Cerulean Streamline Moderne

If the last gasp of the Art Deco era could be a color, I would say it is unmistakably a pastel baby blue.  Many people do not know that a beautiful but mutated form of the geometric architectural style prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s was still strong in the WWII era.  We often think of fashion as being inspired by nature or movie costumes or world events but I see a correlation between the blue angled buildings of 1940s Streamline Moderne era and many of the powerful, angular garment designs of the Second World War.  There is no better example of this than the frequent use of plastron features on ladies’ dresses between 1942 and 1947.  Of course, I had to interpret such a pairing through my sewing…

This follows on the heels of my first post of the year where I shared a 1988 dress with a plastron front which has strikingly similar elements to this mid-1940s dress.  The 80’s frequently rehashed many WWII era points in its clothing styles but you gotta go back to the source to figure things out.  Firstly, I addressed what a “plastron” is in this post here – it is generally defined as a type of interfaced chest yoke that fills in the hollow between the shoulders and bust and frequently extends down to the hipline.  The fact that it was so popular in the 1940s can be seen in this 1943 leaflet, which has several different plastron style dresses, and Constance Talbot’s sewing book from 1947 which defines the word.  Just as Streamline Moderne architecture was seen as sleek, futuristic, and modern for its times, no doubt a plastron front was regarded in a similar mindset.

In our town, Streamline Moderne architecture is defined as the end of the Art Deco built environment, lasting between 1936 and 1945 (with a slightly earlier timeline for Europe).  The building behind me is a perfect, classic example of the American interpretation of the style despite the fact it is merely a façade front added circa 1943 (the year of my dress) to the lowest level of a brick late 19th century building.  Its “rounded and sweeping lines” of chrome-plated trim reminiscent the means of wind resistance used on trains, ships, and autos.  It has minimal ornamentation and color on an angular plan, highlighted only with the creamy blue glass tiles called Vitrolite.  Many Streamline Moderne buildings were made working through the last funds of the Public Works Administration, the second half of the New Deal agency that made grants for construction to local governments between 1935 and 1944, so no wonder it had an Art Deco air.  Even though the building behind me had been a small department store in its heyday, it has the same look of the Greyhound bus stations built across the U.S. during the Streamline Moderne period.  The idea of the style was to add movement and convey the sense of travel to something stationary, after all.  My photo’s location has been named the “Paris style” building ever since its 40’s refresh, to give us mid-west people a trip over the ocean to France where the Moderne style all ‘began’ (at the 1925 Exposition of Decorative Arts).

A plastron dress is not so unlike the buildings of its times.  Plastrons really widen the shoulders and slim the waist (especially when in a contrast color), just like what the 40’s and 80’s preferred.  Streamline Moderne buildings are impressive in a confident but pleasing manner, just like WWII women’s fashion.  A well-tailored garment can add complimentary appearance movement to our bodies – whether stationary or not – and can transport us to a happy, confident place in our internal mental vision.  A smartly designed garment can deceive and please the eyes with the visual appearance of a sleek form.  They are not much different after all!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a slub-textured, navy and oatmeal colored linen and rayon blend, with the solid contrast being an all rayon challis, and the entire dress body fully lined in a buff satin finish poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1777, reprinted in 2012, originally Simplicity #4463 circa 1943

NOTIONS NEEDED:  thread, a long 22” zipper, and interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this dress took me about 20 hours, and it was finished on November 4, 2014

THE INSIDES:  Nice!  The side seams and armscye are finished in bias tape, and the plastron facing covers up the center pleating, but all the rest of the seams are French.

TOTAL COST:  All the fabrics for this outfit came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics, and were picked up on clearance.  I don’t remember the cost anymore but my total could not have been over $20.

For as much as I love this dress, it is a problematic re-issue because it had been significantly changed from its original 40’s design.  The blog “Black Tulip Sewing” has an excellent and very eye-opening post that clearly lays out the differences between her original (Simplicity #4463) and the reprint.

No wonder I had problems shaping the back waist (it ran long and wasn’t curved nicely)!  As much as I made a deal in the post of my Agent Carter dress about how full back zippers were apparently a real “thing” in the 1940s – albeit unusual – I had problems with all the curving that was drawn into the center back seam.  This gave me a suspicion something was off even before I saw The Black Tulip’s post.  There was supposed to be a side zipper or neckline closure.

