Gift Sewing: A Reversible 1940s Apron

My most common item I create as a gift for someone is a really cute, finely detailed apron…and if not self-drafted, there is one pattern that I use for all of them.  It’s a vintage re-issue, Simplicity #1221, originally Simplicity #4939 from 1944.  This is a true winner of a pattern, with one cut piece needed to make it and a good design that has a complimentary fit.  Not every apron is so good at being fashionably waist slimming yet with full coverage for food stain protection, too.  Neither are all aprons so good at being a one yard, two hour project!  One of these days, I need to get around to making a version for myself, especially after making so many for others.  Here’s the post on my first gift version of this same apron pattern.  This particular one was going off to my hubby’s godchild as a present.   

This is the first time I had made a reversible apron, and I love how it turned out.  I wanted her (the recipient) to have something she would not find otherwise, something fun, and ultimately useful!  Just one layer of material (printed cotton) alone was too thin to be a useful against food splatters anyways.  As the apron design is so simple, it was easy to merely have the backing fabric become an optional, yet wearable, second side.  The entire raw edges are encased in ¼ inch bias tape so they look the same on either side, too, besides being an easy and colorful finish. 

The sizing is good for gifting, as well.  It is in loose, general blocks of measurements as small, medium, and large gradients rather than precise numbered sizing.  As long as I can estimate the recipient’s body as compared to my own, I can find the right size.  The waist of the apron should just about cover the front 2/3 of the wearer’s waist, so that always gives me a good way to choose what size to make after measuring the pattern in comparison.  The godchild is actually a 20-something who is my size body (or slightly smaller) so I made the apron to fit me.  However, it is always harder to let something go to someone else once you try it on for yourself, you know what I mean?

I made the ties as long as the pattern calls for, which is short enough for only a knot and not a full bow.  The neckline has no closures and flips over the head to lay on the neck and shoulders like a collar, so I feel the shorter ties complement the overall simplicity of the design.  At the base of the ties, I added a small name tag to credit me, the maker, so the recipient can remember who gifted it to her!

What is your go-to for handmade gifts?

Ready for Another Adventure?

Ah, I can’t help but interrupt my previously planned post for one that highlights Agent Carter…because she’s back!  Well, sort of.  Sadly, it has been confirmed Peggy will be back only in name only for the newest (and last) Season 7 of “Agents of Shield”, despite her romantic interest Agent Sousa being front and center in the most recent episodes.  I’ll admit that I have not been following “Agents of Shield” until now and I do despise the last ditch ideas of time travel which shows too often fall back on at the end of their run.  But if Agent Carter is back for some sort of relevant story continuation (which was cut short by the lack of an expected Season Three of her TV show), I’m here for it by adding more outfits from seasons one and two to my wardrobe and perhaps watching the new show.  I’ll pick up on sewin’ and postin’ more Peggy fashions, starting with recreating the first thing we see her in upon embarking on her new California adventure at the beginning of Season Two, “The Lady in the Lake” episode.  “Are you ready for another adventure, Miss Carter?” said Mr. Jarvis.  Oh how I do love having my own exciting escapades when in Peggy’s shoes!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Matte Blue 100% Silk Batiste (sorry, but it’s sold out now!) accented my handmade bias tape of Dove White Cotton Sateen, both from Fashion Fabrics Club

PATTERN:  an adapted version of Butterick #6374, originally a year 1944 design, reprinted in 2016

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing extraordinary – just thread, a bit of interfacing, and 3 vintage buttons out of the stash of hubby’s grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the hour or two spent to re-draft the pattern, sewing the blouse took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on June 11, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  French seamed with a bias covered hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the silk and a ½ yard remnant of the sateen cost me a total of just over $30.

First off, yes, I am wearing separates – a blouse and trousers (which are the Marlene pants from Burda Style, posted here) – and yes, my pattern for the top half of my outfit was highly redrafted from a dress pattern.  You did not read the facts above wrongly.  I wanted to start with a vintage pattern, of course, and all the blouse patterns I had on hand were not remotely close to what I wanted.  Yet I did have the 1944 dress pattern which had a similar shawl collar and strong, slightly full, shoulders.  After all, Peggy Carter was known for wearing mid-40s fashions prior to her time out in California in the second season, so the dating would be perfect, too.  I was never a big fan of the original dress, although I might eventually try it in the future, but I bought it anyway a few years back on one of those $1-something sales.  This way I feel like it is not just taking up useless space in my pattern drawers.  It has now actually come in handy, just not in the way initially intended.  I might have a large stash of patterns, but I do not hoard…the patterns I have are cared for gently and often preserved and copied, but they do ‘work’ for their keep here and they are much more than a pretty inspiration!

