Botanical Garden Block Printed Dress

It’s comforting to know that some of the best things in our world have not changed and only stayed the same as they have been for centuries.  As India just celebrated their Independence Day August 15th, I’m specifically thinking of how so many of the heritage fiber arts in that country are practiced the way they were so long ago.  Why mess with a good thing when it is perfect as-is, right? 

What comes from the earth is kept a part of the earth the way the fabric of India is produced.  Indian cotton is grown and harvested naturally, first of all.  Then, plants, spices, and vegetables are used for dye, the earth is utilized for resist stamping or setting, and artisans turn everything together into an organic whole.  All this adds up to a very eco-conscious manner of creating some of the most beautiful and wonderfully comfortable fabric this world has to offer.  It is an honor and a special experience to make and wear something that involved so much love and attention just for these few yards!  There’s no better way I can think of to celebrate India’s long fought freedom than to enjoy a respectful all-in dive into appreciating the beauty to one of the many fascinating facets of their culture.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton content for the print, fully lined in a tan beige tone Bemberg rayon satin

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7894, year 2019

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I just needed lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on June 9, 2022 in about 20 hours

THE INSIDES:  loosely zig-zag stitched along the raw edges to reduce fraying

TOTAL COST:  The Indian cotton fabric from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy cost me $15 (I got this on a half-price sale) for 3 yards, while the rayon lining was another $15 for 3 yards from Fashion Fabrics Club.

There are many sites that dive into the nuances of block printing so I will not overly dive into the process here but this link through Saffron Marigold and this page through Vogue of India can be a good start to inform yourself.   I merely want to stress that it is of utmost importance to make sure you are buying from a source which employs fairly paid workers and does the craft the traditional way…no mere printed fake outsourced versions, please.  There are many knock-offs to be found, especially in ready-to-wear (which is in it for the visual aesthetic and nothing more), but this does the opposite of esteeming a craft that deserves only awe-inspiring admiration.  Historically, the textile history of India is not about being carelessly machine made but being the work of caring human hands.  Support the heritage craft of India by doing some conscious purchasing if you want some block prints for yourself!

This being said, there are some pro and cons to keep in mind.  Be aware that most block prints are in a width no wider than 45” so take that into account when planning out a project.  This is why I was squeezing this dress in on 3 yards when 4 yards probably would have been better.  Rich toned block prints can bleed out their dye in the first one or two washings so be careful to wash them with similar colors.  The cotton of India, though, is buttery soft, whisper thin, and among the easiest to sew material you could ever imagine.  It is a dream to wear, sew, and work with!  Besides, this material is the best way possible to effortlessly stay cool in the heat of summer. 

The positive qualities of Indian cotton also means that it is often less than opaque.  Busy prints hide any see-through issues more than not.  For this dress, however, I did not feel like a sheer look nor did I want to feel obliged to wear an underslip, so I fully lined the cotton.  Bemberg rayon is magnificently breathable, moisture wicking, and a very good imitation of silk, so it is the perfect pick for keeping this dress lightweight, comfortable, and an effortless summer staple.  Knowing how to work with fabric and how to use it to its best advantage is a large portion of the planning and figuring that goes into any sewing project.

With all of this positivity I am expressing towards this dress, it was really difficult for me to successfully sew.  I may sound crazy, but I loved doing the yards and yards of ruffles which go in between the seams.  Doing the ruffles in this buttery soft fabric was easy after all but the process really centered me, calmed me down, and helped me enjoy the extra effort.  I just think I relaxed a bit too much and didn’t think to look ahead at the pattern for issues.  Then, I had to be creative and fix the dress’ fitting issues after it was fully finished.  Also, there was a total oops moment where I sewed in the most perfect invisible zipper – even matching it through the intersecting points where the ruffles meet – only to realize after the fact that it is on the right side and not the left.  Considering the effort it would take to switch sides, I am leaving the zipper well enough alone. 

The wrong-sided zipper just added to the many little ways this dress was such a frustrating bother to sew, even though I love everything about it…the details, the fit, the style, and how perfectly it matched with my fabric.  I’m actually happily accepting of all the dress’ ‘faults’ which happened because I’m working on being gentler on myself with my self-imposed expectations of perfection.  I actually love my dress all the more for reminding me what it feels like to embrace the fact I am only trying my best and cannot always be up to par.  The beauty of a handmade block print are the little irregularities in the coloring or stamping.  Why shouldn’t my sewing be all the more beautiful for showing the way I persevered and made the most of my ‘mistakes’?!

