Hawaii of ’59

Riding on the heels of my last post, a play set inspired by the Disney Polynesian princess Moana, here’s a quick little post on yet another tropical outfit – one that is much more elegant, but simpler, yet just a fun and versatile as the last.  I just finished these pieces after being further motivated by my diving into the history of Hawaii, particularly what led up to the year when it became America’s 50th state.  That specific history is sadly rife with colonialism, division, greed, and cultural identity issues.  Yet, Hawaii finally becoming part of the Union in the year 1959 is something to celebrate that deserves its own fantastic outfit here on my blog, especially when I had some amazing fabric a friend brought back for me her trip to the island!  This is my outfit for my pretend getaway while still comfortably staying in my hometown, he he.

My new crop top dates to 1959, but my skirt is my own self-draped design using the Hawaiian fabric from my friend.  She has family ties to the island herself and was excited to see what I would make of it after discussing my ideas for the skirt with her.  This is not a cultural outfit, nor is it trying to be.  This is merely a vintage top infused with a bit of a Hawaiian flair because of the skirt.  Yet, it is enough of a cultural nod with the traditional hibiscus print on the skirt that I wanted to clarify myself.  For these pictures, the local Botanical Gardens’ greenhouse conservatory, the “Climatron”, was my background setting – it was opened in 1960, the year after my top’s pattern, and houses many tropical vegetation. 

Inside the “Climatron”

I have never been to Hawaii myself, so I don’t know anything to compare to location-wise, but at least my fabric is properly sourced.  Even for my last Hawaiian inspired sewing creation (an Ana Jarvis from Agent Carter outfit), I also ordered that fabric direct from a Hawaii barkcloth shop via online.  I always try to make sure a cultural fabric I’m using comes directly from the ethnicity which is my inspiration – it helps the artisans, promotes their craft, and gives proper respect to the heritage.   This is especially important to recognize in light of the fact that yesterday was “Discoverer’s Day” in Hawaii, celebrated on the second Monday in October since 1971 “to honor all discoverers, including Pacific and Polynesian navigators”.  Many experts now believe that the Polynesians ‘discovered’ both North and South America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, anyway!  It is important to remember that Hawaii has been annexed as a U.S. territory since 1898, but America has had an interest in the island since the 1840s, so the native cultures have had a long struggle to keep their own traditions and identity alive.  Let’s honor the Polynesian culture as well as Indigenous people!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon for the Hawaiian skirt fabric and a 100% linen (leftover from this 40’s jumper) for the top

PATTERN:  for the top, Simplicity #8460, a year 1959 design reissued in 2017, originally Simplicity #3062

NOTIONS NEEDED:  two 9 inch zippers and lots of thread

THE INSIDES:  The top is all French seamed (even the armscye) and the skirt only has one seam, and that was closely zig-zagged along the edge for a faux serged (overlocked) clean edge

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was finished on October 4, 2021 and took only about 4 hours from start to finish.  The skirt took me longer, as I didn’t use a pattern – maybe 6 hours altogether – and was finished a few days after the top.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt was reasonably priced for the two yards I had my friend pick up for me (yes, I paid her later) and the linen had been in my stash so long it’s free in my mind!

I am further tying this outfit in with my previous Moana inspired outfit on a basic level because I used the same fabric for part of both sets.  Yes, that is correct!!  That brown jumper I made was originally bright orange like my top because this is what I sewed out of the one yard (plus scraps) that was leftover before dyeing that project a new color.  However, this is much more culturally influenced that that previous set.  Even still, as much as Moana has been the starting point of interest to whatever recent historical inquiries or research I have carried out on the Pacific Islands, she is actually the second protagonist of Polynesian descent in a Disney animated feature.  The first was Lilo with her older sister Nani from Lilo & Stitch.   

These pieces were a refreshing project because I was both going rouge and being inventive.  I have been doing this a lot with my sewing lately.  It keeps my creative juices flowing to draft something myself, or at least interpret a pattern in an unexpected manner.  I went through a bout of no-sewing in July through the end of August, although you wouldn’t have guessed it on my blog.  I have such a backlog of good things I’ve made but haven’t posted so my blog’s supply of material seems endless sometimes!  Anyways, these creative projects that are just what I want to make at the moment are giving me life.  I don’t care if it is October, this is exactly what I wanted to sew and wear.  Luckily, the combo of the orange and the purple here gives me an opportunity to still wear this for the last throes of summer warmth that we often have in October.  I hope to be wearing this set much more again as soon as it gets warm again next year.  For now I plan on wearing the orange top with all my fall season skirts the next month! 

Along that vein, I guess I will dive into the details about my little vintage linen crop top.  The original pattern calls this an “unlined, sheer, short jacket” actually because it is shown sewn in a lace and meant to be worn as a cover up to the included “sleeveless sheath dress” (the base item to this set).  I am surprised the ’59 pattern calls it a jacket.  After all, it is sheer and designed to have an open back with no closures, other than hem and neckline bindings which extend into ties.  I guess this is not much different from a short cropped, no-closure bolero jacket, however looking at the line drawing alone gave me a different idea.  Line drawing are such a basic starting point, devoid of any influence, it always helps me come up with original thoughts.  I chose to see this garment reinvented as a wear-alone top, aka blouse. 

