In the Spirit of the Rani

Even today, women of India grow up with the name of the Rani, a warrior for Independence and queen of Jhansi (circa mid-1800s), as a household celebrity and role model, so I have heard.  Now that her inspiration has transcended the continent of India, thanks to some authentic representation through Hollywood (the likes of which has not been seen before), women of American can now also love the exciting historical story of Laxmi Bai.  “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie, released November of 2019, is purported to be the very first United States movie starring an Indian woman as the main character, besides being produced, written, and directed by the mother-daughter team Swati Bhise and Devika Bhise.

As the manifestation of finding a new personal hero, this vintage mid-60’s style dress is the visible result of me channeling my own inner “Spirit of the Rani” since I first found out about Queen Laxmi Bai a few months back.  This outfit mirrors both the traditional clothes of Maratha province of India, besides imitating the outfits worn by the leading lady in “The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” movie.  Now more than before, I am fully invested in continuing to add to my wardrobe of Indian inspired fashion (see my 1947 Independence Remembrance dress here and my 70’s inspired Sherwani jacket here).

I love the beautifully rich complexity that every Indian inspired outfit offers – a whole new aspect of their culture and history is opened up every time I dig deeper into the traditions of every different region.  I am in awe of the detailing and thought that goes into the practices and the fashions of India every time I sew something related to it.  This dress is not as culturally compelling as my last two Indian inspired garments and the ones I have plans for next, but the feelings behind it are just as strong as for the others…especially with the Rani as my muse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rich-toned cotton print with gold foil accents; the bodice is fully lined in an all-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  Simplicity #5702, year 1964 (Is it just me or does the middle woman in black remind you of Sophia Loren?)

NOTIONS:  All of what I needed was on hand already – zipper, thread, seam tape, bias tape – but the authentic Indian trim which is on my sleeves was ordered from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about13 hours and finished just in time – November 13, 2019 – for us to see the movie on its premiere weekend for United States showings.

THE INSIDES:  all either cleanly bias bound or covered by the bodice lining

TOTAL COST:  The foil-printed cotton fabric is something I have been holding onto since the late 90s or early 2000’s.  It came from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  I always received the best deals from Hancock but after about 20 years in my stash, this fabric is as good as free to me and more than deserves to be seen and worn – finally!  My only cost was the lining cotton and the trim…$15 or less altogether.

The actual design lines to this dress are deceptively simple.  It is basically a standard sheath dress with a few lovely tweaks for a very nice fit.  The neckline is a rounded boatneck, the skirt has a mock-wrap look with its deep-set asymmetric knife pleat, and the full back zipper makes this easy to get on.  It fit great right out of the envelope, after only slightly shortening the rather long bodice.  I left the length long for more elegant air.

I do believe it is the rich-looking, detailed print of the thick cotton I chose (look at all the colors in it!) as well as the proper ethnic accessories which add so much to my dress.  There is no sense making an Indian inspired dress without the proper attributes!  Except for my shoes, which are vintage-style Chelsea Crew brand, my vintage golden belt, and my hair comb, which I made myself, all else was bought from local stores who carry ethnic sourced items.  Although this is a modern merge of Indian traditions, I would be remiss to leave out a dupatta shawl.  This one is woven rayon from India.  My necklace is composed of beads made from recycled sari remnants and my earrings are blue agate beads – both handmade in India.  However, my prized and proper, true ethnic addition is the mirror-work trim sewn down to the sleeve hems of my dress.  This was ordered direct from India out of a shop that specializes in supplying traditional buttons, trims, as well as woven and natural dyed fabrics (Fibers to Fabric on Etsy).

