Ceiling Paint Splatter

1986 was an interesting year with many definitive events that I am sure anyone who experienced in some degree will not forget.  There was the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the arrival of Hailey’s comet.  There was the Chernobyl accident and the Iran–Contra affair.  There was the debut of both the Oprah Winfrey show as well as the stage musical “Phantom of the Opera”.  Wow, right?! There are recognizable parallels to 1986 recently, between the popularity of a new Top Gun movie (gosh, Tom Cruise has barely aged) and the current Russian aggression (evocative in some ways of the Cold War’s nuclear brinksmanship).  Reminiscing along this vein, I finally bit the bullet and sewed up a crazy print dress tied to that definitive year, using a pattern from a largely unknown designer.  This is one project I have long wanted to make, and I am thrilled over my resulting dress.  It is so enjoyable, cute, and comfortable!

My dress was inspired by another event of 1986, one that was momentous to the entertainment industry – the music video to Lionel Richie’s song “Dancing on the Ceiling”.  Out of all the music videos out there, this is one that I absolutely wish I could go back in time and be a part of.  I am an absolute Lionel Richie fan the way it is, but I even more so adore the energy and craziness to this specific song and its accompanying video.  It reportedly cost somewhere around $400,000 for only 4 days of shooting, making it the most expensive short form music video production at the time.  

The music video was directed by the great Stanley Donen, whose most celebrated works include Hollywood’s classic films such as Singin’ in the Rain, Royal Wedding, and Funny Face.  The director Donen said that Richie actually adapted easier and quicker to the rotating room used in the video than Astaire did while shooting similar scenes in his 1951 film Royal Wedding.  It is an energy release for me to even just listen (but also dance) to when I indeed feel like I need to crawl the ceiling from being so cooped up inside with nothing of great fun to do. 

The combination of colors and crazy prints that the party-goers in the music video are wearing inspired me to gravitate to a multicolored cotton that is a riot of color.  Lionel Richie is the bold color focus while the band and extras are black and white (or silver) tones, so my dress is the general scheme in one package.  To me it is a print inspiring energy and absolute elation, exuding a feeling which seemed so appropriate for a dress inspired by the music video to “Dancing on the Ceiling”.  If you paint on the ceiling, it is bound to splatter, right?  And if you had a party on the ceiling, it would definitely need to be repainted, right?  So goes my fanciful way of thinking. 

Sewing my own garments may be more like creating a dream or interpreting my own art, I suppose, when I realize how imaginative I approach some of my projects, such as this one.  I hope you enjoy this wild throwback dress, and it’s even crazier photo backdrop location – the Museum of Illusions in Chicago, Illinois.  This place had an exhibition which gave me the opportunity to actually live out my dream of dancing on a ceiling, even if it is just an illusion!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton lawn in a Lady McElroy “Artistic Vibrance” multicolored print lined with a bleached cotton muslin

PATTERN:  Butterick #3854, year 1986, a Kathryn Conover pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  two 7/8” black ball buttons, lots of thread, and two packs of ¼” wide double fold bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a 10 hour project and was finished on May 24, 2022

THE INSIDES:  the waistline is bias covered but side seams are left raw

TOTAL COST:  The Lady McElroy fabric alone cost me about $25 and the muslin lining was $5

This 1985 sports set is in a print very similar to my dress’ fabric!

This dress immediately helps me remember that the trippy color craze of the early 90’s was really a result of the late 1980s.  Coming before the age of the internet, it used to take a while for trends to catch up and turn mainstream!  Think of the titular intro screens to the television series Rugrats, which came out in 1991, and you can see the similarities with my dress’ 80’s inspired print.  The cotton lawn was slightly sheer, and being in a white, it needed a lining, for sure.  The bright white bleached muslin I used as lining seems to help the colors in the print pop by brightening the white background.  

I actually toned down some of the bold contrast and overall busyness to this design by switching up a few design details.  I also simplified the already easy-to-made dress.  There is no facing needed or complicated finishing here but only binding along all the entire neckline, which continues into the waistline seam.  For this purpose, I chose a thinner bias edge binding rather than ½” wide as the pattern wanted, as well as using pre-made packaged notions rather than cutting the needed strips myself.  Smaller edging makes the dress more delicate than clunky so that it is like controlled chaos.  I wanted this to be a wildly fun 80’s dress, but didn’t need it to turn into an immediate eyesore. 

This sediment is only another reason I switched to a clean and tailored pleated skirt rather than a mere overall gathered seam.  Especially as I was fully lining the skirt, pleats were necessary anyway to tame any bulk.  I enjoy the kind of math that sewing calls, for and rather enjoyed figuring out the depth and amount of pleats much more than if I would have set in gathers.  I always like to customize at least something from every pattern’s design!  I suppose I’m merely flattering myself to feel as though I improve upon patterns with some of my changes.  Yet, I think such is definitely the case with this design…sorry, Ms. Conover!

Kathryn Conover is the designer listed on this pattern, and she released a good number of dresses through Butterick for several years in the 1980s.  As she has a history of offering her fashionable designs for the last 50 years, it is a shame her name is not more widely recognized.   I can totally relate to her Midwestern practicality and upbringing, being a Midwesterner myself!  Her designing focus was centered on dresses that should “withstand the seasonal vicissitudes of fashion, in fabrics that endure and retain their luster.  However her primary aim,” she insisted in the interview, “is for a woman to put on one of my dresses and feel better about herself.”   Read her full interview in April 1983 with the New York Times (link here, from which comes the previous quotes) to understand the price points, ideology, and status of her brand in the early 1980s. 

