Modern Beauty

Superficial standards for beauty are fickle beasts to follow – they come and go, change and go out-of-style, caring nothing for humanity.  I prefer appreciating the more meaningful qualities.  When it comes to princesses, Belle from Disney’s 1991 animated fairytale movie, has the spunk, self-confidence, intelligence, love of learning, independent spirit, concern for family, and loving heart enough to be beautiful in more ways than the frivolous!   Now that I’m older, the tale of “Beauty and the Beast” seems weirder to me than when I was little, yet Belle is still “my” princess nonetheless.  The fact she loves to read, has brown hair and eyes (both like me), and is of a different breed of Disney “royalty” always has resonated with me.  Goodness, my parents bought me the special “New Adventures of Beauty and the Beast” comic books, the dolls, and handheld game when I was a child because I couldn’t get enough of Belle’s story!

Thus, her iconic golden yellow dress was the first creation I made for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  My mom had sewed me a version of that dress for a beauty pageant when I was little.  This time around, Belle’s ball dress was my birthday present to myself in 2019, and it became the catalyst to all the rest of the Disney outfits which have followed since.  My birthday is always my day to feel like a princess, anyway, so being able to wear this gloriously swishy, glamorous dress was a dream come true!  As I just had my special day come around again, I thought it appropriate to post this particular dress now.

This is also my most recognizable ‘copy’, where you can easily see my inspiration.  Yet, as I have said in my flagship announcement for the series (posted here), many of my princess inspired are channeled through the lens of the year the movie was released.  In this case, I found a pattern from circa 1991 which had a similar silhouette, neckline, and shoulder details to Belle’s dress, with just my kind of interesting tweak to the style.  I always have to take an original interpretation to be happy and this is why I call this my “Modern Beauty” dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the exterior is an all rayon twill, with the body lined in an all-cotton, and the sleeves lined in a golden tan polyester; several layers of pre-ruffled sheer golden organza become the attached petticoat to the dress’ lining

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5999, year 1992

NOTIONS:  one 22” invisible zipper and lots of thread, with a bit of embroidery floss for some hand stitching

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took about 25 to 30 hours to make and was finished August 1, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  all raw edges are covered up by the full body lining

TOTAL COST:  Each yard of the rayon twill fabric was on closeout for $6 through Hobby Lobby, and the cotton was the basic broadcloth from JoAnn Fabrics.  The ruffled chiffon was a remnant on clearance from JoAnn Fabrics for $10 at one yard.  Altogether, this dress cost me about $50.

First off, you have no idea how I fussed over finding the right golden color to create this dress!  When searched for a “golden” color, I found tones of beige, yellow, and orange.  Even then, one cannot trust the accuracy of what a computer screen is showing you will receive.  What I see in Belle’s dress is primarily a very orange toned yellow, though, one that will go with beige tones well.  My rayon twill outer fabric was originally (on its own) much brighter than I wanted.  However, the fact is was semi-sheer gave me the opportunity to turn the shade into just what I was looking for by having the lining be darker.  The true color as it turned out was hard to capture in photos…whether I’m in full sun or the shade changes the tone.  Yes, I know I am a perfectionist but I think it pays off in the end. 

As this is a princess seamed dress, it is not only appropriate in theme but also a very big fabric hog.  The pattern needed much more than the 3 yards of both the rayon and its lining that I had on hand, but I was feeling cheap and didn’t want to buy anymore.  A midi length dress was my ideal, as it is less formal but still elegant.  I trimmed down the width of the flare to the skirt from the hips to accommodate my shorter yardage yet still keep the length.  Even still, the skirt is so very full, making the dress quite heavy, and I’m glad there isn’t any more than 3 yards to each layer.  Yes, that means there are six yards in total, not counting the yard of double layered ruffled trimming to the hem, whew! 

As much as I like an open shouldered look, I reconciled myself to something more sensible for my version of Belle’s hallmark gown.  A dress this substantial that is also strapless sounded like a nightmare to turn out successful unless I added a fully structured bodice much like what was done to couture gowns in the era of the 1950s.  This is a 90’s dress that – though well shaped to my body and fancy, too – I intended to be wearable by being effortless and casual.  A structured body would counter that. 

Neither did I want to do the ‘’work” and once a sewing project becomes drudgery to me, it is no longer enjoyable, and that completely defeats the intended purpose of my sewing, especially when it comes to fun princess outfits.  The hem ruffles are added to the lining to eliminate the need to wear a crinoline yet still softly shape the skirt…easy, right?  Along this vein, the shoulder straps were added to support the heavy dress without needing an internal structured bodice.  I can pop this dress on then zip it up without any specialty lingerie, fussy closures, or restrictive shaping needed.  I was wanting a princess dress for modern times, and I kept it that way.  There’s no use to even making this dress at all if I’m not the one ecstatic about it!

