Summer Gingham and Straw

My first sewing for this year’s summer season is effortlessly simple.  It’s also basically everything associated with an old-time American summer picnic – gingham cotton, basket-like straw, bright red cherries, easy and comfortable dressing (no less cute, though), and good times in the backyard.

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I had to bring my pet dachshund into the picture for good measure!  He’s a loving little shadow to me, though he is camera shy.

Butterick 7161, yr. 1954THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 30 by 45 inch cut of an all-cotton, loosely-woven ‘homespun’

PATTERN:  Butterick 7161, year 1954 – it was a free gift from a kind Etsy seller.

NOTIONS:  I only needed thread, a bit of interfacing, some bias tape scraps, and 3 buttons – all of which I had on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse was whipped up in 2 hours one afternoon at the end of April 2017.

DSC_0417a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  The fabric, my only expense, was bought at Wal-mart’s remnant area in their fabric department for only $2.23!

This blouse just makes me happy.  I love the styling – just enough ‘vintage’ touch to be neat and unique, yet still classic.  The colors are muted and cool, and pair well with so many different bottoms (skirts, pants, and shorts) in all colors (mostly khaki, denim, and black, but even red will do).  From a practical point of view, this was so cheap!  Yet, for how well it fits on me and nicely finished I made it, this is such a deal.  No wonder I buy fabric and sew for myself versus picking up ready-to-wear!DSC_0282a-comp,w

Making this top sleeveless was not precisely by choice, but I like it.  I was lucky enough to make a blouse from this as it was!  My blouse does look really good with sweaters, luckily, for when I’m stuck inside freezing air-conditioning or out in a chilly night.  I find it interesting how generous and comfortable the armscye is on a 1950s era sleeveless blouse.  The armholes from the next decade of the 60’s are so much tighter, and I’m always paring them down but it’s never good enough.  Maybe I’ll need to try sleeveless 50’s fashions more often.

The only major special detail to this blouse is the gathers which come from under the collar.  They are an ingenious way to both add an interesting design element and provide bust shaping.  I thought about pleating the excess fabric rather than gathering it (as I did), but I plan to use this pattern again and I can try that out then.

DSC_0283-comp,wHalfway through sewing this blouse, I had a scare.  I realized this ‘homespun’ cotton was quite fragile when I was stretching the blouse back neckline into the collar piece.  It tore way too easily into the seam allowance.  Thank goodness it didn’t tear any further into the blouse or I would have been devastated because this blouse is my new go-to, throw-it-on frequent favorite.  Once that rip happened, I was glad I had cut the as-is size of the pattern, which was technically too big for me.  I ended up leaving the blouse its generous size because I didn’t want another tear happening in the body of the fabric, which I could totally see happening just from being worn if it fit tighter.  The cotton is so soft, it kind of ‘droops’ down anyway and you can’t tell how generous it is on me.  Between the comfy fit and the loose homespun, it does make for an “I-don’t-feel-it-on” weightless summer blouse.DSC_0285-comp,w

A view of the back is rather basic but my vintage 50’s hat makes it amazing, if you ask me.  Look at that stunning weave of the two different kinds of straw!  The perfect condition and the steal of a price that I paid, makes this one of my prized vintage hats.  To complete the accessorizing details, my fun cherry fruit earrings are vintage from my dear Grandmother.

Blouses, especially 50’s era blouses are my newest ‘thing’ currently.  I’ve been whipping out several already with a few more in my projects queue to sew yet.  Thus, look for more separates to come here on the blog in next few months!

Basic is Beautiful

Don’t you just hate it when a longtime favorite and much loved wardrobe staple of yours gives up its ghost?  Yeah, always a bummer!  My decade and a half staple – a bohemian-style, maxi length, lightweight denim skirt – ripped apart from too much love.  Well, for someone who sews all chances of having a replacement is not entirely lost.

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It took me two years to find the right pattern and fabric to finally have a lovely replacement that I love almost just as much as my original – this is saying a lot!  Sure, I had plans to make a pattern from my old favorite but I realized it might not be a bad thing to move on with my style and try something similar yet different at the same time.  Also, because one basic staple deserves another, I have my new denim skirt paired with a slightly seductive, vintage, knit white tee for another wardrobe filler.  I’m hoping my set has a slight nod to the 1970s era yet still stays modern.  To have a garment be an indispensable staple piece, yet also vintage and modern, is the best combo ever for those days when I want to blend in yet still wear styles which pay tribute to the past.

