Mystery Mail Order Split Skirt Jumpsuit

This is my attempt at a compromise between skirts and pants, technically ‘culottes’…with a vintage interpretation.  I’m not exactly sure if this is the best look on me, especially with the mid-length wide bottoms, but I love it despite such misgivings because it is so comfy, different, and a creative use of a border design (if I do say so myself).  This is by no means my first jumpsuit (see my others here and here), only my first faux-dress one!

My title alludes to the mystery vintage pattern I used to make my culottes jumpsuit.  It was one of those many mail order patterns of the modern mid-century, but what was particularly bothering me was I could not date the design.  I estimated that the design was early 60’s (or even late 50’s for a stretch) based on the hairstyle alone.  Then, I shared the pattern on Instagram, and someone apparently knew enough based on the pattern number to date this to circa 1962.  I still don’t know what company or newspaper this particular one came from, and if anyone can tip me off, please, do share!  For now, though at least I know what decade to understand this…but whatever past time it is from, I like my new and unusual jumpsuit!

This is my submission for the “Sew Together for Summer” challenge of 2019, co-hosted by the blogger at “Sew Sarah Smith” with the Instagrammers Suzy at “sewing_in_spain” and Monika at “rocco.sienna”.  This year’s theme is jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms.  This garment certainly falls in this category!  However, one is never enough of a good thing so this is just my first part for the challenge…part two will be a full 50’s playsuit, coming soon since the closing date is June 21!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a lightweight chambray cotton denim with a border embroidery stitched along the selvedge; facing in a lightweight plain cotton

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern no.1495, ca. 1962

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread and bias tape to finish the edges (chambray frays like crazy otherwise), with some interfacing and four waistband style hook-n-eyes

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 10 to 12 hours to make and was finished on May 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  just under $30

Whatever company this pattern was from, I am impressed.  For such a simple, unassuming line drawing and such a basic looking pattern (unprinted tissue, simple instruction sheet) it was sneakily complex.  The entire neckline and shoulder strap was one large and unusual shaped continuous piece that took copious amounts of pins, patience, and expertise to make correctly.  The pleating needed precise marking at the cutting out stage and lots of ironing afterwards.  Happily, I didn’t have to deal with much fitting issues – according to my tissue fit and preliminary measurements, this mystery mail order pattern ran one size smaller than what was listed, and I was correct.  Other than having to adjust this jumpsuit’s slightly long torso, it turned out pretty much perfect for me as it was straight out of the envelope.

Split skirts have interesting construction, especially when they are pleated like this one.  They also make for very large pattern pieces!  The deep pleats that meet at both the center front and back hide the crotch seam and make it look like a skirt.  I figured correctly that it made a better box pleat to sew the center fold-line together from the inside rather than just top-stitching the creases down next to one another, as the pattern instructed.  Depending on how much wear this jumpsuit sees, I might come back later and embroider on some “arrow heads”, the proper (and beautiful) way to stabilize the ending point of a pleat to prevent or stop a hole from forming in the fabric.

I normally hate box pleats in skirt backs because they rarely stay looking nice between sitting and everything life calls for, but a good hot steam of the iron keeps them pretty good.  The box pleating in the back was a lot more challenging than the front, needing much hand stitching, because of the center zipper running through the middle.  You are basically trying to have a fold line end right where the edge of the zipper teeth are!  I made sure to have a bit extra ease in the fit because if something like this fit snugly the back pleats over the zipper would not come together at all and only pull apart.

A border running above a hemline is rather conventional, so my favorite part of this jumpsuit is the way I have the embroidery border wrap around the neckline, too.  It really balances out all the interest at the hemline, in my opinion, and brings just enough attention to what might be lost otherwise – the fabulous strap design which is the closing method.  This jumpsuit has wrap-over-from-the-back straps, pretty much like overalls, that end as wide, cornered tab closings on the front of the bodice.

The pattern called for buttons to close the shoulder tabs, but they are the only thing holding up the 2 something yards of fabric in the skirt.  Thus I opted for two strong sliding hook-and-eyes to close each strap…but with the back zipper I really could have just sewn the front tabs down permanently and not had them workable.  Oh well!  It’s always way cooler to have the tab closings actually work, and at least I know what garment to raid if I ever need some last minute notions for another project.

