A Pre-Raphaelite Reverie

My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century.  The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well.  They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail.   It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!

My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan.  The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood.  In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing?  Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one.  The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones.  It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.  

This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries).  Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit.  Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past.  Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony.  Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!

So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown?  I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923.  She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943.  Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum.  They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment.  Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration.  Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.

Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”.  In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year.  This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s. 

Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time.  In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”.  Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown.  Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version.  Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit.  The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch.  More on this further down in the post!   

A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old.  It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all!  I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti.  The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic.  My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark.  However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location.  What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?!  I’m living a dream.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of sheer 100% silk chiffon, digitally printed. Fully lined in 2 yards of all rayon crepe for the dress. The short bolero jacket is an amazing Rifle Paper Company 100% cotton duck (from Spool and Spindle as part of my prize from the 2018 “Designin’ December” challenge) fully lined in a sage green polyester.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern

NOTIONS:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours.  Both were finished in October 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all!  The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business.  The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping.  So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.

Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended.  Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one.  It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too.  It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging.  The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges. 

The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away.  I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch!  I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem.  The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’.  I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train. 

Here’s a close-up of the right side seam bodice gathers.

The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers.  I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable.  This was such close call of a project!

As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice.  It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though.  A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally.  It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone.  At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all.  As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself.  I realize this much.  Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.

The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought.  When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing.  Would a solid color bolero overwhelm?  Would a black one underwhelm?  I was at a loss.  What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress?  Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own).  I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat.  Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table!  Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero.  Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it.  Yay!  I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.

Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket.  A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all.  I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops.  The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath.  As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title!  What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things!  Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.

My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set.  The necklace is the main piece.  It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies.  They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013.  Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call.  The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace.  The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet. 

In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise.  A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!

As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set.  I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves.  I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop.  I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out.  There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha! 

This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog.  Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though.  I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown. 

It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head.  That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped.  It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way.  Not here, though – it’s all that and more!  You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.”  I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream.  Bah.  Anyone who believes that has never sewn.  To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing.  Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!

Staunch in Scarlet

I am normally not in the mood for wearing red unless I want to channel Agent Peggy Carter. That is just me.  It is such a strong statement color, and it is the one bright tone I am truly still not accustomed to yet!  A classic red I reserve for her, my stalwart heroine, in my way of thinking.  Christmas and Valentine’s Day are my only exceptions, as well as any patriotic occasion…which in its own way is related to Peggy Carter via her beau Captain America.  It’s cool that there is a holiday in February (for the United States) where I can tick more than one of my ‘stipulations for me wearing red’ boxes.  President’s Day comes in February on the heels of Valentine’s Day and is close to the anniversary of the first release of the Agent Carter television show.  So here’s a post about a great ‘new’ me-made WWII era dress, sprinkled with a bit of blue and white for good patriotic measure, in an unusual red tone that works for many seasons and celebrations!

My accessories really carry this outfit, I think, and I am very happy how they complement my dress together.  I am proud the hat is me-made at the last hour before these photos.  Understand it’s not a proper ‘sewn’ kind of hat, but neither is it a permanent creation either.  It’s whipped together in a sort of very resourceful 40’s era ‘make-do’ idealology.  I will talk more about it later on in this post.  My shoes are a fabulous true vintage find I bought for only $5 (yes, you read that right).  I have been able to pin their style down to the late 1930s or very early pre-WWII 40’s, due to the heel shape, materials used (woolen fabric and leather), and the high vamp (where it cuts across your foot at the front).  My gloves as well are a true vintage late 30’s or early 40’s cotton twill pair. 