She was a dressmaker in a literal sense of the word – no suits, separates, or anything else!  Her love of sewing began as a hobby, but she then worked her way through the University of Minneapolis by collecting clothes from thrift shops, restyling them and selling them. (I have a soft spot for refashions, so she seems like my kind of gal.)  Her own line of clothing was founded sometime in late 70’s, with her first collection immediately gaining the attention of specialty stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Niemen Marcus, and Lord & Taylor.  She sold her ready-to-wear through these stores and others until her line was ended in 1992.  Conover served as design director for the Liz Claiborne dress division from 1991 to 1993, where she introduced some of her collections through Perry Ellis.  She cited overly trendy fads and the liberal use of denim through the decade of the 90’s for a lack of popularity for the kind of dresses that she wanted to offer, what Conover refers to as having ”a strong classic undertone.” 

I respect the way that Conover was unlike many designers who adapted with the changing times.  She stayed true to her own tastes and desires to the point that she was not afraid to stop what she was doing to try something new in her career.  Conover brought back a line of dresses through the company Ronni Nicole for a short period of time in 2007 and the year after.  She began her own bridal consulting in 2003, which morphed into her working as a couture wedding gown creator for “The Knot”.  She is 74 years old this year!

I can’t help but wonder if my interpretation of her pattern is enough on brand to be true to Ms. Conover’s idealology.  I do have a Pinterest board created (see link here) for you to see a sample variety of her work from the 1970s through 90’s.  My dress’s print is no less full of 80’s obnoxiousness than any other Kathryn Conover dresses from that era, as can be seen in my Pinterest board.  The dropped waist is classic style point of the 1980s, when the era bought back modern versions of French heeled shoes and straight-lined flapper dresses, both inspired by the 1920s.  Many of her designs of the mid 80s seemed to integrate a dropped waistline, with or without some curve emphasis.  I think she would be pleased with my replacing the gathers with pleats as she did this for similar designs such as Butterick #3019 (those bows across that open back bodice are simply fantastic).  To complete my outfit, I’m wearing true vintage 80s heels, crafted with real snakeskin toes which have the primary colors plus green on them.  I then paired the dress with my grandmother’s 80s clip-on earrings.  The funny thing is, since I was going full 80s, even the fact I had an unexpectedly crazy curly hair day became a styling point to match.

There are a handful of copies of my dress’ pattern, Butterick #3854, out to be found for sale, and I definitely recommend it if you find yourself remotely interested in this design.  It is so easy to make, with no facings or zipper needed, and is a step-in dress, for ease in dressing.  Two buttons in the front are the simple closure in this double breasted style!  One word of warning – this dress is proportioned for very tall body.  Even if you are of average height, you will need to do the petite alteration as shown on the pattern pieces.  The bodice was the correct length for my 5’ 3” frame.  Even still, the skirt was really long.  I did the petite alteration to the dress and the skirt still came to my ankles, so I had to do a deep hem.  This ended up in my favor because a thick hem nicely, but gently weighed down the skirt (so I didn’t have a Marilyn Monroe moment walking along Downtown Chicago) and keeps the fabric opaque.  The arm opening is comfortably generous and adds to the general loose and breezy classy air of the dress. 

Do not be dismayed if you try this dress out for yourself and discover that it has a roomy ease amount.  If you look at the model image on the cover and the version I made for myself, it is fitted but not snug, tailored but still generous – and that is the beauty of a good design, the trademark of a designer creation.  Not everything has to be skin-tight to look good…that is a modern mentality and inaccurate.  Slip into all the good points about the 1980s.  You may just find, like I did, that a tailored fit on the higher end of wearing ease can be a gloriously exhilarating experience which doesn’t have to mean frumpy.  Rocking the 80’s doesn’t have to mean something gaudy to wear when it is coming from the hands of lesser-known, but no less talented, United States designer Kathryn Conover.     

Conover’s self-named line of clothing might not have lasted all that long yet I am very glad I tried out a taste of it for myself through the hands-on means of a sewing pattern.

A Blouse to Match with My Grandmother’s Jumper

Grandma Emma May, late 1940s

One of the many tough things about 2021 was losing the last grandparent I had left.  Now I am an orphaned granddaughter, as I see it.  My maternal Grandmother passed away last spring.  Despite the heartache, I have been blessed by having the family pass down to me a handful of items that were left from her belongings, particularly her vintage clothing.  The several items from her post WWII wedding period and before are too incredibly tiny for me to wear (22” waist) and will be preserved as family heirlooms.  They will also be the basis for me to recreate them from scratch in my size, but that’s for a future project.  However, I was also given my maternal Grandmother’s 1950s woolen tweed jumper which that does just fit me.  Of course I had the perfect matching fabric on hand that was just pleading to be sewn into a blouse to match!  I am proud to dress like my Grandma! 

Let me point out that while the only me-made part of this post will be my bow-neck blouse, my Grandmother’s woolen jumper is also handmade…by her!  She had worked for many years at a major North American department store nearby (no longer around) but shopping there, nevertheless, was reserved for Easter, Christmas, and a special occasion.  All else was sewn at home by her, and by my mom and her sisters as they got old enough.  Funny enough, I was also bestowed her sewing machine, the “newest” one she bought when my mom was older so she could have the zig-zag stitch – but that is a story in itself which I will not dive into here. 

I’ve always heard that my two Grandmothers were very proficient, capable seamstresses and I have seen proof of that with my dad’s mom, but now I have seen it firsthand for my mom’s mom.  This jumper is very well made with a Bamberg rayon lining, perfectly matching thread for the seams, a hand-stitched hem covered on the inside in rayon tape, and overall finished in every way the same as I would aspire to do.  It makes me want to cry.  I guess sewing truly runs in my blood but to find exactly how alike this affinity is with my Grandmother after all these years of not knowing…I’m at a loss for words for this but it is something very special to discover. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  1 ½ yards of a dated 80’s polyester satin

PATTERN:  Simplicity #9559, from the year 1980

NOTIONS NEEDED:  nothing but lots of thread, a handful of buttons, and some interfacing scraps

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I whipped this blouse up in about 10 hours, and finished on May 21, 2021

THE INSIDES:  Pristine in clean French seaming with hem tape along the bottom edge

TOTAL COST:  The material was a remnant from a rummage sale bin that I paid a few dollars for, so this is as good as free.  The buttons came from the notions stash of my husband’s Grandmother.

