A Versatile Wrap-on Evening Gown

I realize it has now been 7 months since I promised to share “soon” the so-called skirt portion to my Charles James designer inspired project, my great and final clincher for the end of 2021.  Life’s ebb and flow carries me away in unintended directions more often than not!  As I mentioned without too much detail in the post for that Charles James outfit, my skirt was really an evening dress.  It happily turned out to be an amazing chameleon of a garment, thus guaranteeing me years of wear and enjoyment. 

I don’t know about you, but I really haven’t ever thought of an evening gown as being something very wearable, much less something versatile and extremely useful.  From a maker’s perspective, I love sewing evening wear but hate that there are so few occasions to wear such things.  It causes consternation that such pretty clothes hang unused and lonely in my closet.  This post’s evening dress is the answer to all such problems.  Leave it to a vintage 1950s era design to offer a smart but glamorous evening dress that is adaptable in both the way it fits and the way it gets worn!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an ivory polyester shantung, contrasted by a burnt orange poly chiffon

PATTERN:  Butterick #4919, a year 2006 reprint of a 1952 pattern, originally Butterick #6338

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long 22” zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was relatively quick and easy – about 15 hours for the dress and an extra hour to make the chiffon scarf.  Both were finished on April 9, 2021

THE INSIDES:  left mostly raw and merely loosely zig-zag stitched over to prevent fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember what I paid for it, but I do recall it was a good deal for the 6 yards I bought – about $50 perhaps.

This dress has been a long time coming!  I bought the shantung and picked out the pattern to match with it – even cut all the fabric pieces out – back in 2013.  Originally, I was inspired by one of my favorite old movies, An Affair to Remember from 1957, to try and sew my own imitation of the actress Deborah Kerr’s ivory evening gown from the beginning of the movie.  I had planned on this being my entry for the “Butterick to the Big Screen” contest that the pattern Company was hosting in honor of their 150th Anniversary.  I made a Doris Day inspired blouse instead (and became the winner, after all).  The pattern and fabric pieces to this project were then bagged up together and mostly forgotten all these years…until now! 

When I laid out my “Affair to Remember” undertaking anew, I no longer felt like fully committing to reworking the pattern.  Nor was I enthusiastic about adding on chiffon scarf panels to make it closer to the movie dress, as originally planned.  Suddenly I was merely content with making it as-is out of the envelope and having a mere reference to my original inspiration.  One simple, 120” long, separate scarf was still made out of sheer chiffon, as I had bought the proper fabric anyway for this intention.  Nevertheless, I didn’t go over the top or try too hard to imitate Deborah Kerr’s gown.  I love this dress too much to wish I had deviated at all from the original pattern’s design.  It is fantastic just the way it is.  Having a subtle reference to my original inspiration gown is enough to make me happy.

Now, I am aware that all gowns are dresses, but not all dresses are gowns…except in the case of Butterick 4919.  The pattern is even more versatile than my own gown by showing it in a shorter “day” length, and recommending it to be sewn up in a cotton, jersey knit, or lightweight faille.  A gown is a long lined formal dress, while a dress is more general term for an everyday one-piece garment of both top and skirt combined.  Butterick 4919 is so versatile, and it is unlined (being simple to make), so it is really both a gown and a dress, as well as an excellent skirt, too! 

You see, the sides of the bodice are completely open, and the skirt is the only part of this gown that has closed side seams.  The skirt is a full circle skirt, which between that and the cut-on ties which close up the bodice front, is why the pattern calls for at least 5 yards of fabric, whether you are using a 60” or 45” width material.  The short straps attached to the front bodice are hooked together under the back bodice at the waistline.  Then, there is a center back zipper which closes up both the skirt and the bodice.  The front and back are attached at the shoulders, still, after all.  There is a slight halter- style taper in to the high cut shoulders.  They are gathered in at the front half and plain in the back, which was a trick to sew.

Yet, in order to fully get dressed in this garment, you need to have fun with the ties.  They are a yard and a half in length each coming out from being cut-on with the back bodice.  They can be twisted, tied, and wrapped in all sorts of ways.  I even successfully tied it halter style.  For an even cleaner, simpler look, I can go rogue and tuck the long ties into the dress and hook the shorter ties on the outside of the dress.  I wore it has a skirt by letting the entire bodice hang into the skirt portion of the dress and zipping up the back as far as the waistline – easy peasy!  The way the ivory is such basic color helps along the fact that this is one of my wardrobe’s most versatile dresses.

