Savoring the Harvest Sun

Not too many years do we have the chance this year is giving to shop for pumpkins and Thanksgiving items with a balmy feel in the air.  Despite the fact we did receive about 5 inches of snow less than a week ago, little more than a week before that I was wearing a sundress just to stay cool.  Not only are we having one weird fall season here, but it is also a wonderful extended summer.  I love this because I can wear more of my favorite bare shouldered garments…but I am a warm weather girl at heart, after all!  Thus, for this second part to my ongoing blog series called the “Indian Summer of the Sundress”, here is a rich harvest-toned vintage 1950 sundress and sheer redingote set.  It has all the colors that the falling leaves and cornucopia fruits of the earth both sport for fall so I can feel ready for Thanksgiving no matter what the weather outside us is saying!

Now, just to clarify right off the bat, I only made the sheer redingote (also the hair flower and jewelry) for this ensemble, so this post will mostly be about the portion I crafted.  I did not make the sundress.  It is handmade by someone else.  I know – what an oddity here on my blog!  It is a display “inspiration” garment from the “Cloud 9 Fabrics” company, and was made by a certain Catherine Zebrowski using their “Sow & Sew” organic cotton collection from designs of Eloise Renouf.  (Follow the link and you can see they made this same dress in a blue, grey, and black colorway, as well!)  For this dress, the “Sprouts” print is the contrast along the bodice edge and waistline while the “Herb Garden” is used for the rest of the dress.  I love the take they took on this pattern – it’s a complimentary boldness that is cheerful and intriguing, besides being a different, unique take on understanding the pattern.  I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to acquire this dress, give it a happy home, and let it shine by completing the vintage pattern set with my redingote!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Redingote – a brown-toned Goldenrod colored poly chiffon from a big-box fabric store chain

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8252, a reprint of a year 1950 Simplicity designer pattern #8270

NOTIONS:  I needed thread, a large hook-n-eye, and some stiff, sheer organza

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The redingote came together more quickly than I expected.  It was made in about 6 hours and finished on September 19, 2018

THE FINISHINGS:  A sheer dress deserves only the prettiest (and the strongest) seams that you could see on a see-through chiffon!  French.  The bottom hemline was yards and yards long (being so full skirted) so I used an overlocker (serger) to make tiny rolled hem edges.

TOTAL COST:  about $25 for the whole set!

Cloud 9’s vintage dress gave me a much appreciated boost for making this Simplicity re-print.  I have been wanting to make it, but my mental caveat was saying “there is a lot of fabric needed (a couple yards) for each piece”, and I knew each one would take a good amount of time to finish.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not against spending whatever time is necessary to make the outfit I set my mind to making!  I just didn’t relish the idea of spending the time it would take to sew a completely indulgent and unnecessary item like the sheer redingote after making the sundress, too.  The sundress was what I primarily wanted and will wear the most out of the pattern but knowing it has a matching cover-up that goes with it sort of ‘guilted’ me into feeling like the redingote had to be made as well.  I am hoping that I might wear the redingote over something else in my closet so I that it, too, sees more wearings than if it only is paired with its matching sundress. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed making something based off an idea I love from another creative maker out there!

There were some minor changes I made to the pattern.  My adaptations only made the redingote easier to make!  Firstly, the skirt portion is insanely full…a total fabric hog (nice to twirl in though).  The tissue pieces are almost out of hand, especially the skirt fronts.  They are quarter circles that make the front twice as full as the back.  Thinking about the skirt of sundress underneath, I realized that it has all of its gathered fullness in the front while the back is smooth and paneled.  This would mean that the redingote for over it would practically be the same way – most all of its fullness in front.  I didn’t like the idea of doubling up on poufiness in the front, so the redingote’s skirt was changed to be the opposite of the sundress.  I added an extra half-width panel into the skirt back and I folded the patterns skirt fronts in half to cut them out smaller.  This way there is partial fullness in front and more in back to even out the poufiness when the set is worn together.  My adaptation not only evens out the layers of the skirts but it also makes cutting out the skirt portion a little more manageable.

Secondly, I did not cuff the sleeves but chose a wide hem instead.  I ended up rather liking the way the longer sleeve ends looked.  I felt they widened my shoulders illusionally, thus complementing the waist.  Not cuffing the sleeves really made things easier anyway.  No really, I did like to look better…I just wasn’t being lazy.

Finally, there just a few last cosmetic changes to list!  I eliminated the center seam to the bodice back and cut it on the fold instead.  In lieu of using interfacing in the sheer collar and taking the risk of either having it be obviously in sight or changing the chiffon color, I used transparent organza to shape and stiffen it.   The organza is wonderfully invisible sandwiched in between the golden chiffon and it adds enough body to keep its shape but still be flexible.  Lastly, I ditched the fussy front ties shown to close up the front bodice – they’re too distracting if you ask me.  I merely put one big hook-and-eye at the waistline, tucking it inside the seams.  An open bodice to the redingote shows off the neckline to the sundress underneath.

