My analytical brain likes to focus too much at times on some of the everyday mysteries of life. Do I time travel when I take a 4 hour flight across two time zones in only 2 hours of my life? Am I still dirty after cleaning myself in a shower for the towels to appear soiled so quickly? Does a mirror really reverse an image for it to only cross up our front to back (in what seems to be a left-right reversal) but not up or down? ‘Apparently not’ is the answer for all of these mental queries, but a scientific explanation doesn’t quite solve things for me. So what do I do? I play with at least one of those ideas through fabric.
In this case, I have created an elegant two-piece 1950s outfit that plays on the idea of the reverse image. Jacquard is the perfect medium for such an idea. It has a soft structure, is easy to sew, comfortable to wear, and not as fancy as a brocade or silk (i.e. more wearable for more occasions). Most importantly for my idea, is the fact that either side is the ‘right’ side, more or less a reversible fabric. Is it really a mirror image, though, when the loftiness of the nap is not the same on each side, creating shine in different places and therefore not a true reverse…in appearance only? Ah, I think too much sometimes. Nevertheless, I do love how this outfit turned out, with its play on maximizing the potential of my chosen fabric and making a deluxe combo that echoes everything I adore about the perfection of true vintage clothing. The dress has dark navy, textured leaves against a blue satin background, while my bolero has satin blue leaves against a matte dark navy background. It’s a trick of the eyes.
Speaking of the beauty I admire to past styles, that includes architecture…especially when it is as regal and extravagant as the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California! Hot off of our camera, and the perfect backdrop for my fancy set, are these pictures from my most recent trip to the American west! After I had stayed in Las Vegas for several days, we came to stay at what is described as the “premier luxury hotel destination in Downtown Los Angeles”, the Biltmore hotel. Built in 1923, this immense beaux arts-inspired hotel will be the backdrop in yet another post as well, more appropriately an early 1930s dress. Stay tuned!
FABRIC: a cotton and rayon blend jacquard, with the dress bodice and jacket facing being in navy all-cotton broadcloth, and the bolero lining a basic ivory poly
PATTERN: For the dress: Burda Style #121, a year 1957 pattern reprinted in August 2019; For the cropped jacket: Simplicity #8250, a year 1951 pattern (originally Simplicity #3775) re-issued 2016
NOTIONS: All I needed was a whole lot of thread, some interfacing pieces, one long 22” zipper, two vintage buttons from the notions stash of the Grandparents, mesh seam stabilizer tape, and bias tape…nothing too unusual.
TIME TO COMPLETE: The dress was my last sewing project for 2019. After about 25 hours put into the dress it was finished on Christmas Eve, December 24, just in time to wear to the holiday celebrations. The cropped jacket was made in about 3 or 4 hours and finished on January 2, 2020, as my first project for the new year.
THE INSIDES: The dress bodice is covered by the lining and the rest of the seams are bias bound. The little jacket is fully lined so no seams are to be seen!
TOTAL COST: The jacquard had been found at a local rummage sale for only $2 for the whole 6 yard cut. I only used about 4 yards out of those 6! The cotton contrast and the lining for the jacket were scraps from on hand sitting for years in my stash, so I’ll count them as free, just as the notions. This whole outfit cost me little over $1…how’s that for amazing?!?
This set happened to be my marker for the end of one decade and the beginning of the present one. The dress was my last 2019 sewing project and its jacket the first for 2020 (as I mentioned in “The Facts” above). What a way to show how far I have come! This was a challenging project to make (mostly on account of the dress’ bodice details and the jacket adjustments), and I made it with all the trademark finishing of a well-made garment so I am very proud of myself for this set. I could not have seen myself doing so well on it, even if I did manage to sew something like this, a decade back. Enough of my reminiscing – let’s get down to the useful information.
I found the sizing on both pieces to be slightly off. Vintage reprints and reissues often have such problems, especially so when it comes to Burda Style. The dress, when cut in my ‘normal’ size, had a snug fitting bodice and loose fitting hips and waistline. I had to take the waist and below in dramatically at the side seams. Granted, you want the bodice of this dress, by the very way it is designed with its shelf bust, to fit closely, so I am not complaining that it is a good fit. Luckily, it just fits for me. The short jacket had snug sleeves and shoulders according to several online reviews from others who have tried it out already. My shoulders are athletic, so I went up a whole size larger than what I needed according to the chart (for the entire jacket, not just the sleeves), and I am so happy with my decision. A little crop jacket is the last thing you want to turn out tight fitting, and I wanted to hold onto my extra jacquard and not have to use it to make up for a mistake. Thank goodness for sewing blogs, right?!
For the dress, I did leave out the addition of boned panels to the lining, as the instructions suggest. I felt that a stiff mid-section would have been overkill and becomes obvious under such a soft material. As long as you find a snug body fit as I did, I do not think boning the middle panel is necessary at all. Definitely do heavily interface all of the lining pieces to the bodice instead, as well as the neckline. You will definitely thank me later. Some things you can leave out according to your judgment in sewing, but the shaping and the details, as well as the fit of this dress, demand significant stabilizing. The sole spot I left out interfacing was along the skirt back’s open asymmetric vent slit.
