A ‘Double-Duty’ 1931 Day Dress

This “new” vintage dress which I have recently made is an all-around transitional piece, in more ways than one.  It offers a print and fabric and colors all perfect for the varying temperatures of both fall and spring.  At the same time, as a vintage/historical garment, my dress is a mix of styles and fashion ideals which were used through three decades: the 20’s, the 30’s, and the 40’s.  Wow…that’s a lot to go into something to wear!  It might be unusual, and certainly different – but a neat different.

100_3967a     Two different fabric types and the ability to snap on (or off) matching long sleeves make this 1931 dress a versatile winner in my wardrobe.  My dress has the appearance of a separate blouse and a skirt in one neat vintage project. I really love the way I can dress for cooler weather without wearing the “traditional” dark colors associated with it (see this post for another floral fall/winter dress of mine).  This is an all-around comfy, easy-care, nice but casual dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The olive green bottom half is in a rayon poly blend linen-look fabric, while the top bodice and sleeves are in a peach floral Swiss dot cotton.  The lining for the bodice Swiss dot fabric is a orange-peach cotton broadcloth.  All of these fabrics were bought at Hancock Fabrics store.  My 1 1/2 yards of peach Swiss dot fabric was bought 7 to 10 years ago.  It’s been in my stash for a while, and I am very glad to find such a wonderful use for it – finally!  The linen-look fabric was bought spring of 2013 (last year) when I had originally hoped to get around to making the dress.  This year (2014), I bought the broadcloth for the bodice lining.

NOTIONS:  I had on hand an old 30’s buckle, the thread, interfacing, bias tapes, and snap tape that I needed.  Buttons for the long sleeve cuffs, extra snap tape, and a side zipper were the only notions I had to buy.

PATTERN:  a year 1931 McCall reprint from Past Patterns #6611, a “dress with waist yoke” in several sleeve and fabric combination options

100_3995TIME TO COMPLETE:  Well, 8 to 10 hours were all it took to finish the dress, and it was done on August 23, 2014.  The matching long sleeves took at least 10, maybe 12, hours to be finished on October 3, 2014. 

THE INSIDES:  All seams except the side seams and neckline are covered with bias tape.  The neckline is self-enclosed by the lining (I’ll explain later how this worked) and the side seams are left raw to eliminate extra bulk and to make it easy to do fitting adjustments.

TOTAL COST:   As the Swiss dot fabric was bought so long ago, I’ll count it as free.  As for the only expenses, the linen-look for bottom and the other notions I bought, the grand total probably comes to $12.00 or less.

The main body of the dress, without the sleeves, was very easy and quick in coming together.  As you can see in the pattern picture above at left, the assembly instructions were themselves very simplistic – just one page of layout breakdown with about 8 sentences of directions.  However, looking at the dress pattern pieces together with the ‘cover envelope’ picture rather makes construction self-explanatory.  The only construction detail that is entirely up in the air for you, the seamstress, to decide is how to put the dress together.  A basic, but semi-thorough, knowledge of different seams is needed to know (for instance) that the middle front and back panels of the dress are best when added to the skirt in a lapped method.  Bias tape was also wonderful to cover the curvy seams of both the inner edges of the middle section and the bottom hem to what is a half-circle skirt.

100_3972a     I love how these old patterns allow you to learn, expand, and use your sewing skills by providing such simple instructions.  I feel it gives seamstresses more respect than laying out some detailed, dreary, and possibly confusing directions.  Granted, I know complicated instructions are needed and quite useful sometimes.  It’s just that sewing in an advanced form used to be common knowledge years ago, thus old patterns were created for such a person.  Those of you that feel comfortable with your skills, will also enjoy making these old patterns with simple instructions.

There are only just a few points in constructing my 1931 dress where I deviated (just a bit) from the assembly diagram to personalize and accommodate my taste.  To start with, I sewed the front and back neckline first – yeah, first.  I wanted the neckline to be nicely self-enclosed in between the Swiss dot and lining cotton by sewing the seams right sides together, clipping the curves, turning out, then top stitching in place.  As I had raised up the scoop neck by about 1/2 inch, I had trouble fitting my head through, so I had to unpick several inches in from the neck to add a snap placket to the left shoulder seam (see picture below).  I hate sewing in snaps…this part of the job was tough.  The length of the skirt was also extremely long which necessitated a chop off of about 3 1/2 inches to reach the proper mid-calf length.

