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.

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“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!

An Emerald Mid-1930’s Vionnet Gown

With Prom season upon us, I’d like to post about a quick and easy but awesomely elegant gown to make from the genius of history’s famous designer Madeleine Vionnet.  I love finding patterns that look the opposite of the amount of difficulty they present in the making process.  If you’ve got a handful of hours, a super fancy buckle, and several yards of nice fabric with a formal event to attend, then this pattern could be for you!  It’s the epitome of 1930’s glamour yet passes as fully modern.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% polyester crepe back satin (I wish I could have used silk, but one can only spend so much dough for fabric…*sigh*)vionnet book covers - from iocolor

NOTIONS:  Just thread and bias tape were the only notions I needed, besides the buckle.

PATTERN:  Pattern #12: “Planes and Gussets”, page 84, of “Madeleine Vionnet” book by Betty Kirke (book covers image from here)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Only four hours!  It was made on the evening of December 4, 2015, with about an hour more to place and sew on the buckle and finish the ties.

100_6801-compTHE INSIDES:  All bias bound, except for the bottom hem which is on the bias and left raw with some fray check to keep the edge in check.

TOTAL COST:  the crepe-back satin was a Hancock Fabrics “Beautiful Fine Fabric” special – I bought it on sale for about $20.  The buckle was bought at an antique/vintage re-sale shop for about $35.

This Vionnet gown makes me feel so amazing and elegant, like some movie star of the silver screen of olden times.  Words to describe it would just seem tacky.  The bias moving with you and flowing around you is a lovely feeling.  Every lady deserves a good bias dress.  I have heard some women mention that only certain figures can pull off a bias dress, but I disagree.  First, women of the 1930’s were generally slender (it was the Depression) but they did wear foundational undergarments which helped with shaping.  Shaping underneath or not, nevertheless when the bias is cut well with a good design it will do a body good!  After all, I have never yet found any RTW (ready-to-wear) frock which accomplishes the bias correctly like when you find a really good pattern and make it yourself.

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Although I absolutely love it, I cannot figure out an anomaly about this gown.  The original dress which is on display online at the MET museum lists this design of evening gown as dating to 1936-1937.  However, the Betty Kirke book from which the pattern came from lists this dress as 1935.  Alright – who’s right?  Which year is this dress?  Also, between knowing what I know about fashion history and what I’ve read, the gown is both behind its time and ahead at the same moment.  The early 1930’s had a fad for the “half-naked-from-the-waist-up” styles of evening gown, then by about 1933 the styles became slightly more decent by following the fad for higher necks and shoulders covered with ruffles or poufy sleeves (discussed here at “Witness2Fashion” under “The Letty Lynton Dress” and “Very Bare Backs, 1930’s”, also see my past-made mid-30’s evening gown).  This emerald Vionnet gown has a taste of both contrasting styles.

So, I’m slightly confused but still impressed that Vionnet’s design of this post’s featured dress is from the mid-1930’s, but it goes with the Depression era perfectly when women’s clothes were excessively extravagant and richly elegant – the opposite of the (then) current economic circumstances.  Simple ornamentation is the ‘normal’ key to such clothes…the gown itself is amazing interest enough… but Vionnet’s gown calls for a unique closure to be a focus point!  How daring, but it works.  Another common feature to similar 30’s gowns are the extremely low backs and hemlines – achieving this with Vionnet’s evening gown was hard and a tad tricky.  I’ll explain further down.

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The patterns in the book are small sized with no specifications as to what percent to grade up to for full size.  I went through a copy store’s services to have them scan in, plot out, enlarge, and print my patterns since this was my first time making a pattern from this book.  The only “bench mark” I went by to know how much to enlarge was for me to pick one spot on the garment for which I could say how long it should be, and figure the rest of the garment should follow grading up properly from there.  For instance, I realized for this pattern that the length of the front rectangles, from the top of the neckline to what should be the side waist, should be about the length of my collar bone to my waist (adding in some extra inches for error).  This measurement was a define spot to realize how much to grade the book’s pattern up to…probably not the best way but wasn’t the worst either, just so as long as it worked.

