to sew in itself, but the overall two pieces were finished on July 12, 2019 in 15 to 20 hours.

THE INSIDES:  all covered up by full lining

TOTAL COST:  Next to nothing!  As I was using scraps from another project that was made several years back this is pretty much free in my mind, excepting the $8 zipper.

This was easy in theory to make.  The tricky part was nailing the fitting.  The underbust seam had to be snug enough to stay down but not tight like a bra.  I did not want the shorts to look like any other ill-fitting RTW item I have tried and left behind.  A quick tissue fit revealed this was pretty much spot on my size, but when working with a new pattern company and aiming for a very tailored fit I always give myself some extra room in seam allowance.  Technically this should have been a bit large for me going by their size chart, so I’m assuming either the company’s designs or merely this particular one ran small.  In a few places – such as over my hips – I had to bring the seam allowance out to only ¼ inch so I am so thankful I gave myself some wiggle room when I cut.  That was not an easy thing to do.

I might have made this set on ¾ yard, but with the extra room I added when cutting, every piece ended up touching the other.  This is always a bit unnerving because there is absolutely no room for error and I have to think of everything.  I do not encourage this.  When it does work out, however, such an economical pattern and fabric layout is the source of both relief and self-amazement, not to mention the euphoric happiness great stash-busting can bestow!

Contrasting the shorts hem and top neckline with a solid was sort of a semi-stash busting effort, as well.  It all started with some satin-finish Pima fabric bought for – but no longer needed – as a lining under a sheer silk.  It has now been tentatively slated to be pleated 40’s era shorts in the future.  The edges of the cut length were sacrificed as part of an experiment before committing to a whole garment in such a color.  You see, I have never really been a fan of chartreuse, but I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts.  I do like myself in yellow and in green individually, but both combined in one shade is something that makes my skin look sickly.  However, I know never to say never!  Using a bit of chartreuse as the contrast “edging” for these two pieces was a good trial to see how if the color in small amounts is more tolerable…and I do believe it is!  Anything in a satin Pima cotton will be beautiful, though.  The true shade on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellowed than the lime green in the print, I see it as a chartreuse in person, not captured by the pictures.

The design itself was very basic.  Yet, between a good handful of darts on both the shorts and the crop top as well as fantastic real-life curves tailored into the seams I think such a simple little set ends up with a great fit I really never expected.  I like the way there was a lack of a waistband yet the shorts still hug my true waist.  The way the wide U-shaped neckline really squares up my shoulders and frames the face…and is easy to dress into with the front zipper!  Cotton duck can be rough and aggravating on the skin and the background of the print is white after all, so even though the instructions tell me to make a full lining I would have done so anyway.

I feel happy and confident in this play set in just the way I had dreamed of and only half-hoped for.  My squishy midsection makes me feel naked when I think about what I am wearing and become self-conscious.  My bigger booty and power hips and thighs have always made me self-conscious, too, in close fit bottoms, even more so in shorts.  That, combined with the fact I have never really found a pair of close fitting bifurcated bottoms – short or long – that could fit me, have made me shy away from such a thing in the mistaken belief they would not work for me.

Well, this is why I sew.  I am able to make what I want to wear and do so in a way that actually fits me and compliments me.  After a sewing a few skinny jeans that I love (posted here and here), this set was an opportunity to redeem something I never supposed I could or would wear and enjoy.  I believe fashion should be glorious fun, thoughtfully interesting, and individually personalized if anyone is going to feel truly comfortable in it.  It has to be an extension of oneself.  Achieving such a sweet spot with certain items that people are unsure about from the beginning – whether it’s someone who doesn’t like skirts or (like me) with a play set such as this – and ending up totally won over enough to feel as if you suddenly have a new type of garment that you can love your body in…that is when fashion helps you be your best self.  I am showing more skin than I am normally comfortable doing, but between my maker’s pride, the fun colors, the curious oddity of the fashion, and the joy of something new, I love myself in this Mod British summer sun suit!