All these items tweak the year on the pattern I used to make it seem (from a historical standpoint) as if this is a style of dress earlier than what it really is for a 30’s spin on a 40’s pattern.  By adding inches to lengthen the dress, as well, I ended out with an overall late 1930’s look, instead.  Usually historical vintage fashion anticipates the upcoming era during decade transitions, but not too often can styles go back in time.  This is an interesting and successful experiment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a rayon challis for the dress and a sheer chiffon for the hat

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4949, year 1943, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was what was on hand – thread, a 22” zipper, and a bit of bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished in September 2019

TOTAL COST:  I bought the under two yards cut of my dress’ material on clearance in my local JoAnn store for only $7.00.  The blue contrast is from remnants leftover from this Burda Style 50’s dress.  The hat’s chiffon was on hand, bought years back for another project not yet made.  I’m counting the scraps and the chiffon remnant as free.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that this dress is so wonderful it is my ultimate go-to 40’s dress.  I actually had to put it downstairs for the time being because I need to give my other dresses some love by wearing them, too!  The lack of a set waist (with a seam) is somewhat unusual and oh-so-comfortable.  The dress is one piece from shoulder to hem.  Added to that is the stretchy side panels cut from a knit.  Combined with the swishy rayon and midi length, this dress feels and wears like the loveliest nightgown.  I added a center back zipper to keep this dress easy and stress-free to put on, as well.  With the side panels in a knit, I didn’t really have a choice but to move the placement of the zipper anyway.  Sneaky loungewear which can also be dressy enough to wear out and about is a gem, especially today.  The colors work for all seasons too, as my grey, navy, or dusty blue blazers and sweaters pair well over this dress.  For only $7 spent and some easy sewing, I really received the most bang for my buck with this project.

Besides changing up to a back zipper and adding length to the hem, I slightly altered the pattern to both make it work for my under 2 yard cut of material and also not break up the floral print on the dress’ front.  There were only four main pattern pieces for this dress so I took the easy way to grade in an extra inch or two anyway and changed up the layout of the tissue pieces.  I didn’t even bother with cutting out the fussy neckline facings, either, opting for simple bias tape finishing.  My fabric was restricting me at only 45” wide.  Luckily, the dress is not bias cut but straight along the grainline.

Instead of having a seam down the front, I cut that on the on the fold.  Yes this eliminated the curvy shaping, but kept the print undisturbed.  In lieu of the original lines, I added a “fish eye” style dart vertically down the front center from the bottom dip of the neckline to taper off into the skirt body at the waistline.  The dart also nicely raised up the originally very low V neck.  The back half was cut as the pattern wanted, and was laid out on the fabric with the wide skirt portion at the opposite end as that of the front.  The short sleeves were barely squeezed out of the portion in between the side seams to the front and the back dress pieces.  There were scraps left which were no bigger than 4 inches.  As I have done time and again, I just made my project idea work out with an inventive tissue piece layout. 

Speaking of pattern layout, I also went rogue when it came to cutting out the side triangular panels.  I barely had scraps of my chosen fabric leftover big enough for the two side waist panels.  It was all that I could manage to cut out the side panels on the bias.  Not that it matters all too much as I was using a 4 way knit, yet it is always important to follow grainlines.  Oh well.  The fact that I kept the seam though the center actually helps keep the knit from stretching overmuch.  I stabilized the seam with a three solid rows of straight stitching while not letting the knit distend under my machine.  Furthermore, I did some small, decorative hand stitching along the seam to help the inside allowance lie flat but still add some subtle beauty.  

The knit panels help this dress hug my curves in a way I adore.  When I was looking through what scraps I had on hand to use which would be the nicest contrast to the rayon print, this dusty blue knit was really the best, most versatile match I came across.  The fact it was a knit was secondary to my choice of color, but I figured that it may help shape this dress into a body-hugging, comfortable, slinky little number.  I was spot on, apparently.  The fact the side panels are in a contrast really do so much to make this a dress which slenderizes a figure.  Seriously, if you want a dress that automatically makes you look like you lost weight, this is the one.  Just imagine if this was in a solid tone for some color blocking.  It deceives the eye to see an hourglass figure smaller than what is really there.  You see the side panels, but the mind centers on the main body of the dress, which at its smallest point, is only a third of what the true waist of the wearer is.  It’s a deviously simple successful design and incredibly fun to sew – the perfect detail to make use of fabric scraps, too!

