The Tradition of the Sari

“The sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver.  He dreamt of a woman – the drape of her tumbling hair; the colors of her many moods; the shimmer of her tears; the softness of her touch.  All of these he wove together. He wove for many yards; he could not stop. When he was done, as the folk tale goes, he sat back and smiled…for he had created a sari.” (Legend copied from here.)

Coming off of the annual celebration of the Partition, which gave India and Pakistan national independence on August 15th, I would like to feature the humble, beautiful, sari of India.  Did you know it has a history more than 5,000 years old!  It’s weaving is mentioned in “Rig-Veda”, one of the oldest surviving literature of the world, written circa 3,000 B.C.  The sari, originally intended for both men and women, is therefore probably one of the longest continuously worn clothing in the history of mankind.  A sari (saree in English) is a rectangular piece of cloth usually 5 yards (for everyday use or ones composed of cotton) to 9 yards (for some of the fanciest silk or embroidered ones).  Their approximate width is about 47 inches.  For one continuous piece of cloth, the fabric and design of the sari is well thought out to accommodate the intricate tradition of wrapping for each region’s heritage so that it becomes a pure work of art…the world’s marvel in clothing design.

The main field of the sari is framed on three side by decorative borders.  Two of these borders run longitudinal sides of the sari, while the third comprises the end of the sari, the wide and highly decorative Pallau – the part which hangs free when worn.  It is more than just a source for many yards of pretty fabric, as is often the outlook of American and Western World clothiers and sewists.  There is so much more to a sari than that – it is a shame to not explore that well of information behind the crafting of a sari and appreciate for how it is truly used and regarded.

The sari needs to be deemed as clothing and not just called fabric.  A sari is pretty much the same as a top, or a dress, or pants which are worn America.  It is an article of clothing.  It has existed for so long, there is a history to it as rich as the indigo color I’m wearing.  It should not be merely called fabric – that is a term for talking about the fiber content of a piece of clothing.  Doing such for a sari is dismissive to its cultural usage and history.  For many cultures and faith traditions, what is worn is considered purer, more perfect, or better pleasing to God to wear something unaltered by a needle and thread.  As a people, we would definitely not have a problem with finding sizes to fit our individual body physique with a sari…one length accommodates all!

Every sari has a rich and beautiful story to tell as unique as the wearer.  How it is put on the body, embellished, and colored has long served as a marker of identity in the Indian subcontinent. The hues of a garment denote not just personal sartorial preference but convey all sorts of social data, ranging from the wearer’s age and marital status to his/her community of origin.  Red is as dynamic as fire, and the symbol of joy, yet it is well known often for its use as a bridal color.  The red bordered sari with the indigo field that you see me in is more of a bridal guest or a very special occasion garment as evidenced by the jacquard weave through the blue and also the heavy goldwork along the edge.  Blue is a special color to India, especially in Hinduism – it is the color of the Diety (“Krishna Blue”) and embodies kindness, bravery, and determination.  The golden ivory field of the other sari sets this one as a sort of “everyday finery” sari, as it still has the red borders.  This one is a much lighter weight sari and slightly shorter in length.  It has the Kashmiri paisley and pomegranates along the pallau (very Northern), while the blue and red sari has its decoration imagery coming from “Bandhani” – the unique, subtle lack of dye in very pre-meditated spaces (trademark western Gujarat).

“Bandhani” is Sanskrit for tie-dye (also known as “Lehriya”).  The word refers to both the finished cloth as well as the practice of an ancient technique – tying the cloth off in very small, dotted, patterns before dipping it in a dye bath.  The decoration is so subtle, an untrained eye could completely miss it, thus making it all the more the marvel.  Rajasthan and Gujarat are famous for these brilliant tie dyes.  The more dots and the smaller they are tied, the more skill of the maker and therefore the display of a higher social status of the wearer, or at least the nicer the occasion for which such would be worn.  The multi coloring method involves working in the lightest shade first, after which the fabric is tied and darker colors introduced.  “Bandhani” saris are associated with festivals, seasons, and rituals for which there are particular patterns and colors.  Northern India – particularly Gujarat – has a few traditions of colors that varies from much of the rest of (central and below) India as well as the visually obvious front pallau hang, right shouldered wrapping.  You’ll also find this region’s clothing to be decorated with mirrors and beads or gold work embroidery.

A sari is often a family heirloom, and when one is gifted upon a special occasion that is really special.  The latter was the case with these two saris I am wearing.  It was just over a year ago we went to Memphis to visit our close family friends of Indian heritage.  My husband has known them for many years (longer than I have!). It has not been since my husband and I were married that he has seen those friends’ parents.  They were born in India around the time of its Independence and immigrated to America with their own family several decades ago.  We as a family finally met with them, and it was a wonderful time!  I also asked a lot of questions and they were so kind enough to teach me so much about the culture and ways of dressing for their home-away-from-home in the District of Kutch.  Before I left their house, I was gifted with some beautiful saris to take with me.  Now, I am honored to be able to wear them with their proper provenance for a truly special occasion of joining in to celebrate India’s long-fought, long-sought Independence.