Warning! Sharp Angles Ahead…

When I don me-made modern wear, I really prefer it to be every bit as interesting with the details and design as the vintage pieces I normally choose.  Even though my vintage outfits can be styled in a very appealingly modern way, I do find that my current designs do come in handy within professional spheres such as University conferences and research visits, for nights out with hubby at the ‘hip’ spots in town, or just to stay in touch with the sewing world of today.  This post is presenting what might be one of my favorite pieces of modern sewing – a Melissa Watson wrap-on dress tweaked with my own custom-drafted sleeves added, contrast hemline fronts, and a cool, contrast, full body lining.

This dress is for the outgoing personality in me, the side that is not at all afraid to stand out.  It is bright enough to stop traffic and classy yet smoldering all in one awesome, easy-on dress.  I do not really mind the bit of leg flash this dress displays, even though it was unexpected coming into the pattern!  Now, I know wrap dresses are generally asymmetric by nature – and I do positively love asymmetric styles – but this is even more so due to the one curved and one angled front arching hemline.  Combining those gradients with the geometric print and the 90-degree points on my sleeves and I am in a seamstresses’ mathematical, creative heaven!  I hope that by pairing it with some black boots and a cardigan, I can enjoy this dress for more than one season.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester peach-skin print lined in a poly-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7246, a Melissa Watson design from 2015

NOTIONS:  just some thread and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 10 hours and was finished on May 2, 2019

THE INSIDES:  What inside raw edges?  They are completely covered by the lining.

TOTAL COST:  The geometric poly has been in my stash for about 7 years now. It was bought from Fashion Fabrics Club along with a bunch of other fabrics when I started to get back into sewing after my son was born in 2012.  I had 3 yards of this, bought for about $7 a yard, I believe.  The broadcloth was a few dollars cheaper a yard, so my total cost was about $35, spread out over many years!

For being a general quick-sew and de-stashing project, this turned out fantastic.  I kind of suddenly jumped into this project idea at the last minute before a Kentucky Derby Day watch party and wasn’t sure what to expect of the finished look.  That day, I received so many compliments and curious questions as to where I got my dress.  Sadly, too many ladies only bemoaned the fact they don’t sew or – for the funnier reaction – they were surprised my dress wasn’t actually a vintage design!  Using this Melissa Watson pattern has been on my “must-sew” projects backburner since it came out, and I am so glad the perfect fabric combo for it finally struck me.

Melissa Watson is the daughter of the renowned fit expert Pati Palmer, so of course there are very thorough and exhaustive fitting guides in with the instructions to the pattern.  This is all well and good, and a nice change versus the normal McCall’s issues.  However, all clumped together on one or two sheets and printed busily over every pattern piece seemed just overwhelming and confusing for me (and not to brag, but I feel like I know more about fitting adjustments than any average home sewer).  I think all the info just made it hard to figure out what actually needed to be done for a good fitting finished dress, and just made the ‘work’ of it seem harder than it really is to do.  How does a beginner really know exactly which fitting tweak to enact with all the info laid out on how to do them?  ‘Reading’ the signs of a bad fit is a difficult and not instantly acquired talent that no ‘quick cheat sheet’ can teach.  As the dress turned out for me, I wish it had slightly better reach room in the back and lower half of the armscye (sleeve).  I was literally too exhausted by the complications added to the generally simple design to remember to check that spot before cutting.  So – the bad drawback from a great pattern is actually too much good information.  Trying too hard does not necessarily make anything better.

That off my chest, I liked (and kept) the slight blousiness of the tucked darts to the waist of the bodice, but I couldn’t just make your normal, classic plain-Jane sleeves here.  There were too many angles going on and not enough playing with them!  Specialty sleeves are so unrated.  With all the over-information on fitting in the pattern itself, I would like to say that sleeves – in my opinion – are an excellent place to start with tweaking, experimenting, and understanding patterns.  They elevate a garment to the next level when they are outside the norm, and drafting unusual sleeves is such a relatively simple, low-risk, and easy-to-understand tweak.

