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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“Retro Forward” Burda Style – ‘The Starry Night in the Day’ 1957 Casual Set

Picture a breathtaking scene of a pastel colored, dramatic sunrise, eclipsing a lovely clear night sky setting of stellar sparkling in lieu of the light of day.  Such a sight is sadly not to be seen most mornings.  I see such a sight sometimes in our winter season if I suffer through the misery of waking up extra early and bundling up to brave the elements.  Now, I can at least wear a vintage-inspired set that calls such a display to mind for me!  To me, it has all the elements of one of my favorite paintings…”The Starry Night”, painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889.  With a richly cobalt textured “sky” behind me, and colorful, swirling bursts of movement above a creamy pastel palate below, this Burda outfit is a means for me to wear art in my everyday life.  Sewing can be an art form in itself, anyway.

My first, real, riveting fascination with this piece from Van Gogh was through “The Christmas Wish” episode of the infant videos, “Baby Einstein”.  When our son was one year old in 2013, we were given a handful of “Baby Einstein” DVD’s, and he would be just as relaxed and mesmerized as I was watching them.  They would show details of “The Starry Night” by Van Gogh along to the music of “Für Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven.  This combo of picture and music has henceforth been intertwined in my mind, which associates both with something lovely which puts me in a happy place.  This is partly why it seems so very fitting for me to take an old maternity tunic, and turn it into something which completes this artwork inspired outfit.  My second and strongly passionate reason for saving my old maternity tunic is also the fact it is an old “Made in the U.S.A” garment, besides the wonderful feel and print of the fabric.

Just as Van Gogh conveyed the sky abstractedly in his own personal way, I too probably see the world of clothing differently (I’m sure) than others.  In my opinion this is due in no small part to my ability to sew and my studyies on history.  In a sea of grey, black, browns, and whatever colors are popular with the dye lots for RTW any given year, I enjoy choosing a variety of colors.  The world around us is full of color and beauty, and we all have our own individual beauty and personalities, so why not give that awesomeness it’s just manifestation through what we are wearing?!  I wanted new skinny pants that were not another dark color – and how could such a lovely color not make me happy (especially with matching footwear)!  The shop that my pants’ twill came from as a stunning variety of incredible colors, so why not pick some out for yourself and make something special that’s all “you”, like I did here!   

Funny thing is, it seems as if the Versace line and I were of the same mind (though I made mine first)!  Check out how scarily similar this outfit is from their Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear collection!  Look – it’s the same high-waisted, figure-hugging styled bottoms, in the same orchid-toned purplish pink…with matching shoes, too!  In honor of the 20th anniversary since Versace’s murder, his sister has brought back a style for next year that commemorates both the styles of the 90’s and influential celebrities who were his friends.

However alike, my trousers are actually sewn using a true vintage 1957 release from Burda Style, while my top is only very vintage inspired.  (I do see a slight 50’s air in a number of Versace’s items.)  I’d like to think vintage offerings that come from modern patterns definitely help past eras transcend time to meld perfectly into contemporary wearing.  Burda Style especially does a good job at “updating” the image of vintage re-leases!  Designers’ rehashing the details and trends from the past also creates a whole new appeal, too, whether people recognize it or not.  What goes around comes around is certainly true in fashion.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:   Pants: 100% cotton twill, in 7 oz. weight with a brushed finish on the ‘right’ side, bought from “ebpfabric” on Ebay (here is the listing); Top: a 63% polyester, 32% rayon, 5% spandex jersey knit refashioned from an old maternity tunic of mine.  Some polyester jersey knit scraps leftover from this last Burda make went towards the facing for the neckline

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s “High Waisted Trousers” #129, from April 2015 with Burda Style’s “Princess Seam Boatneck Top” #104, from February 2014

NOTIONS:  I needed to buy the zipper for the pants, but otherwise the elastic, thread, bias tape, and small finishing notions were all on hand for everything else.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took over 20 hours – I stopped counting after that amount!  They were finished on May 31, 2017.  The top took maybe 3 hours to make after maybe 3 hours of decision making about how and where to cut it out!  It was sewn in one afternoon, on June 13, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Pretty nice!  The pants have every seam edge individually covered in bias tape, while the blouse’s insides still have some of the original serging (overlocking), but the rest are merely double stitched over.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the top as free because it originally came from a thrift shop, probably for a few dollars, almost 6 years back now.  The pants cost me just under $15 for both material and zipper.  That total is probably just as much as I would pay for the cheapest pair of RTW skinny jeans, so I’m counting that price as an awesome deal for the fit, quality, and fulfillment of personal taste that has went into my pair.