As far as I could tell the pattern is made for Japanese sizes 9 AR (US/Canadian sizes 8, U.K. size 10, and European size 38).  This would make it for bust 34” (86 cm.), waist 26” (66 cm.), hip 37 (94 cm.).  I don’t remember where I read this but it seems accurate, maybe slightly smaller.  I am very close to this size so I didn’t make any changes to the fit because bias cut is a bit forgiving.

100_6776a-compAs it turned out, I could have made some small changes/adjustments to the fit, but this is just really the perfectionist in me wanting everything just right…a carbon copy of Vionnet.  Part of me wishes I had made my gown just a tad longer so it sweeps the floor like a true 30’s gown, but that’s impractical for me so my dress is just below ankle length.  Also the dip in the back where the ties make a “U” turn around the inserts could have been made a little wider for a sharper curve.  My back curve to the dress is more like a “U” that got bent open and I think only the upper tops of the inserts could be lengthened for a look more like the original Vionnet dress.  Pick, pick, pick – it’s what I do.  My dress is fine and the pattern is really easy…a tad hard to adjust.

The pattern for this evening gown is awesomely simple and so awkwardly large.  Except for 100_6593a-compthe little parallelogram-shaped piece which completes the back dip, the dress is made of one huge shape.  I really don’t know how someone who doesn’t have ample floor space or a gigantic table can cut this dress out.  We have large open floor spaces at our home but even still it was maxed out to lay out 3 yards of 60 inch fabric in a single layer.  This also had to be done when no one was around to walk in the house but me!  As you can also see in my picture, I let the natural end of the fabric’s width dictate the seam where the dress would have a panel joined in to complete the dress.  I did not follow the “joining line” on the pattern, as I wanted minimal seams (the dress seems to have been accommodating for the 35 inch or 45 inch fabric widths normal for those times).

I believe the key to this dress being a success is 1.) the necessity of making the neck high and back low and 2.) the placement of the buckle.  Firstly, the back dip needs to be low, low…like right at or above the waist because if not, the bias will not spread out over the bum properly.  The neck needs to be high (close to the collarbone) for the back dip to be in the right place but also because it keeps the front in proportion, especially when it comes to adding the buckle which brings the dress in.

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Thus, secondly, I found from looking at the original garment from Vionnet at the MET and experimenting with the placement on my own dress that the buckle has to be at a “sweet spot” on the body to reach the intended shape, drape, and look.  There is a triangular space above your belly button that is between your ribcage just about big enough for the palm of my hand to cover.  When the dress neckline comes to reach or go just under your collarbone (where it needs to hit), THIS SPOT between the ribcage and above the waist is where the buckle should go on the dress.  Why am I so strong on this?  I have seen plots of Vionnet’s garments where it proves how her clothes where designed with the composition of the natural lines of the body and its muscles in mind so it makes sense to me for her to pull the dress in at the same place where your body is “pulled in”…not where it pivots.  Also, when the buckle is placed in that “sweet spot” the dress naturally flares out over both the bust and the waist/hips, creating the illusion of a small middle and at a more proper waistline, too.  Conventional dressing knows nothing of the power of working with the body, and most people (including me) get so wrapped up in the only spots we focus on – waist, hips, bust, and maybe shoulders or other points, too.  The comfort spot of “the waist” is different on everyone, but the buckle’s “sweet spot” is the same on everyone, and a very strong point in the body as it is…a good place to hang the dress.DSC_0584a-comp