Now, this style of dress seems to be relatively easy to find.  Since both before and after I have sewn my dress, I have found similar styles both in Hollywood costumes, designer styles, extant vintage garments, as well as through several sewing patterns, some of which are available to buy as reprints today.  If you like this post’s dress, particularly, than you’re in luck because the pattern I used for my own dress can be bought through Eva Dress (see page for it here).  

Yet, the 40’s era side panel dress pattern of the moment through the vintage sewing community seems to be Folkwear Company’s #233 “Glamour Girl Dress”.  However, I just do not see it having the same size-reducing effect as the Simplicity #4949 I used.  Perhaps it’s because of the way the panels connect in the middle into a tie.  I do not have this pattern myself and do not intend to, but the tie front seems to cause too much bulk and excess of material around the waist.  It is lacking the thin, smooth band of material through the middle of my dress which fools the eye into seeing an impossibly tiny waist.  Besides, so many ladies seem to have both fitting and sewing issues with the Folkwear dress, from what I have read and heard first hand from others.  The midsection to the Folkwear dress becomes more of a belt-like feature for ease of wearing rather than a flattering design element as on the Simplicity dress I made.  I will stick with something I have tried already and know I like.  I hope to revisit this post’s pattern in the future to make it in a different way, inspired by the many varieties you see in my collage image.

My hat is actually something I whipped up after seeing some tutorials for such a thing on social media several years back (which is why I no longer remember where it originally came from).  It is only a one-something yard length of sheer chiffon wrapped around two foam styling rolls (like a modern version of a vintage hair “rat”).  I used my “Hot Buns” hair tool, since I had it on hand.  Then I connected the two of them together to form a circle (there are snaps built into the ends so this was easy to do).  I was tempted to buy something a bit more defined in shape such as a Styrofoam ring (used for wreath making).  However, the Velcro-like outside to the “Hot Buns” grabbed a hold of the fabric nicely, just the same as it does to my hair, to help this impromptu hat idea work better than I expected.  I left enough of a ‘tail’ on each side of the ring for this to tie around my hair much like headband.  Otherwise I wrapped the rest of the fabric closely around the “Hot Buns” ring with no pinning or tacking needed to keep in place. 

I think a knit would have worked better than the chiffon for this accessory project, but I’m just happy to have a new, era authentic hat for no cost and no effort, using things from on hand.  I’m practical enough to know I don’t currently have any more room in my hat boxes, so this little head decoration suits me perfectly.  This is a very late 30’s to early 40’s style of hat that can be seen everywhere between that time – from Hollywood, such as the head of actress Ida Lupino in the 1939 “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” movie, to a home fashions, like this page out of a Sears Catalog from 1940 (see bottom right).  It seems as if such a hat can be also termed as a turban, especially if it was knitted or a soft velvet.  With that in mind, it makes total sense now that it would come together quite easily, not be a permanent millinery piece, and be comfortable, practical glamor to wear. 

Now I suppose it is time to ease off of the fascination for red that the February holidays have brought upon me…at least for now.  Although scarlet tones are not seasonal (I do realize), it’s time to catch up on some more of my Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” outfits next!  I will return to something more appropriate for the chilly weather we are currently having.  I’ll meet you ‘just around the river bend’…and let me know if you catch the hint!

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.

Going Back to a Past (1940’s) Challenge

For last week’s ‘Challenge of Re-Doing a Past Theme’ I choose the week of May 21st to go back and fulfill – ‘the 1940’s Challenge’. This was a rather easy submission, as I sewed my dress in the late summer/early fall of the year 2011. However, this suit-style, collared dress was my first in a new obsession with vintage patterns, and, as it turned out so well, I have worn it A LOT since it was made. It looks so good with a pristine head topper from my old hat collection…and gloves!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: linen-look rayon/poly blend (the fabric is very soft, rather classic looking, and has a nice texture) from stash, so basically free

NOTIONS: bought matching thread and bias tape and a zipper. The cost? not much…maybe $6

PATTERN: Simplicity #2744, year 1949, bought at a vintage clothing store for $4; I picked this pattern out, along with a few others, when out shopping on my Birthday…it was a gift for myself!

