Little Letterman

A little bit of necessary and unselfish sewing which had been finished in time for the arrival of cold weather is my new pride and joy.  After all, it is worn by my little pride and joy!  The fall and winter holidays are all about family and appreciating those in our lives, after all!  My son needed a warm yet dapper winter coat and I more than stepped up to the challenge.  By using a vintage pattern with scraps leftover from other projects, I came up with a no-cost classy children’s coat unlike what any store has to offer with all the benefits of vintage and the longevity of brand new.  When a utilitarian garment like a coat can be as much as a fashion piece as a great shirt or a nice pair of pants, then outerwear is no longer an unwelcome covering merely necessary due to the weather.

It rather alarms me how successful my project was because of how grown-up this new jacket makes him seem.  Being that I see him on a daily basis, it takes something out-of-the-ordinary on him in a photograph for me to see our son in a different light.  I think kids’ clothes are way too casual in general today – kids are underestimated.  Dressing nicely in no way hinders them…rather the opposite. Children can be so cute all polished up and put together in something nice and halfway grown up.  It’s a good practice to get them in the habit of doing so every now and then, anyway, it gets them in a good frame of mind.  Sadly though, it is hard to find them dapper and somewhat fancy clothes in the ‘normal’ RTW circles.

Children’s clothes lacking attitude, lettering, and brand logos are hard to find today; however, letters were popular in vintage kids and teens clothing too (30’s to 60’s, peaking in the 50’s), with a different purpose.  Back then it was all about school pride, name initials, and occasionally movie stars like Roy Rogers (for one example).  Most of this lettering went on outerwear, like the well-known Letterman jackets and sweaters.  This particular jacket I made is very much a combo of the youthful Letterman style mixed with the more grown up Gabardine style.  A men’s Gabardine jacket is about hip length with little to no shaping at the hem (straight cut), regular set-in sleeves, and a collar (normally).  It was popular in the 1940s.  A letterman jacket for the youthful crowd often had two-tone colors going on with the sleeves – frequently raglan style – being a different color than the body, a banded bottom and collar.  Both styles have front welt pockets.  The pattern I used is a quaint “Father and Son” mini-me design after all, so I love the way the adult and the child features combine to make my son look like the little man that he is!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the plaid is a rayon suiting, the forest green accents are a vintage cotton corduroy from my paternal Grandmother, and lining is a combo of fleece quilted to a poly lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7744, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I only used what was on hand – thread, interfacing scraps, leftover fabric, and even a zipper which was cut off an old RTW sweater of his which has been long ago been thrown away after he wore out.  I even had the snap system leftover from doing the placket on this dress of mine!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  After 30 plus intense hours over the course of just over a week, the jacket was finished on November 4, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Full lining means “What raw edges?!”

TOTAL COST:  Nothing, zero, zilch is pretty much the full cost.  Leftover materials from several other projects plus using material given as a gift for the other half of it means this coat of his is as good as free!  How’s that for a homemaker’s dream!

What I particularly love about this project is that because I am using up remnants for it, besides emptying my stash, my son and I end up matching each other just a bit.  Let’s fluff off the “Father-Son” look the pattern advertises and give a big ‘yay’ for a not so commonly seen “Mother-Son” pairing!  My 1945 Glen Plaid me-made skirt suit set left just enough leftover – one yard – to be more than just a scrap.  At first I was thinking of using it for a purse, but rayon suiting it too nice for just an accessory I probably won’t use all too often.  Great fabrics need to be seen, worn, and enjoyed!  By chance I asked my son if he liked it – he sometimes likes to “pet” my softest fabrics and his opinion is normally quite thoughtful and interesting.  His positive enthusiasm lined it up for something for him.  A winter dress coat was the next big thing he needed, and one yard was just so close of a cut for my chosen pattern so it seemed like those two were meant to be together.  It is not too obvious of a mini-me look (compared to my suit) for him to mind but it is still enough of a pairing that I am thrilled!