Looking at The Black Tulip’s blog review, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be flared and have most of its leg room from the shaping in the side seams creating a general A-shape.  The reprint has a basic straight skirt, then added so much more pleating in the front, at and around the bottom of the plastron, to account for fullness and ease of movement instead.  However, it only made things quite bulky and challenging to sew (although the fanned out darts are quite beautiful).  1940’s patterns are generally pretty smart the way they are originally and such dramatic changing does not do anything but harm when you’re starting with something just fine to begin with.  Leave the good stuff alone, Simplicity.  Unnecessary fiddling is nothing but a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, ever since 2016, Simplicity started staying true to the vintage lines for their reprints…only now, they are no longer giving us any past styles it seems – boo hoo.

That being said, I’m glad I persevered through all the quirks that made this a pain to sew and fit.  Fully lining the dress was probably not the best idea, but the linen blend material was thin and loosely woven so I didn’t have much of a choice.  One step which I am glad I did do was heavily interface both the inside (lining) and outside plastron.  If I hadn’t, no amount of clipping would have disguised or held up to the thick seam allowances sandwiched in between.  These older Simplicity vintage reprints often have smaller sized sleeves so I thought ahead and cut mine on the bias.  The sleeves are still closely fitted but at least the fabric is not restricting.  Besides, I really like the change in texture I get just by cutting the sleeves on cross-grain.  I do wish I had added a few extra inches to the hem length.  I only hemmed by adding bias tape on the edge and turning that under because I did not want to make the dress any shorter.  Can’t win at everything all the time!

What proper 40’s outfit would be complete without hat and gloves?  I even bought out my old shoes clips!  All accessories are true vintage, yet only the hat had a makeover before it could pair with my dress.  It was originally from the 1970s.  Those 70’s fedoras are close to a proper 40s hat…but as the saying goes, “close only counts with hand grenades”, ha!  It had a really deep pinch at the tippety-top of the crown that kept the hat sitting too high on my head.  Luckily, it was an all woolen hat.  These are easy to re-block with some hot steam!

I first stuffed the inside of the hat with a very tightly wadded up bath towel, rolled into a ball.  Some sort of inner base – be it a kitchen pot or wooden mannequin head or bundled towel – is necessary to both help shape and protect the hat as well as keeping it from shrinking too much when it cools down.  Then, with my iron on its highest steam setting, I kept shrinking the tacky pinches out of the crown.  You never really touch the wool (unless you cover it with a pressing cloth) only come close with the seam.  Being careful of my hands, I would reach in and flatten/reshape the crown in between good steaming episodes.  As you can see, I kept a fedora double ‘pinch’, but just made it more shallow and higher up on the crown. I made the mistake of coming too close to some of the fabulous iridescent feathers on the side of the hat and they shriveled up and wilted, needing to be cut off.  Thus, there are less feathers and more weird fluff than I would like to decorate the hat but at least I ended up with something I like better – and will wear more – than leaving it in its original state.

Unfortunately, both my dress and many 1940s Streamline Modern buildings are generally underappreciated today.  My dress was just fit when I first made it so many years back now, but my body has since changed slightly since then and I am no longer comfortable in it.  This post’s dress is currently hanging on my part of the rack where clothes go that need a bit of tailoring or repairs to be wearable again (it is a very small portion of my closet, fyi!).  Luckily, I have been holding onto a good yard leftover of my linen blend material, so giving myself a little extra room will be an unidentifiable fix the way I am planning it.

Sadly, many 80-something year old buildings which are being stripped of their ornamentation or completely torn down are not as easy to bring back to life as my dress.  Either in the rush towards ‘modern’ improvement or from neglect over time, such architecture is beginning to disappear (especially in my town).  When it’s gone, it’s really gone, because both the capacity to and general desire to recreate such things are missing today.  That only means that part of our story – the tale of our city, our collective history – is absent, too.  In the US, our societal account is not as ancient as Rome or Athens, for two well-known examples for contrast. Thus, it’s important for us to learn to appreciate the built environment that we do have and learn how to transition it into today while learning about what storied locations which have been lost to time and relegated to memory.  If making one simple dress can help me do just that, than I am pleased.  I love how finding such little hidden gems gives my research-loving mind a wonderful purpose to find out about and understand.  Here’s a toast to those awesome photo backdrops which make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time while wearing my self-made vintage!  Here’s a wish to having these great spots stick around all over the world so everyone else can visit and enjoy them, too!

