A new year equals a fresh start, right? That’s not my approach this time around – I am still mentally in last year. Yet, I am always ready to add to advancing my personal ‘glow up’ – even if that starts with spicing up my wardrobe! I don’t know about you, but I definitely could use any version of a glow up going into the New Year after the holiday season. Besides, I want to catch up on posting the projects I didn’t get to share with you in 2022!
The online Dictionary says that Glow up is an informal pop culture term for a positive personal transformation, typically one involving significant changes in appearance and style. I am not one for a major appearance change, and yet already try many different styles since my sewing skills give me wider access to that opportunity. Thus, I usually keep my ‘glow up’ an interior mental or emotional effort. Otherwise, I keep the visual appearance changes about me relegated to my wardrobe’s glow up. How can a piece of clothing receive a glow up, you may wonder? It’s easy! A garment’s glow up can be new buttons, a new hem length for sleeves or pants or a skirt, some extra trimming, or even (my favorite) a dip in a bath of dye for a fresh new color. A little bit of effort put into looking after for what you already own can make a big difference, yet is often nothing more than basic garment care or mending. These are steps that even anyone with the most basic sewing skills can pull off, I believe. No need to make a dent in your wallet or even buy anything new to refresh your wardrobe.
This post’s featured garment is one that definitely had its glow up moment. It started out as some ugly orange rayon knit fabric that I bought very cheaply over 10 years ago and never knew what to do with. It was soft and drapey but never appealing or exuding possibilities for me. Now, I have dyed the material into being a wonderful color as well as sewing it into an interesting dress I am fascinated by. Sadly this project didn’t make an appearance as part of last year’s “Designin’ December” sewing challenge but I had planned on it being a possible candidate for my entry. The vintage pattern I used was a re-issue from Burda Style clearly inspired by a famous designer of the 1950s, which I why this project deserved such an exclusive touch and warmer tone as was given by the custom dye bath. The fabric, the bottle of dye, and the pattern I used were all items which had been sitting in my maker’s stash of supplies for far too long, tormenting me by sitting unused, purposeless, and taking up space. Now I have given all of them a glow up together, in return making me feel absolutely as wonderful as a powerful, confident goddess when wearing this dress. What better way to kick start the New Year off?!
FABRIC: a rayon jersey knit
PATTERN: Burda Style #7254, a vintage reprint from year 2012
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread and interfacing…along with a bottle of RIT liquid dye
TIME TO COMPLETE: This dress was finished in April 2022, and it took over 20 hours to complete (not including the dyeing process) mostly on account of large amount of hand-stitched hems and such details.
THE INSIDES: left raw (does not ravel)
TOTAL COST: I had bought 3 yards of this on sale from “Fashion Fabrics Club” back in circa 2012. –
One of the mysteries to my fabric stash is how I ever ended up with so much bright orange. I like the color but not this much of it, and the few pieces I already have (here and here) in that tone are enough. As has been seen in this past post (here) where I over-dyed some bright orange linen dark brown, I have been slowly, systematically working on turning these orange fabrics into something I would wear. This time though, I didn’t necessarily want a darker color, or a whole new color, just a change of tone…which would be perhaps my trickiest dye job yet. My husband helped me make sense of what color may work, and an internet chat forum had a few ideas, but ultimately the fact that I had a bottle of RIT “Wine” color liquid dye was the deciding factor. I needed to use the RIT “Wine” to dye a shirt (and socks) for my son’s school event and thus throwing in the orange fabric at the same time was a convenient reason to cut through my fear and just go try this experiment.
As you can see, it worked out! The neon orange rayon knit for my dress was changed to a warm, rust toned pumpkin color. Everywhere there was more stretch in the material, the color dyed darker, almost like a grey, so that the overall fabric ends up looking heather flecked. My son’s shirt was originally white (and mostly cotton) in content but turned into a purple hued burgundy that faded after one wash. How hilarious is the contrast of this situation? Both items were cooking in the same pot of the same color dye and look at how differently they ended up looking!