100_3993     Fitting is very important when it comes to making this pattern reprint.  The dress needs to be slightly roomy everywhere else except the hips. I saw on the front of the ‘cover envelope’ drawing that the pattern specifically pointed out that “this garment fits closely at hips”.  O.k., I thought to myself, I need to grade the pattern down to my size, so I’ll make sure to get close but maybe just a little big when it comes to the fit.  You can always take something in, but when something too small…well that’s a problem.  Just so as to make fitting this dress to my body easy, I did something different from the construction instructions – the entire front pieces and then the entire back pieces are sewn up in two separate, full dress length panels.  This method left the two side seams (with a zipper in the left hip/waist) the very last thing done to complete the dress.  With three sections composing the length of the dress, there would be no way to adjust the sides if done otherwise.  In the finished dress, my down grading sizing turned out fitting perfectly, but I finally realized (once it was on me) how important it is to fit snug on the hips.  The bottom skirt is rather heavy, and, without the tight hip fit, the whole dress gets weighed down, thus losing the proper “blousing out” of the upper bodice.  There is a delicate balance trying to find a good hip fit for this dress – tight enough to hold the dress where it should be but not too tight to rip seams or make the dress wrinkle up uncomfortably.  After a handful of trial and error attempts, I feel I have found the perfect hip fit (for now at least).

100_3986a     Having a belt, especially when you can use an old 30’s buckle like I did, also helps to hold the dress up in place and balance out the harmony between the two fabrics.  I finally did an experiment with the belt I made to match my dress, one which has been in the creative “back-burner” of my mind.  Before I sealed off one end, I slipped in a venetian plastic window blind slat in to the long belt tube.  Of course the blind slat is stitched in place at the ends, but at least this way I have a bendable but sturdy belt on which there is no top stitching or interfacing.  It sounds strange, I know, but it works, and I like my idea…although I probably will not do it again.

I really find the silhouette of this dress even more dramatically interesting with long sleeves.    This dress does nothing for the bust or the shoulders (a very 1920s characteristic) while the long vertical emphasis of both the fit and the design of the main dress body stresses the hips (also of the 20’s) and lengthens the body (late 20’s).  With the long sleeves on the dress, they further the vertical emphasis, but widen it slightly, by beautifully drawing attention to the hips in a very unique manner.  I can’t figure out the reason for the three horizontal pin tucks – I can only think that they balance out the vertical lines of the dress.  The little bias flare of the bottom gives it a slight 30’s touch and the blouse top with its kimono sleeve style and U-neckline is definitely very 40’s (see my version of this blouse).  Besides all the styling, the use of Swiss dot fabric is very authentic for the era.  See this post by Marianne at Fintage for a classic example of the 30’s beautiful use of Swiss dot fabric.

100_3757     When it came to making the sleeves, there are absolutely no instructions whatsoever.  As long as you know how to make sleeve cuffs, this is not a problem – how to achieve the look of the cover drawing was the cause of consternation.  The pattern pieces do not clarify how many pieces to cut out of the cuff and the sleeve band.  Thus I ended up cutting out four of each cuff and sleeve band (two for each sleeve) and one each of interfacing.  According to the cover drawing, the cuffs looked like they are supposed to be in a turned back style, so I was going to face the cuff and sleeve band pieces with interfacing inside to achieve that look (see the left picture).  I believe my method to be the correct way to have done the sleeve cuffs, and, although I can’t guarantee this, the way they turned out is truly lovely with the way they curve.  The stable sleeve cuffs make for a nice finish for the poufy “bat wing” style sleeves above them.  At first I was concerned that the sleeves hang too low on my arms by the way the seam ends an inch or so below my elbow.  Looking at the cover envelope drawing again confirmed for me that they are supposed to fit that way.  The sleeves take a bit to get used to once they are on just because I’ve never had anything like them, but it doesn’t take long to love wearing them!

Tiny 1/4 inch coral pink buttons close up the inner cuff of my sleeve band.  Since I didn’t included a closure method when the cuffs were made, I got inventive to make something work.  Braided thread loops are great but are time-consuming.  Time was something I wanted to cut down on at this point.  So, I threaded a tapestry needle with 1/8 inch light pink satin ribbon and wound it through the cuff seams making three loops.  It looks dressy and it was easy at the same time.

100_3991     My idea for snap on and snap off long sleeves came from seeing this feature on an old 1920’s pattern.  How ingenious and versatile, I thought!  Nothing extraordinary was needed to do – the short sleeves were hemmed like a normal sleeve, and the long sleeves had a small band sewn on to both finish the edge and give room for the snap tape.  Sewing on the snap tape to the sleeves and getting both sides to match snaps was a long, time consuming, hand sewing torture that was made better by getting it done in the car.  Nothing like getting the most out of my passenger time to get my hand sewing done!  It really made all that hand sewing fun to do it in the car.  I want to do more sewing during car trips!  I’m wondering if a 1931 lady would have been able do sew as a passenger in their cars.

