Indian Angrakha-Style Robed Dress

For anyone who follows the traditions of India, October often ends up being a celebratory month in which the festival of Navratri ends and Diwali begins.  Navratri, meaning ‘nine nights’, is one of the most popular and widely celebrated Hindu festivals in many parts of India and lasted September 26 to October 5 this year.  Diwali, the “Festival of Lights” associated with both the principal Goddess Lakshmi as well as the end of the Indian fiscal year, begins October 24 in 2022 and is 5 days of family, food, fireworks, colored sand art, special candles and lamps. 

I always celebrate these occasions in spirit where I am, far away from India.  Nevertheless, I’ve been having a hard time getting back into anything after having a bad time of catching Covid at the end of August.  However, choosing a traditional “buti” flower block print cotton, I found a project both easy to make and wear which is just the pick me up I needed to reignite my spirit, get back into sewing again, and launch me into the mood for this month’s Indian festivities.  As I am slow to think and accomplish much currently, I was so happy earlier this month to finish sewing an “Angrakha” in time to honor the theme colors of the last two days for Navratri.  The peacock green on my dress commemorates day 8 and the bright pink of day 9 is from my dupatta shawl, which was bought from the Devon Ave. Indian district in Chicago!  This garment is supremely comfortable, colorful, and fun, but also is the perfect ethnic item to wear for these celebrations!   

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an all-cotton hand-stamped block print direct from India through “Fibers to Fabric” shop on Etsy

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6428, year 1978, from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, some ethnic Indian loop trimming from a New Delhi artisan sourcing shop “Cat Fluff” on Etsy, and some random items on hand to make the Angrakha’s tasseled tie ends

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was sewn in about 10 hours and finished on September 27, 2022

THE INSIDES:  cleanly zig-zag stitched over the edge in several layers to imitate serging (overlocking)

TOTAL COST:  I bought 4 yards of this material on a seasonal clearance sale and together with the trimming my total cost comes to just over $20.

a traditional silk brocade Angrakha

In brief, an angrakha is a double-breasted, wrapped, long sleeve outer robe that is asymmetrically tied closed at the left side of the high waistline and traditionally paired with loose Indian trousers.  The earliest mention of this word specifically can be traced back to the 16th century!  An angrakha was historically worn by men of Rajasthan (state in northern India) either as a soldier’s robe, when there was a quilted inner panel under the double-breasted chest, or as a court robe for royalty when made of the best silk brocade with rich trimmings.  By the 19th century, it had evolved to be a garment made of sensible cottons, but now today it is also worn in public by men and women alike of varying ethnographic backgrounds and locations.  It even has progressed into varying lengths – long as a special occasion dress, short as a daily wear tunic, or mid-length as a multi-purpose robe or fancy suit (when there are matching trousers and dupatta shawl). 

The angrakha is supposedly derived from traditional outfits of Rajasthan’s neighboring state of Gujarat and can be seen in some of their Garba or Dandiya performances for Navratri. Gujarat is, after all, the only state that erupts into a nine-night dance festival, one of the longest in the world! Each night of Navratri, all over the state, in villages and cities alike, people gather in open spaces to celebrate their feminine divinity. Oh, how I wish I was there to experience that for myself…just picture the blaze of color, energy, and excitement such an event must be!

The literal meaning of the word “Angrakha” is ‘something that protects your body’, and thus I searched (and obviously found) a robe pattern from which to base my make off of.  A modern robe still embodies the very definition of this Indian ethnic garment and – just like an angrakha – is a layer that is not worn alone but over a full set of clothes underneath.  I serendipitously found the perfect source in a vintage pattern from on hand!  It is a nighttime set pattern, but robes made of the right fabric can be definitely appropriate for wearing outside the confines of the home.  I remembered how the fashion of the 1970s had revisited many different historical influences and the empire waist, full skirt, minimal seams, and wrapped closure was everything I needed for a modern yet traditional interpretation of an angrakha. 

I adapted just a few things to the pattern to both make it fit me better and be more ethnically an angrakha.  The pattern I had was a medium (the sizing was in general increments and not precise numbers) so it was much bigger than my measurements.  The sleeve length was originally very long and I had to fold up the pattern tissue to the exact length needed because I was including the full selvedge edge along the cuffs.  The main body was very wide and I folded out an inch out of each bodice piece, taking out a total of 4 inches.  Even still the main body turned out too generous, and not the proper angrakha silhouette.  Just reshaping the underarm seam into a right angle, rather than a soft curve, worked wonders to bring in some shapeliness to the bodice and provide all the reach room I needed.  To continue the reshaping, I also straightened out the sleeves into stovepipe style rather than the pattern’s given bell sleeves.  The most traditional garments of any culture are often composed of very basic, simple shapes and so it seemed proper to turn the design lines for this angrakha into something very angular and geometric.

