White Poppy

The Poppy is one of the most widely used symbolic flower around the world.  The blood red poppy flower is often (and rightly so) associated symbolically with a remembrance for those gone out of this life, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.  However, the pure white form of the same poppy flower has a very lovely meaning in the Asian culture.  Chinese flower experts recommend the Poppy for couples because it means a deep and passionate love between two people, but white Poppies are tied to death in those cultures, too.  Even still, poppies are also seen as a cheerful plant to have in a garden due to its large size and available variety of cheerful colors.  One flower can mean love, happiness, loss, sleep, or death all at the same time.  It sounds like a summary of life.

Here is something symbolical, combined with a garment already so very symbolical – the qipao.  This is a Mandarin-derived word for a one-piece garment for women which has evolved itself rapidly in the last 100 years, even surviving being outlawed (when communism rose in China circa 1949).  Many fashion details have been added or taken off them, many fabrics from either end of the price rage have been used for them, and they have changed fit to suit each era and feminine ideal, but a qipao – a derivative of traditional menswear – has nevertheless persisted in being a statement for the freedom and knowledge available to the modern woman.   Although it originated in Shanghai of the 1920s, it was emerged in full force circa 1950s in Hong Kong, after that, as that country was a British colony at that time, it became a strong part of Western Europe and American fashion through the 1960s.  It is this tumultuous, transitional history that I would like to highlight and honor with my modern vintage Mandarin dress.

My coral pinkish-orange color is as bright as a cheerful paper lantern or the flashy electronic street advertisements of Hong Kong.  My satin edging is as black as the poppy seeds which have caused so much fighting and human misery through the ages of the opium trade.  The printed poppies, thanks to a full body lining, are as snowy as a classic bride’s dress.  A qipao was deserves much more respect than to be whipped up without a thought behind the details.  This one of mine strikes me as sending a bold, cheerful, yet peaceful message, faintly touched by sadness.

Now, I am by no means in any position to explain the qipao (sometimes informally called a cheongsam in Hong Kong).  It is not my culture and there is so much symbolism, meaning, and national beauty to this garment that I could never know it all nor explain as well as others.  Yet, I am wearing it not to ignorantly continue to Europeanize or secularize it, as was done especially in the 1950s, but to learn more of what I do not know, and interpret what I do know of the qipao in my own way to add to the respect of the garment.  The more we know about others from around the world, the more I would expect it should bring a greater compassion and understanding of humanity (yet this is sadly not always the case).  We are all going through life together be it our neighbor next door or one on the other side of the globe.  Today more than ever – with all of our means of communication and social networks available – we are able to connect and learn about each other.  Let us take advantage of that to be well-informed and thoughtful to others.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  printed quilting cotton lined in solid white cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8244, a re-issue of a year 1954 design originally Simplicity #1018

NOTIONS:  I had to go out and buy the knot closures as I was finishing the dress, but everything else was on hand – interfacing, thread, zipper, and black satin binding – only because I have been wanting to make this dress for the last few years.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After about 10 to 15 hours, my qipao was finished on May 29, 2018

I have been wanting to make this for far too long, and it is a relief to be finally able to wear it.  You see, for some reason, I had expected this to be difficult looking at the design.  Perhaps it was the fact that the one shoulder where the neckline closes and opens is sewn on as a separate panel.  Sometimes when you add pieces like that it’s easy to cut them out of the wrong side of the fabric or find it fiddly to match if the connecting points are not clearly marked on the pattern.  However, it was much easier to make once I thought the construction out and just dove into it.  The most time consuming parts are actually making all those fish eye darts that give this dress its amazing wiggle shape, and doing the hand stitching on the frog closures along the neckline.  I guess making my own satin bias tape was a bit time consuming too, but I enjoy that step so much more than sewing darts or closures!