The ‘leaping gazelle across the pastoral scene’ on the original buckle is so beautiful and also very appropriately classic to the 1920’s and 1930’s.  An image widely used on anything and everything to home and eating pieces to fashion (see my very own Elgin Compact, at right) and ornamental purposes, the leaping gazelle is an Art Deco carryover from the peaceful Art Nouveau era.  The 1930’s 100_6803a-compideal enjoyed reliving the Grecian past, through flowing, body-conscious dressing, and no one expressed this better than Vionnet, so the carved ivory buckle on the original gown could not be any more perfect.  My own buckle, however, takes on the more uber-fancy and bling-loving side of the Art Deco era though it does have some swirling to the design.  My buckle reminds me of costume jewelry with all its gems and details but it is some sort of fine metal (sterling silver, maybe) because it polished up nicely, even though the gems are probably fake.  I also pinned another authentic vintage 1920’s or 1930’s pin to keep my back straps in place at the back of my neck.100_6755a-comp

We went back to the proper time period and location where a dress like this would have been worn for our photo shoot location – the Chase Park Plaza.  This hotel in downtown was newly completed in 1931 “as an opulent Art Deco masterpiece despite the Great Depression.”  Many famous people have walked the Chase Park Plaza’s hallways and stayed under their roof, and with Art deco splendor around every corner need I say why I felt even snazzier modeling my fancy evening gown?!

A Fancy Feed Sack 1935 Dress Set

Something as commonplace as a vintage feed sack print gets an upscale upgrade when it came to planning and making my Easter outfit of the year 2014. I had made a number of 30’s era garments earlier than my 2014 Easter outfit, but an authentic and all-out-beautiful classic of the mid-1930s (one of my favorite fashion era years) was in order sooner or later in my plans. Here is my post about a sheer, flowing, silk chiffon afternoon tea dress with a under slip which has Art Deco lines. This 1930s silk set was quite time consuming to finish perfectly, but very fulfilling to make and even more lovely to wear.

100_2792a-compMy Easter dress for the year before this one was a design from the 1920’s (my 1929 hankie-hem dress made in 2013; posted here). For 2014, I merely went up a decade to the 30’s, to have some continuity of progression through the upcoming years.

THE FACTS:100_2800-comp

FABRIC:  The sheer feed sack printed over dress is an “Anna Sui Vintage Floral Silk Chiffon” (close-up at right) from Mood Fabrics. The under slip was made using a “Kiwi Color Solid Silk Chiffon”, also ordered from Mood.

NOTIONS:  I bought most of the notions that went into making my 1930’s Easter set. I had to buy several spools of thread, a package of stay tape, the buttons, and a skein of embroidery floss. I did have on hand the few snaps which were required. The belt buckle is a very old Art deco piece that I also had on hand, bought a while back from a vintage shop. PastPatterns#2303 SummerPartyDress ca1935

PATTERN:  My outer dress is a pattern from Past Patterns, #2303, “Summer Party Dress: Circa 1935”. The under slip pattern comes from the book “Vintage Lingerie” by Jill Salen, pages 46 to 49, the “1930’s Silk Slip”.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The outer sheer dress came together quite quickly considering, about 20 hours stretched out over 4 or 5 days. It would have been even less if I hadn’t caused more work for myself when it came to the sleeves (I’ll explain this down lower). The slip took…oh, my, very much time! It took long enough to get the slip wearable with the dress in time for Easter (April 20th), but much longer to do the final fitting, seam finishes, and embroidery details. I worked on the fine finishing details on and off for the next few months until it was finally done in August of 2014 (for a total of maybe 30 hours).

100_3408a-compTHE INSIDES:  All the inside seams for the sheer over dress are done in French seams, except for the bottom skirt flounce inserts, which were lapped on, and the skinny ¼ inch hems. My under slip had the bodice panels lapped on, similar to a flat felled seam. All the other seams to the slip were made in clean finished seams covered with a strip of stay tape for sturdiness (see left picture).

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 3 yards of the Anna Sui Feed Sack Silk Chiffon, at a sum of $38.40. Now the Kiwi Solid Chiffon was $39 for my cut yardage of 3 ½ yards, but I only used a yard and a half for the slip ($19.50). My total cost for the outfit fabric comes to $58, but…I didn’t have to pay for it! It was free as part of $100 gift credit, my prize for winning the “Butterick to the Big Screen Contest” in June of 2013. All I really paid for then was the notions, which might have been $10 or less! Score!