It also continues his mommy-made wardrobe sort of like a theme.  If you look at the 1940s overalls I made him a few years back and his recent 1960s house coat, leftovers from both projects are in this coat – one seen and the other unseen.  The forest green corduroy for the jacket’s sleeves and trimmings are leftovers from the overalls, which is already leftover from my Grandma’s stash.  She used this corduroy to make things for my dad and his siblings when they were little so I feel all choked up over how special it is for me to carry on the tradition.  The puffy lining to the inside of the jacket was made possible by the leftover “lily pad” fleece of his house coat.  I mock-quilted it to the poly lining in angled lines that meet at the back center for a bit of a decorative touch to something very practically meant to merely keep our son warm and toasty.

It’s the details that make a garment standout and stand the test of time, just like all the vintage items that are loved by so many or like the high fashion items crafted by design houses for superstars and runway shows.  There is something to the love for the beauty of sewing – or the love for the recipient, too – manifesting itself in the excess time which goes into fine details.  Such details make creating in the first place have a bit more easily visible worth, sort of like a proof of time well spent, remotely tangible for those open to appreciating them.

Such reasoning is why I spared no amount of effort in my zeal for a fantastic, professionally finished coat.  My first mission in this goal was to make the best welt pockets I have done yet.  I normally am not adverse and stressed out by a sewing technique as I am with creating welt pockets, even though I know how to do them.  The pressure was especially hard because of several irreversible steps before the pocket needs to be created and if I messed up, well…the coat would be no more.  However, I happily feel that I succeeded in not ruining my project, but still failed in making the best welt openings ever.  I am just overly critical on my own work, so to every other eye they are great welt pockets.  Working with tiny and precise seams in corduroy is not by far an easy thing.

That fact also applies to setting snaps though corduroy.  I had to make several “test run” tabs, complete with interfacing to mimic the thickness, and we failed with a few settings before we both realized we were running short of snaps and rather finding the right pressure to use on the press mechanism.  These sort of things – much like welt pockets – get to a point where you just have to take a deep breath and just go for it!  We made one ‘male’ snap on the hem tab itself and two ‘female’ snaps on the coat to give the option of pulling it in…or not, if wanted.  Having options to one’s clothes is lovely!

We did not want to push our good luck with the snap settings, and I wanted something lower key, so I stitched down large, black, easy-to-handle snaps at the sleeve cuffs and neck closing.  As much as this was mostly my idea, and my creation, I was thinking of him throughout the process.  I made sure the large snaps were something he could handle all by himself.  I made the front pockets bigger (they reach all the way to the front zipper and end at the bottom hemline) because I know all the things he likes to stash in his coats.   The front zipper is recycled off of an older garment he wore out and grew out of so I knew it worked for him.  Even the choice of green corduroy was really his choice – he could have chosen navy blue or burgundy cords, too.  I did think ahead and made the sleeves just a few a few inches longer in the hopes of this jacket lasting an extra winter.  The way he eats more food than us, though, and grows like a weed that thought is just a hope, perhaps.

Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the pretty fall backdrop for these photos is his school’s front entrance street-view grounds.  This was soon after he went back into a new year of school and after class picture time.  Sometimes, those school pictures are not always the best so we had a good excuse to take good shots of the jacket – going out and try to capture the real side of him in a much more ascetically pleasing look than a uniform.

For a jacket that resembles the symbol of the elite in a school, he really is nothing stuffy no matter how nice he may look.  He is just an eager, individualistic little man who is still trying to get the hang of finding the words for everything he has to say (it’s a LOT lemme tell you!) and the letters that form such.  Thus, he has no logo inscriptions.  I appreciate the fact he does seem to be forming another sphere of his life at the same time – a rather dapper, fun style for himself in his non-school-uniform clothes.  Sometimes we have to remind him on weekends to reach for the printed tees in his closet and not his plaid dress shirts!  If I can encourage and help him along in this sphere (especially since, for the moment, he likes my taste and I enjoy his), than my sewing is very worthwhile to be such a means of expression for one of the most important people in my life.  Never underrate the power of a boy and his mother.