Every time I make something really needed and purposeful (not just what tickles my fancy), I realize how beautiful sewing the basics can be.  This is why my outfit (specifically my skirt) is part of the Petite Passions’ Wardrobe Builder Project for the month of May. As you can see, it is helping me get the motivation to build on my everyday casual wardrobe!

THE FACTS:McCall's 6623, year 1979-comp,w

FABRIC:  Skirt – 2 yards of a lightweight, light wash, denim chambray with scrap Kona cotton for the waistband lining; Top – less than one yard of a ribbed cotton knit

PATTERNS:  Skirt – Burda Style “Tiered Denim Maxi Skirt” #102 B, from April 2017;  Top – McCall’s #6623, year 1979

Tiered Denim Maxi Skirt 04-2017 #102BNOTIONS:  Besides the invisible zipper, which I bought because I don’t necessarily keep ‘specialty’ zips on hand, everything else needed was basic (thread, interfacing, bias tape) and came from on hand.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The top was sewn a while back now, finished on August 24, 2015 after only 3 hours’ time.  The skirt took me about 5 hours to make and was finished on May 16, 2017.

DSC_0416a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  My skirt is all clean inside with both French seams and bias tape while my knit top is raw edged inside (as it doesn’t fray).

TOTAL COST:  The top’s ribbed fabric was a miserable little scrap remnant – technically it was about one yard but was badly hacked into with all the corners squarely cut off.  See below the “tight squeeze” to fit the pattern pieces on it.  The knit was bought for about $2 when Hancock Fabrics was closing.  The denim was bought the year before from Jo Ann’s Fabric store for about $9 (more or less I don’t remember).  I suppose my outfit is about $12 but priceless in utility to me!    

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Now, 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 from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  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.

There were only subtle changes that I made to the skirt for my version.  The main change, to lessen the gathers of the lower panel, was part taste.  I planned on doing that anyway, but the amount of the gathers was dictated by the fact I was working with only 2 yards of material while using a pattern calling for at least 3 yards.  I am a smaller woman, and on the edge of being petite height, so I figured such a full maxi skirt as the original design might be a bad idea.  I really do like the skirt fullness as it is now even if I did not get to choose exactly how I wanted it.  Sometimes “making do” works better than trying to start from scratch to be ‘perfect’.

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Other than changing the amount of gathers, I sewed the gathers onto the upper skirt piece like a normal seam rather than top-stitching on like the pattern called for.  This top-stitched panel would’ve created a frilly ruffle where the two panels came together.  I was decreasing the gathers for a slimmer skirt and a frill through the middle of a half-gathered panel would have messed with the silhouette.  This regular seaming also saved me the trouble of finishing the one edge of the gathered panel so I could equalize my time spent to invisibly hand-stitch down the hem.

I already took out 3 inches from the overall length but my hem even still became a wide 3 ½ inches.  This baby runs very long as if it is a “Tall” sized pattern.  It does sit on the hips, with the top of the skirt riding just below my true waist.  As one who wears a lot of vintage, which almost always has a high-to–true waist, I still like this feature which is more modern, it’s just a change for me (not a bad thing, as I said above).

DSC_0404a-comp,wAs I went through the extra effort to make no stitching visible, under stitching the facing at the waist and having a hand-done hem, I figured an invisible zipper here was the only way to go.  After having my last invisible zipper failing on me and trapping me in my dress back in 2012 (post on that here), I have taken a long hiatus from this specific notion but coming back to it has been a refreshing and rewarding success.  I love how you don’t see anything but the zipper pull…but, yes, I realize that’s why they are called invisible!

My top is the third time I have used McCall’s #6623 pattern – this is unprecedented for me!  (Here are my first and my second versions of this pattern.)  I still yet want to have the gumption to make and wear that strappy cold-shoulder version.  The tank is so lovely and basic I need to make a few of those in some basic colors.  For some reason I really love this one pattern, and it loves me by the way it fits me so darn well.