This project was unknown territory for me. It certainly brought me out of my comfort zone which is a good thing.  I thrive on a challenge and it helps me hone in on my skills.  My 1931 dress is one that is a surprise to me.  Every time I wear it out and about, I get a bit unsure and self-conscious thinking that it is too-vintage or unusual, but then I always seem to receive a positive compliment.  All I know is I think I’ve re-discovered a piece of history long over looked and forgotten.  I’m a lucky girl to get to make and wear such a piece.  Anyone care to join me and sew up their own version?

100_3978     Our photo shoot’s backdrop is a neighborhood apartment complex, which has the name “Crystal Tower” due to a superb use of decorative glass in the vitrolite tiles and blocks.  It is wonderful example of how everyday living had a touch of Art Deco glamour in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s – the three decades included in my dress.  Perhaps, if you search in detail behind me in our pictures, you should see the “Crystal Tower” logo with its nautical cursive theme.  Even though the building was actually built in 1940, towards the end of the Deco style period, the building materials and design had been used similarly for a decade or two before, so our backdrop is authentic to my 1931 dress (historically speaking).  There is an excellent blog page at B.E.L.T. Stl which shows more details of the “Crystal Tower” apartments, if you’re interested.  For using such a homey, down-to-earth place for a photo shoot, I certainly think it neat to see such forethought and attention to detail in vintage construction.  Look forward to more of these Art Deco era living places in some upcoming blog posts.

As always, please check my Flickr site, Seam Racer, for more pictures.

‘Lady in Lace’ – an Early 1920’s Tea Dress

Flapper lace 20s dress at designerwallace     Amongst all the products in the world of fabric and textiles, there is nothing quite like lace which has stood through every century as an icon for everything about being feminine.  Lace especially meant more in the 20’s, as a sort of compliment by contrast, when the silhouette of the era was straight and boyish but the fabric and trim used was supremely beautiful.  This combination of the female “garconne” is most appealing to me in the flowing all lace “afternoon tea” dresses which were popular in the early 1920’s, such as the old original pictured at left.  Such early 20’s dresses hint at so much, they are irresistible – hinting at color by the under-dress while still staying muted, hinting at skin by being all lace but not really showing much, and hinting at freedom by wearing an unconfined and free form but still looking womanly.

Every year I make a special dress as a birthday “present” to myself, and year 2013 birthday dress was my special version of those early 1920’s all lace “afternoon tea” dress combinations.  My lace 20’s dress with contrast under dress was ridiculously easy to make and is incredible to wear.  Worn with my large summer woven linen hat, my dress sets the tone for the few years in the early 20’s when the fashions from the previous decade (Titanic-era) were clinging on before giving way to the full-fledged flapper of Prohibition times (circa 1922).  This has been my go-to dress for fancy summertime occasions – garden parties and tea rooms…here I come!

100_1780THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The lace is a stretch polyester fabric, so inauthentic, I know, but it was on sale on top of being on clearance.  I bought what was left on the bolt, which was just enough to make into a tablecloth, with 2 yards to spare to make my lace 20’s dress.  As for my under dress, I used a 100% polyester interlock in a mint green color.  The interlock knit was a small 1 1/2 yard cut that had been floating around in my stash for what seems like forever.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this project, basically only thread.  I had a small 7 inch piece of cotton lace leftover from this Thanksgiving project, and that lace went across the front of my under dress so I could be able to tell it from the back 🙂  See picture below.
100_1295B5522

PATTERNS:  The dress was made using a modern pattern Butterick #5522, year 2010.  The under dress is more authentic, as I used a Past Pattern No. 501, “Ladies and Misses 1920’s Combination Undergarment”.  I used this Past Pattern No. 501 once before to make these tap pants.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  For both the lace dress and the dress underneath, it took me about 5 hours or less to complete.  Both were finished by August 13, 2013.

THE INSIDES:  The side seams of the lace dress are in French seams, and the neckline is bound in a bias faced lace band.  The under dress is also entirely in French seams (excepting hems, of course).

TOTAL COST:  My interlock knit for the under dress was in my stash for so long, let’s consider it free – and a relief at that to find a use for it, finally!  The lace was bought from Hancock Fabrics for about 80 cents a yard. (Yes, you read that price right…cheap, huh?)  So my total was $4.00.