This was my very first time sewing with silk this fine and expensive. Boy, was I intimidated! I was so afraid of messing things up or having something in some way going wrong. But I knew I just needed to dive in and start learning and progressing. I did use my hubby’s Grandmother’s old Brother sewing machine because it has a smooth run, predictable stitches (besides, my favorite tried and true work horse machine was needing repair). I also started out with brand new “sharps” needles, and replaced one or two more needles on my machine throughout the outfit’s construction to eliminate any possibility of getting runs in the silk chiffon. Besides these basic steps, and just plain old being careful, thinking clearly, and taking my time, sewing with these silk was a truly a wonderful dream.

100_5771a-compI am still amazed at how easy the Anna Sui silk chiffon was to sew…much, much easier than polyester chiffon, with less runs and fraying than a poly imitation, too. Now I did find the thicker solid Kiwi Chiffon to be a bit more of a problem, but I think maybe it was just because I “wrestled” with making the slip work for so long, I may have a bit of prejudice towards it. At first, I also experimented with some scraps to do the method recommended on a few tutorials and blogs – keeping a layer of wax paper between the feed dogs and the chiffon. It was not working for me nor worth the trouble. All I did was stitch slowly and evenly, feeling out the bias of the fabric and being extremely careful to not stretch it in the least.

100_5786a-compUsing stay tape really helped add some body and help the feed dogs grip the fabric better, as well as stabilizing the seams for wearing. Stay tape was even sewn into every dart, and on top of the slip seams, because I didn’t want to rip or tear anything from the movement of wearing the dress. Look carefully in the picture at left of the dress’ insides and you can see the stay tape netting strips.  This was the best idea for my dress – the stay tape holds and helps all the seams, does not itch against the skin, and is just as perfectly soft and flowing as the silk. Thank you to the wonderful employee at my Hancock Fabric store for giving me the idea.

The Past Pattern for the over dress seemed to be close to my size, just a tad larger all over than what I needed. Knowing that, from my experience, many 1930’s patterns run small, I cut it out as is and it turned out just perfect. The one single change I made to the construction was to make single darts on each right and left side (a total of two) for the waist back instead of making them in pairs on each side (for a total of four) as the pattern instructs. Everything else for the pattern was made unaltered.100_5784a-comp

Believe it or not, there are only 4 easy pieces to make the afternoon dress. All the pieces fit and matched together perfectly. The sleeves and the skirt flounce inserts are cut on the 100_5776a-compbias and all other pieces (the front and back dress panels) are cut on straight grain. As you can see, I did choose the square neck option (over the V-neck). I love the gentle fit of the tiny double bust darts on each side of the front panel. What the pattern calls “cape sleeves” also have a tiny dart along the top of the shoulder coming from the neckline for a small touch of added shaping. There is a small opening a few inches in for a snap closure at the right neckline of the raglan seam of the sleeve, so the dress goes over the head easily.

I decided to add the sleeve hem ruffles, and it took several hours to do their hemming, gathering, and stitching down. After, the ruffles were on, I just could not like them. So…off they came after some serious time spent unpicking. My hubby generously did a good amount of the unpicking while I worked on the waist belt. I did end up having the trim a bit off the edge of the sleeves after the ruffles were out, just because the silk is too fine to not get affected by sewing and unpicking, so they are a tad shorter than intended. The belt 100_2805-compcame out wonderfully, but I wish it was a little longer. It was supposed to be my size but only hangs out a handful of inches past my old amazing Art Deco buckle. Oh well – as long as it makes it around my waist. The belt is lined in the same fabric as the under slip, making the belt pretty much reversible and similar in color tone as the rest of the dress.

