Counting Down…

    A ticking clock tracking the arrival of the New Year of 2023 isn’t the only thing I am watching at the moment.  In case you missed it, I just had my 450th post here on my blog, so I am now counting down to my next milestone…number 500!  What a way to end my year!  Although 2022 has been one especially tough and challenging time for me, my blog and its wonderful readers is one reason alone to count my blessings. 

     The pieces highlighted in this post are a merging of multiple decades and influences, all combined into one versatile but elegant ensemble.  This is so classic of me to do!  The jacquard over blouse is from the mid-century “Swinging Sixties” and the dress is from the “Hippie Era” of the 1970s.  Both were put together in a way that I hope is reminiscent of 1930’s era glamour.  I do believe that it would be hard for anyone to ever guess the origin decade of each design with the way I made them!  Of course, some of this may be due to the way I interpret my old patterns – I do need my handmade garments to be a modern and very individualistic interpretation of past styles. 

     Such ambiguity of vintage fashion only goes to show that stereotypical looks are frequently not a catch-all summary of a particular decade out of the past.  In every commonly held story about fashion history there is something yet to uncover that’s quietly hiding between the lines, just waiting to be shared by the right person.  Those further stories are something I attempt to expound upon through my blog.  As I have been progressively going through the fashions of the last 100 years and their history, individually sewing each year in antiquity, it seems that the more things change, they also stay the same to a point.  It is sad to know this is the last post of 2022, but also exciting to look ahead to everything I will share with all of you for the coming 2023.  Here’s to more fabulous fashions to sew, further historical details to learn, fun times to share, and more glimpses into my life – all to be seen here at “Seam Racer”!

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a black polyester satin and a polyester/metallic jacquard, both lined in a cling-free, matte finish polyester

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #7807, year 1976, for the dress and Vogue #5419, year 1962, for the short over bodice – both patterns are vintage originals from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread with two zippers

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 10 hours, while my over bodice was in 6 hours.  Both pieces were sewn at the end of last year (in 2021).

THE INISIDES:  As both pieces are lined, the inner raw edges are fully encased except for the skirt half to the dress, which has its seams left raw because they – being cut on the bias – do not fray.

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics had been bought from my local JoAnn Fabrics store about 6 years back for other projects.  The jacquard was a clearance remnant so my one yard was half the price of a full yard with 50% off – a price of $10, in other words.  The black satin was on sale, but I did buy 3 yards.  My final total was about $35 for this set.  

     Half of this project has been on my mind for many years.  My first inspiration started by finding the jacquard remnant and feeling it had a nice modern Art Deco revival feel to it.  However, there wasn’t much there and it was too polyester looking at close inspection to pass for a true Depression-era piece, though.  This fancy Vogue #5419 pattern was the perfect match for being economical as well as channeling how the 1960s era revived the 1930s.  I specifically wanted the over blouse top to be a shoulder cover-up for an ivory brocade strapless dress I bought for myself 10 years ago (as seen in this post under my green jacket).  Adding a handmade garment to complete a ready-to-wear one always gets me to wear the one I didn’t make all the more.  The two garments did end up matching well.  After all, the dress I had was pretty much a line-for-line copy of the under dress included with the pattern for the over blouse.  Nevertheless, the knee length gives off a cocktail dress air, and I needed an evening outfit more elegant for my husband’s work’s Christmas party.  It was back to the drawing board.

It was sad to discover that the two dress bodice patterns had been cropped into almost a dozen pieces by the previous owner. I had to bust my brains assembling them back into their proper shape & size before using.

     This was the part of the project that had not been planned!  I brainstormed with barely a week before the event and looked through my stash of fabrics available at home.  Luckily, I had a variety of solid toned satins in larger cuts (about 3 yards each), hoping to use them for some 1930s gowns in the future.  Relying on only what was on hand, I happily, quickly, and economically whipped up this little black dress that is like the best of the 1930s and 70s combined.  I love it because it is unlike any other black dress in my wardrobe yet also so comfortable and sultry at the same time.  It glamorizes my jacquard bodice and fills in the scoop neckline just like I wanted.  Is it even an important occasion for a sewist if there wasn’t any drama in the planning beforehand?!  My outfit ideal ended up being finished with two days to spare.