Of course, I still have the dropped, off-the shoulder sleeves, just like the inspiration gown.  Of course, if I was to get technical, Belle didn’t really have sleeves – just a shoulder drape that is part of an extended neckline decoration which to me looks like a home décor sash.  My dress’ sleeves are so much cuter and easier to wear than I already expected.  They are joined under the arm only up to the nearest princess seam and merely float over my arm.  I absolutely love this feature although it does fool me into thinking that the sleeves are going to fall off!  (Silly me, I forget they are attached.)  It made for some interesting sewing that I haven’t done before, that’s for certain.  In the future, if I want a ‘closer to the original’ kind of cosplay piece, it would be easy to add to my dress some sort of shoulder/neckline drape (as well as skirt draping) like what was on Belle’s gown.  

As I couldn’t bear to just plainly top-stitch down the sweetheart neckline or leave it blank, I did some simple decorative hand-stitching across the front.  I made a stitch that calls to mind some sort of chain because I was thinking about how weird it was the way Belle transformed her captivity under the Beast.  We tend to forget that she was a ‘prisoner’, in one way or another, for most of the movie.  Belle had many good qualities, but her honest regard for her life situations wasn’t one of them.  Just one small touch in the details of my dress alludes to my current adult outlook on the animated film. 

There are several significant pairings with my outfit which help me fully immerse myself into Belle’s world.  The most important of any accessory is the red roses I’ve included.  The real roses I am holding were part of a dozen which were gifted to me as a birthday present from my Aunt on my mom’s side.  The necklace rose is a memento piece from my Grandmother on my dad’s side.  My mirror – like my roses – might not be magic, but still special.  The mirror is part of a sterling silver dresser set (including comb and brush) that I received from my parents as a present when a young girl.  Yet, it was my background setting which is what really helped me feel totally in character for these pictures.  It is an old abandoned stone church that has been shored up and overtaken by ivy but left to become a now popular photo location in the city.  It completely reminds me of the stately but derelict atmosphere of the Beast’s castle. 

I hope you too can relate to my Belle inspiration here because I know “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the most popular fairytales and has received many other iterations other than through Disney.  The original story is even more enchanting than any Hollywood version, though.  Nevertheless, it is great to relive a childhood memory in a tactile way, especially when it’s a good memory.  So far, this is not my most worn princess creation, but it might be my favorite just because of the treat that it is and the way I interpreted it.  I wish for such a euphoric garment on everybody…especially on their birthdays!

“No Chance! No Way! I Won’t Say It…”

…I won’t say – out load – I’m in love…with 1990s fashion, that is!  (Congrats to the person who can already recognize the song reference!)

Such news is a bit awkward to admit for me but it is a wholehearted truth now, especially after making this post’s project.  The dive of renewed interest in the classic Disney princesses last year via sewing my “Pandemic Princess” series of course necessitated acknowledging the fashion of the 90’s.  This ‘confession’ in my fashion taste comes only a few years after I reluctantly acknowledged I had fallen for the 80’s back when I made this Givenchy suit (posted here).  Then, my 1996 Emanuel Ungaro suit anchored my positive views of that era.  Previous to a year ago, I have not sewn anything from the 90’s since I was a teenager.  Ah, what am I turning into!?  This time, I can be completely justified in blaming my change of heart on the intensely independent, highly charismatic, acutely cynical, and generally unrecognized princess Megara of the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  

Meg inspired me to make a flowing, Grecian-inspired maxi dress which highlights her trademark colors of purple and golden yellow, using both a soft polyester print and a sewing pattern from the era of the 90’s.  My dress – like Meg’s – has an empire waist, skinny shoulder straps, long and curving princess seaming, and an ankle skimming length.  Yet, true to the gunge fad of the era from which the movie was released, I am not content with it to be just a sundress.  I’m wearing this as a jumper layered over a slouchy, dated, thrifted turtleneck.  Practically speaking, this dress is too pretty to keep for just the warm weather anyways! 

However, the real inspiration which helped me channel my Meg dress was the character Phoebe (portrayed by actress Lisa Kudrow) from the television show “Friends”.  A sundress over a knit top is 100% Phoebe’s style!  Fashion aside, I believe Phoebe to be Meg’s 90’s twin in traits and personality.  (Seriously, though, I could see them liking the same assorted, haphazard fashion, too).  They both have a sarcastic, dry humor because they see the world free of rosy tinted glasses after having become very street-wise.  They both are admirably, boldly unafraid to speak what is on their quick-witted minds.  Nevertheless, behind the jaded outlook, both women are still soft-hearted, innocent, and sentimental.  Phoebe is my favorite character out of “Friends” and Megara is the Disney ‘anti-princess’ who has more recently earned my high esteem for being “a big tough girl” who can “take care of herself”.  This outfit of mine compliments the strong and soft sides which I share in common with both spunky screen ladies.

Funny enough, the statue behind me in the garden is Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology.  In the myth and not the Disney version, Hercules was the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of Olympus, and Alcmene, a mortal married woman.  Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hated Hercules because he was the most famous and successful of Jupiter’s numerous illegitimate progeny.  I could only image what a first meeting with Hercules’s family might be like for Megara.  Nevertheless, I imagine Meg could hold her own very well with the militaristic Juno.  Even though my background setting isn’t as classical as I would have liked, I do enjoy the subtle nod to the Hercules by including Juno.  That not all, however!  At the same Botanical Garden, we also found a fountain of Persephone, the wife of Hades and the Queen of the Underworld.  After the foul way Hades used Meg when he had her under a soul bondage, the myths seem to show he had learned how to (somewhat) respect a woman by the time he married Persephone.

