My First Vintage Original 1920s McCall Pattern

I have had the pattern I used here in my stash for the past 10 years and only just recently made time to sew together something wearable with it.  It’s not that I’ve been procrastinating.  I’ve had this all planned out, even down to being paired with fabrics to match the cover styling, but it always was delayed in lieu of more pressing ideas or plans.  The 1920s is not a vintage look I generally reach for in my wardrobe.  No more is this the case – yay!  With such a comfortable, enjoyable, and well-designed dress, I am in love with the 1920s like never before. 

This particular pattern design is special because it was my first acquisition of one of those fabulous, collectable McCall releases between the mid 1920s and early 1930s.  Patterns in that time frame have colorful, engaging cover envelope illustrations, instructions in three languages, and easy-to-follow instructions printed in blue-line directly on the tissue paper pieces.  Most of these features are what we are used to today, but were exceptional and uncommon for that time, unlike anything else out there back then.  No reproduction pattern can offer the same thrill.  The old originals are a joy to use, delightful to work with, and an investment…I am a big fan, needless to say. 

Even though old patterns of that kind have climbed significantly in price over the last decade, I have been lucky to find some great deals over the years to build upon this first acquisition.  Now, I have a handful of these amazing McCall patterns.  Yet, for me the first one of its kind for my stash had to also be first one to sew from.  It was the easiest to envision from the beginning, too, channeling the cover in strikingly similar manner.  My dress pops over the head with no closures for an instant boost of fun!  The quadruple pleats, the short skirt, and lack of sleeves conveys a small taste of the thrill that the free-spirited ‘flapper’ women must have felt.

With this first 20s era McCall project being such an enjoyable success, I am so excited to plan out fabric and buttons from my stash to pair with the rest of my old printed McCall patterns…which will be made in good time.  No need to rush, but I also don’t intend to procrastinate!  I love being able to add to my ‘everyday’ 1920s wardrobe with items like this dress that are a wonderful combo of being historical with a modern appeal. 

I am wearing a true 1920s original woolen felt cloche hat with my dress, for an extra bit of the real deal!  Just like the condition of the pattern itself (more on this below), my hat is amazing to be in such a great state for almost 100 years in age.  Why, there is even the original feather cockade and decorative felt buttons – and no moth chews!  Most vintage original 20s era cloche hats are much too small for my combo of thick hair and wider crown.  This one was not only in my size but only $5 – amazing, right?!?  I had planned on a modern pulled back hairdo with a low, tight bun.  Yet my 1928 McCall sewing project suddenly had pizazz when worn with this special hat to end up with a full outfit that I adore.  I find myself wanting to wear this outfit more than any other 1920s garment I have made.  I’m so happy my hubby caught such great pictures.  Can’t you just hear some hot jazz music in the background looking at them…because I can!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, both for the print and the solid contrast as well as partial lining

A close-up of the fabric’s print

PATTERN:  McCall #5624, stamped with a date of December 18, 1928 under the envelope flap

NOTIONS NEEDED:  just lots of thread – no closures or interfacing needed…pretty simple

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress came together in about 12 hours, with 2 extra hours to reproduce the pattern.  The dress was finished in April, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  raw but clean are the interior edges, merely stitched over a few times to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember where it was bought or how much I spent for any of my fabric for this project because it was purchased soon after I acquired the pattern 10 years ago.  But I needed just over 3 yards of printed cotton (at 45” width) as well as 2 ½ yards of cotton for the contrast and lining.

