Mardi Gras Tricolor

The festivities of revelry are never as outgoing and widespread quite like what happens throughout the world before the Lenten season, whether or not one chooses to participate.  Trying to say goodbye to excess and habits by indulging in them seems rather odd to me, but nevertheless I like an opportunity to wear some great colors.  The trademark tones for the popular American “Carne Vale” are as bold in their pairing as the party antics which are carried on.  They are as rich in history as they are saturated in hue.  Yellow gold, dark yet bright purple, and a cheery grass green are quintessentially, visually recognizable of a New Orleans inspired pre-Lent celebration.

Not that this post’s outfit was originally intended to call to mind Mardi Gras…it was just an Art Deco fabric on hand and the inspiration of the 1930s penchant for bold color pairings which led me to make the dress you see.  This had been one of my early 1930s projects I had intended to make back when I started blogging, but I realized both that I was not ready for the challenge and I was perpetually undecided on a fabric choice.  Finally, everything came together and I am so happy with the results!  The geometric print is perfect for a dress from the very early 30’s, the fabric appears much nicer in quality than a modern poly, and the design has such great features I think it is so appealing even for today.

To keep with both the Mardi Gras theme and the 30’s inspiration, I am wearing a modern wool beret.  Mardi Gras is a French word after all, and New Orleans has a rich French heritage, so my beret fits right in!  Do you notice the fancy stylized French Fleur-de-lis on the wall behind me, as well?

Also, look for my special accessories, too.  The necklace is a true vintage gem – a 1920’s glass bead piece that needed my help by doing a restringing and adding a clasp for a whole new life.  My earrings are me-made to match (as best I could) using clip-on blanks.  My gloves are true vintage from the 30’s.  I even broke out my old timey Cuban-heeled stockings!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The main body of the dress is a polyester satin with a sheen on the printed side and a buff finish on the other.  The neckline contrast, sleeve bands, and belt are a burgundy-tinted, rich purple buff polyester satin remnant.  The dress is fully lined in poly scraps…mostly a pebbled satin purple supplemented with a black non-cling variety

PATTERN:  McCall #6957, year 1932 – I used the reprint from Past Patterns which you can buy here

NOTIONS:  The belt buckle is a prized Bakelite vintage item I’ve been holding onto for the perfect project like this!  (Subsequently, the buckle has sadly broken…and is tentatively glued back together for now.) All else that I needed was lots of thread and some scraps of interfacing for the sleeve bands and belt.  It’s a simple needs Depression-era garment!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours and was finished on April 18, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Left raw…but you can’t really tell because the dress is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress are more of my precious hoard of clearance deals which I bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  I don’t remember exactly but this dress can’t have cost me more than $15.

Now, I recognize that the Eva Dress Reproduction Pattern Company also sells copies of this McCall pattern, but I have always preferred Past Patterns.  Besides – their sizing is closer to mine which means less dramatic grading for me.  However, if you need a bigger size than Past Patterns’ 36” bust, Eva Dress’ repro is a 38” bust.  Even still, I often find 1930’s patterns from 1936 and before seem to run small and this one was no exception.  You want a slightly baggy fit with this dress because it is a slip-on with no side zipper called for.  Also this design was coming from a time that was still easing away from the 1920s, which is very obvious when I take off my belt!  I graded this pattern down to what was still technically a roomy size for me (with extra for a modern 5/8 inch seam allowance) and I feel it fits perfectly enough to both be comfy and land at the right points on my body.

I am quite impressed with this pattern.  Everything matched together well and it turned out just as the cover drawing portrays.  It was relatively easy to figure out how to sew together despite the fact that there are several tricky spots to take time on.  Many of my other 30s patterns made to date needed tweaking to the fit, or some of the panels were a bit off, or some of the instructions lacking…but not with Past Patterns.  The designs they choose to reprint have so far always turned out happily successful for me so far.

Making the many exact points and precise corners to this dress was quite time consuming and honestly a bit stressful along the way.  My fabric was a very slippery and always shifting material.  It was hard to be precise and avoid any bubbling out at the points, especially since (for the skirt insets) I was trying to connect two opposing grain lines together.  The insets were stitched together like a regular seam, making it harder, but the neckline contrast was invisibly top-stitched on to be exact and clean because it is more easily seen.

All of the pattern pieces were rather odd and almost unrecognizable on paper, but looking at the cover they all made sense.  It’s amazing how sewing works, isn’t it?!  The front is all one enormously long piece (as there is no waist seam) which appears like a giant capitol H, because of the insert panels at the neck and skirt center.  The back is mostly like a squared-off basic bodice, except with two ‘tails’ attached for either side of the middle panel.  The seemingly rectangular middle panels swerve out on the sides like the curve of half of the letter U to provide soft fullness to the skirt below knee.  The sleeves, dramatically opened up because of the numerous pleats, are almost 30” wide.  It’s no wonder that this dress needed a very anti-Depression era fabric amount of 3 ½ yards…and I was using 60” width material!

I have never done tucks quite like what was called for on these fun, poufy sleeves, and it was sure an experience.  You have to make them in a certain direction because they are layered on top of one another.  I have seen this type of mock-pleating on the skirt waist some couture garments (such as Dior).

