Persistence of Fashion

Even with my complaints in the last post about fitting my recently changed size, I still do happily fit in many of my old me-made items.  Not to brag, but not everybody can say that they fit in things back from 20 years ago, much less have them still wearable today in both condition and aesthetics!  I luckily liked to make rather classic pieces that still work with my style of today.  This post’s outfit is a prime example.  A skirt I sewed 20 years back combines with a 50’s style blouse I have been meaning to make since I first dove into vintage in 2010 to give me an outfit that perfectly defines my unified past and present outlook on my fashion.  Add on a little self-made flower sewn down to a hair comb and I am a contented little maker!

Andrea Venier of Recycrom has said, “One of the big problems is that today we don’t expect to wear something for a very long time.”  (The Italian Recycrom from Officina+39 is a revolutionary sustainable dyeing solution made of 100% recycled clothing, fibrous material, and textile scraps.)  Boy, Andrea has not met the likes of me.  There is a specific comfort level to wearing items that are old favorites, and for me, when they also happen to be handmade…all the better.  Sure they are made in ways I would not do today.  However, it is nice to keep these reminders of my progress especially when they are still wearable for me.  All it takes is a little something new to renew my excitement for an older me-made, and I feel like I have a fresh ideas and bright possibilities again.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is rayon challis and the top is polyester shantung

PATTERNS:  For the skirt, I used McCall’s #8796 from 1997, while the top is Simplicity #4047, a 1950’s era ensemble released in 2006

NOTIONS:  Nothing unusual – a zipper for the side, thread, and interfacing for the neck facing is all that is needed for the blouse, while the skirt required thread and elastic.  Simple, really!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was indeed a two hour project from what I remember back to 1998, and the top took me about 8 to 10 hours and finished March 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  My skirt has overlocked (serged) edges with a hem covered in hem tape and the blouse has bias bound seams.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea.  You’re talking about fabrics out of my mom’s stash from over half my lifetime ago.  It’s all as good as free to me.

Let’s talk about the patterns first.  I’ll start with my favorite out of the two.  My skirt is from an old standby pattern, literally made into a two dozen varieties between 1998 and 2004 when I began filling my wardrobe with handmade, comfortable, classy, yet easy-to-make separates.  This particular rayon floral one was one of my first attempts.  I had made a paper copy of the whole pattern at my nearby office store because I was using it so much.  The slim, two-piece ‘View A’ I had used as a base for add-on details, a draft for lining other skirts and dresses, or just by itself.  The full, four-paneled ‘View C’ was the version I used the most, especially when using rayon or a lightweight poly print, while the in-between breadth of ‘View B’ was great for stiffer materials like cotton.  As the cover states, this really is a two hour skirt.  It took me 30 minutes to cut the pieces out of 3 yards for ‘View C’, and 15 minutes to cut out of two yards for the slim ‘View A’.  The elastic waist is easy to do and provides a nice waistband that doesn’t roll, thankfully!  The rest of the skirt is simple, long, straight lines, however, the wide, bias-influenced hemline takes up most of the rest of the two hours.  The simple pieces taught me how to successfully work with the bias grain as a beginner at the concept.  This pattern has a gold-medal in my estimation, amongst my substantial stash.

The blouse’s pattern offers such a wonderful variety for building a great basic 50’s wardrobe. Give me the most for my money, in my opinion!  This blouse is a very chic anchor to the ensemble.  I told you (a few posts back, here) I wasn’t done with the color blue and peplums, anyway! However, it frustrates me that I cannot authentically date this pattern, like most of the other vintage re-issues, by finding its original.  The iconic actress Lauren Bacall had a very similar blouse in the 1957 movie “Designing Woman”.  That year is a popular date for many of the 50’s reprints, so I’m guessing the styles are from mid to late in the decade.  They do have #4047 still as an on-demand custom print-out (link to that here), so Simplicity must realize how good this pattern is, too, although finding an old out-of-print copy would probably be a cheaper option.

Sizing ran small for my blouse, and I do wish I had went up in size. After all, working with a tight, unforgiving woven like poly shantung leaves me no room for a big meal of a body sizing change.  Oh well, it was really much easier to make than it appears and poly shantung is not as precious as its silk cousin so it’s no big loss if I need to make another down the road.  The blouse pattern has a long back bodice I wish I had shortened, but otherwise came together beautifully, with good instructions and wonderful details.  There were no mistakes or hiccups encountered with the blouse.  It was whipped up with no alterations and fits as you see it.

Oh, how I wish I knew the name for the kind of neckline which is on this blouse!  I love it, along with the box pleats coming from the shoulder!  It is so unique and beautiful the way it all frames the face.  The curving and angles made the neckline by far the trickiest part of the top.  It’s not hard to do, I just had to be thorough with marking points and seam allowances before I could be precise with my sewing.  There are two ¼” wide darts along the back neckline to help bring it up to sitting above the base of the neck, like a collarless collar.  Then the sides of the front neckline bow out on the side to square out at the bottom, so there is lots of clipping and trimming of seams involved.  I never could get the darn shantung to not be puckered at the corners.  Deep down, I will always hate anything polyester.  Yet, the fabric looks pretty enough and only I will ever probably notice such “failings” so it is and easy success.