I want to give a shout out to the seamstress Eszter (on IG here @em_originals) for encouraging me through the power of a good review to use the dress pattern I did.  Don’t you just love it when someone else has – and makes something of – the same vintage sewing pattern as one you have on hand?  It always feels so remarkably serendipitous.  She thoroughly and kindly answered my questions about what fabric she used and how her version came together.  Go take a look at how lovely her dress looks on her (see it here)!  Good things happen when sewists unite! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 90’s era polyester leftover from lining my 1996 Ungaro suit; fully lined in a beige polyester cut out of some microfiber bed sheets

PATTERN:  New Look #6306, year 1994

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread and two zippers (I’ll explain why further down)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 20 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on November 4, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The inner raw edges are left raw but there is a full body, floating lining which covers up the mess.

TOTAL COST:  practically free!!! Read on…

How I acquired the base materials for my Meg dress is a bit of an odd story.  Firstly, the printed fabric was practically free, being donated to a $1 a pound rummage sale.  The lining was a dirt cheap find of some gently used bed sheets.  Then, the pattern for this was actually picked out of the alley’s dumpster behind our house.  I couldn’t just leave a perfectly fine sewing supply behind when it was just an arm’s reach away…for free!  At first I was overly curious to find out who nearby sews like me (so I could meet them) and then I was struck by the fact that this single pattern was thrown away.  The fashion of the 90’s wasn’t always great but also wasn’t 100% trash.

It’s semi-explainable (especially when it comes to the 1920’s to 40’s) how certain eras of original sewing patterns have expanded in popularity and pricing in just the past 10 years yet it’s also odd how other eras remained static.  The 90’s and 2000 era patterns are clearly still underappreciated, largely disliked, and yes – often very recognizably stereotypical in styling.  Yet, now that my 1993 vehicle can officially register for “antique” license plates, it has made me think past the wry laugh and personal offense that news caused me.  I do see 90’s styles creeping into the RTW offerings and oddly being picked up by the younger generations who know nothing of the era like those of us who lived through it.  1990s logos, shows, and trends are as vintage to my 9 year old son as the 1960s were to me as a child.  My view of what constitutes “vintage” has been slowly changing along with my growing fascination for 1990s fashion.  I am understanding more than what meets the eye, and growing beyond my set prejudices towards how I regard the fashion of a decade within my lifetime.  I am not the only one, though.   

Colleen Hill is curator of costume and accessories at the prestigious Museum at FIT in New York.  Her upcoming, critically acclaimed special exhibition is entitled “Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties”.  I recently received my order of the companion book to the exhibit and have since poured over the rich content.  It portrays a restless decade where the last 10 years before the turn of the century were “modern to retro, from glitz to glamour, from puritan to pretty, from military to minimal, only to max out at the finale with an opulent flourish of beading and a rash of irony.”  (Quote from Harper’s Bazaar writer Marion Hume’s December 1999 editorial.)  What I found the most interesting was the chapter on “Retro Revivals”. 

“Fashion historians often distinguish between the terms: ‘retro’ is generally used to describe clothing that was worn within living memory, and ‘historical’ encompasses influences from the more distant past” the book says.  Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish where “vintage” falls.  The book goes on to quote art historian Elizabeth Guffey, “Retro considers the recent past with an unsentimental nostalgia.”  So does this make the 90’s vintage to me and not retro, as I am nostalgic about growing up in that era while my son views 30 years ago in a curious but unsentimental way?  The quote continues, “It is unconcerned with the sanctity of tradition; indeed, (Retro) often insinuates a form of subversion while sidestepping historical accuracy.”  Ah, yes I do take a more accurate sewing outlook on my 50’s era and older things I make, but what if I do the same for my 90’s projects?  This post’s dress is sewn with a fabric and pattern truly from the era.  “1990s fashions were at once looking back and planted firmly.  Were creators scared of the future or simply celebrating the past?  It appears to be both” said the 90’s design critic Herbert Muschamp

No wonder I appreciate the 90’s!  It is a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century’s fashions, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  I already frequently find a way to put a vintage spin on the modern clothing I make.  Furthermore, it is relieving to now embrace the styles and the modes of dressing from the 90’s that I admired on others and wanted to sport, but was too awkward or not in the right place to do so.  I also enjoy appreciating the last great era for USA made clothing and a recognizable continuity for long-standing design houses, as well as the beginning of an individualistic approach to fashion.  Thus, to me, based on where I am in life and the way I approach 90’s fashion, I am calling it vintage.  This might not be your view and that is fine.  After reading the FIT museum book, I believe that placing this era is up to each person’s interpretation.  If you haven’t noticed the subtle changes to my site happening in the last few months, I would like to point out there is now a decade page for my 1990’s creations added to the header bar of my blog.  I’m so happy to see it there and might add some of my teen years’ makes (which I still wear) on that page in the future.