I rounded up to a size bigger because I wanted a looser fit, and this worked out great.  Having a looser fit keeps the overall garment easy and comfy to wear.  Tight clothes are uncomfortable in the summer for me.  Nevertheless, having a loose fit is especially important here since I wanted the option of wearing silk Indian trousers underneath for a more ethnic look, as you see it in my pictures.  With a looser fit, the bodice front wrap stays closed without gaping open.  Most importantly, though, I discovered the hips in this pattern run really small, even with going up a size!  By letting out the seam allowance to 3/8” on each side seam I had just enough to recover the fit and keep this wearable.

Another point to mention is how this pattern seems to have been drafted for very tall girls.  The torso is very long and not average proportions.  Comparing the line drawings to my finished dress, everything seemed to droop lower on my body.  The bodice-to-skirt seam needs to be slightly above the waist and the left point where the two ruffles meet at the side seams needs to land at the high hip.  The finished dress wasn’t doing this on me.  I needed to pick up the upper bodice to raise up all the rest of the dress without ruining the design lines. 

Disguising while correcting this faulty fit after the fact was all done before I had set the sleeves in, so I luckily had I bit more freedom to alter the bodice.  First, I made a 2 inch horizontal tuck across the back bodice right across the shoulder line, making my dress appear as if it had a shoulder panel much like a man’s dress shirt has.  This picked up the dress, for sure, but the front became wonky.  To evenly pick up the front half of the dress, I took 2 inches of the front bodice under the shoulder line and tucked that under the shoulder seam.  Then I top stitched down along the shoulder seam.  The excess fabric was not taken in evenly in the front as on the back I realize, but the dress doesn’t give any funky fit for this fact, and I am thrilled to have found a way to fix the fitting issues with no marring of the original design or unpicking of stitches.  The sleeves merely have a bit more gathers to them for my alterations to the bodice, but I love puffed sleeves already from sewing designs of the 1930s era.  All is well that ends well, here. 

A handful of further personal variations to the design deserve a mention, as well.  The asymmetric look of the skirt’s ruffles struck me as a tad odd in the way they abruptly end at the bodice.  I realized that the front ruffle joins the bodice seam at just shy of the same point where the underwrap to the bodice ends.  So I ran with this detail and added extra ruffles to just that half of the neckline, thereby continuing the asymmetric line and adding some unity between the bodice and skirt.  I had the neckline ruffles go across the back of the neckline and end at the shoulder on the opposite side so they can be visibly a part of the bodice from behind, as well.  I also lowered the slit opening so it didn’t open up so high up on my thigh.  Finally, I also disregarded the elastic guide for the sleeve hems and cut whatever length felt comfortable around my arms.  Sewing for yourself is all about customizing to your personal taste and desires, so don’t forget to throw those instructions out the window every so often and make what you want, how you want!

Even though I make what I want how I want it, for Indian and other ethnic material I always do my research and let a respectful interpretation of that culture influence my sewing in such cases.  I want to give cultural fabrics their proper place so I can learn from and honor those cultures yet still also invest my own personal story into what I sew.  In the case of this project, I first bounced some design ideas off of our Gujarati Indian friends to see if I was on the right track.  Then, I got in touch with the seller of my fabric and found from her the details to the print that I chose for this dress.  Apparently, these types of multi floral designs on a single print are called “bagh” – which means “garden”.  Lotus, marigolds, hibiscus, rose, Chameli (Jasmine) are common depictions.  Gardens are often shown as the setting for many joyful and sacred artistic depictions in Indian art of both Hindu and Muslim manuscripts.  Thus, I found a beautiful blooming wall of flowers at a local Garden shop to pose in front of to emphasize the glorious theme printed on my dress’ fabric.  I was bringing my own garden to a flower garden…oh, the lovely irony!

The overall creative stylization of Indian block prints are such a heritage craft that my dress’ fabric can be recognizably similar to an 18th century skirt or a textile dating from the Renaissance.  The floral imagery to Indian block prints has not changed all that much and my historian heart rejoices at such a continuity.  My original plan for this fabric was to make The Dreamstress’ “Amalia” jacket (ca. 1780) from Scroop patterns, after all.  However, Indian block prints have a history of being very desirable and sought after in olden times when imports had long lead times and exporting was a dangerous job.  Thus, many countries sought to “knock-off” the visual look of such fabrics with their own colonial practices.  I do not want to be the source of continuing a painful narrative history and wanted this garden fabric to be turned into something practical, wearable, and a source of joy.  I believe I succeeded. 

Happy 75th anniversary of being an independent country, India!

