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!

An “Audrey’s Style” 1953 Gingham Blouse Re-Fashion

Audrey Hepburn in slim cigarette pants and crop topThe year 1953 was an important year for the popularity of the British actress Audrey Hepburn with the release of the movie “Roman Holiday”; 1953 was also the first year the “Utility Scheme” of clothing rationing was over for post-World War II Britain. Complete rationing wasn’t over in Britain until July 4, 1954, and the fashion industry was rearing and ready to go with a new trends, among which was the popular Audrey Hepburn’s style of casual chic – skinny leg cropped “cigarette pants” and flat loafers or ballet shoes. Skinny tops or cropped tops were often worn from the waist up with this style of dressing from the waist down. Large gingham was also branching out beyond homespun wear and tablecloths, seeing new popularity starting in 1950 and lasting through the decade. Therefore, I have re-fashioned a modern blouse into something hailing back from the early to mid-50’s to honor Audrey’s classic, effortless look.

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Just to clarify, my gingham blouse is the only part of my outfit that is made. The skinny fit black cropped pants are mine from about 20 years ago, bought RTW and still fitting, yahoo! The turquoise hat seen in some of my pictures is an authentic vintage 50’s item, in beautiful felt and with a velvet brim. Please notice my necklace of a charm-sized pair of golden scissors – it’s my new favorite silent “spokesperson” for my love of sewing!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  One “Mossimo” brand gingham tunic shirt, bought maybe 10 years ago from our local big box store “Target” in a girl’s size XL (extra-large). Its’ fabric is a nice and wrinkle-free 100% cotton. Underside the collar is a basic black poly/cotton blend broadcloth, made from scraps on hand.100_6372a-comp

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread…always kept on hand.

PATTERN:  Vogue #7975, a year 1953 pattern

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I took one evening to make this re-fashion, maybe 2 or 3 hours on October 16, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  Nothing special…raw and loose.

TOTAL COST:  Zero! A re-fashion made with everything which was on hand is the best new item because it is free and oh-so-sensible!

As I think I’ve mentioned before, there are indeed forgotten and untouched spots in the racks of clothing in our house. I’m pretty sure most of us all have this same condition. In my case, I seem to always gravitate to the wearing the garments I made or at least tailored and altered (for good reasons which you can probably figure out), rather than wearing any RTW store bought items. Thus, sometimes when I want something new to wear, rather than turning to my fabric bins I attack those uninteresting store bought items in my wardrobe to turn them into something I actually do want to wear. I figure the more I keep up this practice, I am going to have a complete wardrobe of all handmade garments I do want to wear. Not that it’s a bad thing to donate, but I am keeping out more clutter from the overloaded amount of unwanted and unloved clothes besides merely being thrifty. I have something on hand already…so I’ll enjoy the challenge of transforming it into something which fits and looks better than the original. It’s like shopping without spending anything! “Make do and mend” ideal isn’t just for the 1940’s era. If more of us used our existing sewing skills to not just make but also tailor and transform our existing wardrobe items, I think more happiness with what we have and more satisfaction with our personal style would prevail.

100_6367-compIn any case, the original blouse no longer fit my shoulders too well and I wasn’t happy with the overall look. Besides, its proportions were all off. My first thought was the one I went with for my re-fashion – to take advantage of the multitude of pin-tucks. I remembered I had a special pattern with some awesome pin-tuck details from the 1950’s, which was the era I wanted to go with the “new” blouse anyway. Bingo! It’s like figuring in that the pin-tucking part was already done for me and it was perfectly similar to the pattern the way I laid it out.

I made the new shoulder line begin at the old bust line, thereby cutting off half of the pin-tucks on the chest. The original pattern was designed for a separate button placket to be sewn on, just like on my original blouse, so I figured that into the pattern as already done and left it untouched as it was. An existing button was lined up at about 5/8 inches down (my chosen seam allowance for this project) from the center front so I have a closure at the very top of the finished neckline. 100_6370a-comp

The back lines of the new blouse needed to be lined up with the front, and this was quite challenging. You see, both front and back I wanted (actually needed) aligned because I was keeping the existing side seams untouched. The shoulder seam and collar of the new back panel were so much higher than the front for fitting purposes, but thankfully, I was left with just enough of the old horizontal back shoulder length to use for the collar.

