Sunshine Linen and Silken Flowers

Excuse the lack of new posts recently but an extended weekend trip to Chicago has eaten away at my free time for blogging.  However, you know what a trip away for home means for me?  New outfits were sewn!  This equates to fresh new material to share on my blog for you to enjoy!  Here is the most recent outfit project hot off my sewing machine – a summer silk hooded blouse from the 1990s and a linen early 1940s Clotilde brand jumper dress.  I couldn’t have wanted a better set to wear for enjoying my day in cheery, luxurious comfort and style.

I have learned from many visits to Chicago’s surrounding Lake Michigan beaches that not all beaches are equally temperate.  I find Chicago’s beaches to be pleasant and enjoyable to be sure, but quite windy with a cool breeze and not as warm as a Florida beach.  Lake Michigan has water that can feel like it’s refrigerated, even in the summer!  From previous visits to Chicago, I knew what to expect and mentally pictured exactly what was needed out of my outfit for our day at the beach.  I’m happy to report, my set was every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated! 

When 1940s meets the 1990s things are bound to get interesting!  All my garments are in lightweight, soft and breathable fabrics which kept the wind and the sun from turning me into a crisp.  The color scheme is richly saturated and elegantly cheerful.  The fiber content is natural and sustainable in linen blended with rayon, and silk with coconut buttons, all finished using vintage notions.  The styling is versatile and unexpected, which I love, with a fluid vintage vibe which is also timeless.  Having a hood handy kept my hair tamed for beach time or when we drove our convertible car through downtown Chicago with the top down.  I love an outfit that has some good eye-catching features with lovely tactile qualities.

I paired my me-made items with a 20-something old RTW cotton stretch tee as my base layer under the jumper dress this time.  However, the billowy blouse included in with my jumper dress’ Clotilde pattern strongly reminds me of the 40’s chiffon blouse I made to wear with these 1991 NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s trousers.  If you visit that post, you’ll see that this is not the first time I’ve combined the WWII era with the age of the Internet. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a linen and rayon blend for the jumper dress and an all silk satin for the blouse

PATTERNS:  Clotilde sewing pattern #3559, estimated to be from the spring season of 1942, and McCall’s NYNY “The Collection” #5640 from January 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread and a bit of interfacing (I used the cotton iron-on), bias tape as well as one vintage 1950s era metal zipper for the jumper dress, some vintage rayon hem tape for the blouse, and finally a pack of coconut buttons from my local JoAnn fabric store

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse and the jumper together were a combined time of 16 hours and were finished at the end of this month of May (just before our trip) 2022

THE INSIDES:  All French seams for the hooded blouse and bias bound edges in the jumper

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics are from my local JoAnn Fabric store, but only the linen blend is still currently in stock.  The silk was something I found many years back now when they sold limited amount of fine fabrics in the physical stores and not just online.  It was on deep discount being as it was a one yard remnant of something the store no longer wanted to carry.  My entire outfit all together cost me under $40.

Clotilde patterns, such as this one, were often for what was considered the average woman (not talking about body size average) or for the on-the-go teenage girl.  I have noticed that Clotilde patterns through the 30’s and 40’s were often knock-offs of small designers or downgraded versions of Paris fashions for the woman who wanted a practical taste of the current styles.  They were pitched in ad write-ups as easy-to-make (especially when they offered a line of notions and haberdashery to match) with design details to make them appealing enough to have an edge on the market.  The company began offering patterns circa 1925, continuing to do so through the 1960s, and expanded to become a giant in the sewing catalog industry for many years.  Ms. Clotilde passed away in November of 2011 and the Company was sold to become “Annie’s Quilt and Sew Catalog”. 

