The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

Persistence of Fashion

Even with my complaints in the last post about fitting my recently changed size, I still do happily fit in many of my old me-made items.  Not to brag, but not everybody can say that they fit in things back from 20 years ago, much less have them still wearable today in both condition and aesthetics!  I luckily liked to make rather classic pieces that still work with my style of today.  This post’s outfit is a prime example.  A skirt I sewed 20 years back combines with a 50’s style blouse I have been meaning to make since I first dove into vintage in 2010 to give me an outfit that perfectly defines my unified past and present outlook on my fashion.  Add on a little self-made flower sewn down to a hair comb and I am a contented little maker!

Andrea Venier of Recycrom has said, “One of the big problems is that today we don’t expect to wear something for a very long time.”  (The Italian Recycrom from Officina+39 is a revolutionary sustainable dyeing solution made of 100% recycled clothing, fibrous material, and textile scraps.)  Boy, Andrea has not met the likes of me.  There is a specific comfort level to wearing items that are old favorites, and for me, when they also happen to be handmade…all the better.  Sure they are made in ways I would not do today.  However, it is nice to keep these reminders of my progress especially when they are still wearable for me.  All it takes is a little something new to renew my excitement for an older me-made, and I feel like I have a fresh ideas and bright possibilities again.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The skirt is rayon challis and the top is polyester shantung

PATTERNS:  For the skirt, I used McCall’s #8796 from 1997, while the top is Simplicity #4047, a 1950’s era ensemble released in 2006

NOTIONS:  Nothing unusual – a zipper for the side, thread, and interfacing for the neck facing is all that is needed for the blouse, while the skirt required thread and elastic.  Simple, really!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was indeed a two hour project from what I remember back to 1998, and the top took me about 8 to 10 hours and finished March 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  My skirt has overlocked (serged) edges with a hem covered in hem tape and the blouse has bias bound seams.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea.  You’re talking about fabrics out of my mom’s stash from over half my lifetime ago.  It’s all as good as free to me.

Let’s talk about the patterns first.  I’ll start with my favorite out of the two.  My skirt is from an old standby pattern, literally made into a two dozen varieties between 1998 and 2004 when I began filling my wardrobe with handmade, comfortable, classy, yet easy-to-make separates.  This particular rayon floral one was one of my first attempts.  I had made a paper copy of the whole pattern at my nearby office store because I was using it so much.  The slim, two-piece ‘View A’ I had used as a base for add-on details, a draft for lining other skirts and dresses, or just by itself.  The full, four-paneled ‘View C’ was the version I used the most, especially when using rayon or a lightweight poly print, while the in-between breadth of ‘View B’ was great for stiffer materials like cotton.  As the cover states, this really is a two hour skirt.  It took me 30 minutes to cut the pieces out of 3 yards for ‘View C’, and 15 minutes to cut out of two yards for the slim ‘View A’.  The elastic waist is easy to do and provides a nice waistband that doesn’t roll, thankfully!  The rest of the skirt is simple, long, straight lines, however, the wide, bias-influenced hemline takes up most of the rest of the two hours.  The simple pieces taught me how to successfully work with the bias grain as a beginner at the concept.  This pattern has a gold-medal in my estimation, amongst my substantial stash.

The blouse’s pattern offers such a wonderful variety for building a great basic 50’s wardrobe. Give me the most for my money, in my opinion!  This blouse is a very chic anchor to the ensemble.  I told you (a few posts back, here) I wasn’t done with the color blue and peplums, anyway! However, it frustrates me that I cannot authentically date this pattern, like most of the other vintage re-issues, by finding its original.  The iconic actress Lauren Bacall had a very similar blouse in the 1957 movie “Designing Woman”.  That year is a popular date for many of the 50’s reprints, so I’m guessing the styles are from mid to late in the decade.  They do have #4047 still as an on-demand custom print-out (link to that here), so Simplicity must realize how good this pattern is, too, although finding an old out-of-print copy would probably be a cheaper option.

Sizing ran small for my blouse, and I do wish I had went up in size. After all, working with a tight, unforgiving woven like poly shantung leaves me no room for a big meal of a body sizing change.  Oh well, it was really much easier to make than it appears and poly shantung is not as precious as its silk cousin so it’s no big loss if I need to make another down the road.  The blouse pattern has a long back bodice I wish I had shortened, but otherwise came together beautifully, with good instructions and wonderful details.  There were no mistakes or hiccups encountered with the blouse.  It was whipped up with no alterations and fits as you see it.