The skirt is very true to size but then again working with bias cut skirts with elastic waists is naturally going to be forgiving…the reason why I am still wearing them all these years!  Many times I even went down a size for the skirts to cut down on the excess material that needs to be gathered at the waistline (what I did for this version; see picture below), but also because I sometimes just added darts and only back elastic to make my skirts smoother fitting over the tummy.

Length measurements for the skirts can be deceiving, however, because of the sweeping hem fullness and bias grain.  My advice is to go long and try it on to decide.  Let hemming be the last thing you do after letting a skirt like this hang for at least 24 hours.  I learned the hard way with this rayon floral skirt.  Circle skirts or those cut on the bias, even if they are on a dress, change their hemline once the grain hangs down on a completed garment for a day.  I remember I was in a hurry to finish this skirt, and I immediately hemmed it as soon as it was together.  By the time I wore it, the hem was embarrassingly wonky, which was obvious because the original length was down to my ankle.  Even back then I hated unpicking as much as I do today, so I merely recut a new, slightly shorter yet straighter hem.  It was hard!  The fabric was always shifting and I got to a “good enough” attitude and used hem tape to cover the skinny hem edge.  Straight grain hem tape is not ideal for a curving hem, so I found out.  It is necessary to ease in the fullness of one edge.  Ah, you sew and learn.  You’d never guess the ‘oopsies’ I made with this, would you?!  The day these pictures were taken, it was windy so my skirt might still seem uneven, nevertheless.  Twenty years later, my sewing “mistakes” are still happening (but decreasing), and I’m still learning.  Just so long as my projects turn out just as successfully and are enjoyed as much as this skirt, I am happy.

My hair flower was a last minute creation to complete my outfit by utilizing some of the few scraps leftover.  I cut a pointed-end oblong piece on the bias, single layer, about 10 inches in length, about 7 inches at the middle where it is widest.  If you think of how a kid would draw the playing ball to the American game of football, that is what my piece looked like.  That was folded in half along its length, wrong sides in together, and loosely stitched along the curved raw edge.  The loose stitches are ties off at one end and brought in tight, and the piece is curled into itself, jellyroll style.  The raw ends are stitched together and covered with some fake plastic leaves after sewing it to a small hair comb.  I want to make every last remnant count for something so they might as well help me accessorize!

No matter how fast styles change, and how quickly clothing is given away before it has reached the end of its wear, fashion of the past decades is persistent and has a way of coming back around again.  I feel like the 90’s was the last of the good quality ready-to-wear that is part of the reason why the label of ‘vintage’ is synonymous with lasting style.  Now that we have had a few decades of cheap tees, under $30 dresses, and poor-quality clothing made in third world countries (paying them an un-livable wage) can we just go back to making garments that are worth wearing and keeping for even a fraction of how long I enjoy my wardrobe?  I mean the fashions of the 90’s is subtly coming back, and older vintage styles are comfortably mainstream, so I don’t know why wearing what one has for longer is such a hard concept for the masses.  Then again, what might be better for the world is not necessarily the first thought in the face of a flashy bargain…or good for the pocketbooks of big business.  I realize I might be “preaching to the choir” here, however, this is my site to write down not just my sewing process, but also my thoughts and the passion which goes into every outfit I share here.

Look for more of my old reiterations of this skirt pattern to show up in future posts.  I am still going through my past makes and constantly finding new ways to style them with my even newer makes!  As for my blouse, this might not get a whole lot of wear in shantung, and I might not fit in it before I wear it enough to satisfy me, I’ll figure out something for it when that time comes.  Until then, I feel so special in this set!  I am stubborn about what I want to wear.  I like things that make me feel good and confident enough to be myself.  Yes, that does include things that are not necessarily new or up to date…and I’m quite okay with that.  If you have something made years back but you are still proud of it, please do share!

“Fruit Salad…Yummy, Yummy…”

Anyone who has had or known a child growing up in the last 10 years might know “The Wiggles” song my title refers to!  I can’t help but think of that quirky tune when looking at or even wearing this fun little vintage crop top.  Only half of a yard of this bright fruit print rayon just had to be redeemed into something more than just a supporting role in a sewing project, in my opinion.  I am so happy to have made the remnant work as this 1950s sun top!  With a bright print like this portraying a yummy cocktail salad how can I not be put in good spirits by my new creation?