Seeing as my Clotilde pattern was ordered through The Chicago Tribune newspaper, I researched through an archival site for that publication and was able to pin this design down to somewhere between the fall of 1941 and the spring season of 1942.  As this pattern’s blouse is so similar to the sheer bishop sleeved one I already made (posted here, also intended to be paired under a jumper dress), I am leaning towards thinking both share a date of early 1942.  Jumper dresses – intended to be worn over a blouse or top of some sort – were incredibly popular offerings through the mail order sewing pattern companies of 1941 to 1942, mostly tailoring their appeal for teenagers but also for young adult women.  Jumpers are so good for beach time because it is easy to hide some shorts underneath, he he.  This jumper has a very pre-WWII influence with the full skirt with a longer mid-calf length.  Even still, it required just over a full two yards of material.

This jumper was simple and quick to make – except for the double sets of ties I had to make (I hate sewing them).  Yet, as is the normal “quirk” I find for vintage unprinted mail order patterns, I had just a bit of trouble getting this finished.  I correctly predicted it ran a tad roomy, as many old unprinted mail order patterns do.  This sizing generally worked in my favor because I took advantage of it to do a modern 5/8” seam allowance.  Even still, some of the quality to the pattern drafting was lacking, as is another normal “quirk” for many old mail order patterns.  I had to taper in the side seams smaller up to almost 2 inches on each side, only from the top edge down to the hips.  Luckily, I had greatly simplified the design so that the fitting efforts I had to do didn’t really set me back.  The biggest change to the original design was that I eliminated the back button placket closure and opted to lay that pattern piece out on the fold for a smooth, seamless look.  A vintage metal zipper was installed in the left side seam instead. 

The pattern gave little to no direction as to where to place and button the shoulder straps.  Mysteriously missing markings are another frequent occurrence to old unprinted mail order patterns.  I guess it is obvious from looking at the original design that I simplified the shoulder straps by leaving out the ruffles to them.  I pared things down to the basics even more by merely stitching the straps down to the jumper dress edge.  Why bother to make them adjustable when the pattern didn’t help me out and I’d have to figure all the buttonhole settings out myself?  The waist ties already add a level of fussiness to the style so stitching down the straps helped keep my travel wardrobe simple.  However, the pattern did call for ridiculously simple bias strip edge finishing.  I knew this design needed something more stable along the top edge, so I drafted together my own interfaced facing for the bodice.  It was two steps forward and one back during the construction process, but this was not intended to be a perfectly fitted garment…so all is well that ended well! 

The loose fit is sort of a design element based on the fact that there are waist ties to pull in the fit on this jumper dress.  I love how they are like little pointed arrows that sit at the waistline where they are top stitched down.  They help to visually slim the silhouette.  To gather in and control some of the center back waistline fullness, I stitched in a strip of ¼ inch wide elastic to the inside.  I picked a 3 inch horizontal segment at the waistline and sewed it into a 1 inch length of elastic, shirring the difference into gathers.  This was not part of the pattern but my own addition.  I also finished off the tie edges with a hand sewn buttonhole stitch for a little bit of a fine touch. 

My hooded summer blouse pattern is by far the standout piece to this outfit.  It is from my favorite NY NY “The Collection” line of McCall’s designer patterns which stretched between the late 1980s and the early 2000’s.  This will have been the seventh NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s item I have sewn.  There is a lot going for #5640 with lots of options to each and every item it offers so that an entire wardrobe of separates could be sewn of this one pattern.  The hooded blouse has the option of instead being sewn up as a wing collar and was originally supposed to be long sleeved.  How could I pass up something as uniquely amazing as a hood blouse, though!?  My amazing silk satin was just begging to me to be used to full dramatic effect and this design hit my creative happy place. 

Such items as hooded dresses or blouses were popular in the 1930s and 40’s for evening wear or resort occasions and now are rarities that sell for big money in the current vintage market.  Fashion designer houses of Valentino, Givenchy, Max & Moi, as well as Aurora De Matteis all offer their own silk satin hooded blouses today.   If I ever start my own business of offering couture finish custom-made ready-to-wear (not promising it will ever happen, though), a summer hooded silk blouse like the one in this post would be included in my collection.  It is amazing to wear and truly a useful statement piece.

