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?!

My Ultimate Snow Day

As ironic as this post’s title is for me – someone who does not care too much for snow and detests bundling up and being out in the cold – I did have my ultimate snow day off in Denver this past February.  As I mentioned a few posts back, I had traveled there to see the “Dior: From Paris to the World” exhibit, while hubby came along because…well…he loves Colorado, skiing, and the cold.  To sum it up, I am now a happy convert that western America is freaking beautiful and I can survive the combo of high elevations and freezing temperatures.  Of course, I took this trip as an opportunity to create my ultimate cold weather vintage style outfit!  So – while hitting the slopes is something people are currently doing over Spring Break and before balmy weather completely set in here at the Northern hemisphere – I want to share a cozy corduroy and quilted winter snow set, made using two 1940s patterns, sewn for our visit to Winter Park, Colorado.

I totally went for something different and new with this set – first up, the jerkin vest.  This is a very old term for a garment that has been around at least since the 1500s.  A jerkin is classified as “a man’s short close-fitting jacket, usually made of light-colored leather or padded material, often without sleeves” worn over a long sleeved under layer.  Traditionally a jerkin was something that was an interesting combo of warmth and protection of the body (especially when fighting) together with a marker of fashion and societal status, all depending on what materials and colors it was composed of.  I absolutely love the progressive female empowerment that this odd 40’s jerkin pattern represents.  It takes a man’s garment from antiquated times that has either separated groups of people or been used in warfare, and tweaks it into something so complimentary, useful, and up-to-date for any woman.  My jerkin kept my body so very warm and cozy without any bulk restricting my arms.  The princess seaming and wide shoulders keep it streamlined.  I am sold on this little experimental piece I tried!

Second up in the ‘novelty item’ list is my corduroy trousers!  I have never had corduroy pants before – I used to have a dress in the fabric, and I have a few shirts and jackets.  They are so awesome!  I wore lightweight silk filament long underwear with the pants and wow – are they super in the cold.  I sense that corduroy is not really any sort of trending fabric, and all I really see available nowadays is small wale cords in very basic colors, so I enjoy the fact that these are different and unique, making them (so I think) quite chic in their own special way…my way!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A quilted, cotton covered batting is the inside of the vest while the outside is a plaid printed quilting cotton; the pants are 100% cotton large wale corduroy, with cotton (scraps leftover from this dress) lining the waistband

PATTERNS:   An older reprint Simplicity #3688 (a 2007 issue of a Simplicity #3935, year 1941) for the trousers and Simplicity #1089, year 1944, for the top garment (the pattern was kindly traced out for as part of a pattern trade with Emileigh, the blogger of “Flashback Summer”)

NOTIONS:  I used up a lot of thread, two packs of bias tape from my Grandma’s stash, and a zipper from on hand to finish the pants.  The vest top needed a special visit to the fabric store for its separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took me only 5 hours to make and they were finished on January 17, 2019.  The jerkin took about 15 to 20 hours (what it normally takes me for a dress), mostly on account of the hand-stitching I did and also due to dealing with the thick fabric.  It was finished on February 5, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  My trousers are cleanly bias bound inside while the vest’s innards are hidden, sandwiched between the two layers.

TOTAL COST:  The vest cost me no more than $20 to $25 dollars (both from Joann Fabrics), while the pants are from my stash, bought several years back from when Hancock Fabrics was closing so I must have bought this for a few dollars per yard.  My total outfit probably is only $30!

Even though this set was made using 1940s patterns, I have this weird sense that it almost appears to be something from the 1970s era.  Perhaps it’s the colors, or the wide leg pants, or even the combo of turtleneck (a RTW piece) and headscarf (true vintage).  Have you ever had a project that ended up exactly as you hoped only to possess a whole different ‘feel’ to it than what you originally intended, but you love the result nonetheless?  Well, that is the case here, and I can’t really say that has happened before to me in my sewing, excepting maybe a time or two where I had to vary a bit mid-construction to salvage my work when it came to fit or aesthetics.

