Living with Coral

Personally, I don’t ever put much weight or mental thought into the chosen Pantone Color of the year.  I kind of think it is some sort of gimmick or ruse to ‘sell’ a certain dye lot, besides being rather silly, if you ask me.  Fashion chosen for the populace through those companies higher up who run the money and production is not an organic trend by the populace, no matter what advertising makes it out to be.  Anyway, never mind my conspiracy theory rant because I am weirdly head over heels for the 2019 Color of the Year choice…”Living Coral” (#16-1546).

It is described as “an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.”  Subconsciously this color is not a new tone for me to sport, but the chosen Color of the Year has opened my eyes to see it is already in my wardrobe and has been part of my fabric choices more than I realized. (This can be clearly seen in this 20’s style dress, my 1954 qipao, ’57 striped sundress, my convertible 40’s pinafore, or even this 80’s style outfit.)  I do love a good bright color but this 2019 color is something with more pop than a pastel but not overly confident.  I feel a softened orange-borderline peach tone highlights my light olive skin.  So, Pantone’s “Living Coral” announcement only gives me a reason to bring out an old favorite color and find original and absolutely awesome way to wear it with my classic vintage panache – with this post’s dress as my first example.  Made with THE goldmine of rare fabric, this dress’ lovely true vintage rayon gabardine shows a unique and special way circa 1949 to incorporate “Living Coral” into more than just summer frocks (a default item made of the color).

The gloomy side of such a happy shade is the facts that the real world living creature of coral is dramatically dying in growing numbers.  I’m not meaning to be melodramatic here, but nature is the original, pure form of color in all its most breathtaking and inspirational sources.  Fashion is a major world polluter and this year’s color is sadly ironic if it is not also used as a source for awareness.  Man-made colors do not level up the bright and glorious shades of nature.  Just think of a Birds-of-Paradise, a butterfly, and a show stopping sunrise or sunset for only a few examples.  What good is it to have the shade of “Living Coral” paraded in paint cans, on garments, and stationary if the real living coral is becoming so bleached out it is now only drab and sickly?  I’ll step off my soapbox now, but as one who is staunchly emotional about sustainability and thoughtful fashion choices, I had to share my two cents.   Let’s turn this Color of the Year trend around to actually do good rather than just promote sales for once.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon and cotton gabardine blend vintage original fabric.

PATTERN:  a New York brand sewing pattern #867, a “Louise Scott” design, circa 1949

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a little interfacing, and a zipper (I used a vintage metal one).  All items were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on November 15, 2018 after at least 25 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  SO nice!  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost only about $20…I got a great deal on the fabric!

What is so special about vintage gabardine?  I don’t really know why it is so rare, but I do know quality modern (as in no polyester) gabardine is hard enough to come by.  Yet I have found some primarily made of cotton over the years and it can be found in many of my sewing projects.  Gabardine fabric is defined as “a smooth, durable twill-woven cloth” and I love how it is durable yet soft and flowing at the same time with an interesting texture when you look closely.  It is one of my favorite fabrics but this vintage gabardine absolutely takes my breath away with its high caliber of excellence…why, it actually has a satin sheen and is not just a solid color!  It is so silky and wrinkle-free.  It was a dream to work with and is fantastic to wear and touch.  The underside is a smooth solid grey and the right side is a very detailed floral pattern with the twill weave showing through.

Looking at the inventory of vintage fabric sellers who can authentically date their products, I have been able to roughly date this material to the late 40’s or 1950s, one of the reasons I chose the pattern I did for it.  Also, American post war fashions did not need the 4-something yards that a Dior style dress would require and I didn’t have much more than 2 yards to work with!  Nevertheless, I did want to pair two lucky finds together – the pattern had been found for a steal of a price during our last trip to the fashion district of Kansas City, Missouri, and the fabric had been a lucky gamble for a reasonable deal bought to support a “Makerspace”.  What went into making this dress could be counted on a “Top 10 Best Finds Ever” list, if I had such a thing.