I did do a small adaptation to the ties.  I couldn’t bear to just skinny hem the edges to the ties, not only because I hate doing such a finish on long seams but also since the satin underside of the shantung would show.  Thus, I faced the ties with more fabric by double layering the entire back bodice.  This way there are no raw edges and two ‘right’ sides (with the nubby matte finish facing out) to the shantung.  Having double thickness to the ties might not have been the best idea – it sure makes them much more bulky around the waist.  Yet, there is no wrong side to ‘hide’ this way and less opportunity for the ties to stretch out of shape, as the ties end up being cut on the cross grain bias.  I’m conflicted as to what is the best way to really finish the ties…I feel there has to be a better way to streamline them.  For now though, all is well that ends well!

This is the only Butterick reissue that I am entirely pleased with.  So many of the other vintage or retro reprints have obviously been tinkered with by the company and seem to have wonky fitting, modernized details, and unpredictable amounts of wearing ease.  The back bodice did seem to run long, but that is normal for me to find on both reprints and originals from that era as I have a deep sway back.  The size chart given was spot on with the finished garment.  I ended up with the same as what is shown and it is even better than I expected.  What’s not to like here?  The only downside may be the amount of fabric the long dress calls for, but a discount or second-hand bed sheet set would be the perfect way to cheaply try this pattern out on a budget.  I have a feeling this dress would be utterly fantastic and dreamy in a soft cotton or lightweight linen print. 

For something so elegant to also be easy-to-make as well as comfortable is a big enough draw, but the fact that it is a vintage design still timelessly in style makes for a happy win in my estimation.  Even though this pattern is out of print, if you would like to try it for yourself there still seems to be many readily available and rather reasonably priced through sources over the internet.  The sheer amount of fabric you have to work with and the unusual construction presents a few tricky challenges, yet this wrapped gown is immensely worth the effort to sew, believe me.  It is Hollywood glam for every day.  If this dress was made in a white crepe, it could be reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s 1955 halter dress.  In a bright pink, it would imitate Betty Draper’s taffeta gown in Season two’s “The Benefactor” episode 3 of Mad Men television show.  In a cotton polka dot print, it could reference what Jane Russell wore in 1953 for an “imprint” ceremony in the courtyard at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard as publicity for the film ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.  I could go on with my ideas but I want you to add in your own thoughts, before I get carried away.  Granted, this Butterick gown is not a true halter dress as the back and shoulders not exposed.  However, it still looks the part as a classic 50’s halter dress, and that is part of the clever practicality to this gown.  You don’t need to adapt your normal lingerie and it is no less appealing for the little extra coverage!

Now that I have finally posted this outfit I started way back in 2013 and completed in 2021, I can feel like it is fully finished.  I think I will follow up with some more of these half-forgotten and need-to-be posted sewing projects of mine!  Do any of my fellow bloggers out there have a backlog queue of things you’ve made but never got around to posting?  Surely I’m not the only one!  I think we can all agree this gown was a good one to let out from my archives and share sooner than even later.  Let me know if this post becomes the reason you try Butterick 4919 retro reprint!

Blue Rose of Unattainability

If there is anything that symbolizes the impossible, it is a natural blue rose.  A true color blue just isn’t genetically possible for the thorny flower.  The closest color naturally or scientifically created ends up as a lavender, or violet, or a sort of mauve-ish pink.  Sure, you can dye or paint a rose whatever color you may want, yet science has been beat so far when it comes to growing a rose in an azure tone. 

This is why a blue rose mural is the perfect backdrop for a finished sewing creation which was so very challenging for me to make.  I seriously had the “what if I can’t figure this out” thought during the construction process to my dress.  I was terrified I had met the project which would beat me.  As you can see, I ended up working through it successfully!  Besides, this dress is also another 1950s Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” motivated outfit as a follow up to my previous post.  I cannot just have one princess inspired garment, when it comes to my favorite Disney film, for my “Pandemic Princess” series!  The blue rose theme also lets my choice of color for Princess Aurora’s gown be quietly known.  As much as I love the color pink, her enchanted sleep was taken and awakened in her blue dress.  With her blonde hair, Aurora needs to leave the pink dress to Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in my opinion. 