The one piece I was lacking before now to have a complete traditional Indian sari set was an important base layer – the choli blouse.  Yes – this isn’t completely a non-sewing related post!  I did make something to this set!  The sari top and the underskirt (also called petticoat) are the base layers for which the sari is anchored to and wrapped over.  The underskirt is simple in shape but unrestrictive, and often a useful solid color of a fabric that is comfy and breathable.  Here, my base layer is a RTW long bias cut linen skirt.  The choli blouse is a close fitting cropped top that is structured, lined, and has any shaping or support which the wearer prefers built into it.  Think of it like underwear and your blouse top all-in-one, but highly tailored to your body so it stays in place while making you look really good.  A true authentic Indian choli for special occasions is an engineering work of art to examine, which I tried to imitate with my version.  I found mine very comfortable to wear.  I didn’t want to take it off at the end of the day, and could wear this every day for as good as I felt wearing it!

I started by using a vintage crop top pattern reprint as my starting base – Simplicity #8645, a 1955 reprint from 2018, originally Simplicity #1203.  I went for View D.  As I went along, I added sleeves (drafted of my own pattern), a hem panel to add a bit of length (remember, these are not a belly dancer’s top), and altered the neckline to be more open and interesting, taking my inspiration from Gujarat chaniya choli.  My outer fabric is block printed Indian cotton ordered from Mumbai through the Etsy shop “Fibers to Fabric” and my inner lining fabric is local store bought cotton broadcloth in navy.

There are molded foam bra cups sewn into the wrong side of the lining to add in hidden structure to my choli.  I had to take the size in a little extra to get this top to fit closer than the vintage pattern had planned.  Most choli tops are tied, buttoned, or hook-and-eye closing, primarily down the back, but for my ease of dressing and to stabilize to tight fit I chose a small 5 inch metal separating zipper.  The bottom hem band closes with two hook-and-eyes, still, though.  Once this top is on me, it isn’t going anywhere and it forms me into shape…but that doesn’t mean it’s restricting.  I tried it on again and again in between its construction for a little tweak here, an unpicking there to ensure a custom, perfect fit for myself.  The perfect fit ensures the garment will not be restrictive because it should be a ‘copy’ of your body when something like this has practically zero wearing ease.   If this had been made of a fancier material I might have also added light boning, but the wonderful block print disguises the fact this is just cotton, and so a comfortable everyday choli.  It took a while of searching to find a print like this that matched with both of my saris!

Not to be content with just the handmade choli, I also made my own jewelry set to match my indigo and red sari.  Jewelry is important to the Indian culture and an unashamed display of wealth, keeping one’s security right where you (and others) can see it.  Wearing jewelry also symbolizes wealth, power, and status – the heavier the nuances of these jewelries are, the bigger role they play in the legacy of the family. (Read an excellent article on this subject here.)  Gold is the primary medium.

The jewelry set worn with my ivory and red sari is much more subdued, and was made in India and highlighted in this past Indian-inspired outfit of mine.  However, the blue and gold set worn with my fine indigo and red sari is the self-made jewelry I am talking about.  It is not genuine gold, and not the normal expensive jewelry you would see with an outfit like this yet it adds to the individuality of my outfit and has a personal meaning behind it…all factors which are important when choosing Indian accessories.

I love to wear gemstones and enjoy the symbolism and interesting compounds that compose them.  I’ve been attending local Gem and Mineral society shows since I was 10.  Therefore my unjeweled, round bead necklace I strung of Lapis Lazuli, and my carved rosette dangle earrings are Sodalite, both of them semi-precious dark blue rock-forming minerals used as a decorative gems.  My more decorative necklace was something I bought loose, as a bag of broken glass jewelry, and I reassembled the pieces back into how I thought they would look good as a necklace.  There was just enough supplies to squeeze in a matching bracelet as well (a wrist bangle used to signify a married woman).  The hanging jewels look like bees to me, witch is a sort of emblem for my husband’s side of the family that I have taken to.  My father-in-law had been a beekeeper for many years and our last name’s initial is a ‘B’ so the little honey-makers are a family symbol that we enjoy.

There is so much to learn and share about the Indian culture, so I hope this post was not too overwhelming for those of you to whom this subject is completely new!  Thank you for reading my post.  This is a very special subject to me.  These sari outfits are quite different from what I am used to wearing (and posting here), I’ll admit, but understanding them through the proper cultural respect helps me to do more than just put on certain unusual clothes.  I hope it can open your mind and heart by doing so, as it has done for me.  Caring for others by putting yourself in their shoes is an important perspective to remember to take, even if that journey starts through clothing.

“Winter Soldier” Blue Suit Dress

I despise the cold and hate the season of snow and dead looking trees.  Grey skies and a body not tolerant of bundling up in layers combines to make the fact that we’re at the beginning of what is officially winter now gives me no reason to celebrate.  In my mind I’m like a “winter warrior” that endures through the tough season…wearing my own made garments to make staying warm much more enjoyable than it could be.