That being said, I could not get away from a soft demonstration of one of the decade’s earliest and most memorable trends – grunge.  I never had and have not yet found the courage for a full blown embrace of the trend because I never liked the music scene tied to it, but deep down I’ve always still liked elements of it.  Grunge is about practicality over image, economic sense with second-hand items, and comfort pieces.  I wore a loose fitting, rayon knit turtle neck I picked out at a thrift shop back in early 2000s, so it’s possibly from the 90’s.  My little ballet flats have been with me many years, too, and I love the low-key toughness of the multiple buckles.  I am not above loving what I have on hand for many years.  My earrings (from this local shop) were the only new purchase for this outfit – they have Herc’s dad Zeus’s logo lightning bolt coming out of the cloud of Mount Olympus.

Grunge was a very anti-establishment movement, and designer Mark Jacobs (for Perry Ellis), actress Winona Ryder, and “Sonic Youth” band bassist Kim Gordon all were prominent influencers in the trend.  Part of Grunge for women was the wearing of pretty floral dresses from decades before in such a way that you pair them over a tank and pants with chunky black boots, a denim jacket, and a chunky sweater.  The Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley dresses of the 80’s were part of this, as well as the floaty vintage frocks of the 30’s, or the printed tees of the 60’s era.   The height of the Grunge aesthetic was short lived, though.  My FIT museum book “Fashion in the Nineties” says that Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed relief in a 1994 letter to the editor, by saying Grunge was drifting out of fashion.  The way I interpreted my Megara dress hits all the right notes of 1994 fashion.  Granted this is a date 3 years earlier than the “Hercules” film, but as I associated my inspiration with Phoebe from “Friends”, which began in 1994, that year seemed like a good date to go with.  The year 1994 has so very many designs which are so similar to the point of redundancy – empire-waisted maxi dresses with princess seams.

After all of my rambling on about the era and provenance of it, this dress was actually very simple to sew.  It was a bit time consuming because of all the long seams, the full lining (which was merely a second copy of the dress), and the tiny hemming required.  Even still, I can’t believe I made a completely bone-headed mistake in the midst of construction.  I forgot to combine the back bodice pieces with the back skirt before sewing in a near perfect hand-picked zipper. 

Not every day is my best day, and some days I am just lucky to have the family’s basic necessities taken care of…but I was still devastated by my oopsie.  I powered on in the most non-impactful way by merely adding in a 5 inch separating zipper to the back bodice segment of this dress, above the lower 22 inch zipper.  Yes, I do end up with two zippers up the back.  Yes, I feel terrible about this.  There were tears involved.

Nevertheless, I am proud I made the best of it, resisting the urge to throw it across the room and give up, because I love this dress.  I don’t think the dual zippers are even noticeable, after all.  The fit to the pattern was spot on and I think the hem flaring looks spectacular.  My dress makes me feel very tall, elegant, and curvy.  I garner so many compliments when I wear this!  I can’t wait to continue to wear it as a sundress this summer.  Copying Meg’s manner of styling gives me the best excuse to also brush on my favorite purple eye shadow colors and draw my best winged eyeliner, too. 

The 1997 animated film “Hercules” was very much a product of its time – it references the “Buns of Steel” exercise videos as well as Nike’s famous Air Jordan sneakers,  the muses are merely a jazzy version of the group En Vogue, and then – for goodness sakes – Michael Bolton sings the theme song!  There was no way an ancient interpretation was going to be as wearable as a 90’s manner of looking at Megara, the human princess of Mount Olympus.  The fresh new write-up for the film was not remotely mythological accurate, after all, but still a fun kind of different for Disney’s Renaissance period.  This dress (jumper, depending on the weather) similarly has to be one of my most enjoyable and out-of-the-ordinary kind of ‘practical royalty’ make for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Here’s a toast to the sassiest Disney princess of them all!

Light in the Dark

We just recently had the first day of winter in what has already seemed like a very bleak year. Bleh. Yet, with the arrival of this 2020 solstice I am reminded there will only be more daylight from here on out up to the coming of summer.  It’s so close to the end of this miserable year that this fact in itself bestows a great hope, as well.  Holding onto the light in the dark is the only thing that can help us make it through the tough times.  The way the Indian festival of Diwali (of a few weeks ago) is always a close prequel to the date of Christmas became more symbolical than normal this year with the pandemic.  Thus, I went all out and sewed a special kurta tunic dress for both occasions, something which plays on the whole idea of radiance in a season of gloom to bring out the happiness to such holidays.  The gold touches, the pretty bright colors, and especially the shiny ethnic “mirror work” added to my project all combine to make this the most fun and unusually festive outfit I have made yet!  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the kurta tunic dress is a block printed viscose, rayon, and cotton blend challis in the palest yellow background with a red trefoil bead print

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7254, year 1994, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread and one 22” back zipper…that’s it!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Hand stitching down the trim took me so much longer than the making of the dress itself!  The garment was sewn together in November 20, 2020, and sewn together in 4 hours.  Hand applying the neckline and wrist trimming took me another 5 hours.

TOTAL COST:  Three yards were $30, ordering it direct from India from the Etsy shop “Fibers To Fabric”.  The trim was $4 for 1 yard, from the same shop. Altogether, my kurta cost me under $40.

