A Few ‘Unmentionable’ Sewing Projects…

There’s been a lot of overly basic sewing going through my machine over the past months – and I’m talking about more than just masks.  The couple that wears handmade clothing stays together…did I get that right?!  Thus, I might as well spice that necessary stuff up a bit to make my practical sewing more interesting.

Not content with once around, the leftovers of one recent refashion plus some lace remnants were enough to eke out a special little sewing for my intimate wearing!  Then, some one yard novelty fabric remnants went towards making some quirky new boxers for my hubby.  Sorry if this is quite “too much personal information” to share, but I am proud of all the sewing I do and this stuff would never be seen otherwise if I didn’t post about it!  (That might be a good thing…anyway.)  I do think these look nice enough to share, especially my pretty bra, and yes – they are brand spanking new at this point.  It’s so hard to show how wonderful these items are without modeling them, but we’ll spare you that!  You’ll just have to believe our words and settle for my beginner’s ability to pull off an interesting flat-lay.  I paired the items with something that recalls the era of the pattern date.  You can see a peek of my silk true vintage 1930s pink bias slip as the backdrop for my bra, while hubby’s favorite vintage 60’s skinny tie and his monthly magazine subscription are the accessories paired for his boxers.

I think it is important to post about making underwear and lingerie so as to show others that it is much easier to make your own basic necessities than you might think.   These items are 100% more comfortable on us and much better fitting than any store-bought RTW items.  No wonder – they were tailored along the way to fit each of us, besides being incredibly personalized with the materials chosen, turning into an everyday treat to wear.  Also, everyone can see how pricey it is to buy quality, name-brand underwear and lingerie.  With remnants and under a yard of material, you can sew yourself something better than RTW at a very low or even free (if using scraps on hand) cost.  It’s a win all around.  Especially when these are such easy-to-make patterns, and vintage designs to boot!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  except for the little bit of lace on my bra, every item shared here is in comfy cotton – each one is just a different variety and weight of cotton (I’ll explain in further down in the rest of the post)

PATTERNS:  the brassiere – Simplicity #8510, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1937 sewing pattern (originally Simplicity #2288); the men’s boxers – Simplicity #5039, year 1963, from my personal pattern collection

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Luckily, I had the specialty bra making supplies already as part of a $1 grab bag of notions I bought a while back at a rummage sale.  Besides that, everything else I needed was basic – thread and elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The brassiere was made –from start to finish – in 3 hours and was made in the afternoon of July 27, 2020.  His boxers were made here and there over the past few months and only took 1 ½ hours each to make.

THE INSIDES:  The insides of the bra are cleanly hidden, encased between the layers, while hubby’s boxers are zig-zag stitched finished along the edge.

TOTAL COST:  Each boxer cost about $2 to $4 (what a deal) while the bra materials are as good as free, being mostly leftovers from something 15 plus years ago.

So – where to start?  At first, the motivation for such sewing was both pure necessity as well as an inability to shop for such things in person (as we prefer).  But you know, what?  Somewhere along the line such basic sewing became more enjoyable.  We normally make sure to save my time and buy such items, yet the amount of 1 yard or less cuts that I have on hand are so plentiful and the perfect resource.  Besides, they both were quick projects that required barely an hour and so were practically perfect for the small segments of time I have for sewing recently!  It is nice to have a fast turnout item in between more complex projects, like the over the top dresses that my pandemic brain has been needing as of late (more on that soon).  It’s wonderful to have a completely handmade wardrobe inside as well as out, and it is also really special to be able to share that feeling.  I suppose doing such would be weird to share with anyone else but a partner, anyway!

I will start off with my selfish sewing.  The 90’s plaid skirt I refashioned to become this 1940s blouse had a basic cotton lining underskirt to it which was left behind.  It was a very small amount, about a half yard wide by about 25 inches long, but in simple A-line shape with only the two side seams so it was as good as a folded fabric remnant.  While it was out and not stashed away yet, why leave that good fabric neglected without a productive idea to match with it?  That would not be me!  So I reached for something that would need very little fabric, be different to make, and be something I could use at a practical level.  The basic ivory color and semi-sheer thickness dictated using the leftover lining cotton for some garment that was not to be seen.