Oh, how I wish I knew the name for the kind of neckline which is on this blouse!  I love it, along with the box pleats coming from the shoulder!  It is so unique and beautiful the way it all frames the face.  The curving and angles made the neckline by far the trickiest part of the top.  It’s not hard to do, I just had to be thorough with marking points and seam allowances before I could be precise with my sewing.  There are two ¼” wide darts along the back neckline to help bring it up to sitting above the base of the neck, like a collarless collar.  Then the sides of the front neckline bow out on the side to square out at the bottom, so there is lots of clipping and trimming of seams involved.  I never could get the darn shantung to not be puckered at the corners.  Deep down, I will always hate anything polyester.  Yet, the fabric looks pretty enough and only I will ever probably notice such “failings” so it is and easy success.

The skirt is very true to size but then again working with bias cut skirts with elastic waists is naturally going to be forgiving…the reason why I am still wearing them all these years!  Many times I even went down a size for the skirts to cut down on the excess material that needs to be gathered at the waistline (what I did for this version; see picture below), but also because I sometimes just added darts and only back elastic to make my skirts smoother fitting over the tummy.

Length measurements for the skirts can be deceiving, however, because of the sweeping hem fullness and bias grain.  My advice is to go long and try it on to decide.  Let hemming be the last thing you do after letting a skirt like this hang for at least 24 hours.  I learned the hard way with this rayon floral skirt.  Circle skirts or those cut on the bias, even if they are on a dress, change their hemline once the grain hangs down on a completed garment for a day.  I remember I was in a hurry to finish this skirt, and I immediately hemmed it as soon as it was together.  By the time I wore it, the hem was embarrassingly wonky, which was obvious because the original length was down to my ankle.  Even back then I hated unpicking as much as I do today, so I merely recut a new, slightly shorter yet straighter hem.  It was hard!  The fabric was always shifting and I got to a “good enough” attitude and used hem tape to cover the skinny hem edge.  Straight grain hem tape is not ideal for a curving hem, so I found out.  It is necessary to ease in the fullness of one edge.  Ah, you sew and learn.  You’d never guess the ‘oopsies’ I made with this, would you?!  The day these pictures were taken, it was windy so my skirt might still seem uneven, nevertheless.  Twenty years later, my sewing “mistakes” are still happening (but decreasing), and I’m still learning.  Just so long as my projects turn out just as successfully and are enjoyed as much as this skirt, I am happy.

My hair flower was a last minute creation to complete my outfit by utilizing some of the few scraps leftover.  I cut a pointed-end oblong piece on the bias, single layer, about 10 inches in length, about 7 inches at the middle where it is widest.  If you think of how a kid would draw the playing ball to the American game of football, that is what my piece looked like.  That was folded in half along its length, wrong sides in together, and loosely stitched along the curved raw edge.  The loose stitches are ties off at one end and brought in tight, and the piece is curled into itself, jellyroll style.  The raw ends are stitched together and covered with some fake plastic leaves after sewing it to a small hair comb.  I want to make every last remnant count for something so they might as well help me accessorize!

No matter how fast styles change, and how quickly clothing is given away before it has reached the end of its wear, fashion of the past decades is persistent and has a way of coming back around again.  I feel like the 90’s was the last of the good quality ready-to-wear that is part of the reason why the label of ‘vintage’ is synonymous with lasting style.  Now that we have had a few decades of cheap tees, under $30 dresses, and poor-quality clothing made in third world countries (paying them an un-livable wage) can we just go back to making garments that are worth wearing and keeping for even a fraction of how long I enjoy my wardrobe?  I mean the fashions of the 90’s is subtly coming back, and older vintage styles are comfortably mainstream, so I don’t know why wearing what one has for longer is such a hard concept for the masses.  Then again, what might be better for the world is not necessarily the first thought in the face of a flashy bargain…or good for the pocketbooks of big business.  I realize I might be “preaching to the choir” here, however, this is my site to write down not just my sewing process, but also my thoughts and the passion which goes into every outfit I share here.

Look for more of my old reiterations of this skirt pattern to show up in future posts.  I am still going through my past makes and constantly finding new ways to style them with my even newer makes!  As for my blouse, this might not get a whole lot of wear in shantung, and I might not fit in it before I wear it enough to satisfy me, I’ll figure out something for it when that time comes.  Until then, I feel so special in this set!  I am stubborn about what I want to wear.  I like things that make me feel good and confident enough to be myself.  Yes, that does include things that are not necessarily new or up to date…and I’m quite okay with that.  If you have something made years back but you are still proud of it, please do share!