I merely started by finding an inspiration picture on Instagram together with a simple deconstruction layout.  I thought backwards from there to fill in the blanks of how to do that myself.  You have to think in 3D, and reverse engineer that into a flat lay or simply start from the basic paper pattern and slash and spread where you will be adding new folds and fabric depth.  I’m equating my new drafts to being a version of an upside-down, folded petal-style sleeves.  They call them “envelope sleeves”.  I personally love the 90 degree angles it creates and the lovely sleeve cap it forms.  It made for a very thick hem that needed lots of clipping and hand stitching to look nice and turn out smoothly.

Talk about having things turn out smoothly, I just freaking love full body lining, especially when the inside is made visible by the design!  The pattern does not call for lining, but mullet or hi-low hems (like on this past make of mine) make the underside of the fabric particularly visible, even more so when it is a wrap dress like the one here.  Why not go for the fully fashionable play with the opportunity?!  Not only does lining the underside in a contrast look so pretty and make the garment pop, but the added wrap dress factor is just screaming for the opportunity to make the entire insides so very nice.  No way was I going to make a tiny hem all the continuous way around the wrap’s edges, anyway…enclosing it and all the raw seams inside the lining puts my mind at ease knowing I can beautifully cover-up any messiness.

Sure, it was like making two dresses, after all.  Yet, there is nothing equal to a personal happiness that comes from lovely insides meant for only you to see as you get dressed in your handmade clothes.  I, however, did have further ulterior motives for the full body lining.  I hate the feeling of polyester on my skin and the pretty print was far too lightweight and unsubstantial on its own to be a dress.  So – all these many reasons, it absolutely needed lining here.  I chose a solid cool mint green/aqua underneath to tame down the bright colors on the dress’ outside.

Beside the new sleeves and the added lining, the front hem is something subtle I changed, too, as mentioned at the posts beginning.  The right side has the angled hem while the left slides under along the 115 degree point with its curved hem.  It is subtle, which I wanted, but it adds to the whole play on the geometrics here and makes this so much more of an individual creation for me.  I sort of feel a silly guilt when I go line-for-line or fabric-imitation copy of a pattern with no personal changes.  Look – I even tie the ties around my waist like a belt to end in a cute little bow in front rather than a traditional wrap dress back knot or bow with streamers.  Oh my goodness, do I dare tell you I used my fabric pens to color in the top stitching along the edges so it blended in with print and becomes invisible?!  Yes, I do love to spare no detail to satisfy the perfectionist in me sometimes.

A big reason for my sewing is of course the creative outlet of it but also the opportunity to personalize my wardrobe and do that in better quality than can be found in most RTW.  Making sure to think about what is really coming from my creativity versus just going with what I see isn’t always easy but makes me own what I sew and feel more like me in the handmade wardrobe I wear.  That is the key to home sewing patterns and patterns available for the public to buy – they are tools that can be built upon to make your wildest clothing dreams come true.  This dress pattern might not have been the best tool – it was rather confusing in an unexpected way – but it helped me make a modern dress that even my vintage inspired heart loves!

Liebster Blog Award

This is long overdue, but I would like to say that I am honored to have been nominated (as of June 2018) for the Leibster Blog Award at The Quintessential Clothes Pen! Thank you, Quinn!

What is the Liebster Award?
The Liebster Award is an award that exists only on the internet and has been given to bloggers by other bloggers for near 10 years now. Liebster in German means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. You can find more information on the history of the Liebster Award here at The Global Aussie blog.

This award has the following rules:
• Answer the questions asked by the person who nominated you
• Nominate up to 11 blogs (more than 2, though) that you feel would enjoy blogging about this award the award who have less than 200 followers.
• Ask 5 questions of the bloggers you nominate

Now to answer the questions for me to answer –

How did you start making historical garments?