As I only had one yard of silk to work with for the hooded blouse, I overhauled the design to accommodate both my shortage of material and desire to personalize this amazing design for myself.  The oversized print needed minimal seams so as to not disturb it.  This was perfect for that because there are no darts or tucks, and the entire shirt is made of only three pattern pieces.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The hood was configured to be cut on with the blouse fronts – a one piece design!  So cool, right?

The original pattern called for the front center but, as you can see, I altered this idea.  It was intended to be a pullover top with a generous box pleat giving room across the one-piece front between the buttons and buttonholes which were to be worked onto the folded edges.  I was not doing this plan with my reiteration, which has an open front like any other blouse.  It is more versatile to me this way.  I can tie the waistline together to cinch the boxy, oversized silhouette in and keep it from flying around in the breeze like a flag.  I can still let my outfit underneath be visible, too, if I keep the blouse unbuttoned.  I don’t have to risk messing up my hair or smudging the blouse with makeup by having it be a pullover.  A hoodie is one piece, and that to me becomes more like a jacket.  I wanted a hooded blouse and adapted the pattern to be such.  However, it is loose fitting and rather makes a better overblouse anyways than being worn on its own.

My silk satin was so luxurious like insubstantial butter and a cooling delight to touch…I wish you could reach through the screen and feel it with me.  Such amazing fabric deserved my bringing out the high-end finishes along with such a good design.  There are solely French seams inside, which sort of makes it hard for me to tell the right side from the wrong side out for this blouse! 

Then, I used special rayon binding to hem the bottom edge for a clean yet decorative inside.  Such a notion is not manufactured anymore (to my knowledge) and it is a joy to use.  It is like a piece of tangible happiness to see when getting dressed so I see it as worth it to use rather than hoard.  I luckily have a few whole rolls of such notions so this was not the last to be had in my stash.  Even still, you can tell which projects are more prized by me when there is rayon tape as part of the inside detailing.  I hand stitched down the front and hood cut-on self-facings as well as the hem because I couldn’t stand to see obvious thread lines anywhere else but along the shoulder line.

Why highlight the shoulder line?  I absolutely love the way the hood is one piece with the bodice front.  I am proud of how well I achieved a perfect corner down and around where the hood angles into the back bodice.  This way the dropped shoulder line can be noticeable, too.  Might as well bring attention to how creative is the one major design line to the blouse!  I chose to use an all-cotton thread to compliment the silk material, but it is a fluffier, chunkier, duller thread when compared to the satin finish.  As I said at the beginning of this post, I was going for sustainable and natural fibers here. 

Trips away from home especially give challenging incentives to my sewing plans.  Now that we have traveled again after a long span of staying at home, I am remembering anew how trips inspire me to treat myself to exceptional hand sewn pieces (those over and above my everyday wardrobe) so I can rock my self-expression while creating wonderful vacation memories.  Do you bring your own handmade wardrobe on trips with you?  Please let me know I am not alone in this.  My most comfortable, favorite pieces are necessarily also the ones I have made for myself so there is one basic reason to bring me-made items on a trip away.  Seriously, though – can’t you tell by my glow that the beach is a special place for me?  Just think of what an amazing new outfit added to that!!  There will soon be more to come of our Chicago trip – hang on to this thread.

So – next time I have a break in my regular postings, just know that it means I am either taking personal time for recharging myself or at least working on some great new content.  I truly have the best readers and you all are the best audience!  For your information, if you only knew the amazing projects already sewn that are in my backlog of things yet to share, you’d flip.  This post’s particular outfit had a special day out so recently, I had to share it right away.  It was just too good, and I hope you are glad I didn’t let this outfit wait in queue to be posted later than sooner!

In Sporting Fashion

It’s not every day I go full on casual with what I am wearing, but doing so in vintage style is my preferred interpretation for having fun exercising in the great outdoors.  Spring marks the beginning of baseball season in the United States, and so what better way to test out my newest sewing make than during practice pitching and catching with my family in the local park’s field!  I now have the most chic but playful, bold yet practical pair of shorts I could ever imagine for summertime fun!  