“Down Under” Again

After my last post, I still had the bug in my system of wanting more knock-off “copies” of the costumes from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  I remembered suddenly I did have the fabric in my stash, just waiting to be sewn, to have one of Nicole Kidman’s very practical shirt and skirt outfits she wore out on her northern open land of Faraway Downs.  The combo of stash busting and making a movie inspired outfit is both useful and feels great!  In my mind, I’m not in my mid-western American town wearing this…I’m “down under” during the lush wet season.

The blouse was the only thing I made from scratch for this outfit, as I did do a fair amount of work recently to make the skirt something I like to wear today.  You see, the skirt was bought ready-to-wear quite a while back now as I have had this since my early teen years.  At this point, it’s probably almost vintage.  I ought to just be happy I still actually fit in something I’ve had for two decades, I suppose!  Anyway, since about 2005 I have had the skirt stashed away as something I was no longer interested in and saw it as a possible source for a refashion.  When I realized it was almost line for line a copy of Nicole Kidman’s skirt in “Australia” (gosh, it’s even the exact same plaid with the slight lavender striping!) I picked this back out of storage to give it TLC it needed.  The updates primarily included shortening its former long length with a wide hem and using some of that excess fabric from inside the hem to make four belt loops to stitch on the waistband.

Many accessories are true vintage and they are all some of my nicest items.  The belt is all leather and a very dramatic and awesome 1940s style from the 1970s.  My neck scarf is all-silk with a hand-rolled hem, found at a vintage shop, Anne Klein brand.  My ‘almost vintage’ dated skirt is “Norton McNaughton” brand, and I love the quality finishing inside…the plaid matching is impeccable and there is bias binding over the edges inside (worth saving).  My boots are one of my favorite brands – White Mountain.  Trekking through the tall grass needs tall boots!  Finally, my perfectly matching coral red lipstick is “Happy” from the Besame “Snow White 1937 Anniversary Collection: Seven Dwarfs” set.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a wonderfully thick yet soft 100% cotton print from the (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4528, year 1943

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – thread, interfacing, bias tape, and true vintage, real carved shell  buttons out of the inherited stash of Hubby’s Grandmother. 

TIME TO COMPLETE:  one evening’s worth of about 5 hours – it was finished on September 7, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  all bias covered in a fun and cheerful bright red tape!

TOTAL COST:  As I bought this about 3 or 4 years back, and it is only 2 yards, I don’t remember how much this was but probably not much because I always used to get great deals at Hancock Fabrics

Now, the best part about this blouse was the assurance that it would be my size directly out of the envelope and that it would turn out great.  I have made the trousers twice before now using this same pattern (see here and here), and they needed not an ounce of alterations to fit like they were designed with my body in mind.  I took it for granted that the blouse would be the same perfect fit and I was correct here.  I do need to make another copy of this so I can have a permanent copy for myself because this pattern is worth its weight in gold to me!

This pattern is technically listed on the envelope back as a “pajama set”.  This to me is more like a home lounging set which looks so close to regular clothes that if the pattern is made out of apparel fabrics (cotton, rayon, shirtings, or twill) both pieces can pass as street wear, I believe.  Made of flannel, knit, or a quilted fabric would no doubt bring it closer to pajamas.  Either way, this is a practical and cute set with just the right amount of details.  Nighttime and at home clothes were much more publically presentable in the 1940s the more I look at that era’s patterns.

I LOVE the lapels to this blouse!  They’re so defined and equally pointed for both lapels with just the right amount of 40’s obnoxiousness that most collars from that era have.  What I found strikingly unusual about this is that the buttons only end mid-chest.  Most other vintage convertible collar blouses still direct you to make buttonholes and sew buttons down all the way up to the top (multi-use) even if you don’t really plan on closing it that high (I don’t always listen that well to such directions).  The lapels are tailored well apparently because they are meant for showing off!

It is hard to find a 1940s blouse that is lacking the shoulder gathers and bodice gathers, so this one is a real gem.  As much as I like blouse details, a smooth vintage blouse, or at least one with only darts to shape it, is harder to spot which original era it comes from and is best for thicker fabrics.  I have only one other true vintage 40’s era blouse design like this on hand – a year 1941 Simplicity jumper outfit pattern that I have used 3 times now (see the first version here and the second here).

The date of this pattern – 1943 – is great for matching up with the supposed year of the movie scene my sewing was inspired by.  This outfit comes from the last few minutes of the movie before the credits roll, and it was supposed to be about a year after the bombing of Darwin, which happened on February 19, 1942.  It was the first time that country had been attacked on their own land by a foreign power, and some reports say that 90% of the buildings were destroyed.  As Japanese Aid Raids continued on the country until the end of 1943 and she was staying back and not returning to Britain, so the safest place to go was into the wild country, the Faraway Downs.  But her ideal of a peaceful family life was not meant to stay forever as is seen in the ending scene.