You start from the side and pleat towards the center then move to do the same for the other side.  Both top and bottom have to be done separately because the center has to be left free.  All the pleats are folded into the skinny cuff band and attached to the dress…suddenly the sleeve looks amazing!  I had planned on an organza ‘filler’ to go inside the sleeve thinking it would need help poufing out, but no it doesn’t, even though my fabric is silky soft.  My printed fabric and the discrepancy of photography does not do these sleeves due justice for their awesome detail.

The neckline was definitely the most ingenious and usual piece of all, and I absolutely love the look of it in the contrast solid!  It reminds of an adapted jabot, but it is merely called “a vestee” according to the pattern.  A project I’ve already made from the next year in history, my 1933 McCall’s reprint set, also has a wrapped front drape at the neckline – a more dramatic and simplistic version of what is on this ’32 dress.  Neckline interest was very popular in the early to mid-30’s and I like all the interesting variety of it, especially neck drapes and ties.

I changed up the instructed making of the “vestee” for what I think is a cleaner and more straightforward construction.  It called for a single layer of fabric drape which connects to another single layer half piece which doesn’t have a drape.  This would have showed the underside of the fabric, been awkward to sew together at the center, besides showing the hemmed edge.  I made two, draped, full “vestee” style neck insets so that they could be sewn together like a facing for a clean edge along the center drape that doesn’t show the other color of the other side to the fabric.  I had to add the trio of pleats to each of the two pieces before sewing them together and on the vest.  Then I hand tacked the pleats together down the center.

The same beautiful, rich purple solid satin as what was used for my 1951 slip dress and the details to my 1955 Redingote jacket went towards the contrast here to break up the busy print and made the most of my remnant stash.  Just you wait, though, I am not yet done using this purple satin…there is one more project I’ve squeezed out of it (to be posted soon)!  I used the darker satin side of the fabric on this dress.

Purple normally is the color for royalty, and many Mardi Gras celebrations to have a King (and Queen) that is crowned to preside, but the southern American symbolism for it during the pre-Lent partying is “Justice”.  The green represents “Faith”, gold represents “Power”.  It all relates to both heraldry symbolism as well as the fact both United States and French flags are tri-colored.  My green is the new spring grass, and the rest of the colors I’m wearing.  I don’t always wear the dress accessorized like this – tans, or ivory, or black tones mellow out the bright but rich colors.  Finding vintage accessories in my size, in decent condition, in a reasonable cost, in more unusual colors is a challenge otherwise I would also try out pale yellows, or light purple, and other colors with this dress!

My first sewing project from 1932 has been long in coming but I’m glad I can enjoy it now.  I have been straying at the very strong shouldered and cultural influenced styles of the late 30’s for quite a while recently and this is such a refresher!  This has me thinking about what will fill in my empty spot for the year 1930…hummm.  Look for that this summer!

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Kaleidoscope Colors

As a child, my kaleidoscope used to enchant and fascinate me.  I would love all the bright colors changing and mixing with every spin, and the patterns it created were something which reminded me of a snowflake with personality, making the most of whatever light you directed the toy at.  Now that I know how it works and have so many things on my schedule, sadly my kaleidoscope is packed away and not seen anymore.  However, I do have this blouse, a grown-up girl replacement!

Modern day winter wardrobes tend to be so droll and dreary compared to the fun with color the late 30’s enjoyed.  That decade combined and paired the most unusual colors in the most creative and attractive ways.  Bright and crazy colored stripes, however, are so classic to the late 30s and oh-so-popular again today.  It’s no wonder – they are like a ray of welcome and much needed sunlight in the world of everyday fashion!  True vintage items in such a stripe print today get sold so fast at high-prices that sadly such style garments are out of the question for many others like myself…and true vintage fabric like it is even harder to find in a usable, stable condition.  Reprinted modern versions don’t often do the 30’s striping justice either, which is why I am so happy to have recently found a newly printed crepe which does match the old-time mix of happy colors.  Together with a tried-and-true 1940 pattern, which has been adapted to copy a 1938 style, I have what may be my most complimented me-made garment yet!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% polyester crepe for the fashion fabric, and a scrap of cotton broadcloth the line the shoulder panel inside

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1991, year 1940

NOTIONS:  I had all the buttons and thread I needed.  The buttons are vintage from the stash of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours and finished on October 10, 2017

THE INSIDES:  nice French seams inside

TOTAL COST:  under $15

This was really a simple blouse to make, but the fabric and the sleeves are what helps to make the blouse standout.  I got rid of the angled panels to the original pattern and cut this version in all sharp geometrics, which complements the stripes.  The collar was re-drawn to be pointed, and the wide front (as well as back) upper bodice was made completely horizontal.  I lengthened the blouse hem as I eliminated the attached waistband.  As the golden yellow stripe was missing from the color sequence across the blouse front because of the way I cut, I added the ocher tone in through my choice of buttons.

I was basing my new composition to the 1940 Hollywood pattern off of images of true vintage patterns I do not have but admire, old fashion advertisements, and past photographs of both celebrities and regular women wearing striped blouses which have a crazy assortment of color.  It seems as if this trend is concentrated in between the years of 1938 and 1940.  I can’t help but wonder if that mode of fashion was begun with the lovely “Alimony” evening gown (year 1937) from the American designer Elizabeth Hawes.  However, it seems that multi-color striped garments after that designer were frequently in housecoats or sportswear pieces.  To see more inspiration of late 30’s to early 40’s multi-striped garments see my Pinterest board here.