Grandma Emma May would have been in her early 30’s when she made this jumper, based on how the design lines are so very similar to this 1956 pattern which I have sewn from already.  My chosen blouse pattern matches with the era of the dated fabric I chose for it – 1980s – but the style is very classic and aligns perfectly with the popularity of sweet collars in the 1950s and 1960s.  Polka dots never go out of style, but this blouse – being in a gaudy 80’s satin – has a polka dotted shine woven in for double the texture, double the print!  Too bad someone has to get into my personal space bubble to actually notice such a detail on me in person.  Sometimes the best details are for my special enjoyment only, much like my favorite technique of French seam finishing to the edges inside.

The bow neckline may look simple here and the envelope cover plainly basic but the finished garment is subtly crafted to be an elevated tweak on the style.  The trick here is how the tie neckline is not a straight cut piece, but a tailored, curvy one which is cut on the bias and left free of interfacing.  This concoction makes it hang so nicely, effortlessly, smoothly against the body, and tie so softly.  I would love Simplicity #9559 for this reason alone, but it also happens to fit me precisely and was easy to make.  I will definitely be coming back to sew another iteration.  Of all the tie necklined garments I have sewn, I think this one may be my favorite.  It is right up there next to this 1946 black crepe tie neck blouse, which I just posted earlier this month.  The width of the ties, the open but still conservative neckline, as well as the practical seaming in to main body is what wins me over.  If you find this pattern online to buy, do pick it up for yourself.  It is super cheap everywhere I see it for sale, but that is only because it is a hidden gem.

My sleeves have a deep hem so that I have the option of wearing them like a longer short style or roll them up to a cuff, as the pattern intended.  I have not tacked the cuffs down because I like the versatility to decide to change up the look.  The blouse’s overall length turned out rather long, which is fine because it blouses out whenever I wear it tucked in a skirt so the generous length is helpful to keep this silky blouse tucked in.  The silkiness of the polyester is much more appreciated than normally – Grandma’s jumper is quite itchy and the smoother the layers underneath means the raw wool might not work its way to tickling my skin!

The case for the historical accuracy of 22” center back zippers is again put to rest her with my Grandmother’s jumper.  It has a long metal zip down the back for ease of dressing.  My Grandmother was a practical and sensible woman, and seeing this feature makes me laugh because it is totally her.  As they are not commonly seen, though, so I am supposing that 22” metal zippers must have been a bit more expensive than the ‘normal’ side zip.  Grandma was super sensible with money especially, but I could see her justifying the purchase because of the ease a center back zipper offered.  She was a busy working mom with a handful of girls to take care of – Grandpa was a busy man himself at that time with two jobs. 

Anyways, to get back on topic, I have talked about the issue of the long, full length vintage center back zipper in old (primarily 1940s and 50’s) dresses, jumpers, and house frocks in this post.  Agent Carter’s trademark red and navy blue dress from Season one of the television show was true vintage and it had a center back zipper, as does this blue late 40’s vintage dress in my wardrobe.  I cannot vouch for the Agent Carter dress, but my vintage blue late 40’s dress has all the features of being handmade, just the same as Grandma’s jumper.  If anyone has seen a center back zipper on a vintage garment as well, come join with me in this discussion and let’s de-bunk a popular myth of old clothes only having those difficult side zippers!

The rest of my Grandmother’s clothes are so fancy, they would not have been as wearable as this jumper even if they did fit me.  They include her velvet wedding dress from 1947, what we surmise to be her bridesmaid’s dress from her brother’s wedding the year after, and some sort of fancy late 1930s or early 1940s fancy semi-sheer silk dress from when she was an older teenager. See picture below. 

The best part about Grandma’s collared peach moiré bridesmaid’s dress is that she must have used the same pattern as was used for the bridesmaid’s dresses for her own wedding – it’s the same style.  For further proof that my Grandmother is ever the practical one, as I said above, there were two different sleeves which she made and kept with the dress, which is sleeveless.  There were long, full length gloves to mimic long sleeves and short sleeves ready to fit into the dress, both made of the same moiré fabric!  I am happy have recently found a late 1940 Advance brand sewing pattern which will be perfect to help me sew my own copy of this dress, as I mentioned above. 

The silk dress from her teen years is so amazing in quality and details, as is her wedding dress, that they deserve their own post, so I will only add here that they also seem to be handmade.  They were probably by Grandma Emma May herself, since her mom – my Slovak Great Grandma we called “Baba” who happily was alive until I was 10 – enjoyed more cooking, quilting, and artistic ventures than complex apparel sewing.  (I know this from the many visits and good meals she offered us at her house.)  To have one’s family stories be able to be recounted through the lens of just a few inheritance garments places of whole level of gravity upon something as basic as clothing. 

I’m sorry (but not really sorry) if these family tales make this post a bit uninteresting or at least confusing to be such a different approach than my ‘normal’ bog offerings.  However, it does me good to write about such things – it helps me remember, is therapeutic to share, and hopefully helps you connect with your own past as well as with me.  Do you also happen to have any family stories which are tied up with a garment which has been passed down to you?  What are your best tips for preserving a velvet wedding gown that has been turning an ivory-toned brown?  Is there anyone else you know who has had the opportunity to personally experience their older generations like a Great Grandparent, or even a Grandparent, or am I that much of a rarity?  Drop me a comment, and let’s talk about Grandmas and old clothes, please! 