This post’s suit dress is from 1955 and to me is the best of me putting up with the past cold season in lovely vintage style.  I love this!  Warm (but not bulky) boucle, slimming design, interesting asymmetric features, and mid-50’s chic fashion.  There’s even a good influence of Agent Carter inspiration, courtesy of Peggy’s Smithsonian interview from the movie “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, to combine for one awesome result, if I do say so myself.  (Watch the whole 3 minute clip here…warning, it’ll make you cry!) My dress may not be as “line for line” a copy as some of my other Agent Carter makes, but it is definitely similar in a way that is clearly recognizable, even if I do only have one lapel!  Life is better with a little bit o’ Peggy in it!

A good Agent Carter dress in 50’s era class deserved an amp up in some quality features.  Perhaps that’s why this dress is the first to have me hand-stitch everything when it came to finishing – the side zipper, all top-stitching, and all hemming.  As one who hates hand work due to achy wrists and a bad neck, this is a truly strong statement to how I feel about this (not just a slight brag) that my “Winter Soldier” dress is the first to have deserved such treatment.  It deserved it, believe me, but all that hand stitching taught me some unexpected but much appreciated lessons on a new outlook to certain aspects of sewing.  More about this down later!

To “top off” my set is one of my favorite vintage hats that I own – a rich navy velvet halo hat, also asymmetric in style, complete with a matching velvet vintage clutch purse.  My gloves are also vintage, so I guess my suede, patent toed heels are the only real modern accessories of my outfit!  This kind of asymmetric halo hat found great popularity for a short period of time (about 1948 to 1953), so my hat is a tad early for the actual date of my pattern (1955).  However, as the “Smithsonian Interview” scene was supposed to be in 1953, it is right on spot in both year and complimentary style, I do believe.

My lipstick is my favorite crimson shade, “Red Velvet” from Besame Cosmetics.  “Red Velvet” goes on so smooth and is intense in pigment.  It often lasts through eating a meal!  Anyway, I’m naturally swayed in favor of “Red Velvet” – it’s the color that the Agent Carter actress Hayley Atwell wears whenever she’s in character, so it is only fitting to pair it with this Captain America outfit.  I love how subtly patriotic and richly cheery it makes my mellow winter blue suit dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an acrylic/poly/rayon blend boucle lined in a crepe-finish polyester

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1353, year 1955

NOTIONS:  I had all the interfacing, thread, and other notions needed (bias tapes, shoulder pads, zipper) in my stash already.  Yay for using what’s on hand for a project that easily comes together!  The buttons are vintage from my Grandmother’s collection.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on February 11, 2017, and took me about 20 or more hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  All cleanly bias bound, as boucle shreds like a maniac otherwise!

TOTAL COST:  The boucle had been in my stash for I don’t even remember how long.  It was one of those good materials that I hold onto until I find a very convincing reason to use it!  My lining was something from my longtime stash, as well, so I’m actually counting this as free!

I’ve never gone wrong knocking-off or copying a Peggy Carter outfit for myself, and this dress only continues the good trend, even though it is from the next decade than we’ve traditionally seen her in.  It is definitely 50’s, but it still has the strong shoulders with waist and hip slimming features that looked so well on her in the 40’s.  In classic Peggy style, my dress is a wonderful combo of appearing impeccably put-together in a garment which is comfortable and practical.  This is a soft, not stiff or even itchy, suit dress in just the right weight to keep me warm yet without being overly toasty indoors.  I have no idea if such an ideal dress exists in RTW (I am highly skeptical there is), so I am extremely thankful to be able to put my sewing capabilities to use to make my own “copy” of a garment worn by my fashion muse, Agent Peggy Carter.

Sewing this dress was a real pleasure.  Sure it had its challenges, especially when it came to getting sharp corners to the collar and adding in the skirt pleats.  The boucle was lofty and nubby making it hard to be so precise with such details.  As tempting as it was to just pin it all down in place and whiz through to tack it down with a machine stitch, I couldn’t stand the thought of a harsh stitching line around the edges standing out against the lovely speckled boucle.  I wanted a finish that would blend in with the boucle invisibly and there was only one way to do it.

Many times I feel an inner unwilling tolerance to the necessity of doing a large amount of hand stitching, most due to my resulting physical discomfort.  This time, I slowed down and took time to give it the detailed work it deserved, coming to a new realization of the power of time lavished and well-spent on a special quality which sets handmade clothes apart in best of ways from RTW.  When a certain hand-made technique would make a particular garment be finished with a quality which would bring it to another level, a handmade garment can receive that treatment whereas a RTW dress made in a sweatshop or factory setting will not…ever.  Bureaucratic time restraints and the frequently penny pinched fast fashion system has too many limitations on the quality of what can be offered in stores.  A home dressmaker’s common constraints are often finding “free time” and availability of easily found or affordable supplies!  As efficient and productive as I am with what I make, I do not like to see what quality I want be sacrificed to time constraints…especially not after this dress.  What I found is that when I relaxed and appreciated my hand sewing like never before, it was not as uncomfortable to my body or as terribly drug out as I had expected.  It’s amazing what a new outlook can do.  I really do believe that quality concerns must be one of the many reasons I sew.  I just hadn’t seen this before I had this dress to give me an example and come face-to-face with it.  Poor quality is one main reasons why store bought clothes so quickly end up thrown or given away, and become uninteresting.  High quality is one of the main reasons why a vintage garment from 50, 70, or more years ago is still existing in such good condition and are such a treasured treat to wear.  I want to learn from time-honored lessons.  Be warned, though – a French seam or a hand-picked zipper and hems can totally “spoil” you in a very worthwhile way!