“A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”

Something that is in high demand in the world today can be in high supply since it stems from an infinitely renewable source.  I am speaking of kindness – a gift that can be so hard to share but costs nothing to give.  It is a universal language of communal understanding.  A plentitude of kindness is sorely indispensable.  Even if I fail all too often, I do try my best to fill the need, even though the effort is often disheartening.  “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a cliché phrase but kindness is infectious and the key to someone’s good day can really begin with just one person.  Being kind in heart is a very beautiful, strong, and attractive personal quality to find in people, too.  This is why I would like to pick up (a year later) where I left off posting my “Pandemic Princess” blog series by featuring the most famous fairytale princess – Cinderella.  

Cinderella is the fictional rags-to-riches princess who practices indiscriminate benevolence, patience, perseverance, and understanding.  Her story is ancient enough to span many centuries, ethnicities, and interpretations but in all of them her honest beauty, radiating from the heart within, saves the day so goodness can prevail.  I love with a passion the Disney interpretation of 1950 (the animated film) as well as the live action retelling from 2015.  However, I am a sucker for a creative spoof on the story – my especial favorites are Ella Enchanted from 2004 and Ever After from 1998.  The catchy songs and the strong sewing references to the original 1950 animated film have me hopelessly hooked, nevertheless, and the live action interpretation from 2015 is a glorious treat for me.  “Have courage and be kind. For where there is kindness there is goodness and where there is goodness there is magic.” These are the best words ever to summarize Cinderella’s story and can be found in the 2015 live action film. 

1950 cover for a child’s book

I never fully finished sharing all of my Princess inspired vintage creations after launching my “Pandemic Princess” blog series at the beginning of 2021.  I would like to revisit it to wrap up the last remaining themed projects within the next few months.  As I said in that post which launched the series, I mostly interpreted my Disney princess inspired sewing in relation to the year that their original animated movies were released, and my Cinderella dress follows suit as the early 1950s fashion works perfectly for a full, swishy skirted dress, headbanded updo for my hair, and a pretty pastel blue tone.  Yes, I was inspired by the fairy godmothers magic dress for Cinderella since my Snow White interpretation was a similar looking work dress

Promotional image of actress Lily James for the live action 2015 Cinderella

I wanted something wearable and not a costume though, so this merely carries the spirit of and references to the associated heroine. I did not make these princess dresses because I had someplace to wear them – each was truly a splurge project in the truest sense.  Disney bounding, as is the frequent term for an adult whose assembles an outfit loosely inspired by a fictional character, doesn’t have to revolve around whether or not one is capable of actually showing up at a theme park.  It relies on the ability to dream, have a bit of fun, and appreciate a bit of fantasy…all from right where you are.  Cinderella says that “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” in her first song for the 1950 animated film.  This post’s sweet and calming floral blue dress reminds me that it is important to keep one’s dreams alive, hold onto hope, and stay kind like Cinderella.  Sewing helps me make some of my dreams a reality, and keeps me creative enough to continue making magic with fabric and thread.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton for both the solid blue, the print, as well as the lining layer underneath

PATTERN:  McCall’s 8898, year 1952, original pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  This was a fussy project that needed lots of thread, one zipper, 10 covered button blank sets, yards of binding, and a good amount of interfacing.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took 15 to 20 hours to finish in July 2019

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The printed fabric was $12 for two yards ordered through “Simply Fabric” of Oakland, California on Etsy.  The solid blue cotton was from my local JoAnn Fabric shop, again two yards for about $12.  Then I had to buy a solid white cotton muslin for lining the whole dress – 6 yards for about $18.  All the notions added up, especially the buttons.  The total for this dress is about $50.

This was my first princess inspired dress even before I thought of making a slew of them and turning it into a theme.  Less than month later, I whipped up my 1992 Beauty and the Beast animated film inspired dress (posted here) as a treat to myself for my birthday.  It was then I realized I wanted to keep going with this good thing I had started.  The blue is for Cinderella’s ball dress, while the climbing floral print is for both her sweetness to nature and the garden plants that were magically turned into everything needed to take her to the ball.  My embroidered headband further calls to mind Cinderella’s ball outfit, but mine has sparkly crystals to add just a touch of finery.  A jeweled butterfly brooch from my Grandmother refers to all the butterflies which rested on Cinderella’s gown in the 2015 live action movie.

Beyond any princess reference to my outfit, I had been aching to try out a dress that contrasts its print with large panels of matching solid color, anyways.  It is almost like color-blocking, but with half of the contrast being a complimentary toned fabric print.  Add in the fact that the front closure is asymmetric, which I am a complete sucker for, and this dress becomes the best way for me to dive into this style.  For a few years beforehand, I had kept a whole folder of similar 1950s dresses to encourage what I felt may have been a crazy idea.  It is interesting how mixing up prints with solids in paneled dresses has become a popular trend in both the sewing realm and also the sphere of true vintage sellers since last year.  I was ahead of things in 2019, apparently! 