This dress might look simple at first glance, because it inherently is just that…which at the same time only shows off the smart, quality style of it.  It has details – they just aren’t flashy.  This is to me the lovely epitome of post-WWII New York fashion (and I don’t mean the pattern brand).  American late 40’s styles were so much more sleek, slimming, and subtle compared to the strongly padded, statement silhouettes of French fashion so often used to define this time.  Both had impeccable tailoring and lovely design lines, and I know (as and American) I am no doubt biased, yet to me it seems that there is a great art in being understated.  Dior styles overemphasize both hem width and the hips to create a tiny waist but many American late 40s fashions preferred slimming skirts, longer hems, simple design lines, and relied on details (such as pocket flaps, peplums, pleats, etc.) to softly visually widen the hips.  This latter I see as more universally flattering and working for more body forms versus the former.  I think I can personally work both sides of the post war profiles, but I appreciate the low key appeal and practicality of late 40’s state-side vintage while also enjoying creating it.

So – can we take few minutes here to let me detail the fine points that a camera doesn’t seem to capture very well?  Of course the double hip pleats on each side are the main event, even though you might have glanced over them.  They were drafted as part of the skirt side panels making for two very long and skinny cuts of fabric.  They stand in for a true peplum.  Post war 40s peplums, especially ’48 to ’51 were very low on the body line at and just below the hips much like the pleats on this posts dress.  I was afraid that the print would drown out the detail, so I made sure the hip pleats were not ironed down flat but kept their rolled edge appearance.

The sleeve cuffs mirror the hip pleats.  However the cuffs are slightly pointed under the arm in front of the elbow.  This little drafting point actually helps the cuffs stay folded up and keeps them from catching on things as compared to other cuffs on clothes I have which are straight cut in circumference.  That is smart engineering there!

The skirt is similarly fine-tuned.  I noticed it at the ‘cutting out’ stage when the sides of the center front panel had a concave bottom half, like a very gentle slope outward.  This way the center skirt panel flares out and rolls over the side panel seams from mid-thigh downward…just beautiful and unique.  Such a little difference in pattern shaping does so much!  Not only does this feature make walking elegant and easy-to-move in, but also it’s not every project that the finished garment actually turns out to pretty much have the same drape and qualities as the cover drawing.  Many drawn garment examples (both vintage and modern) only prove to be an idealized or a lame version of the actual draft on paper of a design, and it frustrates my detail-oriented brain to no end that the two don’t match up more often or not.  New York patterns sometimes do get a bad rap (from what I have read) for only offering a colorless sketch on their envelopes, but here, the drawing captured the exact small nuances of this style.  Needless to say, I am impressed.

Hopefully, this dress could fool a fashion historian or curator.  I wanted nice finishings to please myself, but also I felt the special fabric deserved to be made particularly well.  Hardly ever do I sew with true vintage fabric, so I wanted to only use notions and techniques which could be seen on a dress of the era which I was creating.  The only thing glaringly modern is the shoulder pads and maybe the thread I used, the second of which could only be ascertained by someone trained to know.  Otherwise, the French seams, the cotton interfacing, and the vintage metal side zipper do not date this dress as current.  The design certainly won’t!  The edges of the neckline and sleeve cuffs, the zipper, as well as the hem, were meticulously hand-picked for invisible stitching, adding to the subtle high detailing and because the wonderful fabric deserved it (saying it again).  These might also confuse anyone looking to date this garment.  All of this was something of an experiment, and the result brings just making another garment into something at a whole other level.  I actually get giddy just thinking about it.  Reliving the past isn’t old-fashioned or second-rate…it is really fun and a very nice treat.

After all my raving about how the dress turned out, what was not lovely about this was the sizing.  I have made New York patterns a few times now and they have consistently had small shoulders, long hems and very small hips and waist.  This dress’ pattern was the opposite fit.  Of course, the difference is they have been pre-mid 1940’s.  But it is surprising that just 5 or so years later could show such a marked difference.  I have nothing to back my theory up, but I wonder if the New York pattern company had new owners or at least new body standards after WWII.  I know the company did make it to the mid-50’s.  The dress had a very long waist (common for 1950’s dresses), very wide hips, and normal shoulders.  I had graded down to my body size but I had to take out in the waist and below what accounts to two sizes smaller still.  Any vintage pattern never ceases to hold a fitting surprise, I suppose.