At first, I had a very hard time deciding what color and length the under dress shouldFrench-chiffon&lace-dress-c_1923-from-the-Vintage-Textile-archives become to make the certain ‘look’ I wanted.  Originally, I was inspired to make this lace 20’s project because of ‘The Historical Fortnightly 2013’ challenge sponsored by Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  She had a “White” challenge (#15) in the summer, and then she was having a “Green” challenge (#21) later on in October.  I did try out a long white under dress, which I made using the same pattern as for the lace dress, but it made me seem like I was in a bridal outfit.  For some reason, Leimomi’s two challenges appealed to me together, especially when she posted an inspiration “Green” garment like this one at right, dating to 1923.  The final inspiration which helped me decide on going with my mint green color was, ironically, an outfit from a Rose's lace and green day dress combodecade older – a costume dress worn by the character Rose in the 1997 movie “Titanic”.  Thus, my dress is long and skinny, sort of like the “hobble skirt” fashion of the 1910 era, while still having the straight, no-waist, sleeveless style of the early 20’s.  I get the best of both decades with my short 1920’s combination under dress and my coral colored accessories (vintage scarf as a belt and my over-sized hat), just like Rose from “Titanic”.

Just to clarify my use of the term tea gown, I would like to reference to two blog posts from Leimomi “The Dreamstress”.  According to her terminology post (link here) my gown should technically not be called a tea gown.  However, reading the characteristics of tea gowns makes it more of a perfect sense thing to apply that title to this lace creation of mine.  Except for the “wrapper-style” category, my dress outfit certainly has ‘gorgeous materials’, a ‘dress that gets worn over an under-dress’, and an ‘ease of entry’ dressing method.  The ‘slip-on’ feature, to be worn without a constricting corset, of a tea gown is what designates it for the afternoons.  Leimomi’s “Rate the Dress” post from here also mentions the extra fact of the pastel colors of many tea gowns.  If I can check off most all the boxes in the tea gown category, when it comes to my lace dress ensemble, I am confident in using it in my title.  I’ve made another new type of historical garment!

100_1789     I really loved making the under dress.  The first time I made this pattern #501 from Past 100_1794Patterns (when I made tap pants from it), I had the feeling I was going to love this pattern in general, and, boy was I right.  The sizing is perfect – what size seems to be your size will be your right size when it is made.  All the pieces that I have made from the pattern sew together quickly and easily.  It is much appreciated how my under dress turned out so decent, covering up my lingerie straps.  The only tiny alteration to the slip dress was to make two small tucks under the armpits at the top of the bodice.  Those tucks bring in the bodice to fit the bust just a bit better, only remember this would not be possible in a woven material.

Using up my small remnant of lace to mark the front really made my day, as well.  I love to be able to find a way to find a useful purpose for every small bit of what I have on hand!  The little bit of lace also seems to connect the under dress with the over dress, in a ‘themed’ sort-of-way.

For my lace over dress, I was actually experimenting with the fit of Butterick 5522.  Finding the perfect basic shift dress is a little challenging to find, and I wanted B5522 to be one of those “basics”.  Reading the finished garment measurements tipped me off to a perfect fit – this pattern runs very small.  I had to go up a size for everything.  I’ve only had to do this once before, for this dress, and then that was only because I was converting a stretch pattern to be made into a woven fabric.  Generally, I tend to make pattern sizes 8/10, but for B5522 I had to use a 12/14, otherwise it would have been a snug fit which is not the way the dress looks like on the envelope cover’s model.  Now that I know how the dress fits, I can’t wait to make the cover dress with those amazing sleeves.

100_1784     To make the most of my fabric, I folded the lace selvedges into the center of my 60″ lace fabric, so I could cut out the front and back out of only two yards.  The sleeve edges of the B5522 pattern were extended just a few inches so my dress would extend over my shoulders while still being sleeveless.  B5522 doesn’t call for a bias faced neckline – I added this feature because it is always such a clean and professional method of edge finishing.  Two long strips were cut out of my lace, so I could double up the neckline facing.  Lace is so thin and I needed a stable neckline to support the rest of my dress and create a shapely frame for my face.  However, I really didn’t like the open, oval neckline that I ended up with – it is a nice neckline but it did not look at all good on my lace dress.  I was tempted to create a square neckline, but, in the end, I stitched two rows of loose stitches down the center so as to pull the neck into a gathered V-neck (see picture).

In the close-up picture above, you can see in detail how my lace is a really interesting mix of shapes and designs, all put together in a sort of geometric crazy quilt method.  I know my lace isn’t authentic, but all those geometric shapes (mostly hexagons and parallelograms) are the base ideas behind the Art Deco movement of the 20’s and 30’s.  As if I didn’t have enough lace, I also wore my vintage crocheted lace gloves with my outfit…they have geometric shapes on them, too!