Since all of Kidman’s outfits in “Australia” are so awesome, I do hope to make my own versions of more, but this will be all for now.  There are so many other projects in my queue, and with the season of Fall fast approaching, I know when to stop and be practical, but this outfit was too easy to whip up, and is too comfy to wear to have passed up for another time.  I hope to be prepared ahead of season with some transitional grey, black, and deep wine colored dresses and squeeze in the last of the warm weather garments while the sun is balmy with what projects I am sewing (and posting) this month and the next.

Fuchsia Pleats to Brighten Up the Greys

Winter skies here can be so blasé and I am not at all afraid to use bold color in my choice of sewing plans to counter attack that!  This post will try to be short and sweet about a not so simple 1940s blouse I made to complete a recently acquired vintage suit set of the same era.  This blouse proves that mantra, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” to be very true and not just words.  I indeed had to struggle to have this blouse turn out successfully and am so glad I persevered for this gem of a garment!

I will confess that I now have a hopeless taste for silk and silk blends recently.  A fine silk cotton is my especial combination of fascination – it can come in so many finishes, levels of opacity and crispness, besides the myriad of colors available.  Add that to its relative affordability, it is a no-brainer to choose for blouses.  Find some for yourself and you’ll thank me later.  Just don’t go and buy it all, now!

If I let myself get technical, I would guiltily admit that I am mislabeling this blouse because if you go by the book “a tuck is stitched down, a pleat is not”.  So this is a tucked front blouse whose detailing is made to look like what we conventionally think of as pleats.  There I said it – I’m admittedly wrong.  Nevertheless, tucks and pleats are frequent and lovely details on vintage blouse designs, and are a fun and relatively easy way to have a blouse that’s a complex, standout piece.  Tucks and pleats are just about cleverly manipulating folds of fabric after all.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 58% silk, 42% cotton blend fabric, opaque and rich in color with a sheen like a satin and a crispness like a shantung

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1165, year 1943, a “Ruth Warrick of RKO-Radio” design

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread at first, which I happened to have, but then I ran out of thread and I needed a zipper so I had to buy (at the last minute) some of my notions needed for this project.  Otherwise I used up some interfacing scraps for the cuffs, and I used vintage buttons from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  The buttons might look like cut glass, but I believe they are Lucite

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This blouse was finished on November 20, 2017 after maybe 20 plus hours invested in it.

THE INSIDES:  So nice I’m tempted to wear the blouse inside out…well, almost!  100% French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered this from a seller on Etsy than imports in from Hong Kong so it’s at a discount.  Two yards cost me only $14 including shipping.

Now, before I get into the details of the blouse, let me gush over the suit details.  From what I have seen in my research, I can date this suit with relative certainty to circa year 1946.  It could be as early as year 1944, but not much later than 1947.  They just do not make suits remotely close to the level of quality and beauty as they did in the past.  This wool, though it is plain grey, has a satin sheen in varying colors that is simply breathtaking.  Pictures just cannot capture that shine, neither can they convey the substantial thickness of the wool and the crepe lining inside.  These kinds of fabrics sadly are not to be found anymore.  This wool is almost like a felt in plushness, and with the lining and complicated, impeccable structuring I can feel is going on inside, this is more like a jacket than just a suit jacket.  If you haven’t ever felt what a 1940’s quality suit is like, you need to experience it.  Put it on your bucket list!  These garments are truly transforming when you put them on.  They make you feel like the best darn good version of yourself you never knew existed.  I feel like I can tackle anything in a killer vintage suit – they’re empowering.  The trick is to take your measurements, know what garment measurements would work well for you, and then wait and check around to find the one that “suits” you!

More often than not, unless you are willing to make a larger monetary investment, a vintage suit will need some upkeep and TLC, with many even missing their matching skirt.  This jacket needed its buttons tacked on and some popped seams closed up, but these are the most common repairs with vintage pieces as cotton thread was frequently used back then and is to the point of disintegrating by now.  Luckily, I had a matching skirt, only it didn’t fit me very well, not like the suit jacket did.  Since someone had obviously tinkered with the skirt before I received it, adding modern-style repairs I wasn’t happy with, I didn’t feel too bad when I refashioned it so I could wear it.  The waistband was unpicked and removed to make a center back panel that gave me about 3 inches more of booty room and better, curved shaping around the waistline.  To finish the waist, I turned under the edge in simple bias tape.  Without the waistband, the skirt does have the tendency to droop now, but at least it is more wearable for me and I was able to fix it using all of the same original material!