I did make sure that the waistline on this sheer over-dress was nice and strong so that a hook closing wouldn’t rip anything.  As I mentioned in “THE FACTS” I did all French seams, even for the waistline.  To make the waistline stronger, I turned bodice over the French waistline seam and stitched it down on both sides.  It ends up looking rather like a belt, in my opinion, because of the thickness from all the layers of fabric.  Besides, anytime there is gathering into a French seam things can feel a bit bulky, so stitching it down made it more comfortable to wear, after all.

My accessories add a rust tone to the browns, ochre, and dusty grey and pink flecks by being a deep, burgundy red.  My bracelet matches with my earrings – both I made using Czech glass teardrop beads ordered from Etsy.  Since clip-on or screw-back earrings are vintage, I used some old-style blanks that I ordered from a jewelry supply shop in China and tied a handful of the beads so they look like a cluster of berries hanging down.  In lieu of a hat, the hair flower is made by me with just two, oversized fake chrysanthemums attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  Happily, practically the same tone red, described as “sunny terra-cotta”, can be found in my lipstick, “Happy“ from the Besame cosmetics “1937 Anniversary Snow White 7 Dwarfs Collection”.  My necklace and gloves are true vintage.

Finding, wearing, and buying someone else’s me-made has helped me appreciate others’ sewing.  It has also made me realize just how spoiled I am by doing my own sewing…this handmade dress was the only way I felt comfortable and happy buying something new and ready-to-wear!  But really – the fact that it was a vintage design fits perfectly into my style.  Vintage styles are the best way for me to express my style and feel at ease in what I am wearing.  I want to say I don’t think I could have done better, though.  It was luckily sewn in my size!  I’m impressed by the details and lovely construction to this pattern – they even sewed in an invisible zipper up the side!  Besides, I haven’t yet splurged on organic cotton for myself.

So – on top of all the other benefits I’ve already listed, this dress is a real treat.  People don’t know what they are missing.  If you can’t make it yourself, the feeling of having something made for you can’t be beat.  Make what you wear, handmade or store bought, “yours” in some way, even if that something is as little as a family jewelry piece or a full out sewing project like I did.

Extending heartfelt wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!  Don’t forget to be thankful in both word and deed because “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward

Ms. Kelly’s Dress

Copying the fashion of famous people becomes interesting when you do it for one of the most iconic beauties – Grace Kelly.  To top it off, I’ve chosen to try and recreate one of her iconic dresses, as well.  Both she and I are called “Kelly”, after all – her maiden last name is my first.

I’ve copied a dress that was worn for the occasion that changed her life – the first meeting of Prince Rainier of Monaco in spring of 1955 (full story here).  Just a few months before, she modeled this same dress on the cover of the pattern book for McCall’s – it was pattern number 3100 from 1954.  She kept that dress from the McCall’s cover, and when there was no electricity in her hotel the day she was to meet Prince Rainier, this flowered silk taffeta dress was the only thing she had which didn’t need ironing.  She couldn’t fix her hair without power either, so she put it in a basic bun and added an ivy covered fascinator.  I’ve read reports that she hated the McCall’s dress, really, but she thought no one would ever remember her in this frock.  She never though so much would come from her visit with the prince!  I have a whole Pinterest board here full of more pictures of her and the prince from that occasion, if you’re interested.

Ever since I first saw an Instagram post on this, I realized I had in my stash a McCall’s pattern that’s 32 numbers more than Grace Kelly’s dress, yet (except for the neckline) it’s more or less the exact same dress design.  Now this was a temptation that I couldn’t resist!  Yet I knew I had to make my version of Grace Kelly’s dress quite nice in quality or not at all.  My cousin’s fall wedding gave me the reason and opportunity to make and wear something so fancy!  So several yards of the finest mulberry silk were bought on a fabric splurge, together with everything needed for fully finished insides, and I’ve now made what I think is one of my fanciest dresses yet!

I brought a little bit of my dear departed Grandmother to attend the wedding – the pink pearl leaf earrings are from her as well as the gloves.  My bracelet is made by me of Swarovski crystals and sterling spacers.  My shoes are the divinely comfy and yet fancy “Lola” heels from Chelsea Crew.  I was adding in muted pink pastels to soften up the otherwise dark greys and black in my dress’ print, and bring out its magnolia tree petals!  A real life English ivy vine is my headband, ‘cause why settle for fake when you can have the real thing?!