100_1785100_1788     I could see having my dress a long, ankle length, being a bit too much, so I wanted to find some way of adding interest and shortening the hem, if only temporarily.  My Hubby came up with the idea of a kind of tie that could pull up/gather the bottom of the dress hem.  I took his great idea just a bit further by making the hem ties out of small 12 inch cuts of random leftover lace trim pieces from my stash.  There are two hem ties: one at 15 inches above the hem, and another at 29 inches above the hem.  Both ties are on the left side.  In the pictures at left and above, you can see my dress gathered up from the lowest level lace tie.  You can almost see the center back seam in the left picture.  My preference would have been to eliminate that center back seam, but it is needed because the two back pieces are shaped nicely and cannot be put on the fold.

I truly feel very cool and comfy buy oh-so-pretty in this early 1920’s inspired ensemble.  It has a different style that is a slight departure from the classic “flapper” ideal, but still apparently vintage, while also being fresh and modern.  That’s a lot for a dress!  Whenever I wear this outfit, it always seems to garner compliments, then astonishment, when I briefly explain how it was easy, simple, and cheap.  More women need to make a dress like this for themselves…it is perfect for all skill levels and is absolutely wonderful to wear.  What could be more fail proof than that?!

100_1775     The luxurious public garden where we took these pictures couldn’t help but remind me of the backdrop of a work of art.  I felt like I was in a perfect dream world, or maybe just coming to life out of a painting by James Tissot, where there are plenty of details and interesting settings.  Please visit my Flickr page, at Seam Racer, for more close-ups and great pictures loaded soon of my lace 20’s outfit at the garden.

Save

Prohibition? Bah! Time for a Mid-20’s Speakeasy Party Dress

In the history of America, the thirteen years (1920 to 1933) during which citizens were meant to go dry from alcoholic liquids unintentionally became a time for much of the opposite to sobriety.  The era of the “flapper-and-gangster” cocktail drinking crowd was born, and flagrant law-breaking lived alongside the sober and those that loved fun times.

I’ve always loved the history of the 1920’s and 30’s, but recently learned a whole lot more about what was going on in those eras thanks to the exhibit “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition”, from the National Constitution Center.  The engrossing exhibit came to our town’s History museum for a number of months, and I visited several times, wanting to go more just to soak in all the info.  To close the last week of the “American Spirits” exhibit, our History museum put on a “Speakeasy” party, which happened to fall on a special day for me -my birthday.  I had to attend, and go all out I did!  Behold my official, mid-1920’s satin evening party dress!

100_3453aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My fabric is a semi-dull satin, with a pearlized swirl-type of buff finish across the fabric in random places.  The hammered finish on the satin gives it a sort of “ice cold” beauty.  It is in a deep turquoise color, and unfortunately, the fiber content is 100% polyester.  The lace neck shawl is made from a deep forest green stretch lace.  This lace has 1/3 of the flowers as shiny and satiny, but all the flowers are raised in an embossed-style.  Both fabrics are from Hancock Fabrics. 

NOTIONS:  Everything needed was on hand already.  I had the right color thread (I seem to do so much sewing in turquoise) and lightweight interfacing.  The gold buttons to bring in the dress at the hips were bought on a deep sale a few months before my Prohibition dress was made. The deep green and gold back neck closure button came from my hubby’s Grandmother’s stash. (See left picture, to see my detailed photo of the back button and my little spit curls which I stuck down to my skin with hair goop!

100_3465a

Simplicity 4138 back line and front drawingPATTERNS:  My good old standby pattern for making a basic 20’s shift was used again here – Butterick 6140, year 2004 (at left).  This pattern was previously used to make my “Geometric Lines” 20’s tunic.  For my Prohibition dress, I made view G, with the V-neck and the mid-length, except the sleeves were omitted.  Simplicity 4138 pattern (at right), skirt bottom piece of view D, was used to make the two bias flounces for the side of my dress.

B6140TIME TO COMPLETE:  In total, my dress took only 6 to 8 hours to make, and it was finished on August 8, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  Couture touches are everywhere on this dress’ inside.  The entire neckline, shoulder, and armhole openings are covered by a giant one pieced facing which was tricky to sew in, but very nice once finished.  My dress’ side seams are French seams, the bottom hem of both the flounces are done in tiny, time-consuming 1/8 inch hems.  100_3459a

TOTAL COST:  This was an unexpected project, and the materials were a bit more pricy because I wanted something with fine quality and historical accuracy to match with the idea in mind of how I wanted my final creation to turn out.  Everything was on sale, but, even still, I believe the total cost to be no more than $27.00.  This is pretty reasonable, I think, especially since it’s nice as an all-year-round fancy party dress – not just for drinking liquor on the sly “a la 1920’s”!