With all the effort I put into bringing this vintage suit set up to snuff, I felt that a more detailed and complex blouse was especially worth it here.  Don’t get me wrong – anything anyone makes for oneself is ‘worth it’.  I just mean that a rich looking, detailed blouse that might take more time than my normal project would justly give my suit set the finishing touch I was seeking to have a full outfit that has a bang!  Of course, the right accessories help that, too. My gloves, handbag, and hat are all true vintage, as well as my Grandmother’s jeweled turtle brooch and earrings set.  My two-tone spectator pumps are new reproductions from my favorite vintage-style brand, Chelsea Crew.

Finally, to the blouse!  Not that I don’t have blouses already that work with this suit – of course, white and black tops match here, primarily because of the buttons.  But that is so boring and predictable.  Blouses with collars distracted away from the lovey curved collar (and matching pocket flaps!) on the suit.  My oldie-but-goodie 40’s basic round neck satin blouse works nicely under the suit, so for my new shirt I reached for a rounded neck blouse with interest down the front that would peek out.

I have been wanting to use this Hollywood blouse pattern that I have had for years!  Ever since I saw Emileigh of “Flashback Summer” blog make a Maasai-inspired version for herself using this pattern it has been higher in my sewing project queue.  I had a feeling that a solid color would be the best way to show off the detailing, and I think I was right.  Only, I was wrong when it came to estimating the sizing.  This pattern ran really small!  It was weird.  Emileigh had said that she felt her pattern ran large, and I have made another Hollywood pattern from 1943, the same year, that ran true to size, as well as one which ran very large from the next year.  It’s not that this pleated blouse pattern had weird proportions, for all the pieces were nicely marked and fit together well.  It was just all over small.  Luckily, when I graded the pattern up to my size, I gave myself and extra ½ inch or so just to be on the safe side so I had just enough bonus so that that a small change could fix things.  More on that change in a minute!  The only thing I can think is that this was an anomaly rising from the combo of an unprinted pattern and an off-brand company (meaning something other than the “Big Four”, Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue).  Many times unprinted patterns are less reliable in accuracy than printed ones due to how they were made in stacks of hundreds of sheets at a time, die-cast stamped with their balance marks and darts.  Also, out of all the vintage patterns I’ve worked with, I do find unpredictable sizing almost always in brand patterns like Du Barry, Hollywood, mail order, and even Advance.

You start with the front, which is in three panels – one side front on the left and right of the center panel that gets pleated.  Except for the center where they spread out towards the shoulders, the pleats are in “blind tuck” style, which has folds that meet each other so no stitching shows.  Then I made all bodice darts, sewed the back panels on, and inserted the sleeves.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, I adapted the sleeve fullness to be pleats rather than gathers as the pattern intended.  It was tricky to get the sleeves looking even and exact together when I was free handing the detailing.  I wanted the pleats on the sleeves to match the trim darts on the sleeve caps and the pleats on the body of the blouse.

That done, then I realized that the neckline add-on piece would make the blouse so high necked I might as well choke myself with it.  No, I was leaving the round neck panel off. So I took what little material I had left and made bias tape facing to cleanly finish off the neckline at the level it was at.  While I was at it, I then also made a bit more bias tape to cleanly hem the bottom of the blouse, too.  I tried it on without the back closing, and realized the bust darts needed to be re-stitched about one inch lower.  With that fixed, the blouse seemed to fit great, so I finished it by stitching in all the buttonholes and buttons in the sleeves and bodice back.  Here came the problem.

The blouse was not all that small of a fit in itself if I just stood with my arms to the side, but add in the back buttons and that was a difficulty.  I found it almost impossible to button the blouse closed on myself, with not enough extra ease room.  Once I did finally do that feat, I saw that when I reached out, the stress on the buttons was making me scared the delicate fabric might possibly rip.  Stitched on and already cut through buttonholes are non-reversible, so I thought, “Why not cover up the buttonholes (my only real option anyway) and add a pleated panel down the back to also cover up a zippered closure?”  This way the back of the blouse compliments the front and now has equally lovely interest, besides that fact that a separating zipper is so much easier to do blind reaching from behind and much stronger than four buttons could be.  Adding the panel with the zipper technically gave me one whole extra inch of space across the back, making my blouse fit me so much better overall.  A crisis was averted that night, and I actually like my method of covering up a sewing “failure” much better than if everything had gone according to plan.  Mistakes are often blessings in disguise, I suppose.