     Let me begin with the easiest to make of the two – the over blouse.  It was easy because it was basic with just a few pattern pieces, yet I simplified it even more by eliminating the facings.  I did use the facing pieces to cut out iron-on stabilizer for the neckline edge, but otherwise the full body lining cleanly covers up all raw edges.  It is a good thing I did full lining because the jacquard was a real mess, fraying all over the place, and was very itchy against my skin when I did a few in-progress fitting try-ons.  I adapted the pattern early on by slightly raising the neckline and cutting the back body on the fold, just as was done for the front.  The pattern calls for a full buttoning back, but I instead put a zipper in the side for ease of dressing.  Being a jacquard, the fancy fabric technically had two ‘right’ sides, but I choose as my good side the one which had more black than gold to curb some of the shine. 

     The pattern did run overly generous in fit so I had to take in significant amounts distributed amongst the side seams and bust darts, as well as create a hidden fold in the center front.  The sleeves turned out unexpectedly long, way beyond the elbow, but I kept them as extended short sleeves because it evened out the look of the cropped bodice on my almost petite frame.  It was really tricky to fit.  I found it needs to be quite snug on the body to keep it from riding up.  I don’t know how the envelope cover shows the overblouse so loose fitting with so much gape.  I tried that out during one of my fitting try-ons and it did not work being worn like that.  That fit was very sloppy looking and shifted all over the place on my body.  Whatever the case, the snug fit that I found necessary meant that whatever I wear underneath needs to be thin and not bulky with definitely no sleeves.  If I wear my black high-waisted trousers (posted here) with this overblouse I will layer a tank top underneath.  My choice for an underdress is the ivory brocade one I mentioned earlier or the black satin one you see in this post.

     I don’t know about you but I can’t help but see a slight Regency era influence to the design of this top.  It is not much different than the short jackets and decorative bodices that were worn over dresses between the 1800 to 1820s time period.  Those pieces, called “Spencers”, similarly had a snug fit, empire waist, and were meant to be decoratively worn over an insubstantial dress.  Since I love Regency fashion and already have historical clothes for that era, I was therefore at ease with the odd style of this top.  Yet at the same time, it was completely out of my comfort level to pair it with modern styles.  The little 60’s top surprisingly works with more of my wardrobe than what I first intended (as mentioned in the former paragraph) and therefore gives me all sorts of new ideas for sneaking Regency styles in with my 21st century clothing choices. 

     Speaking of sneaking things in, not only is my black satin dress pretty “old Hollywood” for being a 1970s pattern with an almost tacky envelope illustration, but did you notice how I made some cheap fabric look more elegant than it really is?  Treating myself the good stuff, like silk, has spoiled me!  I don’t enjoy polyester fabrics as much as I used to, but a black satin as shiny as an oil slick is so appealing for a design like this. 

The benefit is immediately obvious in construction when the fabric pieces want to slip away from you and the skinny spaghetti straps are incredibly easy to turn inside out.  The smooth finish to the fabric made this the ideal underdress for flawlessly fitting under the over blouse. Ultimately, however, black garments can be so hard to see in detail as well as photograph (especially indoors) but the shine to the fabric is just enough to help my silhouette not get completely lost in the shadows of mid-winter.   Yay!  I found a way to love a fabric from my stash that was languishing, forgotten and unwanted.

     What helps achieve the slinky effect that plays upon the shine is my change in laying out the pattern.  The instructions said to lay everything out along the selvedge to make it straight grain.  However, I wanted to both avoid a harsh A-line shape to the skirt as I saw on the cover illustration and get a better fit without making it tighter.  Combining these aims with my desire to channel the 1930s, I decided upon cutting the skirt half of the dress on the bias grain.  I had plenty of extra fabric to do so!  This was the best upgrade for this pattern but it really made the waist seam a beast to sew…lots of easing in the excess bias.  My effort was all worth it in the end, though, because the softened silhouette and swish factor is unparalleled.  It is a bias cut dress that has my ideal balance of loose cling while also hugging my movements.  I love this dress!