Looking back, Indian inspired fashions had seemed to explode in the global fashion scene in the 1950 era, especially so in the 1960s.  Sewing patterns (particularly ones idealized for border prints) which call for saris as suggested material and saris made into fashions according the mode of the day can be easily found popping up in vintage selling spheres today.  Sadly many such designs lack any sort of traditional approbation.  (See this Pinterest board of mine for some visual examples.)  These are great examples of the many ethnic influences which were prevailing in the Mid-Century Modern times.  I am wondering if the Indian influence of these decades past is due to something else besides a general outward-focused interest or desire for foreign inspiration, perhaps.  Maybe there was a steady influx of immigrants from India sharing their culture in America and elsewhere?  If so, was this maybe because of good visas abroad or because of some homeland political upheavals popping up in the decades following the 1947 Independence?  I have so many unanswered questions.

Either way, my dress follows the norm of such loosely influenced Mid-Century designs, with greater attribution coming from my accessories and idealism of the Rani.  Even the foiled cotton print is something which would have been very popular for the times as well, with fabric pioneers such as Alfred Shaheen bringing such a basic material up to a whole new level of classy with metallic accents and rich, vibrant colors and patterns.  Not everybody knows that old cotton prints in their pristine gloriousness can put contemporary versions to shame.  A cotton dress was by no means plain in the Mid-Century – I mean look at this vibrant Valentine’s Day dress I made of true vintage 50’s cotton!  This dress is only made of a newer version of an old style.  Yet, as I stated above in “The Facts”, the cotton I used for this Indian dress was edging dangerously close to becoming modern vintage in its own right, though – it has been in my stash for the last 20 years!  All the more reason I am so happy with my new dress!

For someone trying to make something from practically most of the last century, finding a pattern that appeals to me from the year 1965 is still a will-o-wisp I cannot capture.  Nevertheless, this year 1964 project is a satisfying close-call.  After all, 1965 designs seem to be either quite plain or a mere repeat of the same styles I see in the years both before and after, such as this Pierre Cardin design, Vogue Paris Original no.1443 from 1965 (also with a pleated, mock-wrap style skirt to the dress).  I’m hoping the right year 1965 pattern will eventually fall into my lap, but in the meantime I’ll secretly be counting this dress as close enough to the middle of the 60’s.  There are other projects with a louder siren call to listen to!

I really did not see or plan for this project in my sewing plans queue, but was an easy make, an opportunity to learn more about my favorite foreign culture, a very good use of some lovely materials (if I do say so myself), and fulfilled my personal ‘need’ to honor the Rani at our viewing of such a wonderful film.  Many critical reviews are scathingly hard on it, but ignore them…the movie was beautiful. I cannot stress how important such historical and ethnic representation like this is to have today.  Besides the inclusiveness this film affords, the historical fact that the Rani – a woman – was the first popular freedom fighter and one of the top icons for Indian nationalists is not something only one country should acclaim. She believed women were just as powerful, smart, and worthwhile as men in a time (1850s) and place when she was fighting every side of societal and cultural norms for those ideals, not to mention standing up for her homeland first in diplomatic relations then in valiant battles to free it from the grip of the East India Company. Please make an effort to see this film for yourself or at least learn about the wonderful life of Rani of Jhansi.

Happily, my Rani inspired dress has prompted some discussions and sharing of my limited knowledge about her to those who happened to compliment me on my outfit the night I wore it out.  Any woman with an independent mind, courageous will, compassionate heart, loving temper, and patriotic fire inside manifested outwardly is the “Spirit of the Rani” today.  Not to be reckoned with lightly, such a woman is a powerful force in the world of today.  When women believe in their worth and capabilities they can do whatever it takes to fulfill their destinies and bring any dream to life. The Rani became more than a heroine, she became an idea.  When someone acts on an idea, anything can happen.  When the men around the Rani did not believe they had a chance of successful rebellion, she set up a formidable women’s corps to fight…which idea was also repeated during WWII with the ‘Rani of Jhansi regiment’ under Lakshmi Sahgal.  Let’s follow the Rani and act on those inspired ideas for the good of ourselves and others!  I started with only a dress, in this case

Remnants, Scraps, and Leftovers, Oh My!

