Wearing the Colors of the Wind

Of all the Disney princesses, Pocahontas is perhaps the most underestimated and impressive, in my opinion.  She is the real deal, straight out of American history!  Not that an animated children’s movie did the best possible job at transferring a real life impression of her true story.  However, it is still a visually appealing treat and well-crafted interest point from which to find an incentive for reading up on the factual tale of Pocahontas.  She is portrayed as resilient, compassionate, understanding, beautiful in her selflessness, and remarkable in the way her life had a notable impact.  Yet, she is relatable royalty, and quite down-to-earth for a princess, er…daughter of the Chieftain.  For all of this, Pocahontas is coming sooner than later as part of my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.    

As a girl who has grown up with a deep love for getting out into the local wilderness to enjoy the wonders of nature, the 1995 Disney version of Pocahontas is my sister spirit.  I for one certainly know the ‘river is not steady, but always changing’ after exploring the same waterside haunts all my life.  I never know what surprise will be waiting for me each time I go.  The creek never looks the same for each visit.  There is always different animal activity.  Yet, for as much as I relate to, and enjoy the song “Just Around the Riverbend”, this outfit is more inspired by the theme of the movie, “Colors of the Wind”.  My top has a Pocahontas-worthy magical breeze of leaves sweeping across it, complete with a sneaky silhouette of both Flit the hummingbird and Meeko the raccoon.  My skirt is a rich color akin to the natural ‘gold’ of the earth the Native Americans prized so highly – ‘Indian corn’, also known as maize.  My earrings are vintage turquoise cabochons from my own grandmother, a hint towards the necklace Pocahontas wears which was her mother’s.

Yet, because the sequel in 1998 “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” is my favorite over the original, we took our pictures in a winter setting.  As much as I feel ‘at home’ visiting our local waterways, I especially love the hushed, majestic beauty of a wintertime creek.  This way I could wear cozy boots and also take full advantage of the combo of prevalent snow and mud to do some critter tacking!  Being inspired by the ‘post-John Smith’ part of Pocahontas’ tale prompted me to make some related outerwear to go along with this outfit.  This outerwear will be in a follow up post.  Hint – it will be London inspired!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  top – a custom printed Spoonflower polyester crepe de chine; skirt – a golden mustard color slubbed linen-look polyester

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was Simplicity #3626, year 1961.

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long separating ‘sports’ zipper, a waistband sliding hook n’ eye, a vintage metal 7 inch zipper, bias tapes, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces were quick to make – the blouse took me 4 hours and was finished on January 25, 2021.  The skirt was made in 5 hours and done on November 5, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  Both items have cleanly bias bound edges inside.

TOTAL COST:  The Spoonflower fabric was about $20 for one yard (with a sale discount), and the skirt fabric was a remnant cut from a rummage sale – thus practically free.  The long separating zipper for the blouse was a bit of a pricey buy, so my total for this outfit is about $27.

Just like the last time I sewed this same blouse pattern, my Pocahontas set is an outfit composed up of two different one yard cuts of fabric – so economical!  The skirt was easy-to-make.  These one yard pencil skirt patterns from the 50s and 60s always look nice, are so versatile, and are pretty simple to fit.  Yet, the pocket details alone took up most of the sewing time spent.    The blouse was comparatively fail proof as I knew what to tweak this second time around so it would fit me perfectly.  It’s happily comforting to have standby separates to sew, but they are even better when princess inspired!

I steered away from any ethnic references for this “Pandemic Princess” outfit (out of respect for the Native American culture).  Instead I stuck with pure aesthetic reasons.  To me, Disney’s Pocahontas inspired clothes should be earthy in tones and comfy to wear.  Here I have both needs fulfilled with a dash of vintage class through choosing two favorite styles of mid-century era patterns in my stash.  The added fact I was working with one yard cuts of fabric was also a great restriction.  It forced me to hone down my separate pieces into both a wiggle skirt and a simple, cut-on sleeve blouse.  However, I was not forced to scrimp enough to leave out the fantastic skirt pockets – yay!  I also made the most of the top’s border print, too.  When my arms are open, it seems as though I have a wave of wind going across me to send off as a goodwill blessing, just like in the end of the first Pocahontas movie.

There isn’t much I changed, eliminated, or added here – just the almost-unnoticeable small details.  First, I’ll talk about the blouse.  To accommodate the border print for the blouse layout I desired, I had to slash the underarms to make the pattern resemble a “T” shape.  I probably would have done this adaptation anyway, as this pattern needed reach room.  It’s no fun to pull out your tucked-in top just to move your arms up to take care of your hair.  Then, I took out 2 ½ inches vertically across the back to shorten the long waist. 

As I learned the hard way the first time I used this pattern, it has a very generous shoulder room which never works well when there is a center back zipper.  As my last version of this top had a back zipper that reaches only 1/3 of the way down from the neck, I chose to make this top stress-free to be dressed into.  No wiggling and struggling is necessary here because I adapted the back to have a center separating zipper.  Even the neckline finishing was simplified, too, with bias tape used in lieu of proper facings.  The fabric is so sheer that a wide inner facing would’ve been obvious from the right side and distracting from the border print.

The skirt did need some piecing of the pockets for me to keep them in my pencil skirt.  As I was so focused on just trying to squeeze a successful skirt out of leftover material, I half-heartedly ‘forgot’ to make the pockets deeper.  As of now, they are shallow pockets.  I should not complain because pockets of any size are useful and appreciated, but it’s handier to have them to be more akin to mini purses.  Out of a desire to make construction simpler and keep the tapered wiggle line shape to the skirt, I left out the back kick pleat.  The seam is all sewn up.  This doesn’t make the skirt harder to walk or move in – the hips and thighs are roomy enough.  I had to shorten the hem by about 3 inches due to lack of fabric, so the hem is a bit wider than originally intended anyway.  As you can see, it did not prevent me at all from exploring around my favorite creek haunts to capture these pictures.

I must have done this princess outfit right because the wildlife came to me as we were taking some of our pictures.  It’s too bad for picture taking (but good for them) that the wildlife is camouflaged with the environment well enough to not be noticeable behind me.  In the following post, you will more clearly see the one creature which amazingly came up to check me out!  My Pocahontas vibes must have been strong.  “Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth”, so she sang in “Colors of the Wind”.  Spending time outside in appreciation of Mother Nature is priceless. 

“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

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!