Besides the interesting way I took advantage of the paneling in the dress, there is another neat detail that was added to this pattern.  There are V-notches cut into the sides of the neckline, the hem to both sleeves, and the center back neck.  These spots were tricky but fun to sew and require nothing more than firm interfacing, precise stitching, and the clipping of the seam allowances.  This small V notching along hem edges of a bodice is a feature I love to see because it is unmistakably tied to early 1950s designs.  See Butterick 5739 from 1951, Butterick 6091 from ‘52, Butterick 6960 from ‘54, and McCall’s 3235 from 1955 for some examples from sewing patterns.  Now you can understand why I attributed this vintage Martha Manning suit in my wardrobe, with its notched neckline, (see it here on my Instagram) to be from the exact same time frame, as well.  Asymmetry was likewise a popular element on dresses and bodices of the early 1950s, as well, so this dress pattern combines both into one fantastic design, similar to what both Vintage Vogue 1043 from 1953 (see my version here) as well as Vogue 9105 from 1954 have going for them.  This post’s dress pattern is from 1952, and has more little V notches along the edges than any pattern I have seen elsewhere…I love it!

Was this ever a complex project and a fabric hog, though!  The asymmetry meant I needed to pay attention to the right side of the front pattern pieces and cut them single layer.  The cottons – both printed and solid – being slightly sheer meant I needed to cut every pattern piece twice to interline individually.  There is 10 yards in total fabric here!  So much fabric means it is a heavy dress for summer, even though that is the season it is for being in a bright white print.  Making 10 fabric covered buttons became overwhelming pretty quickly, too. 

The fit was really funky making it as-is and turned out to be an ill-fitting dress that needed all sorts of adjustments.  Even the length before hemming was down to the ankles on me!  To counter all this bother, I cheated with the asymmetric front and installed a side seam zipper.  The entire button front is for looks only at this point and not a working closure.  After everything the dress put me through to reach a point where it was wearable, there was no way I had enough energy to sew in and cut open 10 buttonholes.  Even with sewing down the asymmetric front, the neckline is rather fussy to keep closed.  I am so glad I opted for ‘cheating’ on the front closing.  Even still, I had to add some tiny hook and eyes to keep the perfect V of the neckline over my chest. 

I am not as naturally gifted as Cinderella, and so the birds you see in some of my pictures are actually vintage plastic bird models that I and my dad built when I was kid.  Search up Bachmann’s “Birds of the World” and you’ll see what they are.  The scarlet tanager was a model my dad did as a kid himself (in the early 1960s) but the barn swallow in my hands for the first picture was one I made as a teen.  The birds were packaged in pieces like a plane or a car model and needed to be painted and glued together.  When they were finished, the scale was the same as the real life birds they were portraying.  I came face to face with a hummingbird once when she thought I was a flower, and I did some bird banding with the local Conservation Department as a teen, but otherwise these models are as close as I will get to my favorite songbirds.  I just had to include the models in my pictures because Disney-bounding Cinderella is about having a sense of fantasy…so why not pretend I do have feathered friend?!  After all, “be kind to every kind, not just mankind” as the phrase goes.

The print struck me as perfect for channeling her in a Disney-bounding dress for a very good reason.  It was similar to a cotton floral I picked out as a young teen to make myself a wearable Cinderella skirt for my birthday.  Looking back, I am proud at how I made exactly what I had hoped for but repulsed by the fact I actually wore that.  It was a long full skirt in a sheer floral cotton, lined in blue for a soft tint, and draped with swagged bows just like Cinderella’s first ball dress (the one the sewing mice made and her stepsisters destroyed).  A two yard cut on its own is not enough for a full skirted 1950s dress but I really had to make this fabric work for my idea.  Besides, I felt that the floral was too quaint and overall busy looking on its own without a solid tone to calm it down.  Cinderella only wore solid colors, so incorporating a large swath of blue to the print was merely properly following the call of crazy creativity.   I have properly reinvented something I wanted to do as a teen, and done it in a much better manner. 

I suppose I need to learn how to practice kindness towards myself, particularly when looking back on some dubious fashion choices of my past!  Being easy on yourself is especially hard to do, from a maker’s standpoint, and takes real effort and courage.  “I could have done this better” or “this is far from flawless” is frequent to think or say for sewists.  I know my perfectionism is too strong more often than not.  While it is admirable to set such high standards, such an attitude merely ends up with you being harsh on yourself and often setting unrealistic goals.  Cinderella’s kindness is often misunderstood as a doormat for others but if you look closer – as this article does – you can see how she was so busy being kind towards others she ‘forgets’ to be kind to herself.  Try to take one special step today to be understanding and gentle on yourself in the spirit of Cinderella, but especially in regards to whatever aspirations or dreams you cherish!