I found the sizing to be pretty good – maybe even a tad roomy.  For my dress, I did go up a half size just in case it ran small.  The finished garments measurements told me I probably would have been fine following the size chart to choose sizes.  However, I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry because you can always take a dress in just a tad but when you need extra inches…that can be a problem.  I get so used to working with true vintage patterns that I am actually unsure of the re-printed re-issues because you never really know how it’s been ‘modernized’.  In the end, I left my dress a bit roomy because I don’t want the horizontal body wrinkles show up as the tell-tale sign when something is just too tight.  I know this is a wiggle dress and all, but it still has such good shaping that it can be a comfy dress and still show off one’s silhouette!

There is one small tweak I did to the pattern to incredibly simplify the construction and save the print of the fabric.  It makes all the difference in the world.  I eliminated the full center back seam and cut the back on the fold instead.  Yes, I did lose some of the curving and shaping to the dress, but that was remedied in another way.  You see, to cut the center back on the fold, only the bottom half – from the high hips to the hem – was actually straight enough to line up.  The waist and above curved in too much.  Thus, my solution was to I mark the curving I was going to be missing with a disappearing ink pen and stitch in smaller that difference as a dart.  This way there is a seam that only extends to the waist in the back, and the rest of the print is not disturbed.  I find a small dart a lot less bulky than a full seam, and quicker to make anyway!

Other than this dramatic seam adaptation, there are several fine-tunings I made to end up with a dress I was finally happy with!  As I fully lined my dress, I buried the interfacing in between the two fabric layers.  As I was bias binding the edges, I left out the facings along the neckline and sleeve hems.  I also left out the facings for the side slits to the skirt portion, and merely turned the edges under and stitched like a regular hem.  The overall length ran long, and the pattern called for a wide hem, but I liked the elegance of the longer length so I did a tiny hem instead.  The back bodice poofed out as if for a hunched back woman, so I trimmed the back neckline lower by 1 ½ inches to easily smooth the excess out.  Other than these little modifications, I really did leave the general dress design as-is!  I’m especially proud of the clean and hard-to-find hand-picked side zipper.

To complement my dress, I added some dangling hair flowers (which actually rather remind me of half of a pair of Hana kanzashi – sorry!), my summer fancy patent wedge heels, vintage gloves, my Grandma’s vintage drop pearl earrings, and a fun thrift store find of a handmade slatted wood purse.  My lipstick is a classic Revlon color, true to the year 1953 called “Cherries in the Snow”.  It seems that heels, a hair updo, and little white gloves are rather classic to wear with a 1950’s era qipao, so I suppose I am sticking with the safe and predictable outfit pairings here.

‘Classically’ paired together or not, this is still a standout dress, I think, and I rather like it like that…not to draw attention to me or my clothing, necessarily, but because a qipao to my understanding is a form of art, a message with fabric, a cultural beauty.  This is what I miss the most about being an American – most other countries have a garment, a way with fabric, which offers a special cultural outlet for native personal expression.  If I want to honor my country’s past by a garment, I tend to make historical clothes for attending a living history event or participating in a re-enactment.  In other countries, there is a dirndl, a qipao, a kimono, a sari or a kurta, and an ushanka hat to name just a few of the most well-known examples of wearable culture.  However, just wearing one of these items is not respect enough without awareness behind it.  “Knowledge is power” is a phrase degraded because it is too often thrown out today, but when it comes to cultural garments, this is so very important.  Is there a culture other than your own that you particularly appreciate and enjoy?

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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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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!

Belated Easter Sewing – Part Two of a 50’s Suit

This year’s Easter outfit from earlier this year’s spring left me with a lovely year 1954 reversible jacket and an exact one yard of lovely boucle suiting leftover.  Another dress I made this spring (yet to be posted) also left me with another one yard that seemed like it would match well with the suiting.  Humm…seemed like potential just waiting for the making.  I just couldn’t help myself but to continue the mix-and-match properties of the jacket and make a different look composed of separates from ’56 and ’58.  I’m so pleased to get further use out of my fabric leftovers on hand and give my jacket something else to match with.  The 50’s really can provide some effortlessly lovely pieces when you don’t have generous cuts of material!  I feel so put together in this!

