India’s independence, 1947

What better way to celebrate 70 years since India’s independence than with a culturally-influenced vintage 1947 dress which commemorates that momentous year.  Not only did I find a lovely, symbolical, amazing border print rayon challis for my India’s tribute dress, but I came up with (what I’ll admit) my most creative use yet of both a sewing pattern and fabric print.  More often than not, the ideas that pop in my head surprise myself,   especially when they come out as planned!

This dress deserved the trip to visit and appreciate our town’s Hindu Temple, one of the largest of its kind in our country.  It is a stunning piece of architecture and the most appropriate place I could think of locally to observe an event that impacted the religion and culture of India.   For those of you reading that know about this point in history, yes, I know it technically wasn’t just India that received independence (due to Jinnah), and yes, I am fully aware of the strife, turmoil, genocide, and hard times that both preceded and followed August 15, 1947.  I enjoy history and learning – it is the opposite of a chore – so I have read and researched an overwhelming amount of information regarding all areas relating to India and Pakistan’s freedom.  But don’t worry – I will not fill up this post with all of that here.  I only want to let you know how much depth and appreciation for a culture and an event from their past has went into this dress.  Designing, sewing, and posting about my Indian-influenced 1947 dress is not just about a creativity I am proud of doing, it also a manifests my deep amazement at what determination and a belief in one’s convictions can do for people…in this case, India 70 years ago.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% rayon challis, bought from “Simply Fabric of Oakland” Etsy shop

PATTERN:  a Marian Martin pattern #9208, year 1947

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, a bit of interfacing in the form of cotton broadcloth scraps, and a zipper – noting odd or out-of-the-ordinary, so it was all on hand already.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not to add in shoulder pads!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 15 hours and finished on September 2, 2016

THE INSIDES:  Nicely French seamed

TOTAL COST:  As you can see on the site, 3 yards of fabric (I bought plenty extra to have more of the border print) cost me $18 – so reasonable for as silky the quality is and how unique the print is!For some reason this pattern seemed to run very large.  Most of the mail order and now-defunct companies such as Du Barry, Hollywood, etcetera, frequently seem to run generous, but this pattern was technically an inch smaller than my real measurements (32 bust), and it sewed up as if it was a 35 or 36 bust with a very long waist.  I had to take out almost a whole two inches off of the bodice bottom just to have the waistband come close to my true waistline…and it still is not as high as I would like.  Of course, rayon challis is so drapey and flowing it can make a garment seem a bit bigger than if the same was sewn in a cotton or some such stable woven.  However, this one was a true oddity I believe, and as cool as the design is, the sizing and some of the balance marks were just plain off.

Mail order patterns I see are rarely officially dated.  Most of the times I go by postage stamp codes and style lines, with the occasional notes scrawled down which sometimes have a date.  From my research, the postal stamp is mid to post-WWII, with this asymmetric paneled style being so very specific to circa 1947, as well as very frequently used for Marian Martin line.  (See my Pinterest board “Asymmetric” for examples.)  There are some dresses and patterns similar in the years 1946 and ’48, but the average year comes back to ’47 and with my India-theme going on, I am going with 1947 for this project.  Besides, the silhouette is lean and elegant to this dress, and the full, quarter circle bias skirt in the front only (yes! so lovely) is something obviously later post WWII, when fashion was gearing up for a whole ‘new look’ of the 50’s.  The ‘straight off the heels of rationing’ patterns of 1946 would never have a skirt like this one…the likes of which are not to be seen since pre-WWII, year 1939 (such as my Whitney Frost “Superior” dress).  I originally had the notion of making this dress pattern a full wrap-around button down designer-knock-off design, like this one in the book “Forties Fashion” by Jonathan Walford.  But, no, not this time around…This dress is sneakily not draped even though it looks like it – it is actually asymmetrically paneled, sewn like that with the borders facing in.  The only true drape is in the back – a separate sash attached and hanging down from the one shoulder to anchor at a loop in the opposite side’s waistband.  This I added…it was my own idea both to use extra fabric (practical level) and to make it closer to a true Indian garment, one that would be appropriate for religious occasions (culturally respectful level).