A Cardin Inspired Coat, a Coral Blouse…and a Crab

The way my 9 year old is so easily savvy with the newest technology and hooked on anything electronic makes me painfully aware that I am part of a generation that grew up without the internet.  However, overdoing nostalgic comparisons makes me feel like I’m overly emphasizing my age.  Thus, I’ll try to narrow the focus of this post on both the amazing details of my outfit and its symbolism to me.  I will never cease to be amazed at how pleasantly avant-garde the fashion of the 80’s and 90’s can (on occasion) be.  I don’t think designer fashion of today can compare to it, for all our technological advancements.   

Notice the toy crab as my companion – here’s my major princess reference, as this is indeed the part two post for my Ariel (of Disney’s 1989 “The Little Mermaid”) inspired clothing.  (The part one post can be found here.)  Yet the fact I could easily start crabbing about surviving a childhood without being hooked to a ‘smart’ accessory places me as the peevish one.   Both Sebastian and my enameled Ariel lapel pin are both items from my childhood, picked up when the animated movie was first released. 

Thus, let me return to ‘89 again with both Cardin and Coveri as my inspiration this time, with a mind to further transform the pants of my first “Little Mermaid” outfit into a chic, sporty yet dressy, full collection suitable for more than just wintertime.  Using the little bits leftover of my lovely “Alta Moda” Coveri designed material, I was able to eke out a matching jacket.  Its fabulous back reminds me of a waterfall!  A scrap of outdoor cotton in a branching coral print becomes a blouse for me to enjoy the weather outdoors. 

Imagine if a track suit went high fashion in the very best 80’s way…and this is what I think you would end up with.  I absolutely, wholeheartedly treasure these pieces in a special way!  It is yet another great example of how certain 80’s styling can be timeless when well crafted, but on a personal level, these quite possibly were done in my best hand stitching work to date.  I am not one to ‘save’ my good items, nevertheless – the only way to enjoy them is to wear them!  I found it appropriate and comfortable for a trek through the woods to visit my favorite creek-side haunt on a chilly, rainy day for some water related pictures.  I would think any mermaid princess would go to a creek if that’s all she could find, or that an Ariel of 1989 would do so wearing something like this!

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  Jacket – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a Waverly brand printed 100% cotton duck (outdoor fabric)

PATTERN:  McCall’s NY NY “ The Collection” pattern #4181, year 1989, from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a few hook-n-eyes, and a couple cards of buttons (new)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse took me only 4 hours to make, and was finished on March 6, 2021.  The jacket was finished on March 26, 2021, and took me about 40 hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  Clean as can be! The jacket and blouse – as both are unlined – have vintage rayon seam tape and/or French seams.

TOTAL COST:  As I said in my post about the making of the trousers, the woolen Alta Moda fabric was a rummage sale find and therefore a dollar or two, while the blouse’s cotton print came from Wal-Mart’s scrap clearance section, as it was only one yard, for $2.50.  My buttons were a few dollars more.  Altogether, my total is probably $8.00!

What I specifically love here is that a different pattern was used for these two top pieces than what was selected for the fall-front trousers (McCall’s #4537, posted here).  Even still, the jacket and blouse of this post seem to flawlessly match with the bottoms and become a perfect set.  I attribute it to the fact both patterns are from the same year and same NY NY “The Collection” line.  

According the numbers, this pattern came first before the other I used for the trousers.  I definitely will be revisiting this to sew up the jodhpurs and the paper-bag waisted skirt which are included, too.  The way these NY NY patterns have a complete wardrobe in one envelope is really the best, not to mention the awesome, unusual styling.  This is the third one I’ve posted about (my first here) and you will be seeing plenty more of this line of patterns on my blog in the future because I now have a significant number of them.  They run from the late 80’s through the 90’s and are supposed to be designer, or at least designer inspired.  I definitely recommend you trying one out for yourself!

The style lines to these pieces, expressly the jacket, reminds me two great fashion designers who were were highly successful in the 80’s.  As I mentioned in my post about the trousers, my fabric is an Enrico Coveri brand “Alta Moda” woolen from pre-1990.  Coveri worked at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, when he moved to Paris in the late 70’s, before he started his own label.  (In this previous post I expounded upon more details of his life.)  I think the futuristic thinking of Cardin rubbed off on Coveri – both were men ahead of their time in the 80’s.  Coveri was designing in the late 70’s garments we associate with the “look” of the late 80’s or early 90’s, yet as he died young he does not get the credit I feel he deserves.

The blue jacket is one of several different iterations of this kind of back detail Pierre Cardin produced in 1980.

Then there is Pierre Cardin who released a “Computers” inspired collection at the turn of the new decade in the year 1980. When computer usage for the populace was a very novel and limited item still, his jackets where designed to echo the functional venting of a computer’s body (see picture at right).  The introduction of three preassembled mass-produced personal computers was just launched in 1977. IBM Corporation, the (then) world’s dominant computer maker, did not enter the new market until 1981.  I would like to suppose that, just like as he did in the 60’s with his Space Age looks, Cardin was banking on the expectation of the new frontier ahead that was seen in the new dawn of computers for all to use.

Now to me, Cardin’s short, hip-length, blue “Computers” coat is not that far off from this NY NY McCall’s jacket.  In reality, my jacket is probably closer to an early 90’s Claude Montana creation (seen on the left) at first glance of design lines.  Not knowing the construction details of either designer piece, I could just be completely off here with my references.  Yet, I see what I see and love the irony of perceiving a Cardin and Coveri influence, especially for my Ariel inspired clothing.

