Midnight Celestial

     I love channeling vintage fashion anytime for any occasion but especially so when it comes to evening wear.  Lavish garments from the past just have a classic, graceful elegance that is attractively timeless.  They are also the sort of thing I most enjoy sewing (and subsequently wearing) but I rarely actually have a proper occasion to warrant sporting such finery.  However, exactly a year ago my husband and I had an especially fancy celebratory dinner to attend for his collage which finally gave me a literal reason to sew a new outfit straight from the pages of old Hollywood glamor.  Hubby wore a true vintage 1929 silk tuxedo set we’ve been saving for years.  I went for something close in era and wore a combination of a pre-WWII 1940s velvet weskit blouse with an early 1930s dress in his fraternity’s color!

     I love the title for this post so much – it perfectly captures the aesthetic I have for my outfit.  The rich toned, bottomless blue of the luxurious velvet being offset by the bright twinkle of the zipper reminds of a piercing night sky.  However, the brushed silver of my dress possesses a cold beauty which calms and grounds the deep blue velvet.  Yet, the way the dress’ fabric flows around me like butter at every move or wind gust lays that icy impression to rest.  To me, the night sky can be an equally mysterious, entrancing, and stunning reference for many Art Deco era evening wear pieces.  Alternatively, this set also has me envision a low-lit Depression era society party where the intrigue and cliques are as deep as the heavens at midnight and the only bright points are the diamonds on the ladies and the sparkling of the drink glasses.  Maybe I have just been watch too many old movies!  Nonetheless, I felt amazing but comfortable in what I wore for the evening, and it suited the occasion perfectly.  I hope you enjoy this post as much I myself enjoy the sewing project I am sharing.

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  3 yards of a silver hammered satin for the dress and one yard of a deep blue silk-rayon velvet for the blouse

PATTERNS:  DuBarry pattern #2471B from year 1940 and a French early 1930s “Patron Migaline” no.9, a hand traced out copy that had been given to me by an acquaintance 

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread and one fancy rhinestone studded zipper for the blouse

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took 8 hours to make, while the blouse took 20 hours (due to all the hand sewn finishing detailing).  Both items actually were completed in an even longer stretch than this if you also count the time it took to trace out and resize the patterns.  They were finished in January 2022.

THE INSIDES:  French seams are on the blouse but the dress has interior raw edges as the pieces have so much bias there is minimal fraying

TOTAL COST:  The silver satin had been bought nearly a decade ago at the same time I as the fabric for this 1920s dress (posted here) so I vaguely remember it should have been about $20 for all 3 yards.  The velvet was a clearance discount found online for only $10 (can you believe it?).  The zipper was $9, bought through this Etsy shop.  My total comes to about $40, which is unbelievable for a set like this!

     Let’s start off with the blouse since the details are just the chef’s kiss…so good!  It is not only on account of the high quality fabric I used, but I am sure that no doubt helped me be so completely head-over-heels here.  The pattern technically calls this a weskit, which is an informal word for a waistcoat.  This means it is a fitted front closure blouse that is meant to be left untucked.  The amazing part is how precisely pared down the design is by having the entire front be only two pattern pieces.  The neckline, front panel and the wrap-around peplum is one continuous piece, while the gathered bust and underarm section is the second piece.  Five pattern pieces are all that is needed!  If I have perked your attention over my blouse, the reprint company Past Patterns offers a paper copy this DuBarry design so you can try it for yourself, too.  The listing for the pattern is here on this page.

     For being from the DuBarry Company, this is perhaps one of the best vintage unprinted patterns I have come across.  DuBarry patterns were manufactured by Simplicity from 1931 to 1946 exclusively for F. W. Woolworth Company (the pioneers of the five-and-dime store).  They were almost exclusively easy to sew and unprinted, with many styles for teenage young ladies. They were also catered to a different audience than Simplicity so I am overall pleasantly surprised at how fancy the design, well-cut the tissue pieces, and ingeniously planned is this entire pattern.  I have previously had issues with the poor fit and mismatched balance marks with this pattern line – not this time!  I can’t wait to try the other views!