With the refashions and sewing projects which need small cuts that I’ve been doing lately, some deep questions have arisen in head.  Primarily, what constitutes a fabric remnant?  When is a scrap piece of material considered rubbish?  When it is no longer useable?  Who is the judge of that?  How has our estimation of when the leftovers from creating a garment are considered unusable changed over the years and why?  Is figuring out such questions another key to truly sustainable fashion and new creative possibilities?  I have a feeling these questions are not easily answered nor can they be figured out in one blog post, but perhaps this outfit project is a small example to part of the solution.  It is made from two less than one-yard linen remnants and a handful of notion scraps, for an on-point 1960s era set which defies the modern disregard for its ‘waste’.

Only half a yard of 45” width novelty linen fabric was turned into this interesting pop-over crop top.  Just under one yard of linen became the slip dress to complete it.  If a remnant can make a full garment, should we still consider it scrap fabric?  My last post featured yet another half a yard top.  I suppose remnants used to be considered as those tiny pieces that became 1930s era crazy quilts, the stuff that is thrown away at all the sewing rooms, fabric stores, and homes of other seamstresses I know.  I love how the end of the bolt is a gold mine waiting to be dug because they are almost always deeply discounted and do work with more sewing designs than realized.  The 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s were really good at having sewing patterns that boldly advertised they would work for one yard or less.

Having more than a yard to work with is needed for many sewing projects, but it is not automatically a necessary luxury.  Refashioning my unwanted clothes, or taking the time to mend and alter, is on equal par with the indulgence of making just what I want to wear when I make it work with unwanted scraps.  In my mind, it’s because I like to be responsible and caring and appreciative of what I have.  I can turn this outlook into something fun and creative, catering to my individuality, by being the maker of my own fashion.

To continue this handmade, sustainable, and thrifty outfit theme, I would like to also point out that I also made my necklace out of a cheap, assorted bead pack I found on sale recently.  I am freaking infatuated with purple and pink, and lately orange as well, so this whole outfit is like my dream colors…but purple is my hands-down favorite.  Thus this necklace set is my new favorite accessory!  Each of the two necklaces are separate so I can wear the assorted seed bead one with or without the fancier, Czech glass, detailed one for a flexible look.  I brushed up on some beading skills learned back as a teen and had a blast making these necklaces.  I get to wear just what I imagined for a fraction of the cost and much better quality than I could possibly find to buy.  My bracelets and earrings are true vintage.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% Linen all around, so pardon the wrinkles!  The top is from a novelty, multi-color, open weave linen and the solid under dress/slip is a cross-dyed semi-sheer linen is a reddish pink color.

PATTERN:  a true vintage McCall’s #8786, year 1967, for the under dress/slip and a Simplicity #1364 “Jiffy” blouses from the year 1964 (originally Simplicity #5262)

NOTIONS:  Everything for this outfit was scraps from on hand – the thread, bias tape, interfacing, and ribbons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both were made in only about 2 ½ hours each, and were finished on August 15, 2019.  These were definitely easy and quick projects!

THE INSIDES:  As linen frays something awful and that fraying gets scratchy, my top is bias bound while the dress is French seamed.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the top had come from JoAnn, and was only $2.50.  The cross dyed linen slip dress had been purchased for a few dollars as well when Hancock Fabrics had went out of business.  All together, the whole outfit cost me $6 at the most!

This is an awfully good classic, proper set for coming directly from the late 1960s!  The only slight giveaway to its era origins that I can see is in columnar, straight-line silhouette of the slip dress and the boxy shape of the top.  I love how cool and comfortable the set is and how versatile each item is on its own.  The underdress goes well with my modern bias flounced wrap dress, yet I do have some sheer pink floral chiffon in my stash to come back to this pattern and make the matching given overdress.  It is humorous how confused the 1967 pattern seems to be at what exactly to call what it has to offer – is it a camisole top dress, a slip, or just a dress?  The top goes with all sorts of bottoms, but especially my 1980s pink shorts!  These particular linens are such soft, sweat-wicking champions that layering them up like in this outfit is not a problem but rather feels quite good.  You just have to roll with the wrinkles, though!