Back to what I’ve made.  How was this particular jacket constructed though, you may be wondering by now?  First of all, it is unlined which sounds like it should have made it easier to sew, but no – it did not.  The already confusing and challenging construction was complicated by my need to see this jacket have a pristine finish inside.  Wool is not the best medium to do French seams and a tiny rolled hem.  With some steaming, seam clipping, and careful hand-stitching, I made it work though.  The ‘waterfall’ back (as I call it – don’t know what to term this otherwise) was too flowing and beautiful to receive a ‘normal’ hem, as the instructions directed.  I made a very tiny rolled hem, which I learned by finishing the flounces on this dress, to keep the panel from becoming stiff and restricted.  Even the sleeves were French seamed!  All of the top-stitching to the hems and lapel facings was done by hand so I could keep the thread invisible.  If my fabric is high class, and I see that it has couture inspiration, I felt I should raise the bar of my finishing techniques to match.

This jacket has a lot going on when it comes to details to list, and somehow they all seem to work together.  I don’t know how, but I am in awe.  There is the extreme boatneck which leaves little of a true shoulder seam.  The sleeves are wide cut at the shoulders and taper to a snug fit at the wrist.  The curved, high front lapels can be thrown open or flapped closed for a variety in the look.  There are no bust darts, surprisingly, and I kept the front bodice smooth by substituting buttons for hooks and eyes as the trio of closures.  The waist is high, which worked out fine paired with the above-the-waist trousers.  The shoulder panel and ‘floating’ lower waistband, which sits under the bias cut ‘waterfall’, are the only two anchors keeping together the back of the jacket. 

The weirdest but coolest part to this jacket is that there is no real back.  Yes!  The flounce-like ‘waterfall’ back falls down loose from the shoulder panel, attached only at the sides.  There is a back waistband, heavily interfaced and a just a few inches wide, stretching across to connect the hems of the front bodice.  The ‘waterfall’ flounce meets only at the outer corners of the hem to bring in all the pieces.  Hidden underneath, the back is completely open.  If you lift up my flounce back, you can see my blouse underneath.  

This odd feature makes the jacket appear like a haphazard mess when it is anything other than on my mannequin or my body.  Some of the most interesting things I sew are also the hardest to explain, so I hope my pictures do some justice.  It is simply indescribably curious…and was therefore even more challenging to grade up to my size on paper, believe me.  I went into this sewing project “blind” because the pieces and instructions didn’t makes sense until I had a go constructing the actual garment.  I’m so happy this turned out and that I like it as much as I do…because if ever a sewing idea has been a gamble for me, this one was more so!

The blouse is much more low-key, to be sure.  It’s the fine tuning that makes it fantastic.  It pairs with the jacket by filling in the open neckline and paralleling the boat neckline with high-cut sleeveless shoulders.  The blouse is boxy in fit with a wide and shorter hem length.  It also has lots of small buttons to close the front…so many I had a hard time finding enough.  The buttons I chose to match – frosted aqua ones that reminded me of sea glass – could not be found anymore, so I pared the number down to 8 from the 10 that were called for.  I used the provided customized armhole facings for a change, too, so this would have a finished inside that matches the fabric of the outside.  The pique-style waffle finish to the cotton duck adds an interesting texture as well as keeping this top nicely weightless for cool summer living.

Notice how the bust darts come into the bodice from the front armhole? So different – I love it!!!

I have paired other blouses, mostly collared ones, with my jacket and trousers set, and I must say that they actually look better than the high-necked one worn here.  Sure, it came with the same pattern.  Yet, it is not the best at staying tucked into the pants with its boxy, cropped length.  I still very much like the blouse I made on its own, and I do like the fact that it is something different to wear with the jacket and pants I probably wouldn’t have tried on my own.  It perfectly fills in my “Little Mermaid” reference though its details such as the sea glass inspired buttons, the perfect ocean blue aqua tone, and a print that reminds me to give a care about the alarming damages of bleaching to coral.  Whenever separates match with plenty of other pieces in my wardrobe rather than just the set they were intended for…well, that’s a good thing I won’t complain about!

At this point I have sewn 5 items from 1989, all from McCall’s “The Collection NY NY” patterns mind you, and I think none of them are what normally comes to mind when anyone might think of the last year before the 90’s.  I actually feel quite comfortably myself in these fashions the way that I know it is still my penchant for vintage (borderline, I know) without seeming so.  It is the kind of faux “modern” wear that I can totally be on board for!  This NY NY McCall’s was a nicely impressive surprise I did not expect, yet another one of the (currently many) reasons I am enjoying a new appreciation the 80’s and 90’s. 

Designer Pierre Cardin is shown during a dress fitting for his “Computers” Coat, 1980

Just some parting reflections – seeing a couture designer like Cardin ‘honoring’ computers with a collection is weird to me.  I love irony in fashion, and so I find myself delighted yet confused at the same time.  Anything inspired by a technology 30 years back was not always flowing and elegant but often angled and overtly “sci-fi” (I’m thinking of the costumes to the 80’s movie “Tron”, especially).  This is not so much the case today, I realize, especially at the hands of Iris van Herpen

Also, I’d like to point out that a computer system is not necessarily the best friend of the traditional way of creating couture.  I am a manual, free-hand pattern drafter, so I know I am biased, but did you know that as of 2019 there is such a thing as “Algorithmic Couture”?  A body is 3-D scanned to determine its exact proportions, which are used to create customized clothing for zero waste, perfect fit, and maximum sustainability. “Algorithmic Couture aims to democratize haute couture customization culture prevalent in the 19th-century, by revitalizing how we fashion our own style through personalization in the digital design process,” said the team of “Synflux”.  Kind of like in the story for “Tron”, this “Algorithmic Couture” puts power into the hands of the user by letting the ideas of each customer be the guide for each of their projects.  Technology of today is rewriting the historic rules of couture (see this article).  In my opinion there is nothing quite like what human minds and human hands can create…I wonder if Cardin had any idea back in 1989 that computers and fashion would go this far together.