The open, eyelet-style embroidered border presented several creative challenges.   First off, the dress’ neckline and straps needed a facing to complete the eyelet without making it obvious the openings in the embroidery designs were being filled in.  The only answer to that was to make the facing a similar weight plain white cotton, and interface it in likewise cotton interfacing, as well.  Secondly, after completely hand stitching the entire neckline and shoulder straps and tab closings, I was bracing myself to do more of that to the hem.  However, the hemming was easy once I just figured on following along with what was already there.  Then I was able to use a close zig-zag stitch (much like a loose button hole stitch) on my sewing machine and just follow along with the scalloping of the bottom to the border.  I’m tricky like that!  Hubby shook his head at me like I was cheating out of doing the hem right – but hey…I’ll save myself both time and bodily misery where I legitimately can.

Speaking of misery, in order to give my culotte jumpsuit a ‘test run’, I wore them over to frolic and play in my parents’ backyard (the backdrop for our pictures).  Yup, my new jumpsuit is certainly great for jungle gym climbing, puppy dog chasing, and general child level play!  However, my ‘test run’ (watch it here) sure caused me so much achy arms and tired legs for the next several days afterwards!  I suppose I need more play clothes like this if only to have a reason to exercise while having fun like I did that day.

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A Shapely 1962 Sundress

Out of all the fashions, styles, and decades of clothing which I sew, I can only go for so long before the need to make something from the 1960’s makes itself manifest. I do love making and wearing the 1960’s style, and am always so impressed with the patterns and clothes I make with patterns from that decade. Personally, in those patterns I find the styling lines so interesting to the point of impressive and notice the fit from the 60’s to be either difficult or spot on. This unique sundress is one of the best examples of a 60’s – a superbly complimentary fit combined with an unexpectedly rich floral print. This is by far my favorite make for this years’ summer.

100_5595ab-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, bought from the quilting section of Hancock Fabrics. The cotton print had the label “Eclectic Elements by Tim Holtz – 2014 Bouquet“ on the selvedge. It is a multi-layered, off-inked mix of flowers – roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, and peonies – in soft but strong colors. The straps are a poly/cotton linen-look fabric, leftover from making my 1931 day dress (see post for that here).100_5653a-comp

NOTIONS:  I only bought a pack of piping. The zipper, thread, bias tape, and a hook-and-eye (for the top zipper closure) were all on hand already.

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6261, year 1962, an “Easy-to-Sew” pattern

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on July 8, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours from start to finish.

THE INSIDES:  Inside, almost every exposed seam is a French seam – just how I like them! Seams that aren’t French are the hems, the neckline (because it’s covered by facing), and the long vertical seam with the piping, which is covered with bias tape.

100_5655-compTOTAL COST:  My total for the fabric on sale and one pack of piping is about $15 to $20.

I love the way the floral print could be uber-feminine to the point of being overwhelming, but this is prevented and softened by being blurred slightly and muted in colors, especially with the contrast dusty olive green of the straps and piping. This is fabric caught my eye as a very close similarity to the dress of the left model on the pattern envelope cover drawing. So, I went along with sewing my look-alike and also picked the same contrast, happy to have an opportunity to use up scraps from my “leftovers” stash. When I use scraps from one project and incorporate them into other projects, I feel like I’m intertwining all my creations, giving them a subtle ‘common ground’. Most of the time, I shy away from copying envelope front model pictures or drawings, after seeing how modern patterns have the worst cover examples of any patterns. However, the vintage pattern’s drawing cover can be so cute and appealing, and I get so tickled when I am able to find a modern look-alike fabric for a vintage one. So, I guess I’m guilty of a lapse in creativity by being a ‘cover copy-cat’, but at least I know then that it’s a true vintage design.

100_5617a-compThere are two bodice options to this pattern – a regular “on the fold” cut bodice, in cut one piece with darts, or an asymmetrical, mock-wrap, princess-seamed bodice, cut in two parts. I chose the two part bodice as it is more unique, offered more interesting creative possibilities, and (as I correctly thought) seemed to have more amazing shaping.