Sadly, I have not been able to find out anything on the purported designer of this dress, Louise Scott.  I did find several other Louise Scott New York patterns (from 1950, some of which I passed up) along with this one, and any Internet search I have tried so far only shows New York pattern envelope covers.  Thus, I’m guessing she might have been an independent, small designer hired by this one brand of sewing patterns to get her fashion concepts out there and help their company, which was in its last years of business, step things up.  She might have just been their in house pattern drafter, too, even.  I don’t know, but it is distressing that for as many patterns as Louise Scott offered through New York Pattern Company we know nothing about her wonderfully classy and meticulous designs.

I wore 1950s accessories to emphasize the fact that it could even be a design from early in that decade, or make it an obvious late 40s style at least.  My Grandmothers vintage 1950s black glass jewelry set (bracelet and necklace) pairs with some older, some modern pieces – mid-1940s gloves, a 50’s velvet beaded head topper, me-made sterling earrings, and my decade-old favorite strappy dress heels in black satin.  I believe my handbag might be from the 1980s but it has that classic 50’s style.  Of course, I had to play up the “Living Coral” color in my dress by tying a vintage 40’s silk scarf to my purse.  It also doubled as very pretty neck scarf that day.

“Living Coral” is such a versatile and cheerful color, more adaptable than many might imagine, almost like it’s a neutral.  Here, it goes with a blue-undertone grey and the black with cream flecks are a complimentary muted contrast.  “Living Coral” tones were often paired with a ‘dove brown’ or ‘avocado green’ in the 1950s.  Of course, I think  bright royal blue pairs well with coral, too, after making my 20’’s style “The Artist” dress mentioned earlier.  Please, just don’t forget that the real living coral in our oceans need to stay just as bright and just as much in the limelight as 2019’s fashion color is!  If you have another interesting color you’ve paired coral with, do let me know because I’d love to try it!

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Revamp

It’s a new year, and there are another 360-something days to come of fresh memories, novel occasions, unexpected changes, and general happenings to be made for 2019.  In my experience, where we begin the year is normally quite interesting and different as compared to when it ends.  Thus, I thought it would be appropriate to start a new year of posting with a project similar to the way the world rolls from one year to the next…a refashion.  Every refashion is a new beginning for something from the past which is remembered in a different manner by the time it is reworked.  A refashion is a fresh start.

This particular refashion is quite basic and fancy at the same time.  It has been – and now continues to be – my basic “little black dress”, which now takes a very classic vintage spin from the basic modern piece it had been!  This is my fanciest refashion yet, I believe, as well as my most used.  It is comfier than it ever has been thanks to my re-vamp, and it is versatile enough for a funeral, wedding, night out, or fancy party (such as this!).  You name it, and in all probability this dress can step up for the occasion.  To think…all I did was use something I already had on hand!

Of course, the happenstance of finding matching material was the only reason this refashion was possible.  What I needed practically fell into my lap.  This good luck does not come around often!  When such an event does pop my life, I listen and act.  It’s these good chances that help let me know I’m on the right track, especially when they come without my trying too hard to make things happen.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  some sort is polyester knit, thick like a Ponte with limited stretch and more of an open mesh finish at close inspection

PATTERN:  the few skirt pieces I added were based off of a year 1948 vintage McCall’s #7226

TIME TO COMPLETE:  several hours were spent on one afternoon in the summer of 2017 to do this refashion

THE INSIDES:  The original dress was serged stitched (overlocked)…but even my new additional seams were finished to match

TOTAL COST:  $5 for one yard of new knit – the dress I’m counting as free!

The original dress was something that my mom had bought for me through a ready-to-wear catalog when I was in late teens.  I appreciated the fancy neckline and the dressy but forgiving fabric that washes, wears, and packs like a breeze.  She correctly figured that a “little black dress” was something I would find indispensable going into young adulthood.  Now that I am a full-fledged adult (and mother to boot!), these last few years I realized my favorite dress now longer fit me as well as I remembered, but I loved it nonetheless.  Thus, after coming across the perfect material, I took the ‘cue’ given me but still hesitantly cut it open and put it under my sewing machine to make it work for the “me” I am today.