Some of the first books I read which got me hooked on history!

It all began when my interest in history began. I had already been sewing basic, modern garments for myself for a few years by the time I reached 10, the age I started reading vintage kids’ history books. That might sound boring to many, but if you’ve ever read a “Childhood of Famous Americans Series” book, or one of the many “Landmark” books, or a “We Were There”, “North Star” (in picture at left) or a novel by the great G.A. Henty, you will understand my enthusiasm. As one who formally only received “social studies”, I was enamored by a different, rounded, and exciting way of understanding our past and needed a tactile way to interpret it. Cue a pre-teen me finding out that there is such a thing as re-enactments…and naturally wanting to dress the historical part for each of them! Hand-made garments from re-enactment attendees who we got to know helped me get outfits to start with. As I have found out more facts over the years, I have supplemented the historical garments with my own pieces over the years by sewing them myself!

What is your favorite part of blogging?

My favorite part of blogging is a tough one to answer. For me, it’s using writing to bleed emotionally from the inside…releasing my inner energy and desire to share…freeing my brain from all those thoughts and ideas I can’t keep in…reaching out to others like-minded from the comforts of my home. Blogging makes a bigger, better me. It has improved my writing skills (I do enjoy putting ‘pen’ to ‘paper’ so much), and gives me a purpose to research, which my inquisitive mind loves. It is an outlet that is good for me, and I hope does the same for others who read my little site. The people I have met through my blogging are the best! So, I suppose my answer is multi-faceted.

The 1850s original hand-tinted print that hangs next to my bed

Describe a time you struggled with a historical project. What did you learn from the experience?

The American Civil War era is a longtime and current struggle! It has been about 20 years in the making now. My mom’s cousin had been a very dedicated Civil War re-enactor, even raising and keeping horses for “his cavalry troop”. Seeing their re-enacted horse cavalry charge back when I was 14 had me so completely sold on dressing for that time period. I bought a hoop skirt as a late teen, then in my 20’s I chose all the patterns I would need and their fabrics, as well as beginning the cutting out of my dress. Well, fast forward to the last 5 years when I have ordered my corset making kit, bought repro ready-to-wear bloomers and a corset cover, and made myself a chemise (at left). Still nothing is wearable together *sigh*. I just can’t get a good feel on what exactly was worn then and how to fit it. I blame it on my inability as a historian to understand the Civil War in the way that I have a hard time keeping the battles straight in my head. But really – I know I need that corset at this point and am totally hung up and freaked out over the thought of making it. As frustrating as it is, I have grand hopes still for finishing it yet, though, so all is not lost, I know! I think if I had a place and a reason to wear it – there isn’t an 1860s re-enacting group around anymore – I might have better motivation to finish.

If money and restoration were no object, what piece of historical technology would you love to try using?

…some of the medieval and renaissance engineering tools from all over the world. People back then were incredibly talented with the limited technologies they had but excelled in finding ways to set the sky as the limit! That being said, I think I would much rather watch historical technology being used by experts than try it myself. I would love to see the building of the soaring cathedrals of Europe, or witness an illuminated manuscript being drawn and painted, or experience the configuring by intelligent minds to read the stars and calculate the calendar, for just a few examples!

Do you watch or listen to anything while you sew? If so, what is your favorite background?