I feel so flawlessly chic and powerfully feminine in this outfit.  Even though I do not think this is the best design for my body type, the way the full skirt swishes around as I move (due to my added self-attached slip) and the softness and shine of the silk is unparalleled.  This is comfortable finery, the likes of which cannot be found to buy RTW without a hefty price tag.  I bought this dress pattern because it was different, cheaply priced, and appealing, but somehow I’ve always been mystified at how to make it work for myself.  If ever I’m gonna like this pattern, my Grace Kelly look-alike version of the dress is the best shot at that.  Even though I sense that my waist gets lost, and my hips feel as big as a house, once I think past my self-conscious insecurities while wearing this dress, it’s then that I love it.  Who couldn’t love being able to slip into a small taste of the charisma of Grace Kelly?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% mulberry silk printed floral called “Spring Garden at Night”, lined in all cotton broadcloth, with a pleated polyester satin for the attached petticoat, and netted tulle for the crinoline

PATTERN:  McCall’s #3123, year 1954

NOTIONS:  I bought the invisible zipper for the back, but besides thread that was all the notions I needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 18 to 20 hours hours and finished on August 29, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Covered up by all the lining/petticoat, raw edges are not to be seen inside!

TOTAL COST:  The silk cost about $60 for 3 ½ yards, ordered from “The Hue Kiosk” on Etsy, with the lining cotton, petticoat skirt materials and zipper costing an extra $20 bought from Jo Ann’s Fabrics.  A total of about $80 makes this just about if not the most expensive dress I’ve made, but that still isn’t a bad price for a dress like this…it was totally worth it!

This dress pattern is labelled as “Easy-to-Sew” and it truly was incredibly easy.  Sure, I made the dress a bit harder to make by fully lining the body, and drafting my own petticoat, but even with all this, it was still way too easy for how it looks.  This McCall’s dress pattern also had remarkable fit that was spot on.  I was worried about fitting the hips correctly, so that they were almost snug but still loose.  The hips are pretty much the important part of this dress design because fitted wrongly they won’t hold the bodice and the skirt in place on the body correctly.  The area from the waist, through the hips down, to the skirt seam is really the only part of this dress that is fitted to the body anyway.  Grading up to my size according to the chart on the pattern back was right on, needing no extra adjustments.  My main caveat to this pattern is it had a very long torso.  I do not call myself petite, although I am on the shorter side, about 5 feet 3 inches high, yet I had to take out 2 inches horizontally from above the waist to bring the proportions up higher.  I also cut the top of the back neckline 1 ½ inches lower to also raise up the still long back bodice.  I never make toiles, or muslins, but I do frequently check pattern pieces by fitting them on myself first before cutting out.  I’m more glad than usual that I did discover the adjustments needed here before cutting on my good silk.

I made two small changes to the actual design.  Firstly, the most obvious one is that I made the short arm-baring sleeves on the pattern into deep kimono ¾ length.  I used another 50’s pattern from my stash as my guide for cutting because as simple as extending the sleeves might seem, I wanted to leave nothing to chance, no opportunities for mistakes if I could help it.  The elbows have small darts for shaping and are not cumbersome.  The bottom of the sleeves arch gently from my elbows down to my high waist on the dress, something you can see when my arms are out.  I realize that the longer sleeves add so much more volume to the overall appearance of the dress, yet I think the super short sleeves on the pattern strike me as jarring with the dressy air of the rest of the design.  I think my having a bit more modest sleeves not only makes my dress closer to the original Grace Kelly dress, but I think it brings out the dramatic plunge of the V-neckline.  Overall, as this is somewhat of a cooler weather dress, made especially for a fall wedding, I did not want to have to wear a sweater (with this? Yuk.), so the longer sleeves keep me more comfortable.  When trying to imitate other people’s style, I never like to compromise my own taste and personality either…after all, knock-off or not, I’m still the one wearing it!

The second change was to take out about 12 inches out of the amount of gathers to the skirt – and it’s still so full!  Many times a vintage 1950’s full skirt is really full, I mean so full your machine might not even want to sew through it, and I almost always take out 8 to 12 inches out of them and they are still quite poufy.  Also the length to the skirt of my dress would have come down to the floor had I not taken out more than 5 inches.  Even still, my skirt has a very wide hem, which actually kind of weighs it down and help the bottom round out nicely.  In all there was probably enough for a whole nuther dress in the skirt alone.  Once the skirt was sewn on to the bodice, working on finishing the dress felt overwhelming.  Have you ever felt like a garment project that has a lot of fabric “fights” with you to get under the sewing machine needle?  This was like that.  Thank goodness it was relatively easy to make.