I will say first off before any nitty gritty construction details that I absolutely LOVE both of these pieces.  These two projects might be the most versatile and my favorite Burda Style makes in a while.  The fabrics are first rate quality, and the designs of the patterns something not too readily found in RTW.  That said, they were challenging to make.  The top tested my mind trying to fit in the pattern pieces on the existing garment, while the pants were horribly drafted (for me at least), requiring some pretty tiring fitting.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I’ll start with the bottoms.  I must say they do run short.  I cut them the given length of the pattern, and I really didn’t have any room for a hem besides a slight bias fold in for them to come to my ankles.  This was the perfect length, but I wouldn’t have liked it any shorter.  I’m about 5 foot 3 inches height so anyone taller than that, figure in to make the hem longer.

As I wanted a perfect body fit and ultimate practicality for the pants, I simplified the design just to the bare bones.  A summary of my changes are no in-seam side pockets, no ankle zippers, no fancy waist facing, and a zipper right where I can see it…in front.  For my next pair of pants from this pattern, I think I will draft a conventional zipper fly, but for this first pink pair they have an invisible zipper up the front to make them easy (versus up the center back as the pattern suggests – how awkward).  To support the top of that zipper, inside at the top there is a small strip of cotton velvet ribbon (for softness!) to act like a tab placket, with a waistband hook-and-eye to close the waist.  The waistband itself was made by stretching a strip of ¾ inch elastic down to the top edge, then folding it in twice and stitching that down for a wonderful body hugging, but stretchably comfortable and smooth-waisted option.

Go ahead and call me “granny pants” because these are wayyyy high up on my torso!  I like them that way.  Come on, ladies, honestly – I’ve heard the truth from many women I’ve talked to in in town who’ve told me they like my pants.  Nobody really likes to spend their entire day picking up their drawers every time they move or bend!  I know I don’t like the feel that my clothes are falling off of me.  With high-waisted pants, there is no awkward bulge in the wrong place (muffin-top, anyone?) just smooth waist and hip complimenting.

Hips are an excellent pivot point in women’s garment design and the decade of the 1950’s used that point to perfection – that wide spot we all love to hate comes in handy when you think of it as an anchor point.  A garment with a central mainstay above hips will stay in place…on ‘em, style has more of ‘sliding’ effect without the right styling.  Now granted, if you want something that sits at the hip, that’s fine too.  I wore everything at my hips as a teenager and still wear hip-hugging pajama bottoms.  I just think store offered RTW generally doesn’t offer much that will be most complimentary to an individual figure when it comes to a variety of pants’ fit, at least not like something made for oneself.  Only you know your body the best, and embrace that in whatever you feel makes you the best.  I like to go with my hourglass shape, and let my hips and high true-waist anchor my pants on my body, whatever the negative connotation for this fashion.

Keep in mind the fabric I used for my pants are non-stretchy – the twill material has little to no give like a knit might.  A really good, sturdy, quality twill that feels and performs like a denim that will hold its shape is what I wanted and used – especially since a material like this is impossible to come by in any in town store.  A non-stretchy woven is what the pattern called for anyway.  I can definitely see this pants pattern being much easier to make in a knit and turning out fabulously, so there’s a lot of versatility here.

The real secret to my fitting technique was to sew the center front (with the zipper) and the center back seams, then turn the pants inside out and have the side seams and inner leg seams pinned to fit around me.  This was a bit more challenging than it had to be because I was working on it by myself, but I really think this is the easiest, quickest, least painful way to get a body fit.  It would definitely be even easier with someone else’s assistance.  Once a good fit is pinned into place I marked the seam lines on both sides with water soluble disappearing ink pen, following that line for my stitching and washing it away afterwards.