I first had to trace out the pattern as it was, from hip length up, and then tweak it.  Next, I extended the collar to be wider, especially in the front over the chest, as well as making it roll over itself better.  The back collar was drafted by me to be just wide enough for the edging.  I am so happy to have ended up with a collar which was just what I wanted!  The shoulders and main body are pretty much the same as the original dress, but I added greater wearing ease all over so it would be blousier than the original slim fitting dress.  The back bodice had a dramatic re-drafting because the original dress had princess seams.  I combined the pattern pieces to become one piece, cut on the fold, with two vertical fish-eye darts.  Remember, it really doesn’t take much to change things up dramatically on paper for a sewing pattern…an extra ¼ inch may go a long way.

The semi-sheer batiste needed to be double layered to be an opaque blouse, which was rather hard to pull off on only 1 ½ yards.  This silk is so lightweight and breathable two layers is no big deal, though, once I was able to fit the pattern pieces in.  Silk is the world’s most all-season, easy to wear, and overall beautiful fabric in my opinion.  The listing for this fabric said it was matte finish, but there is still the loveliest shine along every soft fold.  Even a matte silk blend has the same lovely sheen.  Every time I create with silk, I find it is more imperative than other fabrics to use a new needle in my machine, otherwise it create pulls in the fabric as I sew.

Now both the silk and the sateen listings say to dry clean them…bah!  Only in a few exceptions – and vintage acetate is one of them – have I come across a fabric that is not washable.  I wash woolens, silks, rayon, cottons, linens, and of course any man-made (i.e. polyester), as well as any combo of those, and have never come across any unpleasant effects of doing so besides a few wrinkles, which a good ironing can easily remedy.  Even many decorator fabrics can totally be washed, although their first dip in water does shrink them like crazy.  Washing all of these fabrics must be better for them anyway over harsh, unpleasant chemicals of conventional dry cleaning!  When in doubt, I do try and wash a small, snipped off test corner first.  So, don’t be afraid to get your fabrics clean, just do so in the gentlest way possible.  For me, this means either hand-washing, or placing them in a zip-closed laundry bag before machine washing on the delicate cycle.  A cleaner garment means less attraction for hungry bugs that might like to eat them, remember!

I am still thrilled over the lovely novelty of self-made bias tape, as seen in my making of my last project, this multi-use apron/sundress/ jumper thing (posted here).  Especially when your bias tape will take a front and center stage, it is important to have a quality notion.  So I started with a quality fabric to edge this blouse the way I figured it, and I’m so glad I did.  The slightly heavier weight of the decorator’s sateen is perfect for keeping the collar in place and stabilizing the soft silk.  The slight shine on the sateen matches the finish on the silk, too.  The very slight off-white color is a gentler contrast than a pure white.  I just love it when an idea for a garment comes together as good as or even better than I expected!  It’s the best surprise.

This ‘blouse-from-a-dress’ experiment opens up all new doors for my pattern stash, now.  A dress can be tweaked to become a jacket, a vest can have sleeves added to develop a blouse, or a skirt can be reformed into pants when you approach patterns as a fluid tool with great potential to aid in creating anything with your hands.  This is the beauty of sewing.  It is all up to you – the skies the limit!  Anything can be sewn up anyway you like it.

With that said, I want an entire wardrobe of everything Agent Carter has worn in her TV series, and so my sewing creativity in this sphere goes towards personalizing and doing some historical basing of my ‘copies’ of Peggy’s outfits.  “Copying” an existing garment you admire can be every bit as challenging, if not more so, as trying to match your own individual idea.  Sewing is an exciting undertaking in its own way, and even small adventures are important in our times when there is so much wrong about the world today and a pandemic has forced too many of us into an unwelcome isolation.  Stepping into Peggy Carter’s shoes and clothes is my ongoing quest that suits me up with her spirit of independence, personal confidence, sense of equity, and – of course – great fashion taste.  How is sewing your special adventure?

Tribulations of the 400th

Sometimes the easy patterns really throw me for a loop and make a sewing project surprisingly, mystifyingly challenging.  It’s when I least expect it, of course, and it never makes sense why.  The added pressure of reaching a milestone number for such a project probably didn’t help, too.  This post’s vintage dress was unexpectedly a tough one to reach nicely wearable status as my 400th project since 2012.  I had our last vacation of the summer as my motive and encouragement to power through and finish it, at least.  I do love a new me-made item whenever we take a trip and this bold little tropical hottie is here to show off her grand day out for fun in the sun.