White may be thought of as a ‘neutral’ or blank color but the funny thing is, I find it hard to find a pure white fabric that doesn’t have a blue undertone. This is a true rarity from a sewist’s perspective!  Only recently have I found out this occurrence is either due to a fabric treatment called “bluing” or an accumulation of acid in the water from deteriorating pipes.  It is hard to escape the frequency of blue in my wardrobe, even when wearing white apparently.  I went along with the theme and wore my blue tulle 50’s poufy slip underneath for full vintage drama.  With the subtle blue tint to the white, the wild rose flower all-over print of the fabric, and the elegant lines to this full-skirted, pretty frock I have an outfit that makes me feel like a princess in more ways than one.  The fact it is a hard won accomplishment to even be wearing this makes the wearing of it so much sweeter of a treat.  I found a different kind of ‘blue rose’ that is attainable…and I absolutely love it. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft but thick Indian cotton bedsheet set

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern #121 “Jacquard Dress” from February 2020, a ‘re-issue’ of a July 1957 “Burda Moden” design

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the time to trace and assemble the pattern, this dress took about 10 hours to complete.  It was finished on August 7, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  This bedsheet set was picked up at a thrift sale for $1.00…pretty awesome, right?!?

From the get-go, there are a few hurdles that set this dress pattern up to be challenging even before reaching the sewing and construction stage.  Firstly, the pattern pieces for this dress are out-of-control ginormous.  They are rather awkward shapes, too.  This was a big, exhaustive deal for me to trace out the pattern pieces form the small and cluttered magazine inserts.  I spent way too many hours bent over on the floor, tracing lines onto see-through medical paper, and taping pieces together.  The larger the pattern, the more I get confused over the lines, and there were several mistakes along the way.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a Burda Style pattern prepped because I add on the seam allowances as I cut.  An online version of the pattern would be a downloadable PDF that then needs to be printed out and assembled together, and this option sounded like too much paper for me to want to deal with. 

Laying out the pattern pieces on the bedsheets took up ALL of our living room floor.

Of course, all of these facts also mean that this design is a complete fabric hog.  You can only choose a fabric at least 60 inches wide (or more) and need about 4 yards.  A directional print or plaids were discouraged in the Burda info, for good reason.  My use of bedding with an overall print was perfect here.  It offered a lot of fabric in a wider width with a print that doesn’t overwhelm the dress’ design lines and all at a cheap cost.  Opting for a reasonable material rather than using any of the nice fabrics from my stash eliminated any extra stress on me to not mess up on this project.  The fabric was such a dense cotton it does have some structure to it – something very necessary for this dress – yet at the same time it is broken in enough to be so very soft and supple.  Yet, being a bedsheet, I could not tell grain line, just the bias, so I just followed the hem as it seemed the tightest woven direction of the fabric.  For this dress, cutting the bias correctly is almost more important than choosing a fabric with body, as the most interesting panels to this design are on the cross grain.

The Burda Magazine page sums this dress up as “a masterpiece” with its “couture draping at the neckline and waist…shaped in the fashion of a French triangular scarf.”  This is not just bragging on the part of Burda as I have come across a few designer couture dresses that have similar design lines with the ‘wrap-around-to-the-front’ skirt pleats that are part of the back skirt’s fullness.  Here is a 1950s Mingolini Guggenheim Italian couture gown and a golden 50’s cocktail dress from the RISD Museum of Costume and Textiles

The old original Burda Moden summary is a hilarious but still wise call back to 70 years ago in the way it warns “Never wear it in the morning, never combine it with a sporty coat and only wear it with at least mid-heeled pumps!”  To match, I am wearing reproduction “Miss L Fire” leather snakeskin and suede bow pumps and a vintage 50’s era netted hat. The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother and my pearl necklace is the same as the ones I gave to my bridesmaids for our wedding.

Let’s dive into the dress’s details, starting with the trickiest ones first!  There is a full ¾ circle skirt, with two pleated panels on each side that are seamed in with both the right and left back skirt panel.  Those panels wrap around horizontally from the side back, along the side waist, into and around the front draping.  The paneled strips are on the bias and actually one piece (cut-on) with the back skirt…and thus there are no side seams whatsoever from the waist down here.  At the center front, half of the back skirt’s incorporated panels (two on each side, remember) end by joining in with the waist seam.  The other half suddenly opens up to become unrestricted, individual tube-like ties.  These are then wrapped under and through the incorporated neckline drape, which is itself seamed into both the dropped shoulders and center front waistline. 