For the jacket, I went ahead and significantly changed up the pattern to revise it back to the way the original pattern portrays it. In the reprint, the jacket fitting more like a shrug – only covering a small portion of the upper body (shoulders and upper arms, not extending past the shoulder blades or covering the bust) and thus little more than a pair of sleeves joined at the back. Not that I don’t like shrugs, but the original pattern cover from 1951 shows the fit and fall of the short jacket to be closer to a true bolero. That is what I felt would match with my dress the best anyway, so I lengthened the jacket by 1 ½ inches, adding that amount horizontally midway between the hem and the bust. This was a tricky re-adjustment because the hem is extremely curvy and the back is longer than the front. The darts needed re-positioning, as did the front neckline curve, but I kept everything basically the same. I feel that it fits me much better than if it was a short little shrug. After all, tailored this way, I can have the option of closing it at the center front! I made a little oriental-style frog using elastic ‘thread’ to achieve a low-key, workable closure.
I also adjusted the dress to bring it up to par with its vintage original. Thank goodness Burda shares the original images because something about the extremely low dip of the neckline had me doubting this reprint’s credibility. The center of the 1957’s sweetheart neckline was much more of a horizontal curve, a higher, more decent décolletage. The reprint has a very angular sweetheart neckline that is closer to a V-cut than anything, and doesn’t look like it supports or holds the bust in at all. I was not a fan of the model garment in that one detail. Thus, I raised the center dip of the neckline by 3 ½ inches (yes, you read correctly!) to bring it up to what I feel is a truer imitation of the vintage original, yet still providing a hint of cleavage, a sexy open neck, true sweetheart curving, and better support for the close fit across the bosom. Many times not letting it all hang out is more of a tasteful appeal than leaving nothing to the imagination.
The dress’ bodice by far took up about ¾ of all the time and effort, but just look at it! It was worth it, in my estimation. I have such a failing for sweetheart necklines, especially one with details like this. The instructions were good, but for something as tricky as this, worded commands are only going to get you so far. There was a lot of experimenting with the pieces, and unpicking a few times, before I finally hit upon what seemed to be right way to accomplish to the goal. Granted, the steps did not make sense at first, but working it through – and under stitching every edge from the inside, even for the armscye – gave me a no-thread-visible, how-did-that-happen, complete pattern awe.
For all its faults, this is a really fantastic design. If you want to advance your sewing skills, try this. If you want a good challenge that will give you something to be so very proud of if you can do it, try this dress. If you want to make something that will stand out from anything you can buy, that will bring you to the level of making your sewing equal to those vintage garments you are in awe over because of their craftsmanship – try this pattern. It gives you a dress that is amazing to wear, after all! I feel like a princess in it!
Except for the outer hem edge to the bolero, everything else to my outfit is hand finished. The jacquard has such a satin finish, any thread showing would be glaringly obvious. The bodice has all of its stitching reserved for the inside so as much as I wanted the easy way to completion, I hand stitched the hemline, skirt back vent, and the long back zipper. I love the precision that installing a hand-picked zipper offers! Even though I did not use an invisible zipper, I am getting so used to hand stitching in the conventional exposed teeth zippers almost invisibly. I’m not meaning to brag, but really not sorry if that’s what I’m doing. Practice really does make perfect, folks. There isn’t anything wrong with being proud of your own personal accomplishments.
My accessories are special in their own way, and a combo of different styles and eras. My necklace is a “Downton Abbey” jewelry piece, in other words a copy of 1910s era style. My gloves are a great true vintage find on my shopping in Burbank area shops of Los Angeles. They have a “handmade in France” label and are probably 1930s. My hair flower is a vintage silk millinery decoration, from the 1940’s, yet another good find on my visit to L.A., this time from fashion district. The very best purchases of my travels were an immediate part of my fanciest outfit for my trip!
I think all of this must come down to the fact that my mind has never ‘grown up’ in the modern conception of the term. I haven’t forgotten how to be curious and ask questions about the world around me, or even enjoy playing dress up just because I can or I want to. Getting out to go on travels helps promote that amazement and interest in life, past and present, too. It also makes sure I don’t get overly used to the daily grind and get out of my comfort zone to see and do new things.
Finally, this most recent trip was extra special because I caught up with a good friend! That friend is the one that helped me decide which side of the jacquard to use for the dress after all, so it was appropriate to bring it on my travels spent with her. Ah, it’s amazing the unlimited possibilities this world has to offer! Let’s make sure to take the time to be creative and open our minds, in whatever way you need, and I’ll keep my mind open. I’ll keep asking those deep questions and searching for their answers, continue to challenge my creative skills, and prioritize time for friends and family.