Back in the late summer of that year of 2012, I started sewing again in earnest after a few years’ break and started keeping a log of all the projects I was making both for myself and others.  Mind you this by no means counts the paid-for commissions that I do on the side (which you don’t see) and the countless projects I have been creating before 2012 since my first lessons at seven years of age.  Most of the logged projects do appear on my blog eventually.  Even still, 400 is the last big milestone before I hit the grand number of 500 in the future!  Meanwhile, I have a lovely success story to share here and some wearable proof to my dedication to sewing all these years.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Hawaiian printed rayon challis

PATTERN:  McCall #5918, year 1944

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, a zipper, and a set of shoulder pads

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on August 22, 2019 after about 30 plus hours of effort put into the dress.

THE INSIDES:  A mix of French and overlocked (serged) seam finishing

TOTAL COST:  This fabric has been in my stash for so long I’m counting it as free, but I know it came from what used to be Hancock Fabrics many years back.  I always got the best deals from them so it probably cost me less than $15 for sure.

The dress pattern has an interesting story to it which I’ll explain first.  Back when I posted about making my mid-1930s lingerie set (post here) I found a random sleeve piece from a completely unrelated pattern with a date about a decade later in the mid-40’s.  It is a very clever self-faced cap sleeve I imitated when refashioning my nightgown (see it here).  Finally sighting the counterpart cover image had me speechless at its amazing details.  I posted about that mystery homeless sleeve tissue piece (here) and the kind seamstress Eszter at “Em Originals” let me know she had an original of the pattern that matched it. We exchanged pattern copies as a trade and now I have the whole dress!  Oh, the wonders of the global reach that the internet makes possible…

It was tough to feel out what fabric to match with the pattern, though.  I wanted something that screams daring and exotic and warm temps.  However, I also realized the lack of complicated seams would be perfect for a bigger print.  Letting go of this hibiscus blue-toned Hawaiian inspired rayon from my long time stash was quite hard to do, however.  It is such a saturated coloring in a print you don’t find but in vintage fabric.  Yet, I felt it was a perfect pairing.  Yes, the rayon provides great draping for the bias grain action and the neither the dress nor the design overwhelm each other, just as I had hoped.  Great fabric is meant for more than just ogling and petting while stuffed in a stash.  I think it deserves to be made into something to enjoy being both worn and appreciated no matter the risk!

The center front bodice completely carries this whole dress with it.  It is such a smart feature because it is not just for aesthetics but actually a really smart way to shape the bodice without a single dart necessary.  It made for a very interesting pattern piece that was good for my technical brain to see and understand.  The bottom of the V neckline ends at a casing that opens up the middle of the bodice.  There are ties that run through the casing and, when tied together, forms a little open spot that is so racy for the 40’s but low-key enough I don’t feel exposed.  The bust gets shaped from the center out this way in the best way possible, especially since the center casing is cut across the bias grain.  At the pattern stage, the front has the casing veer off away from the bodice so it ends up on different grain than the main body.  A double-fold, self-facing to finish the edges is included, too.  This one little detail more than makes up for the simplicity of the rest of the dress and was not as hard to make as it might sound.  I have seen this same kind of detail used on sleeves before (see here) so now that I understand how it works you might just see me try this on other garments in the future!

I had to dramatically grade up to make the pattern wearable for me, adding just over four inches.  While I was at it, I slightly tweaked the pattern.  To avoid breaking up the print even further and simplify the design even more, I joined the bodice and the skirt sections for a waist free back half.  The front has a skirt with the center seam cut on the straight grain to save room on pattern layout.  The darts to the back half met at the waistline anyway so I just turned them into one-piece “cat-eye” (also called “fish-eye”) darts on either side of the long, vertical center seam.  Changing the grainline in the skirt pieces works in favor of the dress I believe because there is now a bias which wraps around my hips for a wonderful shape and subtle flare at the hem.  I lengthened the dress as well to a ‘not very proper for war-time’ longer midi length because I personally liked how it adds to the silhouette.  A mid-length dress is more versatile and makes the most of the slinky rayon!