The CAD system has no doubt its benefits at the consumer level.  It can provide a multi-dimensional ‘finished product’ view at the conception stage of a design; it has helped expand the Indie brand world of patternmaking; it aids the ease of offering wide range of inclusive sizes as well as the commercial availability of various designs…all for a just a start to the list.  So much to consider! 

Making marks on pattern pieces via computer, March 1987

In 1989 Cardin had THE most fascinating interview in which he said what I feel embodies a lot my outlook on the importance of quality fashion being a normal part of how we dress, as well as the importance of it being accessible to many.  This is why I believe so strongly in the importance of great patterns for home sewers…ones that are designer or at least ones that offer unique styles to both challenge and suit every sewist’s unique tastes and body types.  Yet, I’ve learned from experience in being a patternmaker who can create a tailored custom garment, today’s modern means of digitizing patterns falls short from a quality I encounter in the early 80’s and older. (See this picture).  I am very aware of noticing that the curves, the perfect body fit, is subtly diminished the newer (90’s on up) you go in commercial patterns.  This is one of the many compelling reasons I prefer vintage sources for my sewing.  Here I go crabbing about things again.  Move over Sabastian!  You’re not the only crab.  It is clear I am an 80’s era grouch.

So how about ending with a little fun, geeky, 1989 related trivia that I find entertaining and related to computers, Cardin, and ”The Little Mermaid” animated movie?  Did you know that the first feature film to use the CAPS process, the “Computer Animation Production System” developed by both Disney and Pixar which had 2D/3D integration, was in the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989?  It was only used for very few scenes such as at the end where King Triton sends a rainbow into the sky for his daughters’ wedding (see pic below left).  Furthermore, if King Triton’s palace was a place on land I think it would most definitely be The “Bubble Palace” on the French Rivera.  This fantastic and futuristic living space was completed in 1989, and I swear it looks like something I would see on the ocean floor in “The Little Mermaid”.  Everything is round!  Pierre Cardin acquired it for himself in 1992 to live in as well as for presenting his fashion shows. 

Well…I *mostly* focused on my newly sewn princess-inspired outfit in this post!  I hope you enjoyed reading my musings here, as well as what I have made for myself, and chime in with my grousing through the comments!  What do you remember about 1989?  What strikes you about the fashion and the times of that year?  “The Little Mermaid” was my first princess, the one that completely sucked me into the realm of Disney, so Ariel was a pretty big influence for me when I think of that year.  Fashion and technology came into play for me that year also because it was my first big pageant show…bringing back memories of being in the limelight of the local media and modeling some styles that I shake my head over today.  Luckily, I like my 2021 versions of the 80’s decade much better!

“Under the Sea”

Let’s ‘dive’ back into the 1980s decade with yet another installment to my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” series!  My title gives away the royal fairy “tale” subject ahead of time here.  This is inspired by Ariel, from Disney’s original “The Little Mermaid”, with an outfit dated to the year of the animated movie came out – 1989.  My Pandemic Princess series was something I worked on throughout last year (2020) during the pandemic, and this outfit was one planned out at the end of the year for a wintertime visit to the new downtown Aquarium.  Thus, this becomes a conservative, bifurcated version of Ariel’s mermaid look with a purple blouse and greenish trousers made for an 80’s interpretation.  This is my only Disney Princess inspired outfit, too, which will not be a dress.

I wove so much symbolism, high quality, and love into all the details of what I’m wearing…Ariel was my first big deal, mega favorite Disney Princess, after all!  Proof in point – my parents were somehow able to get me (as in bring it home to keep) the oversized window display which was at our local Disney store for the release of the movie.  I remember dressing in a little purple bikini top and a sparkly mermaid tail to stand inside the 3-D display after they had set it up for me in the living room.  I was part of Ariel’s world that day!  So, please don’t mind if a grown up me obsesses over every little aspect to crafting her very ocean princess outfit, he he. 

Be prepared for a “part two” follow-up to this post, also dating to 1989 and with more matching pieces to make this outfit a complete set.  As big a fan as I am, one Disney’s “Little Mermaid” inspired outfit is not enough!  I might also do a third Ariel inspired garment – a dress – in the future, but I know I need to curb myself in at the moment.  For now, I felt it was important to channel the underwater princess as a woman with legs because, after all, her main longing was to walk, run, and dance on land!  I also enjoy the juxtaposition between her wearing only seashells as her top becoming a very fun but conservative long sleeve blouse in my hands.  All the blouse buttons are carved abalone shells instead!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Pants – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a soft but tightly woven cotton blend broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s “NY NY The Collection” #4537 pattern, year 1989, from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, interfacing, several hook-n-eyes, vintage rayon tape for hems, and vintage buttons from the collection of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces received much hand stitching, but the pants more than the blouse.  Even still, the blouse took me 30 hours and the pants about 40 hours (not counting the pattern re-tracing I needed to do on paper to re-grade the sizing).  Both pieces were finished by January 15, 2021.

This is a tank with both the “Leafy Sea Dragon” and the “Weedy Sea Dragon”

THE INSIDES:  Most seams are covered by vintage rayon seam tapes, but the long pants seams are zig-zagged over along the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  This set cost me next to nothing – just a few dollars – as I bought everything except the notions (which were on hand already) at a garage rummage sale. 

This set might have been practically free but don’t be deceived – it is not lacking in quality.  The blouse fabric is very nice cotton, to be sure, but it just so happened to be the same purple as Ariel’s brassiere shells. What seemed like the perfect find was not even 2 yards in length (at 45” width) so I was able to just barely make this blouse work out with its long sleeves and peplum.  Even still, my blouse’s cotton is a pretty basic score compared to the amazing find that was the fine woolen used for my pants.  It is a very greenish turquoise perfect to complement the purple, but also a mermaid appropriate tone. It was a soft, supple, and fabulously textured cozy wool.  Yes, there were 6 yards of the material in total. 