Hoppin’ Dots! My Bunny Day Dress

What would Eastertide be without bunnies?  This year, I made that stereotype an enjoyable reality by actually spending some time with some real, live domesticated bunnies at a local photography studio.  They were hosting the visit of a rabbit rescue foundation to offer some Easter picture opportunities for the public as well as adoption prospects for the bunnies.  Why does Easter enjoyment need to be relegated to just children when adults can do something like get dressed up and hold some sweet fluffy bunnies?!  This is my kind of fun! 

I hope you enjoy my Easter post, which will attempt to be not just about the cute critters I am holding but also featuring my newest handmade holiday dress. It was whipped together out of a thrifted bed sheet.  Am I really ever completely leaving my sleeping quarters if I am wearing a bed sheet for the day, even if cut, pleated, and manipulated in the most glamorous manner?  I love how when you start with a fabric designed to be pleasant on the skin like a bed sheet, the resulting project is so wonderfully relaxed.  This was easy to make, had a spot on fit right out of the envelope, is comfy to wear, and has just the right amount of details.  This is perfect for what I am looking for Easter 2022 – I just want to stay relaxed, but eat well, and enjoy my day.  This swishy, simple dress is just the thing! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 60% cotton/40% polyester blend twin sized bed sheet (66 by 96 inches) for the dotted material and some cotton/poly blend broadcloth remnants to line the bodice for opacity

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #1043, a year 1953 pattern reprinted back in 2008 (originally Vogue Special Design #4382)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of interfacing, thread, some bias tape, and one zipper for the side seam

THE INSIDES:  my dress’ bodice is cleanly lined while the skirt seams are nicely covered in bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was completed in about 15 hours and finished on April 9, 2022

TOTAL COST:  pittance – the sheet cost just under $2 and the zipper and bias tapes were from a $1 a bag rummage sale find

The soft aqua colored polka dot print is easy on the eyes yet still cheerful.  I know the print is symmetrically round dots but it still somehow reminds me of multitudes of Easter eggs.   As I have said before (in this post), I am generally not a fan of polka dots and it has taken me years to be a bit more than tolerant with wearing garments which have that sort of print.  Yet, the irony to using this bed sheet for my dress is compounded in the fact I picked this up from a thrift shop a decade ago now…when I really didn’t like polka dots at all!  I love any aqua or teal color though, and I am always up for trying new things in my sewing project choices so I picked it up.  The fact the sheet was less than $2 also helped convince me to purchase it!  I had paired Vintage Vogue #1043 with the polka dotted sheet from the very beginning when I brought it home, and only just now felt the time had come to sew this project as I originally envisioned it.  I was finally ready for a full-on polka dot dress.  

At left is the underarm gusset first being sewn into the cotton lining. At right, I am showing the left side seam in the dress – you can see the sleeve gusset, zipper, and hand-stitched finishing details.

Since the cover illustration hides some of the dress’ details, let me give you a little general summary.  There is a basic four paneled ¾ circle skirt, and a simple dual darted back bodice (which I cut on the fold to eliminate the back seam), so the minimal pattern pieces were good for a bigger print like my polka dotted sheet.  Under the arms, there are gussets that form part of the sleeve.  This unique feature is the same as (seen here) the sleeves on my Princess Anna dress, sewn from a vintage Burda Style pattern.  Since that Burda pattern comes two years after the date of this post’s dress date of 1953, I found this an interesting nugget of information, but especially found it helped immensely to have done this type of sleeve gusset before. 

Other than the gussets, the majority of unique details to this design are in the front bodice.  It has an asymmetric faux wrap bodice, which creates a center front notch for interest at the neckline.  There is one deep knife pleat in each front wrap’s side seam to create soft fullness for the bust.  Yet, for as straightforward as this bodice may sound, I actually made it a bit more complex in construction so I could end up with a better finish.    

All the reviews I read through online about this dress pattern consistently mentioned 3 shortcomings to the bodice design if you sew it according to the pattern – a wrap front that is too shifty and revealing, a neckline that does not keep its shape, and finally facings which are fussy and cumbersome.  These issues were able to be ‘fixed’ through adding in a full bodice lining.  For the final touch, I added a trio of flower buttons along the chest of the bodice wrap so that it can stay down in its proper place.  The buttons add a little touch of fun and prettiness to this otherwise unadorned dress and keep the neckline notch looking as it should.  I wore limited jewelry (my Grandma’s earrings and an Easter hat, at least) to let my dress shine, with the pretty neckline details taking center stage.