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I find this pattern interestingly unique, not just from the fact that each view top has its own pieces (none shared), but because of the small “From a Norton Simon Inc. Company” logo next to the McCall’s logo.  This pattern’s year, 1969, was a decade after Norton Simon himself retired from active involvement in his business.  What’s up with that?!

McCall's 6623, year 1979-comp,zoomNot too many people know that Norton Simon, the smart art collector and businessman behind Max Factor cosmetics, Avis Car Rental, and Canada Dry Corporation (to name a few), also controlled the McCall Corporation and all its publishing (magazines and such) between 1959 and 1969.  How I have not heard of this man, who seemed to have an influence in so much of the companies and products that are a part of our modern lives, before recently?  He was on the cover page of TIME magazine on June 4, 1965, in People magazine (1976), and even ran for the United States Senate (in 1970).  His conglomerate is now ranked 112th on FORTUNE’S list of the 500 largest American corporations    I wonder why this is the only McCall pattern I have seen with his naming rights on it.  See – patterns are so interesting in so many ways!

Sewing this top was super simple and easy.  This is the first time I have used this pattern un-altered.  I did have to add in snap on lingerie straps made from ribbon to anchor the shoulder to my underwear.  Otherwise the shoulders on this open-back hottie piece slide a bit all over the place.  Basic bias tape adds a bit of soft shaping and contrast finishing for the neck edges, and a little left chest pockets adds some small utilitarian interest.

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My biggest setback was working with the rib knit – a very first for me to work with.  I thought I had this pattern understood but not this time.  I had to sew the side seams several inches smaller than normal to accommodate the give of the ribbing.  It acts like a slinky toy!  It was a tough call to figure out the sweet spot between too loose of a fit and too snug.  I didn’t want the rib knit to lose its design when fitting over me yet I wanted it to be body complimentary without being a second skin.  After several stitchings, un-pickings, and re-stitching spells I like the balance I found.  This top does look so hilariously small on the hangar – the ribbing springs back so it seems like something for a 10 year old girl.  It also is best dried flat after washing.  The weirdness of the rib knit also meant all my hems are unfinished – not by choice but at least I think the raw edges look good on this occasion.  This quirky material has a definite personality!  Working with it was a definite learning curve.

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Between all the challenging and involved projects that I want to make (from my too numerous ideas), sewing basic necessities always is a pain to get around to.  Who completely wants to sew something merely because you need it, when nowadays ‘stuff’ is so easy and available to buy?  And yet, such sewing also always ends up so satisfying for me and it always amazes me.  The staple clothing necessities that you reach for everyday can be an uncommon source of creative pride and possess better individual style if you don’t exclude them from receiving the personal touch of hand sewing.  I’m practicing what I preach lately by giving away a good amount of the ready-to-wear that I do not like or use so that my ‘me-makes’ and my vintage pieces can take over my wardrobe.

Do you make your tees, and jeans, and anything else basic?  If yes, do you like them better than the ready-to-wear option?  Have you ever worked on sewing up a replacement for an old favorite garment?  Is sewing what you need something that you have a love or a hate attitude towards? Maybe, like me, you feel a bit of both?  What is your experience (if you have one) with rib knits?  One last query – has anyone else seen a McCall’s pattern with a “Norton Simon” logo?  If you have any feedback for these questions, please do share – I like to ‘hear’ what you have to say!  As always, thanks for reading.

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Escape and Evasion: a Post-WWII Map Blouse

A map can help you find your way, it can provide a safety net, be a memento, create a fashion statement, or even be the product of someone’s profession (cartography).  Believe me, a map is much more than markings and directions on material.  Are you ready for a trip?  Let’s have a go with a vintage blouse that incorporates all of those things I first listed, constituting the most out what truly is a map.