     To counteract the bias cut skirt the empire waist bodice is cut on the straight grain, interfaced, and fully lined.  It is like its own brassiere being so stable, which is convenient with the spaghetti straps being placed so far out on the shoulders that conventional lingerie is not compatible.   The high waist and the widely placed straps give this 70’s dress a Regency flair in its own right with the way it emphasizes the open neckline, strong shoulders, and columnar appearance.   I had counted on this being the case – that was the only way it was going to be pair well as an undress for the little 60’s over blouse.   I figured if both had a Regency era influence they must end up looking good together even though they are from differing decades?  I had no confidence.  When I saw for the first try-on that the two pieces actually pair so well together I totally did a happy dance.  I love this part of sewing – the one where you actually surprise yourself with what you have made!  It is the best kind of reward. 

     I have also found the dress to be an incredibly versatile piece of its own right, but the details of the extent to that may just be for another post.  It is easy to pair tops over it and wear as if it was just a skirt.  The dress makes for a very nice long length slip dress under some long but also sheer dresses.  I want to make a long length open coat to pair over the dress to have more fun with its faux Regency appearance.  I never expected such resourceful dress when I put it together but such usefulness makes me like it all the more!

Let’s play a game called find the hidden hand-stitching. Really, though – look at how both are so nicely finished!

     Everything over and above the basic garment piecing for both items was finished with my finest invisible hand stitching.  My sewing machine was only used for the hidden inner seams.  I usually save my hands and shoulders the misery of doing this unless the fabrics that I am working with are fine or need a specific hem.  However, the fabrics for both pieces were cheap enough in quality with a glossy face that would expose machine stitching in a way which would not do either fabrics a favor.  I had to keep the ruse going and treat these fabrics as if they were nicer than they are to keep them looking that way as a finished piece.  A bias cut skirt is extremely tricky to hem on a machine anyway, and the jacquard probably would have acquired runs and pulls that I would have taken to easy way of machine top stitching.  What kind of finishing your handmade garments receive goes a long way towards the finished look and is just as important as every other step in the process of a sewing project. 

     Well – I suppose I have said more than enough and need to wrap up this last post for 2022.  I hope the holiday season finery that I shared here has inspired you or at least entertained you.  I trust that this post, like all of the rest, gives you a taste of the fun, the energy, the challenge, and the enjoyment that goes into everything related to sharing what I make…from a planning forethought to that final click of the publish button.  It is my way of reaching out to all of you, so I love it when you reach out to me with every like, comment, or message.      

My wish is that this upcoming New Year is the best yet to come for all of us! 

Sewing A ‘What Do I Call It’?

Currently, more than ever, now that I am staying at home all too much as well as taking care of the tough stuff in life, I need clothes that are either supremely useful or a frothy delight.  My next post will be the latter, but this post is about a garment which is the former – so convenient and multi-purpose, I really can’t distinguish what term to use for identifying the creation I just recently made.

It can be a sundress, a jumper, or a full body apron.  It wraps on for ultimate ease.  It was made out a soft yet stable cotton with a print which so perfectly alludes to what I love to do in life…because I know better than to leave out the element of fun!  It was made on under 2 yards of material, paired with a few scraps.  Of course, it is vintage, as well, from 1976, to be exact.  Yup, it has it all!  Now, what can I call it?!  A sun-apron-jumper? A jumpron? A sunper?  I might just need to make up a new word here.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Simplicity brand sewing themed 100% cotton prints (found here at JoAnn Fabrics)

PATTERN:  Simplicity 7561, year 1976, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  Thread was all I really needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a rather quick 6 to 8 hour project from start to finish, and it was ready to wear as of June 2, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All the raw edges are cleanly covered in my homemade bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  under $20

First off, I am rarely into branded prints but a sewing themed one was too much for me to resist.  It is understated enough to not be tacky, and a casual glance can miss the details of it completely.  I like subtlety.  This is why I used my black fabric marker to darken the “Simplicity” logo all over the print I used on the main body.  The logo was originally much too shiny and bright so my slight coloring lends a tarnished appearance so the text blends in with the rest of the pattern pieces printed all over!

This was just what I needed for the moment.  It was an uncertain combo at first, only an experimental venture born of a cooped up spirit.  I ended up being cheered and entertained by this fun and unusual project.  Secondly, I wear my self-made wardrobe on a daily basis and have literally been unintentionally been beating up my favorite pieces lately.  Just the week before, for example, I was devastated to have somehow punched a hole into my Agent Carter skirt as well as dripped superglue onto my chambray maxi skirt.  (Don’t worry, I successfully made some repairs that are near unnoticeable.)  Ugh, I realize I probably need to wear grubby ‘work’ clothes for some of the things done around here to take care of the house.  Then again, I’m normally not as casualty-prone as I am lately and the amount of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t care about destroying is quite small.  I picked up this sewing project because I was hoping to have a full coverage apron which would fill in that gap.

