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!

Bar Code

One of the most interesting and unexpected observations from a child about my sewing was that I don’t have company labels, care instructions, or check out tags on my handmade clothes.  No, I don’t.  Yet, this time, I do have a bar code to label me…well, kind of.  This top may have a bar code, yet it is not for sale and there will not be another quite like it in the world.  I did not go to a store to get what I needed when I came up with the idea for it…I shopped downstairs in my stash.  I have no bars holding me back, and no code to dominate what I wear.  This top is me silently laughing at fast fashion – I don’t need you, cheap ready-to-wear.  I can do better.

This scrap-busting little summer top project blatantly speaks for my lack of conventionality when it comes to what it is that I wear, while my background mural of St. Louis, Missouri speaks for my hometown pride!  Together, this outfit is the modern “me”, the side of my life which occasionally does not wear vintage, that is.  It is the late 90’s punky-style teen still inside me that still loves to sing loudly to Avril Lavigne while driving around town.  Besides, I needed an edgy monotone black-and-white outfit to see the new Disney live-action “Cruella” movie, after all!   

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one printed cotton quilting “fat quarter”, picked up many years back from a JoAnn Fabrics store, and satin scraps leftover from this Burda skirt project, made years back now (posted here).

PATTERN:  an adapted version of the Burda Style “Cropped T-Shirt” pattern #103, from the March 2016 magazine

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in the matter of 2 hours on March 30, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound on all edges and facings

TOTAL COST:  The satin and rings were leftovers on hand, which I’m counting as free, and the quilting square was bought on sale so many years ago I no longer remember.  My total here is probably almost nothing!!!

I made the necklace myself, as well!

I was literally just making this idea work.  That’s okay, though, because I felt like being inventive for that day and just went along with all the setbacks I faced.  For example, I didn’t have a piece of satin wide enough to have a conventional center back seam, much less a pleat, so I figured the rear of the top would have to be open…”but make it a stylistic element” I thought.  I added metal rings, found off of my husband’s work table downstairs, to connect the two edges.  The fat quarter wasn’t big enough for a whole front piece either, so I added little satin shoulder extensions (drafted off of the pattern) to end up with a complete panel.  This way the print is primarily front and center to my top and the satin is visible from more than just a back view.  I like my top better for all the changes I was forced into because of my fabric choices.  If you have an oopsie appear purposeful, it becomes an artistic pattern adaption! 

Crop tops are fun for me to wear anyway, but this one is more so the way you can tie the longer back extensions up or leave them down like tuxedo tails.  I am surprised the pattern never showed or even suggested this wearing option!  Either way, tying the back tails helps keep this crop top down in place on me.  As I found out after its first time being worn, the lightweight fabrics I used are too insubstantial for a loose fitting pullover crop top, like this.  It has the tendency to not stay down in place.  Luckily the heavy metal rings weigh it down somewhat from behind.  Otherwise, I could see this top creeping up on me.  Lesson learned – do not make a crop top in the lightest fabrics on the market unless you don’t mind if it flies up to arm level.  Luckily, the combo of both the rings in the open back and tying up the back tails helps this project to be wearable in the end.

I can actually wear this over a long sleeved black tee in the winter, so this is more than just a one season piece happily.  Inside during the summer, when places have their air conditioning on “deep freeze” setting I like to have my faux leather moto jacket as a fun, modern cover-up.  To wear this to see the “Cruella” movie, I actually paired it with an oversized 1930s red beaded necklace, nice red flats, and a black skirt, and the top almost looked dressy!  In these pictures I am wearing it with another Burda Style pattern, the pants portion to a designer jumpsuit (posted here).  This little crop top has become more versatile than I imagined when I was originally sewing it together.  What I make for myself always gets worn to some degree, I make sure of that.  Anything that usefully whittles down my scrap pile is good in my book, anyway.  Yet, I love surprises where something that seemed fun and useful to plan at the moment ends up a wardrobe favorite.   

At this point, I almost need a whole section of my blog highlighting my scrap-busting projects…I have so many!  This one was one of those projects that has been slipping under the radar of my blog, being worn frequently but seemingly insignificant enough to post.  This summer has been so busy, I feel badly for not posting here as much as I would like, and certainly not frequently enough to keep up with what I am sewing in real time, but it gives me the opportunity to easily share simple little creations like this one.  I hope, like me, your sewing creativity is still going just as fervent and fulfilling, and this season is also finding you happy and healthy! 

P.S. If you want to discuss the new live-action Disney “Cruella” movie, share what you thought of it, or just find out more of my opinion, leave me a comment and let’s get talking!!  I found it really good, and well done, but with reservations over some confusing technicalities that do not match up.  I’d be happy to chat about it! 