My fusion of western and cultural influence in my dress is not just something from me – it is something that the most well-known (native, non-British) ladies were doing at the time in post WWII India.  One of the most inspirational women of our modern times actually gave me the idea for this outfit – Maharani Gayatri Devi, princess of the Indian princely state of Jaipur.  Many of her most well-known pictures (such as the early 40’s ones by Cecil Beaton or the one I’m including from The Calcutta Telegraph, 1945) show her wearing a sweetheart neckline dress, with a sari sash across the front, a look I sought to imitate by having the border print swoop directly parallel with one angle of the neckline.  She was a successful politician (winning in a Guinness recorded “world’s largest landslide”), and a supporter of the cultural arts and learning for girls, so she was much more than just a pretty face, although she was known for her beauty and fashion sense.  Also, post 1946 saw a boom, a resurgence of the already steamrolling Bollywood business and famous actresses such as Nargis all could be seen post WWII wearing dress styles very similar to my own – especially in the 1949 movie Andaz.

The border to this fabric was lovely – multi-layered like a sedimentary rock and therefore very useful for many purposes and fun to play with.  The border started along the selvedge with the dark green strip, which I used as the waist band for high contrast.  Small snippets of the green can be seen on my one shoulder and at the bottom asymmetric hip seam, but I didn’t want that color to stand out as much anywhere else besides the waistband.  Next, come layers of dizzying, fanciful, decorative scroll work and relief images, such as one would find on a building.  These layers were lined up with one side of the sweetheart neckline, and the asymmetric front dress panels.  Boy, was this step tricky!  I actually miss cut, and luckily I had just enough extra fabric to make a new bodice piece.  The border on the upper bodice piece dissipates down, while the lower hip panel has the border going up towards my head, making the whole of my front middle appear as if it’s a swath of a sari wrap.  The only full border is on the long sash that I made.  This sash come from the one shoulder which has the border print, and it can hang down loosely, but I mostly like it when it drapes across my back, made possible by looping into a small bias tube casing I added in the waist of the opposite side, where the side zipper closes.

The fabric’s background is equally as lovely and intricate, but the toned down colors of khaki and white hide the print which adds to the symbolism of the dress.  If you look closely there are ceremonial decorated elephants in white!  Elephants definitely one of the animals of importance to the culture of India, partly – no doubt – due to the fact Ganesh, one of the best-known and most worshiped deities in the Hindu pantheon , has the head of an elephant.  However the pachyderms on my fabric are so fancy they are they look like the ones paraded through festivals, such as the Dasara festival at Mysore or the amazing Tysar Purim festival.  Elephants are at the entrance of the temples and were heavily used for construction of large structures such as temples and palaces.  They represent some wonderful attributes, such as strength and prosperity, and the rare white elephants (like on my dress) actually represent rain to India’s culture.  Luckily, it wasn’t inclement weather for our pictures, only a lovely sky to match the “Krishna blue” on the Hindu temple behind me.

To match the rich, dark colors in my dress, I wore my B.A.I.T. “Violet” peep-toe heels in forest green.  This is a killer 1940’s style heel that is synonymous with Agent Peggy Cater, used (in a navy blue) for the first season of the Marvel television show Agent Carter.  These are not that comfortable at all, and the ball of my foot aches and my toes sort of go numb after only several hours of wearing…not good, I know.  However, I got a good deal for these and they do match with a lot in my 40’s wardrobe, so, for relatively short periods of wearing, these shoes are awesome.  I put a lot of thought and detail into my hairstyle, too, although you can’t really see it in the pictures.  It is a mix of ethnic and 40’s, just like my dress – each side has a twist up which ends on top my head, with victory rolls and pompadour rolls front and back, sort of like this picture of the actress Brijmala.  With my ethnic brass hoop earrings, my outfit is set!

Sadly, I do not have enough places or reasons to wear my Sari inspired dress as often as I would like.  It is not something that fits many general occasions.  I think I will just have to put it on and wear it when I want to – there is no sense making something I love otherwise!  Often times, the vintage pieces I wear get people I meet and even random bystanders around me to make comments, ask me questions, and get a conversation going.  I like this, even welcome it – it is an opportunity I enjoy.  Hopefully, this dress will give off the same mojo as my other vintage outfits (whatever that is…) and get me and others talking.  We do have some very good friends that are just like family – they have parents who lived through the years of change in India, as well as distant relatives still in India – so this dress, and my research associated with it, will hopefully lead me to have an understanding of their culture like never before next time we talk.

I hope this post has inspired and informed you a bit regarding a little known facet of history which has had so much to do with making the modern world be as we know it today.  Please take a few moments on this anniversary of India’s independence to look up some extra info if you’re really motivated!  Let me suggest the short and sweet “Rarely Known Facts About India’s Independence and Partition” or the chock full of videos and pictures “Five Things You Didn’t Know About India’s Independence” for starters.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Escape and Evasion: a Post-WWII Map Blouse

A map can help you find your way, it can provide a safety net, be a memento, create a fashion statement, or even be the product of someone’s profession (cartography).  Believe me, a map is much more than markings and directions on material.  Are you ready for a trip?  Let’s have a go with a vintage blouse that incorporates all of those things I first listed, constituting the most out what truly is a map.

