I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.

Hidden Opacity

There is so much “extra” that goes into completing an outfit, especially with vintage styles because that can include a bunch of things that are overlooked today.  This might include gloves, jewelry, hats, and even more hidden and not so noticed items such as lingerie…proper slips and the like.  Necessary, matching underclothes and accessories often came with vintage garments originally, yet, most sadly, a large number have these items missing today.  There must be some mysterious gremlin or just some badly run estate sales which misplace those matching slips for vintage sheer dresses, or those self-fabric belts which somehow are sadly missing to complete an outfit!  Perhaps their former owners wore such items to death and they didn’t survive.  Anyway, this leaves one who can sew plenty of extra work to make items that will not be seen and be underappreciated (as a whole), yet just as necessary to bring a vintage original piece back to life.

What cannot be seen doesn’t mean it is not important.  Take this lovely vintage late 50’s or early 1960’s dress which came into my possession.  All I got was just the dress. Now, I am not in the least complaining!  It fits me, is in perfect condition, has wonderful details, and has my favorite colors.  However, it is missing its belt and definitely needing more than just your average slip to be complete it.

Now, the ‘trick’ of a classy, ladylike sheer dress is to be revealing yet not show enough to look like a tart.   So, that opacity which is needed can be an opportunity for fun – you can make that slip naughty, add whatever details or go basic, and even have fun with the color.  What is great about making an underslip is that, firstly, it is all about you – it is the most indulgent selfish sewing which is still justified because of its necessity.  It is all for your viewing (unless you post a picture of it) and your intimate wearing.  Secondly, I love the irony in that you are wearing it but yet it is both seen and yet not detected!  Such little things as a slip or a belt is also a great way for one who sews to make a little extra effort and both put your personal touch on a vintage piece and restore it at the same time.

After all this chatter, what I did make to go under my vintage dress was a deep burgundy-tinted purple satin crepe slip.  Any shade of purple is my favorite color, but I love the way it prevents any see-through and adds an interesting tone of color to the sheer dress over it at the same time.  I do like going darker than lighter with my underslips (as I did for this 1930’s dress) – it makes the dress more obviously sheer yet still highlights your underwear discreetly.  The print on this vintage dress is so busy you can’t notice the dark slip here, though.

The funny thing is, that on its own, my slip actually looks like a sundress to me.  It has nice details, but it still is rather basic overall and provides full lingerie coverage.  Oh well, I wanted something that rather looked like a dress actually because I had other plans for this slip.  There is another sheer outfit – one that I will post in the coming months – which I like wearing over this slip as well.  The neckline on this outfit is a deep V, so I want the slip to fill in the décolletage for me.  I love making one piece become a useful, working staple in my wardrobe.  Already this slip has proved its worth and is used more often than I had imagined.  Yay – so many times the simplest projects are the most useful.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For being a polyester, this fabric is soft, flowing, and very good quality.  It has a darker, more burgundy color satin side, and a lighter, purpler buff crepe side.  I used the satin side facing out on my slip.  This is the second time I am using this fabric – the first time was to make the ‘pocket’ flaps and the belt for my 1955 Redingote jacket (post here).

PATTERN:  Advance #5552, year 1951 (I’m dying to make the dress from this pattern as well!!!)

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread and bias tape (to cover the raw edges inside)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in only 4 hours and made in one afternoon (on May 11, 2016)

TOTAL COST:  as this was clearance fabric, and I only used under two yards, this is a $3 slip.

Just a few posts back I mentioned that circa 1951 is one of my new favorite time periods for fashion…well here’s another one to add to that count!  This slip does have a classic 1950s “New Look” shape of the times to it with the full skirt and trim waistline.  I’m supposing the cover drawing is slightly deceptive the way the woman is so tall and the skirt is so full.  I have to wear a poufy petticoat, but without that I would have to sew horsehair braid to the inner hemline to get my version to actually copy that image.  Many times the idealism on drawn envelope covers makes us think our projects will turn out differently than they really do…but that’s okay to a point for me – we all love a good and glamorous pattern image, but the line drawing to a design are the meaty reality at the end of it all.

There is a waistline zipper in the side seam – there was no other way to get that trim waist shaping.  A zipper in the side seam of a slip seems really odd today, doesn’t it?!  I learned from sewing this 1940s slip that such a closure feature isn’t really a problem until I wear another garment which also has a zipper on the same side.  A zipper on top of a zipper is not comfortable.  This was the 50’s though – fashion was above comfort.  My Grandma has told me the corsets from that time were torture.  At same point I might re-install my slip’s zipper on the opposite – the right side – as clothes so that there is no overlapping.  It feels odd when I get dressed to find my zipper on that side but it turns out better for the overall comfort of wearing.  This is not the 50’s anymore and after all this is my sewing, so I am darn well going to customize it however I’d like!