The side closure is a simple button and loop style. I used the same “President braid” trim leftover from making my scalloped collar “The Artist” movie dress for the loops, and sandwiched them under some more stay tape for support along the one opening edge. On the other side of the side closure edge are tiny light pink heart shaped buttons to go with the feminine theme and pastel colors of my dress set.100_5773a-comp

Jill Salen book coverMy under slip pattern, coming from the book, had to be enlarged 200% in order to become full sized and usable. I had a local print shop do this step for me instead of my doing the re-grading by hand and ruler. I did my best at measuring the proportions of the slip to find out what size it might be. The patterns from the book were not made from other patterns, but from old vintage pieces themselves (I suppose whatever the author had access to or owned herself) so each piece in the book is a random mysterious size. Every time I use a pattern from this book “Vintage Lingerie”, it’s like taking a gamble. From what I could tell, the slip would be close to my size, so I added on seam allowances (5/8 inch) and cut it out as is. The entire slip is apparently and early 30’s design and meant to be worn under a bias dress, that is why it has such long lines and all straight grain pieces. The only bias to the slip is on the curved shaped edge of the upper bodice panels.

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My little dachshund is that dark thing on the floor at my feet!

Once it was finished, the slip was tried on and, yes it did fit but – wow – it was tight! My hips are about 35”, with my waist about 8 inches smaller than that, so I’m assuming this slip would comfortably fit someone smaller than me. My closest size estimate is that, unaltered, this 30’s slip is for a size 30” – 32” bust, 25” waist, and 33” hips. I was hoping to make the slip go on and off without needing a side closure so I needed to make extra room somehow. After some brainstorming with hubby, we came up with the idea of cutting out another two center front panel pieces from the slip pattern and adding it into the side seams. The center front panel is skinny with a slightly wider taper at hem end giving just the little bit of extra room I needed much like a godet. Adding in the side panels did add more seams for me to finish off, but so it had to be. I do wish the slip was a bit longer on me, and I think I’ll write a note to adjust the pattern, but I‘ve done enough work on it so I can’t complain.

100_5789a-compIn our pictures of me wearing just the slip, it actually fits tighter than originally when it was newly finished. This is because I didn’t wash the silk first before I assembled and wore it for Easter. It was washed later and now has a snug and complimentary body forming fit, but this was not intended. From the feel it, I am supposing the silk might act similarly to denim blue jeans: the fit is tighter once newly dried and out of the wash, loosens up again as I wear it, until the next time it gets cleaned when it shrinks up again. On the opposite side of things, the outer sheer overdress was not washed before the pictures were taken and it didn’t shrink much at all from washing it. The chiffon did change its finish, though, going from smooth and flat to looking like a seersucker after it was washed. The seersucker look is not a bad thing to have, and I like it enough to not iron it out…it was just unexpected. I normally wash every fabric before using, but now I know to make no exceptions (not even for silk, wool or linen) if I don’t want surprises.

100_3522a-compThe original blue slip shown in the book had more fine details, such as fagoting, drawn threads, and eyelet embroidery, than my own version. Making the slip was hard enough the way it was. However, I’m not really complaining, just happy the extra effort I put in comes to such a unique and special finished garment, even if (besides counting myself) it only gets seen on my blog! I don’t know if the front panel detailing was meant to be a monogram, and I was tempted to design my own, but it had a nice Art Deco design to it so I hand-stitched it exactly as the original in the book.

Afternoon Tea dresses have a style and beauty all their own. Soft flowing fabrics created a free-flowing, feminine, and comfortable garment – for summer it would be rayon, sheer cotton, and silk (if you had money in the 30’s), and for winter, wool crepes, rayon, and satins be in order. The swinging silhouette of mid 30’s afternoon dresses was achieved with flared bias panels and simplicity in design, like my own dress set, compared to day dresses which often had pleats and details like embellishments. Day dresses’ necklines had a utilitarian style, such as collars or front zippers and buttons, while afternoon dresses had simple, beautifully shaped necklines. Day or afternoon dresses were both quite decent as far as covering, but the “day” style was more utilitarian (for shopping or working at a job) while the “afternoon” style was for out of the home leisure, eating out, and other nice occasions. (Info from here.) A slim and sleek silhouette with wide but softly shaped shoulders is period appropriate for the decade of my dress with a belt necessary to define the waist, since the early 30’s drop waist look (of the 20’s) was definitely gone by 1935. My Easter dress set is indeed the perfect “tea” length which is mid-shin, iconic of the 1930’s…an odd length really, but quite complimentary once worn (so I think).