The main difficulty and frustrations with this dress primarily had to do with a new self-realization stemming from finding out that I had made a dress which was impossibly too small for me in certain areas…and I had absolutely no extra fabric to fill in for my oversight.  Cutting out this dress on just under two yards of fabric – even if it was 60” width – was extreme pattern Tetris.  A few inch wide scraps were all I had left.  I love being so efficient at using fabric but that means I have to be perfect with my cutting.

I do believe a third of my fitting problems with this dress might have been from tweaking the pattern the way I did.  The other third is probably from a dress designed with a very slim skirt – surmised afterwards both from the rather straight lines on the pattern and looking at the cover illustration (those two ladies have absolutely no hips whatsoever).  The last third of this dress’ issues originated from the frequent ill health I have been experiencing this year.  I only realized by making this 400th project that some of my body’s sizing has changed.  My proportions are slightly different now than what I have been for a good number of years.  My body had changed but the sizing I was drafting onto my patterns had not yet caught up because I didn’t know any better.  This kind of thing is never a pleasant pill to swallow and has been very demoralizing.  This 400th make was tough in more way than one.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness, I had wondering why some of my garments had been fitting me differently just lately.  I’m sure it is the kind of thing only someone like me would ever notice, because I am merely talking about a few inches more in difference, particularly over my hips.  Even still, I hate having to spend my extra time tailoring my garments to accommodate illness aftereffects I don’t want but have no control over at the moment.  Yet, at the same time, I am extremely thankful that I can even do such a thing to ‘save’ my clothes in the first place.  Ready-made and store bought items with their overlocked insides do not provide the leeway for extra room that ¾” or 5/8” uncut seam allowances can give.  This is why I prefer time-honored finishing techniques over using a serger.  Taking out both side seams as well as the center back seam all the way out to ¼” from the waist line down gave me just what I needed for the perfect fit to happily have a wearable dress.

A large part of the success to sewing, I do believe, is all wrapped up in the tricky knowledge of how to fit and adapt clothing.  Granted, getting to that point of a perfect fit was literal hell for me – I hate unpicking, especially when I originally made lovely French finishing inside, like I did for this tropical dress.  This is why the bottom half of the seams to my dress are unfortunately overlocked along their edges…I know, I just preached against it, but I was tired, down in spirits, and desperate.  A French finish on tiny seams is not something I wanted to take time for on what was supposed to be an easy-to-make project.  I was running out of time to finish the dress before the trip, too.  Nevertheless, as disappointed as I am with how this dress came together and failing in my ‘normal’ standards of quality, this dress is a joy to wear.

The colors make me happy, and can pair with so many combinations.  I chose aqua and turquoise accessories for these pictures, but light blue items really soften the tone and navy blends in.  Black heels and a fancy necklace with simple earrings brings this dress up to evening wear standards.  Better yet, the comfort on this is first rate.  It feels like I never took off my nightgown.  I realize, now that I have been sick for an extended time, I find myself tending more towards easy-wear vintage pieces.  Sure, I still love my tailored pieces with cinched waists and perfect darts that require me to wear my old-style lingerie to keep a perfect form and stature.  Yet, something as ‘throw-on-and-go’ as this dress is priceless.  Great details are not neglected, though, thanks to the never failing wonder of fantastic vintage designs.  It’s no wonder I make my own clothes, because I have no idea where to find anything comparable in ready-to-wear, even if such a thing is out there.

My “Conservative Gilda” Nightgown

The character of the woman Gilda, in the famous Rita Hayworth movie by the same name, is that of a bold woman, to say it tactfully.  In no uncertain terms, she is shown to the viewer – from that very first moment in the boudoir (watch it here on TCM) – that she is not scrupulous when using her female wiles for whatever emotional game or selfish desire she chooses to play upon.  The sheer tulle and off-the-shoulder nightgown says volumes.  Her character is so far removed from me, yet I love the relaxed, romantic aura of what she has on.  With a pattern already on hand that was quite similar, I hope to have tamed that famous Gilda nightgown into something more respectable.  Am I decent in this?  I think so.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton flannel and a sheer polyester tiny tulle

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1479, year 1944 (I’ve already made the tied-front crop top here as part of a playsuit)

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed for this on hand as it was all basic stuff – thread, some scraps of interfacing, and skinny elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took 5 hours to make and was finished on February 4, 2019

THE INSIDES:  French seams for the sleeves (including armscye), self-fabric bias binding for the neckline and bottom hem, raw edges for the long side seams

TOTAL COST:  The flannel was something I bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was going out of business – the tulle was just bought.  As the flannel was bought quite a while back for what must have been dirt cheap, I’m counting it as maybe $5 to $10.  Together with the $5 spent on the tulle, this is an under $15 glamorous steal of a nightgown!