Luckily, the bodice still fit so it was the only part of the dress (besides the armscye) that I left alone for my refashion.  It is an awesome, well-designed upper half, anyway, for being an affordable RTW item!  The square neckline was made with the pleated front middle that I have not seen the likes of again.  The whole bodice was double layered, fully lined in the same fabric as the rest of the dress, and ends at an empire height.  The skirt portion was an incredibly basic two piece skinny and short style which fit like a second skin, probably at least two sizes smaller than the bodice proportions.  I suppose having kids really makes ones hips fill out – I remember the dress fitting like a nice pencil skirt when I first had the dress!  The sleeves were also very basic and extremely small fitting for a ¾ length.

Firstly, the original skirt was cut off (keeping the bodice seam).  I needed – wanted – a skirt that actually sits at a waistline for my idea to work.  Thus, I drafted my own midsection panel to be the in-between connection to the bodice and skirt.  This way there is a defined middle which is more complimentary and classic than an empire dress.  The midsection is double thickness like the bodice, because it has to support a lot…this is a pull-on garment.  The dress is all knit so a zipper would only mess up the fabric, anyway.  I stitched everything in a zig-zag “lightening” stitch so everything wouldn’t pop – only stretch – putting this on.

Next, I cut a whole new skirt back half using my newly bought fabric from the most available vintage pattern…McCall’s #7226 happened to be out at the time so I used it.  It has the basic, common 1940s three-piece skirt rear which I wanted for my dress’ refashion because such a design provides wonderful booty room and hip shaping.  I re-used the original front half cut off of the dress and, after sewing the sides and hem, the new skirt was sewn to the bottom of the midsection.  Now the hem falls at my favorite just-below-the-knee length.  The skirt is the same length as on the original garment but between the better fit and added middle panel, it suddenly hangs better and has more swish in it.  Perhaps this can be a swing dance dress, too!

Finally, the sleeves were shortened.  The original ¾ sleeves were uncomfortably confining around the elbows and the length seemed weird compared to the rest of the dress in its partial refashioned stage.  However, to match the little bias edging along the pleated neck front, I added the same detail to finish the sleeve edges.  The sleeves were cut to end at the horizontal middle between the top of the midsection and the pleated front neck detail.  It’s my mathematical geekiness coming out, sorry!  The short sleeves really make this an all-season dress.

Accessories worn with this dress change literally every time I wear this, but for this picture I chose items I have from some of the people dearest to my heart.  My husband had given me the amazing vintage hat you see on my head last Christmas.  He picked it out from my very favorite vintage shop in town, which happens to be the same place my vintage Cordé handbag is from, as well.  My hat has the label of the esteemed Henri Bendel brand, a women’s accessories store based in New York City which was open between 1895 and 2018.  There is an amazing quality and design to this hat, but it also happily happens to be in pristine condition.  The rich red velvet wraps around, over, under, and through the hat so that it looks different but still lovely from each and every angle.  The thick, black wool is a wonderful contrast to the velvet, lending a richness to the whole hat.  Of course, I did a twisted, complex, fancy hair up-do to match the hat and help keep it on my head!  My necklace and silk scarf (filling in as my bracelet) are from my dearest Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mom had bought me my earrings (black jet in the middle of a twisted gold rope) as a Christmas years back to match with this black dress.

I have had plans on my backburner of sewing projects to make Marvel’s Agent Carter’s Season Two deep purple dress.  It’s the one with the lattice detail at the neckline and sleeve hems that she wears to meet Dr. Wilkes at the nightclub for some dancing and a little undercover information.  The way this refashion has turned out, however, secretly yet strongly reminds me of that dress, and although it is not the same, just might fulfill my frequent “need” for yet another Agent Carter look-alike.  Do you see the similarity, too?

A refashion holds a memory of the past yet starts off with a fresh face and another beginning. A refashion makes the most of what we have and presents a challenge which is only an opportunity for us to shine.  I hope all of you have a fantastic year ahead, with good wishes for some awesome sewing, fun fashion, and creative enjoyment as well.  I have some exciting projects lined up for the next few months, not just for myself either, so I have a feeling my sewing skills and personal style will be taking an interesting turn this year.  You might not see it on my blog just yet, but I wanted to let you know that it’s there and I’m excited.  What are some of your inspirations and motivations for 2019?