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My jacket is was made earlier for my Easter suit (as I mentioned already) from a year 1954 Simplicity #4793.  Thus, if you think about it, my outfit in this post skips every other year through the middle of the 50’s.  I suppose this would be plausible for a lady of the 50’s to do something like this outfit, perhaps she might add to her wardrobe as the years went by with one more simple-to-make piece so as to keep up with the styles of the times.  I think it works well together – especially when I add a vintage headband-like netted hat, elbow length gloves, cat-eyed sunglasses, and my wonderful “Hunter” turquoise B.A.I.T. brand heels!

THE FACTS:

simplicity-1732-year-1956-teen-slim-skirts-front-coverFABRIC:  The boucle for the skirt (and jacket) is a rayon/acrylic blend; inside the skirt is a polyester cling-free lining leftover from on hand in my stash; the blouse is a cotton gabardine (leftover from another project yet to be posted).

NOTIONS:  I had all the bias tape, zippers, interfacing, and thread that was needed

dsc_0172a-comp-wPATTERNS:  McCall’s 4605, year 1958, view B, for the top; and Simplicity 1732, year 1956, view #3, for the skirt

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a fast outfit to make – the skirt took me 6 hours and was completed on March 22, 2016 while the top took me maybe 4 hours and was finished sometime in April 2016.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  The skirt is fully lined and hemmed with bias tape while the top is French seams with bias hems and edges.

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A classic pencil skirt is more or less about one yard of fabric very simply wrapped around and darted to make an awesome basic wardrobe staple every bit as suitable today.  With such a basic design, it’s all the little details that make pencils skirts stand out to me in the 50’s.  This skirt is no different even for being a “teenager” pattern.  Look at all the cute options on my Simplicity 1732 – you can bet you bottom penny that I intend to try that suspendered jumper option, as well as the asymmetric front pleated style.  My skirt version definitely has subtleties – two cute little pointed tabs out of the front waist darts and a triangular closure tab at the center back waist.  Aren’t they cute?!  At least I think so.  Sure they might emphasize the hips but this is the 50’s after all and the top I chose is meant to balance things out.

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My skirt’s tabs co-ordinate perfectly with the tabs on the top.  The tabs are small enough not to make my set too matchy-matchy.  The pattern originally called for one tab at the neckline and one above the hemline.  Since I planned on generally wearing the top tucked into bottoms, I switched things up and had the two tabs together at the neckline going opposite ways.  There’s more interest this way.  However, I suppose I sort of ruined what this pattern really is designated to be – a “Misses Overblouse” as the envelope back says.  The definition of an “overblouse” is “a blouse usually fitted or belted and worn untucked at the waist.”  Oh well, so much for that…the irony of the situation makes me shake my head at myself.  I suppose view C in blue on the far right of the pattern cover is fully an overblouse with its belted-look bottom, all buttoned down.  This just goes to show your sewing is whatever you choose to do with it.  Learn from it, be proud of it, and (most importantly) rock what you’ve made when you wear it!

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The large square neckline is of course the other main feature to this design.  It’s sort of hard for me to wear something this wide and it doesn’t always stay straight or necessarily lay flat on my smaller shoulders.  Nevertheless, it is flattering (so I feel), different, and classic of the 50’s to widen the shoulders and neckline… it also helps create a visual trick which slims down on the waist (always good).  This combo of my skinny skirt and square neck top looks similar some dress designs already out there – Butterick 5032, a reprint of a 1952 pattern, as well as Simplicity 2233, a pattern from 1957 or 1958.  Yet, there is something that still seems slightly 60’s about this to me, too, maybe it’s the cover hairstyles…oh yeah, well it is from ’58.