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The world is always changing, so a map necessarily documents a moment and place in time.  My blouse, although made in our modern times, pays tribute to 1946, and its post-World War II times and practices.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:   100% cotton is the content for both the map fabric and the inner lining fabric.  The map fabric is a ‘Tim Holtz’ brand print, from his “Eclectic Elements Expedition” line, and it is very silky soft.  The lining is a beige tan batiste, tissue thin but also super soft.1692-Simplicity

NOTIONS:  I bought the buttons to specifically match with the top (I’ll explain my reasoning further down), and other than that I really needed only thread, which was already on hand

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1692, a 1944 pattern re-printed in 2013

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse was completed in maybe 8 hours, and finished on September 8, 2014.

100_3760a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  Nice and clean – the side seams are flat felled, the bottom hem is bias covered, and the shoulder seams are covered by the lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was ordered from an online store and the “La Petite” buttons came from (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics for a total of about $25.

Now, I know history buffs out there like me will see my “Facts” and notice and say, “Hey, she’s making a Post-WWII 1946 blouse out of a war-time 1944 pattern!”  Well, yes, I know.  Many styles in fashion then did not have any radical changes during and right after the war, due to many factors.  It wasn’t until 1946 that rationing and “making-do” just began co-existing with a postwar boom all things – more patterns, new fashions, buying of material goods, and even a plethora of babies 😉  Besides, I adapted the pattern design to be more appropriately a 1946 style with its kimono-style cap sleeves and button back.  My adaptations to the pattern were based off of this old original 1946 silk chart blouse as seen in Jonathan Walford’s “Forties Fashion” book (below), as well as this vintage Globe novelty print 40s blouse seen here on Etsy.

Map blouse from 'Forties Fashion'

I luckily made all sorts of annotations to the pattern after my first and second versions and knew what to do to make my third time around the best success yet.  My notes of how to fit the pattern to myself helped me concentrate on changing the design and lengthening the set in sleeves to become another mid-1940’s classic style.  Rather than cutting the back bodice on the fold, I cut mine with a seam and extra seam allowance.  A long underlap was drafted, as was the skinny bias tubing, so I could have the back be button closed.  Sure it is somewhat of a contortion trick to close it on myself, but it is also very 40’s (and looks awesome).  Hubby always shakes his head at the things we women go through to make and wear these vintage fashions.

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The print is some sort of conglomeration of fragmented antiquated maps with wind info and some random highlighting of towns.  It has a nice earthy yet pastel-like background composed of the basic colors in traditional camouflage.  I would have preferred more of a topographical chart or a real 1940s WWII chart, but this is not the last time I intend to sew with maps, so perhaps next time I’ll get exactly what I would like.  On my blouse, the continent of North America with the USA is right over the heart on the left of my chest – at least this is just how I’d like it!

100_3762-comp,wAlthough my blouse is made from cotton fabric (albeit quite nice cotton), it is intended to imitate extant original Post-War clothing which had been made from no longer used/needed Escape and Evasion Charts.  The use of more aerial fighting, bombing, and reconnaissance necessitated maps to be the newest ‘not-to-be-without’ equipment for WWII.  These charts, nicknamed EVC’s, are not bombing aids yet they are also more than just maps.  By being printed with specialized information onto fabric they instantly become an all-in-one survival tool to help someone such as a downed pilot, a lost ground troop, or a POW evade danger and survive both the surroundings and possibly unfriendly people.  Navigation aids, terrain info, edible animals and plants, and crude personal care are listed.

Now, just to be clear, I am talking about the true EVC’s made by government cartographers, not the one’s made out of alternative materials by and for POWs attempting to escape incarceration and also not the maps for remaining alive in aquatic regions, although all of these do fall under the “SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape)” training military personnel receive.  That out of the way – originally, WWII EVC’s were small and either handed out or sewn as the lining to airmen’s jackets.  The Map pouchAmerican Charts were normally oiled rayon, while the charts issued elsewhere (mainly Britain and Australia) were pectin-coated silk.  The coating strengthened the material, kept the ink from running, and provided airmen with something rather flexible and non-crinkly (silent to use) yet waterproof so their chart could catch water and keep something dry.  The modern EVC’s are not only more detailed, but also made out of spun olefin, branded as Tyveck (house wrap), and have evolved into something as large as a blanket so they can also be used as a hammock, shelter, and bandage, to list a few out of many uses.