Come Into My Web…

With the amount of vintage fashions that I make and wear, you’d think I’d have enjoyed Halloween in some wearable holiday-themed outfit from one of the popular decades of the 20th century – but no!  I always seem to do a fictional costume, or something historical, or just plain fun.  I haven’t ever done anything quite spooky ever, either.  In all, nothing is ever really a garment that I can include as part of my everyday vintage wardrobe.  All that has changed this year with a circa 1949 sultry femme-fatale outfit!  Using Gertie’s newest print, reproduced from a true vintage fabric, and scroll-work felt combined with raw buckram to make a curiously detailed hat, my ensemble is perfect for a jaunt out in the dark, rainy, and mysterious evenings of fall!

This is one of my very favorite, luxurious, and completely unique garment projects.  It was so fun to make a novelty outfit which is not just for an event but also for a season of the year.  The hat was super-easy make, and should work well for other outfits of any season, but truly compliments this set in a way far better than I had imagined.  However, if it wasn’t for the roses in the dress’ print, however, there is probably no way I would be even so much as trying anything with a spider theme.  The buggers creep me out!

The irony is that I added to what the webs were missing with my jeweled brooch – a vintage-style “Webster” pin ordered through “Nicoletta Carlone.com”.  He is not hair-raising, but rather cute (weird for me to say) and definitely glam.  After all – a web without a spider is a home without a tenant, right?!  All other accessories are true vintage items.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Dress – 100% cotton sateen, “Kiss of the Spider Woman” 2018 print from Gertie with a sheer black chiffon for the neckline and a sweet pink broadcloth for the bodice lining; Hat – a felt placemat, buckram hat base crown, and black tulle netting

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4696, circa early 1950s for the dress…self-drafted hat

NOTIONS:  I had all the black thread and bias tapes I needed, and the modern tiny ball buttons (not vintage) were already in my stash.  I only had to buy a zipper for the side seam waist closure!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took about 15 hours to make and the hat was made in an hour and a half.  Both were finished on October 26, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  a combo of French and bias bound seams

TOTAL COST:  About $35 was spent on the Gertie fabric alone, $5 on the chiffon, $2 on the zipper, and $8 for all the hat supplies (placemat from the arts and crafts store Michaels, and the buckram base from the Etsy shop “DanceCostumeSupply“).  $50 is my total.

This is my second time working with an Anne Adams vintage sewing pattern and what I found out from the first time rang true again.  Their designs seem to run quite small.  Just like before, my Anne Adams pattern was a size too large for me according to their chart, but it tuned out fitting me perfectly with 5/8 seams rather than the instructed ½ inch.  As unpredictable as vintage patterns are regarded by many to be, there are benchmarks to be found the more you sew with differing companies and various decades.  I’m not for certain that all Anne Adams will have their sizing off, but two times around is a pretty good confidence booster to know what I’m working with!  Size up with this brand, just in case.

Now, I did start with an early 50’s pattern, but I slightly adapted the design lines to make it more like a 1949 silhouette.  Post WWII fashion is remarkably similar between 1948 and 1952, minus slight differences.  All it basically took to change the date to this dress was eliminating the three paneled skirt front as designed and cutting out a slimmer, swinging, bias cut one instead.  The longer and leaner lines with a longer hem are trademarks of1949, whereas after 1950 there was more emphasis on a tiny waist and full hips (below the bust).  I was mostly copying off of an Aldens Department Store advertisement from 1949 (dated using the 60th anniversary emblem) by doing my adaptation, but nevertheless – the defined spider web print needed as few seams as possible anyway.  This pattern could certainly give what the fabric needed in my mind, which was minimal seam lines with no compromise on lovely shaping for a sultry air to the whimsical vintage print.  This dress sure delivered!

I can’t believe the neckline on this is original vintage.  The cheeky and bold taste that was around back then is much more alluring and lovely in my opinion than the modern baring-it-all fashion that leaves nothing to mystery.  The pieces for the bodice were so very basic, early on I was so doubtful that they would work out at all.  At the waist of the bodice, there are two sets of three stitched-down pleats in the front, and two small open pleats in the back but somehow they do their job turning odd shaped rectangles into something special.  There are small gathers at the shoulders too, though it’s not very noticeable in the sheer material…it just sort of helps to wrinkle up the front neckline a bit.