Peplum on the Backside

I love it when modern patterns imitate vintage styles.  It’s always so interesting and offers the best of both worlds.  I have a handful of favorite designers from today, but precious few actually come out with patterns of their lovely ideas.  Luckily, the wonderful Rachel Comey offers her designs through Vogue, and I adore her slightly vintage style aesthetic.

This dress is one straight out of the 1940s!  It totally feeds my obsession with peplums, my late summer penchant for the color blue, and my love of fine details.  It is such a cottony soft, pastel treat on the senses combined with a swirl-worthy dress which is so comfy I really don’t sense that I am as dressed up as I appear.   What a win-win…vintage made modern – all the ease of casual attire paired with the appearance of being classy.  This is me-made clothing at its best!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed, sheer, batiste all-cotton lined in a combo of cotton blend broadcloth for the main body and a poly remnant for the peplum

PATTERN:  Vogue #1209, a Rachel Comey pattern from 2010

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread, and a zipper with a bit of interfacing.  There was nothing but the basics needed for this beauty!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this dress actually only took me about 6 hours to sew after spending several hours to adjust the pattern before cutting it out.  It was finished on July 25, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are covered up by the full lining

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me less than $10

Making this dress had been something I wanted to do ever since the pattern first came out.  Yes, sometimes my favorite projects in my sewing queue keep being pushed back again and again sadly, but that just makes them such a relief and enjoyment to wear when they are finally finished!

I had to do a bunch of extra figuring to do any adjustments on this complex design.  I changed up the bottom half of the dress the most drastically.  Firstly, I wanted the dress knee length, but that included re-configuring the peplum to match.  Yet, I also wanted the back peplum to be more 1940s waterfall style (similar to this vintage original featured in Threads magazine) and trickle down to meet the side seam at a much lower point.  I eliminated the center seam to the peplum, as well, for a better drape on the bias.  All of this wasn’t too tricky but it did take a clear head, much forethought, and make for a much bigger pattern piece which required a lot more fabric than the back numbers called for.  Luckily, I had about 5 or 6 yards of my chosen fabric (only because it was on deep clearance…so cheap yet super soft I couldn’t leave any behind) so I felt comfortable doing any alterations.  This doesn’t always happen so well.  Usually I have pre-bought a very specific amount and expect to layout the pattern pieces economically so there is not always room for such license with a design.  This was a fun change!

Going further with the top half of the dress, I also slightly raised the back dip of the V neckline, which meant tweaking the gathers and extending the tab that covers them.  Also, because my body size had changed since I bought the pattern (2010 was before I gave birth to our son), I had a size that was too small and I had to grade up a bit.  Oh, not to forget, everything I changed to the fit and the styling of the skirt and peplum had to be likewise translated over to the full body lining as well.  Ugh.  With all these adjustments, though, I really don’t think the dress looks obviously that much different that the cover original and that is just what I wanted.  I was aiming for a slightly more vintage tweak, yet still adhering to Rachel Comey’s design that attracted me to the pattern in the first place.  As I said, above, it’s the best of both worlds, and all in a soft cotton.  Who knew cotton could be so elegant and fluttery?  I didn’t.  This dress is a winner.

Part of what helps my version of this dress work, I believe, is an interesting situation I concocted with the lining.  Cotton on cotton tends to be ‘sticky’ as I call it, clinging together like Velcro because of the soft, brushed touch to it.  So, I chose the full body lining to be in a half cotton-half polyester blend broadcloth.  The little bit of man-made in the broadcloth really keeps the two layers apart quite nicely.  The nude, skin-toned tan color of the lining keeps the outer printed fashion fabric from both obviously appearing lined as well as being as sheer as a tissue, which it was on its own.  The full body lining really gives the dress its shape because it is a very basic design that counters the gathers and details going on with the outside, good side of the garment (besides nicely covering up all the inner seams).  Both layers to my dress being cotton makes for a breathable dress even though it is not the lightest weight.  What I discovered is that the lining is the first to absorb my sweat on a hot day and generally keeps the outer fashion fabric to the dress appearing so cool and pristine in any heat.  What a sneaky little way to pull off being chic in any weather!  Ladies just ‘glisten’ and not sweat anyway, right?!