Speaking of details, other than the aforementioned challenges with the points and corners arising from the nature of the fabric, the rest of my challenges were mainly about fit and the asymmetric front.  You see, asymmetric designs are always an interesting departure from the “norm” because suddenly you don’t have one pattern piece which is laid on a double layer of fabric for an easy, instant result of both right and left sides.  Ever since this 1947 asymmetric dress, I realized the importance of making sure your patterns are all equally facing “right side up” when laying them down on the single layer of fabric, otherwise you don’t end up with a “left” and a “right” piece with the good side of the fabric on the outside.  When you are cutting double fabric layers with one piece you don’t have to think of this detail.

Also, the fit was a bit unexpected on this pattern.  The bodice turned out generous, but the skirt turned out slightly small.  Bringing the seam allowances out and then in at the proper areas helped this matter but even still, this was a weirdly unique fitting fluke for a 50’s pattern.  Oh well, this gave me an opportunity to use some thick 80’s style shoulder pads from my stash so as to fill in the extra fabric to the bodice, pick it up, and square it off.  You’d never have guessed such big shoulder pads were in there, right?  I’m always amazed at how vintage fashions benefit so discreetly from exaggerated shaping!  Shape definition is something this decade of the 50’s was known for being good at – creating and emphasizing the ‘ideal’ hourglass shape.

From the back the dress merely looks like a lovely, tailored, but basic dress.  The sleeves quietly amp up the details – they have darted French cuffs (similar to these on this 30’s blouse I’ve made), cut on-one with the sleeves and merely faced.  Now it’s the front that carries the weight of the intricacies!  It might look like a wrap, but that’s only part of the guise.  The “wrap” is sewn down from the waist to mid-thigh were the skirt releases up into a double pleated opening for fashionable freedom of movement.  The pattern only called for a solo oversized button to ‘hold down’ the collar’s left lapel, but as I had a matching smaller sized button I added it above the waist to help keep the bodice wrap closed a little better and add to the asymmetric appearance.  I will definitely be trying out pulling a small scarf through the collar lapel buttonhole, just like the cover envelope shows, for a whole different visual effect!

My background is meant to lend a professional and city living kind of air to my outfit besides being rather accurate in era.  However, for clarification, my background building is special…just about the last of its kind in the area, an icon in the history of the famous Route 66.  It is an early 50’s office space, a late successor in the style of the infamous Coral Courts Motel, which had been just a block up the street.  Glass block windows and golden bricks with decorative aluminum work began in the 1940 and 1950s as a way to build the bridge between late Art Deco and early Mid-Century architectural styles.

The end of this post brings me to think of a quote from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”  I see he’s described by The Guinness Book of Records as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer’ so his quote may not be the best from a fashion point of view, but technically it’s still every bit as appropriate.  From my point of view, I really don’t see how, if you can sew or knit, why your clothes can’t be every bit as warm AND as fashionable as you would like!  Beat that you cheap store bought dresses that only make me freeze in the winter…or you worthless sweaters that have unravelled on me after a few washes.

What is your favorite winter garment to make or favorite winter fabric to use?  Do you like the dressy luxuriousness of velvet, the loftiness of fleece, cozy comfort of a knit, or the warmth of a classic wool?  Do any of you find yourself infatuated with boucle as I am?  If you haven’t experienced this fabric for yourself, you need to!  Let me know your special way of rocking your winter style!

“Atomic Jacks” 1955 Set of Redingote Jacket and Dress

I’ve sewn it again…here is another look-alike to the fashion of the corrupt character of Whitney Frost on Marvel’s TV show “Agent Carter”, Season Two.  This time I have an outfit to show you of a dress and redingote jacket, inspired from episode 8 “The Edge of Mystery” to be precise.  I am so proud at how this outfit turned out better than I’d imagined it for myself, and it’s so wonderful to wear!  I even found an eerily similar silk scarf and leather-like driving gloves, all vintage, to properly complete my Whitney outfit.

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Both garments are absolutely great, however the dress was a bit overwhelming to make as it had a huge amount of ease on top of generously large fabric-hogging pieces.  The jacket is so amazing I want to convince everyone they need to brace themselves for the challenge of making this pattern – the most lovely design of outwear I could possibly want.

DSC_0860-p-compBe prepared for some dramatic poses, and a disturbing crack down my face opening up a force to be reckoned with…just like the villainess who wears my inspired outfit.  Yeah, it sounds weird to put myself in the shoes (through an outfit) of a megalomaniac with powers from another dimension, but Whitney Frost, like many women, was on a quest for purpose and respect…she just went down the worst path imaginable.