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The world is always changing, so a map necessarily documents a moment and place in time.  My blouse, although made in our modern times, pays tribute to 1946, and its post-World War II times and practices.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:   100% cotton is the content for both the map fabric and the inner lining fabric.  The map fabric is a ‘Tim Holtz’ brand print, from his “Eclectic Elements Expedition” line, and it is very silky soft.  The lining is a beige tan batiste, tissue thin but also super soft.1692-Simplicity

NOTIONS:  I bought the buttons to specifically match with the top (I’ll explain my reasoning further down), and other than that I really needed only thread, which was already on hand

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1692, a 1944 pattern re-printed in 2013

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My blouse was completed in maybe 8 hours, and finished on September 8, 2014.

100_3760a-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  Nice and clean – the side seams are flat felled, the bottom hem is bias covered, and the shoulder seams are covered by the lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was ordered from an online store and the “La Petite” buttons came from (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics for a total of about $25.

Now, I know history buffs out there like me will see my “Facts” and notice and say, “Hey, she’s making a Post-WWII 1946 blouse out of a war-time 1944 pattern!”  Well, yes, I know.  Many styles in fashion then did not have any radical changes during and right after the war, due to many factors.  It wasn’t until 1946 that rationing and “making-do” just began co-existing with a postwar boom all things – more patterns, new fashions, buying of material goods, and even a plethora of babies 😉  Besides, I adapted the pattern design to be more appropriately a 1946 style with its kimono-style cap sleeves and button back.  My adaptations to the pattern were based off of this old original 1946 silk chart blouse as seen in Jonathan Walford’s “Forties Fashion” book (below), as well as this vintage Globe novelty print 40s blouse seen here on Etsy.

Map blouse from 'Forties Fashion'

I luckily made all sorts of annotations to the pattern after my first and second versions and knew what to do to make my third time around the best success yet.  My notes of how to fit the pattern to myself helped me concentrate on changing the design and lengthening the set in sleeves to become another mid-1940’s classic style.  Rather than cutting the back bodice on the fold, I cut mine with a seam and extra seam allowance.  A long underlap was drafted, as was the skinny bias tubing, so I could have the back be button closed.  Sure it is somewhat of a contortion trick to close it on myself, but it is also very 40’s (and looks awesome).  Hubby always shakes his head at the things we women go through to make and wear these vintage fashions.

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The print is some sort of conglomeration of fragmented antiquated maps with wind info and some random highlighting of towns.  It has a nice earthy yet pastel-like background composed of the basic colors in traditional camouflage.  I would have preferred more of a topographical chart or a real 1940s WWII chart, but this is not the last time I intend to sew with maps, so perhaps next time I’ll get exactly what I would like.  On my blouse, the continent of North America with the USA is right over the heart on the left of my chest – at least this is just how I’d like it!

100_3762-comp,wAlthough my blouse is made from cotton fabric (albeit quite nice cotton), it is intended to imitate extant original Post-War clothing which had been made from no longer used/needed Escape and Evasion Charts.  The use of more aerial fighting, bombing, and reconnaissance necessitated maps to be the newest ‘not-to-be-without’ equipment for WWII.  These charts, nicknamed EVC’s, are not bombing aids yet they are also more than just maps.  By being printed with specialized information onto fabric they instantly become an all-in-one survival tool to help someone such as a downed pilot, a lost ground troop, or a POW evade danger and survive both the surroundings and possibly unfriendly people.  Navigation aids, terrain info, edible animals and plants, and crude personal care are listed.

Now, just to be clear, I am talking about the true EVC’s made by government cartographers, not the one’s made out of alternative materials by and for POWs attempting to escape incarceration and also not the maps for remaining alive in aquatic regions, although all of these do fall under the “SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape)” training military personnel receive.  That out of the way – originally, WWII EVC’s were small and either handed out or sewn as the lining to airmen’s jackets.  The Map pouchAmerican Charts were normally oiled rayon, while the charts issued elsewhere (mainly Britain and Australia) were pectin-coated silk.  The coating strengthened the material, kept the ink from running, and provided airmen with something rather flexible and non-crinkly (silent to use) yet waterproof so their chart could catch water and keep something dry.  The modern EVC’s are not only more detailed, but also made out of spun olefin, branded as Tyveck (house wrap), and have evolved into something as large as a blanket so they can also be used as a hammock, shelter, and bandage, to list a few out of many uses.