This vintage year 1937 lingerie set has been a pattern I have been itching to try ever since I picked it up when it came out and so it was the natural choice.  Even though I was only able to use the skirt lining for a half set – just the bra (and the leftover fabric went towards two face masks) – this refashion was an immense success that makes me excited to pick up the pattern again and make a full set in a fashion fabric.  This is a very lovely surprise project, and a totally wearable muslin test.

As the lining cotton was a plain ivory and almost sheer (even with two layers), I realized mere dyeing to change the color would not add both a special touch and a bit of decency to this bra the same way layering it with some leftover lace did.  As the pattern is not complex and has very few seams I chose a posh French lace from on hand to layer over the outside.  Wow, does that lace addition really elevate this bra!

Yet, without realizing ahead of time, I found out it is a good thing that the lace was so delicate and the cotton was so soft and thin because it was quite hard to gather the middle seam of the bra down to the length the pattern intended.  As it was, I could not gather any tighter and that spot is still ½ inch longer than supposed to be.  If I had used a fabric any thicker this detail would have been even more difficult.  It is important to get this section as closely gathered as possible because it provides the bulk of the bra’s shaping, beside the small underbust darts.  The lesson learned (without having to recover from a failure) is to keep to lightweight, thin, and drapey for at least the brasserie half of this vintage reprint design.

Other than the challenge presented from the fabrics I was using, this pattern was a breeze to sew.  I found the size spot on and the instructions good.  The shaping of the bra is well done and the support is gives is just enough to do its job while still being comfortable to the point of feeling heavenly.  Of course you can see I upgraded to modern bra notions when it came to the notions used just so that this can be a vintage merge to get the best of both worlds.  There are times where I like to go all out vintage so I can both learn a new, different way of doings and also come from a historical perspective to try to understand how things used to be.  I did that already, however, for this earlier 1930’s lingerie set (posted here).  That aqua bra was finished the way the old vintage instructions dictated – with twill tape straps and such in the non-adjustable manner – and it needs constant tweaking to be brought back up fitting me as perfectly today as it did when I made it.  This time, I was determined today’s pretty little project was going to be more enjoyed than the last vintage lingerie, and what better way to do that than make it fully adjustable for my body and a touch more up-to-date?!

Next comes my unselfish sewing project!  This trio of boxers were very much mindless sewing I really didn’t have to think about how to construct.  They were pretty much the same as the 1940s pajama pants I had made him (posted here).  To save on interfacing for the front fly, I merely tripled up on fabric layers.  Interfacing and elastic still seems hard to come by, but luckily I had a pretty good stash of 1 inch wide elastic from my deceased Grandmother.  Thus, with the exception of the first pair of boxers I made for him – the animal print ones – which were two channels of ½ inch elastic, all the rest were a single piece of wide stretch waistband.  The instructions said to make two channels, but he seemed to find the dual channels of elastic would twist and line up wrongly as they get worn, so a single wide elastic waistband is always less fussy…and who wants fussy underwear?!

I gave myself a bit of a break when laying out the pattern for these boxers.  I laid the lower bottom edge out along the selvedge to save myself a bit of extra time to do hemming.  Also. I cut them opposite the grainline to save on fabric and better align with the directional prints on two of the boxers.  All of the pairs are cotton wovens that are not shifty and so going a bit against the rules of sewing and fabric isn’t a big deal, especially when you’re talking about mere underwear.  I normally never do such a thing so I was really in a special mood for such a disobedience to happen in my sewing projects.

Each pair is a different weight and kind of cotton.  As I said, I was not only using what was on hand but was experimenting to see what he would prefer.  The animal print ones as a tissue weight voile, the Captain America print is a medium weight quilting cotton, while the red print is something you might recognize, leftover Indian block print from making my sari ensemble choli blouse (posted here).  The Indian cotton was actually my part of a deal he made with me.  He encouraged me to not be feeling bad for placing a big fabric order from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy (yes, I honestly sometimes feel guilt for adding to my already generous sized stash of sewing supplies) as long as he gets a little something made for himself out of it.  I said I would use one of the fabrics to make him boxers, because I know how luxurious Indian cotton is, and underwear is the best way to appreciate good material.  It seems this is his favorite pair on account of the fabric – it is almost like a silk in the way it is very breathable, cooling, and weightless.