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  The Dress: a Gertie brand 100% cotton sateen, The Jacket: a 100% Kona cotton for the exterior, a basic poly lining for the inside, a buff poly satin for the pocket flaps and belt, and a 100% cotton for the bias binding. 

PATTERNS:  The dress comes from an original 1955 Advance #7095 pattern and the jacket comes from a Vintage Vogue #8875, a re-print of a year 1955 and 1957 pattern (originally V#4771).  The pocket flaps were added on from an original year 1948 pattern, McCall #7354. McCall 7354, yr1948 & Advance 7095, yr 1955-comp

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing that I needed, as well as the dress’ thread, zipper, and packaged bias tape, but the jacket needed thread to be bought and I made my own bias tape.  The buckle is from my stash and it is vintage carved shell.

THE INSIDES:  All nicely finished.  The dress has all bias bound seams and the jacket is fully lined.

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TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both the dress and the jacket were a bit time intensive.  My dress was made in about 10 hours (not counting maybe three hours for cutting and laying out) and done on June 8, 2016.  The jacket was made in about 30 hours (with about 4 hours for cutting and laying out) and finished on July 1, 2016.

TOTAL COST:  The dress took so much fabric (5 something yards) I’m not sure of the total anymore, but I think it is about $25 to $30.  The jacket was less because half of my supplies (the lining, satin, organza, and some thread) were on hand so my total for 4 yards of Kona cotton on sale with one yard of a remnant for bias tape comes to a total of about $23.

Whitney at atomic siteFirst off, I need to vent…this is not a costume, in the particular definition of being something for cosplay, stage, theater, or an out-of-place garment.  It is clothing I want to wear in my modern living (the jacket is something I needed, actually) and was merely inspired by something on television to go the extra mile for a great outfit.  That’s good, right?!  I kept my outfit similar in shape, color tone, and style, but it is according to my own taste and personality because I intend to wear these pieces in my daily life, such as out to dinner, vintage shopping with friends, or to church.  However, I will admit this would be perfect for the next in town cosplay event and it is fun to understand a character by stepping in her shoes, besides feeling like I could be a part of my favorite television show (see the television still at left with Wynn Everett playing Whitney Frost).

To top off the irony of my rant, the Advance pattern envelope actually calls it a “costume dress”…don’t understand why.  This is an original pattern to make what looks like a very normal mid-50’s dress, albeit quite poufy.  I’m assuming the use of ‘costume’ here is meant in the term of “fashion of dress appropriate to a particular occasion or season or a set of garments to put together an outfit.” Honestly, this all confusing grammar particulars.

Of all the weird things I’ve found in pattern envelopes, the Advance pattern had double pieces, as if someone bought two.  Why just double of the bodice, the skirt side panels, and collar pieces?  To further complicate the mystery here, the skirt double pattern pieces were cut in half, like the previous maker intended on cutting those on the fold, and sliced accordingly.  All the pattern pieces are the same size as each other, so why buy another just to cut two pieces in half?!  After all the unnecessary pieces, the pocket top band is missing, and there is one of everything else.  Was somebody making a lining?  Oh the stories these patterns could tell…

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I expected the dress pattern’s fit to be normal or at least semi-generous, but this Advance dress had the most unexplained extra ease of any pattern I’ve made.  It was like a gi-normous fabric monster.  The skirt pattern pieces were so huge, I had to taper off several inches on each side of all of them and they are still incredibly full.  Several inches had been taken out at the bottom hem because it seemed evening length long, and also to help fit everything in.  I had bought 4 yards already and still realized I did not enough for all of the pattern pieces.  To top things off, I miss-cut on one piece and had to frantically search amid town to find the last remnant so I could finish my dress.  As it turned out, I hacked off 6 more inches from the hem to get my dress the length you see and even sewed up the duo of giant pockets (which I didn’t add), so I guess I sort of wasted a bit too much fabric here.  The pattern I had was technically in my size but I did add in 3/8 inch so I could have a little “just-in-case room”, but I ended up taking out a few inches all over any way, distributing it between the panels.  The empire waist down is still kind of generous on me but I can only take so much in before I give up on reaching that “perfect fit”.  What was the deal?! DSC_0857-comp

For all my saying how huge the skirt pieces were, this dress is such a feminine, swishy, perfect-for-twirling outfit made even better with my full ruffled petticoat underneath.  My petticoat does not remotely fill the skirt out though.  The wide, oval, shoulder-to-shoulder neckline does balance out the vertical seamed skirt, compliments the waist, and creates a lovely 50’s silhouette which I think works for me.