There are still more reasons why this was a perfect project for the moment.  It needed no interfacing!  There is a significant amount of bias give to certain parts of the straps, yet the fact that they are double layers of fabric helps keep everything in place, along with some tight top-stitching.  You kind of need just a bit of give to move around in, anyway.  I am wondering if the lack of interfacing, stripped-down-to-the-bare-bones kind of construction to this has anything to do with the fact the pattern is labeled as a “How to Sew” design.  It has a separate page insert, printed on the tissue paper, all about top-stitching and very basic construction details.  The pattern had no facings and, besides a lot of top-stitching and some tricky curved seams around the arms, it was super easy.  I was tempted to go ahead and interface the straps and the waist ties anyway, and I don’t think it would have ruined it, but this garment turned out just fine without it.  I wanted to save what I have for when I do really need it.  With all the facial mask making of today, acquiring interfacing is like finding gold, just like bias tape.

This leads to talk about the life saving tool for the seamstress of today that could use bias tape.  It is only to be found at a premium price in bulk or through vintage suppliers – it seems also due to the worldwide mask making.  Thus, I am so very glad I already had bought my own set of Clover brand bias tape makers so I can cut and iron out my own supply in case of emergency shortage!  Now, I personally do not sew my face masks with bias tape, and only reserve it for some of my garment sewing.  As this is a wrap-on garment which makes the inside finishing easily seen, and the cotton was too thick for French or lapped seams, I reached for the easy solution of bias tape bound edges.

I’ll admit to having a decent sized stash of notions to work off of in the first place at the start of quarantine, but even still – that does dwindle with use over the past 3 months and my basic black was the first to go.  I reached for a black lightweight cotton on hand leftover from a past project (thank goodness for saving my scraps) and cut it into the appropriate strips 2 inches wide to end up with ½ inch double fold bias tape.  I also have the tools to enable me to make 1 inch and ¼ inch double fold bias tape.  These are little, simple, hand-held tools that are really very reasonably priced for as handy as they are and the unlimited options they give a seamstress.  I highly recommend them with the warning to watch your fingers.  Using a hot iron with copious amounts of steam make for a well pressed bias tape but – if you’re not careful – also can mean burnt, sore fingers!

The size on my pattern was technically too large for me according to the size chart, but I rightly figured it would be okay as I was planning on wearing this over my existing clothes as an apron/jumper and not just a sundress.  It is a bit roomy when I do wear it by itself as a sundress, but loose clothing is comfortable in the hot weather.  As this was a wrap-on garment there was no real fitting needed, but I did find the bodice to run quite long and the waistline sits a bit lower than it should.  You can’t tell with the busy print and it doesn’t bother me, so I don’t really care about being a perfectionist here.  It was completely sewn together as it was straight out of the envelope.

The pattern called for the crossover back straps to be buttoned down along the back bodice edge.  The idea of that struck me as too fussy and possibly uncomfortable to sit up against.  I just stitched the straps down at a length that worked for me and it’s just fine.  It might be slightly confusing to put on and take off, but I like the security of knowing it won’t come undone on me and the comfort of not having a bulky button under my back shoulder blade.  I realize that so many of my sundresses have the same crossover back (my 1940 blue plaid one, my Halston-inspired 70’s one, and this 1949 brown striped one) but hey – it’s comfy and the positioning keeps the straps on the shoulders.  Maybe I can count this as one last, very tardy installment my late 2018 to mid-2019 series “Indian Summer of the Sundress” (even though this is only one of the wearing options to this garment)?  I was missing the decade of the 70’s out of covering the 1920s to the 60’s in that series.

To match with the 70’s date of this jumper-sundress thing, I layered a dated RTW tunic shirt underneath together with my 1974 stretch jeans (posted here) and some platform studded suede sandals when I was wearing it like an apron.  I do not personally see it as obviously vintage though, besides the fact it might look a bit different when worn over my existing clothes.  I have yet to try it as a jumper over a body-clinging knit top.  I can’t wait to see if this garment also works for the fall season with a turtleneck, leggings and tall boots!  There are so many possibilities!