This just goes to show you that you never really know for sure what you will get when you dye and need to be open to a surprise when you do. This statement is especially true when dyeing over an existing color, as I discussed in greater length here (in this post). I love how dyeing gives me a one-of-a-kind color and novel touch to my handmade clothes as well as teaching me more about the nuances of the process. Orange does not seem to be an overall well-liked color by many so perhaps my experiment can give others the idea that they can use dye to personalize fabric colors into something else which would be better appreciated. I yet want to dip more of my orange fabric in a purple bath or even a bright green batch of dye and see if a lighter tone of brown happens!
The pattern itself felt experimental, too, with all the amazing details added to the front of the dress. There is a lot going on to see that somehow works together. Unfortunately, this is one of those ubiquitous “coffin dresses” where it is a full party in the front and completely basic in the back. The back has two ‘fish-eye’ darts for shaping and mine has a back seam in place of a center zipper. (Who needs a closure when the fabric has stretch?) This design is summarized by the pattern as a “Formal tea-gown for the lady with style and class. It has a figure-enhancing line with carée-neck (square neckline) and many tiny pleats along the front facing.” That sounds deluxe, right?! I suspect it may be even more high-end than that summary gives away. Let me explain.
For many years I have followed Jessica at “No Accounting for Taste” blog because of her well-respected knowledge on the history of fashion designer’s biographies. I also following her social media page, and there I happened to see a year 1957 Dorothy O’Hara dress advertisement she posted back in 2017.
That image’s dress struck me as an almost carbon copy of Burda no.7254 pattern from my stash. Yes, I have a photographic memory for certain things! Then, I recently happened to find an actual dress to compare the 1957 Dorothy O’Hara advertisement – this discovery really helped me compare details with my Burda pattern! Turns out that the Burda design is ever so slightly different in ways that few would notice at close inspection but it is so remarkably similar in all ways I am convinced that I have found a designer pattern sporting as a normal pattern. I am convinced that Burda Style, back in 1957, was just doing a designer knock off with no attribution to their inspiration. This has to be a Dorothy O’Hara dress, just one without the designer’s official okay to reproduce. To have a German pattern company imitating American Designer style versus Paris’ fashions says a lot about how Hollywood’s influence had become worldwide by the mid-1950s.
When I say Hollywood influence, it because Dorothy O’Hara was not only a native Californian but touted to be the only movie designer (she worked for Paramount motion Pictures starting in 1943) who also produced her designs to be sold to the general public through high end department stores. Dorothy O’Hara was also a dress manufacturer as well, through her husband. She had a niche when it came to everything she had to offer for the shopper off the street, the movie costumer, and the garment producer all combined. Her true talent however was making longer length dresses that were elegant enough to go from afternoon to evening. Dorothy O’Hara designed her dresses for women to feel elegantly sultry in a way that also pleases the masculine gaze. Jessica at “No Accounting for Taste” says the phrase for her creations was “She (O’Hara) made women look nice, and men look twice”. Go see Jessica’s blog post (here) and read up on O’Hara’s biography – it is much more thorough and insightful than anything I could offer here in this post.
I find the clip Jessica shares from the LA Times of July 9, 1954 to be most interesting the way it perfectly sums up this post’s dress design. “(Dorothy O’Hara’s) distinctive signature, the “all-in-one-piece” drapery, literally wraps the body in fabric and her ingenuity makes the most of a woman’s figure. Working with the grain of the fabric and molding it to give depth to the bust and minimize the waistline, the “poured-into” style is nevertheless a step-in dress in every case. The woman can slip easily into her clothes after hairdo and makeup.” All this is very true, especially since my pattern is sewn with a knit as the Burda pattern instructs! However, I cannot help but think my dress has a reference to Charles James, another American designer. What I see reminds me of James’ “La Sirène” dress, popularly known as “the lobster dress”, of which he made many sleeved and sleeveless versions in many colors between 1939 and 1957. The “La Sirène” dress also has horizontal tucks down the center front and a definite wiggle shape with the snug fit and tapered hemline. I like my dress better than the designer ones, though!
This dress probably looks intimidating to make yet isn’t as bad as it may appear once you dive into it. The pattern came together much easier than anticipated. It is pretty upfront with its design lines, but that makes it nonetheless tricky with such an interesting shaped middle panel and all the tucks. Down the center front, the Burda pattern has 16 individual tucks (the summary calls them pleats) on each side. Each sleeve has another 5 tucks for a grand total of 42 tucks overall over the entire dress! In comparison, the original Dorothy O’Hara dress from either the ad or the original I saw for sale had a count of just two more darts than the Burda dress’ overall count, further proving my point that this must be a designer knock-off. However, most of Dorothy’s dresses were constructed with crepe, a non-stretchy woven, while the pattern I used called for a knit, so I am wondering if this was just a Burda modernization attempt. I must say that being precise with making the tucks was quite challenging when done with a knit! I am tempted to size up and try this dress again in a crepe as O’Hara would have used, except I want to choose a print for this second version.