However, those 6 yards were perhaps the most moth chewed piece of fabric I have ever seen…quite a freaky mess!  There was barely a solid swath which didn’t have a hole in it from which to cut my pants.  With that fabulous selvedge marking, though, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to try and salvage what I could from off of it.  Whenever you see a stitched on ‘label’ on the selvedge of material, that’s a clear giveaway that it’s something high-end, especially when it says “Alta Moda”!

Many people may not recognize designer material, so I’ll decipher why the selvedge marking here is so important.  “Alta Moda” is an Italian noun for the world of Italian high fashion, Italian fashion designers collectively, and Italian couture.  It is their equivalent to “haute couture” in French.  “Traditionally, Alta Moda or Haute Couture is the creation of unique tailor-made garments made mainly by hand using high quality fabrics, decorations, applications and embroideries with extreme attention to details” says The Accedemia Costume & Moda in Rome.  Dolce & Gabbana is most often associated with the term “Alta Moda” nowadays, but as a designation for the industry, the words mark the difference between Milan and Rome – the former is more known for everday wearable clothes (pret-a-porter) where the latter is known for extravagant high fashion (says “Dave’s Travel Corner”).  This is significant because there is the name of Florence based fashion designer Enrico Coveri behind the “Alta Moda” designation.  

Enrico Coveri 1988

Enrico Coveri was born in 1952 and studied at the Accadema delle Belle Arti in Florence.  In 1973, he began working as freelance designer, creating knitwear and sportswear lines, while making his mark by being one of the first designers to use soft pastel shades.  He moved to Paris in 1978 to work at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, and the year after he debuted with his first women’s collection in Paris. Shortly after that, he returned to Italy to establish his own company in 1979.  “You Young” is the name of one of the several seasonal Enrico Coveri collections. It is also perhaps the best description for his bold, unpretentious, and fun-loving fashion: strong, vibrant colors and striking, witty designs that have always been clear and intelligible, with zany prints and knits often incorporating Pop Art designs and cartoon characters. Although he excelled at casual clothing, even his eveningwear exuded a young, sporty, wearable feel. Coveri enjoyed shocking and going out on a limb with design. 

It is noted that in Coveri’s styling, attention was always given to the particularity of the materials and fabrics.  His favorite fabrics included stretch satin, superfine linen, silk, cotton poplin, and sequin-covered knits.  Journalist Hebe Dorsey to dub Coveri the “Italian Kenzo” in the Herald Tribune.  Coveri died in 1990, at the young age of 38.  (This and the above paragraph’s information is from The Fashion Model Directory, Made-In-Italy.com, and Encyclopedia.com.)  Please hop on over to my Pinterest page (here) for his work and check out how full of life Coveri’s designs were in his too-short career.

This line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns are supposed to be designer drafted, after all, so using a fabric most probably leftover from Coveri’s work and then channeling his style to interpret my version seems so appropriate.  Now, I’m not intimating this was his pattern, but after reading up on his life, it suits his exuberance and love for details.  It also means this wool is from before 1990…bingo.  I couldn’t have chosen a better designer to incorporate into my Disney “Little Mermaid” outfit!  How this vintage Italian Coveri fabric got here in the Midwest of America and why it became so moth chewed is another mystery I won’t even entertain unravelling.  I feel he would appreciate the animated character influence here, as well as welcome the color tonality, but I would hope Coveri would especially like the unexpected details to the blouse and the pants of my chosen pattern.

The most obvious special detail is the front waist of the pants which have a strong mermaid-reminiscent shaping.  With the dipped center and the flared, pointed sides, it calls to my mind the common way to portray the joining of the human body to the fish tail at the waist of a mermaid or merman.  It’s not just all design lines with no utilitarian purpose, however – these pants are a unique “fall front” opening!  This is scarce on so many counts.  Not only is this style of pants closing something relegated to menswear, but besides maritime military uniforms having a buttoned fall front closing, it is primarily a historical fashion point.  The “fall front” means there is a panel (sort of like a bib) which is flapped up (after stepping into the legs of the pants) and either hooked, tied, or buttoned down to cover both an inner waistband underneath and the exposed lower groin. 

This style of pants is most widely seen today on the handsome gentleman and their roguish compatriots of popular Jane Austen novels and early 1800 era stories in television and screen adaptations.  The end of the Regency and Napoleonic eras were the last of the fall front’s common usage in trousers, excepting certain military uniforms (as I mentioned) or ladies Victorian “split” skirts for riding. Brann mac Finnchad has an excellent terminology post here on his blog “Matsukaze Workshops” as he explores drafting and sewing his own regency fall-front trousers.  Modern pants are a basic form of the “French fly” closure style, also called “split-fall”, and this has been dominant on men’s trousers and denims for about 170 years now.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that the “French fly” was utilizing zippers, as we use today, rather than only buttons.  

I have not yet seen a decorative fall front pants, much less in modern times, and especially for ladies.  These are THE coolest pants I now have.  They are not trying to be historical, yet are a fresh take on a style long dead…not dated at all for coming out of the 1980s!  Most importantly, though – the fall front incorporates deep pockets that reach down to my thighs.  This is modern ingenuity combined with practicality for you.  Even still, style aside, I love the way they are very comfy and easy to move in, besides being quite complimentary to my hourglass figure!  Now I just need to make sure troublesome fabric pests do not find my pants…

My fall front trousers utilizes one snap set and a few hook-n-eyes.  A 1 inch heavy-duty snap closes the inner waistband, as Brann calls the “binder”, and large hook-n-eyes to close the sides of the fall front flap.  The original instructions called for me to use buttons and work buttonholes at all these closure spots, yet I wanted the smooth front appearance of invisible-from-the-outside closures.  The amazing seam lines of these pants needed to take center stage without big buttons to distract!  After all, I did not trust two buttons to alone hold the weight and the pull of the fall front.  I want these amazing pants to last me many years.  Not having set button holes will hopefully aid that by giving the versatility of being able to adjust the spacing of a hook or snap.  Depending on how the fabric loosens or what my body is dealing with at the moment, “fit” is something fluid and not static and I sew all my clothes with some option of tailoring at a future date.