I cut it out with no changes, and sewed it up just the same as I would have if it was sheer lace – French seams inside.  Down the center back, though, I installed a 9 inch zipper which opens up only to the middle of the shoulders and closes at the bottom hem.  Above that zipper, I sewed the center back together just for a few inches only to open up again into a neckline keyhole opening.  This is a top that has a close fitting neckline and the back keyhole vent is just enough for me to slip this over my head.  Only then did I finish the neckline as the pattern directs, with the back neck closing in extended ties that are one with the binding (cut from the same fabric as the top).  I could finally try on the top at this point…only to discover it was terribly boxy and oversized.  It was also much more of a ‘belly top’ than I had realized it would be, only because of the way it was pulled up when I reached up to fix my hair.  The only place it fit was in the shoulders.  I was glad I had saved the hem binding for the last step.

I am wearing my Grandmother’s vintage jewelry set here!

I started fitting it to myself at the side seams, which had originally been very vertical, by tapering in a large 1 inch chunk which started at the hem and ended in the armpit at my original French seam on each side.  Then, I added in under bust darts which come up from the hem and called it done, finishing the edge with similar binding as the neck.  I knew a snug fit would not be ideal here with a tight woven linen and after the way the shoulders fit so comfortably as-is.  So I have my top tailored with a relaxed fit that does its proper job by not flashing others my lingerie…only some of my midsection skin, which I really don’t mind.  As long as my high-waisted bottoms are on, whether a skirt or pants, I am fine!  I love this fun little number.

The skirt is definitely my favorite of the two, nevertheless.  It is so elegant and, best of all, a custom one-of-a-kind design made by me.  This is even better than my self-drafted items because this was draped with myself as the mannequin.  This was tricky, as I was draping in an unconventional manner, but well worth it.  Draping is different than drafting – patterning is optional if you start with a good fashion fabric and very little goes to waste.  Drafting produces a technical design base from which to pattern and cut material to turn it from 2D to something 3D that fits the curves of a human figure.  Draping is a very ‘organic’ way of approaching design because there is no pattern needed and one only has to work with the fabric, and pinch, pin, tuck, dart, or otherwise shape the material as inspired to then fit the body form (in my case, myself).    

What I love about draping is the way the fabric can dictate the design, as was the case for this Hawaiian skirt.  I worked around what would let the print of the pattern shine to its optimum level while still becoming a pleasing and elegant design.  When a fabric is really good – and this Hawaiian rayon is absolutely luxurious – it is best to be attuned to its own “personality” and let it dictate of what it wants to be.  Sometimes, as is often the case for one-off couture creations for famous people, the occasion they have to attend or even the personality of the wearer (think of the MET gala) can be the driving force behind the crafting of a custom draped design.  In this case, a pattern is often made from the designer’s original draping creation, to be patterned up and re-made out of the final fashion fabric by employees.  In my case, I had enough confidence to dive right into my good fabric because I had a general idea of what – hopefully – my final result was to be. 

Two different views of the same front closure – because a zipper in a dart is confusing to show!

I aimed for a design that needed as few as possible seams.  I had two yards of a 35 inch width fabric and wanted to leave it as “untouched” and natural as possible.  I experimented in front of a mirror wrapping and pinching the fabric on myself to estimate what design might work best and also figure out how much (and where) to take out the excess material.  As it turned out, with only four tapered darts, 6 inches wide for a few inches below the waist tapering to nothing for the length of 20 inches, were placed in between the blank spaces left by the upward trailing border print.  The two center darts were turned outward away from one another to create a kind of “sack-back gown” effect.  The next two were turned to run the same direction, thus creating another layer of the “sack-back gown” effect along each side of my hips.  The only other seam, running the full length of the width, was created by stitching the two cut edges together.  This became the center front seam. The zipper was installed into the dart that was also put into the center front, just the same depth and length as the other previous four darts.  As the final step, I turned both selvedges inside by 2 inches and this was both the finished bottom hem and upper waistband.  I was able to fulfill my goal AND fit an aesthetically pleasing layout to my body. 

As I clarified above, I was not trying to make this a cultural garment, but as I was experimenting with draping placement there may have been subconscious inspiration from the vintage early 60’s Polynesian line of sewing patterns.  Many of their dresses have a slight nod to 18th century garments with their frequency of either a gathered or pleated sack-back to their Hawaiian muu-muu dresses.  Check out pattern no. 150, pattern no. 183, or the popular no. 121 (as modeled on the fantastic Tanya Maile) for just a few examples.  I will admit, I have the 18th century on my mind…I just finished a 1780s gown and just planned out a pattern for a shorter hip length sack-back gown (called in French a “pet-en-l’air”; see picture below at right).  A ‘watteau back’ is formed by wide box pleats hanging from a high shoulder yoke and extending to the hem in an unbroken line.  I translated this into a skirt form, unintentional at first then only realizing it as my skirt was coming along. 

Wide watteau pleating really makes the fabric print look like it was meant for this design, I think, but the true effect comes to play when I walk in this skirt.  It has a controlled flow around me in a way that makes me feel like a queen and silently, happily squeal inside.  The visual impression is still slimming because of the straight, tapered, and columnar effect of the front half of the skirt that the side pleats form.  There is something so indescribably graceful to authentic hula, and that was the elegance I wanted to translate into my Hawaiian fabric skirt.

I hope you enjoyed this tropical foray for these last two posts, and that whatever the weather you may have where you live, your day was uplifted for a few moments.  I will be continuing the rest of October with more posts related to the stereotypical seasonal celebrations of the month – such as fall, Halloween, and princesses with Germanic heritage to their stories.  I hate to see summer go, every dang year, though.  I always make sure to send out the warm weather with some grand finale outfits, and this year’s creations were especially delightful in more ways than one. 