I did just a few adaptations to the pieces’ to both make them fit and be as easy to go on as they are to wear.  First of all, the slip dress was in junior petite proportions and a too-small-for-me size.  Thus, I had to readjust the bust-waist-hips spacing and grade up at the same time.  Luckily this was a really simple design – one front, one back, a few fish-eye darts for shaping, tiny spaghetti straps, and a wide neckline facing.  I went a bit over and above what I needed in extra inches because I wanted the slip dress to be a closure-free, pop-over-the-head type of thing.  If I was planning on wearing this as both a dress on its own and as a slip, I didn’t want a stinkin’ zipper in the side.  I already have a 1940s and a 1950s slip that both have zippers, so I’ve been there and done that.  This linen was too soft and wonderful to confine into a zipper anyway.

Going along with that aesthetic, I went up a size larger when cutting out the top (and was forced to make it shorter based on the half yard I was working with).  I wanted it to be closure-free and easy, breezy, too.  It’s such a refresher to do without a zipper.  I really don’t mind sewing them in at all and they are a must in the structured garments I love to wear, but it is nice to do without both from a maker’s standpoint and as someone who likes simplistic fashion sometimes.

A few little details were all my two pieces needed to elevate this basic set to a chic, coordinated set.  To tie the slip dress in with the top and also make it look a little less plain, I used two random pieces of leftover ribbon from my stash for decorating along the hem.  They secretly cover up my hem stitching!  The lavender velvet ribbon is true vintage and all cotton, still on its original card, and out of the notions stash I inherited from my Grandmother.  The cranberry sheer ribbon is modern, leftover from this dress project made many years back now.

My top needed something to pull the boxy shape in just a tad, so I stitched a button down at the bottom point of each side seam then made a thread loop three stripes away to pull the hem in.  I love how this ‘fix’ compliments the striped linen by making a lovely V at the side seam point (where the bust’s French dart and my back pleat is pulled in).  This ‘fix’ is nicely non-committal, too.  I can also wear it either way – full boxy or slightly tailored when buttoned in.  The notions I used were two leftover buttons I had cut off my son’s worn-through school pants before they were thrown away.  I’m proud of how I let very little go to waste around here!

“The Frade”, a stash swapping website where you can buy/sell/trade fabric, yarn, sewing projects and all sorts of maker supplies, states the statistic that approximately 15% of fabric is wasted when a garment is cut and made.  I do not know if they were referring to the industry or homemade clothing, but from the layout suggestions I see on modern patterns, for one example, I would personally think that percent would be much higher.  As long as grainlines are followed I see no reason for following a computer program’s suggestion for laying out pattern pieces on fabric compared to ‘playing Tetris’ to find an economical fit for minimal waste.  On average, I find I can make most patterns work with at least a half to ¾ yard less than the suggested amount needed on the envelope chart and end up with about 5% or less leftover.  Of course, all this does not apply to many vintage patterns, especially from the 1940s when they knew how to make the most of what they had on hand.

Sustainable fashion practices when sewing new from scratch might be more of a challenge or test of both patience and skill, but the results are worth it in the end.  Voracious fast fashion is ruining the world we live in and destroying appreciation for quality.  According to this article at the Fast Company, “the average number of times a garment is worn before it stops being used has gone down by 36% over the last 15 years (yay!), and yet many consumers wear their items for less than 10 times.”  This is bad news for efforts to limit waste in the fashion industry (info also quoted here @RightfullySewn)”  because over the last 15 years, clothing production has doubled.  There is a problem.

Whether or not we go through sewing projects just as fast as we might with store bought fast fashion, we sewists have the perfect opportunity to be smart about what we make, just as open to the kind of accountability we want – or should expect – from big business.  We can create with supplies that are either vintage, secondhand, or in our stash, and make items with a quality that we will enjoy for years to come.  We can mend when it is needed, tailor as our body demands, and finally recycle in one of the many modern means when all of those options are not viable.  Please, I beg you, choose natural fibers, anything other than a plastic or chemical based material.  We who sew have the answer to sustainable fashion just by our creative capability, and sustainable fashion absolutely needs to happen.  Might I suggest there is a duty attached to sewing, because ‘with knowledge comes responsibility’ as the saying goes.  Maybe we can kick start that with a change of mentality towards the good old-fashioned regard of remnants.  A good creative challenge never hurt anyone, either.