100_5611a-compThe construction steps were adapted and varied a bit from the instruction sheet in order to accommodate adding in the piping trim all the way down the front asymmetric side seam. I did the darts first, of course, but then I sewed the bodice pieces to the skirt pieces and left the top edge facing for last. There was a bit of forethought needed to sew the two different top pieces to the skirt sections and not be totally confused. To understand what I mean here, know that both the front and the back skirt bottom to the dress are made of three sections (six sections in total). Thus, I had to sew both the middle and the left skirt pieces together to attach to the left bodice panel, but the skinny right bodice panel was sewn to a single right panel. The back bodice is one piece, sewn to all three of the back skirt sections joined together. The piping was then sewn in with the asymmetric vertical seam connecting the entire (bodice and skirt) left/center front to the entire right front so the side seams could be stitched for a completed main dress body. Besides the construction order being changed so I could add in piping and a slight downgrade in size, nothing major was altered to the design of the dress according to the pattern.

After sewing my 1944 Easter dress together, I felt very confident and excited about working with piping again, but I did improve on my method of sewing it into a seam. For this project, instead of sandwiching the piping in with the seam and sewing everything all at once (as for the Easter dress), I first sewed down the piping to one side of the fabric at the given seam allowance width. This way the piping was in sturdily place and acting like a “curb” to my final seam with other fabric laid on top.

100_5657-compFor a while, I was on the fence as to whether or not to add piping to the top bodice edge. Hubby helped me reason that it would unify the piping down the front, finish off the edge, and make the green contrast standout more. Since the piping happened to luckily be the exact color match with the fabric for my shoulder straps, I might as well use more of it! With the piping added along the bodice edge, I did not iron or sew on any interfacing to the facing. The only drawback with the piping along the top edge is the fact that the chest size is set for the dress now…it’s not forgiving. My arm and chest muscles can’t get any bigger, but for now, the dress fits, and it’s my summer standby go-to outfit this year!

100_5604a-compIt was a bit a challenge when it came to adding in the side zipper, because all the curving and shaping was in the side seams, instead of in main body dress panels. This is a something I see in 50’s and 60’s patterns, whereas in most 1940’s patterns, which also often have multi-paneled skirts to dresses, the shaping is in the panels that are part of the main body of the garment. (See the patterns for my Mock-wrap ’46 dress and Winter Mint ’42 dress, for two examples for panel shaping, versus my ’50 wrap top or “Whiz-wrap” skirt, for two examples of side seam shaping.) The only main body shaping to my ’62 sundress was at the bust. Speaking of seams, I loved to see how the skirt panels coordinated with the darts for the bodice. Even the straps for the shoulder are sewn on at a vertical match with the bodice darts – what irony…beautiful symmetry paired with asymmetry!

100_5654a-compWould you believe the shoulder straps are actually shaped like a half circle? Check out the pattern back.  This is the ingenious way the pattern resolves design of the straps sewn so far over by the armpits. Usually with straps so far apart, they would slip off the shoulders, and that’s really not a problem on this ’62 dress since these straps deceive the eye and curve in towards the neck to stay put. Smart! I would never have guessed, nor did I think it would work myself, until actually wearing the dress as designed. Vintage patterns always have so much depth and interesting design to offer…more than what meets the eye on the envelope drawing!

Near our house was the perfect setting for an era-appropriate backdrop. There is nothing as appealing to me as an architecturally interesting building, especially one as much loved, well known and local as what people of our town know as the old Buder Branch Library building. (See the B.E.L.T blog page for a handful of links about this building.)  For many years it has been home to The Record Exchange store, which sells used vinyl records, cassettes, movies, and audio/visual equipment, so the whole retro-flashback feel is still alive in this amazing building. It was built in 1961, the year before the date of my dress, and I am always in awe of the graceful, standout Mid-Century Modern style of this building. Just like a well-made garment, the old Buder Branch Building is picturesque and beautiful from any and every angle it’s seen from.

In all, what you see in this post is my perfect warm weather fix…the 60’s era, a sundress, comfy cotton, complimentary shaping, and flowers – everything I love about summer! What can you sew to make your favorite season instantly better than ever?

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Me in front of my favorite summer blossom, the “snowball” bush.