My very favorite multi striped garment for inspiration is in the Agent Carter television show Season Two with the character of Ana Jarvis.  Ana favors late 30’s style in her wardrobe, and her blouse in the episode 5 “The Atomic Job” is a true and striking sample of the best from that period.  The only obvious difference between hers and mine is that Ana’s is satin with a waist tie front, and mine is a crepe finish with a regular blouse middle.  She was the cheerful, hopeful, and helpful backup character that was supporting all the others embroiled in the possible-death mission of the “The Atomic Job” episode, and her wardrobe shows this fact.  I want my wardrobe to reflect my happy inside…or if my day is going badly, I want it to cheer both me and others up.  Elsa Schiaparelli has been quoted as saying, “Color gives me ecstatic pleasure” from her book “Shocking Life”.  I’m so in agreement, and so are many people I think.  It’s a shame that out of the many people who compliment me on my blouse, many admit that even though they want it off my back they really wouldn’t wear it.  I’m guessing it’s because they just have a certain color comfort level they’ve grown used to and might even be afraid of being too flashy or too different.  Whether my colorful garment flags people down or not, we all know need color in our lives and regular RTW fashion certainly doesn’t seem to realize that so this blouse’s kind of different is good!

The wonderfully wide bishop sleeves with its big cuffs and puffed shoulder tops are the only thing I left as the pattern designed…and why not because they are killer amazing!  The pattern for such a full bishop sleeve with such forearm-encompassing cuffs was almost confusing because it was as wide as it was long.  Just like for my recent 1962 “Beatnik Blouse”, the sleeves atop big cuffs are so much shorter than “normal” long sleeves I am used to and it throws me off.   It also takes a good deal of both seam allowance clipping and ironing to harness so much gathering into a cuff so it stays flat.  The cuffs have dual buttons with close under embroidered thread loops along the edge.  These are rather hard to do on myself but I like how they keep the cuffs wrapped flat and snug around my lower arm verses buttonholes.

Can we set aside a minute just to gush over my jaw-dropping belt!?  This was a very lucky and therefore ridiculously affordable second-hand find for me, and is a ‘dream belt’ come true!  All in leather and detailed tooling all around front and back, it is a perfect bold and statement piece to complement the already outgoing feel of my blouse.  Actually, though – the late 30s was all about statement belts anyway, especially wide ones that had complex or unusual closings, anyway.  The only thing is, I haven’t yet figured out if the buckles are supposed to be worn at the top or on the bottom!

Yes, I realize I have been posting a good number of both blouses and shirts lately, but this has been what I have been sewing most of this year!  Separates are to me the salt and pepper of my everyday dressing.  Especially when it comes to vintage garments, having something that looks nice, yet is still casual, and definitely comfy as well as practical for whatever life throws my way for the day is what I can never get enough of.  The 1930s had this down to an art, in my opinion.

I must admit I never thought I would be wearing all those colors I admired so well in the light coming through my kaleidoscope.  I have been searching long for the right fabric to remake this now popular vintage trend for myself.  Now that I can do so, I have something to resort to for the long, dreary, chilly cold weather season we experience here…because warm weather garments shouldn’t be the only clothes which get the prettiest colors.  Do yourself a favor and don’t be afraid to try a new color in your wardrobe today!

Late 30’s Dress Sports Halter and Bolero

Our trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to see the exhibit “Stitching History from the Holocaust” (see this post for an entire report about it) gave me a goal of sewing a new, era-matching outfit to wear for the occasion!  I love sewing especially when it comes to making something for a trip – to me, it’s the epitome of a special occasion and lets my outfits get a real purpose outside of the norm.  I also wanted to continue my respect for the story of Hedy Strnad with what I wore for our visit.

The woman drawn in each of Hedy’s designs of “Stitching History from the Holocaust” were the classic ideal for the late 30s.  She exudes assertiveness as she goes out into the world participating in a fully modern life of enjoying leisure time, shopping, making her own money, and taking care of her well-being.  Overall, a woman of the late 30s showed she is an equal part of society with fashions that displayed her unique personality and spunk with a combination of simplicity and complexity.  Even though the women on the cover of my outfit’s pattern are demurely looking downward, I do feel that my sports halter dress and bolero is part of that sort of womanly ideal!

This is a fun and comfy set which was perfect for the slightly cool weather of Milwaukee in the summer, with its northern breezes coming off of Lake Michigan, which you see behind me in our pictures.  It is vintage a la New York style circa 1938 or 1940, but to me it looks timeless.  I was so put together but still casual…an unusual combination that is so awesome to come upon.  I never like to look sloppy on our trips – I like the old-school way of going abroad in style.  There never is any need to be otherwise when the outfits I make feel as good as wearing a nightgown but visually are quite different!  Besides, how often do you see orange for summertime?  It’s quite cheerful when not just reserved for Halloween. My outfit is so easy to move in – I mean look at my full bias skirt – and the denim chambray of my dress and linen of my bolero are wonderful fabrics to feel against the skin.