Ballerina Girl

Stop the presses!  News flash here!  I have now made shoes!  Well, technically I have sewn my own house slippers, but they are worn on the feet so that is close enough to make me feel like adding the term “cobbler” to my long list of capabilities.  I cannot express how elated I am over this creation and just how incredibly comfy they are to wear.  I was very doubtful I could pull such an idea off, but my slippers turned out fantastic.  Plus, they were so quick and relatively easy to make…and all I used is scraps leftover from past projects!  This post is aptly named after a sweet song by the same name by a favorite singer of mine, Lionel Richie.

A big ‘thank you’ is in order to Quinn (who blogs here at “The Quintessential Clothes Pen”) for her encouragement and support over this idea in the first place.  Over in this post of mine about the making of this fuzzy winter jacket by the designer Ungaro, I casually threw out the question of ‘what can be done with the scraps of the waist peplum I did not use’.  Happily, Quinn voted for the house slippers idea, and it sounded like she started making some for herself in turn.  All I needed was a bit of outside inspiration to spur me on, and just look at the wonderful slippers I finished now!  I am always so overwhelmed and supported by my blog’s readers and followers.  You are all truly the best!   

I half-heartedly wonder if it might be old fashioned (according to younger generations) to be wearing house slippers.  Thus, just in case a definition is needed here, I will provide a brief one.  “A house shoe is a general term for any footwear that is intended to be worn indoors, particularly at home,  while a slipper is a type of indoor or outdoor footwear that you can easily slip-on your feet.  Remember that house shoes can be slippers, but not all slippers can be house shoes.”  (Definition from this site.)

I have a few vintage slippers, of the famous Daniel Green brand, which are closer to shoes, for sure, the way they are so fancy, with molded soles and wedge heels.  While they are comfortable and luxurious, at the end of the day all I want is to feel barefoot…but with the benefits of a little extra warmth and cushioning.  This is one of the many reasons why I personally prefer soft, ballerina-style, enclosed foot house shoes to both slip-ons (with an open back or exposed toes) and modern molded foam bed support slippers.  Yet, a good version of a ballerina house slipper is hard to find, never as comfy as I would like, and also quite pricey.  Besides, they never last me very long before they wear out to the point that they need to be thrown away.  Cue the quest to craft my own.  Sewing can be so enjoyable AND useful.

Unlike the fuzzy house shoes commonly referred to as “slippers”, ballet shoes are made of soft leather, canvas, or satin, for dancers to appear weightless and graceful when performing.  “These shoes are lightweight and have thin soles to offer maximum flexibility. What’s more, the shoes feature an elastic band that’s meant to secure the shoe tightly to the foot during the entire performance. A proper ballet slipper should also offer a snug fit, like a glove.” (Info from this site.)  Often these shoes are in a skin toned color for an invisible appearance.  Modern ballerina house slippers, however, are in all sorts of fashion colors and prints and often cheaper materials.

How about a casual “about me” moment related to that topic?  I had the hard-toed ballet pointe shoes when I was growing up.  They were merely a cheap but neat second-hand purchase that I played around with and casually practiced in at home…nothing too earnest.  They are torture devices though (in my opinion) for all the beauty they offer dancers on stage.  Nevertheless, I grew to appreciate and admire both the charm of ballet and the hard work of its performers.  (Being taken to a Nutcracker performance when I was about 10 years old helped along those feelings, too!) 

What I especially loved about ballet was the soft leather dancing slippers after also acquiring a set secondhand at a resale store.  I loved wearing them around the house to the point that my mom went to a ballet store and bought me a few more new pairs.  The woman at the store quickly ended that obsession by throwing out very judgmental, inquiring, and intrusive questions to both me and my mom…as if her customers could only be professionals and nothing else.  Oh well.  No doubt this past history of mine is a contributing factor to my preference for ballet style slippers.  Now I can make my own and this is the most exciting and inspiring thing to happen in my sewing sphere in a while!

Speaking of something exciting, my slippers had their first time being enjoyed in conjunction with a very special occasion for us.  We went for a short (and Covid safe) weekend getaway to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.  I brought a special true vintage 1930s era nightgown and matching robe for my evening lounging, and my new slippers paired perfectly with the ice blue color of the peignoir set.  The aesthetic of the room was 18th century which went so well with my fancy loungewear, besides being a dream-come-true kind of glamorous setting, the likes of which I have never seen.  It was a great backdrop to take some pictures of my sippers.  If you would like to see the whole vintage lounge set, go check out these two Instagram posts of mine (here and here).  If you would like to see a short video of me in my slippers in action, see this post!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Poly fleece (leftover from this 80’s coat), poly interlock, quilted cotton batting, and faux suede (leftover from my hubby’s smoking jacket)

PATTERN:  a Burda Style extra project template in the back pages of the December 2014 magazine (cover page at right)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was thread and wide cord elastic.  The front decorative bows are ribbons that were saved from off of the packaging of a present I received.  Re-use and recycle, right?!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Each slipper took me 1 ½ hours, so I spent a total of 3 hours to make these on the afternoon of April 7, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  raw edges are enclosed within the lining

TOTAL COST:  FREE!