The bust shaping here was also definitely tailored for a 1950s bra, maybe even a bullet bra or one-piece corsetlet.  There was sooo much extra room!  I brought a lot of the extra in by sewing a much larger seam allowance in the top half of the center bodice seam.  Otherwise, the little trio of radiating horizontal tucks did a fine and unusual job of allowing room for the bust.  I have seen this manner of shaping once before on the Simplicity #8252 (originally #8270 from 1950) but the reissue has French darts, too, which my slip dress doesn’t have.

Advance patterns have funky sizing issues in my experience, so as much as I wanted to make the sheer dress from this pattern, too, I felt that making the slip first was a good way to test out the proportions.  Many Advance patterns run small, and this one kind of held true to that.  The overall length (unhemmed) was evening length (remember how I said the cover drawing made the model too tall?) and the bust was generous (expected because of the lingerie popular for the time) but otherwise the waist was inhumanly small.  I sized up for the waist and hips for this slip from looking at the pattern tissue on me beforehand.  It’s a good thing I did, otherwise this would not been a success…only a headache to fix.  Now I know what to expect when I make that wonderful sheer dress that is the rest of the pattern.

From the best estimating I can do, I am guessing that my slip is a bit early for the actual dating of the true vintage dress that I wear with it.  As I mentioned in the beginning of my post, I am estimating this dress is late 50’s or early 1960s after finding a few sewing pattern covers and fashion photography images.  There is a year 1958 Simplicity #2411 pattern with a similar back neckline drape, kimono sleeve, and rounded neck.  There is an unidentified late 50’s Butterick with an even more exact back neckline sash drape.  However, the closest and classiest look-alike to my vintage dress is actually from Nina Ricci of 1960 – this has a similar silhouette and fabric colors and print.

However, my dress has a label of “Marcy Lee of Dallas, Texas”.  Marcy Lee was one of the over 100 blossoming clothing companies that began in the mid 1930s (circa 1933, actually) of Dallas, and this line capitalized on the marketability of low-cost cotton housedresses (info from here).  For being an affordable “housedress”, this is still a lovely dress, with amazing details, a classic style, and appealing design.  I really can’t say the same about the cheap and basic cotton knit clothes that are sold today!  Even though this dress is made of the most delicate cotton gauze, somehow it still was made well enough to hold up all these years so I can wear it today.

The details to the closing of this dress gave me the inspiration to adapt my own sewing.  When I was making my 1951 wide collared dress and I couldn’t figure out a front closing method to replace the side zipper, I used the front fly method off of this dress to know what to do.  This was a gift to me in more ways than one because it actually taught me how to do something in my sewing I would not have known otherwise.

As much as I do not advocate wearing vintage garments as a clothing source, because such regular wearing without constant care and respect can render these old clothes torn, destroyed, and eventually non-existent, I do think it is important for everyone to handle, see, and experience at least some kind of old clothing on their back at some point.  Just seeing such clothes confined and displayed from a distance in a museum does not have the same personal effect for people as being subjectively tactile with them.  Find your local shop or resale boutique and enjoy yourself, open your mind to the new details you will see, and start trying things on!  It might take awhile to find something that both fits and looks good on you, but find something that you absolutely love and care for it like a good friend.  It will give you a whole new insight on the clothes of today, help any sewing skills you might have, and let you love yourself with a style as unique and individual as you are!  If you are up to it, you can even be a hero or rescuer for some of the ones that need some tender loving care (see this ‘save’ of mine), or be the one to fill in the missing parts such as I did here.  Finding clothes that earn your respect can help you wear attire which help you esteem your body shape as it is in way that I don’t see many modern clothes doing for the masses.

…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!

“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?!

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My 1951 Tabard “Spider Dress”

What has eight stringy ‘legs’ and likes to come out when it’s warm?  Me in my 1951 pullover dress, that’s what!  If you were thinking of a spider, you’re right on, too, for this dress is like a secret spider in disguise.  Humorously coined by my attentive hubby for someone like me that is terrified of spiders, I consider this dress’ nickname quite oddly catchy.  With all the lovely colors in my dress, the exotic print, and black dashes, I tend to liken this dress to the large and special “golden silk orb-weavers”.  Look for me in my “spider” pose later on down below in the post and you’ll understand.

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My dress saw its debut at our church’s summer family picnic.  It was perfectly comfy for eating lots of food outside in the grass.  This also explains the bright painted daisy on my cheek!

This design is not exactly part of the pattern and was not originally intended but became a very pleasing way to “save” a fitting mistake I made.  I personally think my dress turned out better and is certainly more interesting the way I made it!  It’s “tabard” look is still authentic for the 50’s, though not as well known, so I’m glad to have a more unusual style.  Its easy fit makes it effortless and a go-to piece for the warmer months.  Plus, it is from a year that I hadn’t made anything from as of yet. Score in more ways than one!