Fitting in a new armscye was tricky because I also was keeping the sleeve seam untouched. What I did was roughly measure around the length of the armscye on the sleeve to get an idea of the finished circumference. Then I laid out a measuring tape to the same circumference from front shoulder seam down and around up to the back shoulder seam, marking the path of the u-shaped dip with chalk. Next the shoulder seams were sewn together and the sleeve then set in. I know this might not be the best or most professional way to do this, but you know it worked and provided me with a perfect fitting shoulder. I do a good amount of what I do in sewing by some sort of instinct, naturally knowing in some 6th sense how something will fit and/or work. What will work for me might or might not work as well for others, but at least I can explain my process to you. Getting how you did something “out there” is always good for others to know, whether it worked out in the end or not, for knowing and trying is part of learning in the sewing experience.

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Pin-tucks leftover from the front of the blouse were included in the front corners of the collar closest to the center. Black broadcloth is on the underside of the collar just out of necessity because there wasn’t enough original gingham for another collar, but this was no problem…a few scraps sufficed to cut out something so small. I left out interfacing the collar because I wanted to keep my blouse nice but easy and casual. Where the collar joins to the blouse, the seam is invisible because it’s hidden inside. It was sewn like many collars – one side is sewn to the blouse, the other side’s seam allowance is turned under and both top-stitched down “in-the-ditch” for a flawless finish. The little notch in the pattern’s collar design was rather hard to get sharp enough as I would have liked and, even if I don’t make this pattern again (unlikely), personally I’d like to try like this collar again, if only to redo it. I think it needs to be re-drawn into a more dramatic arch to get a more dramatic notching, as it seemed to me that no amount of clipping close to the stitching can get a good inverse corner following the existing seam allowance. Nevertheless, this collar is subtle but still special, especially with the several rows of pin-tucks across the ends.

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At first, I had planned on a contrast collar, either a lace one trimmed in bias tape or a broadcloth one, both in black. I still sort of wish I had gone with my first thought for a more modern, punk style blouse. However, I was left with enough extra self-fabric, so “Hey…I might as well match,” was in my mind. The matching collar sadly disguises to notched detail and the pin-tucking added. It also seems to make for blouse a bit more cute, and “baby-doll-ish” than I had expected, although making my new blouse more period accurate and more suited to being Audrey Hepburn’s signature “Gamine” style.

“Gamine” is a French word, according to Wikipedia, originally meaning “urchin, waif, or playful, naughty child”. It can be dated back to about 1840, but it wasn’t until the last 80 years it has come to be known according to its English meaning “a slim, often boyish, elegant, wide-eyed young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or sexually appealing”. Most of us know of the “Gamine” look of the 1920’s (flappers), but it really wasn’t until Audrey Hepburn’s popularity in the 1950’s when this term became more of something which conveyed a strong sense of style and chic.

The specific “Gamine” style Audrey had in the 1957 movie “Funny Face” was something Funny Face poster 1957 - Audrey Hepburn's costume test for 'Sabrina' from 7-21-1953which she originally refused, especially in regards to the white socks, according to a firsthand movie tidbit from the Director which you can read here. Previous to “Funny Face”, this general style of body hugging bottoms and simple understated coordinates was launched by Audrey in the 1954 film “Sabrina”. Her flat shoes do a lot to keep her style sweet and classic versus heels (which would instantly create a pin-up, bombshell aura). Interestingly enough, the second actress which popularized flat shoes, Brigitte Bardot in the 1956 movie “And God Created Woman”, gave flat shoes a sort of “hot and sultry” look, so I suppose it depends somewhat on the wearer what ballet shoes can do to an outfit. Ballet flat shoes, or slippers, have been around for a very long time in some form or fashion, in old Roman times but especially in the 1600’s being worn for men and women alike until resurfacing again in the 20th century with Hollywood’s help. For myself, I’ll admit that with my tiny feet, I love wearing simple flats. I’ll also admit I am part tomboy, but not enough to fully pull off the “Gamine” look in this post’s pictures…at least I tried! It’s sort of like attempting a conflict of interests trying to be an individual while copying someone else, isn’t it? It’s fun, though.

Do you have a style icon that is incredibly interesting to you? Have you carried over that particular style in your clothing and/or sewing?

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Quintessential Classics – Bowling and a 1953 Men’s Shirt

Going “retro” can’t be any more “classic” than combining the early 50’s and the sport of bowling. What could be more fun than going “retro” as a couple to play one of the top past times of the era?! Vintage men’s wear certainly does not get made as often as women’s pretty dresses. So far I’ve made hubby some vintage pajamas, but if I can go out in 50’s get-up, he just as well deserves to share in my handmade vintage made for public wearing. Thus, I am happy to announce I have made my hubby a summer shirt, using a 1953 pattern, to see its debut at a local bowling alley – for some good “new” memories made together in “past-timey” style.