Both pieces fit great straight off, and I didn’t really have to do any major tweaking to make them as you see them…but I had my previous knowledge to help me make my projects a success.  When it came to the jerkin, I have made so many true vintage 1940s Simplicity patterns before I can kind of predict the fit.  They are pretty true to size, however, sometimes the shoulders are roomy and the hips run small.  Thus, I knew how much to size up with my grading.  The pants are something I have tried before, so I had greater confidence about the result this time.  The sizing to my first pair of Simplicity #3688 seemed to not have a lot of wearing ease, and while I still enjoy sporting them, I know that they do not have a true 40’s fit, nor would something snug be ideal for something as bulky (and shrinkable in the wash) as an all-cotton corduroy.  Thus, I chose two whole sizes bigger than what I had made my last pair in from this same pattern.  I also gave myself extra room in the jerkin pattern grading to account for the bulky quilted lining I planned on using.  My hubby was doubtful all of this was good idea – but look!  I have a perfect, comfortable fit (that is still tailored) for both garments.

Sewing with bulky fabrics is definitely tricky, and there are a few tips for success.  As I mentioned in the paragraph above, add extra ease to your garments.  Treat it as if you are an inch or so bigger than you really are, only it’s the garments and not you gaining the pounds.  Choose a lighter weight fabric where you will have more than one layer of fabric.  I chose fashion printed cotton as a covering over the front and back of my jerkin, then a basic matching color cotton went for the inside half to my pants’ waistband.  Do a lot of clipping of the seam allowances, any darts, or pleats.  For the jerkin and the trousers, I mostly only trimmed the chunky fabric (the quilted padding and corduroy) down to ¼ or 1/8 inch away from the seams and left the lightweight fabric there for support.

Hand stitching gives the best finish.  If you stitch puffy material (like on my jerkin) or fabric with a nap (like a velvet, faux fur, or corduroy) with a machine stitch, it will either end up looking like there is an indented gutter where the stitching is, or you fabric’s loftiness will awkwardly look smashed down…maybe both.  I was lucky that the corduroy was such a large wale version because I could ‘hide’ some of my machine stitches in between the rows.  For the neckline and side zipper of the jerkin is was able to loosen the tension of my stitches on my machine, and set the length spacing to almost a gathering stitch situation, so as to not overly, tightly bind the two layers together.  I also ‘hid’ the stitches in between the plaid print.  The hemming to both vest and pants were done by hand after clipping the bulky excess beneath the turned under edge.  Finally, remember to iron on the wrong side of any plush fabric, but don’t neglect pressing either…it helps flatten those seams (as does using a rubber mallet, too).

As much as I absolutely love the 1940s fashion, it is great for making dressing more difficult and frustrating than it needs to be.  The era’s frequent use of side closures in dresses and tops is getting to the point of frustrating me to no end.  The jerkin pattern called for a side buttoning closure placket.  Really?  How is anyone supposed to button something bulky and close-fitting on the side or their body all the way up to the underarm?!  Do they expect women to make dressing a circus trick of agility?!  No – I am not that hardcore with my love of vintage fashion to not modernize where needed and make things easy.  So I added a modern plastic separating jacket zipper down the side.

This was challenging in its own way because there is so little variety when it comes to modern notions – there is a lack of versatility in finding a good color and size combo of zippers, buttons, and buckles to complete the grand ideas of sewists like me (which is why I often have to resort to vintage pieces).  I did not have time before our trip to order anything special as I would have liked so I had to settle for a tan khaki colored zipper in a length which would require a slightly shorter hem than I had planned.  Oh well – as long as I can get the jerkin on an off easily I am happy.  The side zipper also streamlines the fit of the jerkin so much better than a button placket ever could.  The trousers also have a left side zipper, which I am proud to say I stitched by hand.  I believe it is almost as good as an invisible one the way I wedged it in the corduroy!