A “Mini-Me” Vintage Lounging Jacket

“Like father like son…” is a cliché that absolutely applies more often than not to my husband and our son.  So…one grown up vintage smoking jacket (previous post) deserved a half-pint version, too!  I kept with the family ties and made my son a fleece housecoat, or lounging jacket, using a vintage 60’s pattern that my husband’s mom had used to sew something for him when he was little.

Kiddie catered, this has a frog theme of my son’s choosing, with a printed fleece that reminded him of lily pads (they do see things differently and more creatively), with cute frog face buttons.  Anytime he is slightly chilly in the pajama time of the evenings or after his bath, this fleece housecoat is the perfect thing for him.  It was his Easter morning garb to rush outside from bed and look for eggs in the backyard!  He looks so grown up in this and it makes him so cuddly cozy to hug!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  fleece

PATTERN:  Simplicity #7407, year 1968

NOTIONS:  I used of some ribbon from my stash (leftover from the suspender straps to his 2017 Halloween costume) and he picked out the buttons on clearance at JoAnn

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The way I made it kept it fast and easy.  It was finished in October 2017 and it took about 6 to 8 hours to make.

TOTAL COST:  As with my presents, I don’t really count the cost, but I only needed just over one yard of clearance fleece so my total wasn’t much at all!

I made my son’s housecoat pretty much the same way as I had made mine own (posted here).  Fleece does need any edge finishing, which is so weird to me as I always sew with material which does fray where cut, so just like my housecoat I merely sewed ribbon along the edges for both decorative and stabilizing purposes.  I love the contrast ribbon edging gives.  It is just enough of a pop of color and keeps the fleece edge from rolling.

Of course no house robe is complete without a pocket (he loves to stash tissues, by the way!) so I gave a nice big oversized pocket.  I really don’t see how two pockets work when house coats wrap over almost asymmetrically, but the patterns almost always call for two.  The wrap edge would meet along the edge of the second pocket (if I would add it) and that seems weird to me.  Anyone know what’s up with the two pocket wrap-on house coat problem?

This was pretty much his exact size.  I just added a little more length in the sleeves to make sure and account for his growing like a weed!  The only thing I really changed was to leave out the waist tie.  Kids don’t need fussy clothes.  I just sewed down more of the ribbon around the waist to bring it in, anchoring it down with the buttonhole.

My son may not be as dapper as his dad is in his smoking jacket, but this one is perfect.  My son might look a bit serious in his photos but believe me he is hiding his giggles as well as the teeth he has lost.  I make sure not to forget to be fair with my sewing and make time to create for my family – they deserve nice things, too!  I know in my experience that home-time garments might not provide that fantastic of a post but they are the most worn and loved.

The “Ivory Explorer” Dress

A trip to ancient Egypt with or without James Bond calls for the right dress, wouldn’t you say?  Even if I’m only dreaming, and even if I never really leave town, my newly made “Bond Girl” dress is still a wonderfully chic way to channel the “safari” fashion of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Following the lines of my inspiration – Barbara Bach from the 1977 film “The Spy Who Loved Me” – my dress pattern was adapted to be more ‘explorer’ oriented while still keeping a pocket-free, clean silhouette to be suited for a warm weather environments other than the land of the Sahara.