Most importantly, though, our trip to Milwaukee gave me a good prod to finally get this outfit done in the first place.  I’ve only wanted to sew up this set together for the last several years!  So many sewing ideas and too little amount of time means there are many that get pushed back in my queue.  It is quite satisfying to get to these backburner projects!  I now wonder the reason why I always let this particular outfit project slide for so long, because I heartily enjoy wearing this set…but especially the very useful bolero!  I suppose this outfit was merely waiting for the right occasion…

This post is the first installment in my new ongoing series of an “Indian Summer of the Sundress”

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  DRESS – an all-cotton lightweight denim chambray (same as what I used for these pants but in a darker wash) together with a fat quarter of printed quilting cotton for the orange contrast; BOLERO – a dense, soft finish, loose-weave linen (leftover from making this dress) for the exterior and a sheer cotton handkerchief cotton as lining

PATTERN:  an unprinted New York #273 pattern, circa 1938, for the dress and (at left) Vintage Vogue #8812, a 2012 reprint of a year 1940 pattern, for the bolero jacket

NOTIONS:  What I used from on hand was thread, bias tape, snaps, bra cup liner, and bits of interfacing.  I bought a specialty Tim Holtz brand orange buffed metal exposed zipper for the back closure and some bright orange flower clearance buttons close up the back neck.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This set was finished in early August 2018 after about 30 hours spent to make both items.  The bolero took only 4 or 5 hours to complete out of the 30 total!

THE INSIDES:  Both are cleanly bias bound on all edges

TOTAL COST:  $20 or under

From seeing full-skirted, halter-style garments paired with a separate cover-up pop up again and again in between 1936 and 1940 respectively, this is seems to be a short-lived (but popular) sports and leisure set.  I’ve been saving pictures like nobody’s business of these types of sets, entranced by the style they exude even when doing things that are meant for fun, health, and relaxation.  I admire how the 1930s brought fashion into all aspects of life, and I mean fashion that is just as spot-on and put together as dressy wear.  Women were heartily encouraged to be active, healthy, and powerfully self-assured with themselves, and it showed in what they wore.  Thus the popularity for halter bodices which display a confidence in baring strong shoulders and arms!

Very bare backs and free shoulders were so popular in the 30’s.  They had a different air when coming from an evening gown design, but for these halter-neck garments it left full movement for tennis and golf, two of the sports women are mostly shown enjoying in such outfits.  A bolero makes such a skin-baring garment more presentable for a greater variety of occasions, as the 1930s – for all its high fashion – still made things so smart and useful.  I find my little bolero perfect for going indoors where air conditioning is almost always blasting too cold and it makes my dress fit to be seen as respectful in a church!

Both pieces were pretty easy to make – the bolero more so (obviously).  Both the dress and jacket, however, received much hand stitching so they were more time-consuming than could be expected using only my machine.  I wanted them to turn out well!  The bolero is something I want to last me many years, especially since it matches with almost everything in my summer wardrobe, so I needed to do the hemming and edging by hand.  The sundress’ denim makes any thread color very obvious, which would be okay on jeans or something meant to be a lot more casual than this, in my opinion.  No visible stitching elevates it from a mere handmade to something nicer, I think, and aligns with the quality and time-honored construction methods used on garments of the 30s.

Both patterns came together without a fitting hitch.  The bolero was rather a no brainer-type of make because I had used the pattern once already to make the matching sundress (see the dress’ post here) and I felt assured (rightly so, it turns out) of its success as it is so simple.  The dress somewhat made me nervous because New York patterns from the 30’s and 40’s seem to have funky sizing and proportions, in my experience.  They seem to have small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  Again, I was right with my sizing estimate and besides a small, extra ¼ dart I had to add to the side bust of the halter bodice, my dress turned out fitting me perfectly.

I did not have to worry about this New York pattern’s shoulders (as they are open), but the dress did come down to ankle length unhemmed.  Three inches were cut from the bottom and I gave the dress a deep 4 inch hem, which ends up nicely weighing the skirt down ever so gently.  It is now closer to a late 1930s midi length…perfect for keeping my knees covered when running or sporting or climbing in and out of public transportation vehicles!

I simplified the one pattern and had to fill in for the other.  Old patterns do not generally give you all those fussy tricky facing pieces or edge finishing guides that you get in new patterns.  In many cases, even the reprints or re-issues such as Vintage Vogue have drafted those pieces for the patterns sold today.  I normally do not like those facing pieces and much prefer a full lining, but sometimes they are needed.  For the dress, I used the edge facing pieces to cut out the interfacing and ironed that to the lining.  Then the entire “second bolero” in the form of the sheer cotton lining was put inside and stitched along the edges.  Bias tape used to turn under the raw edges.  The dress tissue had no pieces for anything besides the dress itself, and the instructions call for bias finishing, which I did.  The back neck closure needed something much more stable then edge finishing so I used the last 5 inches of the halter strap pattern to trace out a double.  Then I interfaced it, sewed it down (right sides together), and turned it under for a full facing that is clean and fully covered right or wrong side!  Old patterns trust you to either know what you’re doing or to figure out what needs to be done, and I find this confidence in the user is great for advancing or keeping up one’s sewing skills.  Just don’t let this feature of old patterns turn you off, please!