One of my biggest complaints about winter dressing is the feeling that I cannot move and become a “Michelin Man”, like an otherworldly Yeti.  Being so bundled scarily reminds me I am claustrophobic in certain circumstances.  But on a note of self-health, the worst part is frequently being all bundled up and only still cold to the point of not being able to feel my extremities, which is freaky bad for me because I have a mild case of my mother’s Raynaurd’s Syndrome.  I did have painfully chilly toes and nose at Winter Park, but I’ll admit I did forget to wear (or bring) warm socks and a decent scarf.  However, I do NOT ski, I was only there as an observing tourist and with so many places to jump inside and warm myself, and a toasty main body that still felt free to move, I am pleased with how wonderful my snow day outfit was for the occasion.

Aprons Big and Small

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to aprons.  I love them all, whether they would fit a Barbie doll or be in grown-up proportions!  This post is a combo of all of that – a few small sized, vintage inspired ones to decorate the tiny mannequins which stand on my sewing room’s wall shelf and one big 1940’s one which I made as gift for a friend of mine.

Firstly, I’ll start with the adult gift apron.  One thing I have learned from doing many projects for others is that your ideas and preferences can show but must take a backseat to the personality of the person you are sewing for.  This was a wonderful project to work on as a gift because I used a vintage pattern for both my own taste and also because this friend also sews past era fashions using old patterns just like me!  The print is a wonderful assortment of old style sewing machines which both she and I actually use to do some of our stitching.

As I have said before for my other tiny aprons (see here, here, here, and here), these are a charming and fun way to use of scraps of treasured, nice fabric and notions too small to seem useful otherwise.  If you don’t have small dress forms like I do, or don’t want these for actual Barbies either (like me), you can pin them up on a twine “clothes line” and decorate a wall or any other space that needs a little something!  This is what I have done for our kitchen under our spice rack.  Tiny aprons take up much less wall space than having lots of actual adult aprons and yet are every bit just as addicting.  It’s literally hard to stick to just one.  Now my mini apron count to date is brought up to 6 in total.  Yet, I have a few more I want to do still!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The vintage sewing machine print is a 100% cotton, bought from the now-defunct Hancock Fabrics Store.  The fabrics for the mini aprons are true vintage material, found in scraps too small to do anything more with otherwise, but still amazing and killer cute!  I am supposing from the feel of the cottons, the white and green mini apron fabric is about 50’s or 60’s, and the yellow one about 1940’s or 30’s era.

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #1221, view A, a reprint of Simplicity #4939 from 1944, for the full-sized apron; and for the small aprons I used both Simplicity #2748, view F, and Simplicity #1957, view C

NOTIONS:  As the mini aprons are of vintage fabric, I used almost all vintage notion scraps (most from my Grandmother) on them for the details.  The full-size apron is all new materials, yet still stuff that came from what I had on hand.  These were stash busting projects!!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The gift apron was made in April 2015 and finished in 2 hours.  The mini aprons were made in January 2015 and each one took a few hours.

Aprons are relatively easy-to-make, so there is not much to say.  The adult apron was whipped up quickly so I spent extra time to make nice details, especially as this was to be a gift.  I was quite happy with the sizing too and made it as-is (according to the pattern) no changes, except for substituting ribbon ties for self-fabric ones as directed.  However, the small scale of the Barbie sized ones provided a big challenge in and of themselves.  I had to do more hand stitching on them so that they ended up taking longer to make than doing an apron for a real person…how weird.

As the vintage “gardening woman watering her flowers” print fabric was rather thin, I did the extra step of lining the apron with cotton broadcloth remnants.  I also had to add a center front seam to the mini apron’s skirt because I had such limited fabric…but at least I was still able to match up the print!  This by far my nicest mini apron made yet…not all of my own aprons get lined.

