1930 “River City” Beach Pyjamas

Living the Midwest of America, I am surrounded by land and thus far away from any real beach.  However, I am surrounded by rivers, streams, and creeks!  The lack of real coastlines doesn’t stop me from sewing myself a set of 30’s beach pyjamas, complete with a matching short sleeved jacket cover-up.  These pieces are the ultimate vintage garment for casual living, so good they’re timeless, really.  It is yesteryear’s equivalent of a loose fitting, wide legged jumpsuit that’s as unassuming as your nightwear yet flawlessly chic.  They are now over 100 years old now, being born of the atmosphere of leisure following the end of WWI, and were the first popular trousered garment to be worn in public for women.  After spending too long being overly anxious to take on such an unusual project, I have now conquered and succeeded in coming up with some ‘new’ vintage for my wardrobe that I absolutely love.

It is actually quite hard to photograph black in a way to always show that my bottom half is actually divided and not just a skirt.  Between the breeze on the flood wall where I was and the evening light, it was challenging to demonstrate these beach pyjamas as truly trousers!  This is half of why I like them, nevertheless…they are a sneaky bit of a chameleon garment, especially since I made the jacket cover-up reversible!  Its look is variable at any given moment.  Passerby people probably wondered, “Is she wearing a dress or is that a sort of a jumpsuit?  Wait, how does she get that on?  Is it vintage or some modern resort wear?”  The resolutions are not obvious merely looking at my pictures either, I’m guessing.  All will be answered in this post! 

For these pictures, I am at what is one of the most classic spots for St. Louis’s Downtown – the Mississippi riverfront at the base of our emblematic monument “The Arch”.  Behind me is the famous Ead’s bridge.  My hometown is called “The Gateway to the West” for more than one reason, among which is the fact that our location is prime for travel and transport of goods among the river route.  The Eads bridge added to our prestige as the first south of the Missouri river, now the oldest still existing to span the “Mighty Mississippi” river.  It was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie, named for its designer and builder, James Buchanan Eads, and completed in 1874 with a dedication ceremony by President Ulysses S. Grant

The Eads bridge was installed and built with what was then pioneering technology, so much so that it still holds several records for its construction feats.  Happily, due to recent (but costly) maintenance, it still is being used for its original purpose to this day.  I suppose I am one of those old-fashioned locals that takes a higher pride in our useful, historic bridge – a symbol of St. Louis that now takes second sitting to ”The Arch”.  Both are equally tied to the river town that we are, and therefore the perfect backdrop for celebrating some regional pride while in my vintage summer fashion!  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the black portions are a 100% rayon crepe, while the contrast is a 100% cotton quilting print.  The jacket lining and pyjama facings are in a bleached, sheer, white cotton muslin.

PATTERN:  Past Patterns Company “Beach Pajamas and Jacket Pattern”, circa 1930 reprint

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper for the pants side seam

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pyjamas were finished on August 28, 2019, after 30 something hours of sewing.  The cover-up coat was made in 4 hours, and completed on September 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The jacket is fully lined, the pyjamas are French seamed

TOTAL COST:  The cottons were from my local JoAnn Fabric store, the rayon was an online purchase – both bought many years back now.  I have no idea as to my total cost anymore.  Keep in mind, though, that beach pyjamas need a lot of material – almost 4 yards (45” width) for the solid black and 2 yards for the print contrast.  

Just to clarify before I go any further here – in the United States (where I live), we tend to use the spelling “pajamas”, so by now you may be thinking I have plenty of typos.  Yet, that spelling is all too commonly associated with nightwear today for those who are not accustomed to the past fashion history for this term.  I am using the term “pyjama” because of the way this garment was spelled when it first became popular.  When including a “y”, the term also strongly alludes to its European origin.  Beach pyjamas blossomed at the Italian Lido in Venice and the French Riviera in the 1920s, especially so at the hands of Chanel.  She took it upon herself to turn them into the fashionable pieces we know them as today versus the practical, sun protective cover-ups they were in the late 1910s when they began to be worn on beaches and not just indoors.  There have been other sites who have written extensive, informative posts on the history of beach pyjamas (such as “The Vintage Woman” magazine, the BBC, the British Pathé, or “Messy Nessy”) so I will not do so myself, here.  I have already addressed the early beginnings of bifurcated bottoms for ladies in this post of mine on the history of the jumpsuit, after all.  I’ll not repeat myself, but now at least I have explained myself!  