This Christmas I will be as decked out as our tree with all the symbolism I annually associate for this lovely holiday!  I mostly just want to end the year looking and feeling my best without trying too hard.  This outfit does that for me.  It is in the Indian ethnic style that brings me so much joy and fascination.  Here I am both dressed up yet quite comfy, fancy but covered up to stay warm in the cold, and uniquely dressed in a style that honors India’s traditions as well as my own.  I do always love a slinky 30’s era gown or a strapless 50’s cocktail dress, but this year I was only in the mood for something much more wearable.  I am not yet acclimated to the cold and have no desire to freeze for the sake of fashion.  It is possible to be covered up and warm in winter yet still be jazzed up, too.  I can ‘have it all’ sometimes.

Take some tips from the culture of India when it comes to alternative colors to wear for colder seasons.  Cheerful and bright or even light toned colors are worn for all seasons in (especially Northern) India especially for formal wear, ritual occasions, and by the upper castes.  The beautiful diversity of religions which have existed in India for centuries – Islam, Jain, Sikh, Buddhism, Bahai, Christianity, and more – have provided a collective influence on the general fashion traditions of the greater Hindu impact to the country.  Thus, where Northern India has a greater Muslim influence through Punjab and the Rajput princes, as well as Jains in Gujarat, you’ll often find the colors of orange, red, yellow, and green in their garments.  I welcome this tradition. 

My country often only associates pretty pale tints, pastels, and other bright colors with warm weather.  Climate does not dictate clothing colors in India as in America.  In the darkness of winter, I do find soothing and festive tones can be more uplifting than black for some holiday glad rags. I personally need to be cheered up by what I am wearing in winter more than summer, anyways.  Otherwise it is way too easy to become uninterested, bored, and apathetic at bundling up to stay warm and dressing to deal with inclement weather.  Covering up my clothes with a coat is never exciting, but neither do I like my summer wardrobe to have all the fun.  Channeling, yet all the while understanding, the traditions of India is my happy answer for lovely winter attire.

I am all around festive when you just focus on the general outfit details.  There is bright scarlet hue on the print – and red is just about THE quintessential Christmas color.  It is also the color reserved for those extra special occasions in life for the tradition of India – this years’ Christmas is rather in that place for me.  I need to celebrate the fact I made it through the year this far!  The pale yellow reminds me of the warm glow of my favorite clear lights to decorate a tree.  Added touches of gold fancywork honors the story of the Magi who were guided by the glistening star of Bethlehem to present gifts to a king.  The mirrors around my neck reflect every little ray of light around me just the way I hope to do as a person.  See – it really is a special outfit for me!

In this most recent post, I address the terminology of what a kurta tunic is, and how such is worn and can be styled, so I will not refresh all of that information here.  This time, I merely want to show how such an item is not hard to make for yourself and how it can easily be worn as a modern midi dress, too!  So many patterns you probably have in your own pattern stash would likely work to become an Indian-style kurta tunic dress.  Something with form complimentary lines (such as the princess seamed panels on this project, or merely a tailored fit) and a non-confining skirt are preferred.  This kurta’s full, flared skirt hem makes it especially festive compared to my last kurta with its slim-line silhouette.  This one’s cotton and rayon blended material is certainly not as formal as my last kurta either, with its gold “zardozi” embroidery and silk sari material.  Kurtas come in such a variety for every person’s taste and life occasion.  They are sensible yet beautiful, not over-the-top yet finely decorated, feminine yet simple.  They are so wearable I must share my love for them with you!

The decade of the 1990s especially had a burgeoning plethora of dress and tunic designs which could be easily given a directly appropriate Indian ethnicity.  Why is this the case?  Since the 70’s “hippie” era, fashion has been using as the grossly loose slang term “Bohemian style”. The highly publicized visit of the Beatles to India in the late 60’s for meditation with the Maharishi is well documented to have had a powerful influence of bringing the East’s culture into a new awakening for the West. It took off again in the 90’s as “Boho” – think of Lisa Bonet and Winona Ryder or Gwen Stefani (wearing an Indian “bindi” forehead dot in the video of the 1995 song “Don’t Speak”).  Often that era’s “Bohemian” style has its roots or inspiration coming from the “Fabulous East”, after all, and not truly Czech as it might sound.  “Bohemian” now is often used as a blanket term for not understanding proper ethnicity for loosely Indian referenced clothing under the guise of being “artistic”.  Using the term in that way absolutely repels me. 

Interpreting ethnic styles for yourself is not wicked but it is important to still honor and understand cultural interpretation properly.  Do not throw on tassels, flashy mirror trim, or whatever comes to mind just because you want to follow a fad…and then still call it ethnic, though – that is the not-very-respectful common ideal of “Boho” fashion.  There is a balancing act that needs to be done.  It is always the best idea to error on the side of understanding and consideration than to not do so.