French seams are the strongest seam possible in such a lightweight and unsupportive fabric as chiffon, so that is what is holding the shoulders – and the body of the dress – together.  Fully lining the bodice not only gives body to the soft fashion fabric but also is a great way to cleanly finish the wide arching neckline where the sheer and the printed cotton meet – with no seam there, it lays nice and smooth.  A little sneak peek of pink that can sometimes be seen of the inside makes it so worth it, too.

The upper bodice from behind is, to me, a very slight call back to Victorian times, when the necklines were high, severe, and replete with a multitude of tiny buttons.  During Halloween, Victorian times seem to be what is stereotypically associated with haunted mansions and creepy, cackling women in frilly black dresses.  There are only 5 buttons here, but still – the difficulty it presents to dress yourself is a goth reference to decadence and stuffy society.  I hand sewed thread loops along the edge to catch the buttons.

I suppose now is a good a time as any to talk about what’s on my head, now that you can see the full details from the back of my hat!  Yes, as I mentioned above, I started with a placement to decorate a dining table, but in my defense it was thick, dense felt after all, too similar to hat material to ignore doing some Halloween shopping one night.  It was on clearance too!  I have always admired the wide hats of the mid to late 1940s which have decorative ‘windows’ or fancy cut outs in their big brims.  Such vintage hats I have seen are either too costly for my wallet or disappear too quickly to act on buying them.  So, as I do with most else in my wardrobe, I make my own version!

The place mat was slightly oval but so is the buckram crown (luckily on hand…I do keep a stock of hat bases “just in case”).  Luckily the crown was just enough to replace the skeleton head cut out of the center!  Before hand-stitching the place mat’s inner edges to the wired crown edges, I did add a double layer of tulle to the top (upper) side to stiffen it up.  The tulle adds a mesh look that compliments to raw buckram plus it makes to hat brim flat and not wavy along the edges like a 70’s slouch hat.  I merely hand tacked the tulle halfway through the felt all around the outer edges, kind of like a very tiny pad-stitching.  Most of the time, the tulle and the buckram base used for my hat are only foundation materials which are not meant to be seen, only hidden under other, better, fashion fabrics to achieve a final end.  By leaving the raw supplies I used exposed, the effect reminds me both of the fragility of a spider web and the physical decay we frequently revel in around Halloween.

Spider web prints seem to have exploded in the vintage fashion scene.  They are incredibly popular and collectable today, so it’s no wonder that several retailers are reprinting such fabric.  It’s a good thing for those of us who sew because we can provide ourselves with what we cannot get our hands on – vintage spider web dresses!  These prints can be found starting in the 1940s, or very late 30’s at the earliest.  Spider web prints seem to have had their high point between the mid-1940s and mid 1950s, but still quietly persisting through the 1960s and 70’s through the work of some bigger named designers.  For some reason, though, the form of stylized web-and-roses print that I have used from Gertie is the one that is most frequently seen.

Although I and the world of today tend to automatically associate spider web anything with the holiday of Halloween, if you look closely at the old original vintage advertisements for such spider web print dresses they specifically are for spring, yet also mention that it is an “all year design”.  I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to “Spider Web Clothes Vintage and Modern” so please visit there and look closely to read for yourself.  It is so interesting to look at the primary sources for this new vintage trend, because when you do, you realize we are looking at it quite differently than they did.  Spider webs for spring?  As lovely as my own dress and hat turned out (if I do say so myself) and as wonderful as it feels to wear this swingy and sexy little number, I think I’ll take any and every excuse to wear this as much as possible!

Oktoberfest “Black Forest” Dirndl

As a girl of strong German heritage, and a lover of vintage fashion, an old-fashioned ethnic outfit to celebrate Oktoberfest has long been on my to-make list, and is now – finally – a reality!  Here’s my year 1942 dirndl! Each piece is separate for ultimate mix-and-matchability, so can wear each on its own in the future or change up my dirndl in the future. This is something I am so happy with…it tuned out every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  Prost!