The preliminary challenge I faced in sewing my own beach pyjamas was deciding on what design to choose.  There are so many reprints and vintage inspired patterns out there now!  Check out this post at “Vintage Gal” for some inspiration.  I personally gravitated towards the Past Pattern one, as it was a set with a cover-up and it had complex seaming.  I knew it would also be difficult to adapt to my needs as it is a much larger size than what I needed.  Nevertheless, I am a long-standing patron of that company.  I love the quality and accuracy of their pattern reprints. Therefore I painstakingly pinched out a total of almost 6 inches from the width (spread out in many small ½ increments), then equaled up the horizontal bust-waist-hips points, and trued up all the lines.  This was quite tricky to do with the contrast pieces being so very zig-zagged along the joining seams, but I chalked it all up to being good for me to gain practice in grading.  Sheesh.  Yes, I do tend to be hard on myself.

I meticulously measured the heck out of everything after I was done re-sizing to make sure at the beginning that this would fit.  My chosen “wearing ease” was about 3 ½” so I could have something in between a close and a loose fit.  I only had one chance at this with the ‘only just enough’ amount of chosen fabric I had on hand!  That being said, testing the fit of a paper pattern is nothing like actually cutting and sewing those same pieces out of a slinky rayon crepe.  My finished pyjamas fit just a little more loosely than expected, which was fine because that’s what helps make them the effortless, breezy casual and cool summer garment that they are, but – all in all – turned out perfectly!  Once it is understood how to ‘read’ and refine a pattern at the preliminary stage, it can save much grief, time, and cost of material.    

It was interesting to construct as a wrap-on garment and is a bit counter-intuitive to put on.  I couldn’t bear to sew a welt “window” opening right through the center front of the bodice for the one wrap waist closure tie.  This was how the pattern instructs.  I felt the rayon was too supple for that and I liked the simplicity of a solid main body since the contrast was busy and bold.  So I improvised slightly.

Unlike most wrap-on dresses or jumpsuits, this one – as I made it – does not have one tie slip through a gap at the opposite side seam.  I merely attach the left wrap, which is sewn to the pants halfway across the front up until the center front seam, to the right side seam from the inside seam allowance.  I chose to close it with a button (on the end of the left wrap) and buttonhole elastic (on the right side seam).  This way the closure is both adjustable and comfortable and it is also easier to close with the elastic.  Then I take the other wrap half, the top wrap which has a tie at its end, across the front over to the left side seam, which has another tie end attached to the side seam just above the zipper.  I like to wrap the ties fully around my waist, as if a belt, and finally pull up the zipper.  Now I am dressed!  Explaining the process makes it seem a lot more complicated than it really is.  However, through the explaining, I am also laying out some of how it is constructed as well.  I hope you are encouraged or at least have your interest piqued enough from my description to try this pattern out for yourself!

As if this closing manner isn’t curious enough, sewing on the curved and pointed contrast panels made for a hearty trial for my skills.  I added to my woes by drafting the hem contrast in a curved and pointed manner to mirror with the neckline paneling.  A major part of the challenge was on account of the differences in “hand” between the loose rayon crepe and the stiffer quilting cotton.  It is not a combo I would recommend, yet I made it work.  It took me having to take my good old time not stretching the grain of the rayon, being very precise and clipping all corners and curves of the tiny seam allowances.   

Don’t get me wrong – having the contrast hems, neckline, belt ties, and jacket be something more substantial gave great support to the overall beach pyjamas.  When you have 3 plus yards of a heavier draping material for the rest of the main body, which you do need to have the general air of a proper beach pyjama, it would look like a sloppy, wet rag hanging on me if it wasn’t for stabilizing the contrast.  For clean insides, I faced those printed cotton parts but did not interface them.  They didn’t need to be made thicker, just finished nicely for me to be fully happy with my work.  I just adore how Art Deco the cotton contrasts are with the sharp angles of the design lines and the zig-zag print!  Here, I would like to take a minute to unashamedly brag at how sharp all my corners turned out.