After the war, these charts because the source for much re-purposing, and during the war a hubby or sweetheart that no longer needed his chart could provide the rationed woman some precious extra material.  (See here what an old WWII charts looks like before being made into garment.)  Surplus and de-classified Evasion Charts were often a memorial of what a hubby and/or sweetheart endured, as well as silk or rayon that wasn’t going to be wasted.  Thus, so many of these special charts became clothing for a good number of women in the years following WWII.  I find it funny how most of the charts became underwear and lingerie – rather cheeky!  Visit my Pinterest board for EVC re-use to see more inspiration and info.

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Of all the re-using and re-fashioning that went on during WWII, Escape and Evasion charts are by far the most enthralling, most intriguing part, in my opinion.  What is so neat is that they are still useful today, being used after over 70 years!  It just goes to show the depth of history involved in things we take for granted in our everyday lives – maps, clothing, and just pure surviving.  Of all the novelty blouses that I could make, this one has the most passion behind it.  I hope this post made you think, and let me share with you about one of my favorite subjects!

“South of the Border, Down Mexico Way…”

The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely.  A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

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This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion.  The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts.  Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack.  Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me.  I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way.  If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.

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In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.

THE FACTS:Simplicity 1412,front cover-comp,w  

FABRIC:  basic 100% cotton

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1412, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse.  The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage.  My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.

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This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well.  It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this.  I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an 1945 LIFE magazine aricle on wrapped clothing to make yourselfunrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe.  I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top.  I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar.  This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board.  At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did!  However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams.  It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.

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My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me.  This fitting designation is unique.  Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”.  According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small.  No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much.  Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!

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There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success.  Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck.  In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down.  Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams.  Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam.  Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be.  Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches.  Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel.  Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.

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The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel.  With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath.  Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug.  So – my answer is two-fold.  Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie.  Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic.  The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining.  This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties!  I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me.  A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.

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This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it.  Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade.  Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s.  There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a Grandma pics,wfeatured sequin neckline detail.  Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article.  See?  Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…

I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time.  Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe.  I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty.  The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism.  My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions.  Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”.  Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow.  However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.

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My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs.  “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes.  No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song.  I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.

I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post.  I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.

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“Laundry Day” Dress

Have you ever had those days where you have errands to run and things to do but you want to be casual and comfy yet not completely dressed down?  No matter how nice it still appears, this is another much needed, throw-on, chore-time dress…yet it’s still vintage!

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Here’s a dress from 1948, something late in the 40’s and not yet 50’s, that now, re-made and sewn with modern fabric, becomes a frock for current times!  The lovely ribbon-like seersucker fabric of the dress is effortless to wear and take care of (it’s meant to be wrinkled, for goodness sakes), making this one of my wardrobe’s go-to, easy-wear pieces for those “laundry days”.  The cream, white, yellow, and green tones are a lovely combo that has a cool mental ‘feel’ for warm weather, yet pairs well with many cardigans and blazers in cooler temps for a multi-season garment.  What more could I want from a dress?!

Betty and Peg Braden - 1948, smaller picTo put the icing on the cake, this dress looks much like one worn by my Grandmother, as seen in her high school pictures.  She was 18 in 1948, and there are several pictures of both her and her sister from that year lounging around the high school campus with her books, both wearing matching, striped, button front dresses.  Her mother, and herself as well, were good at sewing whatever they needed, so I’m DressLikeYour Grandma Challenge 2017 badgecurious as to whether or not their two dresses were made by them.  My Grandmother’s dress, in particular, (on the left) has the most fun with stripe placement, most similar to my dress.  Her dress and mine even have the large, handy horizontally striped hip pockets, too!  This is a lovely knock-around-town dress, so I perfectly understand her style in these pictures now.  I guess it’s no wonder this dress is part of Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.

THE FACTS:

McCall 7212, year 1948 day dress,pFABRIC:  a 100% polyester seersucker, with the bodice facing and pocket lining cut from a scrap of 100% cotton

PATTERN:  McCall #7212, year 1948

NOTIONS:  all that I needed to buy was a pack of buttons, but the bias tapes, thread and hook-and-eyes were already on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  not long – 7 hours.  It was finished on August 23, 2016

THE INSIDES:  Every edge is cleanly and easily finished off in yellow bias tape. (In this detail pic, you can also see my “fake” feature at the waist – there might be a button and a button hole on the outside, but there is really only a hook-and-eye inside to keep things stable.)