My headband and earrings are me-made, and my sandals I had refashioned (yes, I even work on shoes!) but otherwise my skirt is a ready-to-wear standby item.  I can’t wait to see what my new crop top looks like with some vintage style jeans or a bright circle skirt!  The busy print with all the colors help this to match up with all sorts of bottom pieces – yay!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed rayon challis on the outside, a bright yellow cotton inside, and poly/cotton blend broadcloth for the straps

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8130, a 2016 reprint of what had original been Simplicity #2532, year 1958

NOTIONS:  I actually had everything I needed on hand, which is amazing because I used some notions which were more complex than what the pattern called for…more about that down later!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 8 hours (two evenings worth of sewing sessions) and finished on June 1, 2019

THE INSIDES:  Hey – this is fully lined, so the raw edges are incognito…

TOTAL COST:  I was able to pick up the rayon for about $1 but the lining was ‘more expensive’ at $2.50.  I’m not counting the scraps used for the straps and interfacing, or notions from my generous stash of supplies.  My total was about $4 – how awesome is that?

This summer has been so busy that a few hour project is all I can handle if I want a finished project.  Yet, I am all about not sacrificing quality.  Thus, I put in some extra time to make sure this little summer top is comfortable, effortless, nicely tailored, and will last me many more years of warm weather fun!

The most obvious part of construction that took some of the extra time to reach completion was the faulty amount of ease put into this design.  This needs to have a close, tight fit – both to stay up and to look right (not slouchy).  This is not a blouse or shirt.  That means there needs to be about zero to negative amount of wearing ease.   Tasha at “By Gum, By Golly” has an excellent, helpful review going over this same subject.  Looking at the finished garment measurements as compared to the size chart, it’s obvious there is a several inch ease added in for every size.  I myself went down one size to be safe, but even still, I had to bring in the top by over an inch for my first fitting.  I am pretty sure this was not how the original was and something added in when the pattern was re-released.  Vintage re-issues from the Big 4 pattern companies are sometimes really good at tweaking something that was just fine to begin with.  I’m sorry to be negative.  I should be glad for re-issues, though, because they do make vintage sewing something more mainstream, affordable, and attainable for all body sizes.  So, if you reach for this pattern for the first time, just remember this heads up to check the sizing, instead of recalling my crabbing!

Hiding under what might look like a simple little top is many seams and a secret to keeping them straight.  Boned seams further structure the body and combine with (what should be) a snug fit to share amazing tailoring that the 50s are so good at.  Many extant original 1950s evening dresses and summer bra tops have boning in them, too, so I like this true vintage touch.  Yet, I got rid of the boning directly through the bust as directed and instead opted for something a bit more naturally structured.  The side seams and center front alone have boning and there is a bra sewn into the front half in my version.  Boning is still in the back as well, as directed, but only on either side of the center because I added a back zipper.  It’s so much more convenient rather than a

A boned, true vintage piece very much like Simplicity #8130, for sale recently through Instagram

buttoning back, as the pattern directs and true vintage items have.  As I said, for me to fully enjoy this, it was going to have to be easy to wear – lingerie is sewn in already for no bra straps peeking out and no circus trick required lurking behind me either whenever I elect to put it on.  I chose a metal exposed zipper because it was what I had on hand but I do enjoy the funky, modern flair of it.  This might be vintage, but the time is today and I frequently don’t mind a little crossover between the two.

For my first time attempting to make a fully boned garment I am pretty happy. (My first trial at boning was for the back of this 50’s strapless romper I made awhile back, but that was just two little strips I added so I’m not fully counting that!)  I figured this little top was a good piece to go all out and experiment with.  It was no real biggie if I messed up or things didn’t turn out just right, between the busy print and the style itself.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t really that hard to do, just a bit tedious and time consuming, and I can’t think of how I would have done better.

The boning I used was the pre-packaged Dritz brand lightweight kind, already covered in a soft cotton blend sheath.  I had a pack of soft, jelly-like plastic caps to cover the cut ends.   I cut to the measurements provided in the instructions and pushed the caps over both the boning and its fabric cover, then stitched through all layers using the hole in the caps provided to anchor them on the ends.  Since my boning was covered, I top stitched it directly to the inside of the lining along the princess seams, but if it hadn’t been fabric coated I would have used the seam allowances to form a casing channel.

My only complaint is that the packaging of the boning had it all curled up too tightly in a roll and I had a hard time working to straighten the unwanted curving in it.  Even still it tends to want to do its own thing sometimes, working against my body.  That aside, I can’t wait to try boning again.  When I sew it, a boned garment is much more comfortable than I would have thought, especially compared to the scratchy boning in my extant vintage garments, it turned out well, and was fun to do.  I love the confidence and assurance in a great shape that a boned garment lends!