Yes, I did quite change up the back of the dress…but who would really want all those buttons to close blindly reaching behind or poking uncomfortably over your backside?!  Also, too, with a zipper – and a modern exposed one at that – I can both get the dress to fit me more snugly and update it to seem current.  I merely sewed up the back along the center front line which ran through the buttons and button holes.  Along the same thought, I made the back neckline of the halter close with two heavy-duty, large snaps.  Two buttons over the top of them create a deception.  The front bottom half of the dress was changed for the better, too, because I left out the center front seam to the skirt, lining up that former seam line with the fabric’s fold to end up with a beautiful bias half circle.  The motion to this skirt as one piece with no seam and the way it flows with me to keep me covered as I stay active is fantastic – the very reason this is a sporty dress.

The collar points were made according the pattern and turned out atrociously long and out-of-place.  They hung out over the edge of the dress and onto the front of my upper arm.  That would not do!  As I had no more scraps to cut recovery pieces, nor did I even consider the laborious task of total unpicking, I took the imperfect shortcut of folding the collar in half into a better (smaller) shape and stitching it down by hand to the underside.  The perfectionist inside me cringes that I even did this, buy hey – it really does look fine and turned out nice, especially compared to how it was (bad enough that I didn’t take a ‘before’ picture).  This ‘fix’ caused so much extra hand-stitching, but it was still better than unpicking and starting over.  I wouldn’t have had my dress done in time for the trip if I had done the proper way of fixing the collar.  It’s always better to have something you are happy to be wearing – perfect or not – than put yourself through a misery doing things “right” in sewing to the point you are no longer interested in finishing your project!  At some time in the future, I might come back to this dress and do things right, as I do for some of my projects.  When I feel up to replacing that sleeve, adding a pocket, cleaning up a seam, or correcting something done not “just-so” is better than forcing it.

To keep things simple and modest for wearing this halter, especially since the denim is so lightweight, I sewed mesh brassiere cups into the dress for an all-in-one garment.  I think I’ve only done such a thing once before.  However, as this outfit was to see its first use on a trip, and I like to be the type of person that travels with one suitcase (NOT a “bring the kitchen sink” type of person), a bra sewn in the dress was a wonderful detail which made my life easier…and more comfortable!  Now that the trip is past, I find myself reaching for this dress again and again because of how nice it is with the bra cups attached inside.  The middle netting between the cups was stitched to the center seam of the bodice, tacked at the bust darts, and the side elastic was stretched and stitched to the side seams.  You really don’t want to tack down bra cups at too many places for a lightweight, unlined dress like this otherwise they will pull at the garment and become terribly obvious.

I already have a weak spot for the late 30’s fashion, and this outfit now makes my addition all the worse.  I don’t know if it’s just because I know the culture’s ideals for back then, but I think that 1930s clothes do still lend a wonderful feeling of empowerment when they’re worn.  They give women a chance to unabashedly embrace their body figure with shapely fashions and offer great opportunity to enjoy playing with color and accessories combinations.  They provide a means to exercise and relax in something just as comfy as modern athletic wear but which is so much more colorful, unique, and feminine.  They are often bold and unusual, but that is generally what is attractive about clothes from this era.  By the compliments I receive on my me-made clothes and the discussions I have with others who don’t sew, I realize people are dying for clothes that are fun, that they can enjoy, and that make them feel like themselves.  The late 1930s does that for me in a special way different from all the other eras I wear.  I hope you’re ready for more fashions from the late 30’s because I have plenty more to come!

Stitching History from the Holocaust

A month ago now, we as a family took our annual trip up to Chicago, Illinois.  It was fantastic as usual, but this time we extended the trip a bit more north to go up and visit Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well.  The main reason for this was because I wanted to visit an exhibit I have been interested in for the last several years, “Stitching History from the Holocaust”.  It was being presented at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum – a beautiful, peaceful place off of Lake Michigan – until September 16 so sorry for the very late notice if you were interested!  It was too good of an exhibit not to share, and so I hope this post fills you in a bit if you have not seen it yourself.  I do believe the exhibit will be traveling to three states within the next year, though, so check their website’s schedule  if you want to see this for yourself!

Hedy and Paul Strnad

The exhibit tells the stories of several different unrelated families who had a link to both the sewing craft and the town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  However, the primary focus is on Hedy Strnad, a 30 something year old with a talent for sewing and fashion design living in Prague, Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s who perished in the Holocaust.  Despite her and her husband Paul sending letters to his cousin in Milwaukee requesting visas to come to America, along with 8 samples of stunning garment drafts as a proof of professional and business competency, they could not get out in time to survive.  As far as is known, they were still alive in 1943, and could have died months before the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp they were held at was liberated in 1945.

The talent, the contributions to society, but most importantly the people’s lives lost in any human genocide is such an irreparable tragedy.  Personal stories ended before their time can and will never be completed.  Most of the time, as if the case with Hedy and Paul Strnad, there is no body, no certain date of death, and only vague sense of closure.  I’ve realized all this and took it to heart before I visited the Jewish Museum in Milwaukee.  However, this particular exhibit really connected this aspect of the past to history for me in a way nothing else has done before, and brought the Holocaust to my sensibilities in a very realistic and touching manner.  It was not just because of the sewing aspect either…although I will admit that did help me bond to it!