As I was spending enough time and money to make this a very nice dress, I chose to have a modern invisible zipper down the back.  As much as I do like my vintage dresses to be vintage, there is nothing that beats a perfectly installed invisible zipper in a spot where a regular zip would be so very obvious.  The pattern called for the back zipper to extend all the way past the drop skirt seam, into the skirt itself.  I considered it, but ultimately didn’t want to try to take an invisible zip through that much fabric, so my zipper only goes down to just above the skirt seam.

The zipper was just one of several things I had to decide on for my finished dress.  Grace Kelly’s original dress has a belt at the drop skirt seam, and the pattern has a true waist belt, so I made an ultra-long belt that could’ve worked for either my hips or waist, but didn’t like how it distracted from the rest of the dress and brought the eyes to the wrong spots.  I was briefly even considering adding in light boning in the side seams to keep the bodice in shape over my hips, but I waited until my dress was finished to decide (thank goodness) and the heavy petticoat weighs down the skirt just enough to keep the dress from creeping up on me.  It is one thing to figure out how to properly shape and make a garment…it’s another to overthink problems (real or imagined) and over-engineer details.  I’m guilty of doing both.  So often the difference between those two situations is a very fine line that I struggle to find in many projects.

The extra finishing I did add to the insides really made a difference to this dress.  I tried it on at each step, without the bodice lining, and without the petticoat.  I did not like it until I had fully lined the bodice – it had more “body” and shape with it in, besides making it easy to finish the neckline, and a single layer of silk felt too sheer and delicate anyway.  The neckline pleats to the cotton bodice lining were stitched down – other than that it was cut and sewn the same as the silk bodice.  The skirt was too droopy without the petticoat I drafted – a nicely full skirt that holds its own really defines the rest of this dress design, besides preventing static cling.  I really thought about making the new Simplicity #8456 to go underneath, but having the petticoat attached with the bodice lined made wearing and getting dressed in this so effortless.  With just over 3 yards of fabric in this dress I needed to be able to wear the dress…not the dress wearing me.

My dresses petticoat was made from a mechanically pleated/crinkled satin that had a relatively heavy drape to hold its own against the light-as-air silk.  Long, 10 inch wide strips was tulle netting were cut and gathered above the hem of the crinkled petticoat satin.  Then the skirt was gathered and sewn on the other side of the waist seam, so that when the dress hangs or gets worn the petticoat falls down over the raw edge, covering it and in a sense pulling the seam allowance down for me at the same time.  I love engineering my dresses so I can be just as proud of the inside as I am of the out.  I am important enough to warrant seeing a finely finished inside.

I cannot say enough good words about the mulberry silk I ordered as well as the shop I ordered from – “The Hue Kiosk”.  They have my full recommendation!  First of all, I love what they have to offer, with reasonable prices, and great customer interaction.  A sheet of touch-and-feel samples they sent along with my order was really enjoyable, and helps me know what I want to order next from them once I catch up on my sewing allowance!  Mostly though, this mulberry silk is the best silk I have sewn, felt, and worked with.  Out of all the kinds of silks I’ve worked with so far (over half a dozen now) this is so impeccably wrinkle free –even straight out of the wash – it’s a miracle.  The best part is the lack of smell!  I know I have a sensitive nose, and as much as I love silk, both silk and wool have this smell, especially when wet, that is sort of repugnant to me.  Mulberry silk is the first that is smell-free!  I have read that it is considered hypo-allergenic because the worms have one sole diet of mulberry leaves.  Never mind the insect details, I am so sold on mulberry silk.  My only caveat is that a new, sharp needle is a must when sewing on mulberry silk.  A semi-new “sharps” needle was enough to create a few catches or runs in the silk as I was working – it has very fine threads and has a semi-tight texture.

When I thought about the history behind my dress after my cousin’s wedding, I realized an irony I hadn’t thought of before.  A dress that Grace Kelly wore to an occasion which led to a wedding, had be copied by me to wear to a wedding.  Maybe this dress when made of silk inherently wants to be a wedding dress?  Silly me!  Seriously though, I’ve noticed many drop-waisted dresses in the few years after 1954 (check out the McCall’s #7625 1955 Archive pattern or Vintage Vogue #1094 of year 1955 for two readily available examples, and see my Pinterest board “Drop That 50’s Waist”) so I realize this dress of mine as well as Grace Kelly’s dress were part of a mid-50’s trend for juniors and women alike.  It is not the most likeable style but it is memorable – especially when it has the name of Grace Kelly behind it!  I hope the modern Ms. Kelly – me! – has also been able to put a new and lovely twist on an old style.  Deep down I must be a princess at heart.

Please visit this Instagram post on my account to see my attempt at reproducing the old original McCall’s pattern book cover for the “Vintage Cover Challenge”!  Close enough to be convincing?

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