The ‘collar’ has me on the fence.  I like it but would rather have had it not have so much individual personality but stick closer to the main body.  It is cute though and makes this so fun and different.  You know I just had to make things so much harder for myself to squeeze this in on half a yard!  The grain line for the collar piece calls for it to be cut on the bias cross grain.  However, was lucky enough to make things work the way I cut the collar on an off-kilter straight grain.  I rarely go against the grain line so this was a rare deviance for me.  Perhaps this change in the cut and layout of the collar effected the way mine hangs on the finished top.  Sometimes it’s best just to make things work rather than finding perfectionism.  Coming from me this is something (I’m so hard on myself) but I really wanted that extra touch!  For an alternate idea, I can actually picture a big bias ruffle (not in the pattern, I know) coming from the neckline in a white eyelet version of this top.  Oh no, another project to add in my projects queue!  Apparently another version of this top is probably in my future.

Having the little black edging united both the contrast straps and bold back zipper together with the top as a whole – another reason I wanted the neckline collar.  I disregarded the pattern piece for the edging and used pre-made bias tape instead out of convenience.  Mitering the corners is still important whether you use the pattern for the edging or bias tape or ribbon for edging, though.  Perfect points make that overhang really appear as if it is mock-collar.

The instructions call for a lot more interfacing than I committed.  It called for the whole body to be stabilized on top of adding the boning.  To me that doesn’t sound comfy for a summer top…it sounds like sweaty, unbreathable torture to be.  I left out the interfacing through the body and added it instead in shoulder straps.  This makes more sense to me and feels better to wear.  The straps would be even better with an adjustable option like lingerie, but I really didn’t feel like something complicated and they were too wide to even work like that.  I didn’t want to make new skinny ones.  Perfect is being done, sometimes.

Well, I hope this post inspires you to think outside of the box and look at small cuts of fabric, what we consider remnants today, as having great potential.  Our grandmothers were onto something with their depression era practice of making scraps work in more ways than modern minds find imaginable.  Fabric is fabric to me, in any size cut!  It find it so funny how one little half yard turned into one complexly structured vintage top.  The many seams (10 vertically around) were my friend to help my idea along.  Between the bright print and the fun design and the thriftiness of it all, this make of mine really is a cheerful, ‘feel good’ summer piece.  Fruit salad, anyone?  I do love a healthy treat.

Origami Neck Blouse

Just as you fold and manipulate flat, one-dimensional paper to create something magical and 3-D in the practice of origami, so too does the same thing happen with sewing.  You start with flat panels of fabric and fold, tack, and manipulate it into something that forms to envelope the body in the most fantastic way.

I know I’ve mentioned this opinion before, but this blouse’s post deserves to have it stated again – 1950s blouses really do have the most intriguing and unique details.  This top, with its mitered cornered collar that reminds me of origami folds, I saw as having a strong Japanese influence which I stressed by using a print for the placket which has bright and beautiful hand fans.  After all, it already had kimono-style sleeves (as they are called in fashion terms) and pleated bust darts which radiate from the neckline much like the “Rising Sun” flag.  All of that symbolism together into one scrap-busting project and now I have one lovely blouse that is both a wonderfully dressy-casual wardrobe addition as well as being an opportunity to learn more about another culture!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a solid burgundy red Kona cotton together with a fan printed quilting cotton

PATTERN:  Butterick #6567, from the Summer of 1953

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, some interfacing scraps, bias tape, and buttons (which were leftover from the buttons I used at the neckline of this movie inspired dress from the year before)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse only took maybe 4 or 5 hours to make, and was finished on May 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly bias bound on the side seams with French seams for the shoulders

TOTAL COST:  Well, the solid Kona cotton was leftover from making this dress awhile back now, and the printed placket material was a discounted ½ yard remnant…so I can estimate that this blouse is under $5.  Pretty awesome!

As lovely as this turned out – if I do say so myself – what I am most proud of is the fact that this used up scraps.  Yes…a garment from seemingly worthless remnants can go towards something amazing and wearable!  I save pretty much everything that is leftover from all my projects, yet I do not count myself as a hoarder because I really do use that stuff up, as this proves so clearly!  The solid Kona was only about ¾ of a yard, and the placket was (as I said) a quilter’s fat quarter, but by turning the blouse pieces oppositely to mirror each other, and by piecing the placket strips together (you’d never guess, would you?) I made my idea work.  Blouses and tops with cut-on sleeves are so awesome for fitting in the smallest cuts of fabric.

Now, I can actually back myself up, historically speaking, with using the fan print for this 50’s blouse.  It was originally chosen to make both the most of a scrap and to explore understanding a culture other than mine.  (I have made a few Chinese inspired garments – here and here – so it was time to dive into Japan!)  However, I have found fan prints in some extant vintage 1950s garments, the best example being this dress sold on Etsy.  Interest in the Asian culture through fashion was extremely popular in the 1950s but unfortunately the decade was not differentiating between the nations nor appropriating appropriately.  Hopefully this blouse does a better job at that!