You see, my great Grandmother’s parents had emigrated over here from Czechoslovakia in the late 1800s before the turn of the century.  My Czech heritage (on my mother’s side; I’m German on my father’s side) is an important part of life that we still keep up by attending ethnic dinners and keeping in mind some of the old country habits and words that my mom remembers from her “Baba”.  Even I remember her making homemade spatzles and kolachkes all the way up to when she was 93…she had a long life.  I can’t help but wonder if my mom’s distant relatives had waited to come over, if things might have been similarly frightening and miserable for them as the stories I read in the exhibit.  It also makes me proud to find out – after all these years – that my culture has such a wonderful, if rather unknown and underappreciated, standing in the fashion scene!  Now, at least, we can now see and appreciate what was the ingenuity of a strong woman that was Hedy Strnad and get a small taste of what had been the strong fashion scene of pre-WWII Prague.  I’ll bet Hedy never would have thought she would be as well known in the 21st century as she is!

As simple as they look at first glance, there is incredible detail and ingenious styling to all of these outfits…our photos do not give them justice.  Hedy’s garments are a stunning example of how the couture scene of the independent pre-WWII Czechoslovakia (1920s & 30’s) was lively and renowned. Prague couture was known for its precision, craftsmanship and elegance; it was completely current with international style trends (thanks to local couturiers visiting fashion shows around the world, purchasing design rights, and importing trims, fabric, and women’s publications) yet still maintained a strong Czech flair.  It seems that many socialites and Eastern European actresses who didn’t want the avant-garde styles of Paris, or thought that America was just either too casual or heavily influenced by Hollywood (and London, well they excelled at menswear then), considered Prague to be the place to find tasteful, chic garments.  If you’re curious, read up on Hana Podolska and Oldrich Rosenbaum for just two examples of star fashion houses.  Prague’s burgeoning film industry made explicit the link between the possession of fashionable clothing and elevated social status for Czech people of the late 30’s. The city’s rapidly developing high society required clothing that expressed and symbolized its lofty European ambitions for its future.  Now Prague is the last thing on anyone’s mind when it comes to fashion.  It’s so sad.  I can’t help but wish such progress hadn’t been ended – I would have loved to see what would have come of it!

From the top rung to the bottom of all of this, thoroughly modern Jewish men and women were drafting, making, and marketing Prague’s fashion scene – not just associated with mending or second hand selling as they had been before WWI. Traditional Jewish values of modesty and such were ‘updated’ to be on par with a smartly dressed woman of 1939 – full, bias knee length skirts, high and draping or tie necklines, and good tailoring that shows off a slim and athletic body ideal for the time.  Such assimilation into everyday culture around them protected many Jews in Bohemia – some were immune until their business expired after the events of February 1948, but most were either sent to the “ideal” concentration camp Theresienstadt, or their demise came when their country fell with them.

When you think about American fashion of the late 30’s, I realize that things came full circle.  If American fashion was considered too sporty or too dressy, at the same time late 30’s women in the States were also wearing clothes in the style of the distant cousin to Bohemia – Tyrolean hats, belts, jackets, and dresses.  Before the end of World War I, many designers in Prague that blossomed in the Interwar Period (1918 to 1948) gained at least some of their experience in Vienna, after all.  It’s funny – other countries’ influence on American fashion was prevalent, even into the mid 1940s (at the latest) but those other countries were working hard to define themselves through garment styles and find their own niche of styles and creativity that set them apart.

As was stated in the exhibit, no one really knows whether Hedy Strnad was part of a bigger design house or in charge of her own independent business.  Prague fashion operated much in the same way as they did in France at the time of the Inter-War period.  After all, the French designer Paul Poiret was legendary in Prague not in the least because he had staged fashion shows here during the 1920s!  A couturier (usually the owner) headed each “house”, setting the style of the company and managing a team of designers, illustrators, saleswomen, models, cutters, tailors, dressmakers and seamstresses.  In Prague, though, the largest fashion houses were family affairs, with sons, daughters and spouses all joining in.  To see the rest of Hedy’s designs – the other four outfits – please visit my Flickr page here.

For most of us of today who do sew, it’s either a hobby, an interest, a job, or a something which fulfills our needs. But once you have read the story of “Jack Marcus’ Sewing Machine” and how he was sewing to survive death, you will never take the talent for granted.  This is the first story presented in the exhibit and it could not speak any stronger for itself.  I will end my post with a condensed version of the text from the card next to this amazing vintage sewing machine.

“Jack Marcus of Warsaw survived the Holocaust by perseverance and sewing for his Nazi captors. At 15, Jack fled and hid at his mother’s insistence when all the Jews in his hometown, including his family, were loaded onto trucks for execution. Knowing useful work was essential to his survival, he went to a labor camp where his father had been taken to die. Jack was soon transported to Auschwitz where he was forced to sew caps for his Nazi captors, and practice on their clothes the tailoring skills he learned from his grandfather. At the end of WWII, a battalion of American soldier liberators employed Jack as their tailor. Jack was then able to immigrate to America in 1947, and settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1950 where he met and married Marlene, whose family had fled from the same Polish town before the war. He continued his profession as a tailor. One of the first things he bought with his own income was this Pfaff model 60 sewing machine. After more than 30 years as his own boss as a tailor, Jack retired and devoted himself to speaking at schools about his Holocaust experiences and doing community work. Jack Marcus died on January 25, 2017 at the age of 91.”  His experience is another thread in the incalculable patchwork narrative that is “Stitching Histories from the Holocaust”.