100_3360aTHE FACTS:
FABRIC:  The plaid fabric is a super soft, and nicely lightweight poly/cotton blend, so it might be vintage but no older than the 50’s. For lining the back shoulder panel and making the collar, a basic cotton/poly broadcloth was used in basic bright white.Simplicity 4452 mens 1953 shirts
NOTIONS:  Everything I needed to make the shirt was on hand – the white thread, the bias tape, the interfacing. The buttons are vintage, coming from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.
PATTERN:  Simplicity 4452, year 1953, “Men’s Sport Shirt”
THE INSIDES:  So nice! The sleeve hems and bottom hem are covered in single fold bias tape, and the collar and the back shoulder panel are enclosed and hidden by lining. All other seams (the sides and the sleeves) are done in French seams. I wanted hubby’s shirt to be finished better than anything else in his closet!

100_3635TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on July 8, 2014, after 8 to 10 hours of time.  This shirt was so easy, I hope to make more.
TOTAL COST:  The plaid fabric only cost $3.00, and the cotton cost about $1.50…thus, with everything else coming from on hand, my hubby’s shirt cost a total of less than $5.00. Neat, huh?!

In my opinion and from my experience, sewing men’s shirts are relatively easy and low stress. There are no darts, no shapely side seams, and no zippers, like on women’s clothes. To me, the fitting necessities for sewing up menswear consists of four main points to pay the most attention to: 1.) the proper shoulder width across the upper back panel, 2.) proper sleeve length, 3.) an agreeable collar measurement, and 4.) comfortable girth of ease around the torso. (Just like in women’s clothes where you try to find a pattern close to your bust size, I try to go by neck, or collar size, when it comes to picking out a men’s pattern.)  Maybe those four points are actually hard and I just don’t realize it because making menswear is fun, different, and challenging. Being a pullover shirt, it needed to be loose enough for him to get it on himself, but I still fitted the pattern around him first. As the pattern is a smaller size, with a good collar measurement already, I only barely raised the shoulders and slightly brought in the girth. Overall, the pattern didn’t need much tweaking for a better fit over than the changes which had to be done from fabric shortage.

100_3367When it came to making something for hubby, it was totally up to him to choose the fabric, buttons, and styling for his 50’s shirt, and boy did he take it seriously! I wanted to make his shirt earlier than I did, but I waited until he happened to finally find the right fabric at a vintage market. This one booth was chock full vintage fabric and feedsack muslins, in various sized cuts all rolled up in tied bundles. Hubby’s fabric pick of course happened to be a small amount, less than 2 yards. To make matters worse, the fabric had several squares of blank spaces where some scraps had been cut off, making even less of a total amount than I thought. The fabric is wonderful in feel, and weight, and plaid color tone for a perfect retro summer shirt, so these features were the saving grace to convince me to make things work.

Talk about cutting things close trying to make things work! I spent more time trying to correctly figuring on the combo of pattern pieces’ layout and plaid matching than the time it took to sew the shirt itself. With the fabric laid on the floor, I would think, look, contemplate on the layout and then rearrange everything. I had to shorten the sleeves, shorten the shirt hem, and round up the shirt tails out of necessity to make all the pieces fit. This is THE closest call I have yet done in my sewing…I do not recommend anyone else imitating me here. However, I did make it work with a whole lot of forethought, a clear head, and the time to take my time – I’m so proud and amazed at myself. Sometimes the step of pattern layout is the hardest kind of puzzle to be found.

Simplicity 4452 mens 1953 shirts - envelope backThe plaid couldn’t really match any better than if I did have extra fabric yardage to spare. Having “elbow room” of yardage to spare, is generally a good idea, much like it’s a security backup to have a spare tire in your car, although it might never be used. Sometimes when I am forced to butt pattern pieces up against one another when squeezing in a project on an unsuitable small cut (as for hubby’s shirt and for this dress, too), things necessarily match up. They’re right next to each other, as in “the cutting line of one piece is the same cutting line of another piece”!