After the war, these charts because the source for much re-purposing, and during the war a hubby or sweetheart that no longer needed his chart could provide the rationed woman some precious extra material.  (See here what an old WWII charts looks like before being made into garment.)  Surplus and de-classified Evasion Charts were often a memorial of what a hubby and/or sweetheart endured, as well as silk or rayon that wasn’t going to be wasted.  Thus, so many of these special charts became clothing for a good number of women in the years following WWII.  I find it funny how most of the charts became underwear and lingerie – rather cheeky!  Visit my Pinterest board for EVC re-use to see more inspiration and info.

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Of all the re-using and re-fashioning that went on during WWII, Escape and Evasion charts are by far the most enthralling, most intriguing part, in my opinion.  What is so neat is that they are still useful today, being used after over 70 years!  It just goes to show the depth of history involved in things we take for granted in our everyday lives – maps, clothing, and just pure surviving.  Of all the novelty blouses that I could make, this one has the most passion behind it.  I hope this post made you think, and let me share with you about one of my favorite subjects!

“South of the Border, Down Mexico Way…”

The great thing about America (allow me to brag about my homeland), is that we are a country of diverse peoples, with equally diverse nationalities, who can celebrate that individuality freely.  A past head of state, President Reagan, once said “…our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”

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This weekend (May 5th, actually) marks the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and I have made a 1945 wrap-on blouse to wear for the occasion.  The 1940’s had a fascination for Mexico (due in part to the Good Neighbor policy), often using stereotypical prints on blouses, aprons, and skirts.  Here, my blouse only quietly nods to Mexican culture through colors and decorative rick-rack.  Every year, I see tasteless Cinco de Mayo pictures, store sales, and meals that have no intention of being respectful and it angers me.  I like to have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures, their history, their traditions, their clothing, and celebrate with them the right way.  If I can do all of that by sewing a vintage pattern, then I have succeed in my aim.

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In case you were wondering, my blouse becomes an outfit thanks to a 1980s-does-1940s skirt, my Grandma’s vintage earrings, and modern 40’s style Worishofer wedge sandals.

THE FACTS:Simplicity 1412,front cover-comp,w  

FABRIC:  basic 100% cotton

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1412, year 1945

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the thread, bias tape, and ¼ inch elastic scraps that I needed to make this blouse.  The neckline’s baby rick rack half vintage – the green is a recent Jo Ann’s Fabric store find while the red is a slightly smaller width and is true vintage.  My back closure ball button is also vintage from my Grandma.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was completed on May 5, 2017, after spending maybe 5 hours in total.

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This blouse was a fun, simple, and different little project that came together quite well.  It is seriously so awesome, easy, comfy and cute that I think every one of you vintage and non-vintage gals would love this.  I’m even considering somehow coming up with a PDF of my pattern to share on my blog at some point, because I know I now feel an 1945 LIFE magazine aricle on wrapped clothing to make yourselfunrealistic ‘need’ for about half a dozen of these wrap-and-go blouses in my wardrobe.  I do not think this blouse looks like an obvious wrap-on top.  I also think it fits remarkably well for as basic and squared off that the garment looks on a hangar.  This basic design was apparently in a year 1945 LIFE magazine article on easy wrapped clothing to sew, and obviously (and smartly) Simplicity pattern company jumped on board.  At first you might question whether a pattern for something so simple is necessary, I know I did!  However, Simplicity #1412, not only has killer accessories to boot, but the top does has lovely bust darts, a curve in the back half of the wrap, and shaped shoulder seams.  It might look like a square, but I believe those subtle added shaping details add so much more to the success of such a top than a basic drafted square ever could.

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My pattern is a medium, which turns out is the perfect size for me.  This fitting designation is unique.  Usually vintage patterns tend to go by numbers for their sizing and not “small-medium-large”.  According to this size rage chart for the medium I should have technically been fitting into a small.  No – I think going up a size gave me enough extra wrap-around room without being too much.  Having a wrap-on top makes fitting not as cut-and-dry as a ‘normal’ blouse!