That varies. Most of the time, sewing puts me in some sort of ‘zone’. Sometimes I want to be laser focused on a technique (such as welt pockets), or would rather not have anything influence my mood, or even just desire to be able to listen to what else is going on around me. It’s then that I like peace and quiet. However, most of the time I like to choose my own good background noise. Very rarely is that noise a podcast because I like really info rich ones (especially from Dressed) and like to focus on the words to let the info really soak into my comprehension. Thus, mostly I choose music – and not music that makes me want to get up and move my body since I haven’t found a way yet to both dance and sew! My background noise is a hodgepodge – sometimes it’s a television show I like to hear but am not sucked into enough to watch dedicatedly (such as Friends or Double Dare…). Most recently, my medieval studies have given me reason to listen to 13th to 16th century music, which I can do while I sew. Yay for research and seamstress work all-in-one! Otherwise, I listen to various genres of all kinds – cultural, movie soundtracks, old-style country, classic crooners, soul singers, and selective modern pop such as Maroon 5, Avril Lavigne, The Weekend, or Bruno Mars. Lately, though, I’ve been catching up on the 80’s and 90’s music. Yet, I’m always okay with a little Daft Punk anytime…it always picks me up even when a project is frustrating!

Now for the blogs I nominate!

Emily at “Incurably Kitsch”
Kristen at “Verity Vintage Studio”
Elena at “Vintage Sewing Machines”
Aimee at “Aimee’s Victorian Armoire”
Helena at “Gray All Day”
Anne at “Pretty Grievances”
Jennie at “The Ugly Dame”
Colette at “Colette’s Sewing & Stuff”
Dixie at “DixieDIY”
Esther at “Dolly Creates”

…and the questions for them to answer!

What is your favorite decade for fashion?
How long does it take you (on average) to sew the things you make?
What is your everyday style like?
Do you watch or listen to anything while you sew? If so, what is your favorite background?
Would you rather wear stripes or a plaid? A solid or a floral?

Many people believe the Liebster award is similar to a chain email/letter, and it does share similarities but the underlining idea is to help promote each others’ blogs and discovering amazing creatives who might not be as mainstream or easy to find as other more popular sewing sites.  However, I do believe the amount of followers should not be a grade for the worth of a blog site, which is where this award comes in!  One good turn deserves another so I hope you go check out my list of awardees and follow them if you don’t already, and another word of thanks out to Quinn at “The Quintessential Clothes Pen” for nominating me in the first place.  I’m just shy of my 7th year anniversary of blogging here!

My First Colette to Celebrate the Fourth!

Colette patterns seem to be the biggest deal in the indie pattern world, and so I feel a bit out of touch to admit this is my first – and very happily successful – foray into a new branch of the sewing community.  Courtesy of a Seamwork magazine subscription which I won from the “Sewing the Scene” Challenge last year, I have had the availability to now try out independent pattern companies and see what they are all about.  This year’s Independence Day celebrating gave me the reason to whip up a dress from a Colette pattern and finally dive right in!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft 100% cotton twill in blue and white stripes, remotely similar to ticking, with a chain stitched red border design along one selvedge.  This fabric was a JoAnn exclusive release.

PATTERN:  Colette “Hazel” sundress, no. 1021

NOTIONS:  One zipper, lots of thread, and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 8 to 10 hours and finished on July 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  No seams save the center back skirt seam are showing and its raw edge is bias bound.  All other seams are covered by the full bodice lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was rather pricey, even with a discount – which I why I made things work on only two yards.  The dress cost me just under $30.

Sarai Mitnick, the founder and Creative Director of Colette Media, started Colette Patterns in 2009 because she liked vintage patterns but found them difficult for beginners to work with.  This particular pattern has a lovely modern hint of mid-century vintage, which I played up through the fabric I used.  I was inspired by the occasional extant piece of 1950s clothing which has Scandinavian-style folk embroidery.  Also known as Swedish weaving or “Huck”, the distinctive red and blue heavy embroidery – in patterns of the well-known eight pointed star or the more floral motifs of the more Germanic people – was extremely popular in the 30’s, tapering off through the 40’s.  Due to the thickness of the huck material, this embroidery style was primarily done on kitchen towels and linens, but it is a weaving style in which the thread never appears on the back, making it perfect for garments too, once decorative dish cloths began to be replaced by the mechanical dishwasher.