The voile is lightweight, yes – but not as silky the Indian cotton.  I know, he put up with me sewing him the animal pair, but I couldn’t help but think of Tarzan when I saw this one yard remnant.  Those were my crazy choice and my hubby has humored me.  The quilting cotton is a thick and tightly woven, as I’m sure many of you know (us vintage enthusiast always get tempted by its pretty prints for day dresses!), that has way too much sizing in it so it’s not the best choice for underwear.  Many washes will fix that eventually and break it in…and by then it might be looking almost worn out.  Ah, yes, I have a love-hate relationship with printed quilting cotton.  Yet, the Captain America print is so darn fun it has to be the winning boxer pair, though!  It is a print that is practically made for our family interests.  I actually ordered enough of this official Marvel brand fabric to make several face masks for each of us, with a yard still leftover to sew some pajama pants in the future for our little guy out of it as well.

The frequent wearing of loungewear along with finding ways to be self-dependent both are having a strong moment this year.  As we are all staying at home and outdoors more frequently, whether for work, play, or eating.  Crafting your own ‘unmentionables’ for your own personal comfort and enjoyment might just become as much of a thing as the “Nap dress” or food canning.  I love to be on trend using old trends.  Drive-in movie entertainment is coming back, so hey – anything is possible!

Handmade lingerie is really not as impossible a task as it might seem at first, and it is a fantastic way to use up small fabric scraps and bust that stash you’ve been holding onto, as well as be as sensible, sustainable, and thrifty as possible.  Besides, the holidays are coming and a handmade intimate garment would be an easy and cute little gift – just saying!  The world will never know how handmade your outfit really is when you make your own underwear…it’s merely a little undercover secret about your modern day superpower.

Metamorphosis

There can be no other garments to the home seamstress that feel unattainable, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than couture garments created by history’s greatest designers.  As beautiful as they are and after sighing over many for so many years, I recently was also thinking – why just gaze on such garments as a museum artifact?  Surely they are not being preserved, archived, and presented just to be admired a hands breath away or be a picture of what you read about in a book on fashion.  Could they be there not just to learn from but also to motivate one’s personal creativity?  Could they also be seen as a challenge to be understood?  How else to recognize or appreciate such stupendous, unrivaled garments unless their mysteries are deconstructed?

With these thoughts, I am now set on admiring such garments in a very tactile way, such as attempting the recreate one-off couture garments according to my own personal taste.  I am by no means claiming I’m in the same position of skill as history’s famous designers, nor do I see this as detracting from the uniqueness of the original garments of such designers when done with the proper respect and credit to the individuality of the existing garment.  An original piece from its maker is and will always be unique and unrivalled in matchless worth.  However, by trying to think like a designer towards both the sewing craft and the personality of fabric offers many opportunities to learn and advance personal ability.  But most importantly, there is the pure fact that by doing so, only increases the value of couture items in the eyes of one who tries to truly “copy” them, helping a sewist to realize the pure genius of designers and couture creators…details that others who know nothing of fabric are completely unaware of.  I have already successfully made a Vionnet design.  That was an amazing eye-opener.  Now, I’ve made my own version of Schiaparelli’s summer of 1937 butterfly dress and mesh duster coat.  Metamorphosis from the oppressive ‘shell’ of conventional home sewing habits like the insects on the garment I attempted to recreate is so redeeming and exhilarating.