Thanks, as always, for reading and following along! 

“How Far I’ll Go…”

     “See the line where the sky meets the sea?  It calls me. 

          What’s beyond that line?  Will I cross that line?

               If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me, one day I’ll know…”

     -lyrics from the song “How Far I’ll Go”

I might have my personal favorite princesses, but in our house, Disney’s 2016 “Moana” is an all-around favorite of all of us, especially my son.  The movie is an excellent example of Polynesian lore and culture, besides having Moana herself be an all-around exemplary, relatable 16-year-old human, even for all the legendary situations she is placed in.  I love that Moana has her family there for her throughout the film, which is unique for Disney (which tends to kill off the mom figure), and that she is searching for her own identity, not a love interest.  It has songs that are catchier than the best classic 90’s Disney tunes with amazing visuals that are an absolute treat.  It contains my husband’s favorite Disney song – “You’re Welcome” – and was my son’s first in-person movie theatre experience.  “Moana” is also the only Disney animated princess movie I cry to every single time we re-watch it again and again!  It is fitting that my last summer season sewing is something related to the princess Moana.

Of course I had to interpret this specific inspiration with a play set for my latest and greatest installment in my “Pandemic Princess” blog series!  There wasn’t a better decade for the cutest play sets than the 1940s, in my opinion.  Besides, with all the American soldiers (and their families in some instances) stationed at many of the Pacific islands during and after WWII, Polynesian culture heavily influenced the warm weather and playtime fashions for women of that decade. 

I had a head start on the 3-pieces which constitute a play set by wearing my pleated, skirt-style 40’s shorts, which I sewed years back as the base for another play set (posted here), to match with my newly made Moana novelty printed blouse.  The rich blue to the shorts reminds me of the ocean…and I enjoy being able to still be wear my older creations, after all.  Then the jumper, which is newly made and can be worn over both pieces, also matches with the blouse as it peeks out from underneath.  It creates a suddenly dressy tone to the fun time duo.  The brown linen jumper was custom dyed by me, and calls to my mind both Moana’s dark hair and the natural fibers that many ethnic Polynesian clothes are made of.

My accessories are especially coordinating this time.  I have a toy plush version of Moana’s sidekick the rooster Hei Hei to keep me company.  He might not be the best help on Moana’s boat (see this hilarious movie clip) but together with the pig Pua (shown on my blouse) complete her ‘conventional’ Princess ‘requirements’.  This Hei Hei toy was a present from my mother-in-law and can walk and “scream” by battery power.  I also have a large conch shell with me – it was acquired by hubby’s Grandmother in the 1960s or earlier.  It is a beautiful pink inside just like the ones the ocean gave Moana as a baby (see this movie clip – it’s so sweet). 

Now to the rest of my accessories, like my handmade ones! My belt is a multicolored novelty jute ‘ribbon’ which I originally made into a belt to match with this dress (post here) but works fantastically to brighten up the solid brown of the jumper.  Even my sea-inspired hair clip was me-made, too.  I started with a cheap $1 store basic hair item then glued on wooden themed charms of a sea horse, starfish, shell, and a fish that I bought from my local fabric store.  I love my self-made items which complete my outfits!  Finally my amazingly comfy shoes (the “Elinor” lace up ballerina pumps) are from the great brand Miss L Fire, which is sadly going out of business in the next week or two.  All together I felt fantastic in my outfit and also ready for whatever comes my way.  Oh ‘how far I’ll go’ for the perfect dream outfit…

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heavyweight all-linen for the jumper and an all-cotton Disney brand Moana character print for the blouse

PATTERN:  McCall #5607, year 1944, a vintage original pattern from my stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, vintage buttons from the inherited stash of both my Grandmother and my husband’s Grandmother, vintage hem tape, vintage bias binding, and some interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jumper took me about 8 to 10 hours to make and was finished September, 25, 2021.  The blouse came afterwards, being finished on September 27, and was made in only 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly finished thanks to vintage bindings on hand

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards of the Moana cotton bought at Jo Ann Fabric store cost me about $12; the fabric for the jumper was linen I had on hand longer than I can remember so I’m counting it as free.  The dye for the linen cost $3 something dollars.  All other notions were on hand from my stash so I’m counting them as free, too.  My total cost for this outfit was about $15.

This overall project started out as an experiment.  I had this lovely bright orange, almost neon, soft and supple linen that was my ideal fabric but in a wrong tone for the jumper to match with the Moana print fabric.  I had an overall 3 ½ yard cut of the material, and only needed just over 2 yards.  Thus, I cut out the pattern pieces for the jumper and saved the rest leftover for my upcoming “Part Two” Moana-inspired outfit.  Then, those jumper pieces were partially sewn together (darts, pleats, and all secondary seams), and the front buttonholes were marked with thread, so they could be cooked in a bath of RIT brand liquid dark brown dye. 

I actually had absolutely no idea what tone I would end up with, but expected a burnt orange.  Any way the dye job would have turned out, I was ready to be happy with it as long as it remotely matched the Moana blouse fabric and became a different color.  I think that since my fabric was a natural linen (which takes well to dye), and I chose a dark brown versus just a natural brown, I ended up with this lovely rich and opaque nut color.  I wanted a jumper which would carry me beyond this particular outfit and be versatile going into fall, but overall become an all-season piece.  This jumper as it turned out is not what I expected but just what I wanted.  It was a planned surprise.  Dyeing is always so very interesting and fun, but always a gamble.