The cover-up jacket was a super simple project, one that I adapted slightly, as well.  I shortened the long sleeves and curved the front corners of the hem.  There were only three pattern pieces to the jacket and no closures so – in theory – it should be easy to match up the crazy print.  If only I wasn’t so short on fabric, I could have had the pleasure of matching precisely, boo hoo! At least it was also easy to fully line.  The way the lining cotton is quite sheer has me doubting whether or not I can truly call this reversible, but all raw edges are clean by being completely hidden…so I think the word can still apply.  I did draft the shoulders to be a bit more generous for my thicker upper arms, and it’s a good thing I did.  The jacket seemed to run a bit small already so I didn’t have to grade out quite as much as I did for the beach pyjamas.  Otherwise it was breeze to come together.

 It’s nice to have something like this cute little extra matching piece to keep the chill away for when I step indoors amid cold air conditioned buildings or out in the cool of a riverside on a summer night in Missouri. Hopefully in the future I will have an actual beach trip to plan for…and then I can bring my vintage pyjama set and wear them on a location proper to both their history and their name.

This outfit is such a personal accomplishment for me on so many levels, some of which I’ve already mentioned.  A more analytical reason of mine is that a year so long empty on my 30’s decade page – 1930 – can finally be filled in on my blog.  I have been having some difficulty finding a design from that year which I felt was something I could make.  Sure, I have seen many old catalog images and fashion prints from that year which are to die for, yet the perfect pattern and inspiration combination hadn’t struck me for anything else but these beach pyjamas.  Now I have something really good to add to that section to start off my decade page with a bang!   

Mardi Gras Tricolor

The festivities of revelry are never as outgoing and widespread quite like what happens throughout the world before the Lenten season, whether or not one chooses to participate.  Trying to say goodbye to excess and habits by indulging in them seems rather odd to me, but nevertheless I like an opportunity to wear some great colors.  The trademark tones for the popular American “Carne Vale” are as bold in their pairing as the party antics which are carried on.  They are as rich in history as they are saturated in hue.  Yellow gold, dark yet bright purple, and a cheery grass green are quintessentially, visually recognizable of a New Orleans inspired pre-Lent celebration.

Not that this post’s outfit was originally intended to call to mind Mardi Gras…it was just an Art Deco fabric on hand and the inspiration of the 1930s penchant for bold color pairings which led me to make the dress you see.  This had been one of my early 1930s projects I had intended to make back when I started blogging, but I realized both that I was not ready for the challenge and I was perpetually undecided on a fabric choice.  Finally, everything came together and I am so happy with the results!  The geometric print is perfect for a dress from the very early 30’s, the fabric appears much nicer in quality than a modern poly, and the design has such great features I think it is so appealing even for today.

To keep with both the Mardi Gras theme and the 30’s inspiration, I am wearing a modern wool beret.  Mardi Gras is a French word after all, and New Orleans has a rich French heritage, so my beret fits right in!  Do you notice the fancy stylized French Fleur-de-lis on the wall behind me, as well?

Also, look for my special accessories, too.  The necklace is a true vintage gem – a 1920’s glass bead piece that needed my help by doing a restringing and adding a clasp for a whole new life.  My earrings are me-made to match (as best I could) using clip-on blanks.  My gloves are true vintage from the 30’s.  I even broke out my old timey Cuban-heeled stockings!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The main body of the dress is a polyester satin with a sheen on the printed side and a buff finish on the other.  The neckline contrast, sleeve bands, and belt are a burgundy-tinted, rich purple buff polyester satin remnant.  The dress is fully lined in poly scraps…mostly a pebbled satin purple supplemented with a black non-cling variety

PATTERN:  McCall #6957, year 1932 – I used the reprint from Past Patterns which you can buy here

NOTIONS:  The belt buckle is a prized Bakelite vintage item I’ve been holding onto for the perfect project like this!  (Subsequently, the buckle has sadly broken…and is tentatively glued back together for now.) All else that I needed was lots of thread and some scraps of interfacing for the sleeve bands and belt.  It’s a simple needs Depression-era garment!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours and was finished on April 18, 2018

THE INSIDES:  Left raw…but you can’t really tell because the dress is fully lined

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this dress are more of my precious hoard of clearance deals which I bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business.  I don’t remember exactly but this dress can’t have cost me more than $15.