     The blouse was an easy project decision because I had it planned out and ready to be made ever since I bought the velvet fabric and its fancy zipper back in 2016.  I first had to retrace and completely re-size the pattern up from its very tiny, petite size to my own proportions.  The pattern pieces were relatively few and manageable in size so that went smoothly.  Even still, I measured and checked my tracing a million times along the way and fitted the new pattern pieces around me to make sure I would get this right at the first try…no need to make a muslin here!  For the best of my sewing projects, I like to dive right into the good stuff and live dangerously, relying on good patterning skills to give me the right base to start with from the beginning.  This is why, for as fancy as my blouse is, it was by far the easiest and most enjoyable portion to my evening set.  I like it when I can be in charge of a fitting and tailoring a pattern and know it is going to turn out just as I hoped.

     Of all my sewing projects, this may just be one of the best pairings of pattern to material.  The design adds to the beauty of the fabric and in return the fabric gives an unexpected dimension to the design.  The gathers in the bust panel highlight the deluxe plush shine of the velvet.  The velvet is butter soft at the same time making it so easy to gather, French seam, and otherwise work with.  The inside “wrong” side has a knitted appearance and is smooth and soft enough that I left the blouse unlined.  It is an overall dream to wear.  Unlike other velvets I have, this one acts like a true silk (which it is) more than a velvet.  It is quite breathable and adapts to my body temperature.  It was never too warm to wear, and washed in a cold water delicate cycle wash perfectly with no obvious changes or shrinkage or wrinkling.  It did fray a significant amount of fibers during the construction process, aggravating my eyes, nose, and skin, just like other velvets I have used (with the sole exception of this dress’ velvet).  Yet, as long as the raw edges are finished, spending the extra money to sew with real silk velvet (almost always much more in cost than the steal that I paid) is truly worth it.  

I had always assumed I would have a skirt or a dress on hand that would pair perfectly with the blouse, so I never gave much thought as to what exactly I would wear with it.  I did have several items that looked good with the blouse, but nothing seemed like a ‘perfect’ pairing nor did I have anything which brought the blouse up to evening wear level.  This was the hard part…doing a mind crunch two weeks before the event, trying to find the perfect fabric from on hand in my stash because shipping would take too long.  I naturally felt drawn to my silver hammered finish satin, but I had always been saving that for a 1930s evening gown.  I thought, “Why compromise?” into just making a matching skirt.  So I still made a 1930s evening gown from the fabric, and it still gives off the look of an elegant skirt when worn under the blouse.  This way, I can take off the blouse and have a completely different look of its own! 

     That being said, the pattern itself was a nightmare to deal with.  The copy I was given was on some very unusual paper and the lines and balance marks did not seem to be trued up or consistently straight.  I have no idea how much of this was due to the person who traced it or the pattern itself.  I had minimal instructions to go on (a short summary with an illustration was merely printed on the envelope back) and even that was in French.  My French is basic and conversational, and Google Translate does not recognize sewing terms, so that did not always help me out.  My measurements showed that the pattern’s proportions were short (very petite), but at least seemed to be in my general bust-waist-hips width range. Thus I had to retrace this pattern as well to add in two plus inches – spread out over the midsection – and lower the fall of the bust, waist, and hips.  I am almost petite in height myself, so I am confused as to why it was for someone so short.  If it was for an adolescent, it is surprisingly adult and elegant for one so young.  I was following where the waist and bust were marked on the pattern as well as comparing myself to the illustration to find where the seams should fall on my body.

Interestingly enough, the French text in bold at the top of the pattern envelope back is “Chemise de nuit pour dame”.  Google’s translate app said this line means “a ladies nightgown”.  Wait – what? Is this really only a nightgown?!  Is that too literal of an understanding?  Can this be understood as a gown for night, as in evening wear, or would that have the word “soiree”?  Could the 1930s have merely had an understanding of words differently than today?  People who understand French fluently please chime in.  I am having a hard time believing something this intricate is just for bedtime.  The pattern says it is offered in only one size (size 44) and gives basic instructions to size up and then down by adding or subtracting a half a centimeter at the seams indicated by the dashes.  How thoughtful to add sizing assistance when the construction info is a mere illustration!