Other than the dye job, this jumper was easy to come together.  Part of the joy to it was how much like sewing through butter was the linen I was using.  Also, though, it has been too long since I’ve used a true vintage printed McCall’s pattern – they’re my favorite.  I appreciate the general predictability of how well they fit me out of the envelope and their details are understatedly fantastic.  The waistband panel – an incorporated ‘belt’ – was eliminated for my version of the jumper because I am both short-waisted and wanted to cut down on the blousiness of the style.  Otherwise, I sewed this jumper just as it is shown on the envelope, not counting grading up in size.  The deep cut armholes are great to show off the blouse underneath and keep the jumper from being confining.  The way the bust darts radiate from the sleeve openings is my favorite unexpected detail.  I went the extra mile to do only hand-stitching finishing touches so no thread is visible besides for the buttonholes.

My blouse was super easy and straightforward as shirts go.  It has menswear details, no doubt added just to keep a smooth profile for layering under the jumper.  Many 1940s blouses have some gathers or shirring somewhere, normally across the shoulders (to add bust fullness) or the back.  This blouse has the conventional separate shoulder panel across the bodice upper back, but with masculine-style pleats for reach room below that.  The front relies on a giant bust dart set into the shoulder down to shape the bust, then there’s a small below-the-waist tiny pleats to fit the hips.  Even this collar is rather on the tame side as 1940s collars go and I like it.  The shoulders are nice and smooth, too.  These features all help this blouse seem a bit more timeless than dated, more than many other 40’s blouses do.  I will definitely coming back to this top pattern to sew a dressy, solid colored version in the future. 

Even if you don’t know Moana or have not yet seen her movie, I hope you enjoyed my new play set with our beach themed photos and find yourself inspired by what I have said about our family favorite princess.  At a basic level, it is just an outfit inspired by a girl whose enthralling story revolves around what she will do out of her love for both home and family.  Whatever her culture, that is a universally admirable quality…but especially for a 16 year old heroine like Moana! 

My outfit respectfully avoids any cultural interpretation, and instead focuses on the predominant colors of the animated tale, vintage clothing for ‘fun in the sun’ by the water, and my personal fangirl manifestation.  With the blouse, the skirt, and my old favorite shorts all in one set, it has been a fun but still practical project to complete.  Out of all my other “Pandemic Princess” inspired garments, this one is perhaps my most natural or ‘organic’ interpretation.

I for one am not into logo tees or character tops unless it is for Agent Carter, Wonder Woman, or as a concert souvenir.  For Moana to be included in that category for me should tell you something big!  Please do yourself a favor and see the animated film “Moana” if you haven’t done so already…and if you have, let me know what your favorite scene was!  I have so many, it is hard to pick anything other than every minute of the movie.  I am so super hyped to have an outfit that embodies this special Polynesian princess.  Many Pacific Islands are an underrated and underrepresented part (if only a satellite affiliation) of the United States, after all!

Blushed Briar Rose

It mystifies me that something as vigorous, beautiful, and pleasant smelling as the shrub rose, also known for its wild varieties the dog briar or briar rose, can also be designated as a weed.  Yes, I agree a shrub rose can grow out-of-hand, it creates dense vegetation of spiny brambles, and it can be aggressively invasive.  However, many flower shops and high end events desire lab curated roses for arranged displays, yet snub their nose on the humble, steadfast briar rose that was the humble ancestor to all roses back from the time of the dinosaurs.  After all, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is the popular quote from Shakespeare.    Did you know that most of our important crop plants are in the “Rose” family?  A pretentious pedigree should not matter for a plant. 

It’s cooling down now that September is here, yet in our city’s Botanical Garden there are still plenty of shrub roses blooming untamed next to some single oversized hybrid.  A desire for overly curated cultivation has grown a skewed perspective.  I think a plant such as a briar rose that perseveres through the ages, with healthy benefits to boot, while still having loveliness to share despite their alleged flaws is the diamond in the rough that deserves more respect – ‘weed’ or not.

The hidden beauty with a hopeful heart, Princess Aurora, of Disney’s 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty”, was also called Briar Rose.  This was a term for the fairytale princess which comes from the German version of her story as told through the Brothers Grimm.  I can deduce that this genus of plant was specifically what grew into an impenetrable barrier to enclose the sleeping princess.  This is what I’m channeling today – the wild and prickly beauty of the briar rose as inspired by the Princess Aurora.  Here is a delicate combo of a blouse in sheer white chiffon similar to Aurora’s forest outfit and flowing rayon trousers in a soft rosy hue…because briar roses are almost always pink, you know! 

Here is a rare example of me mixing decades, I would like to think to great effect.  These pants are from the 1990s, yet my old-fashioned ways I keep calling them trousers by default because they are high-waisted and wide-legged as if from the WWII era.  The blouse is 1940’s, a piece from an old dirndl pattern because it has been suggested that there is a Germanic influence to Briar Rose’s forest attire (no doubt coming from the story being derived from the Brothers Grimm).   The fabric I chose and the way I’ve worn it here keeps the blouse more of agelessly romantic in aura than pure vintage.  I been having a lot of fun with my style recently.  I find the eras that revived older fashions so very interesting, but now especially so when it comes to the 90’s, a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  Besides, the 1940s era came up with some of the best classic pieces, particularly for separates.  Put all this together and I can’t go wrong, right?