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There were a number of changes that I made to the blouse which greatly add to its finished success.  Firstly, I doubled up on the layers to eliminate any see-through issues and the need for fiddly facings around the neck.  In other words, I cut and sewed two tops – stitched only at the shoulder seams – then sewed them (right sides together) at the neckline, snipped, trimmed, and turned right sides out so as to top-stitch the neckline down.  Then I reached underneath and sewed the outer sleeve edges from inside out so there would be no visible seams.  Secondly, I cut the back tie on fold eliminating a vertical center seam.  Thirdly, the back waist tie (which closes in the front) was supposed to be a single layer but I folded it in half and sewed it just like a casing to cover all the rest of the seams and make the waistband smaller for my shorter frame. In other words, it’s half the width the pattern planned it to be.  Fourth, I lowered the high, almost choking-high neckline by 1 ½ inches.  Fifth comes the most important adaptation of all – the ties which attach to the front panel.  Not to blatantly pat myself on the back, but the way I made them makes this blouse truly work, so I will explain in detail.

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The pattern calls for ties on either end of the turned under hem to the front bodice panel.  With just these ties, the blouse cannot be worn by itself – the arm openings gape too much…I would’ve needed an extra tank or camisole top underneath.  Besides, a regular tie would just be uncomfortable to get snug.  So – my answer is two-fold.  Six inches up from the bottom hem is another set of ties keeping the arm openings closing higher to cover my lingerie.  Also, my blouse’s ties are skinny bias strings attached to a 3 inch remnant of ¼ inch elastic.  The elastic end is sewn to the blouses’ side edge so when I tie the strings behind my back they have a very comfy ‘give’ that is not confining.  This elastic especially comes in handy with the upper ties!  I can stretch, and my blouse stays closed, but stretches with me.  A plain old bias ties would not be this forgiving.

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This is pretty much the first time I have blatantly used rick-rack for obvious decoration, and I do like it.  Using baby rick-rack makes it delicate and understated to me, not something that is screaming homemade.  Adding interest to a high and/or otherwise basic blouse seems to have been a common practice for the 40’s.  There is a Witness2Fashion post on ”Simple, Glitzy Tops from the 1940s” and a third of the way down she shows McCall #1283, from 1946, a strikingly similar wrap-on blouse with a Grandma pics,wfeatured sequin neckline detail.  Even my Grandma’s high school pictures (1944 to 1948) show her with several high necked, simple sleeved blouses similar to both this post’s blouse and Simplicity #1692 and they all have decoration at the neck such as fagoting and trim shown in the Witness2Fashion article.  See?  Apparently I have a little of my Grandma’s taste in me…

I know I am lacking one color of rick-rack for my neckline trim to be the colors of the Mexican flag, but I was going for tasteful, ascetically pleasing, and symbolical all at the same time.  Some informational sites say that the red color was originally intended to represent unity with Europe.  I’ve also read that the red represents the Spaniards that joined in the quest for Independence as well as the blood of the national heroes shed for Mexico’s liberty.  The green stands for hope, independence, and nationalism.  My cheery yellow top underneath pays homage to Mexico’s traditional culture of the sun – from the sun comes positive energy and life, and “Tonathiuh” is often given the highest honors in festivals and traditions.  Yellow is also the color of corn or “maize”, not just a crop but a deep cultural symbol intrinsic to daily life and in ancient times revered as “what the gods had chosen to create to feed mankind”.  Of course, on a practical sewing level, I was also inspired by this vintage Simplicity #4440, a circa 1942 apron pattern with its two-color rick-rack on yellow.  However, researching the color meanings to my Mexicali top helps me better realize just some of what they are celebrating this weekend.

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My title is named after one of my favorite classic “ranchero” western songs.  “South of the Border, Down Mexico Way” from 1939 is a lovely song that I remember my dad singing “…manyana…” along to the refrain as he would listen to his recordings of WWII and pre-war tunes.  No wonder it makes me happy and peaceful even though it is an intrinsically sad song.  I had to have it as my title…it makes me think of all the best of what I picture Mexico to be, even though I haven’t been there.

I think I reached my goal of understanding Cinco de Mayo better this year than before thanks to making my blouse and typing this post.  I will not bore you with all the related history I would love to share, and for now just hope I gave you enough inspiration and eye candy, with a little sharing of my research, to make your day.

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Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, so I will definitely show you what I wore (and made) in a future post.

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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