As my fabric has no stretchy ‘forgiveness’, just to be on the safe side in the unforeseen chance that my body changes and I need to refit these trousers, I left a wide seam allowance…not a whole lot, but 5/8 to ¾ inches along the sides and inseam.  The thick denim would feel and fit a tad better I believe without the wide seam allowances, but having the possibility to keep what I made (and love as a wardrobe staple) for the long-term is something more important to me.

Speaking of items that endure from one’s wardrobe, I’ll move on to the top re-fashion.  My first step was to cut off the elastic empire waist for the tunic.  The body of the tunic became the bodice for my new top while the bust and sleeve sections managed to also be the new top’s sleeves.  Only because of the skinny princess seamed panels was this able to be fit in on what I had.  I did have to shorten the length of the hemline by two inches, but luckily that was the only way I had to “give in” and make a change for this re-fashion to work.  I like a shortened length anyway!  Too much fabric in the body might distract from the lovely off-shoulder sleeves.

The sleeves are really made of interesting pattern pieces of small rectangles curved dramatically on one side…and it turns out just wonderful!  I can completely adjust where I want the sleeves to sit on me for a slight change of look – I can pull them completely off the shoulder, or pull ‘em up like “normal” sleeves, but where they naturally sit on me is right over the angle where my shoulder ends and my arm begins.  Now, the back neckline did turn out a tad generous and it sometimes looks like a draped neck, but I’m okay with that.  The one major caveat is that strapless lingerie or a bandeau bra is needed with this style.

Both of these pieces can be similarly found in vintage patterns and some vintage reproduction garments, which why this is included as part of my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” post series.  The pants are already vintage from 1957, I know, but I’ve seen several patterns that remind me of their same style (see McCall’s #9221 from 1952 and McCall’s 4024 from 1957) so I just had to share!  In fact here is an interesting article to read, making me think that my pink trousers are technically “cigarette pants” or “stovepipe pants”.  The blouse seems to be a recurring style in the decade of the 50’s except they seem to call it, “a scoop neck, with cap sleeves set into armholes”.  See Vogue 8100 from year 1953, Vogue 9643 year 1958, an unidentified 50’s playsuit pattern, and “Unique Vintage” company’s 1950’s Marilyn top in either plus size or misses size for a few examples.

Ever since the most recent total solar eclipse several months ago (we were in the path of totality), I can actually look at this set’s inspiration in a whole new ‘light’!  That afternoon for us was truly a starry night in the daytime!  On a factual level, did you know Van Gogh actually painted “The Starry Night” from mental picture, as it was done during the day?  So my title is right on!  Do you have any artwork related creations!

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Summer Rose

As soft as a perfect blue sky, as delicate as a newly opened wild white rose in bloom standing strong during the summer heat, this year 1953 dress strikes me as taking these things into a tangible garment.

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I like the balance to this dress design.  I see it as an unabashedly feminine yet not overly sweet dress, sleevelessly ‘cool’ yet covered up with the capelet, and elegantly tailored yet completely comfy in my chosen Gertie brand cotton sateen.  As if I couldn’t ask for a better vintage 50’s summer dress, this was actually inspired by the villainess Whitney Frost from my favorite show, Marvel’s Agent Carter.

Butterick 6928, year 2000 reprint of a '53 patternTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton sateen, in a Gertie brand print, with a plain white cotton broadcloth to back the capelet and become the facings

PATTERN:  an out-of-print Butterick #6928, a year 2000 pattern from year 1953

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, a few hook-and-eyes, and few snaps from on hand were used

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on July 21, 2016 in about 5 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was bought from JoAnn’s Fabric store (they sell most of Gertie’s prints), and you’d never guess, but this dress is sort of a fabric hog and I ended up having to buy over 3 yards so this cost about $25 (more or less, I don’t remember).