I did not change a thing to the dress design besides adding some extra inches to the hem, making it slightly longer than many of O’Hara’s ‘cocktail’ dresses. My dress is at what was called an “intermission” length. This puts it firmly in the “wiggle dress” category because the longer the length the smaller the circumference of the hem when you continue the side seam lines.
I found it was very important to follow the instructions and stabilize the entire center front panel. As this piece goes between the pleats as well as encircles the neckline and shoulders, it really used up a lot of interfacing that took time to iron on. My efforts were worth it because that panel is the only thing there to stabilize the entire details and keep the dress from drooping and growing on me since the rest of the dress is a knit. As the fabric is so shifty and delicate, I stitched all hems (for both sleeves and skirt), as well as the inside facing panel down the front, entirely by hand. My dress would have been whipped together in no time if I hadn’t done the hand work, but my dress just needed the extra TLC, I felt. The lack of any visible thread elevates the dress to its designer roots and keeps me satisfied by a sewing job well done.
After all the praise I have heaped upon this project, I must say I really do not like the fabric at the same time that I love it. Normally anything rayon is a winner in my book but a rayon knit has plenty of downsides that I need to list. Firstly, it is a nightmare all its own to sew…enough to put me off from it completely. I however am saying this after having used it way too many times already, but that is only because I am trying to use up my stash. I have learned from this modern Burda dress (posted here, also a rayon knit) that this fabric is awfully delicate to wear and snags easily. The fabric acquires holes in it from sewing even with a ball point needle, making unpicking a seam as impossibly obvious as sewing in leather. The fabric is almost akin to pantyhose or fine stockings that can easily acquire holes in it if you are not careful of running into sharp everyday hazards like a rough spot on a wood table, snagged fingernail, metal fence, or sharp branch. Believe me – I know all this about rayon jersey knit by sad experience.
After all that I said above, I do love many features of this fabric, too. My favorite is the way it is as cool to the touch it is to wear, much like a vintage cold rayon. It is great at adjusting to accommodate your body temperature, acting almost like a silk – lightweight for summer but a great layer in the winter. It has a really heavy drape on its own when you pick up rayon knit as a mere cut of fabric, yet once it is sewn into being a garment it feels like you have nothing on…scandalously comfortable! It drapes around your body in the most glamorous way, but also flows like a silky satin and has such a fabulous stretch. I am forever on the fence about Rayon knit – I hate it when I sew with it but love it when I wear it. Just so long as I can add beauty to this tricky and difficult fabric…give it its ‘glow up’…then my time invested is made worthwhile. This dress is by far my favorite use of rayon jersey, yet!
To add to my general ‘glow up’ outfit theme, I brought out the really high-end vintage heels from my wardrobe. These are Salvatore Ferragamo brand leather T-strap shoes dating to the 1970s. They easily passing as older vintage because of their classic, well-made style. These are in great condition and thus still very wearable – not stiff or delicate, although I do only save them for special occasions. I love the fine details, such as branded buckles, and the rare material of the snakeskin contrast. I am not one just about looks when it comes to my shoes, so they are also incredibly comfortable. These Ferragamo heels might be the top tier of footwear in my closet, and I love what they add to this outfit and how fabulous they make me feel.
How will your glow up take its form this year? In what way will you invest in yourself? Will it be directly through some physical, emotional, or mental improvement or perhaps indirectly through your wardrobe, household setting, or social life? I will try to include a little of all of this, perhaps, spread out over the course of the year. The easiest approach for is for me to start that glow up by reconsidering the intentions with which I wear, make, and take care of my clothes. This is a pretty accessible and worthwhile take on a glow up for anyone and everyone since what we wear can be a powerful mood enhancer, means of expression, and armor that suits us up for the opportunities of the day. Whatever you make of this coming year, let me wish you a happy and healthy 2023!