The ‘anchor’ of the dress is of course the dramatically subtle collar-like neckline.  It was quite fiddly, time-consuming, and difficult compared to the rest of the dress.  The combination of a curved, interfaced, skinny strap, faced with another piece and attaching to the full dress with four gathered sections, too, was stressful, requiring lots of pins and slow stitching.  The front tabs end at the same place at the neckline, which was also tricky, then flipped under one another

Whitney and Thompson making a deal-croppedWhitney’s dress had a remotely similar neckline collar, except hers was folded over (free hanging) and tied in the center front.  Her dress has quarter sleeves and center bust gathers while mine has is neither, but our dresses do share the same skirt shaping.  Also, her dress was a solid purple in some sort of jacquard (in maybe rayon or silk) while mine is not, but I prefer the printed cotton sateen to stay true to my taste.  Besides, the children’s’ toy jacks that are on my dress are a nod to the Agent that aims to get on Whitney’s “good” side to reach what he wants – Jack Thompson.  Furthermore, my outfit is titled atomic because a faulty A-bomb is the catalyst for the events in “The Edge of Mystery” episode and the reason both Whitney and myself are in an empty, forgotten dirt patch.  Hence, the “Atomic Jacks” title is now explained.

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Advance 8296, cleaned upThis style of dress seemed to be a common design around 1955 especially with the Advance line but also seen through other companies.  For some examples, see Advance 8296 (pic at right) or view Advance 6915, Advance 8047, Butterick 6988, McCall’s 9647, all 1953 to 1956.  I find it funny that so many dresses look alike in a handful of years almost to the point of being boring.  One could buy only one of this style dress and tweak it to copy all the other releases.

Compared to the neckline, the dress from the empire waist down was just single layer DSC_0933a-compfabric and incredibly lightweight, so I unhappily found out it liked to creep up on me and wrinkle in terrible horizontal folds around the natural waistline.  I had to get creative to combat this bad behavior of my dress.  What I ended up doing was sewing down about 8 inches of skinny ¼ inch ribbon to the dress starting at just below the waist to below the waistline, with a long tail of ribbon hanging down tied at the end to a weight of a ¾ inch washer.  I did this in three places down the two front skirt seams and down the center back skirt.  The weights don’t really get in the way of my legs because I keep them over my frilly ruffled petticoat and they are totally removable because they are tied to the ribbon ends.  The weighted ribbons help the waist stay smoother instead of wrinkling up and nicely keeps the dress in place on my shoulders.  This is probably the most unusual fashion fix I’ve come up with but it totally works.

Now, the jacket is an awesome pattern which makes for a silent showstopper.  A redingote jacket is guaranteed to be awesomely special.  The 50’s were the hurrah for the redingote, although you do still see a few in the 60s, too.  Wearing a redingote is the most fashionable way to have a coat on yet still show off your clothes underneath, besides being so complimentary to the waistline.  (More history on the redingote can be found on this ‘Witness 2 Fashion’ post.)

DSC_0771a-compFor this pattern, everything matched together beautifully, the fit is engineered brilliantly, the sizing seems right on, and it is nicely unique.  Yet, it is tiresome to make and quite challenging…there are eight tricky corners in total to make.  (See the pic at right which shows three views of the angled corners, inside and out)  Once I started on the lining I wanted to give up on the jacket and swear I couldn’t sew another one of those funny angle/tight point corners.  I’m not even talking about the wraparound collar, either.  Yet, as I was making this, I could tell I was going to love it, and the promise of a rocking outfit (as well as a very rainy coming weekend) gave me the guts to suck up my distaste and finish the jacket.  I’m so glad I did.

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There are just a few things I did to the pattern to make it slightly easier to sew.  I did not change any of the design (besides shortening the jacket hem by 4 inches).  My ‘tricks’ here merely have to do with construction changes to achieve the same result as compared to what the instructions show.  First of all, I disagree with the need to do so much cutting down of all the curved seam allowances.  I did not see any noticeable restriction to the sleeve curves as they were and I think paring them down might make a high tension spot a bit less stable.  A little snipping maybe but that’s all.  It is still very important, as boring and repetitive as it might be, to stitch and re-enforce all the points and corners you’re supposed to and, yes, you do stitch the stabilization squares over the corners on the right side.  I didn’t disregard these points but I did use sheer organza instead of self-fabric for the re-enforcement squares (much lighter but just as strong).

Furthermore, I did not use any interfacing anywhere, and also left out the extra add-on contrast collar.  The facing for the jacket’s front edge was sewn to the lining’s outer edge to make a one-piece inner coat.  This was then sewn, as one ‘inner’ jacket to the ‘good’ outer jacket, along the front edge, from one hemline, up and around the collar and back down to the hemline.  Now where the jacket facing joins the lining the meeting is much more stable, strong, and smooth…besides saving me a butt-load of hand stitching!  I know this is sort of ‘cheating’ (so I’ve heard), not very time-committed, nor couture, nor vintage correct.  Hey, when sewing is a chore it doesn’t give personal enjoyment, so anything that saves one’s creative sanity is good in my book.  Besides, ready-to-wear has got nothing on this coat!

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Perhaps the best part (besides the awesome pocket flaps) was taking the extra step for self-made bias tape.  I know, I might sound nuts, but making bias tape is incredibly fun – a total mood-lifter for me, especially with my Dritz tool won from my entry to the “Butterick to the Big Screen”.  Once you have made and used your own bias tape, it is quite hard to use bought pre-made bias tape…no kidding, you’re ruined, spoiled.  Self-made bias tape is 110% better especially when it is made to match out of fabric better than the stiff poly-blend available in the stores nowadays.