I just love it when I can make something that will work for so many occasions in my life, for all the seasons, add value to my current closet offerings, and look different each time.  All this only means that it will happily find its maximum life in my wardrobe!  This turned out so cute, I might just have to make another out of some ugly patched-up scraps to really have something to wear for really messy household occasions.  Yet, I normally don’t ‘save’ my makes, but always like to integrate them into my everyday life, no matter the risk for mishap.  If a me-made item (or even my few RTW clothes, for that matter) does find a bit of wear and tear from enjoying what I had made, I’ll just figure out a way to fix any such boo-boos, and be happy my time spent making it has proved its worth.  I sewed it – I can fix it, and “giving a darn to mend” is always important!

If this sewing project is as versatile as it seems, I will be spreading the silent word as to my love of sewing for every wearing – and that might be frequent, after all!  I do think having images of pattern pieces, and the notions we need to accomplish our tasks, be more visible is an important testimony to the wonders that sewing works through paper and fabric.  We seamstresses have worked wonders for centuries, but nowadays it has become an important lifeline brought into the limelight!  It’s about time.

A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, Kutch has mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but Gujarat had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Dalani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!

A Sybil Connolly Skirt Suit

Of all the items I have made in my life, it is hard to believe that only now is my very first sewing using a designer Vogue pattern! Even though this might not be the most spectacular or glamorous project to start with, the beauty is in the details and the rich, significant background of the designer.  This is also a very comfortable and useful dressy set, to boot!  I present my year 1976 suit set, made by me by designed by Sybil Connolly, the leader and founder of Irish Couture.

First of all, I want to say that I am counting this as part of my 21st century progressive Easter day creations I have been making since 2013, starting with a dress in the year 1929 style.  Since that Easter day outfit, I make something from the following decade for the next year’s holiday.  (See my 1930s Easter dress here, and my 1940s one here.)  Only since I made this set from the year 1954 did I begin keeping with suiting. This year 2018 was naturally supposed to be something from the 1970’s (after this one last year from 1960), but as our Easter day turned out to be incredibly cold and snowy, this suit set had to be put off being showcased until the next spring holiday – Mother’s day!  Happily, the grass and trees were overly lush and green by the time I wore my new vintage suit set!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton-rayon blend “linen-look” material, in a solid orchid color for the contrast and a floral for the rest of the set.  Leftover polyester lining (in a matching orchid pinkish purple) from my stash was used to line the jacket inside.

PATTERN:  Vogue #1503, year 1976

NOTIONS:  I pretty much had everything I needed – thread, zipper, interfacing, and bias tape.  The only thing I needed to buy for this specifically was a button making kit for matching fabric buttons!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a relatively easy pattern for being a detailed designer project – but of course leaving out the skirt lining step helped, too.  I made my suit set in about 25 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on April 8, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  I’ll admit I took the easy road here for the internal finishing.  My seams are covered by the lining for the jacket body, left raw for the sleeve seams inside the arm, and bias bound for the skirt.  Bias seams are not my preference for making my own copy of a designer garment, neither are raw edges, but this fabric doesn’t really fray and I wanted my set done for Easter-time…only I didn’t wear it for Easter anyway!  Oh well.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics had been closing several years back.  I believe I bought the fabric for about $2 a yard. With about 3 yards used, and the notions I bought, this suit set cost me just over $10…how awesome is that?!

For some reason, I found it incredibly difficult to find a dressy suit set from the decade of the 1970s.  I have a sneaky suspicion that this is due to the casualness that the youthful-oriented and stretchy knit fashions introduced, as well as the greater political and social liberties of women.  Enough said.  Whatever the reason, suits of the 1970’s seem to be quite relaxed, mostly with pants for the bottom half, and frequently with a tunic-style jacket or a safari-style over shirt.  Leave it to a designer to offer my taste just what I was hoping for but having trouble finding!  This suit feels unpretentious, but still polished, as well as being timeless with a 70’s flair.  It was just enough of a challenge to make, yet still easy enough to enjoy the sewing.  It has unexpected details to make my creative heart flutter yet these are subtle enough to go unnoticed to the casual observation.  Besides, now I have the opportunity to both appreciate and share the story of a designer that deserves to be better known.