I do feel as if I ‘broke free’ with this post’s make.  I did a whole lot of self-drafting and re-designing of existing patterns from the same time period which I loosely used as my base starting point.  I started with looking at a garment, understanding it from Schiaparelli’s perspective, then constructing from there. This method is a departure from the “normal” …”what pattern do I pick for this fabric” or “what fabric would go with this pattern” and following directions.  As I mentioned above, it was a very great learning process, but it also helped me see proportions and details of garments in a revealing way – this is the most important lesson I’m taking away from this, besides ending up with something so very close to my ultimate dream outfit!  Yet, for as wonderful as I feel wearing this, my face might not show because I was trying to imitate the emotionless stoicism of the classical-style 1930s designer photo shoots.  Believe me, I’m elated inside!

As this is my own knock-off interpretation of a designer garment, this is part of Linda’s “Designing December Challenge” at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  In this case however, from what I have discovered in my research on this particular set from Schiaparelli, my inspiration piece was not actually “designer” in the garment production sense of the word, not even made for commission.  It was a couture creation, a one-off, no-duplicates outfit made for her own enjoyment, herself to wear, and for fashion statement purposes, expressing the inner artist that she was.  If you would like to more pictures of her original outfit, visit my Pinterest board for that here.

For all that the butterfly print stands for on its own (more on that just below), I personally see this set as symbolizing a lovely elegance half confined, half complimented by the mesh duster coat, like a beautiful creature caught in a net.  The hood adds further restraint with an air of shy mystery, as beauty does not always like to be put on display, merely only respected for what is inherently is.

Fabric is here both full, flowing, and unrestricted yet also structured at the same time.  Fashion can be restricting or freeing, depending on how you wear it, choose to clothe yourself, or follow society’s expectations.  We tell others about ourselves by what we wear without ever needing to make a sound…let that message be a beautiful one that’s exactly what you want to say.  This outfit says a lot about how I feel in my current sewing skills and where I’m going.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is in a thick yet soft premium 100% cotton, a M’Liss brand print from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  The mesh duster coat is made of a Kathy Davis brand knit, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.

PATTERN:  Patterns I loosely based my own re-drafted designs on were – Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (made already – see the blog post); Butterick #8078, circa 1939; Simplicity #8447, a modern reprint of a 1940 pattern; and Hollywood #1391, a Glenda Farrell year 1937 pattern.

NOTIONS:  All I really needed was pretty basic – thread, interfacing, hook-and-eyes, and some ribbon from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 20 hours (not even counting the many hours drafting and tracing out patterns) and finished on August 1, 2017.  The mesh coat was made in another 20 plus hours and finished on August 19, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw to keep the bias free flowing, while the coat’s seams are finished by being covered in grosgrain ribbon to keep it clean, interesting, and stabilized with a hint of contrast.

TOTAL COST:  The mesh knit for my duster coat was bought over this past summer for about $30 on sale for the 3 ½ yards I bought…it was expensive but so worth it!!!  The butterfly cotton for my dress was bought at least 5 years back when I first had the idea to somehow make my own version of a Schiaparelli outfit.  After that many years back, I don’t remember cost, but knowing the price of M’Liss cottons I’m supposing about $12 for 3 ½ yards.  The rest of the notions I needed only cost a few extra dollars so I suppose my total is about $45, spread out over the course of several years.  This outfit has been so long in coming!!!

Butterflies were one Schiaparelli’s trademark symbols that she used on many occasions, along with her penchant for postal stamp prints.  Butterfly prints were one of the many custom printed fabrics made exclusively for her to create with and 1937 was a big year for it.  All in butterfly prints, she also made a simple dark crepe evening gown, another dress in a less formal “waltz-length”, a butterfly parasol (which you can see in some pictures we recreated in our own way), scarves (of course, she loved scarves!), and a suit jacket.  Wow!  That’s at least half a dozen butterfly creations in one year, counting my own outfit’s inspiration piece.  The next year, in 1938, she created an insect necklace and in 1940 she created an evening dress with a dramatic butterfly bodice.