     Sizing tips or not, just look again at the design lines, with all the geometric paneling throughout the midsection, and you will understand why I felt like either pulling my hair out or going crazy over this pattern.  I did my best to true out all the corners, points, and balance marks, and with all the additions and corrections the dress’ pattern pieces just barely fit on my 3 yard cut.  Then it sewed up as easily as can be expected for a dress with so much bias and so many tight corners…only to find out that it ran big.  The bias gave this dress a wearing ease that my paper tissue fitting could not account for.  I suppose this may be due to the fact that the pattern is really just a nightgown. Some of the excess fabric was taken in simply by sewing in the side seams.  However, I left the fit generous because I like the way it pops over my head with no need for a zipper or snaps or any closure at all.  It is comfortable and versatile this way, and all I could muster to not completely lose my sanity over this tricky dress pattern.

     For all the problems I had with the design, it is really first rate after all the quirks were weeded out.  The main grainline for the entire length – neck to hem – is laid out on the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge).  Thus the cross seams in the main body which create the paneling are all on the bias.  Every seam that connects together is on an opposing bias grain.  This way even though the dress is on the straight grain it ends up hanging on the bias due the seaming but also doesn’t “grow” in length like other bias dresses once the grain relaxes.  How mind-blowing is this?! 

From the way the illustration on the pattern envelope is stylized (Art Deco text with a model who is slim and tall with slender hips), my closest guess is that this is from circa 1931.  The design itself may be 1930 or 1932 but I do believe it is clearly influenced by the talents of the French female fashion designers popular for the early 1930s.  Most of the 1930s evening dresses were on the bias cut, but this one is true to the French ingenuity of the time.  It makes the best possible use of both grains by using prolific but precise seaming, similar to the practices of the designer Augusta-Bernard.   My set’s interpretation where I use an icy silver and sapphire blue combination is very much aligned with the preferences of another bias cut gown expert of the early 1930s – Louiseboulanger.  The triangular paneling even reminds me of Madeline Vionnet’s bias evening gown designs between 1929 and 1933, as can be seen in the Betty Kirke book under the chapter “Quadrants”, (especially pattern number 14).  The stamp on the corner of the pattern has an address of “Maison Mairesse, 3 Rue Saint-Hubert, Arras” and I can’t help but wonder if that place used to be a fabric shop or a couture house.

     I originally wanted to do this pattern in some stripes or color blocking to highlight the panels and seaming but am glad I didn’t for as challenging as it was to perfect.  The hammered finish of the satin has a consistent nap to the direction of the shine, unlike many other satins so the seams kind of do get lost overall, sadly.  However, the versatile color gives me an opportunity to wear this under (or with) many different other pieces in my wardrobe, like the Grecian rope belt I made for this mid 1930s dress (posted here).  The archeological discoveries of Pompeii (Herculaneum) and ancient Greece that were made circa 1930 created an explosion of classical inspiration for the era’s fashion details, especially the evening or bias cut frocks of the French designers such as Vionnet or Lanvin.  I went with a classical theme for our background setting with the colonnades of the historic “Vandeventer Place Gates”.  I was living the 1930s dream!

     There was a very personal detail I brought along with me on the trip to attend the event in my me-made outfit.  My vintage earrings and bracelet were a matching set from my paternal grandmother.  They are very heavy and so over the top, this fancy event was actually a really good reason to wear them finally, besides being a good match to my outfit!  I think Grandma would be thrilled they accompanied me on my night out, and I wonder where she wore them and what stories they held for her.      