Now, I recognize that the Eva Dress Reproduction Pattern Company also sells copies of this McCall pattern, but I have always preferred Past Patterns.  Besides – their sizing is closer to mine which means less dramatic grading for me.  However, if you need a bigger size than Past Patterns’ 36” bust, Eva Dress’ repro is a 38” bust.  Even still, I often find 1930’s patterns from 1936 and before seem to run small and this one was no exception.  You want a slightly baggy fit with this dress because it is a slip-on with no side zipper called for.  Also this design was coming from a time that was still easing away from the 1920s, which is very obvious when I take off my belt!  I graded this pattern down to what was still technically a roomy size for me (with extra for a modern 5/8 inch seam allowance) and I feel it fits perfectly enough to both be comfy and land at the right points on my body.

I am quite impressed with this pattern.  Everything matched together well and it turned out just as the cover drawing portrays.  It was relatively easy to figure out how to sew together despite the fact that there are several tricky spots to take time on.  Many of my other 30s patterns made to date needed tweaking to the fit, or some of the panels were a bit off, or some of the instructions lacking…but not with Past Patterns.  The designs they choose to reprint have so far always turned out happily successful for me so far.

Making the many exact points and precise corners to this dress was quite time consuming and honestly a bit stressful along the way.  My fabric was a very slippery and always shifting material.  It was hard to be precise and avoid any bubbling out at the points, especially since (for the skirt insets) I was trying to connect two opposing grain lines together.  The insets were stitched together like a regular seam, making it harder, but the neckline contrast was invisibly top-stitched on to be exact and clean because it is more easily seen.

All of the pattern pieces were rather odd and almost unrecognizable on paper, but looking at the cover they all made sense.  It’s amazing how sewing works, isn’t it?!  The front is all one enormously long piece (as there is no waist seam) which appears like a giant capitol H, because of the insert panels at the neck and skirt center.  The back is mostly like a squared-off basic bodice, except with two ‘tails’ attached for either side of the middle panel.  The seemingly rectangular middle panels swerve out on the sides like the curve of half of the letter U to provide soft fullness to the skirt below knee.  The sleeves, dramatically opened up because of the numerous pleats, are almost 30” wide.  It’s no wonder that this dress needed a very anti-Depression era fabric amount of 3 ½ yards…and I was using 60” width material!

I have never done tucks quite like what was called for on these fun, poufy sleeves, and it was sure an experience.  You have to make them in a certain direction because they are layered on top of one another.  I have seen this type of mock-pleating on the skirt waist some couture garments (such as Dior).

You start from the side and pleat towards the center then move to do the same for the other side.  Both top and bottom have to be done separately because the center has to be left free.  All the pleats are folded into the skinny cuff band and attached to the dress…suddenly the sleeve looks amazing!  I had planned on an organza ‘filler’ to go inside the sleeve thinking it would need help poufing out, but no it doesn’t, even though my fabric is silky soft.  My printed fabric and the discrepancy of photography does not do these sleeves due justice for their awesome detail.

The neckline was definitely the most ingenious and usual piece of all, and I absolutely love the look of it in the contrast solid!  It reminds of an adapted jabot, but it is merely called “a vestee” according to the pattern.  A project I’ve already made from the next year in history, my 1933 McCall’s reprint set, also has a wrapped front drape at the neckline – a more dramatic and simplistic version of what is on this ’32 dress.  Neckline interest was very popular in the early to mid-30’s and I like all the interesting variety of it, especially neck drapes and ties.