Admittedly, without the trousers or even a longer skirt layered underneath, this kind of kurta could look like your basic western world dress on steroids.  However, I do want the proper ethnic way to wear it which also coincidentally keeps me warmer in the cold, anyway.  The red skinny pants I wore in my day pictures match my jacquard dupatta shawl as well as bring out the color of the block print (which sadly somewhat faded in the first trip through the wash cycle).  The pants are now an older project of mine – these 1950s era jeans I made back in 2018 (posted here).   They do keep my ensemble a very subdued kind of finery.  I did attempt to make a pair of much more posh skinny trousers to bring my look up to the next level (you can barely see them in my night time pictures).  I chose a gold foiled pleather material using a newer Burda Style pattern…and the project turned out to not be the rousing success I had hoped.  They do complement the gold trimming on my dress!  Those gold pants will be posted in a separate post coming soon enough.

My ‘necklace’ and my ‘bracelet’ are both parts of a separate trim applique bought direct from India and sewn directly onto my garment as embellishment.  This makes for ease of dressing.  Yet, adding such mirror work around the neckline or chest is one or the popular ways in India to place such a decoration on a kurta.   I definitely bring a whole disco ball kind of party with me by just the neckline trimming alone!  Little holograms float onto the walls around me while I wear this inside anywhere, bringing a smile to my face which starts from the inside of me.  How many garments can do that?!  No wonder the Jain religion firmly believes wearing such mirror work wards off the “evil eye” and mischievous spirits. 

Mirror work, properly termed as “Sheesha” or “Shisha”, originated in 17th century Iran and means “glass” in Persian.  It is said to have been brought to India through various travelers during the Mughal era.  It is a type of embroidery which attaches small pieces of reflective metal to fabric.  In recent times, mirrors are used but traditionally flakes of mica, beetle wings, polished tin, cut silver slivers or coins of money have been chosen for this purpose.  Different shapes and sizes are chosen to be affixed on to the fabric by special cross stitch embroidery that encloses the mirror, and provides it a casing.  My post’s project makes use of an imported trim that had the mirror work embroidery done on a stiff mesh jute backing, with beading and decorative gold yarns in between.  I merely had to hand stitch around the trim to attach it to my garment’s neck and cuffs for an instant look of the real “Shisha” embroidery.  I realize the 5 hours it took to sew the trim down is nothing compared to what it would have taken me (or another more experienced embroiderer) to work the real thing directly onto what I made.

Mirror work is used to embellish and decorate a variety of items such as saris, dresses, skirts, bags, cushion covers, bedspreads, wall hangings, religious offerings, and more. Mirror work is most common in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, hence these three states form the major hubs for mirror work.  In fact, it is a significant enough local craft to Gujarat that it has its own term – “Abhala Bharat’.  Nevertheless, this type of embroidery is widespread in India, but the usage and placement designates the origin.  The Jats of Banni make use of mirrors of varying sizes and shapes to embellish their entire fabric. The Garari Jat community on the other hand, make use of tiny mirrors embroidered on to the yoke of the dress with multicolored threads. The Kathi embroidery of Gujarat makes use of mirrors by stitching them onto either the portion of the eyes in a print of animal faces or the center of a flower.  “Shisha” is probably one of the most flashy and distinctive of Indian decorations and a tradition loved worldwide.

It’s amazing how the trim adds so much ‘wow’ factor to such a simple design!  From the beginning, this was a really an easy-to-make project that became elegant by its lovely fabric and excellent fit.  I didn’t need to do any extra tailoring – it fit me perfectly as-is straight out of the envelope!  So then I go and add the trim and suddenly…bam!  I have a wonderful kurta.  I am tickled at how this looks so much more ‘extra’ than it really felt creating it.  Using both fabric and trim sourced from India to come up with something to properly honor the ethnicity made this a very satisfying project, too, just the same as every one of my Indian inspired makes.

Out of all the traditional holiday attire in red, green, or black that I have sewn before, this one unexpectedly embodies all that I associate and love with the precious end-of-the-year holidays.  For 2020, I needed as strong a reminder as possible to bring me up to remembering everything special to me about such festivities.  The process of creating this was almost like relaxing therapy at the same time because this year had been so different – and the holidays for us a bit altered and low-key – so I might as well go along with everything.  I have been secretly sewing many frothy, princess-inspired, and over-the-top dresses behind the scenes as my ‘quarantine escape’ for most this year, so it was time to slow down, make a change, and make an unconventional low-key holiday outfit which is 100% exactly what I needed at the moment.  I am just plain wiped out at this point in the year – but what a way to end my year of sewing!  Not that one project remotely makes up for what 2020 put me through, but if I end the year with the perfect sewing project for the moment maybe I can feel like something ended on the right note…no?

Here’s to 2021!  Wishing you and those you love a year of happiness and health, with a strong beacon of light in every dark time which may come your way.  See you here next week – next year!

Tribute to Emanuel Ungaro

Continuing my ascension in decades for my yearly Easter outfit, this year’s make was decidedly going to be from the 1990s.  This is an odd decade for me to handle as I was an awkward teen through most of it.  I, however, felt more at ease with diving into the challenge because this year my Easter sewing is a bit more personal.  It is my way of showing my deep respect for the life and talents of the recently deceased French courtier Emanuel Ungaro.  He will always be one of my favorite designers – I literally can’t look at his work and not sigh in admiration.  He worked and trained under all the other designers I so esteem.  Some outfits more than others, but especially his suits, are something to wish was on my back.  Yet, in every creation, I see and admire how he brought 80’s and 90’s couture up to an enticing, avant-garde form of artistic beauty.  They are bold but not garish, inventive but still wearable, and all definitely great confidence boosting fashion that I need to ogle over in our troubled times today.  I reached for one of the Vogue Paris patterns I have of Ungaro from my stash, and went about stitching out my own interpretation of his work.