 

Dust Bowl Dress

Of all the times that were tough to live through in the last 100 years of American history, it was the 1930s in my opinion.  Yes, the 1940s were no doubt hard as well with the rationing, and every decade has its struggles and challenges, I am sure.  From what I heard from my Grandmother and from reading old periodicals of the times, however, it seems that the 1930s was a struggle just to make it through each and every day.  There was an alarming lack of jobs, and therefore a battle to get the money and food you needed.  It challenged all ages to see how much you could do without and yet still survive, with the goal of ‘making it’ although (for much of the Depression) no certain end was in sight.  The 1940’s at least had ‘the war’ and ‘those serving’ as its definite goal.  Sorry to be bleak but facts are facts to me.

Nevertheless, fashion of the 1930s seemed to generally have the intent of telling the opposite story and conveying an everyday beauty that did not necessarily scrimp because of the pervading conditions of the times.  A certain elegance was expected to be kept up.  All of this was rubbish in the face of the “Dust Bowl”.  It was just clothes on one’s back and a gritty, plain old effort to live, breathe, and eat.  Most of us have seen the famous government sponsored photographs of Dorothea Lange (the picture above is only one of many). If you haven’t, well you should.  This situation in the lives of our poorer fellow men, women, and children is frequently forgotten in the popular 30’s glamour.  Hopefully, such is acknowledged in my newest vintage-inspired sewing of a comfy and very un-pretentious feedsack printed cotton house dress, topped off with a basic, crushable, bright blue hat.

As much as I like dresses, this was out of my comfort zone, even though I have been planning on making this project for the last three years.  I do love useful and practical dresses, because a good part of my life does not call for the lovely, elegant clothes I desire to make and wear.  Thus, when a recent trip to the country we were planning gave me no excuse to put it off any longer, I whipped this dress up (because it was easier than I had expected) and loved wearing it (because it is so comfy and cool for a summer day)!  Of course, no proper 30’s dress for a day in to sun is complete without a hat, I whipped up a wonderful Depression-style hat to match too!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton; Hat – a dense, low nap, polyester velvet for the visible exterior and a poly lining for the inside crown

PATTERNS:  Dress – Burda Style “Drawstring Dress with Peter Pan Collar” pattern #123, from April 2014, for the dress; Hat – Simplicity #8486, the “Snow White” 80th Anniversary pattern

NOTIONS:  Everything I needed for the dress was on hand as this was a long awaited project (mentioned above) – the oversized rick-rack, the thread, and interfacing.  The two buttons are true vintage from the stash of my hubby’s Grandmother.  The hat only needed supplies on hand – interfacing and thread.  The ribbon around the hat is a true vintage cotton velvet supply from my Grandmother’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a one evening project.  It was made in about 5 hours on July 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  As the dress’ fabric was bought a few years before I came up with a plan for it (which was 3 years back) I no longer remember how much I paid for this.  I do know what store this came from though – the selvedge says it is a JoAnn’s Fabric Store Exclusive print.  The velvet was on clearance at JoAnn’s and 1/2 yard only cost me $4.50…and I still have enough for another hat!

Why was the dress out of my comfort zone?  It is just almost too homey and old fashioned for my general taste with most of what I make and wear.  Yes, I this is definitely NOT my first time sewing with a feedsack print (see my first, second, and third here), but this dress style fits in so comfortably with the fabric that my new dress doesn’t seem all gloriously bright and shiny but already broken in, as if it has already been loved and used for some time yet.  This is a good thing, and what I wish more of my makes felt like this, but I am not used to it.  Now that I have such a kind of dress, I don’t know what to think, but the cute practicality, cheery details, and simple femininity of it wins me over to loving it.

 Also, I generally want an authentic vintage style that is just as attractive and wearable for today, and although this is definitely suitable for today and will be worn with a maker’s pride, it is more obviously old-fashioned (the way I made it) than much of what I create.  There is no fashion-forward style I can point out, or designer influence here, just an everyday sensibility and a taste for the finer things on a very utilitarian level.  This kind of dress was what many women wore in the 1930s.  Not every woman looked as elegant as we might be led to think, especially when so many necessary duties of living were much more toilsome than today. (Washing is just one example…machines to do the job still required much hands-on attention and personal time to get clothes clean!)  A dress like this one was what was worn to get done those jobs of cooking, cleaning, and such.  It definitely had it place then and I’m enjoying finding a place for it today, too.  A frock like this makes house work or casual time feel much more elegant than doing the same in t-shirt and jeans for me.  This very appropriately part of my ongoing blog series “Retro Forward with Burda Style”.  It is also part of my one a month” pledge for the Burda Challenge 2018.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was cut out from a downloaded PDF assembled together after being printed out onto paper, but it can also be traced, using a roll of thin, see-through medical paper, from the inserts in the appropriate magazine issue (although the older issues are harder to find).  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

Looking at the finished garment in the example picture for the pattern on Burda’s site, I chose to go down a size for the bodice half and went up a size for the hips.  This was a good move because I have a great fit – originally, above the waist is generous while the hips are quite snug…too snug for the hip pockets in my opinion!  This why I left them out and opted for something more authentic, which also happens to be so much more fun – a fancy patch pocket.  I drafted my own rectangle for this, something about the size of my hand, and then added to the top a parallelogram which was a diagonal half of the square.  This was cut out in both my print and the contrast solid, with both facing one another, so that the point could be pulled down to become pleasantly, complimentarily noticeable, and trimmed with rick rack along the angled edge.  The pocket pulls the grey touches in the dress’ collar and waist ties together as a whole quite nicely.