Before I go on with my post, can we all take just a moment to appreciate the skills and patience of my 9 year old to take these blog pictures of me?  Let’s give him a hand for being my photographer for a day!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Blouse – a poly chiffon with the ‘interfacing’ of the cuffs being a sheer white stiff organza; Trousers – 100% rayon twill

PATTERN:  Blouse – Simplicity #4230, year 1942, from my stash; Trousers – McCall’s NY NY “The Collection” pattern #5718, year 1991

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one 7” invisible zipper for the pants and lots of hook-n-eyes together with one vintage covered button for the blouse, but otherwise lots of thread, some bias tape, with a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was made in about 8 hours and finished on January 6, 2020.  The bottoms were done on April 3, 2021 in 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse is a combo of French seams and serged (overlocked) seam allowances.  The trousers’ raw edges are bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  All supplies came from my local JoAnn Fabric store.  Two yards for the pants and 2 yards for the blouse came to about $30 in total.

Similar to the way I successfully used a bedsheet to sew a couture dress (in my previous post here), this outfit was also started with materials not what I intended, but what struck my immediate fancy.  It just goes to prove that the final look of any and every sewing project is entirely dependent on the execution of every step along the way towards the finish.  It doesn’t take fancy supplies to end up with something amazing to wear, and trying something new might just end up better than you originally thought.  “A rose by any other name…” comes to play here, too.  If you can make the most of what you have it doesn’t really matter if it’s a bedsheet or a polyester in the end if you’re happy with what you’ve created and think it is fantastic!

I would have preferred a silk chiffon for my blouse but after getting tired of internet searching, I instead took advantage of a fine polyester option that was both convenient to find and reasonably priced.  I was doubtful that a slinky rayon would be substantial enough for what was supposed to be a structured pants pattern, but I wanted to try something experimental and it was in most enchanting pink tone…I couldn’t resist.  Together, this outfit ended up way better than I imagined.  I love these results!  Luckily, I avoided being snagged by all the thorns around me while wearing my delicate fabrics.  I took the risk, as you see, to folic like a modernized, dreamy version of a princess, spend time touring a lovely rose garden for an afternoon, smelling all the flowers.

These two pieces were really a lot easier to construct than they may look.  The pants pattern fit me straight out of the envelope like it were drafted just for me, a trend I find with this 90’s line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns.  There was a front piece, a back piece, and two facings, all with just the right curves for my hips, so it was pretty simple to make and match the very geometric windowpane plaid. 

I took a shortcut from the French seams I started in the blouse to do the rest in serging (I rarely use overlocking) because it was a poly after all, not a silk like I wanted!  It has a loose and flowing fit, but as I already used the rest of the pattern before for a dirndl vest (posted here) I knew what sizing to expect and graded accordingly.  A little before-hand knowledge is not always something available when working with vintage patterns, and I definitely appreciated it here.

As the pants and blouse were easy otherwise, I spent a bit of extra time on the details.  For my bottoms, I made sure to have impeccable inside edges and a center back invisible zipper.  I sewed in a hook-n-eye placket to close the blouse along the side seam, just like a proper vintage garment might have.  A fluid, sheer, light-as-a-feather blouse deserved something other than a harsh and rigid zipper!  This type of closure was the fiddliest part of the blouse, next to the neckline, but elevates it closer to the quality I’d hoped to end up with for a silk version. 

Of course the resemblance of my blouse to Princess Aurora’s “Briar Rose” peasant blouse was made all the more similar thanks to a little piece of vintage lingerie in my collection.  I wore an authentic 1940s boned long-line satin foundation undergarment beneath which gave my blouse an illusion similar to the sweetheart neckline of Aurora’s black overblouse corset.  I acquired this amazing garment in the first place because not only was it my size, and something I did not have, but I also felt sorry for it.  The brassiere needed some TLC to bring back up to a wearable status. 

All the boning channels had been torn through but otherwise it was in impeccable condition, with elastic that was still very intact.  To do the mend, I merely used some old vintage twill tape from on hand and re-sewed down the channels, closing in the spiral steel boning strips once more.  This repair took me only 30 minutes!  It is pretty enough of a piece to be seen in it floral damask satin, but I remember it is still lingerie, so I loved being able to fulfill both aspirations by wearing the brassiere with my sheer 40’s blouse.  At this point, it rather looks like a mere strapless top underneath anyways, and highlights more of the gauzy goodness to my blouse than anything else.  If anyone but my husband notices anything otherwise, shame on them!

I would be remiss if I failed to also highlight the unusual choice of footwear I chose for my outfit.  As I was going both romantic old-timey but also experimental, I felt it was time to enjoy my new purchase of a pair of American Duchess’ “Kensington” 18th century leather shoes in ivory with “Cavendish” 18th century brass shoe buckles.  To be inspired by “Sleeping Beauty” meant I had all sorts of historical references in my mind for this outfit, and these pretty – if a bit unusual – shoes made me happy with their finery.  It was all about creating an aura for this mashed-up outfit.  Yet, after all, I was also being practical.  There was an 18th century reenactment to attend the coming weekend, and all American Duchess shoes need time to be “broken in” before they really start forming to your foot and becoming more comfortable.  A walk through the soft ground of the Botanical Garden did just the trick!   

The way you see these pieces worn and accessorized in this blog post is merely one out of the many other ways I pair them with other separates from my wardrobe.  You can see this post here where my sheer blouse is being worn with my scuba knit sundress like a jumper!  As pretty as these pieces are on their own, they really are being enjoyed much more than I had hoped – which is a very good thing! 