100_2787-compAfternoon dresses came from a time when there was a garment for different times of the day and occasions of life – day wear, afternoon “tea” outfits, house dresses, evening elegance, leisure gowns, negligée sets and nightwear. This did not last much longer past the 1940’s, but it sure provides an interesting variety of styles and garments to suit any person’s taste, body type, and need. History provides such a variety of vintage fashions. This variety enables “vintage” to be easily re-made (whether from a pattern – reprints and originals – or an old original piece) and worn in our modern times than many people realize. Try something new, and you might just find a new favorite!

Wearing O’ the Green…1941 Military Style

As the perfect example of the modern opportunity to mash things up as one desires, I used a recent holiday – St. Patrick’s day on March 17 – as an excuse to wear a military-green 1941 vintage suit blouse I recently made to complete a set.  ThereAgent Carter badge.80 was a famous WWII B-17 G bomber called “Bit O’ Lace”…well, here I’m wearing a little bit o’ green, and a whole lot of cheer.

This is another post part of my “Agent Carter” sew along.

100_4793-comp     A good part of the decade of the 1940’s was consumed by the effects, and after-effects, of World War II.  It comes as a simple matter of fact that a good part of the fashions of the 40’s also took on a bit of a war-time influenced appearance.  I’m supposing adopting a military-influenced style was part patriotic, part necessity for the 40’s, but what’s to explain the prevailing popularity of combat style fashion even ’til today?!  Whatever the reason, those who have served, or are serving, to protect the country they call home should be flattered by the way that a military fashion style is persistently trendy.  Imitation is the best form of flattery, so the saying goes.

100_4783a-b-comp     My military 1941 blouse is an ironic mix of the bitter and the sweet, from a sewing point of view and from a historical tribute point of view.  From a sewer’s viewpoint, all quality materials went into this suit blouse, wool and rayon, with vintage notions and silk as the lining, making it like butter on the skin – all the very sweet part.  I also thought that this blouse’s high quality would come easier than if making a full out jacket…but, no, it didn’t.  This is the first half of the bitter part to my blouse.  I finally assumed that the styling would be incredibly slimming and easy to wear.  Not that it doesn’t fit me very well, because it does, indeed!  The blouse is just hard for me to feel like it, well, “suits” me (pun intended) and compliments my figure as much as I expected.  However, making one’s own clothes does have the advantage of trying new styles, and I have indeed worn other styles much stranger (such as this one or even this one).  So, my final happy resolution is that as long as I fits and feels good to wear, what do I really have to crab about?  I’ll just wear it and be happy, and let the Irish “cheery and positive” part of me shine!

100_4784-comp     Taking the historical tribute point of view, my military 1941 blouse is a quiet tribute to the bravery of “Our Soldier Dead”, as is said above the building in my background.  On a beautifully warm morning, my family and I visited our town’s Soldiers’ Memorial building, an Art Deco masterpiece built in 1938, and soaked up knowledge in the inner museum.  It is amazing to see all the bravery of our country’s soldiers remembered in one spot from 1860’s on to today.  Furthermore, my dad and my hubby are both entirely sucked in with interest to a shared gift of the book on tape of the story “Unbroken”.  The great “Liberator” B-24 bomber planes were key to the story of Louis Zamperini, hero of “Unbroken”, and so I wore an enameled pin of a B-24, a gift from my dad years ago, on my blouse as a quiet military/WWII remembrance.  It is sweet but sad at the same time to recount and remember such history.