So long as I approached this footwear project with the mindset that it is still sewing, just like anything else I make, it was easy to make these house shoes.  The Burda Style pattern I had to go on was even more bare bones than their regular patterns so I am floored these turned out so well.  There were challenging to make because of all the curves, small spaces, and tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances.  However, as I said above they were not hard to make, though, and a very fun, different thing to attempt.  It’s so refreshing, besides good for my brain, to change up what I am working on making! 

On the back page of the Burda magazine, you start with just two small pattern pieces for the slippers, both only about 3 inches long, next to a few short paragraphs of construction details.  The same page also has a sleep mask pattern and a quilted travel jewelry organizer to make!  All of the patterns on page need to be photocopied and custom sized up to be usable.  I aimed at the length of the sole being just a quarter inch bigger than the actual size of my foot (9 inches) since I wanted a snug, ballerina shoe style fit.  Thus, I had to enlarge the pattern pieces 305% and add on the 3/8 inch seam allowances, as directed, before I cut the pattern out.  

There are four different kinds of material I used because I wanted to only use scraps and also to keep the slippers comfortable.  The soles are triple layered with a brown faux suede bottom (a tip from Quinn) and a fleece inner foot bed, all sandwiched with a cotton, padded, quilted panel in between.  This way the soles are lightly padded with the quilting, soft on my feet with the fleece, and not slippery to walk in with the suede-like exterior.  The outside of the slippers’ uppers are more of the blue fleece, lined in a lightweight poly interlock to absorb moisture and keep my feet from overheating in just fleece alone. 

I did slightly adapt the pattern to add some improvements.  Firstly, it doesn’t necessarily call for an upper foot lining, but it was a not only a choice for comfort but also a convenient way to end up with clean inners to my slippers.  Furthermore, the instructions do not call for the padding that I added into the soles, but it elevates these slippers from being merely homemade and makes them so much cushier.  Then, I also hid the raw edges by stitching all of the shoe pieces together onto sole before finishing off the upper elastic edge.  Stitching 5 bulky layers together along a very curvy seam in a 3/8 inch seam allowance was something I took my time on so the slippers’ construction was right from the very beginning.  There are literally 3 seams to stitch on each slipper, yet if ever I needed to get a seam correct and be precise with stitching, this was the time for that. 

Stitching the casing was even trickier than sewing the sole.  I was somehow able to mostly machine stitch the seam, luckily.  I finished the raw edge of both the interlock and the fleece together with a double row of tight zig-zag stitching that imitates a serger (overlocker) finish.  Then, the edge was tuned under 3/8 inch and stitched down with a small gap so the elastic cording could be run through the casing along the upper foot bed edge.   It is interesting that the elastic has to be so very much shorter of a length than the actual casing around the foot.  The slippers should curl in on themselves when they are off of one’s foot or else they will not stay on.  Avoid having the knot of tied elastic end in the casing at the back of your heel for a smooth fit. 

I slightly obsessed over trying to have the elastic tightness of both slippers to be equal.  I think I came so close to perfection, I’m happy.  You know, most store bought ballerina slippers all have one shoe which fits tighter than the other and I have always hated that with a passion.  I know how hard it is to make RTW to suit everyone’s individual sizing – but that hadn’t fully sunk into my head how much more challenging that is when it comes to our feet.  Most people have a body that is not symmetric on both sides.  On top of that, many people also have health issues or results of an injury which can render one foot to be different from the other.  A bad ankle of mine, leftover from a severe sprain, makes my one foot swell up at times.  Cutting two elastic strips the same length made for unequally fitting slippers for me.  I can understand the gripes I have had with RTW ballerina slippers much better now.  Nevertheless, that problem still is annoying and uncomfortable, I will admit, so I am happy to have avoided it for my own handmade slippers.   

For the last step, I took a fabric marker to designate the left from the right…because let’s face it.  More often than not my brain doesn’t need one more thing to figure out at the end of a day.  I wanted my slippers to be effortlessly enjoyed, besides being something fantastic to present on my blog, as well!  Next time I make shoes, I’ll have to try an amazing 1940s pattern for some summer sandals that you make by braiding scraps – much like a rag rug!  (See the pattern here.) 

The first time trying something new is always the hardest.  With my first pair of shoes successfully done, I can feel a bit more confident branching out.  Now, I am rather interested in some kits I have seen online, for assembling your own espadrilles or sneakers.  Anyone got any suggestions for more shoes to make?  This is fun!  Just think of the possibilities to end up with shoes that perfectly match your outfit this way…