I must say the top, for being such a simple pattern, was really somewhat of a problem.  Getting the top fitting right was difficult. I kept taking the darts and the side seams in a little at a time again and again in between trying it on until I got tired of this.  The pattern was supposed to be my size and an overblouse is supposed to be fitted but I just couldn’t get this top to really contour to me as well as I would have liked.  Next time I make this (and I do want to try some of the other views soon) I will take out maybe and inch from the center front and back to bring to neckline and darts in more.dsc_0171a-comp

Complicating the simplicity of the making of this top was the pattern itself.  I’ve seen McCall’s patterns between late/mid-50’s until the mid-60’s have this “Easy Rule” feature on them and I do not like it.  There is so, so much type and explanations covering the entire pattern pieces making it hard to see what is going on.  If it is too hard to see the basic stuff like darts that are needed on a pattern what is the use?

There are just a few special touches and tweaks to the skirt I would like to mention.  I did change up the pattern just a bit when it came to the back slit.  Originally the back slit was supposed to be more like a box pleat opening, but I’ve done these before and besides the boucle seemed too thick for something like this to turn out successfully so I merely made a basic, fully opening slit.  I don’t mind showing a bit ‘o leg!  Extra pains were taken to hand sew a blind hem to the skirt…and this from one who cannot do hand stitching.  Luckily pencil skirts have short hem circumferences.  I needed to make a really wide hem – it turned out ankle length before finishing…way too long!  Finally, I enjoy the bright, rich green lining inside the skirt.  The pop of color makes me smile every time I put my skirt on.

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It never ceases to amaze me at what can be made from fabric cuts leftover.  At the same time one can only keep so much stuff on hand.  It’s hard to find the balance of time, ideas, storage space, and places to wear one’s projects.  I don’t really see any one yard patterns offered anymore…unless they’re vintage, especially between the 1930’s and 1970’s.  I think one yard cuts need to be advertised and better known to help us who hold onto our leftovers (and those who have a great fabric stash) go through our store without too much effort!  Even without extras on hand, buying one yard is generally a practical purchase whether the fabric is on the expensive or cheap side of the wallet.  Style doesn’t have to be short because of the amount of the fabric, especially with mix and match pieces.  Do you use one yard patterns, or not?  Do you also sew sets that match?

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“Spring Green” 1954 Easter Suit Set – a Dress and Reversible Jacket

In a world where amazing vintage designs need upscale occasions in order to be made, what could be a better day than Easter to go all out with pretty pastels and fancy fabrics…complete with an ostentatious hat!

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This suit set pays homage to what I think is the best the 1950’s has to offer in elegant design and interesting details. My hubby’s first spoken adjective for this duo was the term “swanky”. Either way, I so enjoyed the challenge of sewing this dress and jacket, and wearing them is a like an upscale dream. I’m showing off my new best clothes, too, you spring buds and flowers.

This is part one of a two part post set. The jacket, being reversible, can be worn with more than this Easter dress, so part two post will show the other pieces I made to match with the leftover fabrics for a complete four garment ensemble. Sorry if it sounds like overkill, but I really like versatility and using up all the material on hand…besides when an idea strikes, sometimes I have to listen.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% polyester shantung for the dress and jacket and a boucle, in a rayon/acrylic blend, for the jacket, as well. A small amount of scrap lining from on hand went into the skirt panel.DSC_0096a-compDSC_0095a-comp

NOTIONS:  I already had bought most of what I needed (thread and bias tapes) to make this set when I decided on it the year before, but I did have to go back for more thread and a zipper. The buttons were already in my stash as were the shoulder pads.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4793, year 1954

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took maybe 20 hours (maybe a few more) and I spent about 15 hours on the jacket.

DSC_0176a-compTHE INSIDES:  My dress’ insides are all smoothly bias bound while the jacket is reversible, so…no seams!

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics store. Each fabric was dirt cheap at about $2.00 a yard. So, for 1 ½ yards of boucle, and 2 ½ yards of shantung, I spent maybe $10.00 in fabric and another $5.00 in notions for a total of about $15. Not bad! However, one yard of the boucle went towards another garment to match the jacket.