They are pleated, bibbed, suspender style “short-alls” from the mid-1940s in the most luxurious cotton I could find locally.  This kind of casual dressing was the preferred choice of teenagers in WWII times, but I am more than happy to rock it as an adult on the 21st century.  Here’s to having sporting fun in just as much style as when I have a fancy affair…because handmade fashion is for me something I can wear at any and all occasion at this point!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Chartreuse lime colored Supima cotton in a sateen finish (same as what I used as the contrast facing on this 1960s sun set)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1322, year 1944 (reprinted again under the same number in the year 1946) from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  everything I used came from the accumulated stash I have on hand – thread, buttons, interfacing scraps, rayon hem tape, and a 6 inch zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 12 hours and finished in August 2020

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound for all the seams with vintage rayon tape finishing the hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards cost me $16 with a coupon

As mentioned when I first used small scraps of this fabric on my 60’s sun set (posted here), I have never really been a fan of chartreuse.  Nevertheless, I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts, so I have been wanting to cautiously try this color out for myself for far too long.  The fabric’s shade listed on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellow in undertone, I see it as a true chartreuse in person.  Considering my skin tone, I do not believe I’d like myself in chartreuse if worn alone as a solo tone. 

Nevertheless, made up in a separate piece as I have done here, whatever top is chosen to pair with the shorts is my chance to play with finding complimentary colors that I do prefer.  The suspenders holding up my bib extension integrate the chartreuse into my entire outfit and keep it from being distinct blocks of color separated at the waistline.  The only reason I went with a dusty blue tee here was because I had a baseball cap to match, but it was a hard choice.  I love the look of my shorts with tops on hand in all sorts of colors, and even with my printed, tight 90’s era tees (still in my wardrobe from when I was much younger) for a modern feel. 

I was so happy to find a Sears department store advertisement from Kansas City, Missouri of the same year as my pattern (year 1944) for some “short-alls” exactly like my own.  In this old ad, they were offered in a cotton twill and listed as “bib style buttoned panel, pleats front…a Hollywood favorite!”  Unlike my last pair of 1940s era shorts (which look like a mini skirt), these are a bit more structured and obviously shorts with their shallow pleats, higher rise, and slimmer circumference of hems, making them perfect for very active activities like baseball, tennis, or volleyball.  Under the same circumstances, my blue 40’s dupe-skirt shorts have me afraid of flashing someone with a peek of my undies and leave the fabric looking stained or limp when it gets wet.  These chartreuse suspender shorts do none of that.  Don’t get me wrong, though – each pair is appropriate for different occasions, obviously.  I equally wear and love both of my 40’s shorts, but the chartreuse pair avoids all the pitfalls I discovered with my blue pair.  Here, the suspenders and front bib even keep my top tucked in place!  

I thought ahead to choose something equally soft as the rayon of my blue 40’s shorts but more stable and sweat resistant – all of which qualities I found in the Supima cotton sateen.  The beautiful, slight shine to the fabric dresses them up, but they are still just a very easy-care cotton, besides being lightweight and cool to wear, too.  My next choice after the Supima sateen was a light to mid-weight denim, and I do currently have some such material set aside (from my Grandmother’s fabric stash) for a future project of another early 1940s play set.  I successfully tried a rayon and silk blend twill for my personal version of the 1940’s “Harp” shorts offered by Tori at “Potion 23”, a local designer for whom I was the pattern drafter and sample maker.  My 80s shorts were a (border print) cotton shirting and for the 50s I did a short romper in pique as well as shorts in heavy hopsack linen.  I now have a good arsenal of knowledge when it comes to what works best for different kinds of shorts.  Fabric choice has so much to do with the success of every sewing project but I find this fact especially true for shorts.  Such a simple little garment of summer has given me so much bother trying to perfect!

I claim home base!

The only reason these shorts ended up being closer to fitting like modern clothes in the first place was really due to a re-drafting ‘mistake’.  I only realized after assembling my shorts enough for my first try-on that the pattern was sized for teenagers.  This explains why the crouch depth sits so much higher than what I expected of a true 1940s pattern.  WWII era trousers for women had roomy bottoms for a fit that did not reveal a body form shape as do pants of today.  Using a true 1940s pattern is the only reason such a ‘mistake’ worked out okay after all.  As a teenager’s design, the distance between the hip line and waist line is really 2 inches too short for me.  My hips are about 7 inches down from my waist and not 5 inches, as given.  