Part two of the lining trickery has to do with the back peplum.  I sensed that a tiny hem along the bottom edge of the peplum just wasn’t going to work.  Besides, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, the paisley fabric was sheer and being a lightweight cotton would not drape properly on its own.  It needed to be fully lined.  More of the cotton-poly broadcloth I used to line the body would weigh the peplum down and make the dress too heavy.  So I reached for a scrap I had on hand of a nude-tan color, all-poly, cling-free lining which was luckily in the exact same nude tan color as my broadcloth.  Hooray for saving remnants and knowing what you have (thanks to organizational drawers)!  This lightweight and silky poly was the perfect solution for a soft peplum that hangs softly, becomes a weightless addition to its dress, and has a pretty – yet not flashy and distracting – underside.  I kind of did feel badly (silly, really, I know) for adding a bit of man-made to this lovely cotton frock, but I figure that’s the beauty and attraction striving towards the will-o’-the-wisp ‘perfect’ garment.  One piece of clothing that is engineered to be well thought out, like a finely crafted machine, yet soft enough to recognize and reflect the lovely human being inside of it is worth pounds of store offered, low quality, fast fashion.

The finishing touches I added included little ribbon lingerie straps on the inside of the shoulders.  With such a wide neckline, the snap-closing straps connect the shoulders of the dress to my bra straps for a dress that stays put on my body.  Of course, with the center front and center back having practically the most detailing on the dress, that meant there is a side seam zipper, very much like the traditional 1940s garment.  It is only slightly awkward because of all the material to the skirt, but with the wide neckline this dress is still easier to put on than those WWII ones.

So, I’ll ask for you…am I done with peplums yet? Not at all.  (See my other peplum projects here – a long post WWII one, a shorter 40’s blouse version, a front peplum dress, a pleated hip peplum 50’s style dress, and one on a modern asymmetric top)  Ever since there was one amazing vintage peplum dress that got away from me, this ‘bug’ in my system will take a while to work its way out.  Am I done with blue tones this year’s late summer sewing?  Nope.  Sorry, I’m not sorry.  Maybe it’s the way blue is cool to my eyes and mind, or perhaps it’s the way I feel blue is a versatile transitional color, matching with tan, grey, and other fall tones.  Either way, I now finally have yet a long awaited project to enjoy wearing for years to come, and yet another interpretation of how blue is one of my ways to get ready – mentally and tactility – for cooler weather.  Of course, my opposite hemisphere is looking forward to warmer weather, at this point, so hopefully my wistfulness at our fading season is your inspiration!

Pretty Blue Pinafore…

After my success with my last “Shabby Chic”, fully convertible pinafore, this next one is in the real deal vintage 40’s style as a one piece dress.  This pinafore dress has an amazing attention to detail and the way it was designed includes a new-to-me shoulder seam method.  This is also my first time making an Anne Adams brand pattern…and I love the fit, style lines and proportions.  It might not receive as much out-and-about wear as my last pinafore, but I think this was the most perfect use for a longtime orphan (material not yet matched to a pattern) in my fabric collection, a quaint feedsack printed seersucker I’d been holding onto for years.  Yay – one more bolt of fabric is out from my stash and able to be enjoyed.

If you’re confused about what a pinafore is, please see my preceding introductory blog post on “The Summer of the Pinafore”, the inspiration behind my recent sewing.  This post’s pinafore is not like the multi-use floral one with a modern flair that I blogged about last, so here I will further explore the colors, fabrics, and prints used in the history of pinafores.  It’s weird to see how pinafores seem to reflect deeply subtle societal changes in the times around them.  A garment for the basic needs of women and children has a surprisingly very rich history.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print with a slight seersucker texture

PATTERN:  Anne Adams #4988, circa 1943

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in myexisting stash – thread, bias tape, interfacing scraps, a card of vintage baby rick-rack, a vintage metal zipper, and three vintage buttons from hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this pinafore took me about 15 to 20 hours and it was finished on July 22, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  All clean, as they are all bias bound.  The waistband is smoothly finished by an extra facing piece I added

TOTAL COST:  This unusual vintage specialty fabric was bought at Wal-Mart…of all places…as a “value print calico”.  I still had the receipt with the fabric.  2 ½ yards was bought back in March 2013 for $6.88.  What a stinkin’ great deal!