This is another one of my ‘consecutive decades’ Easter outfit. In 2012, I made a dress from the 1920’s (year 1929 to be exact), and year after that I sewed a dress and slip from the 1930’s (a ‘feed sack print’ silk set from 1935). Last year I realized the “hop” up in decades I was doing and continued it by making a 1940’s dress (in rayon floral from 1944). I’m just keeping this “thing” going by making a 1950’s Easter outfit. I’ve already picked out my 60’s dress suit set for next year, with a special hat to match, too. I know, I know, you might be thinking, “What will you do going up to now when you run out of decades?” I’ve thought of that. My sewing plans might be to go back to the 20’s and start over again or even go fashion-forward or futuristic…that will be figured out when I get there.

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Looking at it you probably won’t believe me, but my 1954 dress set is by far my easiest Easter creation. It involved some tricky sewing parts, which I enjoyed and learned from, but nothing that I couldn’t still zip through. This was one Easter outfit where I was super unsure about whether it would fit, whether it would look weird, or if I would even like it at all. Part of the problem responsible for such doubts, I think, was the shantung fabric.

DSC_0140-compArtificial shantung is a new fabric for me to work with, and I am on the fence about it now, too. I find myself impressed with it only as long as it is nicely ironed, so it was hard to tell how it would turn out as I was sewing with it. Fancy appearance aside, wearing a tightly woven polyester that doesn’t breathe is not a very pleasant thing for me unless the temperature is comfortably just right (otherwise I either freeze or sweat to death). Any raw edge shredded like crazy and there is an ugly shiny side to it, as well. However, the nubby side is nice and classy and comes in a lovely, tempting variety of colors at my local fabric stores. The stiffer “hand” to it is fun because it’s something I don’t usually work with, but a bit to artificial in texture. Surely the real shantung in silk is much, much better and I think it (the fabric) deserves another chance to redeem itself to a higher par in my estimation (hint, future costly fabric purchase, hubby).

The neckline of the dress was a tricky spot that actually stumped me for a while. My beingDSC_0093a-comp stumped by a technique only comes around every so often in my projects and I like it. I need to find more projects that threaten my ‘comfort zone’ of sewing skills and push me to figure out something new with a great garment waiting ahead as the motivation. I worked on the dress first, then was confused by the neckline, so I put it aside to make the jacket so as to get a breather. Sometimes walking away from a sewing technique refreshes my mind enough to figure something out but sometimes also it only takes my sitting down and working with it, too, which is what happened once I tried. Pinning it this way and that, I realized you make some sort of tuck horizontally slightly parallel to the top end of the center front seam. What a very smart construction…good for expanding one’s sewing ability.

DSC_0164-compThis dress’ neckline does strongly remind me of another pattern, Burda Style’s 1960 “Vintage Boucle Dress”, except here the same detail is softened in its corners and sent to decorate the waist. My neck fold over detail was at first just kept in place by my pin (which I’m not sure if it’s from the right era but it looks good, I think). Then, I went back to tack down the edges in three small places so I don’t specifically need a pin to keep it closed. Tacking the neck detail does unfortunately make it blend into the rest of the dress more than I would like, though.

The dress’ bodice is cut on the bias with the grain mitering into the center front and back seams. When wearing this I can feel how the bias helps the kimono sleeves, and both the bias and sleeve style make it surprisingly easy to move and reach in. I have larger upper arms, so many cap sleeves, shoulder caps and armscyes (without adjustment) do not provide me enough ‘give’ to do things, but this dress’ bodice is wonderful for me. It also hides my upper arms, tapering them by actually making my shoulder line softer and larger (thanks to shoulder pads, too). The decade of the 1940’s also knew the “large shoulder” trick actually makes one’s waist look so much smaller than reality, but the 50’s took things one step further by widening the hips, too, which is where my dress’ pointed extending pocket flaps come in handy. Appearances are everything for me to rock a proper 50’s silhouette as I do not have “traditional” 50’s proportions like Marilyn Monroe and others of a bigger bust and a tiny waist.