Butterfly prints and embellishments have been and are still quietly but perennially popular even today, all thanks to Schiaparelli I would like to say.  See this beach set from Versace’s Spring 2018 RTW, or Moschino’s Silk tie-neck blouse for just two examples of butterfly prints for the year ahead, and this Burda Style magazine page from July of last year (2016) for a look behind.  Alexander McQueen is another well-known modern muse for the butterfly trend.  There can be found random examples of butterfly prints from most of all past decades since her (my favorite is this one from the Harper’s Bazaar in 1942).  Although insects were added on many ladies gowns in the earlier Regency period (roughly 1810 to 1820) as well, up until the last 70 years insects were seen as something oddly repulsive and unusual to have on women’s wear.  So, technically she wasn’t starting anything completely “new”, just finding a whole new way to express it to a receptive audience at the perfect moment in time.  People seem to have moved on from a fabric print or clothing decoration reminding them of creepy crawlies on their body.  I’m assuming that the popularity of butterflies in fashion has been lost in the muddle of frequent use and is not manifested for the same lovely reasons as the ones Schiaparelli for which was entranced by the transforming creatures.

Elsa Schiaparelli felt that she herself and many of her friends and clients did not have the expected societal norms of beauty in face and/or figure.  The manner in which one has to wait and see through the unsightly caterpillar stage to see the final gloriousness of the flying butterfly stage gave a message of internal beauty and hope for redemption.  Also, a butterfly was also seen to mirror the work she could do with her garments – the way a well-designed and expertly constructed piece of clothing can transform any body into something only imagined is indeed magical!  Besides, there was the Surrealist movement’s influential touch, of which she was a major participant in as she was friends of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray, often collaborating with them on sewing projects.  The Surrealist movement wanted in itself to challenge accepted notions and ways of thinking, and find new outlooks of seeing everyday objects and situations in a new light.  Using butterflies showed their desire for change, offering the unexpected in a background others can generally relate with in a way that dares our set conceptions.

My own fabric is admittedly not entirely butterflies – it also includes dragonflies.  However, I see this as very appropriate and only adding to the message.  Dragonflies also undergo a sort of metamorphosis – they live a good part of their lives as ugly, mud-colored slightly monstrous looking nymphs or naiads in the water.  Then they come out of the water to break from their shell complete with beautiful, sun reflecting wings to enchant us with their color and agile movements.  Sadly, the stage that we know them by out of the water is the end of their lives, only lasting a few weeks or so of bittersweet beauty.  My fabric is also only a basic cotton, while Schiaparelli’s original sundress was a fine silk satin.  If these facts don’t further embody the whole “transformation of understanding loveliness” ideal, I don’t know what will.

From what I have seen on juniors and teens patterns of the late 1930s, Schiaparelli butterflies were popular in print and style suggestion with young fashion.  I have seen several patterns with giant poufy sleeves which are gathered down the middle to resemble butterfly wings at the top of the arms.  This McCall #9335 pattern from July 1937 is the best example of young ladies’ Schiaparelli inspired style!  In fact Schiaparelli’s style in general was popular with the youth and it makes sense that the younger people (besides her rich socialite clients) would be happy and willing to accept her idealism. Thus, I found it appropriate to use another junior misses’ design, a Butterick #8078 pattern from my stash, as the base to adapt and redraft my pattern for this sundress’ bodice.  Butterick is a year 1939 juniors ensemble which reminds of the style of Schiaparelli (in the late 30’s Butterick came out with a few “designer inspired” patterns).  It is very similar to her fascination for playful yet structural interest around the neck, face, and shoulder line that would reoccur every so often (see this 1948 winter set with even more exaggerated features than my sundress).

It was the neckline that takes the main interest and was the greatest challenge to making this dress.  I had to put myself in the mentality of working with the nature and drape of the fabric to figure out how part of it can be so structured yet supple, with the rest flowing on the bias.  In the end, I interfaced the edge about 5 inches down from the neckline edge, and faced it.  Then a self-fabric, interfaced strip was attached underneath to invisibly hand tack down the neckline rolls.  Interfacing the straight necklines worked out well to keep them crisply linear and support the rest of the long dress.  I have no idea if this method is anything close to how Schiaparelli engineered her neckline, but this was the way that seemed the most simple and made the most sense to me.  She probably made her neckline in some way that would blow the mind.

