The Perfectly Ironic 50’s Play Set

Vintage play sets are cute enough the way they are, but most of the times the prints to them make them to die for.  This newest one that I’ve made has a print which perfectly combines the vintage-made-modern flair of it with a print which is a pun on the iconic classy lady of the 1950s.  Women in wasp waists and elegant dress might be the conventional womanly ideal flaunted on this playsuit, but it itself is meant for much more than swishing around and sitting pretty.  It is sassy yet classy fun all in one versatile, comfortable outfit.

A short romper as the first layer makes this set a bit easier to tackle by not having to make various pieces (i.e. a separate top and shorts).  It also is a lot more challenging to go visit the restroom, and even though it is a bit of an extra inconvenience, I am absolutely loving my very first romper.  The matching overskirt departs from the romper’s plan but self-drafting skirts with no pattern is my forte, if I do say so myself.  I am much happier with a skirt I ‘draped’ on myself, generally.  A fully separating zipper which can close either top-to-bottom or the other way around makes the skirt versatile, interesting, and different.

The print is everything!  I’ll admit my strong failing for Michael Miller fabrics, the prints are such first rate and they are always the one’s I gravitate towards even without knowing the brand as I browse fabric.  This one is so very well done, though.  The fashions on the ladies and stylization are so charming and appealing, drawn like a vintage cartoon of Parisian fashion illustration.  I want each and every dress to wear for myself out of the print!

If you look closely on the hat boxes stacked next to the woman in solid pink the Michael Miller name is hidden on them (he frequent buries his name creatively in his prints).  You might be able to see this better further down in my detail about the romper pocket.  I channeled the woman next to that in the pink polka dotted dress with my halter strap and me-made belt. That polka dot dress was my favorite…no…wait, it was the green two-piece outfit, or maybe the striped dress.  Ach!  They all are my favorites, I guess she was merely the most striking to pair with a roll of ribbon out of my stash!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton duck cloth from Hobby Lobby by Michael Miller called “Spring In Paris” lined in an all-cotton sheer batiste

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Vintage Capri Sunsuit” from their Vintage 1950s magazine special pattern collection from 2015 for the romper, while my skirt was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread, a sliding waistband-style hook-and-eye, two zippers (one 14” invisible for the romper and the other a 30” separating bottom one for the skirt), bias tape, and a bit of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on June 10, 2019 after a total of about 20 to 30 hours spent to make the whole set.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  On sale, 2 yards of the fabric only cost me $12, and as everything else I needed was out of my long time stash that is also my wonderfully frugal total!

If you read that last line of “The Facts”, you might be saying, “Two yards!? That’s all she needed?!”  Yes, indeed, and that’s what makes this set so awesome (…among plenty of other reasons, too)!  The multi paneled pieces, short bottoms, and the sleeveless style makes the romper pattern take under a yard for my size.  The overall pattern originally calls for much more than the 1 ¼ yards (leftover from the romper) I used to make my skirt, as the design shows a full, gathered waist dirndl-style skirt.  I would rather make things work on less money (because of a smaller cut) and according to my personal taste, though.  The fabric was not ideal for a full skirt, anyway, and I do love a good 50’s style skinny skirt on myself.

The instructions direct that you need a fabric with some body here, and this is absolutely true and not to be ignored.  Even with the thicker, stiffer cotton duck material which I used, I still felt my romper needed some extra support especially being practically strapless.  Luckily, the print was so bright and busy and the cotton thick so it was really not see-through despite being a faint ivory background color.  Nevertheless, because I wanted to support the bodice, I figured on going ahead and making the romper quite nice and do a full body lining.  There is nothing like the clean beauty of seamless inners to a garment!  The rough texture of cotton duck is not the best against the skin compared to the soft batiste of the romper lining.

Back to the details on how I supported the romper’s bodice!  I added lightweight boning into the underside of the two back bodice seams, just on the lining.  The side seam had the invisible zipper to stabilize it and the front has good shaping together with the halter strap, which is why I only kept the boning to the back.  I know from many other halters that the back dip has the tendency to droop and I could mentally picture beforehand that that ‘problem’ might be especially worse off on the back of a sleeveless one-piece romper.  The back boning is the best thing ever for this!  I do not need to pull anything back up in place and the bodice has a wonderful body all on its own without having to tailor it to be tight in the fit just so it can stay up well.  I lightly tacked the lining to the fashion fabric exterior along the boning after I was finished and made sure to add gel cushions (little boning ‘comfort caps’ you can buy) before sewing the romper together so the bodice support is not bothersome in the least, rather it is not even noticeable.

Choosing my ‘normal’ size using Burda Style patterns to make this, the fit was so close I want to suggest people to go up a size to be safe.  It works to take clothes in a bit, but taking seams out is more of tricky story.  I like clothes I plan on playing around and being active in to not fit too closely – I do need room to move!  I had to make most all seams ¼ seam allowance (I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance when I cut it out) just to have it fit me a comfortable snugness as you see it.  That is not a spot on fit and accurate sizing.  I would have rather had all my seams still be a wider seam allowance and have the comfort of knowing I have room to adapt this if I need to, but not this time.  This is why I would suggest going up a size for this pattern unless you are of a thin build and relatively non-curvy.  Granted, I still fit in a good amount of my teenager clothes, but my body is still changing so I’ll just have to get the most enjoyment out of this set as possible just in case!