The collar area called for slow, exact sewing and my favorite, under-used technique…mitered corners! I was worried that between piecing the placket and interfacing it, the neckline would be too stiff compared to the soft Kona cotton but I think that is the point.  The stiff, stand-up collar is like a portrait frame for the face…I am fascinated with its unusualness and love the way the look of it changes at every manner it lays – open, buttoned, or folded back.  The envelope back description calls this collar style “…the newest cardigan look” “inspired (by) Paris”.  Hummm, I never heard of this, and sadly have not found any research info about it.  Neither does it exactly look like a sweater cardigan, and I do have a small collection of vintage 50’s ones to compare.  However, there is a more famous designer, or at least famous novelty blouse I should say, that does have the exact same collar with the mitered origami one of this post.  I’m talking about Hollywood designer Edith Head’s “Birds and the Bees” blouse offered through Dial brand soap in 1956.  This is 3 years after my blouse’s pattern date with no name listed for the collar style.  There is a new fashion terminology mystery here yet to explore and understand.

After it was finished, I was worried that my stash busting Japanese-inspired blouse would not match with anything.  However, I just need to wear bottoms with color – like my purple 40’s trousers (posted about here), my pink skinny pants (posted here), or a pink linen short A-line skirt (an old RTW item), or even some dark denims.  Usually I’m very conscious about my ideas for separates, making sure they actually are versatile and will pair with what I already have.  What’s the use of fulfilling an idea if it never is worn and enjoyed?  I disregarded thinking about that this time, and got lucky.

We took our pictures at our local Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Garden.  They have the most peaceful combed rock beds, and artful bonsai.  Bonsai, the artistic cultivation of small trees, is another one of the many wonderful traditions of Japan, but hand fans are much older to the culture.  Did you know that the folding fan was invented in Japan, with the earliest visual depiction date from the 6th century?  The Japanese believe that the top of the handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life and the ribs stand for the roads of life going out in all directions to bring good fortune and happiness.  Where would women’s history be without such a beautiful and practically useful invention!?

As the hand fan had eventually been universally adopted, many forget to think of the country of its origin.  The tradition of origami is so much more understood to be Japanese.  However, no matter what culture you are, it is still so universally enjoyed.  I think the art of paper folding is so special because it’s great to help people who don’t sew understand the art of creating with fabric and thread.  There is a form of fashion drafting that is called origami for a fantastic crossover, only it is one of the most challenging sewing imaginable (in my opinion).  Check out the origami sleeves on this Badgley Mischka dress!  However, it was Issey Miyake was one of the first designers to explore how origami could influence design.  The Spring 2009 collection by designer André Lima was also directly inspired by origami.  Art and garment design, form and functionality finds Zen through origami.

Red Roses for a Vintage Style Lady

Admittedly, for someone that briefly worked as a florist, I’m not much of a real roses fan.  Don’t misunderstand, I regard them as simply beautiful, and when in quantity add up to a good day’s total at the cash register.  As a customer, though, they just wilt too quickly for their cost.  Even the outdoor bush and plant variety always seem to soon enough become sick or mutated and die in our yard, sadly.  Now I have the kind of roses whose beauty will last and make for a great deal!  Heck with the old song, “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”.  These are roses for a lady who likes vintage styles!

Here is yet another garment where I’ve repeated what I know I love in a project – channeling a feminine ‘Betty’ outfit from the television show Mad Men again (second season this time; other Betty dresses here and here) and also using a true vintage fabric (my most recent one here).  As good fashion never really goes out of style, I do think this dress has the same qualities as the costumes of Mad Men, period-appropriate but also timeless and fashionable even to modern viewers.  I paid attention to details like I had all the time in the world, and did tons of hand stitching, even adding seed beads, for a dress which is my own perfect Valentine’s Day treat!

My fabric choice is a pristine condition, polished, printed cotton from the 1950s (surmised from many recurrent similar extant garments of that era).  I found it as a lonely piece at a steal of a price thrown in the corner of an antique mall shop.  How could I just leave it with its saturated red goodness at that cost?!  So – a good fabric deserved a really great pattern…one that has intimidated me every bit as much as I adore it.  I came upon a find, I saw a perfect project in mind, and I have conquered it!  However, the finished wiggle shaping ends up making my body look like a very shoulder-and-hip-heavy hourglass ‘Joan’ silhouette that I really am not used to but am completely taken by nonetheless!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a true vintage cotton lined and contrasted in a solid black cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2727, a ”Slenderette” pattern, year 1958 (I plan on coming back to this and making the jacket, yet!)

NOTIONS:  The basics I needed were on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, a hook and eye – but the zipper (22”) and the beads I bought recently just for this as I realized exactly how I was going to detail it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me about 10 hours to finish, but I actually spent a handful of hours just on figuring out the pattern piece layout before cutting out…there was no room for error…or the pattern pieces, really…

THE INSIDES:  A fully lined dress means all inner seams are not to be seen…

TOTAL COST:  This vintage fabric was only 8 freaking dollars, people!!!  The cotton lining I received for free, and the beads were only $2.  So this is an under $10 dress!  Such a deal.