DSC_0042a-comp,wThe wide capelet overlay is balanced out by the slim lines throughout the rest of the design – so unusual, that I was unsure if it would work for my body type at first, but once on me…it’s a winner!  I really do get a ton of compliments on this dress so the design must be doing something right for me.  Just looking at the dress, a first glance cannot help you even realize how smartly designed it is when it comes to construction.  It’s a one piece wrap-on dress!

The asymmetric pleat in the skirt hides the closure, and I really like how it is a closed pleat, meaning there is no open slit, just a fold over of the skirt.  The front skirt is a good example of how this dress’ pattern pieces are really unexpectedly interesting.  It is cut really wide but then gets a deep knife pleat to end up as a skinny wiggle style with full freedom of movement.  The wrap style opening continues into the skirt from the waist with a bias-finished slit down the center of the inside of the knife pleat.  Dressing is as easy as…”step-in, hook closed, ready to go”!  Not too often are vintage dresses this easy to get into – the side zipper ones are the worst – so I am quite excited about this one, especially since it is much nicer than just a house dress (the one’s that mostly have such a simple dressing method).

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In essence this is really a full sleeveless dress covered up by the capelet which nicely finishes the neckline edge.  I like how the capelet keeps my shoulders from being sun burned.  Yet, even though it is double layered (it is fully faced), it is so wide and floaty it stands a bit off of my body so as to not cause the dress to feel oppressive.  I imagine one could even make this dress as a simple sleeveless bodice, and sew the capelet separately, for a garment with more than one option.  However, I think the capelet is almost necessary here – the 1950s designs had such elegant drama, and I think it is a good thing to bring back.  Everyone needs to experience a bit of the 50’s!

I know this is a rather odd length for the hem, but this is something that the early 1930s shares with the early 1950s.  It can be rather slimming with the right silhouette, as well as complimentary to the calves and ankles.  From what I’ve seen in modern fashion, this hem length is coming back.  What do they call it nowadays…midi length?!

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Compared to the frustrating troubles of unpredictable fit and sizing that I find with many “retro” patterns of the last 10 years, this one had spot on fit that did not need any alterations or customizing for me to wear.  I followed the chart on the envelope, and the size that it showed was indeed the size that fit.  Awesome!  The instructions were very good at clarifying any tricky parts, too.

DSC_0017a-comp,wThis pattern might be too obvious of a style for me to make again, but yet I am envisioning a sheer crepe version of this in an ankle evening length, something flowing, dressy, and utterly romantic.  Or I could even make a full skirted version with lace along the capelet for a dressing gown, like this vintage original.  If the right fabric and the perfect event to wear these dream versions of the capelet 50’s dress comes along, then will whip up another version in a heartbeat.

Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress from Agent Carter is a bit different than my own, but this time I put my own personality into my version.  She was always the fashion forward one in Season Two, dressing for the early 50’s already at the cusp of Dior’s emergence in Whitney comes for zero matter,cropthe year 1947, so my pattern is from 1953.  The scene in which this dress appears is when Whitney steps into the plot in an unexpected place, in a totally unexpected revelation of true character.  She is taking the first step out her subtle, innocent and happy façade to become the cunning, headstrong, and determined linchpin to many other’s fate and her choking pearls and strong dress style reflected that perfectly.  Her dress is a turquoise solid in a lovely satin, mine is a baby blue print in a utilitarian cotton sateen.  My version is lacking in some other similar details, and yet I feel I captured the overall similarity to make me happy.

Yet again, Whitney Frost’s character inspired me to try something new in my wardrobe, a style I would never have noticed or probably even tried to make and wear otherwise.  Not that you should ever stop letting your personality be reflected in what you wear, but it does help to find a style icon that works for oneself and use that to inspire what you can try successfully.  Before Agent Carter, I didn’t really have a 1950’s era fashion icon that I felt corresponded to my body type, and as you can tell (this is my 5th Whitney Frost outfit!) I’m loving it.  So – I’m sorry that I’m not sorry…I have more Whitney Frost outfits in queue!