My very first step, as I considered using this pattern, was to make a copy of it.  The original tissue paper was in remarkable condition and much stronger, thicker, and overall higher in quality than any other patterns I have dealt with.  This is remarkable (and impressive) when you consider that it is over 90 years old!  Even still, as there were many markings to trace out and since I want to preserve this pattern, I went to a copy shop and printed out a paper copy for myself.  The grief I felt just making one or two small tears in the tissue by copying it justified my decision to not use the original pattern tissue.  Normally I hand trace most of my patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper, but I wanted all the text, instructions, and the general feel of the original on my duplicate McCall, as well as a more durable paper  Thus, a photocopy was my preferred option here. 

envelope back

1920s patterns are always such a unique combo of simple yet complicated, and this style seemed even more so than normal.  Printed McCall patterns of the late 1920s are indeed more exceptional in detail than the ever popular beginner’s “One hour project” shift dress.  Even still, the pattern pieces are very straight cut and angular – no side seam curves, minimal darts, and very little body fit is required for a true-to-the-era silhouette.  Sounds simple right?  Let me explain.

For every other decade that followed the 1920s, the bust fit has been the primary aim.  However, for the 1920s, what will fit over your hips is the guide for the size you choose, as evident on the size chart of this old McCall pattern.  My hips are about 38” around so this patterns was perfect because it was for a 40” finished hip.  The entire rest of the garment is more-or-less follows suit to be about a 40 inch circumference column, from the shoulders to the hipline.   That sounds weird, right?!  It might make the garment easy to sew in theory but it takes attention to the fine details to make wearing a sack look this good.  Also, it is contrary to most conventional ideas of how a dress should lay.  To a 1920s dress, a snug wearing ease (2 inches) is needed for the hips and a looser ease (4 inches) for everything else above that. 

Crafting 1920s clothes with an authentic silhouette becomes all about making the clothes wear you in the best way possible (without looking forced or overly baggy) to create the slender, boyish, ‘gamine’ image preferred.  Luckily, my strong shoulders are just about the same width as my hips, so I feel like I can make it work with my hourglass figure by hiding my waist under the straight lines of true 1920s designs.  This true-to-the-era ideal that I aim for is harder to achieve on some bodies more than others, and many people who sew the 20s merely choose to sew their flapper era projects with a modern fit.  That’s perfectly fine, too – to each their own!  I find there is a very teachable lesson in aiming for authenticity of fit for sewing the clothes of the 1920s. 

The rest of the pattern pieces here – the angled neckline jabot but especially the pleated skirt – followed suit by being very basic in shape but miraculously turning into something so beautifully dimensional and tailored.  It is such mathematical beauty and the precise use of simple engineering that makes me adore the Art Deco era, yet also makes its garments challenging to make.  They are confusing in their utter simplicity.  They require precision in marking folds, pleats, and more on the fabric at the cutting stage.  Exact piece matching is necessary, as well as accurate stitching, at the sewing stage.  All of this, combined with the era’s juxtaposition of our set ideas of bodily appearance, has sewing a 1920s pattern feel like a special conquest to me.  I like the kind of challenge they present, though.  It is a welcome change of mindset which keeps my sewing skills fresh and non-habitual.  It makes me ‘switch gears’ as the phrase goes.  Understanding different means of how to flatteringly tailor and create garments for myself assists me later on when I am paid for making clothes to fit the bodies of my customers, who are varied and dissimilar than my own.

For all my talk of how 1920s designs are generally straight lined, the little details are geometric and add subtle shaping and dimension to this dress.  For example, there are knife pleats in the front shoulder line for gentle bust room.  There is also the tiniest bust dart coming horizontally out from the side seams.  Together these add room for the bosom, but only just enough – the 1920s brassieres were about minimizing (or flattening) what nature has bestowed!  Additionally there is the tiniest amount of gathers eased in just at the high hipline to create a comfortably boxy shape to the torso.   

The dropped skirt-to-bodice seamline sits at the low hipline and is not plainly horizontal but has an upside down V in the middle of both the front and back…kind of like a spike on a cardiogram.  Then, there are four clusters of quadruple box pleats in the skirt to add controlled ease of movement in the most appealing way.  The pleats are stitched down in place to the point where my leg bends from my hip.  The skirt is the only portion of the dress that I lined using the rest of the same golden contrast solid cotton as can be seen on the neckline and arm openings.  The printed cotton is rather lightweight and thin, but more importantly the extra weight the lining lends really helps this dress hang nicely.  The slightly heavier skirt portion ever so gently pulls down the dress, keeping it from creeping up on my body and wrinkling as 20s garments tend to do on me.  It is not natural for me to wear a dress so hip-centric.