I changed up the instructed making of the “vestee” for what I think is a cleaner and more straightforward construction.  It called for a single layer of fabric drape which connects to another single layer half piece which doesn’t have a drape.  This would have showed the underside of the fabric, been awkward to sew together at the center, besides showing the hemmed edge.  I made two, draped, full “vestee” style neck insets so that they could be sewn together like a facing for a clean edge along the center drape that doesn’t show the other color of the other side to the fabric.  I had to add the trio of pleats to each of the two pieces before sewing them together and on the vest.  Then I hand tacked the pleats together down the center.

The same beautiful, rich purple solid satin as what was used for my 1951 slip dress and the details to my 1955 Redingote jacket went towards the contrast here to break up the busy print and made the most of my remnant stash.  Just you wait, though, I am not yet done using this purple satin…there is one more project I’ve squeezed out of it (to be posted soon)!  I used the darker satin side of the fabric on this dress.

Purple normally is the color for royalty, and many Mardi Gras celebrations to have a King (and Queen) that is crowned to preside, but the southern American symbolism for it during the pre-Lent partying is “Justice”.  The green represents “Faith”, gold represents “Power”.  It all relates to both heraldry symbolism as well as the fact both United States and French flags are tri-colored.  My green is the new spring grass, and the rest of the colors I’m wearing.  I don’t always wear the dress accessorized like this – tans, or ivory, or black tones mellow out the bright but rich colors.  Finding vintage accessories in my size, in decent condition, in a reasonable cost, in more unusual colors is a challenge otherwise I would also try out pale yellows, or light purple, and other colors with this dress!

My first sewing project from 1932 has been long in coming but I’m glad I can enjoy it now.  I have been straying at the very strong shouldered and cultural influenced styles of the late 30’s for quite a while recently and this is such a refresher!  This has me thinking about what will fill in my empty spot for the year 1930…hummm.  Look for that this summer!

Year 1933 McCall’s Reprint Set

With all my recent criticism of modern “Big  4” pattern companies’ reprints of old original patterns, my budget is nonetheless limited when it comes to buying all the old sewing patterns I would like.  (Guess you can tell my ideas are bigger than my budget!)  Thus, in the spirit of being open-minded as well as needing a resource for more variety of past years to sew from, I do still use the re-releases with some misgivings.  Recently, in my effort to understand and sew the early 1930’s, I have used two of the first releases from McCall’s “Archive Collection” – a skirt and tie-front blouse for an ensemble from 1933, worn with my vintage 30’s Dr. Scholl’s brand shoes.

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Both pieces, and particularly the blouse, do have the classic 30’s look of easy sophistication with ‘simplicity-yet-smartness’ of its design.  Both are feminine and flowing yet a bit structured in their own way.  The blouse is one of the many designs of the early 30’s which had interest going on over both the chest and neckline (visit my Pinterest page for some visual examples).  Adding such details gave illusionary body lines, as well as ways to play with dramatic, inventive, interesting, or just plain weird ideas of how many ways to avoid a plain fronted blouse or dress. This skirt, as well as my previous 1930’s skirt, is in line with the style of Lucien Lelong, who in 1925 debuted his “kinetique” line of clothing.  Lelong over saw the creation of slim silhouettes with inset pleats that would pop open when the wearer was in motion but fall back into place at rest (quote from page 82 of the 2014 book of the FIT museum exhibit, “Elegance in a Time of Crisis, Fashions of the 1930s”).  This outfit is from the beginning of “sportif” clothing – the first modern means of dressing with both comfort and style for a new-to-the-30’s type of female…an active, independent, and collectively important woman.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The Blouse – a 100% cotton Swiss dot fabric in a deep dusty peacock turquoise color; mccalls-6993-7053-ca-1933-pattern-compThe Skirt – a heathered tan oatmeal-colored 100% linen 

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #7053 for the blouse and McCall’s #6993 for the skirt, both “Archive Collection” patterns circa 1933

NOTIONS:  I used all of what was on hand – a vintage metal zipper for the skirt, vintage bias tape given to me from my Grandmother for the skirt, as well as thread and interfacing that I had already.

dsc_0519a-compwTIME TO COMPLETE:  Pretty darn quick – the blouse came together in 4 or 5 hours and the skirt in about 5 or 6 hours.  The first was done on September 23 and the second on September 26, both in 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse inside is left raw (it doesn’t fray) and the skirt is clean inside with all bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought when Hancock Fabrics was going out of business so both fabrics were only a few dollars a yard.  My total is probably about under $20.