Summer Gingham and Straw

My first sewing for this year’s summer season is effortlessly simple.  It’s also basically everything associated with an old-time American summer picnic – gingham cotton, basket-like straw, bright red cherries, easy and comfortable dressing (no less cute, though), and good times in the backyard.

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I had to bring my pet dachshund into the picture for good measure!  He’s a loving little shadow to me, though he is camera shy.

Butterick 7161, yr. 1954THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 30 by 45 inch cut of an all-cotton, loosely-woven ‘homespun’

PATTERN:  Butterick 7161, year 1954 – it was a free gift from a kind Etsy seller.

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a bit of interfacing, some bias tape scraps, and 3 buttons – all of which I had on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse was whipped up in 2 hours one afternoon at the end of April 2017.

DSC_0417a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  The fabric, my only expense, was bought at Wal-mart’s remnant area in their fabric department for only $2.23!

This blouse just makes me happy.  I love the styling – just enough ‘vintage’ touch to be neat and unique, yet still classic.  The colors are muted and cool, and pair well with so many different bottoms (skirts, pants, and shorts) in all colors (mostly khaki, denim, and black, but even red will do).  From a practical point of view, this was so cheap!  Yet, for how well it fits on me and nicely finished I made it, this is such a deal.  No wonder I buy fabric and sew for myself versus picking up ready-to-wear!DSC_0282a-comp,w

Making this top sleeveless was not precisely by choice, but I like it.  I was lucky enough to make a blouse from this as it was!  My blouse does look really good with sweaters, luckily, for when I’m stuck inside freezing air-conditioning or out in a chilly night.  I find it interesting how generous and comfortable the armscye is on a 1950s era sleeveless blouse.  The armholes from the next decade of the 60’s are so much tighter, and I’m always paring them down but it’s never good enough.  Maybe I’ll need to try sleeveless 50’s fashions more often.

The only major special detail to this blouse is the gathers which come from under the collar.  They are an ingenious way to both add an interesting design element and provide bust shaping.  I thought about pleating the excess fabric rather than gathering it (as I did), but I plan to use this pattern again and I can try that out then.

DSC_0283-comp,wHalfway through sewing this blouse, I had a scare.  I realized this ‘homespun’ cotton was quite fragile when I was stretching the blouse back neckline into the collar piece.  It tore way too easily into the seam allowance.  Thank goodness it didn’t tear any further into the blouse or I would have been devastated because this blouse is my new go-to, throw-it-on frequent favorite.  Once that rip happened, I was glad I had cut the as-is size of the pattern, which was technically too big for me.  I ended up leaving the blouse its generous size because I didn’t want another tear happening in the body of the fabric, which I could totally see happening just from being worn if it fit tighter.  The cotton is so soft, it kind of ‘droops’ down anyway and you can’t tell how generous it is on me.  Between the comfy fit and the loose homespun, it does make for an “I-don’t-feel-it-on” weightless summer blouse.DSC_0285-comp,w

A view of the back is rather basic but my vintage 50’s hat makes it amazing, if you ask me.  Look at that stunning weave of the two different kinds of straw!  The perfect condition and the steal of a price that I paid, makes this one of my prized vintage hats.  To complete the accessorizing details, my fun cherry fruit earrings are vintage from my dear Grandmother.

Blouses, especially 50’s era blouses are my newest ‘thing’ currently.  I’ve been whipping out several already with a few more in my projects queue to sew yet.  Thus, look for more separates to come here on the blog in next few months!

“Poster Girl” – Hat, Dior Flower, and 1951 Dress

If it’s on the front cover of a magazine, or in a publicity shot, your outfit had better be good, right?  Well, the villainess for Marvel’s “Agent Carter” television show wears some pretty killer post-War 1940s and early 50’s fashions, and no less so for the outfit she wears for both the preview publicity pictures of her character and for the cover of a vintage “Fashion News” magazine (seen in “Better Angels”, Season Two, episode 3).