The yellow-red-black mini apron is a thick, feedsack style cotton so it was not lined, but it did get a lot of details.  I even added a tiny mini “handkerchief” folded up in the pocket for a touch of quaint realism.  I quickly realized that my idea of going with a fun contrast thread color for machine top-stitching the pocket edges was not the best idea, especially as I was trying to attach baby rick-rack, too.  I really should have chosen a matching yellow, and worked the stitching by hand.  But once it was done, my work wasn’t terrible enough for my own hardened self-criticism to have the heart to unpick.  This was a mini apron after all, was my thought, and one that was taking quite long to make in my opinion.  Oh well – I really want to try this design again, anyway and then I’ll do better for the next time! Not too many people see my nice sewing area, and even then no one will notice some tiny wayward stitching on a mini apron up on a wall shelf.

I’ll admit I did feel sort of bad actually using up my vintage scraps this way.  Perhaps I should have used these scraps for pocket linings in my garments?  Even then they would not really be seen the same way, and on a regular basis (as I am pretty much sewing every day).  Why shouldn’t my house’s decorations receive the same detailing, thought, vintage flair, and handiwork as what I wear?  What would I really do with a 12 inch scrap of lovely rayon seam binding otherwise?  Yup – sometimes I have to find legitimate reasons for my creative desires, because as the saying goes, “Of course, I talk to myself while sewing… I need expert advice!”

Channeling Crawford’s Adrian

I realize the strong shoulders of the 1940s decade is an intimidating turnoff for many, but I embrace them in all their forms.  For whether they are obnoxious or poufy as they can be or just plain sharply tailored, I see the 40’s strong shoulder line as not only a crucial part of the fashion in, before, and after the WWII decade, but also a very interesting garment point often neglected.   Such can be as fun to perfect as they are even more entertaining to see and construct in all its differing varieties.

A strong, exaggerated shoulder line can do wonders for certain body shapes, as I think it does for mine.  Although I am border line petite (just over 5 feet tall), I do not feel that my waist and hips are small enough in proportion to the rest of me, so the appearance of wider shoulders creates an illusion of the ideal body lines (tiny hips and waist).  This is nothing new…I am just copying off of what worked for the famous actress Joan Crawford, when the equally famous Adrian used this same “trick” as what had been done in the 1830s and 1890s to distract the public eye away from conceived body faults about the midsection and create a certain image.  As famous as well-known as both those names are, they had figured out something spot on that we who are in no manner Hollywood sweethearts can still imitate to our advantage.  From a fascination of Crawford’s high, dramatic hairstyles to my amazement for Adrian’s penchant of precise pin striped garments, from the basic need for warm winter wear to the desire for an unusual item to try and sew, I have combined it all to end up with something that is an unexpected way to power through the cold!

This jumper dress was made for a recent trip to visit the historic garment district in Kansas City, Missouri for the exhibit “Suited Up: Tailored Menswear, 1900 to 2017”.  This section of town is claimed to have been (at one time), second only to New York in breadth of territory!  This cozy outfit let me be a wintertime tourist in handmade, menswear-inspired style!  My shoes were very comfy for all day walking – they are Chelsea Crew brand “Gala” heels, reproduction vintage spectators.  My blouse underneath is a resale store item, but my jewelry is true vintage from my Grandmother.  I realize that all put together like I am, this is a more obviously vintage outfit than most other dated fashions that I make and wear, but I’d like to think that it is a statement enough to be attractive in its own way.  I believe the general public that only relies on RTW is so ready for fashion to be something more appealing to them personally other than what is out there.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heathered brown pure wool with an ivory pin striping

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1238, year 1944, a jumper-dress

NOTIONS:  The main notion used – the numerous buttons down the front – are a prized vintage card authentic to the 1940’s which had been found at our favorite local antique store.  The rest of what I needed – the thread, interfacing, bias and hem tapes, as well as shoulder pads – are modern notions and were already in my stash of supplies.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 25 to 30 hours…I took my time to get details done just the way I wanted them!  It was finished on February 9, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  As this was pure wool, it was therefore rather a rather itchy fabric which would fray a lot at every raw edge.  Thus every seam was finished off with bias tape, with the hem covered in a lace tape for a fun and feminine finish!