To make my jacket truly stand well in rainy weather, I sprayed it down with some “Protect-All” fabric and shoe coating.  This doesn’t stiffen the fabric at all, nor does it make the water bead or roll off, it only retards liquid from soaking into the fiber.  A whole can was used to spray my jacket with one generous coat of “Protect-All”.

Dr Wilkes flying into the rift, my look-alike combo

Did you ever have a film star for which you just had to have her wardrobe?  Well, I guess Whitney Frost is that person for me.  However, I believe I am not just making for myself her fashion.  I also try to put my own touch into it to make sure I feel like “me” in it.  Besides, since I do love purple in all its shades, and this is the color Whitney wears most often, I find it hard to resist.  No, but really – I do promise to make garments in other colors for your sake, and more Whitney Frost outfits for my sake!

If you’re interested in learning more about the vintage methods of make-up that were used to “make” Whitney Frost, see this article on ‘World News’ – and don’t forget to click on the full page option through the L.A. Times!  There is also a photo galley for this particular episode of “Agent Carter” (which you can find here) if you’d like to compare our outfits or just take a look!

 

Rich in Jewel Tones…the 1950’s Way!

This outfit of both skirt and blouse is rich in mid-50’s style, deep color, quality fabric, and especially family memories and friendly connections. Would you believe two one yard cuts were all that I needed here? It’s true.

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Nevertheless, with two “Easy-to-Make” patterns I managed to have a hard time and make some “design opportunities” (a fancy phrase for a mistake). Sometimes with the simpler things there’s more room for error. What did go right for me is how the finished outfit turned out. It’s perfect for flaunting my curves through clothes that turn me into a classic retro 50’s hourglass shape!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  For the blouse: a 100% cotton, found in the quilting department in Hancock Fabrics. For the skirt: an extra thick 100% linen100_6054a-comp

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed – thread, a zipper, interfacing, hook-and eyes, and buttons.

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PATTERNS:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was a McCall’s #9901, year 1954.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was not as easy as expected, so it took me about 8 hours to make, and the skirt had maybe 5 hours spent on it. Both projects were completed on September 11, 2015.100_6141a-comp

THE INSIDES:  My blouse’s fabric is such a tight weave cotton and (for a ‘quick’ pattern) I took too much time on it the way it was. Thus, the insides are raw. For the skirt, well…what insides?! This is a pun and rather ironic – I’ll explain lower down in this post.

100_6140-compTOTAL COST:  The linen was on an insanely super discount since it was a one yard remnant, and the blouse fabric was reasonable at one yard, too. In total I suppose my outfit cost me about $7.00.

The blouse’s fabric really looks like something better than just quality cotton. It is such a deep green that, as a one-sided print, the white underside shows bleed through dye marks from the other side. A metallic gold is printed on top of the design to highlight the print and make this fabric appear as a brocade (this isn’t the first imitation brocade I’ve used for a 50’s blouse). However, this cotton is so much softer than any brocade could ever be, yet stiff enough to give a ‘crisp’ appearance, perfect for the pattern. My skirt is a linen, which is already a very nice fabric, but this is a type of linen that I’ve never seen or felt before…very luxurious. Some linens can instantly become wrinkly, feeling very rough to the touch or scratchy and even stiff – not my skirt. As a mundane description, this linen could be a blanket, it’s so plush and pliable but so thick (about 1/8 inch). Having a loose weave helps the linen not seem so overwhelming, though. Together, the two fabrics are in a dressy ensemble making me feel oh-so-put-together. They also are a very comfy set that makes me conscious of some very nice material. It’s like a treat for me to wear.

100_6096-compFor some reason or another, I was a bit off while sewing these two pieces, and so some boo-boos were made. I made the best of the mess-ups, although my mistakes on the skirt could not be recovered. When this happens sometimes, I find it’s best if you just go along with your mistakes, and make the best of them by letting them become part of the design, as if it was something intended.

100_6055a-compAbove in “The Facts”, I mentioned the irony behind trying to explain how the inside of the skirt is finished. Well, there not a straight answer here, which is also directly part of my mistake. Somehow or another what was supposed to be the right side of the skirt became the wrong side, and the wrong side became the right. This might sound like an obvious thing I shouldn’t have missed, and it’s really not like me to do this. Here were some of the sources to my problems. The linen fabric itself has no right or wrong side but has the same finish and appearance on both sides, so the fabric was confusing me. The pattern itself is so simple. It is just like an enormous one yard square, to which you shape by sewing in a quantity of darts along the waistline, so it’s kind of like a wrap skirt. This made it hard to figure out sides, too, not to mention the possibility of my son running around inside with too much energy and my dog stepping on the fabric begging for attention. Cancel any undivided thought process. My mistakes with the fabric and the pattern would not have been a big deal if the vertical button plackets on the right and on the left side were not completely different from one100_6107-comp another – the right side with the buttonholes is half as big as the left side with the buttons. I did not realize my mistakes until all the darts were sewn and the interfacing ironed on – darn! The right still had to close over the left (I knew that much) but now the button placket is off center instead of centered. Oh well, it is now officially an asymmetric button front wrap…this is how I’m satisfying myself with the finished garment.