This dress was the product of much research and inspiration.  My dress’ style of satin has the look and feel of what was popular as a dressy fabric for the 20’s, excepting the fact that it is not a silk like what would have been used back then.  I have always loved the popular asymmetric styled dresses of the 20’s and 30’s, so making something with that design was definitely in mind for my speakeasy dress. In the end, I took a little bit of everything that I liked, and everything which seemed to fit in for the dress, both appearance wise and from the standpoint of a fashion historian.  Here at right is a collage of all my inspiration pictures which explain and justify the authenticity of my Prohibition dress.  Starting from the top left and going clockwise:  a 1922 silk crepe dress by Madeleine Vionnet (Arizona Costume Institute);   the cover envelope of a late 20’s printed McCall pattern #5628;  a bias seamed (Vionnet-style) dress from a French fashion catalog;  a “mid-20’s slip on dress” #925 reprinted and sold by Past Patterns;  and finally, another inspiration collagefashion image from the late 20’s (’27 or ’28).  As you can see, my five different inspiration sources are dating between 1922 to 1928.  However, the main features of my dress, especially the way it poufs out above where it hugs my hips, is a tell-tale shape which would constitute calling my dress a mid- to late-20’s creation.  Thus, I can confidently say that my dress is historically accurate, with the exception of the fabric content, while staying true to my own personal style and taste.  To me, finding such a perfect combination is a match made in heaven.  It’s like finding a little bit of yourself in a historical time past…the true greatness of sewing your own vintage wear.

The basic dress was easily and rather quickly made according Butterick 6140.  Just like when I made it the first time, going down a size from what the chart (on the pattern envelope) shows gave me a perfect fit.  In other words, Butterick 6140 runs generously.  Once compensating for the sizing, it has wonderful proportions for smaller women who don’t have too drastic bust-waist-hip measurements.  Also, when doing the upper inside facings, it is important to follow the directions on the instruction sheet – they might seem a bit strange and complicated, at first.  However, as long as I followed through, Butterick 6140’s facings turned out great, despite being a bit time consuming.  The method for putting in the facing is really pretty smart, too.  It not only makes for a beautifully smooth feel on your skin inside the dress, but it also teaches a good lesson on how to do such a facing method.  Another project I will post about soon ended up needing the knowledge I learned from doing Butterick 6140’s style of facing.  It does come in handy to know.

100_3456a     I intended on having the bias flounces begin to fall from about mid to high thigh, and take up a little less than half of one side of my dress.  Using the bottom bias flounce piece of view D from Simplicity 4138 was an easy solution that gave me everything I had hoped to achieve.  I changed up (just a bit) the cutting of the flounce piece.  The one edge directed to be placed on the fold to end up with a flounce twice as big.  However, the pattern piece was the width and length I needed as it was, so I did not cut it on the fold, but cut two single pieces, still keeping to the grain line as directed.  Both flounces were first hemmed in a time-consuming 1/8 hem (like what I did for the sleeves of my 30’s evening gown), then turn under the seam allowance on the other three sides.  I did a good deal of measuring to make sure the flounces would be evenly placed before sewing them down to the dress’ left side using a double-stitched lapped seam.100_3406

Hopefully, you can see how the flounce piece looked and how I cut it out in the picture at right.

100_3935     For the hip cinching, I made two small pinches in the satin of my dress on each hip side 1 1/2 inches away from the side seam.  A small one inch piece of turquoise bias tape was sewn to the inside of all four of those pinches.  On each side, the forward pinch had the two buttons sewn on, and the back pinch got two self-fabric satin loops slipped under the bias 100_3934tape piece.  I don’t know if this method is historical but it seems practical, simple, and, best of all, it works!  I just slip on my dress, then button it in to fit my hips. You can see in the big picture above the hip buttons and the perfect 20’s “bloused” effect they cause.