This is one of the very few patterns in my stash that had a very deep set personal, self-imposed “duty” to sew myself a version.  Why?  On a practical level, the pattern and its instruction sheet are absolutely crumbling to dust so I felt an urgency to make a dress from this design before the condition of the paper turned dire.  There is a better reason, though.  There is room to believe the original owner/recipient might be a distant relative we never heard of before!  You see, one weekend, on my occasional visit to our city’s antique and vintage shops, I came across a shocking and exciting find of a 1940’s pattern, whose old postal recipient had the exact same last name as ours.  Her address was in our same city, quite nearby, too.  Our last name is on the more unusual side, and it’s in the traditional German spelling, so the family has always said that anyone else with this same name in town was probably some relative, however distant.  Finding this pattern make the family dig into our genealogy again.  To make things even more special, the year of 1943 was written on the instruction sheet…very much appreciated because mail order patterns are seldom able to be so specifically dated.  Everything about this pattern was a touching, exciting, special opportunity…probably something that will not happen again and a neat happenstance to find in the first place.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I somehow was surprised at the amount of detail and well thought out design to this pattern, as if I thought mail order patterns were second rate.  I feel bad now because this was a killer pattern not in a standout or “chic” fashion way, but by having a great fit of both pattern pieces and finished dress, nice instruction sheet, and impressive design lines.  I am probably so used to primarily using patterns from the four major brands in every era (Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, Vogue), as well as the coveted yet well-known defunct brands (DuBarry, Hollywood, and Pictorial Review, to name a few).  I realized from using this Anne Adams pattern that I should give more mail order patterns a better appreciation.

Anne Adams from my knowledge is an all-American pattern company (yay!) which lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s and were the last to use unprinted, pre-cut tissue.  Her company’s patterns were available through the local newspapers along with related Marian Martin brand.  Apparently, Anne Adams designs were from uncredited designers who tailored to real women, offering larger sizes and even customizing designs for local fashions trends (so the city girl and country girl could have their own style)!  Many Anne Adams patterns do have scalloping as part of their designs, with a penchant for trimming, so I suppose this pinafore is a semi-classic design for this company!  My pinafore does strike me as a very country girl look for a city woman to purchase…I can tell the pattern pieces had been used before so I’m really curious if it was the original owner – our mystery distant relative – that made this for herself!

This was unexpectedly challenging and sort of difficult in the way of being quite detailed and having many steps to make.  This step had to be done before this step…oh and don’t forget the trim…was the sum of my sewing progress in repetition.  I really needed those crumbly, falling apart instructions and the fact that there were substantial parts missing made sewing a bit more challenging.  Not meaning to brag, but for many garments I’ve been making recently, I have not needed the instruction sheets so having a project be a surprise challenge was a good change.

There is really a lot going on with this dress!  Most of it is in the front, and although the back is rather basic, it does have first-rate seaming and shaping.  I enjoy how the vintage metal zipper I used in the side really makes my pinafore strike me as close to an authentic vintage piece.  Asymmetric scalloped bodice closing, tapered rectangular neckline, set-in waistband, center front skirt box pleat, and curved, set-in-style pockets are all awesome, but I like the sleeve ruffles the best.

The shoulder seam is defined by the spot where the gathers are brought in and stitched down.  The smart part is that they are set into the main body of the dress!  The horizontal shoulder seams, which run from the neck outward, are divided into two separate seams – the true shoulder and the over-the-shoulder ruffles – by the vertical opening for the gathering to work.  This did make the bodice one big piece tow work with!  I had to iron the finished ruffles and stitch the seam allowance flat (facing towards the neckline) so that the over-the-shoulder ruffles don’t flare upward obnoxiously…what they want to do!  They might be over the top but these ruffles are so fun to wear and were interesting to sew – not to forget mentioning extremely comfy, too.  The openness of the sleeves and the airy breeziness of the ruffles make this so very easy to move around in, stay cool, and have all the freedom to perform all the necessary or menial tasks a pinafore is meant to be worn doing.

I’m not one for rick-rack on my clothes, by I’m actually surprisingly won over to the benefit a card of the vintage baby size notion added along the edges here!  As I said before, the quainter a pinafore is made, the more it is jazzed up with novelty embellishment, it only makes it look all the better.  Without the rick-rack, anyway, I do believe much of the seaming details would be sadly lost.  I just made it – I only had about 4 inches leftover of the rick-rack after I was done adding it along the pockets and neckline edges. Whew!  I couldn’t cut it any closer if I had pre-measured how much I would’ve needed.  I really think this project was meant to be!

The slight puckering to this seersucker makes it simply a dream to wear and work in.  Reproduction aside, this is (to my knowledge) the true vintage way of doing seersucker – not the giant bubbled, ugly print stuff I see offered nowadays.  It is so cooling the way it keeps an airy distance from off of the skin.  It holds a good shape without being too stiff or getting droopy yet stays soft and comfortable due to the brushed all-cotton content.  Fabric like this is a goldmine to come across these days and that’s a shame.  I’m glad I resisted the urge to hoard this because now I understand why its material gold…it’s not just because it’s rare, it also great to wear!