I should have at least suspected that this was a junior’s design since the high school teenage crowd of the 1940s were the ones most commonly rocking the sporty, fun-in-the-sun clothes of WWII times.  The envelope back said this was either for women or junior misses and recommended Simplicity #1315 (reissued in 1946 as #2062) to complete it as a “mother-and-daughter set” of matching designs.  At least I was thinking ahead enough at the pattern stage so as to grade in some extra space at the seams of the centers and sides to bring it up to my waist and hip circumference.  I had to add in a total of 4 inches because a size 12 from back then is for a small 24 inch waistline, which is a modern size 0…definitely not me.

I am no less happy with my finished item even with the little unexpected – but no less welcome – hiccup in its making.  Now I have a decision waiting for me the next time I pick up this pattern (and I definitely will be coming back to it).  Do I keep the modern fit of reduced wearing ease (aka, current juniors’ sizing) or draft in the proportions of an adult size for a proper 1940s appearance?  Either way, I may just wear the heck out of these shorts and sew another copy in the exact same color and material.  I may just pick another one of the other styles given as an option in the pattern to try.  Nevertheless, I like these bibbed suspender shorts too much to not just end up making them again in some manner.  I kind of want to revisit this same design anyway so as to redeem the crazy and confusing way of closures that I opted for in my version.

The pattern for these shorts calls for workable buttoning front bib.  I did not do that on mine.  To get a snug fit on a pair of shorts meant for athletic activity does not seem compatible with a handful of buttons.  The Supima cotton is a fairly thin, loose weave that snags, ravels, and puckers easily.  Even if properly interfaced, I did not want to compromise the material with buttonholes.  Also, I could envision the front buttons being a hazard and getting caught during activity and ripped off…this worst-case scenario would not end well. 

To end up with a stable, secure closure that keeps the look of the bib front simple, I went for the tried-and-true, good, old reliable vintage metal zipper closing, albeit hidden under the front flap.  Over the tummy and under the bib, a short zipper connects the center front seam to an extension piece I added to left side of the shorts’ main body (since the pleat is only stitched part of the way).  Then, I have an inner button and elastic loop to fully connect the waistband, as well.  The entire right side of the shorts’ pleat and bib front is stitched down in place and all of the closures are accessed from the left side only.  This was all my own idea and it works pretty darn well.  I do not know whether or not this method of closing is something which would have been used back then or not, but it just made sense from an engineering outlook.  Yes, sewing is engineering sometimes.  I do happen to be married to an engineer so I suppose he rubs off on me. 

At least I have the suspenders with real working buttonholes!  There would be no easy way in or out of these shorts otherwise, from a practical perspective, though.  The straps are stitched down to the front bib, but come detached at the back waistline where there are the cutest imaginable flower buttons in a bright lime green.  The crossing point of the suspenders across the back of my shoulders is lightly tacked together so that no matter how I move, the X shape stays in perfect position.  It’s not that I really need suspenders to actually hold up my shorts.  This is why I have them as laying somewhat loosely over my shoulders.  Yet, I just love how there is just as much interest to the design of these shorts as seen from behind with the suspenders and the cute buttons. 

I enjoy the fact that I have such me-made vintage pieces to help me look forward to getting my exercise now that warmer weather is here.  I never was a big fan of shorts until I discovered how cute and appealing the vintage-style kind could be.  No matter how simple, any garment can be elevated by good design and tailoring.  I certainly put this particular shorts model to the test run right away for the sake of my post’s pictures, too!  I hope you enjoyed the change of pace by having photos of me in the action shots.  Don’t you think I am able to pull off chartreuse after all?  