The perfect vintage accessories were on hand to make my outfit so very “Bond Girl” matching.  The imitation alligator leather briefcase is vintage from my mom, circa late 60’s early to mid-70’s when she was beginning her professional career.  I love how it compliments my outfit in so many ways, especially in era appropriateness, besides being similar to what was used in the movie.  It really was my purse for the evening, not just a prop, and the nicely divided pockets inside made it very handy!  The earrings and necklace are also 60s or 70s era, from my Grandmother.  My shoes are my longtime standby comfortable wedge heels, Sam & Libby brand, although much more restrained than Barbara Bach’s high heeled Mary Janes.  Not everything is carbon copy to the movie – my buttons are a bit darker and I did wear my hair in an ultra-high, fluffy ponytail just like it was drawn on the pattern envelope cover!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% linen – soft, slubbed, off-white, and near handkerchief weight – for the main body of the dress and 100% cotton sateen in a rich ivory color for the belt, collar, and front buttoning placket.

PATTERN:  McCall’s #9585, year 1968

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, some interfacing remnants, and a card of vintage wooden buttons from my Grandmother’s stash were all that I needed, and were all on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a two evening dress project – very fast and easy, even with my changes!  I spent maybe 5 or 6 hours in total, divided between two evenings.  It was finished literally as I was getting ready to go out wearing it – October 6, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  So nice!  French seams with the rest covered by the collar and button placket.

TOTAL COST:  My dress’ two fabrics were bought at JoAnn’s a few months back for under $30 (as best I remember).  However, I did not use all of each, I have 2/3 yard of linen left and 1/3 of sateen, both of which will go to other projects.  Thus my total price for this dress should be about $20 or less.  Since when can a woman have a linen dress of this quality and design for such a price?!  Awesome stuff happens when you can sew…

Afar from the dusty regions of the world, the safari style mostly finds its place in the grimy urban jungle.  Hollywood’s choice of subject matter of the times helped popularize this style idealism – Born Free of 1966, The Extraordinary Seaman of 1969, Mississippi Mermaid of 1969, and Hatari of 1962 to name a few examples.  Catherine Deneuve and Faye Dunaway became the poster girls for the style.  The real credit, however, to the fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent for his expedition line of clothing.  It was supposed to bring a powerful sort casual class, that’s comfortable with an air of Amazonian confidence and capability to women.  1967 and ‘68, the year of the McCall’s pattern I used, were when his safari designs were in the limelight, with several famous pictures of both him and two models wearing his creations at the doors to his groundbreaking Rive Gauche prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) boutiques (one picture here).  It was his “Saharienne,” or Safari jacket, that was part of his first wave of RTW in September 1967.  However, this branch of culturally influenced clothes branched out into laced up dresses, pocket-laden suits, one-piece rompers, and now this Safari look has many forms and is in perennial popularity.  Visit my “Safari” Pinterest board for more inspiration!

My expedition dress has a gentle nod to the Saint Laurent style with its simpler style.  It seems most safari styles are in hue of tan or khaki, and have a plethora of patch, pleated pockets and fine details.  My own Bond girl dress has details but with more of a flawless sophistication I appreciate, no doubt because I associate myself from the woman who wore it in the movie.  Barbara Bach and I both have brown hair and a darker skin tone, and this is not my first dress from this movie, so forgive me!  Egypt does have sand and heat like Africa, but a slight twist on the style – bringing it to a glowing ivory – seems to put her above the elements (as if Bond girls are angels!), in a deceptive play with perception, rather than an earthy tan like true safari styles.  Ancient Egyptians would have frequently worn clothes in undyed linen, anyway, especially for sacred functions.  For me, the ivory brings it out of the casual side more easily, depending on how I style it.  Not that this dress isn’t comfy as if it were a casual dress, because the relatively wrinkle-free linen and the fit makes this effortless to wear.  I guess you can tell I just really think the costumes are first rate in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.  As this project is my second time around, I also think I definitely have another style icon in Barbara Bach.

For being labeled as a “Quickie” pattern, this dress pattern is top-notch!  Most other “Jiffy” and “Simple” and “Quickie” pattern I have tried have all been alright, but either they were so simple they did not need fitting or were just a plain mess to get tailored to myself…until now!  It totally reminds me of what I normally find with the vintage Vogue patterns and 1940s era McCall’s.  There is nice curving along the side seams and perfectly proportioned darts.  This pattern is another one of those that pretty much fit me directly out of the envelope, too.  I have a handful of these patterns that seem meant for my body, and it is like a seamstress’ security blanket to know you can rely on them to be easy to make and like on yourself.  Once you find a pattern like this, it’s a form of gold!