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In order to recreate her “Poster Girl” outfit, I made a bunch of different pieces – the dress, the hat, and the clip-on flower.  I’m not complaining – this was closer to being a labor of love to sew, not a bother.  It required a good flow of my creative juices, some good pattern sourcing, and taking my time to enjoy myself for things to turn out “just so” for an equally killer outfit which I would like to think could hold its own against the class of Whitney Frost.  Her sense of fashion is probably one of the reasons she was held as the face for Hollywood, as well as her seemingly ‘perfect’ life with her husband.  However, 'All eyes on her, but no one sees her'-combobeing a “Poster Girl” (definition here) was a hard standard to hold up to for her.  For Whitney, it only meant keeping up the façade of happiness and glamour, always smiling and keeping the truth hidden…and boy, did she have some dark secrets to hide.  George C. Scott once said, “Technique is making what is absolutely false appear to be totally true in a manner that is not recognizable.”  Here, I intend to only stick to Whitney’s fashion without her superficiality.  This is my closest copy yet of a Ms. Frost outfit, and I absolutely love it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  THE DRESS and FLOWER: a 100% cotton sateen, a “Gertie” print; THE HAT: Simplicity 8390, cover front-comp,wa buff satin polyester solid in fuchsia color

PATTERN:  THE DRESS: Simplicity #8390, year 1951, “Misses One-Piece Dress and Stole”; THE HAT: Vogue #7657, view F, year 2002; THE FLOWER: the instructions and guide to how to make a ‘Dior’ rose came from a small “Easy-to-Sew Flowers” booklet, compiled by Threads magazine, copyright 2012.  The tutorial is listed as adapted from Threads article “Dior Roses” by the late Roberta Carr, in issue no. 34. 

Vogue 7657, yr 2002, pics onlyNOTIONS:  Believe it or not, this outfit was made with only what was already on hand.  I had all the thread, interfacing, closure notions, bias tapes, and other odd and ends needed for the hat, dress, and flower here in my “magic” stash.  The only thing I needed was to order a buckram hat blank base (more info where it came from and what it is exactly down later).  Ah – and the cotton velvet ribbon,  “Waverly” brand, was bought (of all places) at Wal-Mart.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Dress was made in about 20 hours and finished on September 15, 2016, and the hat came maybe 10 hours later.  The flower was made in just under an hour the day or two afterwards.

THE INSIDES:  There is a combo of both French and bias bound seams inside this dress for a clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  The dress cost a reasonable but decent amount, about $7 a yard for about 4 yards.  The hat fabric combined with the buckram base and ribbon cost me just under $15.

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I had some problems dating my dress’ pattern.  My first problem was the presence of new pattern numbers stamped in grey on the back info of the envelope.  The instruction sheet has the date of the year 1951, but the newer stamped numbers of ‘4291’ would make this about year 1953.  However, as everything else to this pattern points to the year 1951 (the style of dress, the original numbers, the instruction sheet, as well as the double bars on the top left side of the front envelope), I am sticking to that early year in the decade.  I have not yet found any evidence of this design being re-released later under a new number, so I’m not sure why the stamped combination was added on (it does look quite official like it was a die cast impression).  One of the many wonders and curiosities that vintage patterns offer…

DSC_0384a-comp,w,combo, Whitney and Calvin

The dress design is lovely, and smartly designed.  It also fits very well on me – perhaps the best fitting 50’s pattern to date.  I usually find that the back waists are too long, shoulders proportionally too wide, and busts too generous on other 50s patterns, but not here!  The pattern was close enough to the inspiration dress that some small adaptations were needed to get to where I wanted it to be for my copy.  The fabric is, as you might have seen above in “The Facts”, another lovely Gertie print.  My other Whitney Frost dress that I made was in a different Gertie print, so this is the second time her fabric has been what I feel is the right parallel for channeling the Agent Carter villainess.  Sure my dress fabric has more grey with an addition of magenta and deep purple, but these last two mentioned are her signature colors, and the print is still a water colored in theme like the original, so I feel it is a good match.  From what I can tell, I suspect that the original dress on Whitney Frost is silk, and maybe a taffeta form of that, but Gertie’s sateen prints are quite luxurious without being impractical for a not-overly-dressy garment.  This means my dress will see more wearing…and as comfy and classy as I feel in this, frequent donning of it is good!