The plaid itself actually is laid out in what is categorized as a “Tattersall” design. “Tattersall” is defined on “eHow.com”, in an article on “Types of Plaids” as, “Tattersall” is a plaid pattern that features thin vertical and horizontal stripes that are spaced evenly to create subtle checks. It is similar to tartan plaid, but “Tattersall” usually features a light background with colored stripes forming the grid pattern. The color scheme can feature just two colors or as many as four. Tattersall is often used for men’s button-down shirts, but some vests also feature the pattern.” Perfect in use of purpose and definition of stripe placement! Another definition of “Tattersall” can be found here along with all the other plaids. The fabric is a combo of four colors: purple, deep aqua, cranberry, and a very small bit of light pink, against a background of white.

100_3632He became interested in the process of his shirt’s construction, enough to be part of all the decisions which went into making it. I did convince hubby to let me construct the shirt with button and loop closures for the front neck opening. It is an option to the actual pattern, one which I wanted to make for more reasons than one – there wasn’t enough fabric, I didn’t feel up to experimenting with making a placket, and (lastly) a button/loop front is unique. Partly out of personal taste and (again) partly from lack of fabric, hubby wanted a contrast collar, one which brightens up and tones down the plaid. He had no problem with me using fine finishing techniques, nor did he mind the fact I kept the fit boxy and a bit generous to be more authentic (and comfortable). I think it looks pretty good…I believe he does too!

The back top of the shoulder piece, which stretches across horizontally, was adapted to add more interest and again accommodate the shortage of fabric. Instead of one solid piece laid out along the straight grain of the selvedge, I cut the shoulder yoke on the bias, with a center seam. The corresponding seam allowance was added. This could have been a risky (or flat out bad) move to cut this piece on the bias if it hadn’t had the second lining piece cut properly to keep the correct shape and needed strength across a high stress area of the shirt. I think my decision to cut the back shoulder yoke on the bias was worth the “risk” of disregarding directions – it adds so much more interest by having fun mitering the stripes into a downward chevron- style of design. So many times in my sewing a problem or mistake I encounter only challenges me to think outside the box and come up with a more unique and creative way to do something than before. This 50’s shirt is one big example of how to make lemonade from lemons. I think I will be very much temped to cut out another back shoulder yoke in this same bias/chevron-striped manner on another shirt, whether it’s one for him or one for me. We’ll see. 100_3364a

Sewing clothes for someone else bestows a very satisfying, accomplished feeling of pride to me, especially when it’s someone as special as my hubby. Sure, I’ve made him clothes already, but they were the kind that never really gets to be seen out and about – pajamas. Those 1940’s pajamas certainly get tons of wear on a regular basis, more than the 50’s shirt will, no doubt. However, for this garment – his shirt – he can wear this in public, advertise my capabilities, and brag about who made it for him all at the same time! Besides these base egotistical benefits, it seems to make him feel loved and quite special, two feelings I notice appear in other family and friends who receive my work. Those feelings bounce back to me, and make sharing my talent pay me back in something better than money can buy!

Also worth more than money is the good family time to be had playing a game of bowling. 100_3358aThe sport of bowling was never more popular than in the decade of the 1950’s, as I alluded to at the top of this post. This was no doubt partially due to the year 1952 introduction of the AMF automatic pin-spotter, the mechanical method of setting up pins and returning balls. This invention of modern technology, combined with the social, economic, and family situations of the time gave men, women, and children an easy and fun way spend free time and get exercise with little expense. The 1950’s were so adamant about promoting bowling, the ‘Bowling Proprietors Association of America’ released an informative and curious instructional video in ‘55, which can be watched in full by clicking here. The actual history of bowling as a sport and/or past time goes back much farther back than the 50’s, (see this page for more) and plenty to do with my own hometown, too, which explains why we’re lucky to have so many cool retro alleys to knock pins down in this city. Even though my actual skills at knocking over the pins are not the best I feel happy just to try! At this visit to Shrewsbury Lanes, my dad beat us all in points, while hubby put plenty of gumption in his throws (testing out the comfort of his shirt, no doubt), I made a few good points (wearing my ‘Gracie Allen’ ’52 skirt), and even my little guy had the chance to roll his very first ball.

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This 1953 shirt is hopefully the first of more to come in the way of sewing for my hubby. Now I have another new aim or goal to reach – making at least one man’s shirt for the decades between the 20’s to 70’s. This way, he too could easily match me in every decade of fashion. Am I making things hard for myself? Maybe, but I like a challenge, and I like to see my husband’s smile in the clothes I make for him. Look for more handmade vintage men’s wear to come in the future!