Bouclé Mid-Century Shift

Achieving the ideal fit for a garment is by far the most difficult process of sewing, but also the technique that completes it.  Every article of clothing, on every human body, has a unique fit, as individual as people themselves, which will make it best serve its purpose and look its best.  Funny thing is, I have found that styles which ride the boundary between loose and baggy or body skimming (such as many 1920s or even 1960s fashions) are actually the trickiest to find such a “sweet spot” of ideal fit.  Take into account that thick but warm fabrics (like my favorite textured bouclé) can become bulky when you sew something with them, making it challenging to achieve a close fit.  There is such a thing as a chic fit that doesn’t fit the body the way we’re used to, though!  Just look to the best designers and the most famous actresses of the 1950s and 60’s to see inspiration for what I am talking about!  This 1964 semi-fitted shift dress that I’ve sewn is a perfect example.

Certain well-known designers were changing the idea of a stylish silhouette for women earlier on, making oversized and non-body fitting garments attractive and fashionable.  Most of what we think of as the 60’s “look” had its beginnings in the decade before.  By the 50’s, Claire McCardell had already crafted her “monastic dress” and Yves Saint Laurent is credited with beginning the classic “trapeze dress” (in Spring/Summer 1958), both of which are generously unfitted than the ‘normal’ garment at the time.  Jacques Fath began the ever popular swing coat fashion in outwear circa 1950 (here’s one pink example) to accommodate both the post-WWII baby boom and full skirted or structured garments which were being released.  Balenciaga was the heavyweight!  He was using sculptural garments that had a shape of their own apart from a perfect body symmetry.  Their beauty is focused on the shape of the garment itself, only hinting at the body of the wearer underneath.  In 1953 he introduced the “balloon jacket”, while in 1957 came the “babydoll dress”, the gracefully draped “cocoon coat”, and the “sack dress”.  He even worked with fabric houses to develop innovative material, like silk gazar, which would be heavy and stiff to lend itself to such stand-away-from-the-body designs.   Pierre Cardin had his fair share of influence in this matter, too – he introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954, and was known for his preference of geometric shaping and ignoring the female form (see this coat of his for one example).

These types of fashions were an alternative to the immaculate, overly shaped (wasp waited) feminine form which was popularized by Dior.  It was seen as the newest chic of the time, and a very modern approach to styling, besides the fact that they were more often couture because of the high talent it took to uniquely shape such designs.  They might seem simple at first glance but these revolutionary creations emerging in the early mid-50’s were paving the way for the next decade.

The model woman drawn on the front cover of my Butterick #3296 pattern bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I think!  Hepburn was one of the model women for the youthful, fashion forward aura which was frequently associated with 50’sand 60’s loosely structured garments.  The coat especially reminds me of her clothes from the movie “Charades”, released the year before in 1963, but I think it’s the hat, too.  I stayed close to this with my interpretation.  This was my chance to accessorize with the only 60’s hat in my collection (and a good one, too – just look at its details), vintage wooden bead necklace, old earrings from my Grandmother, and vintage leather driving gloves.  I do want to make the coat half of my pattern at some point, but for now, a vintage 60’s hot pink pea coat matches quite well with the color, styling, and era of my dress!