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TOTAL COST:  This fabric has been in my stash for as long as I can remember (it was in my parent’s fabric stash first).  Thus, I’m counting the fabric as free, so all that this dress cost was the pack of buttons…$2.00!

I actually hated what I saw of this dress as it was coming together.  It did fit perfectly in the size that it was, and it was mildly challenging yet easy enough to be fun.  It’s just that the dress ran so darn long…as in ‘evening length’ long.  I know that fashions from post-WWII were much longer, more mid-calf than the actual early 40’s shorter knee length of my dress.  However, this was the only length that I felt looked good on me and did well for the dress, too.  I’m not one to try to be so authentic to every detail at the cost of sacrificing my taste and my style and happiness with making a garment.  The shorter length also solves a few issues as well.  Yes, there is a deep 8 to 10 inch hem on my dress, and –no- I did not want to cut it off because it makes the poufy, lightweight fabric hang nicely and it also results in a completely no-see through skirt (which would have been a glaringly obvious problem otherwise).  Guess I was ‘taking down two birds with one stone’ as the saying goes!  After all, I did have four yards of this fabric so I might as well keep it on the dress rather than in my ever growing scrap pile…

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The hardest part about making this dress was deciding on the buttons – of all things.  It took me a week to figure that out.  I even ordered matching green buttons…which I didn’t use.  I looked through my substantial and varied button stash from Grandmothers on both sides of the family, and still nothing seemed to be ‘the one’.  This is when hubby came to the rescue.  He enjoys browsing through button collections and frequently has a good eye for my projects.  He said I needed to go with something not distracting from the rest of the dress, but extremely plain, basic, and mundane, so I picked out the cheapest bulk pack of what were labelled as “sweater buttons” at the fabric store.  I think he nailed it here.  Where I would be without his help sometimes, I don’t know.  (Don’t tell anyone that my man goes with me to the fabric store!)

Instead of choosing the high, choking, buttoned-up-to-the-top view, I chose the option that has the slot-type of neckline with buttons starting at the middle of the chest.  However, I still thought it looked a bit confining so I merely have both sides of the neckline flipped back as if they are lapels and only temporarily tacked into place.  Guess it’s a good thing after all that my cotton facing for the bodice matched with the dress so well!  I think the lapel neckline softens and lends more of a relaxed casual air to the dress (which I want) than the proper and perfect drawn cover version on the envelope.

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I sort of feel bad that I did kind of copy off of the cover by using a green striped fabric.  At the same time, I don’t feel guilty.  You see, after looking around at all the versions of this same sort of style of dress (and there are lots of them believe me, dating from about early 40’s to 1950s, at this Pinterest page of mine), I realized that many of them were in a green striped fabric of some sort.  As I figure it, I am going along with a late 1940s trend, not just copying the cover to give me a good reason to use up a long-time occupant in my fabric stash, ahem.  Besides, I did find ‘proof’ that this type of ribbon seersucker was around years back.  Granted they wouldn’t have had a fabric made from polyester in the 1940s, but look at this old original 30’s dress for sale at Emily’s Vintage Vision’s Etsy shop – doesn’t that type of fabric for the bodice seem so very similar to the fabric for my dress?

DSC_0257a-comp,wWe were happy to chance upon a vintage Laundromat in one of our shortcuts to get from one errand to the next.  Funny thing is, I found out that day this dress actually repels water and keeps me dry.  I suppose the tight polyester and rippled seersucker keeps the water rolling right off.  Later on, at a “Steak n’ Shake” for lunch that day, when my dress did get wet from my water glass, the fabric sort of “held” the water and kept my under layers dry.  This is one weird but awesome fabric – I haven’t had another material act like this.  Now, the only problem was making sure my natural fiber wedge espadrilles and braided cord belt didn’t get wet, too…

At the onset of this sewing project, I was aware that I have a similarly styled dress dated to the year before, 1947 (see it here).  It does have the same slashed neckline and pockets, but with the stripes and buttoned front, this post’s dress is different, after all.  This is a look alike to one my Grandma wore anyway, so that’s a big win.  Maybe this is just a trend of the post war that I like.  I know the large pockets are a big draw for me.  Do you have a certain style niche in the history of fashion that you especially love for one reason or another?  Do you too find yourself copying envelope cover images more often that not?

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“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

DSC_0384a-comp,w,combo, Whitney and Calvin

The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

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