Why, oh why is it that the best fabrics I find seem to frequently come in small cuts?  It’s like some sewing Karma wants to test me at every turn and always make sure my projects are a challenge.  This rose fabric was in a ridiculously small 35 inch width (one of the reasons I can estimate the vintage) and was a hairs breath under 2 yards long.  Under the envelope back listing for 35” width fabric, it says I needed 3 yards for this dress.  Yikes!

The only way I could make things work was to piece together a full one side back bodice panel and to add a horizontal waist seam to what had been intended as a smooth center front.  The print is complex I do not think the extra seams are noticeable but I know they are there, nonetheless (well, so do you now).  The center dress panel change especially makes me a bit sad (seen or not) because I loved the streamlined look of it with one-piece, streamlined, princess-style drafting as on the original design.  Not too shabby of a compromise, though, and at least the lining was cut properly without extra seams!  Granted, every piece was butted up against one another when laid out, so it’s a lucky thing I did not have to grade up in size at all.  The skirt had to be shortened by about 5 inches and the kick pleat eliminated to make things work, so I was literally left with nothing but tiny triangles of scraps leftover.  Although stressful, even mind stretching, it feels so good to be super-efficient and determined with a project idea!  If there’s a will, there’s a way, as the saying goes.

I am glad I had put off tackling this sewing project until now when my sewing skills are where they are at.  The overall dress was not hard to make.  It was the detail points that were the challenge, which was a difficult one that I have not had in a while.  Luckily, I had some practice ahead of time to help me out on the trickier spots of this dress.  A few of the projects I have made already have had some of same the details I encountered in making my red roses dress when all of them were in one project.  The underarm bodice panel/kimono sleeve combined into one element reminds me very much of my 1955 Redingote, as does the belt attached in at a front waist dart.  The side paneled bodice shaping is just like on my recent 70’s style Burda jumper.  The pleats which cover up a seam, like the ones at my waist, are call to mind the pockets on my “Spring Green” Easter suit of 1954.  It is good to challenge oneself, but at the same time I want to stress it is beneficial to work up to that scary hard pattern by finding projects ahead of time which prepare your skills for a successful turnout.  A fruitful finished sewing creation makes all the difference in confidence and estimation of worth in time and effort.

The bodice panels turned out the best I’ve ever done yet, happily, thanks to knowing what to expect.  I do love the way such a design element in the garment provides the best ever shaping for ones bodily curves, besides being the most comfortable form of a kimono sleeve…better than one with underarm gussets.  Look for something similar to try for yourself – you will love the way it wears!  Only, I thought the bust for this pattern ran large until I put on the period-appropriate longline bustier.  Then, suddenly I had that curvaceous 50s figure and a perfect fit that put me in awe.  So, a word of warning – in a 50’s pattern, beware that their curving accounts for more than what modern women are used to with the lingerie of today.  Unless you are willing to try a different style of underwear, or unless you find such a design element in a pattern from another decade closer to now, the wonderful shaping which you will find with a bodice panel/kimono sleeve combo might be more than you expect.

Those front waistline pleats where the belt is attached were the toughest part to tackle.  It took me about 4 attempts to figure them out correctly…but just look at them!  They remind me of the interesting pleats which can be found on some 50’s or maybe 60s couture garments.  Two of the pleats that provide the slight hip poufiness are angled out and folded down.  The pleat that encloses the belt and bodice side panel seam is perfectly vertical and folded towards the other two pleats away from the center front…so confusing on paper but awesome finished properly.  The fabric makes it really hard to photograph these details as clearly as I see them.

I’m not complaining about this wonderful fabric one bit, though!  Modern cottons are sadly missing out on the lovely sheen which vintage polished cotton has, not to mention the saturated dying process that makes it almost reversible.  Yet, vintage polished cotton is a bit sheer and stiff on its own, thus another solid opaque layer was needed under my dress for a non-transparent and natural-bodied hand to the fabric.  Besides, I am silly and would rather make a whole second dress as a lining so as to have an impeccable, second skin finish inside…not just to cover all the seams but mostly to eliminate the fussy neck facings.  Having more than enough cotton lining gave me an opportunity to cut the dress out the way it should have been with no adaptations.

Except for the major seams inside, all else to this dress was hand stitched invisibly.  This has been the first garment where I really sense that my hand sewing skills have grown to be similar to my machine skills – accurate, fast, and efficient.  The lining is hand tacked to the zipper (which was also hand installed to the point it is as good as invisible); the neckline, sleeve hems (after a machine added ¼ inch bias binding), and skirt hems (after lace tape added to the under edge) hand finished.  Not that it matters – who else but me really sees inside or even gets close enough to notice the details?  Whatever.  It’s that choked-up, happy emotion I get inside seeing the unnecessary extra particulars so fine as I’m dressing.  It makes you feel special, and reminds me that the beauty inside a person, like a garment’s inside, although unseen, is the best part.