As much as I like the beauty of simplicity, the dress needed the lace neck/shoulder drape to give it that sudden “wow” effect, making it go from nice to elegant.  Credit for the drape idea entirely goes to my hubby.  He draped it as you see it on my dress, draped/gathered starting from one side of the V-neck.  Although I was skeptical at first, I soon had to admit it looked pretty darn good.  To shape the scarf, I took a rectangle of lace fabric, 15 inches by 60 inches, sewed the long raw edges in so it turns into a long ‘tube’.  Next, I folded my lace ‘tube’ scarf in half, and half again.  Both shoulders needed self-fabric satin piping tubes to be sewn on them to keep the lace scarf in place around my neck and shoulders (you can see the piping loops in my close-up pictures).  The lace scarf (folded in fourths) was pulled through the shoulder tubing and down the front of my dress, and over horizontally to be tucked under the neck.  Then the scarf ends were hand-tacked down along the neckline edge from the shoulder to the middle of the V-neck.  This process is hard to explain – it just kind of happened and worked out easily without too much fussing.  I love how the lace scarf can be worn around my neck or just over the shoulder, for two options on one dress.  My dress has already been through a trip through the wash machine, and the good report is the lace scarf held up and is still in place just fine, with the satin being almost wrinkle free.  Easy care requirements make this dress even more wonderful.

100_3462a     The night of the Prohibition “Speakeasy” party, the “American Spirits” exhibit was also open later than normal.  I took this opportunity to pose at the exhibit’s “police line-up” wall.  Yes, you read that right!  You can line up with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, Prohibition era gangsters, and get your mug shot taken.  I wanted to show a bit of attitude in my picture.  I’ll title it, “Hey, boys, you have any room for me?”

Kelly'sPoliceLineupPhoto     I splurged for the “Speakeasy” party and used my prized Art Deco 1920’s purse for the 100_3650anight.  This purse is an amazing work of art – heavily beaded (in both pearls and glass micro-beads), lined in gold silk, with a “Made in Belgium, Saks Fifth Avenue” label.  It needs some tender loving care, but I’d rather not ruin its historical authenticity by adding something modern that probably wouldn’t match anyway.  To think, I only paid $5.00 for this purse!

100_3923   My other personal accessories – my bracelet and my hair comb – were made by me for my outfit.  I chose to buy 1/4 of a yard of gold, jeweled, square chain dress trim, cut the length in half, hand-stitched the two pieces side by side, then added on a ribbon piece (from my stash) to each end. Voila! I now have a Deco bracelet that cost me only $1.00.  My hair ornament is merely a basic hair comb onto which I whip-stitched a gold filigree metal piece that had been in my stash of beading supplies.  The comb gave my hair an authentic and beautiful option to the over-used “head band” look so popular for an easy 20’s up-do.  My hair…oh!  I was so proud of the tight Marcel waves and spit curls I achieved by only using a small curling iron and some moderate hold hairspray.  My earrings (see a close-up in this post) are actually 1930’s vintage, but they have a classic Art Deco styling which matched well with the rest of my outfit.100_3729

Speaking of matching with my outfit, I’d like to make a point of briefly highlighting how the wall sconce light (in the top left corner of my full shot pictures) is a cool era 100_3728appropriate touch.  Our house (and neighborhood) was built around 1930 in a style unique to our town, a 20th century Gingerbread version of Tudor revival, with plenty of vitrolite glass and special touches, such as these “bat wing” wall sconces.  I love how these wall sconces have a slight tinge of pastel colors, with beautiful mix of the  swirling, floral theme of Art Nouveau, and a hint of Art Deco .

Please check my Flickr page, Seam Racer, for more pictures.  Thanks for joining me in this Prohibition party post!

Assembling a 1920’s Tux Ensemble: Part 1 – Buttoned Spats

Having more 20s themed parties and events to attend, together with a great vintage find of an old tuxedo jacket and pants, has entailed my working towards putting together everything necessary to historically suit up my hubby like a “white tie” gentleman from the Jazz Age.

This post is “part 1” of what will more than likely be a total of three, maybe four, total increments to reach a complete 1920’s Tuxedo ensemble.  The other parts will be the shirt (and collar), vest, and a cummerbund or even a bow tie.  For now, I’m starting from the bottom up, with turn-of-the-century gentleman’s shoe spats.  The spats I made for him turned out wonderful, look great, a fit very well.  They were also fun and unusual to make.  I love trying new things!

100_3681a     It is a bit unfortunate that vintage menswear is so scarce.  Thus, I’ve been turning to old and reproduction patterns as of late to clothe my hubby in something to match my own eras of vintage and historic clothing.  However, even vintage and reproduction men’s patterns are not as plentiful as the choices for women, so I was extremely happy to find such a wide selection of historically authentic patterns for men through the company Reconstructing History.  This company is a great resource, not just for patterns, but also for ideas and through historical information.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  white cotton mid-weight twill (one yard was more than enough)RC 1900s gentleman's spats

NOTIONS:  two packs of big ball “La Mode” buttons were the only notion bought; the elastics and thread and bias tape were already on hand.

