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!
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.
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.
“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?