It’s these same sentiments and the urge to try something new that prompted me to add a bit of beading to the neckline.  Not that the neckline is not a statement in itself!  This is one of the best fitting boatnecks I have come across, and the little notched front heightens the neck and shoulder emphasis by centering under the pit between the collarbones.  I merely added some clusters of 4 to 6 seed beads at a rose center which might be near the neckline center top edge, with a few smaller 2 or 3 bead accents on some petal tips as shading.  I was tempted to go and add the whole package of beads so it would show up better, but there is something I love about the understated elegance to not going overboard.  I do not want gaudy or distracting details to subtract from the dress and its fabric, and the more I bead, the more there is pressure to turn it into some sort of defined design…then my beading skills have to be better.  I did attempt to make a simple 3-D flower out of strings of beads to add on the end of the back waistband.  It’s not perfect, but pretty nonetheless, and just the perfect touch if I do say so myself.

Vintage is admired and long lasting because of its understated quality and beautiful ingenuity…these are the details I miss the most in modern ready-to-wear.  So, if I can bring a small part of that back in my own life and be the example, then I am happy.  If I can remind others they are worth feeling good in their skin by a wonderful dress, and that creating is good for the soul, than my garments are beneficial to more than me alone.  Hopefully with the time, attention, and care I put in towards my dress project, this red roses vintage fabric will have a lovely new life for many more years to come!  I know this dress will be seeing more than just a Valentine’s Day wear!

Hermes Helmet

Hooray!  This is my 300th post!  To celebrate, I’ve dressed up in the 1950s finest.  This will be a bit of a different post in the way that the only thing me-made is a curious hat.  My dress is the true big deal here, though…it is an “Anne Fogarty” label!  Not only is it currently my most prestigious true vintage garment, but it is such a learning experience to examine, as well as a wondrous treat to put on.  This dress gives me a dream figure, and I hope my little handmade hat is the proper extravagant finishing touch to such a formal outfit!  More about that later.

For those of you that do not know who this dress’ label refers to, Anne Fogarty is summarized as “an American fashion designer, active 1940–80, who was noted for her understated, ladylike designs that were accessible to American women on a limited income.”  She was discovered because someone had the open-mindedness to see her potential, and she learned as she worked her way up…a true American story.  Her designs emphasized femininity especially seen in her “famous paper doll dress”, also the reason I am so excited to have found this dress in my size.

The dress I have on is a great example of the “tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats” which were the trademarks of an Anne Fogarty “paper doll” dress, seen as an American and inexpensive option to the Dior silhouette popular since the late 40’s.  I remotely dated my dress to the early side of the mid-50’s, and the happenstance of finding a similarly designed frock in an advertisement from 1955 has concreted my assumption.  There had to have been yards upon yards of rayon satin finish taffeta needed to make this dress with such a full skirt that is over and above a circle shape, so a ‘reasonable’ price must still have been expensive.  My Grandmother’s brooch even matches the one in the advertisement!

Fogarty seems to receive harsh flack in any write-up nowadays on account of her book, “Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife”.  I think this is sadly unfair because it not only overshadows her wonderful, resourceful career but, as a product of her times, it is going to naturally have stereotypes.  However, in my opinion, there is still a lot of good said in her book that can be relevant and followed today, just as her designs have such a lasting beauty and magnificence of craftsmanship that the couture world (or anyone interested in sewing) of today would do good to look and learn from.  We seem to live in a world where the runways have become a place to make a statement, show one’s art, entertain extravagantly, or display an idea, making it less about presenting something truly wearable to any but rich starlets who have somewhere to go in view of the paparazzi.  Goodness, with some of Balmain’s Spring Couture 2019 models going topless and the last few years’ trend of sheer fashions (these have a ridiculous amount of nothing there), even what clothes do come out of high design still make women practically naked!  One cannot put on a dress like this Anne Fogarty creation and – miss in some way – the covered up, but still sexy as all get out, appeal of a body sculpting garment which can craft a tasteful yet enticing figure with superior quality of artistry, yet still be accessible to an everyday fashionista.

Taking pictures of a solid black dress is very challenging, so we didn’t even really try to take many detail shots, but I can tell you about them instead.  The most obvious and perhaps the most confusing is the drop-waist/skirt seam.  The curving is ingenious, especially taking into account the many tiny cartridge pleats that comprise the skirt attaching into that seam.  Yes, it is not plainly gathered…mind blowing!  There is no boning of any kind for this bodice, but from the bust down the inside is double layered of fabric and all the princess seams double stitched and pressed out.  It kind of just molds my body into shape as I zip it on (there is a sturdy metal center back zipper).  Granted, I did follow Anne Fogarty’s advice and wear a petticoat with a vintage, strapless, full body corselet under this for the full and properly 50’s experience, and I actually lose a few inches in my waist!  She seemed to recommend two petticoats under her dresses, but this dress already has one built into it, made from the same material as the dress itself.  The skirt seams are almost all on selvedge seams, while the rest are simply pinked.