Once I graded up the paper pattern according to the given size chart, these pants turned out close fitting yet exactly my size, luckily, so I could focus on perfecting every feature as it was out of the envelope with no alteration.  The pants’ legs are tapered slimmer at the leg hems, the waist is high above the natural line, and the hips are roomy across…all in a nicely subtle 80’s way.  They are dart fitted across the back, unlike Regency trousers which were laced to fit.  The inner waist facings were in many different pieces across the back to accommodate the curving fit.  I kept the pants unlined so they would be more lightweight and therefore versatile for a mild spring or fall season.  The wool is so fine it is not really itchy.  I did finish the hem in a bright, cheerful lime green vintage rayon hem tape.  Only I really see or know it is there, but sometimes it’s those hidden fine details that make all the difference, right?!

Now compared to the pants, the blouse takes second sitting, yet it is still packed with unusual, special details, too.  It is more of a 1980’s classic, though.  As the envelope summary stated, the blouse was designed to be very over-sized, except for the close-fitting hips and wrists.  Combining these features with the dropped shoulder line and lowered armscye, as well as knowing my tiny wrists, I presumed correctly that the only place where I needed to size up was from the waist down.  The size of my pattern was two sizes too small for me according to the envelope chart and yet the main body finished up fitting well yet with a comfy amount of room to spare – just the way I figured it.  Sizing up was challenging as it is a darted one-piece in the front and a separate peplum with defined waist seam only in the back.  I merely slashed and spread the front blouse panel open to the necessary increment starting from the hem.  Then, I came back to retrace in the original pleats again.  When a pattern says “generous fit”, believe it only so far and measure at the pattern stage (as I did here) to see just what is going on ahead of time for a perfect fit in the end!

The pattern calls the back bottom portion a peplum, but I see it as a clever way to keep a poufy blouse tucked in and looking neat.  This blouse is onto something smart – don’t you hate it when you tuck a blouse into pants or a skirt which fits snug over the hips and the top just gets all bunched up and obvious under your bottoms?!  I am glad for the longer, lower hip length of the hem because it not only stays tucked in nicely but also looks great worn untucked, on its own.  80’s oversized blouses can overwhelm a smaller frame like my own, so the slim fit for the waist and hips makes this style work for me, I think.

An unusual part to the blouse is for sure the sleeves, the way they are so deep set and super gathered at the center top ‘shoulder’ seam.  I have not done a tapered sleeve like this before either, nor does one often encounter a smooth transition (no tucks, pleats or gathers) into the fitted, rounded cuff.  I love it!  Even still, one little detail of two carrier tabs at both the back collar and front button placket makes all the difference here.  It keeps a contrast scarf in place (the way I am wearing it), but the pattern calls for an ascot to be made (included in the envelope, too) and worn in a way similar to a man’s necktie.  No wonder the pants had such a masculine influence!  The whole ensemble owes its design to guy’s clothes, even if the details are inherently feminine.  The collar otherwise is pretty much the same as the cuffs, with curved ends, yet was sewn down with a man’s shirt-style collar stand. 

I felt that true shell buttons were the only thing appropriate here to keep “The Little Mermaid” reference strong but subtle.  Abalone shell buttons, if the underside is unglazed and raw, can fall apart easily.  However, I was able to find ones stable and uncracked for my blouse in the amount I needed (a total of 11) out of a good number more (about 18) in the vintage notions stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Shells are intertwined with every mermaid legend it seems, but I figured abalone shells would be Ariel’s preference the way they have an iridescent shine in her classic colors of turquoise, purple, and pink.

The way Enrico Coveri was obsessed with matching, curated accessories, I followed suit with this outfit.  Where do I start?  My shoes are perhaps my favorite compliment to my outfit, but then again I do greatly enjoy matchy-matchy footwear!  My facemask reminds me of the interesting and slightly alien texture of coral and was made by me of the lovely shiny turquoise rosette fabric leftover from this vintage inspired Whitney Frost dress copy (posted here).  My purse might be the most obvious accessory – it is a “Unique Vintage” brand cosmetic case that I added pearl straps to so I can use it as a purse.  My bracelet is really a necklace, but it is long enough to wear around my wrist when wrapped three times.  It has a sterling silver mermaid swimming across it!

My earrings are genuine shell carved in the shape of a starfish. I have had these earrings since I first got my ears pierced as a little girl. I know there is a story to where they came from which I cannot remember yet, so but nevertheless I hold them as special for the reasons I already mentioned!  I could have flaunted off so many of my old original charms, pins, or pendants which I have from when I was little and the movie first came out…but it looked too gaudy.  I wanted to go all out with this princess out, just to let you know, but I kept it tame…I really don’t want to cause any more attention (at times) than my vintage way of dressing already does!  

So, regarding our shooting location, if you ever find yourself in St. Louis, Missouri I do recommend a visit to the Union Station Aquarium.  This is something worth seeing (from a land locked Mid-Westerner’s point of view) plus it makes for the best pictures!  I couldn’t have asked for a better outfit to wear, though…the anticipation of the visit helped spur me to finish sewing it.  My Ariel inspired set totally put in the frame of mind to appreciate the underwater realm in an immersive state of mind…which was easy to do as some of the expansive tanks wrapped around and over between rooms!  Although I will not say “it’s better down where it’s wetter” as Sebastian sings, watching the fish and their counterparts do their ‘thing’ (“just keep swimming”, right?) was incredibly relaxing for us, compared to our working hours up on land.  At least it was fun to pretend to be a grounded mermaid princess for a day!