The skirt panels eventually end under a deep front skirt pleat on each side of the center front.  This way the entire front draping affair is one big interconnected “give-n-take” game, equally pulling on all parts of the dress and keeping everything in place.  My brain is still blown away over all this, and also rather stretched thin trying to explain how magical this Burda retro design is.  Not since I sewed this Jacquard dress using another Burda retro re-issue, which also happens to be from 1957, have I experienced this kind of intricacy in a pattern.

Under all of this complexity, the bodice is a basic dart fit.  A good starting point, a blank canvas, is needed for every masterpiece, right?!  There are several knife pleats in the back shoulders that open up to provide fullness for ease of “reach room” movement.  They also then become a low-key mimic to the more ostentatious origami-like folds to the front drape.  The center back waist has a pointed, lowered, dipped seamline, with an invisible zipper coming from that point up to the neck.  This dress has a slight ‘train’ to it and dips longer in the back by a few inches, nicely countering out the weight of the front and opening the pleats.  

I personally am not a big fan of the slight train.  It almost looks like I merely hemmed the dress wonky.  The train looks really odd when I wear this dress with a poufy petticoat, which I do on occasion when I desire a less of an over-the-top vintage appearance.  However, wearing a fluffy slip underneath is the only way to do this dress justice, otherwise I would suggest horsehair braid or another stiffening method to be added in the hem.  This is a couture dress – there’s no way around it, even though my version is in a fine cotton.  This dress requires plenty of time to perfect its details and master the silhouette.  There is no room for a half-hearted effort here, otherwise the dress will only turn out messy.  This is not a project for the faint of heart!   

It might be complex and fancy but this is also a dress which is comfy and very wearable, making the time and effort invested into sewing it very worthwhile.  It could equally be paraded down a red carpet or worn to a nice outdoor picnic party depending on the fabric chosen or how you accessorize it.  My one and only complaint is that the pattern’s sizing seemed to run smaller than usual.  I had to let out the sides and center back seam allowances to a scant 3/8” for a close fit in the bodice.  Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this pattern in every way possible, even with its difficulties.  It is not for a novice, or even an intermediate skills individual who needs more than a words-only instructional text.  Yes, it may be a project that presents a challenge, yet it is worth it in every way when you end up with a dress like this! 

What is your “blue rose” – metaphorically speaking?  Do have a goal that seems an insurmountable hurdle, but you aim to conquer it?  Good for you – that is a “blue rose” kind of aim.  Do you also get annoyed at how blue all the white clothes end up?  Also, what do you think a blonde girl looks better in – blue of pink?  The funny thing is, these two colors were the choices (out of availability of the chosen dresses) I was down to for my wedding’s theme…and my two bridesmaids were both blonde haired.  They wanted pink to wear over blue.  I happily chose a soft pastel pink as the color scheme.  I will be following up this post with one more (final) “Sleeping Beauty” inspired project…and yes, this time it is in pink!

“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

The Tradition of the Sari

“The sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver.  He dreamt of a woman – the drape of her tumbling hair; the colors of her many moods; the shimmer of her tears; the softness of her touch.  All of these he wove together. He wove for many yards; he could not stop. When he was done, as the folk tale goes, he sat back and smiled…for he had created a sari.” (Legend copied from here.)

Coming off of the annual celebration of the Partition, which gave India and Pakistan national independence on August 15th, I would like to feature the humble, beautiful, sari of India.  Did you know it has a history more than 5,000 years old!  It’s weaving is mentioned in “Rig-Veda”, one of the oldest surviving literature of the world, written circa 3,000 B.C.  The sari, originally intended for both men and women, is therefore probably one of the longest continuously worn clothing in the history of mankind.  A sari (saree in English) is a rectangular piece of cloth usually 5 yards (for everyday use or ones composed of cotton) to 9 yards (for some of the fanciest silk or embroidered ones).  Their approximate width is about 47 inches.  For one continuous piece of cloth, the fabric and design of the sari is well thought out to accommodate the intricate tradition of wrapping for each region’s heritage so that it becomes a pure work of art…the world’s marvel in clothing design.