The upper bodice is very classic 50’s – kimono sleeves with a parallelogram underarm gusset so I have full arm movement (amazing for a fancy dress).  The neckline has a rolled edge which ends up looking like a collar.  There is a plunging back which more than accounts for the high covered front.  The bodice also has the very tiniest of flaws in this otherwise amazingly excellent condition vintage piece.  There two are pinhead size holes at the left front chest which I really wonder if they aren’t from a brooch, making me kind of feel badly for adding one myself.  However, I am careful to not poke roughly through the fabric.  The nature of this dress’ fabric is so stiff, tightly woven, and structured it is perfect for a design like Fogarty’s but it keeps frays in check.  I think I’ll leave those little spots be as they are.

Now, to talk about the hat I made since you get to finally see it best from behind!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a thick vinyl faux crocodile skin, ivory with gold foiled accents

PATTERN:  McCall’s #1571, year 1950

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, some cotton and interfacing scraps, and some wire for the “headband” that is part of the lining…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 4 or 5 hours

TOTAL COST:  I spent $5 for a half yard of the vinyl, and only used half of what I bought, so I suppose this hat only cost me $2.50!  I should just be able to squeeze in a little fancy purse out of what’s leftover, to be made in the future (but I will probably choose a view from an OOP Vogue #7354).

This hat ended up in a whole different direction than I originally intended, but that’s okay – I love it just how it is better than I had imagined.  The pattern I used actually came from my mom’s pattern stash.  I doubt it came from her mom or has a story behind it or I probably would have heard about it by now, but I’m now thinking I should ask her just in case there is a tale that just hasn’t come out yet.  Even with my small changes to the pattern it still is classic 50’s style of full crown coverage.  Only, here it received what I see as an avant-garde upgrade, too.

At first I sewed the hat up just like the pattern designed (sans lining) and it turned out mimicking something between a religious bonnet and a swimmers cap.  It completely covered my ears and hair.  Bummer!  Although difficult to sew on my machine, I was super excited because the three layers came together quickly.  It did fit my head quite well once I top-stitched the seams down (by hand).  The front needed to be pruned down and given interest to be made fashionable.

My solution was to work with what I already had.  The side curves had “wings” cut out of them.  The “wings” are still attached to the hat at the inner corners at the top of the head, and were left free of the lining when I stitched it around the edge.  The wings are tacked down on the sides of the head further back and decorated as you see them with vintage metal shoe clips.  This way, without adding anything new or doing drastic changes, there is room to show my ears and hair as well as have a sort of interesting underlying theme…my post’s title gives that away.

You see, Petasos is the closest thing that my hat reminds me of.  An ancient petasos was a metal helmet worn by a member of the Athenian cavalry, and it later became associated with the god Hermes (also later known as Mercury to the Romans) when it had the side “wings” on it.  Hermes was the messenger god as well as “moving freely between the worlds of mortal and divine”, and to accommodate his quickness, his petasos became more streamlined to the head, too, besides losing its wide traditional brim.  He was also the god of commerce, his very name under the Romans is related to the Latin word for “merchandise”, so anything of monetary value, especially precious metal and coinage has been associated with him.  My 50’s hat oddly aligns with all of this.  Its construction is plated, in a mock form of those crescent-shaped overlapping pieces which can be found on the back of an armadillo or on a knuckle in medieval armor.  I never really meant for such an association…the wings I added to my hat do add a lot to the original frumpy design and seemed like a natural adaptation.

Sometimes I do believe there is a lot of either subconscious planning going on or projects just make themselves what they are supposed to be.  Whatever the case, and whatever connotation my hat has, I always like what I make best when I don’t try too hard…thinking that is!  I just make beautiful and creative stuff that I do need more often than not and always do enjoy even when it’s made for others.  Makers gotta make, as the popular saying goes.

There are some designers that I can associate myself more easily than many others, and this is so with Anne Fogarty’s story and beautiful creations.  I don’t ever really go out for the purpose of buying vintage (I like to do controlled browsing), and goodness knows I don’t have enough fancy occasions to wear nice stuff to, but this was in my size by an well-known designer and it was too good of a deal to pass up.  As I have said in past posts (here and here) where I addressed the care for, benefits, and details to true vintage, this dress is worthwhile alone by being something I can learn from and aspire to.  Let me know if you have a garment that has a quality or story that has taught you something, or at least inspires you to create!

I am so happy to be writing my 300th post to all of you.  Thank you for all the comments and support you have shared with me along the way.  I pulled out the good stuff for you this time and hope you enjoyed this slight change of pace.  Here’s to many more blog posts yet to come!