My entire set was certainly a conversation piece the night of the event.  Yet, I was by no means under or overdressed when compared to the rest of the ladies present so I was so happy to have known I made the right creative decision.  I was in great company of people that I could easily talk to as there were many old friends to meet.  It was a great way to prove my capacity in sewing to be able to show off my handmade finery when talking about what I do.  When mentioning that my garments were me-made, often it only became humorous when those folks – who had just enough to drink – would then ask to touch my silk velvet!  They had no idea what silk velvet would feel like, and never heard of such a deluxe material!  The mere thought of those moments never fails to bring a smile to my face. 

This is your message to not be afraid to dive into the good stuff you’ve been saving in your stash but enjoy it.  See how much more fun my best velvet and satin are to wear than they ever were just being admired on a shelf or in a bin?  It is such a great thing when you can make such great memories wearing something that you intentionally crafted with love for a special occasion!

Cranberry Comfort

I feel like I am barely making it through most days lately.  There, I said it.  Why hide it?  I think I speak for many people.  So, all I felt like making most recently was something really useful and unpretentious from my go-to decade of the 1940s.  I have a whole slew of fantastic things to make, all ready to get put together, but they sit there intimidating me at the moment.  Something as basic as my days have been, an item which helps me feel like myself, is all I wanted out of my newest sewing project.  

It has been a long while since I last had a new 1940s shirtdress but I’m back with another one finally!  The way my chosen cotton complements the local fall season foliage cheers me.  The relaxed feel but refined appearance to the thrifty 40’s era design suits any sort of occasion.  Not that I have many formal ‘occasions’ to dress up for anymore, but sometimes that means getting put together for myself because my well-being matters.  My most recent event which called for this post’s dress included taking a stroll through the neighborhood to find this amazing Dogwood tree at the height of its seasonal colors.  I rather wish I could stay hidden in its beauty but the leaves are nearly gone now by the time I write this.  

The color scheme here alone helps me find joy by reminding me of some favorite seasonal homemade comfort food by the rich cranberry color of my dress and the orange hues of the tree.  I love making homemade cranberry sauce with a hint of orange zest (no canned version for us).  Also, there is a fabulous roasted beet and mandarin orange salad I make with a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette poured over a bed of fresh spinach leaves.  Besides, these dishes, there is my yearly “upside down cranberry sour cream cake”, which is a family favorite I try to bake each November.  Mmm – are you hungry yet? 

So excuse me if my palette for this fall is exceptionally inspired by both nature of the moment and what’s cooking in my kitchen, but now you will know why after seeing the dress that started my current color scheme.  Look for more golden, earthy, rustic, rich tones to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print, probably vintage from the 90’s or even 80’s, with the brand of “VIP fabrics inc.“ printed along the selvedge

PATTERN:  McCall #3828, year 1940

NOTIONS:  I used lots of thread, one side seam zipper, and three vintage Bakelite buttons out of the stash of hubby’s Grandmother (There was fourth button to the set which has been sewn down the front of my dress.  It is on an older me-made project – this year 1940 velvet hat, posted here.)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 16, 2020 in about 6 to 8 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was a 3 yard piece out of box of about 50 something different cuts of vintage fabrics, all of which I bought for only $25.  So this was one incredibly cheap dress!

There’s really not much to say about making this dress other than praise.  It was pretty basic to sew but I can brag this is probably my best made collar to date.  The overall dress turned out perfectly without any fitting tweaks needed (although I did grade up in size).  I will get much use out of this because the color, fabric weight, and ¾ sleeves will lend this to being an all-season item so I my 8 hours spent to make it was very worthwhile.  This can be dressed up with pearls and heels or dressed down with tennis shoes or sandals.  The dress is deceptively as comfy as a nightgown but makes me look oh-so-put-together in the blink of popping it over my head.  Altogether, it is nice casual wear that is the golden ticket to versatility – so very hard to find in RTW.  I know I am partial, but my opinion is that the decade of the 40s does this style of dress best!  We are so lucky to be still enjoying the benefits of such smart fashion, born of the trials of the WWII era, in our own times.