100_4807-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My suit blouse fabric that you see is a fine half wool, half viscose rayon blend, in a deeply dark forest green color.  It is a wonderfully smooth (meaning non-itchy), textured twill with a medium weight, a fluid drape, and a slight stretch.  As the lining, I chose a bright apple green 100% silk, “China silk”100_2851 yr 1941 suit set habotai

NOTIONS:  All my notions (except for thread, zippers, and shoulder pads) are authentically vintage.  100% rayon hem and bias tapes were given to me by my friends at a retro shop.   Thank you for that kindness!  The buttons are also vintage but from my inherited stash of notions from hubby’s Grandmother.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 3961, year 1941

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I’ve lost track of how much time was spent on this suit blouse…it seemed like the project that would never end.  I do believe it took more than 20 hours, but could have even took more than 30 hours for all I know.  My blouse was worked on every day over the course of a week and a half, which seems like a very long time to me, as I’m used to a project or two in a week.  It was finally finished on March 13, 2015.  (Much shorter completion time compared to my first suit set!)

THE INSIDES:  Very nice indeed!  The side seams and the sleeve seams are done in French finishing, while the sleeve and blouse hems and center front are covered in vintage dark green hem tape.  The inner neckline and armhole seams are covered up by vintage bright green bias tape.

100_4816-compTOTAL COST:  The wool/rayon twill was bought at Hancock Fabrics as an end of season clearance at only $2.25 a yard.  I bought two yards but actually used less than that (only 1 1/3 yd.), so the wool/rayon was less than $4.50.  The silk was ordered from Fashion Fabrics Club at about $22 for two yards.  I bought the thread and zippers from Hancock, to add on about $4.00.  So, my total cost is probably more or less $30.

All my preaching and facts aside the construction of my 1941 suit blouse was really easy, just time consuming.  The skirt of the suit has already been made and posted about (it can be seen here).  That bottom half was easy to make and fit well, so I felt assured of the fit to the top half and cut it out as is with no changes.  The sizes of this pattern are a size bigger than I technically need for my measurements, but I think this pattern runs a tad small.  There were only three adaptations I did make.  The first was to cut the sleeves out on the bias, for a non-confining fit which moves with my moves, rather than on the straight grain as instructed.  The second small adjustment was to snip off only 1/4 inch, starting from the underarm down to nothing at the waist, from the sides of the bodice front, to decrease the bust size to fit me better.   Thirdly, I eliminated the center fifth button/buttonhole in the middle of the front band.

100_4633-comp     My blouse seemed like some tiny thread monster with a giant appetite.  For such a little project, I went through so much thread!  My total spool count was just about three, and I still wonder where it all went, or if it weighs the blouse down.  Using up a lot of thread makes sense, as I had to baste the silk to all the pieces individually, make old-fashioned “windowpane” button holes, sew around seam allowances, and top-stitch the front piece in two double stitched rows.

100_4812-comp     Let me briefly highlight some of the blouse’s interesting features.  There are the traditional early to mid-1940’s style sleeve top darts, to create a very squared off, wide shoulder look, which I filled in with shoulder pads.  My long sleeves are very tapered and skinny at the wrist, having a trio of elbow darts, with a snap wrist closure, very similar to the sleeves of my red 1946 dress.  The bust darts are long French darts,100_4802a-comp which go across the bias of the fabric and start at the waistline from the side seams.  I have not yet seen French darts on a 40’s garment before (I see most of this feature on clothes between the 50’s to 70’s), but, nevertheless, it does always create amazing shaping in a very comfy manner.  A back neck zipper aids in slipping the suit blouse over one’s head, since there is a rather high V-neckline to the front.