The Hollywood star associated with my blouse’s design, Ruth Warrick, is herself an interesting woman that is not heard about as much as she could, for being in the limelight in as many ways as she was.  First of all, she played the character of the actor Orson Welles’ first wife in the famous 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”.  She worked with Orson Welles on both the screen and the radio on several occasions because he said he was looking for a woman who “was a lady”, not just someone who could “play a lady”.  Mostly she is known for the later career in the television soap dramas.  She was in “As the World Turns” for a number of years after the show debuted in 1956, then she moved to “All My Children”, which she was part of from 1970 to 2005.  She has bonus points in my book for being a gal from my own state of Missouri!  It’s amazing how adding the association of a famous screen star can really add to a pattern’s appeal.  Pattern companies should bring back Hollywood patterns, and I’m not talking about cosplay either.

Speaking of Hollywood, this reminds me of a quote of some fashion advice by Joan Crawford, “Find your happiest colors – the ones that make you feel good.  Care for your clothes, like the good friends they are!”  (Full quote here.)  This is good advice for store bought clothes, even more so for things that you have sewn.  If you have taken the time to think of it, buy the fabric and work with the pattern, you are worth seeing what you have made be a success and not an unwanted failure.  However, Joan Crawford’s quote is especially the case for vintage items.  It would be sad if the general interest in fashion from the past also becomes the cause for it to be more scarce and therefore less attainable.  I don’t mean to get on a soapbox, but really – it’s kind of like what is said about our environment, we should leave vintage the same or better than how we found it, but never worse off.  Those who own a garment piece from the past should make sure to wear it only if it fits (as there will be less chance of it tearing irreparably and more chance they will like wearing it), take care of it, and examine, appreciate, and learn from it.  Without clothes from the past how will we learn and understand our present and future fashion styles?  Anyone who has or does sew vintage and even those who do not should appreciate the value of true authentic pieces in the hands of everyday people.  I hope you agree and enjoy what I have done to add value to this 1940’s suit set.

Pretty Blue Pinafore…

After my success with my last “Shabby Chic”, fully convertible pinafore, this next one is in the real deal vintage 40’s style as a one piece dress.  This pinafore dress has an amazing attention to detail and the way it was designed includes a new-to-me shoulder seam method.  This is also my first time making an Anne Adams brand pattern…and I love the fit, style lines and proportions.  It might not receive as much out-and-about wear as my last pinafore, but I think this was the most perfect use for a longtime orphan (material not yet matched to a pattern) in my fabric collection, a quaint feedsack printed seersucker I’d been holding onto for years.  Yay – one more bolt of fabric is out from my stash and able to be enjoyed.

If you’re confused about what a pinafore is, please see my preceding introductory blog post on “The Summer of the Pinafore”, the inspiration behind my recent sewing.  This post’s pinafore is not like the multi-use floral one with a modern flair that I blogged about last, so here I will further explore the colors, fabrics, and prints used in the history of pinafores.  It’s weird to see how pinafores seem to reflect deeply subtle societal changes in the times around them.  A garment for the basic needs of women and children has a surprisingly very rich history.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print with a slight seersucker texture

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4988, circa 1943

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in myexisting stash – thread, bias tape, interfacing scraps, a card of vintage baby rick-rack, a vintage metal zipper, and three vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this pinafore took me about 15 to 20 hours and it was finished on July 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean, as they are all bias bound.  The waistband is smoothly finished by an extra facing piece I added

TOTAL COST:  This unusual vintage specialty fabric was bought at Wal-Mart…of all places…as a “value print calico”.  I still had the receipt with the fabric.  2 ½ yards was bought back in March 2013 for $6.88.  What a stinkin’ great deal!