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Speaking of a tiny waist, the skirt portion to this dress is very body hugging – it is a total wiggle garment. Somehow, between the way my hips are hugged in the fabric, the slightly confining skirt, and the high heels I’m wearing, I do end up with a swagger from the bottom down when I walk and it feels perfectly natural. I love it! The skirt does have a rectangular insert panel to the back skirt vent, making it modest and looking more like a box pleat. I don’t do long strides in this dress, but the vent still helps with movement. There are the standard 5/8 inch seam allowances in my dress, so I have room to let things loose if I suddenly decide on less of a “wiggle” skirt.

For the jacket, I couldn’t decide which material I wanted to wear with my dress…the matching shantung or a contrast boucle…so I figured, why decide on one when I can have both! I simply cut both fabrics out of the exact same jacket pieces (in lieu of cutting one smaller as lining). The facing pieces for the jacket were cut out of interfacing and ironed on the wrong (shiny) side of the lime shantung for support along the neck and front edges. Then both jackets were sewn together except for a small hole at the back bottom to turn the whole thing right sides out and roll out the edges to top-stitch them down.

Check out those amazing, unique pockets on the jacket! To me, they look like postal DSC_0158-compenvelopes for letters. They were stitched on the jacket before the two fabrics were sewn together into one because I didn’t want the stitching showing on the other jacket side. My pattern shows two make two pockets, one for each side, so I improvised and still made two, just out of both fabrics with one pocket on each opposite side of the jacket fabric. Now, no matter how I wear my jacket there’s one pocket inside and one outside. The side fold ‘envelope flap’ is purely decorative and the entry for both my hand and whatever my pocket will carry goes in from the top.

The jacket is really surprisingly warm, which is exactly what I need for this year’s Easter. This year, Easter is quite chilly still and rather overcast, but the shantung not being breathable together with the plush loftiness of the boucle makes for a jacket that traps in my heat and blocks out any chilly wind. Didn’t see this one good benefit coming but it’s most welcome!

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No changes were made to the design of the pattern, other than for fitting. I did grade up slightly in the dress for my waist and hips, but did not do the same grading for the jacket. I also switched up the construction method so as to make my dress easier to fit, if needed, by making the entire front and the entire back (meaning both skirt and bodice together) so I could sew up the entire side seams as one continuous seam. Many 1950’s patterns have long back bodice torso lengths for my proportions, so I shortened the back bodice by 5/8 inch. This way I avoid the ‘bubbling out’ of the zipper like I have a hump back all because of too much fabric. After making clothes from every era, it really helps to remember to have some foresight and look out for fitting trends I’ve notice with certain decades’ patterns.

My hair is an attempt at an elegant optional 50’s style of wavy bob. It kind of is similar to a 1930’s style, but the 30’s hair had more waves and curls, especially around the face, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra 1956 in the movie High Societywhereas the 50’s had soft waves with either fluff or smoothness for the rest of the (short) hair. The 50’s wasn’t only all pompadour bangs, obnoxiously large victory rolls, gamine crops, and a bouffant. Marilyn Monroe (in the early 50’s, as seen here) and Grace Kelly wore a similar hairstyle (in the 1956 movie “High Society”). If these two ladies can wear their hair like that, it must be alright for an elegant optional 50’s look, even though I kind of did a bum job at imitating. I really wanted to do some sort of fancy top knot or curly/wavy French twist (like in this book re-printed from 1954), but sometimes I can only go with what my hair can do for the day (it has a mind of its own sometimes). Maybe next time I “do” the 50’s…

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Now, if you’ve made it this far in my post…thank you so much! I am quite proud of my outfit which is probably one of the main reasons for being so long-winded, but this project was also quite interesting for me with many special details to share. I hope you like it as much as I do. Do you also like to treat yourself to a new handmade outfit, whether dressed up or down, which makes you feel special? I can’t wait to hear (or see) what you have all made for Easter or spring, too.