My first step to making the bodice was to use the facing pieces only to cut out heavy weight interfacing for ironing down to the undersides of the entire neckline (for both my lining cotton and my polka dotted fabric).  This way the neckline was doubled up in support to keep its amazing face-framing shape and prevent the front notches from drooping (a problem I also read about in blogger’s reviews).  I only sewed together the back darts, the shoulder seams and godets with the right side seam at this point. The lining then was sewn in the method were all the raw edges were tucked inside for a smooth inside that needs no fiddly facings.  I bag sewed the sleeve hems before I tacked the lining down to the waistline and sewed the skirt to the bodice, wrapped over in front right over left. The white bed sheet was slightly see-through, so I needed a lining anyways, but doing so gave me a great solution to improve upon the bodice construction.  I am always willing to go the extra mile in my sewing projects if it will make even the smallest improvement to my satisfaction with the finished garment. 

Perhaps the best perk to sewing this dress together finally is discovering that it pairs spectacularly well with a short jacket that I sewed together years back.  This Burda Style “kimono jacket” has its own post which can be found over here.  Sadly this fabulous piece has hardly had any enjoyment out of the closet until now due to nothing specific ever really turning it into a “set”.  No other sweater or blazer or jacket in my closet matched with my dress, anyways, and this way my outfit is all me-made!  I love how the open lapels show off the neckline notch and decorative buttons on my dress.  I think the full skirt pairs well with the jacket peplum, too.

It is so funny how dressy and useful – in an unexpected way – something as mundane as a bedding can become.  My last bed sheet dress was even fancier than this one – a designer inspired 1950s Burda Style dress, posted here.  A micro-fiber bed sheet set went towards the lining of this 1990s jumper-sundress, posted here.  At the same time that I bought the aqua polka dotted sheet I used for this post’s dress, I also bought the tan floral bed sheet which went towards this 1940s dress, posted here.  I even had a post (here) about a top and a shopping bag both sewn from pillowcases.  It is not about the quantity or quality of what you have to work with, but how you use your supplies when it comes to sewing.  Even the most ordinary items can look glam or at least fuel your joy by supporting your creative ideas. 

Similar to the way sewing has given me an appreciation for using the most unexpected items others may take for granted, I found a new appreciation for bunnies at the Easter Selfie Room visit.  I realize the older generations do not view rabbits in a good estimation, especially anyone who has any interest or occupation related to the outdoors.  In our garden, they are such a bother (I’ll stop short of calling them a menace because they are cute, you have to admit).  Then again, I have loved the tales of Beatrix Potter since my childhood…so I can partially empathize with the plight of bunnies, too, at least from Peter Rabbit’s point of view.  The domesticated bunnies I met that day were soft and cuddly, curious and relatable, as well as free with their love and affection.  I was disarmed and touched!  What a delightful new experience, made even more special because I had the chance to share that event with my parents! 

I hope your Easter, if you celebrate it, is a wonderful, peaceful day full of happiness.  I hope the blessings that the beauty of nature can provide cheer your heart and soothe your spirit.  Also, I hope you have an outfit to wear to brighten your day, just as I have done for myself yet again this year!  I trust you’ve found an extra dose of rabbit appreciation through the critter cuddle pictures in this post.  Don’t forget to leave a carrot out for the Easter bunny!

Cold Shouldered

An ice queen wouldn’t really feel frigid temperatures, I would assume, so she can dress purely for beauty, aesthetics, and the power of her position, right?  Okay, we have that understood.  It wouldn’t be too assumptive either, would it, for the next step to be automatically suppose that character also has certain affectionless traits of a queen who has the capability to freeze water and produce snow?  Perhaps.  However, Disney’s animated “Frozen” movies both 1 and 2 (2013 and 2019, respectively) counter some of such widely set understandings of such a particular fantasy female character.  Ice queens are almost always given a villainess arc in other related stories and films, yet Disney’s version becomes (dare to say) thawed by love and warmed of heart yet still upholds her powers and magical capabilities.  It’s weird and kind of a disappointing change for me, but hey – Elsa does have some awesome cold-shouldered fashion in common with her fellow more malevolent ice queens, so I can definitely roll with that!

Because I am not really a frosty temperament nor am I tolerant of the cold weather, I am happy to have found a way to make an open shouldered gown warm to wear, vintage styled (of course), and practical all at once for a personal interpretation to an ice queen character.  Of course I needed the proper crown and jewelry to match the part, so I also crafted a crystal crown and ring for my set, too.  This is part two of my newest 2021 blog post series called the “Pandemic Princess”.  Part one can be found here – it is my remake of a dress worn by Anna, the sister of Elsa from “Frozen”, so this is kind of like a sequel post to that one. 