FIRST WORN: to the city’s Saturday (Soulard) Farmer’s market

TIME TO COMPLETE: maybe 10 hours- I took my time to enjoy sewing this, wanting to do it right and making sure I was following the instructions…what’s a slide fastener’ anyone?!?

As with vintage patterns, it only had one size, and this one was the size I needed for my bust. I figured it would be an easy fix to adjust it to give me more room in my hips and waist. If I can’t grade up like a traditional “modern” pattern, I will do it myself!  Well – to my surprise – the pattern been used already by someone who knew what they were doing and someone who was also my exact size. How do I know? The pattern pieces had been cut out by a pinking shears (I don’t think they’re all that popular anymore though I do use mine on occasion). The pieces had also been sliced and folded open in all the right places to add in 1 1/2 inches – just what I needed. My work was done for me, already. This was a first!

Simplicity 2744 was a joy to sew together, quite easy and straightforward. I didn’t even have to do any interfacing. It was surprising that not even the collar was supposed to be interfaced according to the instructions. At first I was going to do interfacing anyway, but I thought, “if it worked for women in the 40’s, I’ll try to be authentic, too”. I do not know if the lack of interfacing was due to America crawling out from a World War or the fact pattern companies wanted something very simple for a housewife to throw together. Perhaps specifically saying to add interfacing was taken for granted – women of those knew what needed to be done and didn’t need to be told. The collar did turn out extremely well. It lays very flat, doesn’t bunch up without interfacing, and fits so very nicely onto the dress neckline.

As you can see in the picture, I added carriers to my dress so I can wear a belt, with the back carriers in a fancy crisscrossed X shape. Completely my idea…

The only problems I had sewing this were pretty minor: the fabric and the sleeves. I am glad I covered most ALL of my seams with bias tape because the fabric was shredding everywhere and was sort of a mess. My sleeves had way too big of an ease to fit in the armhole, and no amount of stretching or gathering could help me get the two to fit at all together. At that point, I took it upon myself to add small pleats, every 2 inches, across the top shoulder cap of each sleeve. Then the sleeves sewed in nicely and I am very happy with the result. I think it is much better over some messy, forced gathering. Look closely in the above picture and you should be able to see what I did.

What is funny are the instructions to use a ‘slide fastener’ sewn under the armhole along the side seam. I just used a zipper instead. If anyone reading this knows what a slide fastener was, please let me know.

The bust – which was the only part of the dress I expected to fit when I was done – was still big. Maybe it was meant to be worn with those war time body shaping underwear forms. (Those were all designed by men, by the way, and the Hollywood actresses that wore them cursed them as torture. I’m thinking of the bra designed by Howard Hughes for Jane Russell in the 1943 movie The Outlaw). Nevertheless, to fit the modern ME, I sewed in the darts to fit, extending them all the way to under the collar very much like princess seams.

Now it is a circus trick to wiggle in AND out of the dress, between the close fitting bust and the small side zipper. Oh well! This dress looks great and fits quite comfortably once it is on myself. I can pretty much wear this dress all year, too, because of the fabric. My husband always tells me how good I look when I wear this, so there’s a good incentive to put this on frequently!

Enjoy your Holiday sewing everyone!

P.S. I don’t plan on wearing something like this underwear with my vintage dresses anytime soon, just to make them fit. Behold the 40’s and the 50’s undressed below…

This display in the picture above is from an exhibit called “Underneath It All” going on at our city’s History Museum. It is a very interesting display on the “distinct changes in the fashionable silhouette of women’s dress over the decades, made possible by undergarments.” It is tastefully done, and begins with the Pre-French Revolution/Colonial era dress up to modern ‘barely there’ times. As a sewer of vintage clothes, I really appreciated this and learned a lot.