DSC_0419a-comp,wThe collar is of course the highlight of the dress and although the original design is neat, with a little mind crunching to figure out the curious construction method I was able to tweak it to have it more like Whitney Frost’s inspiration dress.  I re-drafted the over the shoulder portion to eliminate the notches, then curved and widened it a tad more.  I also had the facing be the same as the dress fabric, not a contrast as the cover envelope shows.  The underside of the collar has this interesting L-shaped method of piecing together the collar while the outside facing is all one, long, giant wrap around-to-the-back cut – I love vintage pattern details!

Maybe the collar is vying for the top favorite position among this dress’ feature because I also love the squared off armholes and the squared back of the collar.  This shows how subtle complimenting of details can go a long way and make all the difference for an awesome garment.  The square back of the collar end is something I haven’t seen in a pattern before and it is a nice way to add interest to the view from behind.  The squared armholes allow for extra room that my larger upper arms appreciate, as well as something extra different and lovely.

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The skirt had been a small, sort of adapted half-circle, bias-cut four-panel style.  What I did for my dress was to take the side seam side (over the hips) and add about 5 more inches out so I could gather the skirt over the hips.  This created and extra 10 inches over each hip which was then tightly gathered between side front to side back.  The gathers give my dress an extra 50’s style widening emphasis on the hips, slimming my waist (so I feel) and also (I think) balancing out the giant collar better than the original plain skirt as the pattern shows.  (This vintage year 1949 dress has the same skirt with gathered hips.)  Besides, I wanted to copy the same detail on the inspiration dress of Whitney Frost.

DSC_0416a-comp,wHowever, adding the gathers over the hips of the skirt portion to my dress did mean that I could not place a zipper in the side.  Where would I put the zipper?  Bing – on goes the light bulb over my head.  Down the front like a pants fly!  This idea actually came from seeing this kind of closure method on and existing vintage 1950’s dress I have – this is how I knew to re-create it plus the benefit of knowing this was done in the decade (keeping things authentic).  The front bodice of the dress is a wrap-over, double-breasted closure so I merely continued the closure down the front center seam of the skirt to include a small 7 inch zipper.  It took some forethought, but I love this part of the dress!  It’s so easy to get in and out of with all the closures in plain sight…not on the side or down the back like many other vintage garments.  I think the front zipper is pretty undetectable.  Knowing that I made something work out, besides its being different and new (for me), leaves me tickled.

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Now – onto the hat.   I must say that the hat itself is ingeniously designed and the pattern was excellent, very clearly explained and turning out a finished product better than even what the picture shows (so I think).  It is incredibly simple in its construction and design, but it is also terribly tedious and detailed work to make so that it turns out well.  The last part is where the ‘trouble’ comes in, especially for me because I cannot tolerate hand sewing (because my wrist and shoulders do not take it well).  However, every ache and minute spent on this hat was so worth it to me ending up with something like this!  I feel like this hat is my first fully ‘proper’ millinery piece, and it was good practice with good teaching steps towards diving into more detailed and professional headwear.

I was able to use everything that was on hand already, but the buckram hat base was something special needed here – no ways around it.  The good news is that I found the buckram hat blank quite affordable and very easy to work with…I was even able to stitch around the edge on my machine!  For this hat I used a 7 ½ inch by 5 ½ inch teardrop shaped blank from “Dance Costume Supply” on Etsy.  It did have a covered edge with a wire in it (not called for in the pattern’s instructions), but I think it gives the hat better, firmer shaping than otherwise.

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My first step was to cover the buckram blank.  The instructions say to steam the fabric or soak in water in order to shape over the hat blank (blocking method), but my chosen fabric is a poly blend and would not react to either method so I cut the piece on the bias and lightly stretched (then stitched) the cover pieces over both underside and top side.  Next, the head straps were made and stitched onto the side edges.  Then I made a bias binding and stitched it over the edge just the same as one would for the neckline or armhole edges of a garment – easy!