TOTAL COST:  This wool was a gem of a fabric I found in my local Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  I don’t remember what the cost was purely because this kind of fabric is so lovely and hard to come by in brick-and-mortar stores here, so I had to have it regardless of cost.  Nevertheless, I had a discount coupon and 40’s patterns do not need a whole lot of fabric, so – for just over 2 yards I think I spent under $30.

Ah – Adrian and Crawford…one would not be as famous without the other, but I suggest Adrian owed more to Crawford than the other way around.  Crawford had been in movies since the 1920’s, but her broad shoulders served her well in the boyish and hip hugging fashions of the era – she was the right body for the mode of dressing then.  When the 1930’s came along and Crawford was starring in movies where she played as a softer, sexier and wildly talented woman, she needed a signature style to match in Hollywood.  In 1932, Crawford wore a dress designed by Gilbert Adrian know as the famous “Letty Lynton Dress”, a white organdie dress with big puffed sleeves which were covered in ruffles, to make her look feminine and demure.  It is often credited with being the first movie fashion to be widely copied and sold for the public.  Crawford’s wide shouldered dress gave the impression of a tiny waist and slim hips, and the illusion created by Adrian was suddenly in steady demand with popular fashion whether that garment was in a store, from a sewing pattern, created by a tailor, or from other designers.  This would last strongly through the 1940’s, recurring again in the 1980s, when heavily padded and extreme shoulders were common.  Crawford’s movie roles in the 40’s became harder, stronger, and frequently troubled, and so her large shoulder signature style stayed with her but changed to match until after Dior’s “New Look” styles became the craze.

In Adrian’s own story from the book, Creating the Illusion, he said that Crawford insisted on full freedom of movement with her arms, so much so that he had to leave excess fabric which was then padded to not appear sloppy.  I do notice that many 1940’s era vintage patterns leave extra room in the shoulders, and I regard that as room you need for shoulder pads!  But whether the use of padding came from Crawford’s fit preferences or Adrian’s direct styling for her body, between the two of them it is a silhouette and a technique that was influential and unmistakable.  Crawford was Adrian’s perfect outlet to manifest the genius of his talent.  It took the perfect actress in the perfect outfit to make the world notice her clothes to a point that the world how the copy that fashion for themselves.  Unlike today, the designers were something to think about afterwards, as the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design wasn’t started until 1948.  Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than twenty-eight movies.  Granted, he did wonders designing spectacular, mind blowing outfits for other actresses, but it is how Joan Crawford wore what he made that had a outreaching effect that is still being discussed and understood today.

Now, the original design for this jumper-dress on the envelope cover is much more understated than how mine turned out and I wanted it this way!  Since I was wearing this to see an exhibit on menswear, I wanted something strong and broad as the famous London-cut padded suit for guys of the early 40’s with a hint of the outspoken Zoot Suits.  Adrian himself was a perfectionist at suits and loved to show the height of his ability by having stripes show off the seam lines (see this 1948 suit at the New York MET museum for only one example).  Following these trains of thought, I also was tempted to add a welt pocket on the chest like a true suit, but as you can see I thought otherwise in the end.  I do love how my jumper dress ends up having a double collar, as I wear the shirt underneath on top of the jumper lapels to cover the wool and keep it from itching my neck.  This is better than a man’s vintage suit which doesn’t have this double collar benefit!  Sewing it was much easier than making a complete suit but has all the same feel as one in a dress version.

I have seen such a unique kind of clothing as a jumper-dress before in a few other 1940s and 1970s patterns and I really like the whole idea of it – a one-piece garment that can be worn with a blouse underneath like a jumper or still work being worn alone as a dress.  The famous actress Gene Tierney wears a very similarly styled jumper-dress, in a lovely light blue sans blouse underneath, in the 1945 movie “Leave Her to Heaven”.  The banded armscye (as this kind of shoulder extension that looks like a sleeve is called) was stiff and sticking out on its own on Gene Tierney, and I used heavy interfacing to copy that appearance.  However I have found an extant jumper-dress in rayon crepe that has a limp, unstructured banded armscye and it is amazing how one small detail as the weight of interfacing can change the whole “look”.  I have even seen a banded armscye which is highly decorated on this fancy 1940’s blouse, or one used upside down in this 1930’s evening gown.  The more you look at fashion from the past, the more you see the variety our modern RTW fashions are missing. 