I suppose I went with a rather traditional color tone for pinafores by making mine in a primarily baby blue print.  You must remember, that in the 1940s blue was still considered a woman’s color and shades of red, including pink were a man’s tone.  The modern opposite methodology of thinking was not around as of yet (read a further explanation of the gender significance of pink and blue in this past post of mine).  Even Hollywood used primarily blue pinafores to costume their best actresses in the decade of the 1940’s, the era I see the most pinafores on the Silver Screens.  Perhaps the most famous of the blue pinafores has to be the gingham bib-style one worn by Dorothy in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” (of which I made my own version for a past Halloween).

Also, the popular 1945 musical movie “State Fair” abounds in blue toned peasant looks, aprons, and pinafores.  The movie’s main actress Jeanne Crain wore at least two shoulder ruffled, baby blue pinafores that were really more like jumpers than my own dress version.  For another obnoxious shoulder ruffled Hollywood pinny in a more basic color of white, I’d like to highlight one that Betty Grable and her associates wore in the 1944 movie “Pin up Girl”.  There’s even rick rack along the edges just like my own and Ms. Grable still looks hot!

Traditionally the pinafore was worn for many years in primarily white and it wasn’t until the 20th century that they became something worn by anyone other than children in prints and colors.  Going upon the concepts of Rousseau that children are their own entities with their “duty” being to learn, play, and be healthy, late nineteenth century girls, young women and sometimes small boys were dressed in pinafores made of plain, mostly white fabric, so they could have comfortable option to protect their clothing when they did their “work”.  With this concept, pinafore from that time were a sort of “uniform” for doing what children did best.  Besides, at that time modern methods of washing were not available and a basic white pinafore would’ve been relatively easy to wash, bleach and starch back to normal if dirtied.

In the 20th century, this had changed to the pinny becoming part of the clothes it was originally meant to protect.  In 1946, Life magazine noted this shift in an article on children’s dress, noting that “children used to wear washable pinafores over un-washable dresses. Now a pinafore becomes a washable dress.”  (Quote from the FDIM Museum blog here.)  Beginning somewhere after WWI (circa 1920s) novelty and juvenile prints, fabric with patented movie themes, and feedsack cottons also helped contribute to the pinafore usage switching from a basic, white, covering children’s clothes to a one-piece, fashionable garment for the dirty work needed to be done by all ages.  In 1941, the U.S. had about 31 textile mills manufacturing the fabric for bag goods which, in 1942, it has been estimated that three million American women and children of all income levels (roughly 3% of the population) were wearing at least one printed feedbag garment.  The element of fun was definitely brought in to loosen up the “uniform” of a pinafore with printed, colorful fabrics.

For adults to adopt a garment as childish in historical use, so sweet in its styling as a pinafore, I don’t think it’s because of being in a wishful time-rewind fantasy world.  Yes, it can be out of place to adopt the fashions of an age group different than your own.  I see it as extending the practicality of a garment, and bringing some lighthearted charm to mundane tasks with something as basic as what clothing is worn to perform necessary tasks.  The rise of the “junior” class of teenagers mid-1940s no doubt further propelled the idea of staying youthful (a key theme of pinafores)…what they found popular, adults paid some heed to and women found ways to bring their trends into their own style when desired.  Sure, pinafores evolved somewhat into playsuits, or jumpers to be worn over blouses, and even into dresses with ruffles and trim that mimic a pinny, so there was no rigid way to achieve a pinafore look.  But no matter what the kind of pinafore, they still find a way to way to mix practicality and playfulness in a way that can be perennially appealing.

Clothing of today is rarely such a hybrid mix of so many different aspects of appealing yet useful, comfy yet nice in one garment.  As odd as it might seem, a pinafore definitely has a place that can best be understood if you make and/ or wear one for yourself.  There are so many, unlimited ways to achieve some sort of pinafore style that I’ll take a chance and say that there is one that could work for any woman or child.  There are 1960’s simple A-line pinafores, 1970s prairie looks, and even modern ones out of denim or suiting.  Why just a few weeks ago the famous 19 year old actress Elle Fanning was out and about wearing a fuchsia pink pinafore with a crop tank underneath and designer accessories for an up-to-date option.  Perhaps my “Pretty Pinafores” Pinterest board can further inspire you to find a style that suits you, or at least find an image to like and appreciate.  Let me know when you find it!

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