I am so glad I went with my gut and made the head straps to match my hair color rather than the hat.  I love how this helps the hat stand out all the better and the way it stays on all the more subdued.  I especially love the fact that I used good old-fashioned cotton velvet ribbon, too.  Not only does it add a bit more authenticity (being in cotton), but from a practical standpoint the velvet literally acts like Velcro to my hair keeping the hat band in place like glue where I put it without needing pins.  Cotton velvet ribbon hair bands for hats are literally the best thing ever!  I need stock in this ribbon for my next hats…

DSC_0383a-comp,wThe final step to the finished hat was the hardest – the stand-up crown.  This is really nothing more than an interfaced rectangular strip of fabric whose edge gets sewn right onto the very edge of the front 2/3 of the hat.  This was very slow, tricky work that did damage to my hands and required precision to make the stitches invisible.  Beforehand, however, I scavenged through the house to find something more poker-stiff than the DSC_0422a-comp,winterfacing sewn in the crown and – bingo – I came across a perfect sized strip of thick plastic laminate to slide in the rectangular piece.  Every so often my habit of saving “things-that-might-be-useful” comes in handy, as long as I can find what I want when I want it.  Anyway, this plastic worked perfectly – it’s still 100% bendable but keeps a shape nonetheless.  I cut the strip a few inches shorter than the fabric’s length on each end so I could fold the crown down and tack onto the hat base, behind which the bow sits.  In order to give the bow some pouf without stiffness, the final extra adjustment was to have a strip of sheer organza in the fabric bands.  In order to cover up the not-so-perfect bow center, I have a small bias band to finish things off nicely.

Last but not least is the fabric flower clip.  This flower was so fun and easy to make (one hour!) I am tempted to spend one day to make a dozen of these out of my fabric scrapDSC_0417-comp,w stash.  They do not need that much fabric – just three pointy almond-shaped ovals in consecutively smaller sizes cut on the bias.  My flower turned out very good without much difficulty and too much hand stitching (I was about done with hand stitching after the hat).  Some scraps of green felt finished off the bottom of my flower and gave me a lovely ‘leaf’ look as well as a base to sew on my hair clip.  I’d bought this how-to booklet at our local JoAnn’s fabric store a few years back, but finally just came to using it – I should have done so sooner!  If you’d like to try these Dior roses out for yourself and don’t know where to find the Threads booklet, visit the blog “Oliver + s” for an excellent tutorial along with a mini history lesson (link here).

Witney Frost cameo shot in collared 50's dressThis flower just so ultimately finishes off my outfit, in my opinion.  It’s that understated extra touch, not to mention the fact that it is a fabric rose in the style of the famous Dior.  This is so like Whitney Frost to wear an accent used by the “famous Parisian couturier whose designs were worn by the world’s most glamorous women” (to quote the Threads article).  It all adds to the sham of the “Poster girl’s” face.  For me, it makes my handmade efforts seem all the more worthwhile to be able to use my talents to re-create something from the likes of Dior, Hollywood, and the decades that had more style and class than what I see in most  fashion of today.

Speaking of style and class, a small part of this outfit is (I would like to think) also in the mode of the most sophisticated woman I’ve known – my own dear, and now departed Grandmother.  She was a young, newly married 21 year old in 1951 (the year of my outfit) and she frequently dressed up, and on these occasions would never go out lacking a hat, pearls, and a flower (she loved nature).  Grandma was also a “Poster Girl”, too – in her younger years she was a local vaudeville celebrity.  Oddly enough, I recently found a picture of her in a dress similar to the one in this post, with a large collar and double breasted front closing, from the year 1951.  I know her dress is in a solid with a notched collar, different from my own, but we do share the same smile and taste in clothes, so I would like to think she would be proud to see me wear something after her own heart.  This is why I’m including this dress in Tanya’s “Dress Like Your Grandma” sewing challenge.  Have you heard about this!  Maybe you could join in on the challenge along with me?!

DSC_0561-comp,w,combo, me & Grandma

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