After all, hot pink coats seemed to be the ‘thing’ for women’s outerwear in the 10 years between 1956 and 1966 if one looks at advertisements, movies, and designer creations for some examples.  Firstly, there is the March 15, 1956 “International Fashions” edition of Vogue magazine, with Evelyn Tripp on the front cover wearing a rose tweed cocoon coat by Zelinka-Matlick (A).  Then there is a year 1960 pink Balenciaga cocoon jacket suit (B) to be found as well as a Burda Style’s March of 1964 tweed bouclé A-line coat (C).  Ah, let’s not forget that swoon-worthy oversized hot pink coat worn by Audrey Hepburn and made by Givenchy from the 1966 movie “How to Steal a Million” (D).  So – among the many colors that are mixed in to make my dress’ bouclé (grey blue, maroon, black, pink, and a touch of orange), having a dress match with my period 60’s coat is partly why I stayed close to the pink undertones with the color of my lining.  It was also because a soft pink sweetens the dress, keeping it being too glaringly modern.  I love how the pink can be seen peeking out if you look closely inside my wide sleeves or just under the hem of my knee length dress.  Dior himself has said (in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion”) “Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.  It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”  I’m covered because I do have plenty of pink in my closet for every season now!

After all, the pink influence of my dress pays homage to yet another designer which had her own part to play in this kind of fashion, too – Coco Chanel, not mentioned in the above list of influencers.  Pink is one of her signature colors, and is often used with black (both colors are in my bouclé).  Chanel often used bouclé, tweed, and other textured, nubby materials for her suits and shift dresses in the 50’s and 60’s, as well.  However, to be braggingly specific, there is an uncanny resemblance that my own fabric bears to a suit set of hers from the same year of 1964 (see it listed here at the MET museum).  It is claimed that Chanel criticized the boned and uber-cinched waists that Dior was producing, in favor of a looser fitting, but still tailored look that both she and her forward-thinking contemporaries were producing.  Her collection of 1954 (when she re-opened her fashion house) is easily recognizable today – a boxy jacket with an A-line skirt – and still being worn.  Those like her who used more wearing ease with greater structure in their garments of the 50’s had more of an influence on the success of the fashion of the 60’s and beyond.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The visible outside of my dress is a loosely woven, but thick and textural bouclé, in a fiber content of wool, mohair, and acrylic.  The inside is a super soft all cotton in a soft pink color with a pink satin facing.

PATTERN:  Butterick #3296, from the Fall/Winter season of year 1964 (see cover picture above)

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed already, as well as extra bias tape, hem tape, and a large button.  The neckline placket is actually a faux closure permanently sewn into place by this large, vintage, dusty blue, carved shell button, salvaged off of this vintage suit when I refashioned its skirt’s waistband.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 8 hours and finished on December 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Since bouclé is a fraying terror of a mess along its raw edges, and I am allergic to mohair, all seams are either covered by the cotton lining or encased in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was stuff I had bought from Hancock Fabrics when they were going out of business, so it was only about $2 a yard.  With one yard needed of both the bouclé and the cotton (as they were 60” wide), this is a $4 dress, believe it or not!

Making the dress itself was ridiculously simple, and just a tad difficult due to the challenges of working with such a thick and full-bodied material.  I made sure to trim most of my seams allowances and even pulled a secret sewing trick I rarely use – I hammered the seams once they were stitched to make them flat, especially the front fake neck placket.  The tricky part about trimming seam allowances with bouclé is that the fabric unravels easily.  Thus, I kept the small seams together and finished them cleanly by using the bias tape over the edges.  The bias tape finish was especially tricky on the inside curve of the kimono sleeves, but I stretched It has I stitched it down as I kept the seam curved.

The back has the basic “fish-eye” darts to shape the waist, but the front holds the creative options.  There are lovely sun-ray darts coming out of the neckline to shape the chest and upper bust.  These were quite tricky to sew across the grain!  In conjunction with the long French darts to shape the dress below the bust, this dress has elegance down to an understated art.  It’s too bad the few details are not that noticeable with the blended business of my bouclé!  This was (amazingly) a 65 cent pattern.  For having both a coat and dress in one envelope, this still sounds kind of cheaply priced, even for 1964, when Simplicity patterns for one dress design were the same price and Vogue pattern were about $1.00.  Was this an unmarked designer knock-off, I wonder, because it sure does look like something out of the movie “Charades” anyway?