There were a few things I left out and added on to the dress (besides the pocket). I did lengthen the hemline by 5 whopping inches.  This way I was able to use the selvedge along the hem and save myself a finishing step.  I wanted a dress that was closer to a true 30’s mid-calf length – I do find this length quite complimentary.  Besides, it keeps my knees covered (I’m self-conscious about my chubby knees) and yet is not long enough to get in the way of my ankles.  I also left out the sleeve ties because I disliked the idea of something that fussy.  Trying to fix something on one’s sleeve with the opposite arm is tough – I’ve done that before.  There is enough interest going on in the bodice with the collar and crossover placket that a basic hemmed kimono sleeve suits it better, I think.

The collar came together nicely, but boy was it a long and unusual pattern piece.  I was halfway expecting a very wonky fit, but no – it turns out a lovely face-framing shape which creates a wide neckline.  I love how the wide open neckline prevents this dress from being too conservative, also.  The only minor complaint is that it lays funny in the back half of the neckline.  After I had stitched the rick-rack under the edge, I was forced to sew the collar to the dress for about 6 inches across the center back.  I also found out that the wide open neckline reveals the bias facing used to finish the collar and neckline edges along the inside.  Luckily, I used a matching grey, but this is an important word of warning to anyone else who might consider making the pattern.  Definitely use a facing material that you won’t mind if it is seen because this design makes it visible.

Normally, I am not one for gathered waists, whether they be drawstring or elastic.  Anything that adds bulk at my waist – no thanks!  This was yet another ‘out of my comfort zone’.  However, I gave this one a try and I am quite happy with it.  The instructions had said to sew the casing on the fabric inside (wrong side) at the waistline, as the dress’ only real seaming (besides the sides) are on the upper chest (bodice) – there is one continuous piece for the entire dress body.  Instead, I sewed the waist casing on the outside (visible side) since I had cut that piece out in the matching dress fabric.  Then the tie for inside the casing was cut and made in the contrast grey.  Yet, rather than having the ties come out of the casing at the center front as the pattern directs, I also switched the opening to the center back.  Waist casings always seem their bulkiest at the spot where they open.  The nice casing is mostly covered up because the ties are so long I can wrap them around to the front…kind of like having a belt attached – so easy.

Last but not least, I’m not forgetting the hat!  On its own and how they style it on the pattern cover, this hat does look a bit cheesy.  However, once I had put the ribbon band on, had my hair styled, and wore it with the dress, it looked a lot better to me.  I think you really need to use a quality material for this hat for it to turn out plausibly and not seem like a costume prop.  Otherwise this is a great hat that has just enough of a brim to keep the sun off my eyes yet not be overwhelming.  It is crushable, sized well, and fits nicely on the head.  It was super easy to put together, even with doing a full lining and interfacing all of the pieces.  A hat project this successful that only took a few hours is an awesome win even if it’s not a new favorite accessory.

My major tip to have this hat turn out is to use alternate interfacing.  I used a stiff heavy weight sew-in interfacing and sandwiched it in the brim while I went with a lightweight iron on for the head crown pieces.  This is important – you want the brim to have the most body (you really shouldn’t have a wonky brim here…this isn’t the 70’s).  Yet you need a soft crown that isn’t completely floppy either.  Two weights of interfacing for the different parts of the hat work great.  What really finished off the hat and gave it the perfect fit and shape was doing a full crown lining, too.  In lieu of sewing the lining into the hat when the brim and crown were sewn together, and then finishing the headband seam with a ribbon (as most hats have and as the instructions direct), I merely turned the lining’s seam allowance under and invisibly had stitched it to the edge of the hat body.  Sometimes hat bands can be scratchy on the forehead, and I don’t have the proper Petersham ribbon on hand anyway.  Having the lining start immediately makes sure this hat slips on and off my head without messing up my hair at all and feels quite good on the forehead.  I was able to make the most of the car ride into the country by sewing the lining down while being a passenger!  Ah, the benefits of being a modern vintage seamstress.

As much as we take advantage of our modern machines today – why, I used the sewing machine to make my outfit, the radio to keep my ears occupied while working on it, the computer to see the program for the day, and the car we used to get to the event – I find it funny that the ingenuity and efficiency of the old 100-something year old farm equipment we saw still is a marvel.  And yet, it is these same technological advancements in farming that were blamed for causing the “Dust Bowl” era storms.  The efficient and deep cuts such farm equipment made into the ground broke up deep roots that held the dirt together and made quick work of something much more grueling done by hand giving farmers the opportunity to forget to rotate fields with rest.  This weirdly made me reflect on what the unfavorable aftereffects might be from the technology we take for granted today.