Yet, this princess post’s outfit is inherently different since I do not relate to Elsa (as I discussed at the end of my previous post).  Inspired as well by the old Hans Christian Anderson “Snow Queen” tale, I however, mainly incorporated strong references of my preferred ice queen, one who is just as enthralling as she is scary.  She jumps off alive from the pages of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia…the White Witch called Jadis.  She is a not a true queen of course (those who know the books understand) but she still reigns over her spell of an eternal winter with such an iron hand that there is no Christmas.  She is not a character to ‘like’ necessarily but I find her captivating as appalling in her mystery and importance to the story.  The seven Narnia Chronicles are just about my favorite books ever and the strong character of Jadis has formed my idea of a snow queen.  Disney did do a fantastic job at outfitting actress Tilda Swinton to become a great visual interpretation of the White Witch in the 2005 “Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie

One of the White Witch’s trademarks is her wearing of fur to symbolize her ruthless brutality to the creatures of Narnia.  A polar bear may be pulling her chariot one day then become a coat the next…ugh.  (See several examples here.)  After all, Jadis did wear as a collar the mane of the great Aslan the day after killing Him.  My outfit gave a further nod to the character of Jadis in a fair and humane way by wearing either my Grandmother’s vintage 50’s era fur coat collar or a cut of white polyester faux fur, leftover from a coat my mom made me as a child.  These added items were my refuge to keep such a dress with an open neckline warm to wear in the cold, anyway.  Such a style is called cold-shouldered for a reason, but it only becomes literal when the wearer is also frigid in personality.  I was doing my best at looking the part of a stern snow queen in many of these pictures, but it is really hard not to smile in an outfit this fantastic.

Both Elsa in “Frozen” as well as Narnia’s Jadis only wear open shoulder dresses.  The White Witch prefers dramatic, heavyweight dresses though while Elsa of “Frozen” sports lightweight, sparkling, elegant finery.  Both queens incorporate elements of the Hans Christian Anderson Snow Queen, who looked “as if (her dress) had been made from millions of star shaped flakes.  She was beautiful as she was graceful.”  (The classic Anderson Snow Queen also has a chariot and is portrayed in images wrapped in furs like the White Witch.)  All of these ladies gravitate to pastel blues, greys, and white tones (with exception of “Frozen Fever”).

Being worn with bare shoulders, I realized early on that my snow queen creation had to be a dress yet still be closer to a coat.  I wanted it out of a warm and sturdy material to channel Jadis, yet something soft and lovely in sheen to incorporate Elsa.  An all-cotton textured chenille which was found in the decorator’s fabric section on clearance at my local JoAnn store was just the ticket.  It has a white, frosty overtone to the dusty blue because of the fluffy nap (similar to a quality velvet).  Yet the substantial ‘hand’ to it, being a decorator material, is perfect to hold up a strapless dress.  You don’t see much of chenille anymore, both in stores and in fashion today, and that’s a shame.  It is lovely fabric that I remember liking a lot back in the 80’s and 90’s as I was growing up.  This flashback gave me an idea of what direction to look for choosing my pattern design.

Off shouldered vintage dresses are almost every time something super fancy, for evening wear, or not remotely utilitarian.  This was not something I wanted for my “Pandemic Princess” collection, as I said in my announcement post.  I need a “pretty princess” dress I can wear anywhere and everywhere, as often as I want!  I remembered how the 80’s and 90’s (cue the tip from the chenille) were so good at attractive avant-garde fashions which took unexpected creative spins on many ‘traditional styles’.  I found a “New York New York, The Collection” Designer pattern, a McCall’s #4442 from 1989, that hit all the right buttons for me.  It is part body fitting coat, part feminine dress, but altogether powerfully asymmetric enough to suit placing myself ‘in the shoes’ of an intense queen character.  Except for my shoulders, I could be covered up in the cold, too, in the ankle length and long sleeves – just like Elsa!

As weird as the pattern pieces for this looked on paper, the making of the dress turned out fantastic!  The fit was spot on, instructions were clear.  My dress is remarkably easy to move in, as well, and comfy.  It has raglan sleeves.  Pleated darts in the front from the neckline down which shape the bust yet open to give ease in the hips.  There are also pleated darts in the back which are sewn in from bottom to waist to give an amazing bloused back but fitted booty.  As proof, just freaking check out that silhouette the dress gives from behind!  There is a tapered skinny skirt and skinny long sleeves.  The front cover did a horrible job at portraying all of these fantastic details, and the back only gives tiny, limited line drawings.  Under the cover of the loosely sketched fashion illustration, it hides a gem inside.