Ireland had long been considered a country without its own fashion.  Sybil Connolly changed that.  She had been brought up in Waterford County, and trained as an apprentice dressmaker in London starting in the late 1930’s at seventeen and by the time she was twenty-two (WWII times) she was a workroom manager and company director for Jack Clarke, a fashion retailer in Dublin.  In 1954, Carmel Snow, then the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, discovered Sybil Connolly who had just come out with her first collection, featuring the use of her native Irish fabrics and embellishments, most notably Irish linen, only the year before.  With the combined help of the Irish exports board, Connolly launched Irish Couture into an international spotlight with her introduction to New York’s fashion scene.  What she made often showed a woman’s natural body form (in contrast to the likes of Balenciaga) with such dresses as her white crocheted evening dress that was featured on the cover of LIFE magazine in August 1953.  Her inspiration the sentiment A woman’s body is inside. It breathes. It moves. So I must see movement in a dress.”  By being true to herself, her tastes, her roots, and her determination, she stood out in the fashion world, gave women attractive options to wear, and gained a new respect from the world for her culture.  By March of 1955, Vogue magazine was mentioning Dublin in the same sentence as Paris, London, and Milan!

Connolly was adamant about using her fashion line to support business and export trade in Ireland, by not only using Irish textile manufacturers, but even employing over 50 local women to hand make some of her laces. At the Glencolumbkill Agricultural show in 1956, she had said, “I feel that as long as we can show such beauty in design and texture as we do in our Irish cottage industries, we cannot ever be called a vanishing race.”  Click here for a “Glamourdaze” article to watch (in color!) Sybil Connolly’s 1957 fashion show at a lovely Irish castle.  Most of her designs at this time were inspired by rural, traditional garments and materials.  This is cultural approbation at its finest.

For me, I have strong Irish roots on both sides of my family, Sybil Connolly’s work is a personal thing that touches a tender spot.  I too love and appreciate the fine laces that my Irish (paternal) Grandmother hoarded (which I now have) as well as the Irish simple beauty of life that my Irish (maternal) Grandfather enjoyed.  If you follow my blog you have already seen and read my great appreciation for linen, in all its forms.  Now, I know – my suit is not real linen.  It’s made from modern linen-look fabric.  It’s also not in a solid color, as was her wont in her creations.  However, I feel that this is me personalizing my own Sybil Connolly fashion, and I can see this step as something she would approve.  I love a linen-look fabric, and I LOVE a purple print…so, this is a set that is all me, for me, designed by a woman that I respect who has my same cultural ties.

This pattern is from 1976, though, decades after the height of her career (the 1950s).  She had dressed all the most well-known social and political names such as Jackie Kennedy, the Rockefellers, and Liz Taylor through the 60’s and began designing for Tiffany & Co. (glassware) as well as releasing luxury home goods (such as fine table linens) by the 1980s.  So this, pattern was at the far end of her fashion career, when she was trading talents.  I have seen that her mid-to late 1970s patterns have very similar, repetitive qualities to my own pattern’s set.  Many of her skirts (excepting her trademark hand-pleated, taffeta-backed linen skirts) have the same paneling with pockets (see Vogue #2998).  Many of her garments had a recognizable continuity even in 1992 as they did 40 years earlier.

Often, designers who began in the pre-WWII times (such as Mainbocher) had difficulty dealing with the harshly contrasting ‘hip’ and youthful trends of the 60’s-70’s-80’s.  However, she was a multi-faceted woman (she even wrote books!) and found a way to keep her head up apparently to still have wonderful, lovely designs like this pattern for many decades.  That is pure ingenuity and a stamp of a classic style.  Connolly maintained that she knew, as all women designers should, that “good fashion does not need to change”.

One of the major details which slightly dates this suit is the enormous collar.  This is so 1970s and a natural style for Connolly to adopt here to be on point for 1976.  An oversized collar is the most common, recognizable feature to shirts and jacket necklines that I see and make from the 1970s.  Other than that, the rest of the details are pretty timeless, and finely crafted.  The sleeves are the classic two panel style seen on most suits.  The body of the jacket has a princess seam running vertical down through the bust, starting from sleeve and running to the hem, separating the front from the side panel.  The side bodice panel has a sneaky extra shaping dart close to where the side seam is while the back is pretty bare bones, yet still shaped nicely.  As this is supposed to be a warm weather jacket, I didn’t line the sleeves and I left out the shoulder pads to keep this lightweight.