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FABRIC:  100% cotton for the printed fashion fabric and a cotton/poly blend broadcloth for the black sides

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread was needed here, and that’s an easy one to have on hand!

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3612, year 1951

THE INSIDES:  The original seams to the dress (the center back and center front and the shoulders) are in French seams.  The seams to the waist and the side panel inserts are covered in bias tape.

100_5345-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress “as-is” according to the original pattern was done in a matter of 2 hours.  Then to change it and adapt it how you see it now, took me another 3 hours.  It was finished on June 3, 2015.

TOTAL COST:  This was a cheap one at only $1.25 a yard for just under 2 yards – a total of $2.50!  The black broadcloth was on hand in my stash so I’m counting that and the thread as free.

I started this dress on the wrong foot I guess, for it was one of those ‘sudden inspiration’, impulsive, ‘got-to-finish-it-now’ kind of projects.  This is not bad, but sometimes this situation makes me forget things that are important.  I saw the fabric, immediately knew 100_5324a-compwhat pattern would be right for it, and as soon as it was washed, the fabric was down under the tissue pieces ready to succumb to my scissors.  Add in an energy-filled 3 year old running around the house chasing our seriously freaked out dog (both of whom would not give me space) and I mistakenly doubled up on the amount I needed to take out of my chosen pattern.  Instead of 2 inches I took out 4 inches.  DUH!  I did think the waist seemed quite small, but I actually didn’t realize my total mistake until the dress was whipped up in the matter of one evening’s work of a few hours.  Yes, the pattern is incredibly easy, which duped me into thinking, “I can do this even with distractions…”  No, I can’t, apparently.  These oversights do happen, however, and I was not put down, surprisingly (I must have been in too good of a mood that night), determined to make the best of it.

My fabric had been bought as part of a clearance clean-out when my favorite fabric store was closing, so going back for more was out of the question.  However, looking at the dress, I realized that a whole dress out of the one fabric was too much, like a sensory overload of busyness.  Perhaps maybe my “mistake” was for the good of the dress, after all.  I knew I liked the way the center vertical seams matched and my inner seams were too nicely finished to unpick them anyway.  My best option was to add something in down the sides.

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Now, I didn’t want my dress to obviously look like I threw something into the sides, so I decided to go with making it go for a “tabard” look, where the front and back are like scapular flaps that hang from the shoulders with what should appear as an under-dress.  I went into length about the “tabard” style in this post and see Simplicity #4123 for some of my inspiration.  Among all the color tones in the print, solid black side panels were chosen in order to contrast with the ivory background and show off the side ties.  Ah, yes, the ties (two pairs on each side) are what makes me like a spider, makes my dress more obviously a tabard (even for a fake), as well as versatile for dressing.  A zipper just seemed complicated for this simple dress and fitting the side panels just looked weird – I tried it.  So, the side panels were just kept as slightly tapered rectangles with ties to pull in the dress and fit it to myself.  It’s great – I just pop on the dress and tie it as I like.  So many vintage dresses are like a circus trick to put on, and this one is a nice break.

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A few additional changes were made early on to the pattern.  In lieu of facing around the neck, I kept things simple and made my own bias tape from the printed cotton.  Also, I included one of the two inseam pockets.  Only one, yes, because I originally thought I was making the dress “as-is” with a zipper in the side, so to keep things simple but still practically utilitarian, I only made a pocket in the right side.  When I started to re-made the dress I briefly thought about adding in a second pocket, but I am right-handed anyway and don’t really carry that much with my pockets, so…nope!

100_5331a-comp1951 is rather too early for a French twist but the early 50’s did have elegant upswept hair-dos for longer hair, thus my hair is like a cross between both styles.  Starting with the top half of my hair, I tightly twisted it into a long rope then pulled it up towards the sky, and back down and under itself, pinning this down.  For the bottom half, my hair was divided out into about three sections which were also tightly twisted into ropes and spun into bun-like “bird’s nests”.  Even the front face portion was waved and then twisted, too.  This is just an experimental style but it seems to fit with my dress and it kept my neck cool in the heat!

Hubby made a passing joke about my being the nursery rhyme “Miss Muffet”, sitting outside in this dress attracting a spider to “sit down beside” me as I’m wearing an arachnid-inspired garment.  Ugh, luckily that didn’t happen.  Besides, I’m not crazy over cottage cheese, “curds and whey”…

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Here’s my spider pose!  Boo!  (I love how this picture shows the lines of the fabric mitering into the center waist.)  Now do you see my dress’ eight “legs”?