This was a quick and ridiculously simple make for how nice it turned out.  Yet, at the same time it was a total fabric hog, especially since I chose the ankle length version (for both more warmth and elegance).  What is practically two giant rectangles comprise both the front and the back, taking up 3 ½ total yards of flannel!  This is partly the reason for the sheer sleeves – I flat out ran out of fabric for them.  However, hubby reminded me that sheer sleeves would bring my make closer to my chosen movie inspiration.  Two heads are better than one is a legitimately true phrase, but it’s always cool and surprising when that second brain – which isn’t sewing oriented – can be so helpful with my garment projects!

I chose tiny holed, super fine mesh tulle for the sleeves or a chiffon.  They have a bit more body in tulle to make for a nice blousing out above the cuffs which matches well with the heavier cotton body to my nightgown.  Chiffon can look droopy (as it does on the original Gilda nightgown), but that can also have its place with some styles.  Besides, something as slippery as chiffon did not sounds appealing to me on nightwear.  As sultry as that fabric can be, I think I understand the properties of chiffon and only imagined the fabric wrapping itself around my arms as I slept.  Whether that would happen or not, I didn’t take a chance.  The sleeves are two layers of tulle.  Two layers hopefully will be not as fragile as one seemed and lent more of a matching grey tone.

I have not been able to find any source which says what hue the original Gilda movie nightgown was, but for some reason (not just because it is in black and white) I picture it in a light color, close to no color.  Kind of like the ironic use of a pure and innocent white on Lana Turner in the movie “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, I could see the mischievous Gilda in a similarly demure costume to amplify her tempting, teasing demeanor.  Now, I could be totally wrong here, but anyway – these musings gave me a reason to use the material I did.  Flannel is my favorite nightwear material for lounging (used it for this nightgown already) and definitely more modest and practical.  While not as drafty or alluring as Gilda’s frilly, sheer gown, however, the print is pretty and delicate in the softest hint of a light grey scroll work motif.  I low-key complimented the print with the dove grey sleeves, but tried highlight it better by using a dark grey (albeit sheer, as well) ribbon as a belt.

The pattern called for a set waistband, one that either is elasticized or has a ribbon running through a sewn-on casing.  I left that out.  I like my waist free and unrestricted at night when I sleep, because this is still a nightgown that I am going to wear no matter how pretty it is!  Besides, I felt that seeing a ribbon around the waist, and not hiding it in a casing, would set a defined waistline better in this voluminous gown…hey it worked on Gilda!  Finally, having no set waistband is much more versatile, in my opinion.  I used a whole 3 yard spool for my ribbon tie because I absolutely love the way there are long ends that elegantly, dramatically flutter down, almost to the hem.

I kept the rest of the details as fuss-free as possible.  The cuffs around the wrist were instructed to be made like a regular blouse cuffs, but that is too much for nightwear.  I made them one piece and they just slip on or off of my wrist over my hand.  The neckline has elastic in the casing so I could easily wear this as a regular scoop neck or pull it off the shoulders for a full Gilda effect.  As the elastic is pretty thin and the neckline holds the entire weight of more than 3 yards of flannel, I have two strands of it through the casing.  In order to make the gathered ruffled neckline turn out (with the sheer material involved), I had to use more of the dress flannel for the casing and make a tiny “track” for maximum ruffling.  Thus, a thin, string-like elastic was the only way to go, anyway.  Simple, easy, so pretty, and timeless, vintage designs really know how to make nighttime clothes something to look forward to wearing at the end of a day!

This is the final post about the garments that I made for our trip to Denver, Colorado.  For these pictures, we were at our Alpine-style bed-and-breakfast the “Vasquez Creek Inn” at Winter Park.  The other garments I made for this trip included a refashioned boxy cropped pullover and a 1940s quilted jerkin with corduroy trousers.  Making a nightgown made me feel like I had a new, complete set for fun, fancy, or relaxing to bring with me!  Hotels are great for taking pictures of nightwear, anyway…they are an uncluttered, nicely decorated, different setting.  Not that our bedroom is an atrocious mess or not pleasant to see either, but we’ve already taken pictures there and as I’m not crazy about our old wallpaper, I didn’t want to do that again.  It’s always nice to take pictures where you’ve had good times away from home anyway, right?!