I was inspired by the traditional late 30’s/40’s “Black Forest Maiden” when making this.  The “Black Forest” is a very ancient, forested, mountainous region in southwest Germany.  It was already being named in Roman times.  The cultural dress and traditions of this region is likewise very old, and the rich dirndl customs associated with it have been around for the last several centuries.  Thus, I find it so sad that an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, temporarily became twisted by Hitler, used to suppress and subjugate women nationally in the late 30s and early 40s.  As a girl with very German roots I recognize that interpreting this can painful, but this is an outfit made to honor a woman I don’t know with a story I will never forget.

At a WWII reenactment two years ago, I met a wonderful, friendly, and knowledgeable man with a thick German accent. As we chatted, I seemed to bring to mind something for him by wearing my vintage garb, and he proceeded to tell me about his mother. She was 11 or 12 when Hitler started his invasions, and the local Nazi Youth Movement chose her as the town’s “Black Forest Maiden” since she had the “perfect” body, hair and eye color. Terrified and crying, she was forced to lead the town’s parades, forced to wear what they chose, and be the “mascot” with her official photo. When I was shown that woman’s picture from back then, in her beautiful dirndl vest, with her stereotypical ‘Gretchen’ braids, she was so sad through that ‘perfect’ smile – that image is burned in my memory. And you think image crafting and body shaming is hardcore today…!  All the advancements that women of central Europe had been fighting for during the 20 years of the Inter-War period (and they were many) were threatened by the Nazi Idea of the model German woman.

I had no idea before hearing his emotional maternal story that a “Black Forest Maiden” was so forced on women and young girls who happened to fit the “faultless” Aryan mold, much like living out a punishment.  As if the way we are made is by choice!  Instead we have been incessantly fed a need to change one’s own inherent individual beauty for ages.  I have read that blond hair dye was extremely popular and encouraged back then for the brunettes, and posters and publications pressured a certain living ideal, too.  There is nothing like a first-hand account from those who lived through those times to get the real stories of the past.  Luckily, I can choose to wear what I want, and be happy celebrating heritage the way I choose in the fall, but making this dirndl reminds that was not always the case.  This is why I did not strictly adhere to the “Black Forest” ideal with my outfit – this is (to me) a freedom-of-expression version for a non-pale skinned, brown hair and dark eyed girl like me of today.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all fabrics are authentic to a vintage dirndl of the times – cotton for the skirt and a ribbed cotton velveteen for the vest, lined in basic broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4230, year 1942

NOTIONS:  I only wanted to use supplies that were on hand already, and all I absolutely needed to buy was the front zipper!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 20 hours to complete and was finished on October 13, 2018.

TOTAL COST:  As everything I used had been on hand in my stash for at least a few years (yay for whittling down my hoard of fabric), and (knowing me) I probably got it all on a good discounted price anyway, I’m counting this outfit as free!

I had the best surprise as I opened up the dirndl jumper pattern, the kind which don’t come that often (and I believe I have seen and opened up a lot of vintage patterns in my life).  This one copy of mine is in top tier condition.  It was still factory folded inside, no discoloring, smell, or brittleness and the trailing floral embroidery transfers were miraculously as pristine as the day they were made – never used and still shiny and waxy beaded up on the tissue paper strips.  I always see transfer papers either missing, used already, or the ink dry and crumbly.  Needless to say I really have no intention of actually using them, but it is neat and rather tempting knowing they are there and fully usable!  Perhaps once my commitment to full scale embroidery is more guaranteed in the future, I might make a copy of these transfers and try the design, but I would have to start such a project two seasons ahead at my rate and I have enough going on in my life.

The bodice vest’s novelty velveteen – already thick, sturdy, and lovely to touch – was fully lined and fully interfaced with sew-in muslin so it would end up almost like a corset, or at least a very substantial jacket weight.  Lining is always such a nice and easy way for both a professional finish and a clean way to finish all your edges and hide all your seams!  It was chilly the day of our town’s Oktoberfest, so my vest kept my entire middle so warm I needed no coat.

As I am a married woman, I have no red trimming (meant for single ladies) and my vest is primarily black.  There is a matching color separating front zipper wedged in the middle to close the front of my dirndl vest.  Happily it is not very noticeable at all.  I really considered a laced up front, but as zippers were the latest and greatest fashion edge in the late 30’s, I wanted this traditional-influenced dirndl to follow suit.  Besides, a simple closing accommodated the fancy trim I planned on using.