After all, ever since the pandemic of 2020 started, I no longer ‘save’ my nice stuff for just nice functions, otherwise much of my wardrobe would never be worn.  I really do think people appreciate it when they see there was thought and enjoyment behind putting myself together – no matter the occasion.  You know, after these pictures at the Botanical Garden, I wore this outfit to do some practical grocery shopping, and received the most unexpected amount of compliments.  Public appreciation or not, pulling cans off the shelves with sleeves like these suddenly felt much more elegant than hum-drum.  Pushing the shopping cart around in 18th century heels feels empowering instead of droll.  It was fantastic!  I highly recommend it.   

It’s just a parody to my earlier reflection of appreciating a ‘weed’ of a rose as something to be valued in one’s personal estimation.  If I can’t avoid the weeds of life – like droll errands – I will find a way to see them as palatable by also doing something I enjoy at the same time…like wearing my me-made clothes.  I will not let the lack of events to attend get in the way of an outfit like this not having an opportunity to be worn!

“Under the Sea”

Let’s ‘dive’ back into the 1980s decade with yet another installment to my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” series!  My title gives away the royal fairy “tale” subject ahead of time here.  This is inspired by Ariel, from Disney’s original “The Little Mermaid”, with an outfit dated to the year of the animated movie came out – 1989.  My Pandemic Princess series was something I worked on throughout last year (2020) during the pandemic, and this outfit was one planned out at the end of the year for a wintertime visit to the new downtown Aquarium.  Thus, this becomes a conservative, bifurcated version of Ariel’s mermaid look with a purple blouse and greenish trousers made for an 80’s interpretation.  This is my only Disney Princess inspired outfit, too, which will not be a dress.

I wove so much symbolism, high quality, and love into all the details of what I’m wearing…Ariel was my first big deal, mega favorite Disney Princess, after all!  Proof in point – my parents were somehow able to get me (as in bring it home to keep) the oversized window display which was at our local Disney store for the release of the movie.  I remember dressing in a little purple bikini top and a sparkly mermaid tail to stand inside the 3-D display after they had set it up for me in the living room.  I was part of Ariel’s world that day!  So, please don’t mind if a grown up me obsesses over every little aspect to crafting her very ocean princess outfit, he he. 

Be prepared for a “part two” follow-up to this post, also dating to 1989 and with more matching pieces to make this outfit a complete set.  As big a fan as I am, one Disney’s “Little Mermaid” inspired outfit is not enough!  I might also do a third Ariel inspired garment – a dress – in the future, but I know I need to curb myself in at the moment.  For now, I felt it was important to channel the underwater princess as a woman with legs because, after all, her main longing was to walk, run, and dance on land!  I also enjoy the juxtaposition between her wearing only seashells as her top becoming a very fun but conservative long sleeve blouse in my hands.  All the blouse buttons are carved abalone shells instead!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Pants – a 100% wool twill, marked on the selvedge “Alta Moda – Enrico Coveri”; Blouse – a soft but tightly woven cotton blend broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s “NY NY The Collection” #4537 pattern, year 1989, from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, interfacing, several hook-n-eyes, vintage rayon tape for hems, and vintage buttons from the collection of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces received much hand stitching, but the pants more than the blouse.  Even still, the blouse took me 30 hours and the pants about 40 hours (not counting the pattern re-tracing I needed to do on paper to re-grade the sizing).  Both pieces were finished by January 15, 2021.

This is a tank with both the “Leafy Sea Dragon” and the “Weedy Sea Dragon”

THE INSIDES:  Most seams are covered by vintage rayon seam tapes, but the long pants seams are zig-zagged over along the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  This set cost me next to nothing – just a few dollars – as I bought everything except the notions (which were on hand already) at a garage rummage sale. 

This set might have been practically free but don’t be deceived – it is not lacking in quality.  The blouse fabric is very nice cotton, to be sure, but it just so happened to be the same purple as Ariel’s brassiere shells. What seemed like the perfect find was not even 2 yards in length (at 45” width) so I was able to just barely make this blouse work out with its long sleeves and peplum.  Even still, my blouse’s cotton is a pretty basic score compared to the amazing find that was the fine woolen used for my pants.  It is a very greenish turquoise perfect to complement the purple, but also a mermaid appropriate tone. It was a soft, supple, and fabulously textured cozy wool.  Yes, there were 6 yards of the material in total. 

However, those 6 yards were perhaps the most moth chewed piece of fabric I have ever seen…quite a freaky mess!  There was barely a solid swath which didn’t have a hole in it from which to cut my pants.  With that fabulous selvedge marking, though, there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to try and salvage what I could from off of it.  Whenever you see a stitched on ‘label’ on the selvedge of material, that’s a clear giveaway that it’s something high-end, especially when it says “Alta Moda”!

Many people may not recognize designer material, so I’ll decipher why the selvedge marking here is so important.  “Alta Moda” is an Italian noun for the world of Italian high fashion, Italian fashion designers collectively, and Italian couture.  It is their equivalent to “haute couture” in French.  “Traditionally, Alta Moda or Haute Couture is the creation of unique tailor-made garments made mainly by hand using high quality fabrics, decorations, applications and embroideries with extreme attention to details” says The Accedemia Costume & Moda in Rome.  Dolce & Gabbana is most often associated with the term “Alta Moda” nowadays, but as a designation for the industry, the words mark the difference between Milan and Rome – the former is more known for everday wearable clothes (pret-a-porter) where the latter is known for extravagant high fashion (says “Dave’s Travel Corner”).  This is significant because there is the name of Florence based fashion designer Enrico Coveri behind the “Alta Moda” designation.  