100_4800-comp     My blouse has a side zipper, too, which incredibly amazes me.  What’s so amazing about a side zipper, you might wonder?  Well, the side seams have an incredible curve, with the height of the dip at the waistline, where the French darts come in.  If you’ve never sewn a closure into a curve…believe me you don’t want to unless you would like a big anvil to fall on you.  If you have done one, you’ll understand with me that installing a zipper into a curved seam is fully possible, just one big frustration.  I have done zippers like this before, but never with a curve so steep, and – for the first time in my sewing – I actually got quite foul, angry, and worked up into an exasperated sweat.  In disbelief, I read the pattern’s instructions and stared at the instructions, but yes…they said to insert a “slide fastener”, meaning a zipper, or snap tape.  As things turned out, I had to try four whole times both sewing down and unpicking to finally come out with a decently perfect zipper installation.  I was bull-headed enough to stick to getting it right, and boy did I learn from this experience!

The back neck zipper was no problem at all in comparison.  The instructions said to draft your own strip of facing, 3 1/2 inches by 7 inches, and sew this on, snip the slit, and turn inside like any other faced opening, then add in the zipper.

100_4810a-comp     The front panel band is THE piece that truly makes the suit jacket, I think.  After all, making that piece took up about one-third of the total time spent on my suit blouse as a whole.  The big irony of the front is all that time and effort goes into something purely decorative – even the windowpane buttonholes, darn it!  I like a challenge and test my skills, as well as constantly do things a bit differently, so I feel the extra effort was entirely worth it, in the end, especially since the panel band is on display in the front.  I do enjoy making this style of buttonhole, and, as this is the second time using them on a project, I am even happier with how they turned out than the first time (which can be seen here).

100_4814-comp     An interesting unexpected trick is involved in lapping on the front panel band onto the front of the suit blouse.  I was directed by the instructions to first completely finish the blouse (hem and all), and next work on the band making the button holes then turning under the seam allowance (1/2 inch), keeping a straight un-notched bottom.  The band gets sewn to the inside of the top, wrong side to right side, just stitching a small V around the center bottom (see picture).  You snip out the fabric from under/in between the triangle stitched at the bottom, so you can turn the front band to the right side.  This was a hard step because that spot is about the bulkiest spot on the blouse, as the center front seam ends there as well as the hem being turned up, too.  I was afraid the pressure I had to put into snipping through all those layers would get carried away, and snip too far to ruin my blouse just as it was almost done.  It worked out fine, as you can see, and with a little “Fray-Check” liquid on the inside points, the front panel band was lapped onto the front and top-stitched down in double rows (one 100_4803-compon the very edge and one 1/4 away from edge).

The lack of neck facing was a sort of relief.  It’s nice to have things done differently…it keeps one interest piqued.  Besides, I really didn’t feel like doing the hand sewing that would have been necessary to keep the facing down.  I used my vintage rayon bias tape, which matched perfectly with the silk lining, as a simple, skinny, bias facing.

We had the hardest time ever picturing the colors true to reality.  The sun was bright and overwhelmed the exposure.  Cloudy days are almost always the best time to get the real colors to show up in our pictures with our camera.  The best explanation I can give for the color of my wool blend twill is that it is the same color as my late 1930’s Kenmore Rotary sewing machine (see this picture).  It is not grey!  As for the true color of my silk lining just think of the color of some “green apple” flavored hard candy, and you should see the shade close to correctly.

100_4785a-comp     My hat is actually a mid-1940’s era piece.  I think the brown tone matches well enough, and the styling is close enough to work.  I love the interesting design of the fold-over pleats!Peggy and the Howling Commandos-cropped

Agent Carter took on a good amount of military clothes, with similar beautiful complex details, for “The Iron Ceiling” episode, fighting in Russia, as well as in the “Time and Tide” episode, where she explores the underground.  Check out my links and see how Peggy Carter uses items in her wardrobe already, to mix and match for a complete change up of appearance as needed.  (See my blog on the skirt of my suit for a different way to change up the look of one piece.)

Do you possess any military themed vintage notions, jewelry, or fabric?  Have you seen any of those “buttons looking like planes or studs that look like bullets” which I have read about in Chapter 4, “Independence and Limitations” of the book “Forties Fashion” by Jonathan Walford .  Make your own tough-and-feminine mix and share it here with me!