The main field of the sari is framed on three side by decorative borders.  Two of these borders run longitudinal sides of the sari, while the third comprises the end of the sari, the wide and highly decorative Pallau – the part which hangs free when worn.  It is more than just a source for many yards of pretty fabric, as is often the outlook of American and Western World clothiers and sewists.  There is so much more to a sari than that – it is a shame to not explore that well of information behind the crafting of a sari and appreciate for how it is truly used and regarded.

The sari needs to be deemed as clothing and not just called fabric.  A sari is pretty much the same as a top, or a dress, or pants which are worn America.  It is an article of clothing.  It has existed for so long, there is a history to it as rich as the indigo color I’m wearing.  It should not be merely called fabric – that is a term for talking about the fiber content of a piece of clothing.  Doing such for a sari is dismissive to its cultural usage and history.  For many cultures and faith traditions, what is worn is considered purer, more perfect, or better pleasing to God to wear something unaltered by a needle and thread.  As a people, we would definitely not have a problem with finding sizes to fit our individual body physique with a sari…one length accommodates all!

Every sari has a rich and beautiful story to tell as unique as the wearer.  How it is put on the body, embellished, and colored has long served as a marker of identity in the Indian subcontinent. The hues of a garment denote not just personal sartorial preference but convey all sorts of social data, ranging from the wearer’s age and marital status to his/her community of origin.  Red is as dynamic as fire, and the symbol of joy, yet it is well known often for its use as a bridal color.  The red bordered sari with the indigo field that you see me in is more of a bridal guest or a very special occasion garment as evidenced by the jacquard weave through the blue and also the heavy goldwork along the edge.  Blue is a special color to India, especially in Hinduism – it is the color of the Diety (“Krishna Blue”) and embodies kindness, bravery, and determination.  The golden ivory field of the other sari sets this one as a sort of “everyday finery” sari, as it still has the red borders.  This one is a much lighter weight sari and slightly shorter in length.  It has the Kashmiri paisley and pomegranates along the pallau (very Northern), while the blue and red sari has its decoration imagery coming from “Bandhani” – the unique, subtle lack of dye in very pre-meditated spaces (trademark western Gujarat).

“Bandhani” is Sanskrit for tie-dye (also known as “Lehriya”).  The word refers to both the finished cloth as well as the practice of an ancient technique – tying the cloth off in very small, dotted, patterns before dipping it in a dye bath.  The decoration is so subtle, an untrained eye could completely miss it, thus making it all the more the marvel.  Rajasthan and Gujarat are famous for these brilliant tie dyes.  The more dots and the smaller they are tied, the more skill of the maker and therefore the display of a higher social status of the wearer, or at least the nicer the occasion for which such would be worn.  The multi coloring method involves working in the lightest shade first, after which the fabric is tied and darker colors introduced.  “Bandhani” saris are associated with festivals, seasons, and rituals for which there are particular patterns and colors.  Northern India – particularly Gujarat – has a few traditions of colors that varies from much of the rest of (central and below) India as well as the visually obvious front pallau hang, right shouldered wrapping.  You’ll also find this region’s clothing to be decorated with mirrors and beads or gold work embroidery.

A sari is often a family heirloom, and when one is gifted upon a special occasion that is really special.  The latter was the case with these two saris I am wearing.  It was just over a year ago we went to Memphis to visit our close family friends of Indian heritage.  My husband has known them for many years (longer than I have!). It has not been since my husband and I were married that he has seen those friends’ parents.  They were born in India around the time of its Independence and immigrated to America with their own family several decades ago.  We as a family finally met with them, and it was a wonderful time!  I also asked a lot of questions and they were so kind enough to teach me so much about the culture and ways of dressing for their home-away-from-home in the District of Kutch.  Before I left their house, I was gifted with some beautiful saris to take with me.  Now, I am honored to be able to wear them with their proper provenance for a truly special occasion of joining in to celebrate India’s long-fought, long-sought Independence.