Enrico Coveri 1988

Enrico Coveri was born in 1952 and studied at the Accadema delle Belle Arti in Florence.  In 1973, he began working as freelance designer, creating knitwear and sportswear lines, while making his mark by being one of the first designers to use soft pastel shades.  He moved to Paris in 1978 to work at the “Espace Cardin”, the vast design institute set up by Pierre Cardin, and the year after he debuted with his first women’s collection in Paris. Shortly after that, he returned to Italy to establish his own company in 1979.  “You Young” is the name of one of the several seasonal Enrico Coveri collections. It is also perhaps the best description for his bold, unpretentious, and fun-loving fashion: strong, vibrant colors and striking, witty designs that have always been clear and intelligible, with zany prints and knits often incorporating Pop Art designs and cartoon characters. Although he excelled at casual clothing, even his eveningwear exuded a young, sporty, wearable feel. Coveri enjoyed shocking and going out on a limb with design. 

It is noted that in Coveri’s styling, attention was always given to the particularity of the materials and fabrics.  His favorite fabrics included stretch satin, superfine linen, silk, cotton poplin, and sequin-covered knits.  Journalist Hebe Dorsey to dub Coveri the “Italian Kenzo” in the Herald Tribune.  Coveri died in 1990, at the young age of 38.  (This and the above paragraph’s information is from The Fashion Model Directory, Made-In-Italy.com, and Encyclopedia.com.)  Please hop on over to my Pinterest page (here) for his work and check out how full of life Coveri’s designs were in his too-short career.

This line of NY NY “The Collection” McCall’s patterns are supposed to be designer drafted, after all, so using a fabric most probably leftover from Coveri’s work and then channeling his style to interpret my version seems so appropriate.  Now, I’m not intimating this was his pattern, but after reading up on his life, it suits his exuberance and love for details.  It also means this wool is from before 1990…bingo.  I couldn’t have chosen a better designer to incorporate into my Disney “Little Mermaid” outfit!  How this vintage Italian Coveri fabric got here in the Midwest of America and why it became so moth chewed is another mystery I won’t even entertain unravelling.  I feel he would appreciate the animated character influence here, as well as welcome the color tonality, but I would hope Coveri would especially like the unexpected details to the blouse and the pants of my chosen pattern.

The most obvious special detail is the front waist of the pants which have a strong mermaid-reminiscent shaping.  With the dipped center and the flared, pointed sides, it calls to my mind the common way to portray the joining of the human body to the fish tail at the waist of a mermaid or merman.  It’s not just all design lines with no utilitarian purpose, however – these pants are a unique “fall front” opening!  This is scarce on so many counts.  Not only is this style of pants closing something relegated to menswear, but besides maritime military uniforms having a buttoned fall front closing, it is primarily a historical fashion point.  The “fall front” means there is a panel (sort of like a bib) which is flapped up (after stepping into the legs of the pants) and either hooked, tied, or buttoned down to cover both an inner waistband underneath and the exposed lower groin. 

This style of pants is most widely seen today on the handsome gentleman and their roguish compatriots of popular Jane Austen novels and early 1800 era stories in television and screen adaptations.  The end of the Regency and Napoleonic eras were the last of the fall front’s common usage in trousers, excepting certain military uniforms (as I mentioned) or ladies Victorian “split” skirts for riding. Brann mac Finnchad has an excellent terminology post here on his blog “Matsukaze Workshops” as he explores drafting and sewing his own regency fall-front trousers.  Modern pants are a basic form of the “French fly” closure style, also called “split-fall”, and this has been dominant on men’s trousers and denims for about 170 years now.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that the “French fly” was utilizing zippers, as we use today, rather than only buttons.  

I have not yet seen a decorative fall front pants, much less in modern times, and especially for ladies.  These are THE coolest pants I now have.  They are not trying to be historical, yet are a fresh take on a style long dead…not dated at all for coming out of the 1980s!  Most importantly, though – the fall front incorporates deep pockets that reach down to my thighs.  This is modern ingenuity combined with practicality for you.  Even still, style aside, I love the way they are very comfy and easy to move in, besides being quite complimentary to my hourglass figure!  Now I just need to make sure troublesome fabric pests do not find my pants…

My fall front trousers utilizes one snap set and a few hook-n-eyes.  A 1 inch heavy-duty snap closes the inner waistband, as Brann calls the “binder”, and large hook-n-eyes to close the sides of the fall front flap.  The original instructions called for me to use buttons and work buttonholes at all these closure spots, yet I wanted the smooth front appearance of invisible-from-the-outside closures.  The amazing seam lines of these pants needed to take center stage without big buttons to distract!  After all, I did not trust two buttons to alone hold the weight and the pull of the fall front.  I want these amazing pants to last me many years.  Not having set button holes will hopefully aid that by giving the versatility of being able to adjust the spacing of a hook or snap.  Depending on how the fabric loosens or what my body is dealing with at the moment, “fit” is something fluid and not static and I sew all my clothes with some option of tailoring at a future date.