I am quite happy with my finished outfit.  My all over outfit is completely authentic to the times with the fabrics I chose (especially the Swiss dot), the colors will span seasons and match well with what else I have in my closet, and the fabric textures add interest.  Early 1930’s patterns from the time of the NRA are expensive (to me), a bit harder to come by, and considered more collectible (at least from what I see) so this outfit is a welcome and oh-so-very wearable addition to my wardrobe of this decade.  I am itching to make the other long sleeve cowl neck view on the blouse pattern – it looks just as practical yet lovely for my growing amount of 30’s clothing!

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However, I do have lingering doubts that these are 100% true carry-overs of 30’s patterns as they are quite fabric hogs.  I know the 1930s patterns demanded more fabric than a 1940s pattern, but this was still Depression times and almost 3 yards for a blouse seems like almost too much.  I am not certain my claim is worthwhile because this was the era of both an aura of elegance and superficial extravagance, even if only to “keep up appearances”.  I have read other bloggers who have mentioned ad-for-1933-achive-collectionthis seeming incongruity of era and fabric demand seen on the envelopes.  These 1933 pattern re-issues also include a vest and a jacket, but each were released as their own individual pattern.  (Why? To make us spend more money?  It’s quite rude to do this for the Archive Collection when the regular patterns have sets in one piece!)  I am guessing this whole 4-piece suit could have been in one complete pattern set originally – this was common practice in the early to mid-1930s.  I have yet to find the original for these patterns, so for all I know I’ll have to believe McCall’s…for now. 

I did have some problems with the fitting of both pieces – they seem to lack good fitting in odd places and run quite large!  I needed to dramatically take in both the blouse and skirt as well as add more darts and shaping.  Generally, I made the same sizes I would have chosen had these been McCall’s traditional modern pattern, and the blouse and skirt are not the same as them nor are they the fit of old 30’s patterns I have sewn up before.

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First of all, the skirt needed more curving added in to both make the hips and waist smaller and more fitted.  Even with an extra two inches taken out, I still could have taken out more and curved in the waist better because it has a weird placement on me.  I sewed my “normal” McCall size – that’s what makes this fit so weird.  Since the waist is not fitted to my body while the hips fit better, this skirt hangs from the hips while the waist kind of floats in place.  Anyway, it is comfy being loose, and what I feel with the fit is (I think) not noticeable on me.  The cover drawing makes it look like the waistband panel should be snug and at a high point across the middle…I wish I would have achieved that with my version.  I tried to do so, I really did.

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Secondly, the blouse’s shoulders were incredibly droopy on me.  As the perfect fix, the back of the blouse has a Y-shaped dart system where the horizontal “arms” of the Y come up and over my shoulders and down into the wrap front.  The blouse is designed with a Y paneled front, why not do it to the back when it is the best option to achieve a well-fitting blouse?  Of course, this blouse is supposed to be loose and kind of baggy, but too much hanging in the wrong places and a garment just appear poorly made.  Once ironed, my Y darts became invisible – yay – and each dart picked up the shoulder by an extra 2 inches to make the lantern sleeves puff out over my elbow right where they should be.

dsc_0485a-compwWhen the front wrap ends are held out they look like some sort of wings.  I think they are pretty and a good kind of different but having a blouse with fabric hanging down the front does take a little getting used to.  When I sit down at a table with food in front of me, I have to remember to place my arm across my front to keep my blouse’s fabric from dipping into the plate and making a mess.  The same thing goes for being over a sink to wash my hands.  I have heard this pattern design referred to as always wearing a napkin under your chin to catch any mess and generally be in the way.  I do not think it is as bad as that – the wrap front with its hanging ties can be tacked down permanently if you would so like because you do not need to undo it to put the blouse on oneself.  This doesn’t need any zipper or closure, for goodness sake!  For as easy to make as it was and as lovely a blouse as it is, this pattern is definitely worthwhile…as long as you’ve got 3 yards of fabric for it.