The pattern for a banded armscye has the general shape of an almond because it is folded in half to be a double layer self-facing piece.  However, this “mock sleeve’’ needs to have a much lower dip, meaning the side seam is closed at a much lower point than regular garments with a true set-in sleeve.  There is a triangular insert piece that can be added to the bottom point of the armscye where it ends at the side seam, meant for when this is worn alone as a dress.  Of course, for this to be that versatile it would not be made from a wool but out of a gabardine, linen, or rayon of some sort, or something else multi-season with some body because I don’t like the ‘limp’ look of that extant dress I mentioned above.  You have to just go all the way for some styles like this – to carry off powerful fashion is obviously being committed to a style that is every bit as strong as you are…or want to be!  Crawford often said that she never went out anywhere unless she looked like “Joan Crawford the movie star”, so I’m supposing that this powerful fashion of hers was like being vested in more than clothing.  Clothing has been described as armor that makes us feel whole or keeps us safe from what brings us down.

The design was deceptively simple, really.  It wasn’t much harder than a shirt with a skirt attached, but it was the tailoring and details that I spend most of my time on to make this.  The layout required a large amount of brain power to have the stripes match as impeccably as an Adrian inspired garment could become.  I must say I was impressed at how well this pattern fit on me and came together, as some 1940s Simplicity patterns can be not that great, so the design deserves credit for my success – and I am quite pleased with this!  I love how the pin striping miters in at the seams, and even ended up matching so well where the darts meet the skirt at the waist.  I even somehow got the collar to match!  To highlight the design and lay around with the striping, I had the banded armscye be horizontal while the rest of the dress was generally vertical.  Adrian was a fan of a geometric approach to clothing.

Making all those buttonholes down the front and matching the buttons in place is and will always be such an exhausting thing to do for me, but every time I see such a garment finished it becomes so worth it in the end.  This garment is especially the case because I used an intact card of vintage buttons, which I was so excited yet reluctant to use.  It’s not that I want to just stash such treasures, or just hold onto them because they do not serve their intended purpose or get to shine just sitting in my collection!  It’s just somehow harder to incorporate an old notion into my modern vintage when I feel that I have to separate it from its lovely, dramatic, pristine display placement on a perfect condition button card.  Such notions like this remind me of how upscale and respected home sewing used to be, besides the fact that the quality of our modern notions have dramatically gone downhill!  The buttons match so well with the wool in color, but it seems to me that their complex face makes them a subtle but still noticeable detail.

I am quite proud of the statement 40’s hairstyle I pulled off with this outfit!  Joan Crawford seemed to wear her hair high up above her forehead on top her head frequently circa 1944 (see here and here), as did her fellow actresses Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard to name a few.  Their hair is similar but seems to be more of a comb over than an under roll like mine, making it closer to a Dorothy Gray style.  Realistically, I am not an actress and I needed a hairstyle to stay in place all day!  With a lot of hairspray and pins, it did stay!  Beseme brand “Red Velvet” lipstick completes the vintage look.

So – do you think you will try the over-emphasized shoulder look for yourself?  Do you love it the way I do?  Say yes to the shoulder pad!  Knit fabrics nowadays have people so used to a close body fit, but extra fabric and shoulder pads to structure the body can and does have its benefits if your body shape is something waist and below you’re self-conscious about.  1950s hip exaggeration works the other way around, making your waist and above seem smaller.  I’ll stop there.  All I’ll say is that’s the not-so-advertised benefit of vintage – you can choose an era or styles that work well to compliment your body!  What do you like yourself most wearing?  Are you on the camp of Bette Davis or on Joan Crawford when it comes to the subject of their long-lasting feud? (I’m neutral on that feud, BTW!)