I realized after my dress was done that in my efforts to make a patriotically red, white, and blue American dress, I channeled a vintage Scandinavian-inspired style.  But, hey – we are a country of immigrants, a nation merged by our diversity and desire for independence, so I don’t think the irony is out of place.  After all, I was appropriately sewing with an indie pattern for an Independence Day celebration, but I was wearing a vintage “West Germany” necklace and vintage-inspired flats from the Australian “Charlie Stone” shoes.  Freedom is universal.

I keep seeing the phrase “patterns that teach” associated with Colette patterns, and so I saw this as a nice base pattern – something to add to and customize to one’s own level of skill or preference.  Along that line, I tweaked the details slightly to add in a fully lined the bodice and also try out a new method of pleating.   Overall, though, I found the pattern to have great shaping and curving not seen in the “Big 4” patterns, clear directions, and sizing that runs on the small side.  It was just enough of a challenge yet not impossible to make for as amazing as it looks.  I think it was nicer than the “Big 4” patterns and yet not as good as Burda Style, in my opinion.  I’m glad I didn’t have to pay full price and yet I don’t think I would have felt that I overpaid if I had.  I’m not used to Colette patterns but I do like them enough to start picking out my next one!

The big things this pattern has going for it is the front bodice, the dramatic way it makes the most of a border print or a striped fabric (or both combined, in my case!), and the way I can still wear a normal bra under it.  So many sundresses need some special lingerie or something sewn in to support a woman’s assets, and this one is such an appreciated, effortless piece the way its wide straps and their placement worked out perfectly for me right where the pattern markings were.  When you can follow a sundress pattern’s strap markings to the letter and it works out well, I’m impressed.

I went up a size in this pattern (because it’s better to be safe than sorry) and tailored it in slightly for a perfect fit.  As I mentioned above, I also added a full bodice lining to keep the fabric from being see-through and cover up most all the seams.  The facing pieces for the neckline were cut instead as the interfacing ironed down to the inner edges.  About 5 inches were added to the original length of the pattern, and I also cut the skirt as one whole seamless piece, eliminating the side seams.  I know this left out the opportunity for side pockets (unless I do a welt or patch style) but that’s okay – I decided to make this the day before the 4th of July, so I just wanted simplicity.  I widened the straps by ¼ inch and used an exposed zipper rather than an invisible one as called for.  Finally, I made the whole dress come together using only 2 yards.  For my first time trying out a new pattern company, I sure wasn’t afraid to go rogue on many details!

My biggest source of pride in this dress is actually the waist pleats.  The pattern called for a simple overall gathered waist, but why go conventional when there are other more complex possibilities yet to be attempted?!  I kept the center front and center back of the skirt flat because I think that is nicer over the tummy and bootie, but the rest of the skirt was knife pleated at every large stripe.  Each large stripe was folded over about ¼ inch deep to meet the nearest small stripe.  This process took me just over an hour in itself, mostly because I did one side wrong at first, but the finished look makes every minute worth it.  It is detailing like this that makes me and others so love vintage styles besides keeping past fashion highly sought after enough to be going up in value.  If I can bring a taste of that into my own sewing than my time is well spent.

I have seen several examples in their mailer leaflets (at right is one) of how JoAnn Fabrics thought of using this fabric and they were throwing me off at first.  I didn’t like their examples enough to try but I also had the hardest time deciding on using this Colette pattern for it…and I’m so glad went for it!  This dress really made me feel comfy yet festive, bright without being flashy, and proud of the quick work I put into it.  I do have a good chunk of the dress’ fabric leftover and I’m debating now between a purse or a little bolero to make out of it.  Decisions are the most fun, inventive, yet stressful part of home sewing.  Whatever I make, it’ll probably be much like the dress, though, in the way it was a happy experiment and a sudden ‘go-for-it’ type of decision.  Here’s to fun in the sun and more creative sewing!