We kept with the time period with our background and went to take our pictures in the Continental Life Building.  It is a scrumptious Art Deco gem which was built in 1930.  It has had a tumultuous history and more recently saved from demolition by being turned into an apartment complex.  The lobby that you see behind me is such an over-the-top way to give a visitor their first impression – so classic of the wonderful architecture of the 1930s.  I just love the awe and tingling happiness it gives me to be in these types of buildings, especially when I’m in period clothing!

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In the competitiveness and eagerness to move ahead and be “modern” it seems many towns, especially ours, glazes over architectural history as if it was a hindrance rather than a necessary link to connect us with the past.  This can be the same situation when it comes to clothing styles seen in the stores to buy.  Past fashion trends are always being re-used and re-hashed but once recognizing where they came from and why they were first used, the reason to admire or wear a new type of detail becomes a source of learning, knowledge, and sense of the bigger picture.  (Hint – has anyone else seen a whole lot of 1930s era sleeves on the fashion scene since the last several months?!  Check this out for one example.)  Somehow, I feel like I’m doing both the building and my outfit due appreciation when I am able to pair a ‘me-made’ outfit with its time period counterpart place…and learn in the process.  Also, I guess I’m just venting appreciation for every historical gem of a building that gets saved, just the same as for every vintage fashion trend treasure that gets re-made, re-worn, loved and respected anew.

“Retro Forward” Burda Style – 1920’s Geometric Bias Dress

In strong simulation of the famous Madeleine Vionnet, this Burda Style dress is perfect for modern day glamour a la 1920’s.  My fabric is a silvery pink satin.  With its frosty sheen and surrealist clock “cog works” print, the fabric reminds me specifically of the cold, hard, mathematical beauty that I love about the Art Deco era.  The dress, in classic Vionnet style, is on the bias for a flowing, body complimentary gown the likes of which are not seen that often in modern patterns anymore.  I love this dress!

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McCall #6560 year 1931 Vionnet style facy gownI am not exaggerating – this is one of the most ingenious designs I have come across in my sewing.  It’s so simple yet so complex and so smart.  Just a few geometric shapes cut in the right grain line makes all the difference.  Vionnet had the foresight and ingenuity to create very similar styles, but Burda made this kind of dress reasonable in price and availability as a great option to going with a pricey hard-to-find old 1930’s/1920’s original patterns (at left)…without compromising authenticity.  Yes, believe it or not the 1920’s was more than just beads and fringe – it was also about bias cuts, freedom to move unconfined, and mathematical glamor.

THE FACTS:102 tango dress line drawing

FABRIC:  A 100% polyester satin bought from a Hancock Fabrics store

PATTERN:  Cowl Neck Dress #102, from 07/2012, on Burda Style’s store online or in the July monthly magazine issue.

NOTIONS:  I had the interfacing and thread I needed, as well as the money coins which went into the fabric weights for the dress’ inside.

THE INSIDES:  As this is on the bias, all seams are left raw and free.

100_3629-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made quickly in about 6 hours, and finished on August 8, 2014.

TOTAL COST:  about $10

This was my first Burda Pattern to make and I’m glad it was a success.  The instructions for the neck/bodice all-in-one facing were quite impossible to understand merely reading but as long as I followed them to the letter in my sewing, as weird as they sounded all worked out great.  I didn’t do any changes to the pattern.  Besides fitting in the sides, I kept the proportions and length as-is.