Once I graded up the paper pattern according to the given size chart, these pants turned out close fitting yet exactly my size, luckily, so I could focus on perfecting every feature as it was out of the envelope with no alteration.  The pants’ legs are tapered slimmer at the leg hems, the waist is high above the natural line, and the hips are roomy across…all in a nicely subtle 80’s way.  They are dart fitted across the back, unlike Regency trousers which were laced to fit.  The inner waist facings were in many different pieces across the back to accommodate the curving fit.  I kept the pants unlined so they would be more lightweight and therefore versatile for a mild spring or fall season.  The wool is so fine it is not really itchy.  I did finish the hem in a bright, cheerful lime green vintage rayon hem tape.  Only I really see or know it is there, but sometimes it’s those hidden fine details that make all the difference, right?!

Now compared to the pants, the blouse takes second sitting, yet it is still packed with unusual, special details, too.  It is more of a 1980’s classic, though.  As the envelope summary stated, the blouse was designed to be very over-sized, except for the close-fitting hips and wrists.  Combining these features with the dropped shoulder line and lowered armscye, as well as knowing my tiny wrists, I presumed correctly that the only place where I needed to size up was from the waist down.  The size of my pattern was two sizes too small for me according to the envelope chart and yet the main body finished up fitting well yet with a comfy amount of room to spare – just the way I figured it.  Sizing up was challenging as it is a darted one-piece in the front and a separate peplum with defined waist seam only in the back.  I merely slashed and spread the front blouse panel open to the necessary increment starting from the hem.  Then, I came back to retrace in the original pleats again.  When a pattern says “generous fit”, believe it only so far and measure at the pattern stage (as I did here) to see just what is going on ahead of time for a perfect fit in the end!

The pattern calls the back bottom portion a peplum, but I see it as a clever way to keep a poufy blouse tucked in and looking neat.  This blouse is onto something smart – don’t you hate it when you tuck a blouse into pants or a skirt which fits snug over the hips and the top just gets all bunched up and obvious under your bottoms?!  I am glad for the longer, lower hip length of the hem because it not only stays tucked in nicely but also looks great worn untucked, on its own.  80’s oversized blouses can overwhelm a smaller frame like my own, so the slim fit for the waist and hips makes this style work for me, I think.

An unusual part to the blouse is for sure the sleeves, the way they are so deep set and super gathered at the center top ‘shoulder’ seam.  I have not done a tapered sleeve like this before either, nor does one often encounter a smooth transition (no tucks, pleats or gathers) into the fitted, rounded cuff.  I love it!  Even still, one little detail of two carrier tabs at both the back collar and front button placket makes all the difference here.  It keeps a contrast scarf in place (the way I am wearing it), but the pattern calls for an ascot to be made (included in the envelope, too) and worn in a way similar to a man’s necktie.  No wonder the pants had such a masculine influence!  The whole ensemble owes its design to guy’s clothes, even if the details are inherently feminine.  The collar otherwise is pretty much the same as the cuffs, with curved ends, yet was sewn down with a man’s shirt-style collar stand. 

I felt that true shell buttons were the only thing appropriate here to keep “The Little Mermaid” reference strong but subtle.  Abalone shell buttons, if the underside is unglazed and raw, can fall apart easily.  However, I was able to find ones stable and uncracked for my blouse in the amount I needed (a total of 11) out of a good number more (about 18) in the vintage notions stash of hubby’s Grandmother.  Shells are intertwined with every mermaid legend it seems, but I figured abalone shells would be Ariel’s preference the way they have an iridescent shine in her classic colors of turquoise, purple, and pink.

The way Enrico Coveri was obsessed with matching, curated accessories, I followed suit with this outfit.  Where do I start?  My shoes are perhaps my favorite compliment to my outfit, but then again I do greatly enjoy matchy-matchy footwear!  My facemask reminds me of the interesting and slightly alien texture of coral and was made by me of the lovely shiny turquoise rosette fabric leftover from this vintage inspired Whitney Frost dress copy (posted here).  My purse might be the most obvious accessory – it is a “Unique Vintage” brand cosmetic case that I added pearl straps to so I can use it as a purse.  My bracelet is really a necklace, but it is long enough to wear around my wrist when wrapped three times.  It has a sterling silver mermaid swimming across it!

My earrings are genuine shell carved in the shape of a starfish. I have had these earrings since I first got my ears pierced as a little girl. I know there is a story to where they came from which I cannot remember yet, so but nevertheless I hold them as special for the reasons I already mentioned!  I could have flaunted off so many of my old original charms, pins, or pendants which I have from when I was little and the movie first came out…but it looked too gaudy.  I wanted to go all out with this princess out, just to let you know, but I kept it tame…I really don’t want to cause any more attention (at times) than my vintage way of dressing already does!  

So, regarding our shooting location, if you ever find yourself in St. Louis, Missouri I do recommend a visit to the Union Station Aquarium.  This is something worth seeing (from a land locked Mid-Westerner’s point of view) plus it makes for the best pictures!  I couldn’t have asked for a better outfit to wear, though…the anticipation of the visit helped spur me to finish sewing it.  My Ariel inspired set totally put in the frame of mind to appreciate the underwater realm in an immersive state of mind…which was easy to do as some of the expansive tanks wrapped around and over between rooms!  Although I will not say “it’s better down where it’s wetter” as Sebastian sings, watching the fish and their counterparts do their ‘thing’ (“just keep swimming”, right?) was incredibly relaxing for us, compared to our working hours up on land.  At least it was fun to pretend to be a grounded mermaid princess for a day!