The buttons might be the coolest part to this dress, being prized vintage Bakelite notions from the sewing stash inherited from my husband’s side.  They are purely decorative because I was apathetic enough to not even bother to make proper buttonholes.  “As long as it’s wearable…” I felt so very below my normal par.  Honestly, I almost felt bad using them on such an everyday style dress I (nicely) whipped up.  Weird, right?  It’s the kind of the feeling of wanting to save them for something better.  Yet, I really think there is something to letting ourselves enjoy those really special things in seemingly not-so-special settings.  Don’t wait for the ideal tea party to feel the thrill of connectivity when using your Grandmother’s antique china.  Why wait for the right occasion to make yourself up if you think it would make your day nicer?  You are worth it, even if you are just at home.  Enjoying something special in a regular setting is better than never at all.  Yet, as these singular buttons were the perfect complement for this dress, I’m just going to let them be one of the many reasons why I want and need to wear this dress frequently!

My dress’ details are surprisingly low-key given the date on the envelope – year 1940.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are always such wonderful designs but this one is a little different than the norm.  I appreciate the fact that the collar is a lot smaller than the traditional 40’s era overpowering one and the sleeve caps are not as obnoxiously puffed as most from the time.  It slightly bothers my mathematical perfection tendencies that the front overlapping blouse-style bodice leaves the seam off-kilter to the center seam to the skirt.  No matter – I can get over that but I have come to expect a bit more precision from a vintage McCall!  The skirt’s front box pleat and the back skirt’s 3 panel seaming is classic early 40’s feature which keeps the skirt looking slim but gives me plenty of room to move easily. 

At some future date I may come back to embroider an arrow point to stabilize the top seam end where the pleat opens up.  Apparently, I’m expecting to wear this out soon enough!  Such a detail might bring this dress up a par, so until it is needed, I will not add it.  This has to stay a stress-free creation that fulfills a need for the moment.  I also realize now after the fact that a good project which grounds me is just what was needed after all the super fancy dresses I have been sewing in secret behind the scenes…subtle hint for a vintage princess themed series to come!   Not that I have any qualms about going out in a strongly vintage outfit or over-the-top frock, but it is always nice to have something to wear which doesn’t scream my presence as loudly as other new items do in my closet of today.  As I said above, this way I’m camouflaged with my favorite fall tree!

I added something old, something new, and items dated in between the two when it came to my accessories.  My leather woven belt and leather Naturalizer brand heels are from my teen to early 20-something years.  My earrings and watch are late 40’s from my Grandmother, when she was a teenager herself.  However, the one add-on that stealthily steals the show is my handbag.

The purse I am using is a true vintage mid-40’s telephone cord treasure, also known as a “plastic cord bag”.  (See this excellent post at the “Dusty Old Thing” blog page for more history to these!)  The ivory and brown version I have creatively has a different design layout for the cord on either side (which you can see if you look close at the details of our pictures)!  I used to always think these kind of purses were too novelty for me and I never intended to buy one.  The bright red, blue, white, and yellow combination versions turned me off by being so garish (in my eyes).  However, I came across a perfect condition one locally for a steal of a price (they tend to be very pricey) and I couldn’t resist.  Owning one for myself now, I have found a true appreciation for their quality, besides the fun and statement-piece like quality a “plastic cord bag” has to perk up an outfit.  A basic outfit needs a bit of a pizzazz, right?

I can’t just finish up this post without giving you something extra.  All this cranberry and orange colored saturated color goodness can’t go wasted.  I know you are curious about some of my favorite cranberry recipes, right?!  As Thanksgiving will be soon upon us, I’ll give you the recipe I use for homemade cranberry orange sauce.  This is a ‘from scratch’ recipe which is super-easy and it calls for healthy ingredients like applesauce and a touch of maple syrup.  Enjoy and please do let me know if you try it and find yourself liking it as much as I do!  Here’s a toast to all the goodness around us, whether we are able to realize it or not, which is upon us this season.

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!