This is one of the very few patterns in my stash that had a very deep set personal, self-imposed “duty” to sew myself a version.  Why?  On a practical level, the pattern and its instruction sheet are absolutely crumbling to dust so I felt an urgency to make a dress from this design before the condition of the paper turned dire.  There is a better reason, though.  There is room to believe the original owner/recipient might be a distant relative we never heard of before!  You see, one weekend, on my occasional visit to our city’s antique and vintage shops, I came across a shocking and exciting find of a 1940’s pattern, whose old postal recipient had the exact same last name as ours.  Her address was in our same city, quite nearby, too.  Our last name is on the more unusual side, and it’s in the traditional German spelling, so the family has always said that anyone else with this same name in town was probably some relative, however distant.  Finding this pattern make the family dig into our genealogy again.  To make things even more special, the year of 1943 was written on the instruction sheet…very much appreciated because mail order patterns are seldom able to be so specifically dated.  Everything about this pattern was a touching, exciting, special opportunity…probably something that will not happen again and a neat happenstance to find in the first place.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I somehow was surprised at the amount of detail and well thought out design to this pattern, as if I thought mail order patterns were second rate.  I feel bad now because this was a killer pattern not in a standout or “chic” fashion way, but by having a great fit of both pattern pieces and finished dress, nice instruction sheet, and impressive design lines.  I am probably so used to primarily using patterns from the four major brands in every era (Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue), as well as the coveted yet well-known defunct brands (DuBarry, Hollywood, and Pictorial Review, to name a few).  I realized from using this Anne Adams pattern that I should give more mail order patterns a better appreciation.

Anne Adams from my knowledge is an all-American pattern company (yay!) which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s and were the last to use unprinted, pre-cut tissue.  Her company’s patterns were available through the local newspapers along with related Marian Martin brand.  Apparently, Anne Adams designs were from uncredited designers who tailored to real women, offering larger sizes and even customizing designs for local fashions trends (so the city girl and country girl could have their own style)!  Many Anne Adams patterns do have scalloping as part of their designs, with a penchant for trimming, so I suppose this pinafore is a semi-classic design for this company!  My pinafore does strike me as a very country girl look for a city woman to purchase…I can tell the pattern pieces had been used before so I’m really curious if it was the original owner – our mystery distant relative – that made this for herself!

This was unexpectedly challenging and sort of difficult in the way of being quite detailed and having many steps to make.  This step had to be done before this step…oh and don’t forget the trim…was the sum of my sewing progress in repetition.  I really needed those crumbly, falling apart instructions and the fact that there were substantial parts missing made sewing a bit more challenging.  Not meaning to brag, but for many garments I’ve been making recently, I have not needed the instruction sheets so having a project be a surprise challenge was a good change.

There is really a lot going on with this dress!  Most of it is in the front, and although the back is rather basic, it does have first-rate seaming and shaping.  I enjoy how the vintage metal zipper I used in the side really makes my pinafore strike me as close to an authentic vintage piece.  Asymmetric scalloped bodice closing, tapered rectangular neckline, set-in waistband, center front skirt box pleat, and curved, set-in-style pockets are all awesome, but I like the sleeve ruffles the best.

The shoulder seam is defined by the spot where the gathers are brought in and stitched down.  The smart part is that they are set into the main body of the dress!  The horizontal shoulder seams, which run from the neck outward, are divided into two separate seams – the true shoulder and the over-the-shoulder ruffles – by the vertical opening for the gathering to work.  This did make the bodice one big piece tow work with!  I had to iron the finished ruffles and stitch the seam allowance flat (facing towards the neckline) so that the over-the-shoulder ruffles don’t flare upward obnoxiously…what they want to do!  They might be over the top but these ruffles are so fun to wear and were interesting to sew – not to forget mentioning extremely comfy, too.  The openness of the sleeves and the airy breeziness of the ruffles make this so very easy to move around in, stay cool, and have all the freedom to perform all the necessary or menial tasks a pinafore is meant to be worn doing.

I’m not one for rick-rack on my clothes, by I’m actually surprisingly won over to the benefit a card of the vintage baby size notion added along the edges here!  As I said before, the quainter a pinafore is made, the more it is jazzed up with novelty embellishment, it only makes it look all the better.  Without the rick-rack, anyway, I do believe much of the seaming details would be sadly lost.  I just made it – I only had about 4 inches leftover of the rick-rack after I was done adding it along the pockets and neckline edges. Whew!  I couldn’t cut it any closer if I had pre-measured how much I would’ve needed.  I really think this project was meant to be!

The slight puckering to this seersucker makes it simply a dream to wear and work in.  Reproduction aside, this is (to my knowledge) the true vintage way of doing seersucker – not the giant bubbled, ugly print stuff I see offered nowadays.  It is so cooling the way it keeps an airy distance from off of the skin.  It holds a good shape without being too stiff or getting droopy yet stays soft and comfortable due to the brushed all-cotton content.  Fabric like this is a goldmine to come across these days and that’s a shame.  I’m glad I resisted the urge to hoard this because now I understand why its material gold…it’s not just because it’s rare, it also great to wear!