The entire neckline is the one thing on the dress that is not subtle.  It totally tries to steal the show!  Sneakily, it is also the facing for finishing the neckline, at the same time.  These old patterns are terribly smart and knew how to do sewing at such a higher level than any commercial pattern offered today!  Here the neckline is interesting both coming and going with a jabot hanging in the front and ties hanging in the back.  Firstly, though, how about a brief definition?  “Jabot” is a French word that originally described the crop of a bird, so that is not very complimentary to use for a pretty piece of clothing.  Nevertheless, a jabot, also known by less impressive names such as ‘court bib’ or ‘neck doily’, is a decorative accessory attached at the neckline consisting of lace or other fabric falling from the throat, cascading down the chest.  The kind on my 20s dress is reminiscent of the stiff, crisp variation worn by barristers of old, being one without frills and pleated from a simple square.  It has a properly Art Deco air to it!  Jabots are not a stranger to me, however.  This early 1930s blouse that I made years back had a sort of jabot that is part of the wrap neckline, and my 1880s Victorian ice skating ensemble was accented by a frilly, lacey, 1930s tie-on jabot collar. 

To sew such a detail for this dress, the jabot piece was faced in the same fabric for clean finishing, and then edged in the golden cotton pieces to form the perfectly squared off neckline.  This made for a very odd and confusing piece to work with on its own, especially since the last 14 inches of both opposing ends are turned into tubes for the back ties.  Then, the golden edging alone is sewn onto the inside (wrong side) of the neckline, so it can be turned to the right side of the dress and topstitched down for a clean and decorative finish in one step.  Both the jabot and the back ties hang freely because they are attached to the contrast edging and not directly tacked to the dress.  As much as I adore the skirt’s clustered quadruple pleating, this neckline definitely wins one of my “favorite detail” awards.

Among all the years of fashion I sew, the 1920s has certainly been a decade which has seen the most improvement during my 10 years of blogging.  My higher skill set gives me the confidence to even pick up this old McCall pattern, something which had totally intimidated me back when it was first purchased.  My sense of style in the era has been slowly forming, assisting me to be more comfortable with the era.  This gives me confidence to both wear and make real deal fashion from the era.  It helps that I have been using true vintage patterns for my last several projects rather than winging it from modern based designs.  To have a true 1920s direction that an original pattern can lend that authentic aura to the finished project and the instructions are a learning experience good for one’s sewing skills.  Happily, there are more reprints of the older patterns now more than there were a decade ago when I first started acquiring antique originals.  You don’t have to wait for the happenstance pattern find or pay a pretty penny to work with these fantastic 1920s McCall patterns.  I highly recommend you try them out for yourself, even if only a reprint.  

I hope I have given you a small taste of how amazing and modern an almost 100 year old pattern can be.  The old McCall patterns are not backwards nor old-fashioned in manner of instruction and construction, for as dated as their styles may be.  They are printed, and in three languages – Spanish, French, and English.  How much more contemporary can you get?!  Hopefully, finally owning the 1920s shows in this modern interpretation of an old original pattern.  I feel like this is the first 20s era project (amongst the ones I can authentically date) in which I have the confidence, enjoyment, and wardrobe versatility that I normally have when wearing my go-to decade of the 1940s.  Not that I don’t still love all the 20s projects I made that came before now.  I do!  It’s just that I found ‘the one’ perfect for me to have a renewed sense for the era.  Look for more 1920s sewing projects here on my blog for the rest of the year.  I have too many empty gaps in that decade page on my site…I want to fill them up!

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.