As for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced out using a roll of medical paper from the insert sheet of the magazine issue but you can also buy it, download it, and print it out from Burda Style’s online store.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

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Usually I grade from my “normal” Burda size (usually the smallest one offered) up to the next size for the hips but for this pattern I made the whole dress out of the size for my hips, just to be on the safe side.  However, I ended up taking in each side a few inches.  I don’t know if the bias is making the dress size seem so big or if it’s truly the sizing but either way for more of a body fit, rather than a loose and overall drapey fit, go a size down.  Now that I’ve made a few bias garments I’ve found there is a delicate balance.  A loose fit is needed so the bias does hang a bit on the body (you don’t want the bias stretched over you) but yet too much ease can make bias dresses look bad and frumpy with draping and wrinkles in the wrong places.  100_3614a-comp

The vertical sides of the dress are on the bias, but the side panels take turns with the main body of the dress to change things up.  There is the straight grain on the semi-horizontal downward edges of the panels while those corresponding seams of the dress are on the bias.  I had to be careful of both differing grains to ease in the fullness and yet also not stretch the bias in those spots– slightly tricky.

Bias cut also means no closures, no darts – just simple beauty.  Sweet!!!  While on me, if I pinch the dress and pull it out it could just keep going.  When putting this on, it falls open wide so it seems like a giant dress but then once it comes on over the head it magically falls around my body to fit.  Bias cut is so awesome yet so sadly unknown by the general non-sewing populace (at least from my experience).

My chosen fabric is feather-weight so it really makes the dress flow nicely, but with a slightly heavier fabric (such as a rayon crepe or silk charmeuse) the dress would have more of a correct drape.  Thus, I had to add some strategic weights at certain spots of the dress.  The cowl needed to drape better to keep the neckline down so I added a weight to the inside of the center front.  Then, the dress was lopsided so I had to also add a matching weight to the inside center back neckline.  My weights are merely small rectangular “pockets”, made from the same fabric as the dress, and they hold two quarters each.  So, I guess I ended up putting and extra dollar into my dress just to keep it hanging right on me!  Whatever it takes…

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I really don’t know why but the high-low hem didn’t turn out as obvious as in the pattern’s line drawing.  The high-low hem was a trademark of the late 1920’s and very early 30’s, which is why this dress is part of my “Retro Forward” blog series.  Around the time of the stock market crash of 1929, hemlines became more modestly transitional to the mid-calf skirt/dress lengths of the 1930’s by being frequently part short (like the 1920’s) yet getting elongated (mostly visually) by also being partially long.  Thus, during the transition of the 30’s and 20’s all sorts of hemlines became popular such as “high-low” hems, “hankie” hems (see this post), fur trimmed hems – and the variety doesn’t end there!  I find it funny how I still see many of these hemline styles in modern clothes.  Also, this Burda pattern is totally a Tango dress…similar to Folkwear’s version.  Many varied length hemlines were seen on dresses styled with a Spanish influence to be worn swaying to the then “new” music craze of the Tango.  Dancing that required full movement of the body was then not only popular but actually possible, too, for corset-less unconfined women in the late 1920’s, and crazy hemlines with body hugging bias cuts made the dancer seem all the more exotic.

This dress can easily go modern, but I preferred to glam it up ‘a la’ late 20’s style, with my fishnet stockings, bobbed hair, and my handmade long beaded necklace.  My Tango-style shoes are (I think) “1960’s does 1920’s” – they are “Debs” made by the famous Palter DeLiso footwear designer.

Even our background has the same time period and the same geometric shapes as my dress.  The building behind me is one which I have long admired and I happy to be integrating it into a project’s photo shoot.  It was built in 1930 as a power-station for an electric company, it is so awesome for such a mundane use, but that is the Art Deco movement to put glamour in everyday life.  The National Register of Historic Places Inventory for this building (page 16) lists it as “having metal grillwork in an abstract chevron-like pattern fills the rectangular openings” between the terra cotta and marble of the piers on the building.  “Above the openings of the spandrels, between the piers, large stylized ornament, linear, with hard edges, embellishes the parapets.”  Aren’t those details amazing?!  Sorry to go into detail here but I love historic architecture appreciation, and this building is up there on my “favorites” list so I can easily get going!

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I hope you like Art Deco like I do and hopefully this post can inspire you look for this era’s buildings in your town or even to work a little of this era into your sewing.  Have you tried bias garments, especially these geometric 20’s and 30’s ones with beautiful simple design like this dress?  If you have, they’re special aren’t they?!  If not, you need to go ahead and make one…let me know about it…I’d like to see it!