The braided trim is complex and dramatic, perfect for a dirndl where your haberdashery cannot be too fancy or your details too scrumptious.  It is a Simplicity brand roll that I had bought on deep discount years ago.  It is something so novelty that I had no clear idea of what to use it on at the time, but as something like this is hard to come by – and normally expensive – I had to have it.  I’m glad I did, because it was meant for this dirndl…the 4 feet on the roll was exactly the length needed to go completely around the front and neckline edge.  Even an inch less would have not worked.  It is a cotton rayon blend of a white satin soutache-style rope braided with multiple strands of twisted black rope which reminds me of what is on decorator’s tassels.  As much as I wanted a quick and easy way to attach the trim down, I put up with hand-stitching it down for a precise placement with threads unseen.  I am in amazement at how this special trim made my dirndl vest go above par. 

My skirt is self-drafted of a 40’s reproduction print.  The color is not as green as I would have liked, but neither is it solidly turquoise.  Whatever the tone, happily my skirt is very much a copy of the skirt and apron colors worn in the West German movie “The Black Forest Girl”, made in 1950.  The story for this movie is based on the operetta “Schwarzwaldmädel” by Leon Jessel, who died in the same year as my dirndl pattern – 1942.

It’s merely your basic gathered skirt, and for a good amount of pouf I brought in just over twice my waist length into a very nice, 1 ½ inch wide, lightly interfaced waistband.  In order to use the whole of my fabric with minimal cutting, I hand-stitched down a 12 inch hem to shape some fullness into the skirt, weigh it down, and keep it opaque.  There is a true vintage metal zipper in the side for an old-fashioned touch.  It should definitely be a great basic wardrobe staple during the spring and summer worn on its own with a tee or blouse apart from this dirndl.  I hope to make another skirt like this one, using a completely different print and material, to see how that changes the overall feel of my Germanic outfit.

An apron is a must with a dirndl!  I am using a handcrafted fine cotton apron that my mom had ordered from a vintage reproduction company, so it is not of my own making, but the details are just what I would want to pair with my outfit.  There is crocheted lace and both pintucks and ½ pleats for more texture and interest to the outfit.  The apron I had on for the day is a very wearable new version that reminds me of the apron I would have preferred to wear (but wouldn’t dare out of respect) – my Great-Great Grandmother’s apron handmade apron from circa 1890 (pictured at left).  This family history treasure was made on her way over to the United States, and the fine details are mind-blowing.  Just studying it is improving my sewing skills by practicing to imitate such tiny, regular feather-stitching on other items.

I do intend on sewing up the dirndl vest’s matching underblouse in a sheer white organdy just like the cover shows, but I ran out of time for this weekend.  It will be made soon, anyway, and be ready for next year.  Until then, I wore a fine linen blouse already in my wardrobe, one that has lovely floral-and-vine shadow work along the neckline, visible above the sweetheart neckline of my dirndl vest if you look closely.  The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother (on my father’s side).

There is heavy German influence on all sides of my family, and around the last turn of the century they had immigrated over (before the First World War, when eight million German-Americans comprised this country’s largest non-English speaking group).  This was at a time when being a “Hyphenated American” was paramount to asking for the finger of suspicion to come to you.  Yet, during the First World War, when Ellis Island immigration was high, about 20 of all Americans who answered the call to arms were foreign born.  Quick assimilation was important to “Hyphenated Americans” for both their safety and because of their likelihood for a successful new start.

Even still, our families have not forgotten our past heritage over the last 100 years.  My dad has memories of going to Oktoberfest celebrations as a child in his little Lederhosen, and his Grandfather – who operated his own bakery for many years – always had stollen and coffee on hand to enjoy with him every Sunday after church.  My husband’s paternal side had originally settled in a city actually called Germantown, with German still on the tombstones and street signs.  Conversely, our relatives did their part for America fighting against the Reich in both wars.  The German influence that still surrounds me in the Mid-Western United States where I live is all good stuff – stately, impressive churches, strong homes made to last, delicious and hearty food, creative micro-breweries, beautiful winery vineyards, and happy, down-to-earth, hard-working people.  So why did I not make a dirndl earlier than now?!

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!