The pattern I had was a size too big for me – but no problem.  To have an easy fix to that, I merely left off the given seam allowance at the sides and shoulders when I cut out the dress.  Kimono sleeves can sometimes hang far too low on my almost petite frame, anyway.  Then I sewed in slightly wider seam allowances in this because it still seemed to fit too generously.  I ended up with a wonderfully loose, comfy, and ‘slightly fitted’ dress (as the envelope says) that is a perfect fit for this design.  I feel this unorthodox but simple way at approaching a pattern merely a few inches too big for me worked very well for this dress, but it probably would not be the best for a body-conscious tailored garment.  Nevertheless, I do love finding shortcuts that don’t compromise quality or fit.  Anything that puts my sewing projects from out of my fabric pile onto my back is most welcome!

My Australian and other southern hemisphere readers should appreciate the fact that this is a cold weather outfit!  (Bouclé lined in cotton is just as warm as wearing a blanket, for your information!) Even though it is finally spring here for where I live, only recently was the anniversary of Audrey Hepburn’s birthday (well it was May 4), and so I felt that this was appropriate to share.

Besides, I like to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut of only one decade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in one era for what vintage one recreates.  It’s just that I know I do enjoy all of them.  Sewing from all the decades of the 21st century also helps give me a good overview of the big picture.  Everything is connected in history – it’s not just static dates and names to remember – and this carries over into the accounting of what people have worn through those same times.  As I presented in this post, the 1950’s set things up for what defined the 60’s.  The minds of today inspire those of tomorrow.

“Remember…” a 1960’s Button-Back Blouse

Here is my lovely but late post of the garment I made for the 1960’s Challenge (week of November 25th). I actually made this on time for the challenge, but, sometimes life gets in the way of sewing and I couldn’t find time to muster my writing skills and add my post. Better late than never, I suppose!

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I really enjoy wearing this blouse much more than I originally expected. I can always tell by the fact it has frequent trips through the wash machine.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: 100% polyester silky print in a psychedelic mix of mostly black and magenta with light blue, white, and green in between ($10 or under); small remnants of cling-free lining (to avoid using static guard at every wearing) in a pastel rose colorSimplicity 5617 cover

NOTIONS: One pack of light blue buttons (50 cents) was all I needed to buy; I already had leftover interfacing, black thread, and also leftover lavender bias tape to use.

PATTERN: Simplicity 5617, year 1964 (paid about $3 at an antique shop for this)

FIRST WORN:  I wanted to show the ladies at the fabric store from which I bought everything for my blouse (Hancock Fabrics) what I did (do you blame me?!) and do a night time photo shoot afterwards.

TIME TO COMPLETE: 8 or 9 hours; finished on November 27, 2012

I bought and then made this pattern within a window of a month or two. Usually it takes me LOTS longer to get to a specific pattern, as I have plenty of patterns, many matched with fabric, and ready to be sewn together. There were four reasons for my promptness: 1) it would be my first true blouse with a collar and buttonholes and the whole bit; 2) it looked super easy with only 3 pieces for the blouse; 3) my mom said she remembered having a blouse with a backwards collar like this when she was my age; and 4) it was perfect for the Challenge! Actually, I had a hard time sticking to just this pattern, since just the week before I had the opportunity to buy 35 patterns, dating from 1955 to 1970, all for a few dollars! Now I can’t wait to make more 60’s styles from my collection.

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Sewing this pattern together was so easy I almost didn’t need the directions. I had read through the part about the back button placket several times, but it still was unclear and rather confusing…at least for me, so rather ignored it and went rogue. My husband has a self-placket shirt (the kind without a separate piece to be sewn where the buttonholes go), and it was easier for me to look at his shirt and just make my back placket exactly similar.

The long, bias bust darts were easier than expected. Even the collar points and collar interfacing came out better than I hoped. It was quite hard to sew the collar to the blouse – the polyester was not ‘stretching’ well and I really had to pull and clip it to fit nicely. Another favorite feature of this blouse is the sleeves. They are loose kimono style and very comfortable for my larger upper arms with the lack of conventional shoulder seams. The bias tape sewn along the sleeve hem (then turned under as per instructions) makes a stiff, round look which compliments the design. It’s a shame you can’t tell any of these details by the envelope picture. The drawings show the jacket on the model, except for an almost worthless tiny right corner shot of the blouse worn on its own.