As I left off the bias tube belt the pattern called for to wear over the jacket, I instead made sure to keep another accessory detail that can be spotted on the example garment shown on the pattern envelope cover.  Can you find it?  I made my own clip on fabric flower to match for the collar!  I used the 1950’s Dior-style bias method (which you can see here or here) to start with and slightly adapted it so the flower is more compact like a double rose.  Making fabric flowers is my new favorite thing to do with my scraps.  Not only does it use leftover fabric, but I end up with a wonderful matching accessory.  Plus it’s fun (very important) and is an excellent way to practice precise hand sewing.  Small-scale, often time-consuming details like this fabric rose remind me of the labor of love which went into Connolly’s creations.

My favorite feature to this set is possibly the smart button placket to the jacket.  It is only on the exterior front, made a bit more obvious by my solid contrast color.  There is only a wide facing on the inside.  This is unusual but lovely.  I couldn’t find it in my heart to break up the color and texture of the front placket by using anything other than matching fabric buttons, so I bought a kit to make them myself.   I feel like this brings the jacket’s detailing to a whole new level equal to a designer pattern.

My next favorite feature is the smart pockets in the unexpected gore design of the skirt.  It is a four panel (or gore) skirt with no side seams.  There are center panels in the front and the back, with one wrap-around panel to either side.  The waistline has small darts coming out of it, ending at the high hip, adding shaping there in the absence of a side seam.  I think I have only seen no side seams with a side seam darts with my 50’s pencil skirts (here and here), so it is another uncommon feature for the 70’s.  With such seaming, do you know where the zipper closing went?  In the left back side seam.  This makes it kind of tricky to close unless I twist it around to the front of me while dressing.  The pattern called for a flap closing back much like the front buttoning fly to men’s trousers and historical breeches.  I simplified that by sewing one side closed then adding a zip in the other.  Then I continued with the contrasting color I had been using on the jacket to make the skirt waistband out of the solid orchid color linen-look, as well.

I suppose you have noticed my hands slipped into some well hidden front skirt pockets.  What you may not have detected was how the skirt is a straight A-line shape from the front, while the back is gently fuller.  Anyway – back to the pockets!  They are so handy in the way that they are deep and generous to hold many things, and they are at the perfect height for my arm length.  The pockets inside swoop in towards one another, and to keep them that way there is a small length of bias tape to connect the two.  Whenever there are pockets like this I always think of them in connection to a kangaroo, because they give me room to hold things over my tummy!

The pattern I had was a slightly bigger size than what I needed, so I used the same method I used for this 60’s dress.  I cut off the seam allowance on the side and shoulder seams, and made slightly wider seam allowances.  Read more about it in this post.  I’m really liking the perfect fit I end up with this method.

I am now quite eager to dive into my next vintage Vogue designer pattern.  I have already bought a few more while I was in the post-project happiness – among them ones from the 80’s and 90’s for my Easter suits of the next two years!  I love how designer patterns give me a reason and opportunity to learn more about the talents, individuality, and biography of garment creators that made it big.  Unfortunately some of them have been better remembered in history than others!  In fact I prefer the forgotten or little known designers because it helps me associate myself better with them.  I might be sewing using a designer pattern, but most importantly anything I make means I become my own designer.  Home sewing is so underestimated.  One person does all the jobs of a whole fashion house.

Sybil Connolly had bystanders remark of her (at a party she attended in 1946, before she had her own line of clothing) that “Wearing her own designed dress, she was her own best model.”  That is my ideal, to have me – the creator of what I make – be the foremost representation for what can be accomplished at the hands of a dedicated seamstress.  It’s like wearing your art on your back and being your own silent spokesperson for what you do.  Whether it gets seen or appreciated, that fact should alone make one who sews happy.  You don’t need what you make be strutted down the runway to be proved it’s worthwhile…nowadays, half of what is seen on the runways is trash in my opinion anyway.  Just make sure what you make for yourself is 100% you for you to show the beauty, individuality, and artistry to the powerful talent of sewing!