White, Orange and Green

There is nothing 100% “from scratch” in the outfit that I’m posting this time, as this is (mostly) about a current refashion of a 1940s blouse I’ve already made back in 2013. Yet, I have paired it with a “new” woolen skirt that I refashioned after finding it chewed up during storage in our cedar closet.  Together, this is a fresh take on two existing items in my closet which needed some care and attention…and that deserves its own post, right?!  After my previous post on my Victorian skating ensemble, I thought I’d keep things simple and mix things up by showing how I keep up pieces in my wardrobe.  In order to earn its keep in my closet, each item needs to be something that fits as well as something I love.  I have no qualms about putting something I’ve sewn through a scissor and under the sewing machine to have that happen!  I made it, I can fix it up, too.  Beyond that, though, this set is the perfect colors to wear for St. Patrick’s Day – the white, orange, and green of their national flag!

I couldn’t help but title my post after the song that this outfit calls to my mind.  It is an Irish folk song which supposedly rose out of the 1919 to 1921 War of Independence but got a popular revival in 1989 from the album “Home to Ireland” by Spailpin (listen to the song here).  It is almost my favorite Irish song album – I have loved it since my childhood!  “The Rising of the Moon” song is not to be missed and “Three Young Ladies Drinking Whiskey Before Breakfast” will get your toes tapping.  I am proudly very Irish through both sides of my family as well as my husband’s side, so this is not just celebrating a holiday which is alien to me but happily honoring my heritage!  Although some of my Irish ancestors may have preferred to sport orange for today, I align more with the wearing of green, so I love how this outfit unites all the colors just as the flag does.  (If you know your Irish history, you’ll understand this one without looking it up!)

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric for the blouse is from a seasonal collection of soft 100% cotton quilting fabric, lined in a matching rust orange color 100% cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:   Simplicity #1692, a 40s era re-release from 2013 (it’s one of their 85th Anniversary patterns), originally Simplicity #1093 from year 1944

NOTIONS:  I really had everything I needed on hand – thread, zipper, and bias tape.  The single button at the back neck closure is probably close to being the correct era for my vintage blouse, and comes from my special familial vintage button stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse originally (first incarnation) took me about 10 hours to be done back in October 2013.  In the fall of 2021, I spent another 5 hours to renew the blouse into its latest version. 

Both pieces have recently been discovered to be too small on me, but the skirt also had damage so I had more than one incentive for altering them.  Now that we are coming out of two years of isolating and staying at home, I have to get to know the full potential of my closet again.  A good amount of my pieces have not been touched in a while because of the pandemic, and although my body has mostly either stayed the same or lost weight through it, the same cannot be said for my upper arms and hips. In some of the cases, letting out my 5/8 inch seam allowances is enough.  In other garments I find that I will need to add in gussets, side panels, or re-work the bodice.  These have now gone to my “need to alter, fit, or refashion” drawer. 

I still like these items enough to want to give them TLC or perhaps a whole new spin in the future.  After all, I invest myself in everything I make and probably 90% (or more) of my wardrobe is self-crafted at this point.  I am happy with what I have and don’t need to start a project from scratch to use my sewing capabilities.  Taking care of what I have is sustainable and responsible, I feel.  I am just sad to see how my body changes add to my already large enough make-do-and-mend pile.  How have the last two years affected your wardrobe?  Do you find things fitting you differently or have your style tastes just changed…maybe both?  Do you enjoy altering and mending or is it pure drudgery for you? 

What was wrong with the blouse in the first place?  You may be wondering this because the blouse has ended up looking close to the same way as when I originally made it – just short sleeved.  Well, I wasn’t going for a different spin, just the same look in a bigger size.  The armscye was already close fitting when I first made the blouse.  Its sleeves were now uncomfortable, losing any ‘reach room’ and the hips were too snug to zip down past the waistline.  Also, at this point – since my sewing skills have improved – I was quite embarrassed by my beginner’s efforts at making a buttoned cuff on long sleeves.  Thus, the long sleeves were sacrificed to become side panels to add room.  It was easier than digging through my containers of scraps in the unlikely hope that there would be a remnant large enough to help my need for a refashion!  One sleeve was divided in half to make two panels for the bodice sides, while the other sleeve went towards the neckline (see next paragraph).  The original zipper was unpicked out of the blouse and re-inserted in between the front main body and the left side panel.