I made a few slight changes to the design.  An asymmetric closure ends in a pleat which opens up into a walking slit (which I moved from being a kick open style in the back).  After all, Elsa’s “Let It Go” song dress has that infamous thigh-high front slit and sensual fit!  As I didn’t want to deal with closing all those buttons nor try to stitch in buttonholes through the thick fabric, I sewed the buttons down permanently to have the front be a mock closing.  They are silver foiled mock crystal squares to nod to the ice queens who inspired me. Then, I added a left side seam closing invisible zipper to compensate for the faux buttons.  Due to a small lack of fabric (buying an end-of-the-bolt on clearance meant I was ½ yard too short for what I needed) the sleeves are indistinguishably two-pieced along the elbow.

As chenille frays like crazy, all seams are finished inside with a double zig-zagged stitch to imitate overlock stitching from a serger, while the bottom hem and sleeves has vintage rayon hem tape in turquoise.  The instructions impressively called for very fine finishing techniques similar to what I see in Vintage Vogue Special Design patterns or modern Vogue designer ones.  I felt the chenille just couldn’t handle French seams or an additional edge binding, though.  I can wear a slip in lieu of lining and the fabric is not scratchy.  It was important to keep such an odd but fantastic dress simple. 

Speaking of simple, when prepping my supplies for the making of this dress I was prepared to tolerate the possibility of adding in an internal structure (boning or horsehair trim) to either the body or neckline of this dress.  I honestly had no idea going into this if it would just end up a nightmare of a project.  Luckily, it was not – only remarkable easy.  This was so different a style, I didn’t know what to anticipate!  I soon found that as long as I properly interfaced the front placket and the wide neckline facing as the pattern recommended, as well as found a snug fit for the waist and below, the dress stays up and in place. 

The pattern called for little shoulder inserts if a full cold-shoulder is not wanted.  I actually cut out these pieces of a skin-toned power mesh and had them ready to sew in, only to try on the dress and love it as-is with a fully bare neck and shoulder line.  The pattern has a wide facing which stabilizes the ‘collar’.  It was a weirdly wonky piece that I cut out of a dark green cotton and ironed heavy interfacing to the wrong side.  As crazy as that piece looked flat on tissue paper, it did the trick.  I adore the way this neckline frames my face and is low-key drama.  Without being snug, the wide neck opening is also not sloppy on my body.  It stay perilously on the curved ends of my shoulders so perfectly.  This is a mysterious wonder of a design. Did I say enough times already that I love this dress?!? 

Unlike the White Witch in the Disney film, my dramatic up-do is ALL my own hair!!!

Mirroring the way ice forms into defined faceted, geometric shapes, I chose natural crystal quartz to make my own crown and ring set to match my outfit.  Sterling silver findings give it that cold shine.  Back when I was at my local craft and hobby store buying the crystals, I was walking around the section for findings when I saw an ad for wire wrapping.  I liked the appearance of that technique and figured it might be a way to attach the quartz stacks to become jewelry.  This was my first try and I know there is vast room for improvement but I am happy my crazy idea was a success. 

I wound the wire in and around one quartz column then wrapped the rest of the frame to become the ring.  The crown’s crystals were wrapped around the center of a necklace wire.  This way I have not only made a crown, but also something I can wear as around the neck to make the most of my time, money, and supplies.  There are screw off nobs at the ends so I can even slide off the crown’s quartz crystals and reuse the necklace if I ever want to.  I’m all about splurging on something as superfluous as crown, but at the same time I’m also incredibly practical, you see.  What carat is the rock I am wearing, I wonder?  To match, my earrings are vintage 1950’s faux diamond pieces from my Grandmother.  My dark beige boots from my White Witch inspired photos are of the 1980’s era from my mom.  

Hey, Olaf! “Do you wanna build a snowman”

All of the ice or snow queen characters are so inherently sad, so I hope my version of such a role is a much happier, brighter spirited one.  A kiss of the Snow Queen blinds the mind’s eye of the little boy Kai – another kiss from her would have killed him.  Jadis only shows a mock kindness to Edmund so that she can later kill him and his siblings.  Elsa finds herself alone internally due to her powers, even after the power of love allows her to physically touch her family and friends.  Most all of us now know the crippling deprivation of seclusion in some manner since the pandemic of 2020 hit. 

As frosty as these queens are, they have now become easier to empathize with through the bitter loss of social contact in today’s society.  This post’s pictures were taken around Christmastime decorations and after a long-awaited snowfall.  Thus, combined with my fantastic new outfit and the company of my immediate family, there was a lot of fun to be had behind the scenes.  This makes for a joyful, novel understanding of the snow queen persona I undertook by creating this outfit.  I hope this shines through to you as you read this post and enjoy the images.  Let’s not turn into snow queens ourselves, but work on finding ways to let love break through the icy solitude and cold seclusion of the world today.

“Even if there is no Narnia, I will continue to live as a Narnian!” -quote from The Silver Chair. We had fun playing out the parts from the stories with our son!