No play clothes would be appropriate in my opinion without a pocket!  Now, the romper pattern called for in-seam side pockets in the shorts.  For close fitting items, such pockets never really give that much room for anything, anyway.  They only create a weird bulge if you do store real life items like a phone or lip balm.  Yet, I was only left with a handful of small scraps after the outfit was finished.  There was one pink dress woman on the print which I noticed was weirdly cut off when I sewed in the right side dart for the front of the shorts.  I luckily had one full square of the pink dressed woman (next to the tower of hat boxes) as part of my scraps so I was able to accomplish making both sides of the front matching as well as give myself a better pocket with that one scrap.  You see, I turned that pink lady scrap into a small sew-on patch-style pocket which completes the print and is so much better than in-seam pockets.  The pocket fits only 2/3 of my phone and a tissue but who really wants to try in-seam pockets along the side of an invisible zipper anyway?!  Bring the print-matching challenge on!

The fashions on the print further inspired me in the way I drafted the skirt.  The lady in the yellow, green, and pink polka dotted dress (next to the Eiffel Tower) is only seen from a back view on the print and I copied her center box pleated waist from behind, with side knife pleats for good measure.  It is against reasoning to add more pouf over the behind, but between stitching down the pleats for an inch and a good ironing, I think it works!  The front shaping is simple – just a few more knife pleats – so that the closure can take center stage.

My skirt was skinny enough that I really didn’t trust a button closing because of the stress that would be put on them.  However, I wanted to be able to have this skirt close or open at any given point.  Luckily, I had recently acquired a stash of the most amazing variety of zippers – big and small, new and vintage – for a steal of a price and there was this unique separating zipper that I knew was just perfect for my skirt.  It was labeled as a “Parka Zipper” and had two pulls that could go up and down and close at either end…fully adjustable!  This zipper was in a special 30” length, too, so I knew this was an expensive notion and was tempted to hoard it.  When the right project is calling, nevertheless, my good supplies deserve better than to stay in a drawer, so I think!  I like the modern touch the zipper brings to this vintage crossover set.

This outfit has been my second make for the 2019 “Sew Together for Summer” challenge sponsored by “Sew Sarah Smith”.  The theme this year was jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms, and this project certainly applies even though with the skirt cover-up makes it not what it seems at first glance of the whole set.  (My first garment for the challenge, a 1962 embroidered denim culotte jumpsuit, can be seen here.)  I am also including this romper play set as also part of the “Made Like Maisel” 1950s challenge to sew something inspired by the Amazon TV show “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.  I know her swing coats are the iconic thing to make, but in Season Two, Mrs. Maisel had some killer play sets (especially episode 4 in the Catskills but also the pink and black gingham set in episode 7), which I interpreted my own way rather than literally.

It took me awhile to completely ‘warm up’ to play sets, I suppose.  For comparison’s sake go check out my previous playset, which was also my first, and is from the proceeding decade of the 1940s.  Funny, it also has a self-drafted skirt!  The general feel of that play set is more about a tropical-themed, sultry poolside lounging look compared to the sporty, activity-friendly, versatile use of my new 50’s one.  Perhaps I have another challenge here – to make more play sets from more eras?  Ugh, so many ideas, so little sewing time, and not enough places to go or a long enough summer!  Yet, I do have everything ready for both a 60’s play set and a 1980s one as, well.  Maybe this whole summer is my own “Summer of the Play Set”.  Would anyone be with me on this one?!

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“Something Old, Something New…”

Yeah, I know this phrase is cliché, and I do not have anything borrowed or blue to show either.  Nevertheless, this set of both tie-front crop top and shorts from the year 1959, made for Allie J’s “Tried and True” Challenge, is dually familiar and yet unexplored.  The fabrics are three “old reliable” favorites that I can never get enough of – cotton gabardine, fine linen, and rayon challis.  The “Tried” part is covered.  With the garments themselves being so simple in design and construction, there wasn’t much to go wrong for the “True” section.

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Yet, everything else – the date of the pattern, the style and type of clothing – is totally new.  This was an interesting set to make despite using my well-loved fabrics.  I went out on a limb to combine opposites (new and unfamiliar) for these two pieces and I can’t believe how much I’m enjoying wearing the results.

The craft of sewing never ceases to amaze and surprise me.  I wanted a challenge while still staying to something “Tried and True” and sewing, together with one of those always amazing vintage patterns, gave me just that.  However, more than this reason is the opportunity to like something I’ve never appreciated before.  Never had I been a pants wearing person…because I’d never found any that I liked yet fit me well…until I recently made my own.  Even more so, I’ve never been a shorts wearing person, but now one pair of well fitting, high-waisted, awesome vintage shorties has quickly converted me, despite my perennial dislike of my legs.  Sewing is definitely one of the best things you can do for clothing yourself, in my opinion.