Just adding in width was not enough to fully open up the sleeves for more shoulder room.  I also unpicked the sleeves from the bodice and re-sewed them in at ¼ inch seam allowance (the original blouse had 5/8 inch seam allowance).  That was better but my big arms were still pulling at the neckline.  So I opened up the neckline, loosened up the center front gathers, cut the neck more open by ½ inch, and sewed over the edge a brand new bias band (cut from the second sleeve, as mentioned above).  This time I left lots of excess length at the back closure to the neckline’s finishing bias band so I can button it in a way that is more open.  This assuages my claustrophobia over tightly necked garments, and widens out the shoulders a bit.  I was able to cut two more small bias strips for finishing the two sleeve’s hem ends.

The brown all-wool skirt was something I have had since my late teen years.  I had forgotten about it in our cedar closet for the last decade and it was not properly stored.  I believe it was carpet beetles which found it, because moths make bigger chews holes.  Nevertheless, the skirt had most of its significant chews from the hipline up to the waist.  Being a long ankle length to begin with, I merely cut off the top 1/3 of the skirt (keeping the side zipper, albeit short now), newly tapered in the side seams, added darts to fit, and finished the waistline with bias tape.  Any tiny holes left can be patched up easily since the wool is lofty and loosely woven. This was super easy refashion.

Much better than buying raw supplies, I use garments I already have as material for my sewing ideas.  This time, these two items were more of a refitting I suppose versus a total re-fashion.  Both my skirt and blouse are much more versatile and wearable now more than they ever were, so this is not just about ‘saving’ them, I feel.  A mid-length skirt is more all-weather, just the same as making short sleeves on my blouse.  My blouse is double layered (lined in all cotton) and the wool skirt is cozy so shortening their length has turned them into something I can wear for cooler days in the spring and fall, not just for the cold of winter.   This way I have the opportunity to layer them.  Paired over my blouse to bring out the green is an old favorite store bought corduroy blazer back from my teen years. 

To conclude, I wish a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!  To read more on some of the ways I celebrate this holiday, as well as the fancy green-themed vintage dress I may pick to wear today, please visit this Instagram post (linked here).  The fact that St. Patrick’s Day is always immediately followed by the first day of the verdant season of spring always gives me an excellent reason to be on a spell of fascination for anything green.  Here’s your tip off as to what may be featured in my next blog post!

“Dark Academia” of the 1940s

This is just a small sampling of my favorite old books in our home library.

Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia.  Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents. 

I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child.  Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects.  Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural. 

As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here.  As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s. 

I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016.  This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned.  I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting!  I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made.  Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.

Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos.  A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired.  You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does!  It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe. 

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945  

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020.  The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours.  Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.

THE INSIDES:  So clean!  The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store.  It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount.  The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free.  The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1.  My total was about $12 in total.

The book store’s kitty was such a dear to me!

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre.  It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. 

I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes.  Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen!  I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school.  My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time.  I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne).  At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well.  See?  My list could go on.  Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing.  It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.

Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic.  By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones.  Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life.  To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society.  Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard?  Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option.  I am just as happy at my local University.

Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term.  While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources.  This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible.  A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood.  As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator.  Thus, I still have a preference.  To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!

This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear.  Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find.  The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007.  I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew.  The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download.  That’s right – free!  Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not.  My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment).  I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless.  They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit. 

Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well.  The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps.  It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze.  I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid.  This was a very stressful step.  I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut. 

Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias.  At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions.  So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part.  Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that.  The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer.  The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway).  All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.

I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt.  This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily.  Luckily the fit was not snug.  I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular.  After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid. 

To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor.  It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible.  I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.

Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket.  I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in.  Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted. 

This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams.  Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt.  There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining.  The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button.  I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision.  At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest.  The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt.  Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look.  The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit.  Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.     

It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia.  It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet.  Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits.  It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight.  Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with.  It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure!  I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that.  I’ll join in anew with them on it!