PATTERN:  Reconstructing History 1007, the downloadable version

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The spats were very easy and quick coming together, they just took me a bit longer to sew because of the machine I was working on.  I wanted to enjoy myself, get to know the sewing machine…more about this later.  The spats were made by me in a total of 5 or 6 hours ( a few evenings worth of a little time), and finished on August 7, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  All seams are clean, mostly hidden, and oh-so-professional looking!

TOTAL COST:  around $5.00

I picked out the Reconstructing History downloadable 1900s gentleman’s spats pattern to make for my hubby.  The downloadable option is great because not only do you save money, but most of all, you get your pattern almost immediately…no wait!  The downloadable option was perfect because I needed the spats done for a party in less than two weeks.  You simply print out the pages, then connect and tape the pages together for the full pattern, similar to Burda Style patterns (see my post here).  Their pattern pieces included the seam allowance, and thus can either be traced out onto something else, or cut straight out of the paper.  Being a relatively small pattern I just used the paper version.  Any changes will just go on a paper note with the spats pattern so I can remember what I did for the next time these are made for hubby. This way if I need to make the spats for anyone else I haven’t changed the pattern itself.

100_3673     The spats pattern is only three simple pieces, with each getting cut out a total of four times if you are lining the spats, and twice each if your spats are not lined.  Personally I would completely recommend lining the spats for a very nicely finished item that is sturdy and not droopy.  A heavier duty fabric also seems to work well for spats as well.

All three of the fabric pieces get sewn together in one, two-seamed, continuous semi-rectangle.  Thus, if you are lining the spats, you end up having four fabric pieces.  As my hubby’s ankles are a bit skinny, I had to do a small adjustment on all four fabric pieces before connecting the front and lining together.  I sewed in a tapering seam of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the center front corner seam over the calf to the top of the spats.  Then, with wrong sides out, two of the spats semi-rectangles get sewn together at a time.  I stitched all along three of the spats sides (right side, left side, and the top) and next turned right sides out.  The raw edged bottom got white single fold bias tape sewn on and turned under.  The entire sides and the two seams where the three pieces connected were top-stitched down through all layers.

100_3656     Everything up until now, had been sewn on my “new” birthday present – a late 1930’s Sears Kenmore Rotary sewing machine in impeccable condition, and in a beautiful table/cabinet as well!  It was really fun to get a closer feel for how they did things back in the past, even though there is a decade of difference between the spats and the Kenmore.  I can’t wait to sew more on this gem.  My parents sure know in a good way what will make my special day…I was very surprised and tickled (especially with the giant bag of attachments and thread, some of them silk)!

I went back to my heavy-duty, early 80s standby Singer sewing machine to make my own elastic loop closure strips for the edges of hubby’s spats.  I didn’t want to do that many tiny button holes on the spats and make it hard for hubby to get them on himself.   The pattern itself suggests elastic, and, besides, elastic was starting to become more prevalent in the 20s.  Cutting small sections of cord elastic of about 1 1/2 inches, and marking equalized spaces out on a strip on double fold bias tape, I hand sewed my own “loop tape” to go along the sides of the spats.  Hand sewing the “loop tape” was hard on my hands, but, with a thimble and some good music on for help, it actually went faster than I expected and the finished result was well worth the effort.  I used my heavy duty Singer machine to sew on the “loop tape” along the very edge of the two spats’ left sides.  Then I matched up the spots where the loops are on the spats’ right sides and sewed on buttons in their corresponding places.

100_3449     Last but not least came the strap that goes under the foot in front of the heel.  The Reconstructing History pattern called for elastic and I used some small 1/4 in non-roll white elastic from my stash for the underfoot strap.  After paging through my old reprints catalogs from the 1920’s and 1910’s, I suppose a true historical feature for these spats would have been to have the underfoot strap be more like a belt, with a tiny buckle to loosen and tighten the fit.  However, I knew the strap would more than likely get quite dirty and take much more time that I didn’t have (not to mention where to find such a tiny buckle), so I opted for the easy “elastic” way.  Hubby put the spats on so I could mark (while they were on him) where to sew the elastic underfoot straps on and how long to make them for a perfect fit.

I am excited to see how the rest of the accessories for hubby’s tux look with these spats.  The cotton twill of the spats are a wonderful match with the mid-weight grooved gabardine he picked out for the main body of his vest.  Think of the actor Jean Dujardin in the movie “The Artist”; that will be my idea of hubby in his finished tux ensemble.  He’ll be a “Dapper Dan” man!