I will admit, in imitation of Ungaro’s frequent use of mixed materials, I went out of my comfort zone (and common sense) to combine a silky crepe satin with a two-tone ombré shantung into a highly tailored-cut suit coat.  I was pretty much expecting either a horrible failure or a really good surprise.  I couldn’t tell, but a creative haunch drove me on.  Perhaps it was merely my desire to do something spectacularly useful with two one-yard remnant cuts on hand.  Either way, tweaked with the right padding, strategic interfacing, and hours of hand stitching, I think my experiment is at the opposite end of a disaster, happily!  The longer I stay in isolation, the bolder my fashion and sewing choices are becoming, which ultimately came in handy here.

I have several skirts on hand already that do match with my suit jacket so for now only that is a designer creation.  My skirt here is a decade old RTW item.  I might get around to making the skirt portion to this Ungaro pattern in the future, but not for right now.  I’ll confess to being dubious as to how the complex skirt would actually not distract or otherwise overwhelm the jacket, but I have faith in the designer’s vision.  All the paneling to the skirt is further calling me to color-block it, too, and I knew that might not match here…nor did I have more fabric to work with at this time.  So, I will be revisiting the 90’s and more Ungaro fashion soon, then, and experimenting with still more boldly ‘modern-vintage’ fashion designs!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester ombré shantung together with a polyester satin (using the crepe side only) for the exterior and facings, with a 1990s original poly print as the lining material.  The inner panels were flat-lined for structure in a poly-cotton broadcloth fabric.

PATTERN:  Vogue Paris original #1842, year 1996

NOTIONS:  lots of thread, ½” shoulder pads, both a ¾” (for the sleeve vents) and a 7/8” (for the center front) covered button kit, and lots of interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was finished on March 28, 2020, after over 40 hours put into it

THE INSIDES:  What insides?…fully lined

TOTAL COST:  I’m not counting the light pink crepe, lining, and the notions, as they were all either practically free from a rummage sale or scraps on hand from years ago.  My only real expense was the shantung remnant picked up at my local JoAnn store for about $5.  Yup…this is a $5 designer jacket!

This Ungaro design seems as if it was MADE to be color blocked the way the seams line up for the side and under sleeve panels as well as the faux pocket flaps.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised but actually should have seen it coming.  It was Ungaro’s surprising color-blocked suits from the Parisian runways of the early to mid-90’s that I wanted to imitate with sewing my own version.  Yes, I know my actual pattern date is on the late end of his ‘trend’, but hey – I’m open to finding a way to appreciate the 90’s.  So, if this is the means, then I’m here for it (and I hope you are with me for this, too!).  Give it another 10 years, and this decade will be ‘vintage’ soon enough.  Ungaro stayed with the bold color-blocking trend for a good part of the decade (1990 to at least 1997 – watch this runway video).  I had some lovely scraps to use up and the color pink on my mind, anyway.  After being cooped up in quarantine around the house, I am further inspired by the blooming redbud tree in our backyard!

Happily, this pattern had been ‘used’ before but was ready to go and not missing a thing.  Someone had been ready to use this because all the pieces were cut out nicely, organized, and no longer in factory folds.  The sleeve pieces had been altered, folded 1 inch shorter – great for me because that was just what I needed anyways!  Most importantly, the pattern had a “Vogue Paris Original” label inside the envelope. These labels are a treasure that makes my garment so much more satisfying.  I am so thankful that this pattern’s previous owner (and seller, too!) had enough foresight to take such care of it, especially since there were 20 pattern pieces to deal with, too.

The back of the envelope sums up the jacket design as “closely fitted, fully interfaced and lined, above the hip (flared) jacket with button/buttonhole trimming, raised neckline, shoulder padding, side panels (no side seams), pocket flaps and long, two-piece sleeves having a mock vent.”  That about sums it up, yet the nuances that I came across while making this make it all seem an understatement.  That being said, I noticed right off the bat that it was listed as “closely-fitted”.  I went up one whole size and I do believe this is a great fit.  It is a tailored enough jacket that a bit of room – which I have – to both be comfortable and wear different weights of tops does not take away from the shaping which still complements the body.  Good shantung naturally wrinkles like the dickens, and for an ombré shantung, that is part of the beauty to it, similarly to a fine linen.  However, wrinkles which come from a garment that is too tight is another thing, and not preferred for this designer imitation jacket of mine.  It is so much easier to tailor in a few inches than try to add pieces or get creative because of the need to let inches out.