I suppose I went with a rather traditional color tone for pinafores by making mine in a primarily baby blue print.  You must remember, that in the 1940s blue was still considered a woman’s color and shades of red, including pink were a man’s tone.  The modern opposite methodology of thinking was not around as of yet (read a further explanation of the gender significance of pink and blue in this past post of mine).  Even Hollywood used primarily blue pinafores to costume their best actresses in the decade of the 1940’s, the era I see the most pinafores on the Silver Screens.  Perhaps the most famous of the blue pinafores has to be the gingham bib-style one worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” (of which I made my own version for a past Halloween).

Also, the popular 1945 musical movie “State Fair” abounds in blue toned peasant looks, aprons, and pinafores.  The movie’s main actress Jeanne Crain wore at least two shoulder ruffled, baby blue pinafores that were really more like jumpers than my own dress version.  For another obnoxious shoulder ruffled Hollywood pinny in a more basic color of white, I’d like to highlight one that Betty Grable and her associates wore in the 1944 movie “Pin up Girl”.  There’s even rick rack along the edges just like my own and Ms. Grable still looks hot!

Traditionally the pinafore was worn for many years in primarily white and it wasn’t until the 20th century that they became something worn by anyone other than children in prints and colors.  Going upon the concepts of Rousseau that children are their own entities with their “duty” being to learn, play, and be healthy, late nineteenth century girls, young women and sometimes small boys were dressed in pinafores made of plain, mostly white fabric, so they could have comfortable option to protect their clothing when they did their “work”.  With this concept, pinafore from that time were a sort of “uniform” for doing what children did best.  Besides, at that time modern methods of washing were not available and a basic white pinafore would’ve been relatively easy to wash, bleach and starch back to normal if dirtied.

In the 20th century, this had changed to the pinny becoming part of the clothes it was originally meant to protect.  In 1946, Life magazine noted this shift in an article on children’s dress, noting that “children used to wear washable pinafores over un-washable dresses. Now a pinafore becomes a washable dress.”  (Quote from the FDIM Museum blog here.)  Beginning somewhere after WWI (circa 1920s) novelty and juvenile prints, fabric with patented movie themes, and feedsack cottons also helped contribute to the pinafore usage switching from a basic, white, covering children’s clothes to a one-piece, fashionable garment for the dirty work needed to be done by all ages.  In 1941, the U.S. had about 31 textile mills manufacturing the fabric for bag goods which, in 1942, it has been estimated that three million American women and children of all income levels (roughly 3% of the population) were wearing at least one printed feedbag garment.  The element of fun was definitely brought in to loosen up the “uniform” of a pinafore with printed, colorful fabrics.

For adults to adopt a garment as childish in historical use, so sweet in its styling as a pinafore, I don’t think it’s because of being in a wishful time-rewind fantasy world.  Yes, it can be out of place to adopt the fashions of an age group different than your own.  I see it as extending the practicality of a garment, and bringing some lighthearted charm to mundane tasks with something as basic as what clothing is worn to perform necessary tasks.  The rise of the “junior” class of teenagers mid-1940s no doubt further propelled the idea of staying youthful (a key theme of pinafores)…what they found popular, adults paid some heed to and women found ways to bring their trends into their own style when desired.  Sure, pinafores evolved somewhat into playsuits, or jumpers to be worn over blouses, and even into dresses with ruffles and trim that mimic a pinny, so there was no rigid way to achieve a pinafore look.  But no matter what the kind of pinafore, they still find a way to way to mix practicality and playfulness in a way that can be perennially appealing.

Clothing of today is rarely such a hybrid mix of so many different aspects of appealing yet useful, comfy yet nice in one garment.  As odd as it might seem, a pinafore definitely has a place that can best be understood if you make and/ or wear one for yourself.  There are so many, unlimited ways to achieve some sort of pinafore style that I’ll take a chance and say that there is one that could work for any woman or child.  There are 1960’s simple A-line pinafores, 1970s prairie looks, and even modern ones out of denim or suiting.  Why just a few weeks ago the famous 19 year old actress Elle Fanning was out and about wearing a fuchsia pink pinafore with a crop tank underneath and designer accessories for an up-to-date option.  Perhaps my “Pretty Pinafores” Pinterest board can further inspire you to find a style that suits you, or at least find an image to like and appreciate.  Let me know when you find it!

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