I realize the original dress had some sort of soft pleats at the front ends of the neckline, where the shoulder straps join.  But as my dress did not seem to like that in the front, I let the fabric do its own thing and keep the pleats in the neckline ends at the back only for a smoother front.  I do love how the wide neckline over-exaggerates the shoulders how have a strong T-silhouette to lengthen the body line in this bias dress.  The original dress had deep armholes and I followed that on my copy to have the free and breezy free arm look of this sundress.  Luckily, though, my placement of the sleeve straps and the armpit dip was adjusted so that I can still wear my regular lingerie!

Schiaparelli’s original dress also had an inverted-V bodice which comes to just above the hip bones at the side seams.  The bodice also has a slight poufy fullness to it at the seam, with a two piece bias skirt below.  I was able to get all of this by redrawing the bodice and skirt of my nightgown Simplicity #3508.  However, to further shape my dress, there are tiny tucks in the skirt where it meets the points of the bodice at the side seams.  This is where I realized proportions are very important to get a specific fit and drape on the body for the desired effect.  I also realized there is no closure needed, amazingly…this is one of the most elegant slip-on dresses I could have imagined!

For the mesh over-jacket, I realize that Schiaparelli’s original was more of an open netting over a tighter, smaller netting.  Mine is similar in styling and ideal, and every bit of luxurious practicality.  I mostly stuck to the original basics of Hollywood #1391 from 1937 (the right year!) to cut it out.  I over-laid the pieces together so that there would be none of the original princess seams and therefore minimal design lines.  The main seams were going to be clearly obvious and showing – that is part of the intended appeal – so I was paring unnecessary ones down.  Where the princess seams had been, I changed the amount of difference to simple darts above and below the waist instead.  As I was working with a knit, and it was only a jacket, this was also a very good fail proof way to sort of muslin this Hollywood pattern since I intend to make another version into a dress at some point!  It was really the easiest part of the whole set to make, just tricky due to the open fabric.

The pointed collar to the jacket needed to be interfaced and have structure like the neckline of the sundress underneath, so I used navy blue mesh tulle netting.  This worked like a charm and indistinguishable!  I also added inner sleeve cap supports of more tulle at inside at the shoulder tops so that I would have uber-poufy sleeves that would obnoxiously stand out on their own just like on the original!

I could not find what the hood on the Schiaparelli original looked like in shape so I allowed myself whatever was available.  The new Simplicity vintage winter and fall 1940 separates was an opportunity to again test out (at least, in part) a pattern I want to make again, and stick to the same time frame of years with the patterns I am using.  I had no trouble making the hood, although I needed to add in an extra pleat to make the neckline smaller.  Only, I liked the way the jacket looked both with and without the hood!  I didn’t exactly want to commit to one or the other, so I made the hood removable!  How?  I added half a dozen snaps along the bottom of the hood to match with other side of the snaps in the inside of the neckline to the jacket.  I will definitely make the next hooded dress, jacket, or whatever I make with it removable in this same way!

The front of the jacket has the option to close with sliding hook-and-eyes.  Most of the time I like it open, or just the one at the waist closed.  When I wear the dress’ matching neck ascot scarf with my jacket on, it really has the summer ideal of winter bundling!  Surrealist contrasts in action!

To complete my outfit, I adapted a long rectangle scrap of my dress’ fabric to have flared ends and interfaced inside with organza for an easy ascot.  My wood and fabric parasol is something I acquired about 12 years back at a re-enactment.  It has a simple floral design hand-painted on a small section of it.  What I did in the blank section to simulate idea of the original matching parasol was to add a handful of my Grandmother’s many butterfly pins and brooches.  Butterflies had been a source of joy and interest in her life, especially as she had a thriving flower garden for many years.  She loved nature and appreciated it in a way I can only wish to emulate.

Butterflies have a way of entrancing us.  Their fragility yet endurance and strength lends a mix that is their privilege.  Their freedom to come and go across our path as they please, to randomly and unexpectedly light up a moment in our life, is no doubt a big part of their charm.  A favorite author of mine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said that “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  I’ll leave you with that.