100_6106-compOfficially, there are no inside seams to the skirt and it is a very nice skirt, so mistake or not, I love it. The color and the weight of the fabric should make this an all-season piece. Happily, I looked at several other 1950’s era blouse projects I have lined up “yet-to-make” and they will all match with my royal blue skirt.

I did line the waistband and the front placket with a heavier weight interfacing than what I conventionally use. This makes the soft linen of the skirt adhere to the stiffer and straight lined look of the 50’s, at least in certain spots. The interfacing also makes my skirt extremely hard to button as do the backer buttons I added for stability. I found this out after the fact. Oh well – the skirt sure feels secure when it’s on me! To top off the whole project, the bottom edge was extremely wonky. Two inch hem here, three-100_6143-compsomething inch hem there – the line was all over the place! To have a straight hem I had to measure down from the waist all the way around and hang the skirt up while I sat the bottom of it hand hemming with a ruler at my side. Sorry if I sound like a ninny, but usually hems are much easier than this. That’s o.k., I was forced to give this skirt a nicely finished invisibly stitched hem finish like it deserved.

100_6105-compNow, the blouse has a wide bateau neckline, classic ‘50’s kimono sleeves, with what the pattern back calls a “pie-cut neckline with modified wing collar.” I’ve never seen a blouse with open lapels called a “pie-cut neckline” but it’s a cute term and I sort of like it because it reminds me of yummy food. The back design made me highly doubtful it would work with a closed end zipper ¾ of the way down the center. Below the hips the fabric is together. I wondered why there is this strange layout. Separating bottom zippers (like on a coat or jacket) were invented already, but maybe they weren’t readily available to the home seamstress or perhaps just too expensive or bulky to be practical. Anyway, the closed bottom to the top isn’t a problem – it just makes it more of a ‘step-in’ garment than something which goes over the head.

100_6109a-compMy main problem with the “easy” blouse was mostly because of a slight fault in my work of down grading the pattern to my smaller size. I figured out how much to take out and where to hack it out, but I didn’t re-slope the shoulders and take off some of the length. Thus, after my blouse was quickly done I realized there was too much room between the shoulders and the waist, creating a bubble sticking out of my back with the zipper. Yuck! So I went to work doing my least favorite thing to do in the sewing sphere…unpicking. I took apart almost all of the tricky facings and all of the zipper, then cut off about 1 ½ inches from the top edge to bring the neckline down. Now I could re-sew those tricky, sharp cornered facings and the zipper back down again for a no longer easy basic blouse. That extra time and effort sadly was really necessary or I wouldn’t like my new top and therefore not wear it – so is life with sewing! Tailoring takes effort but has its reward, too.

100_6116-compThe sources and history to both patterns is part of the “family and friends” goodness to this ensemble. The skirt’s pattern was found at a nearby vintage/antique store, and picked out by me on my birthday as my own present. On the front there is a stamp of “Goldie’s Department Store, Maplewood, Missouri”. Hey, hey, Maplewood isn’t too far from us. So I spoke to some family and did some Google searching about the town to find out a rich, local history to Goldie’s owner and it’s multiple stores in the area. The Maplewood location, burned down in 1966, was at a part of town that I already know and love to visit. My Hubby even remembers going to get his boy scouts uniform at one of the last surviving locations. Neat! This makes it a local pattern which actually stayed in town, and came from a store family members have memories of, just like the one I used for my 1944 dress (post here). The blouse’s pattern was given to me from a close friend of mine who shares many similar interests as myself, among which is sewing.

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Yup, this is me at 3 1/2 years, playing dress-up!

My blue wool hat is the most special part of my outfit. I’m so proud! It is from my Grandmother. This is the same hat I remember when I would go over her house as a little girl and play dress up with my cousins. She would let me put on this very hat, among others too, and now that she has given it to me, I can again wear it for some grown up serious dress up time. Unfortunately, my parents can’t find, but do remember a picture of a mini-me in this wool hat. However, I do have a picture of myself from one of those dress up parties (see at right). I suppose my love of having fun with fashion and enjoying making my own look hasn’t died back one bit since then. Thank you Grandma for those times…and the hat!100_6111a-comp

Our photo location was at a gloriously stern but bright early “Mid-Century Modern” building built during the boom our neighborhood experienced in the 1950’s. I think it lends my outfit a business-like, professional aura. Besides, I love architecture appreciation!

See? Money isn’t necessary to look like a million – just a little talent, a sewing machine, some ideas and creativity…viola! It is so much easier than many realize to personalize one’s style be the master of your own fashion and do it all on the cheap. Look what two one yard cuts of fabric did for me in this post. Do you also love the freedom and enjoyment which comes from sewing your own clothes? Better yet, do you also have a family memory attached to a particular outfit you’ve made?