While a shantung – poly or not – has some structure, and the satin has next to none, neither is enough to become a suit coat!  Thus, the overall saving grace to this jacket was flat-lining every…darn…piece.  “The Dreamstress” has a fantastic terminology, how-to, explanation post here that lays out the process’ details and benefits far better than anything I could ever write.  When I made my Agent Carter “One Shot” suit jacket the year before, I quickly learned flat-lining was the only way to go with the perfect fabric no matter what its hand or content.  For that jacket, I found that a tightly woven, poly blend broadcloth provided the best combo of soft structure to make my supple, loose flannel transform into a rigid suit coat when layered with heavy cotton, starched muslin interfacing.

What worked well then worked wonderfully once again on my Ungaro blazer with a few differences.  As I was using fabric even more slippery than almost any poly out there, I did have to choose the iron-on interfacing this time, however.  I omitted pad-stitching the three layers (for each piece – fabric, interfacing, broadcloth flatling, in that order) together, as the poly fabrics I was working with did not have the loftiness of nap that woolens or flannels have.  In place of pad-stitching, I did hand tack the layers together along the seam lines, and graded down the bulky seams by cutting.  Suits are like a fine art that comes together in stages so complex it’s often hard to see the final result up ahead.

The instructions were amazing, and walk you clearly through each and every step.  In comparison to last years’ 1980s Givenchy suit, this one was every bit as detailed with the same advanced difficulty rating and yet it was easier in the construction, which I find so very interesting.  The prime example of this is with the sleeves’ mitered corner vents.  They are a part of the traditional two-piece suit sleeve.  The Givenchy pattern had several steps and some hand stitching to achieve the exact same end that the Ungaro suit sleeves engineered into a simple two-seam technique.

Seeing and experiencing this has made me respect Ungaro even more than before.  I do not know which method – Ungaro’s or Givenchy’s, if either – is the traditionally ‘proper’ way to do this common suit detail, but I appreciate the former for finding a way to streamline such a complex corner, with no difference in result than if you spent more time and took more steps.  That, right there, folks, shows Ungaro’s madly underestimated talent.  This is why I beg you to pick out a designer Vogue pattern to try for yourself.  You’ll thank me in so many ways!

I did go just a bit rogue when it came to the buttonholes.  I spent so many hours to make the windowpane buttonholes you see on the ‘good’ side of the jacket by hand.  It was draining but worth it.  I’m so glad there were only four of them!  So, for the inside facing, I made machine stitched buttonholes.  Again, this is exactly what I did for my Agent Carter 40s suit.  Doing so turned out great this time as before, gave a quick and clean way to finish the inner half of a bound buttonhole, and – most importantly – saves some of my sanity. It is hidden inside the suit after all.  Let’s face it.  No matter how much I love crafting suit jackets, after 40 hours of work on them, crammed into a week and a half, I start to become frazzled.  Yet, I always want to make sure such a work fully deserves that respected “Vogue Paris Original” tag which came with the pattern, so I know when and where to discreetly take a shortcut.  Larger 7/8 inch self-fabric covered buttons close up the front, while slightly smaller 5/8 inch buttons keep the sleeve vents together at the wrist.

This suit is the first time I have splurged on a bright, fun, patterned lining.  As I had about 6 yards of the material (estimated to be from the 90s or 2000s) on hand, and to continue the boldness of my pairing idea, I figured I’d go for it!  Yet, I thought ahead so that the crazy print would not show through the pink tone.  The flat-lining I used was a dark, opaque blue.  Yes, that made sure no seams would show though either.  From an aesthetic standpoint, it shades the light pink contrast a bit darker to unnoticeably complement the ombré blue in the shantung when it crinkles.

There are so many secrets inside a good suit coat than you could ever image with a casual glance.  This is why adding the lining to a suit jacket is always such an exciting, satisfying, emotional step to me.  It covers up all the evidence of precise engineering and well-thought out little background details that are the key to a successful suit coat.  This is both rewarding to have a clean finished appearance in one step, yet terrifying to have all your work be covered up, never to be easily appreciated from the self-explanatory way that only something visually seen can demonstrate.  At least I remembered to take a picture!

I really have to laugh at myself for loving this project.  Sure it is my favorite designer, but really – enjoying the 1990s…what have I become?!  I do love a good color blocked garment in any other era, I suppose.  This suit somehow has everything I love about a good *true* vintage one – wonderful hourglass shape, strong shoulders, a peplum to boot, and great details.

I knew this project was coming for this year’s spring so I had time to be choosy about which pattern I would go with, though.  I went through a lot of very unappealing designs on the way to this perfect find.  You see, ever since I started with the 1920s for my Easter outfit of 2013, I have been ascending in decades with what I sew for Easter every year.  Only since hitting the 1970s have I chosen to make suits.  Thus, once I catch up to our current decade, I do believe I will go back and make a suit from all those eras I only made dresses for, in case you’re curious as to my plans!  Yes, next year will be the 2000 decade and I have it all planned out already.  This yearly commitment keeps me experimenting outside of my comfort zone.  I had to keep it going no matter if there’s anywhere to go or reason to be fabulous!  I am enough of a reason to dress amazing, and once I slide this jacket on I just want to stay fabulous and linger in enjoying the power of a great suit.  Ungaro has unfortunately passed away from us, but I can make sure we don’t forget his talent by finding a way to bring his patterns from my stash to life!