The one piece I was lacking before now to have a complete traditional Indian sari set was an important base layer – the choli blouse.  Yes – this isn’t completely a non-sewing related post!  I did make something to this set!  The sari top and the underskirt (also called petticoat) are the base layers for which the sari is anchored to and wrapped over.  The underskirt is simple in shape but unrestrictive, and often a useful solid color of a fabric that is comfy and breathable.  Here, my base layer is a RTW long bias cut linen skirt.  The choli blouse is a close fitting cropped top that is structured, lined, and has any shaping or support which the wearer prefers built into it.  Think of it like underwear and your blouse top all-in-one, but highly tailored to your body so it stays in place while making you look really good.  A true authentic Indian choli for special occasions is an engineering work of art to examine, which I tried to imitate with my version.  I found mine very comfortable to wear.  I didn’t want to take it off at the end of the day, and could wear this every day for as good as I felt wearing it!

I started by using a vintage crop top pattern reprint as my starting base – Simplicity #8645, a 1955 reprint from 2018, originally Simplicity #1203.  I went for View D.  As I went along, I added sleeves (drafted of my own pattern), a hem panel to add a bit of length (remember, these are not a belly dancer’s top), and altered the neckline to be more open and interesting, taking my inspiration from Gujarat chaniya choli.  My outer fabric is block printed Indian cotton ordered from Mumbai through the Etsy shop “Fibers to Fabric” and my inner lining fabric is local store bought cotton broadcloth in navy.

There are molded foam bra cups sewn into the wrong side of the lining to add in hidden structure to my choli.  I had to take the size in a little extra to get this top to fit closer than the vintage pattern had planned.  Most choli tops are tied, buttoned, or hook-and-eye closing, primarily down the back, but for my ease of dressing and to stabilize to tight fit I chose a small 5 inch metal separating zipper.  The bottom hem band closes with two hook-and-eyes, still, though.  Once this top is on me, it isn’t going anywhere and it forms me into shape…but that doesn’t mean it’s restricting.  I tried it on again and again in between its construction for a little tweak here, an unpicking there to ensure a custom, perfect fit for myself.  The perfect fit ensures the garment will not be restrictive because it should be a ‘copy’ of your body when something like this has practically zero wearing ease.   If this had been made of a fancier material I might have also added light boning, but the wonderful block print disguises the fact this is just cotton, and so a comfortable everyday choli.  It took a while of searching to find a print like this that matched with both of my saris!

Not to be content with just the handmade choli, I also made my own jewelry set to match my indigo and red sari.  Jewelry is important to the Indian culture and an unashamed display of wealth, keeping one’s security right where you (and others) can see it.  Wearing jewelry also symbolizes wealth, power, and status – the heavier the nuances of these jewelries are, the bigger role they play in the legacy of the family. (Read an excellent article on this subject here.)  Gold is the primary medium.

The jewelry set worn with my ivory and red sari is much more subdued, and was made in India and highlighted in this past Indian-inspired outfit of mine.  However, the blue and gold set worn with my fine indigo and red sari is the self-made jewelry I am talking about.  It is not genuine gold, and not the normal expensive jewelry you would see with an outfit like this yet it adds to the individuality of my outfit and has a personal meaning behind it…all factors which are important when choosing Indian accessories.

I love to wear gemstones and enjoy the symbolism and interesting compounds that compose them.  I’ve been attending local Gem and Mineral society shows since I was 10.  Therefore my unjeweled, round bead necklace I strung of Lapis Lazuli, and my carved rosette dangle earrings are Sodalite, both of them semi-precious dark blue rock-forming minerals used as a decorative gems.  My more decorative necklace was something I bought loose, as a bag of broken glass jewelry, and I reassembled the pieces back into how I thought they would look good as a necklace.  There was just enough supplies to squeeze in a matching bracelet as well (a wrist bangle used to signify a married woman).  The hanging jewels look like bees to me, witch is a sort of emblem for my husband’s side of the family that I have taken to.  My father-in-law had been a beekeeper for many years and our last name’s initial is a ‘B’ so the little honey-makers are a family symbol that we enjoy.

There is so much to learn and share about the Indian culture, so I hope this post was not too overwhelming for those of you to whom this subject is completely new!  Thank you for reading my post.  This is a very special subject to me.  These sari outfits are quite different from what I am used to wearing (and posting here), I’ll admit, but understanding them through the proper cultural respect helps me to do more than just put on certain unusual clothes.  I hope it can open your mind and heart by doing so, as it has done for me.  Caring for others by putting yourself in their shoes is an important perspective to remember to take, even if that journey starts through clothing.