THE FACTS:simplicity-2999-yr-1959

FABRIC:  The tied crop top has a front of printed rayon challis and a back of cotton gabardine.  The shorts are plain-woven 100% linen (so pardon the wrinkles), opaque and thick like a Holland linen.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #2999, year 1959

NOTIONS:  Only notions on hand were used here, which included a good amount of vintage.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The top took me about 7 hours to make and was finished on August 27, 2016.  The shorts came next, and after only 4 hours they were done on September 10, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the shorts was a one yard “Red Tag” scrap piece on sale for only $4 at JoAnn’s Fabric store.  Since the gabardine is leftover from this 70’s tunic, and the printed rayon was used from scraps of a 50’s shirt I made for Hubby (posted here) I’m counting both as free.

It’s kind of late in the season here to get much use from this set this year.  However, in the last month since it’s been made, I have grabbed this outfit out of my closet and worn it many times in many different combos, so the future is bright next year for these pieces.  Although I have the idea in the back of my head to turn this into a full playsuit by making a bra or swim top from the 60’s with a button-on skirt, what I currently have in my closet works to make a playsuit.  I even have a pair of turquoise 40’s pants (to be posted soon) that fit over the shorts and make for a WWII-era kind of set.  Two fabric or two color blouses are often seen in the 1940’s anyway, part of the whole “make-do-and-mend” practices.  Year 1959 is a great in between date for me so I can bend the style and make it have a flair of the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or just plain modern as I choose.

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For such a simple design, I had problems with making the blouse, mostly due to the silkiness of the rayon.  I didn’t interface anything except the collar so finishing the facing, keeping it in place, and doing the button holes was a challenge.  I didn’t want the tie to stick out like a poker, which would happen if the facing was interfaced, so I still can’t see how things could have been done differently.  I might come back and blind stitch the facing down by hand next year, but for now the top is good enough.  After all, I did have such small scraps to work with (leftover from hubby’s shirt) I had to cut the front with the trees going upside down, so – yes – it does have a fault (sorry I pointed it out) but is no less great to me.  My handmade dual stand necklace of polished agate rock also makes my outfit even better to me.

Whoo Hoo!  This top is too easy to dress into…only two measly buttons in the front and a tie front that shows off how the hem barely comes down to skim above the shorts.  I wasn’t originally planning on sewing up the shorts but I soon realized that high-waisted bottoms, whether skirts or pants and the like, are a must with the top.  Like I said earlier, I was up for the challenge of making and wearing something new.  I was actually going to use another pattern from in my stash, McCall’s 5263 also from ’59, but the silhouettes seem quite slender compared to my shorts.  I just stuck with the same pattern as was used for the top to sew a combo the way the design intended.

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Straight off, I am surprised at how short these bottoms are for 1959 and mine are a whole inch longer than the pattern calls for!  I didn’t know short shorts were a thing at that time.  Next, I am blown away at the perfect fit that required no fitting at all.  No kidding – this is like the third pattern from two decades for vintage bifurcated bottoms that fits straight off of the paper with no personal adjustments in the least.   Maybe it’s just my body type but after three tests (from 1940, 1943, and now 1959) I just think past printed patterns designed their crouches to be comfy, their bottoms for someone with a real booty, side seams for real women, and a smart amount of ease.

Finally, I am so impressed at one subtle detail to these shorts which makes all the difference – the back darts which come from the waist.  The waist has a double darts at each four quarter around, two at each side fronts and side backs, nothing unusual.  However, the back side double darts are in two different lengths.  The inner dart is longer shaping over the booty, while the outer dart is half the length of the other.  I think this shorter one shapes more of the hips, side seam, and the rest of the back.  I think this suits me wonderfully.  A very similar pattern, Vintage Vogue #9189, a reprint from 1960, is lacking the “smart darts” (so I call them) seen on my pattern…not meaning to be smug.  I’m just getting disillusioned by the modern reprints.

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Ah, and not to forget I have lovely pocket room in these shorts, too.  Granted, there’s only one on the right side for my dominant hand.  One is so much better than none though!

dsc_0345a-compIn the facts, I mentioned using vintage notions, but more than that they come from my Grandmother.  From the stash she has given me, there was this unusual golden yellow/orange bias tape matching the golden color in the printed rayon with just enough for the armholes.  It is glorious all cotton, too!  There are other colors of bias tape besides golden yellow on this set’s other seams, mainly turquoise and black…whatever worked.  However, I am most proud of the zipper.  Not only was the zipper a “Zephyr” dated to 1963 on the package, it is from Grandma as well as installed with a new-to-me and much improved method to stitch it into the shorts.  I usually save my stash of vintage zippers and use them sparingly but as the rest of the set had Grandma’s stash of notions, and the length and color was just what I needed, why not go all out?!

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My crop top and shorts epitomize to me the post war vacation wear, which for some reason this year means to me going to California.  No, we haven’t had a vacation this year, but, if we did, I would choose California.  That will not be this year, so instead I’ll have to settle with palm trees where I can find ‘em, with a top and some shorts that make me imagine I’m going to go somewhere other than where I am.

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