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Making the buttonholes down the blouse back required a sort of “field trip” to my parents’ house. I needed to use my mom’s Bernina sewing machine because at this time I do not have the ability to do them on the machines I currently have. She has the fancy Swiss-made machine with everything on it and my old Singer only does straight stitch and zig-zag. I think this might have been my first buttonholes made, at least since many years, and…WOW…it was fun! The critic in me wants to say I could’ve somehow done better (such as sewing in cord or better interfacing), but the buttonholes seem strong enough, so, I’m really proud at my new accomplishment.  The buttons aren’t even that hard to close on myself by reaching behind.

When I finished the blouse, I realized the bust was huge…and I mean really big, so that I wondered if it was the wrong size. As a fix, I promptly sewed up the sides a bit, and re-sewed the darts into generous concave darts so as to grab in more from the front.  Two long, back bodice princess darts were also added later.  However, it was still big. The front, under the collar also looked strangely plain and lacking something to me. Bingo! I had a light bulb come on! I thought of a favorite turtleneck on mine, one that is a “ready-to-wear” but it has some lovely gathers, only a few inches long, centered under the front turtleneck. I made only 2 or so inches of horizontal gathers about an inch or so down from the collar, then tacked it in place with bias tape behind (inside) to keep it from coming undone. Doing my gathered neckline fix did wonders for the blouse. The gathers hide the long darts in front, pull in the excess fabric right where it was too big, and totally liven up the look, making it more modern with more interest.

DSC_0472a-comp,wMy post’s title is a reference to one my absolute favorite songs of the 60s decade, “Remember…Walkin’ in the Sand” by the Shangri-Las, released in 1964 on of the top 5 hits for that here (listen to it here). I grew up with this song, hearing my mom sing to it and play her vinyl record of it since I was little. We often had fun with the “Remember…” chorus by adding our own phrases to suit any occasion. Seeing the pictures of my photo shoot outfit does remind me of the Shangri-Las with their “tough girl” reputation and their preference to wear leather pants and vests for performances.

When I found out how popular they were in ’64, I enjoyed reading up on the Shangri-Las. The 2 twins and 2 sisters group had no major moral shocks to relate – just a career with the best music of their era. There is a rather funny story of how they got in trouble with the FBI for ‘transporting guns across states’-supposedly for self-protection while on their tours. They were, after all, only minors of 15, 16, and 17 when their popularity started…and they had problems with a crazy devotee crawling in their hotel window. The two twins died too young, but Mary Weiss (the blond) and her sister have moved on to other successful careers. I would have never imagined Mary doing what she is currently doing – working as a New York architect and self-business owner!

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My leather skirt (no, I didn’t make it) is my favorite match with my blouse.  It is actually a Tommy Hilfiger brand skirt bought at a steal of a price at a thrift shop.  This is something I can’t see myself making, at least this de-luxe with a zippered pocket, lining, and all, and I couldn’t afford it new.  I love the dusty dark blue tone of it…so unique.  However, when I don’t want to raise any eyebrows, a “ready-to-wear” black corduroy skirt with my high heeled boots matched fine, as well.

DSC_0479a-comp,wNight time was a challenging way to take pictures, but fun and completely my idea! This way I can also test out how warm this blouse really is…and it is a good wind chill buster. The non-breathable polyester keeps out the wind (as does the leather skirt, especially) and the high neck is cozy without being suffocatingly confining.  Our first night shots were taken at the local bus terminal, to take advantage of any extra light.

I have just under a yard of my blouse’s fabric leftover still.  I am thinking of making a modern bias cut mini skirt from it, something small and hot.  I also think I have enough fabric to make the hem reach my knees.  This skirt project is going in my “future sewing” pile for now.

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