It really took some math to draft my own placket here because this is the widest one I’ve sewn yet.  It wasn’t really hard through, but I did have to remember to cut the dress front on the fold to eliminate the center seam.  Once the placket was in, then I figured out how much longer to draft the collar so I would reach parallel with the edges of the button placket.  I had the temptation to go all out and attempt to make an all-in-one collar and placket piece, but no…a “Quickie” pattern doesn’t deserve to have something added to it which would blow my brain up trying to figure it.

Both collar and placket strips were stabilized with sturdy interfacing so that they would standout somewhat from the rest of the dress and give it something to body, dimension, and interest.  (Something closer to this Yves Saint Laurent dress from Winter 1967.)  Granted the fact that the collar and placket was in a richly creamy colored sateen with a subtle shine already provided some contrast without clashing with the rest of the linen dress.  With the stiffness of the placket, I was luckily able to get by with only 5 buttons leaving some major spacing in between.  The way the collar opens up and stands on its own away from my face…I’m so in love.  I do also adore the way the changes I added bring out the basic but well-tailored fit of the pattern without any add-on details to detract from it.  As much as I cannot do without pockets, this dress needed to go without.

Small details unnoticed at first glance really do make all the difference here.  Lovely French darts were used for the bust and waist shaping while shoulder darts (which actually end at the top of the shoulder blade) offer superior freedom of movement.  For some reason I even found the sleeves and armholes to be much more generous and comfortable than most other 60’s and 70’s patterns I’ve used.  I even cut to the pattern’s original hem length too, and it ends at a nicely demure mid-knee length which comes up to a more risqué mid-thigh when I sit – yay for a sneaky hot little number!  The skirt rides up only because of the slight pencil skirt shaping from the hips down.  This is not an A-line dress but more of a straight cut with subtle curving.  My 1967 plastron jumper had the same kind of skirt, too.  I often assume that most 60’s dresses are A-line so I wanted to point out that this one is a good kind of different from the era’s ‘norm’.  I cannot wait to make another version of this dress for the winter in a long sleeve, perhaps slightly shorter version.

Going back to my title, it is regrettable that the thing which my Egyptian explorer dress shares in common with any kind of Yves Saint Laurent African safari dress is ivory.  This time I’m not just talking about the color of my dress.  Sadly, modern Egypt harbors one of Africa’s largest domestic animal ivory markets.  Hippos are (surprising to many) very lethal and kill about 3,000 every year and elephants can be equally dangerous – quite a different story from the cute nursery drawings of them we grow up seeing.  Many do get killed because of the encroaching of civilization upon the animals’ territory. With bone and man-made imitation being attractive and suitable substitutes, using animal ivory for inlays and carved accessories and artwork at the cost of endangering nature’s most fascinating creatures is even more irresponsible.  Yet, this practice is still going on.  In Africa and elsewhere, it is the elephant and the boar that are targeted.  In Egypt, it is the hippopotamus’ ivory, together with imported elephant tusks which are popular.  The Egyptian government has apparently been working to reduce the trade, but the illegal black market still works to both supply and demand.  Sorry to include a small soap box preaching here, but facts are facts and sadly this doesn’t seem to be recognized as a world problem.

“Bond girl” or ivory trade subjects aside, I now have a great new dress to explore my own urban jungle and take on the errands and duties of my city living in a new vintage style.  Maybe that’s the deeply set attraction of Safari styles – we all have some degree of desire for an expeditionary adventure of some sort which teaches us new things and enlivens the spirit.  Even if it’s just an article of clothing or a book or a piece of art, a tactile thing can still give a small taste of that.  Are you an “explorer” soul – in your own city or abroad?

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