An integral part to the angrakha is the tasseled tie closure for the asymmetric wrapping.  As I said above, I meant to channel modern India’s take on a historically ethnic style so I deviated from the traditional double tied closure.  Things were kept simple for my angrakha with one sole tie.  I went really inventive by coming up with something suitable and used a turquoise green colored shoelace that I happened to find in my notions stash.  Then I sewed down two matching colored cotton tassels (leftover from this tunic project, posted here) over the ends.  A shoelace string is much sturdier than any ribbon or cording I had been considering anyway!  I stitched thread chain loops over the shoelace tie at both ends of the waistline where it needed to be connected.  Yet, my thread loops do not catch the ties, which run under the loops so the waistline can adjust to whatever feels comfortable for the day.  With the tassels at each end, the tie however cannot come out of the thread loops, providing assurance that it will not get lost but is staying put.  

See the two thread loops holding the tie in place?

I was not doing an overall elasticized waist like the pattern called for, but I was making the bodice smoothly tailored with only the skirt portion gathered.  Thus, I had to add a few darts in the bodice – under the bust for the front panels and under the shoulders for the back panels.  The waistline shape was trimmed to be more like a historical men’s angrakha, where the front waistline lands at a higher true empire height while the back waistline dips lower to hit just above the true waistline.  I did not line this robe, or used any facings, but I just used the selvedge border for all hems and simply turned in the neckline edge under the loopy Indian trimming.  The bodice panels with the long cut-on sleeves took just over a yard, which left me with the 3 yards of fabric for the skirt portion.  Four whole yards of fabric was just enough to work for this project! 

As I expounded upon in this post of mine about the making of a Rajput Sherwani coat, dyeing and block printing traditions have always been rich throughout the Indian states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Sindh.  Their textiles had been exported to places as far away as Egypt and Africa centuries before the British control there popularized the exporting of their chintz, block prints, paisley shawls, and silks to England, America, and the Dutch colonies. The fabric I chose is a classic, buttery, whispery soft Indian cotton.  The predominant dye color to my chosen print is also in the background.  In modern times, I tend to see this color called turquoise.  This color can be seen as a blue or a green depending on the person, so I find this label for such a shade as too generalized and confusing.  To India, the natural (often botanical dyes) dyes that are often used turn this shade greener toned than anything else, and this way blues are easier to clearly identify.  This block print matches with the Pantone shade of “Blue Grass”, but I see it in person, in indoor light, as the traditional “peacock green”.  It is complimented with shades of true Indigo (Pantone “Sapphire”) for the print, as well as “Dusty Lavender” in the border – all my favorite colors!  

Milk Thistle

The overall print, called the ‘field’ area, is filled up of ‘buti’, tiny stylized almond shaped floral motifs carved in wood for stamping purposes.  ‘Buti’ is an Indian Marathi word that means ‘something hidden or kept hidden’ and the best part of these stylized florals is reading secrets within the creatively rendered botanical representation.  Here, the fabric looks to me to show a milk thistle plant, known in Hindi as “doodh patra”.  It has long been popular in India as a flowering herb that provides therapeutic properties as well as a multi-purpose oil (extracted from the seeds).  The portrayal of this plant is for me a subtle nod to the angrakha’s late medieval origins – the thistle was a favorite decorative and symbolical element of manuscript illuminations, tapestries, and brocades of the olden times. 

However, on a practical level, such a print shows the Gujarat influence to my interpretation of an angrakha, as that is the Indian tradition that I most closely associate with through our Indian friends.  I know I am biased, but I will insist that Gujarat has the superiority when it comes to cotton production, embroidery, and tie dyeing.  Yet, I know Rajasthan (particularly the capitol city of Jaipur) is tied to the history of the floral motif block print.  I love the way that my angrakha combines both state’s textile histories into one fantastic garment that has a richly interesting history all on its own. 

I am thrilled to have a new type of Indian clothing to wear as part of my ongoing efforts to participate in the culture of India through their wonderful festivities.  This angrakha is my new favorite wardrobe item so I have not been shy from wearing it out to eat, to do errands, and more!  I think it is so important for respectful cultural representation to be something seen outside of limited ethnic circles so that the public can that have a chance to see, respect, and learn.  India has such an enthralling history with a depth which can be intimidating to a newcomer, but I hope coming across someone like me can become a moment of enlightenment for others.  I love sharing all things related to my sewing, especially history and culture!  For this angrakha, its bold but attractive combo of colors in a relatable wrap-on style seemed to really bring out the questions and comments from people I came in contact with. 

Most people never understand what is the clothing of the people of India beyond a stereotypical tunic, trousers, or sari…but there is so much more variety than that!  It would be a great honor if my blog could be the source for opening any reader’s mind to just some of the interesting nuances to what the residents of India actually do wear and how it is beautifully tied to their culture, their heritage, their self-expression, and their talents.  I adamantly believe the world would indeed be a dull place if it wasn’t for the flourish of color and wondrous handiwork that the fashions of India bring to the globe. 

Here’s a wish for a peaceful, renewing, and happy Navratri festival!

My Best Border Print Yet

Anyone who remotely knows me or pops into my blog has probably realized in have an undying fascination for border prints.  They are the siren call for me.  I know I’ve said as much before, but this time around I have sewn with a silk crepe original pre-WWII border printed fabric!  Believe me, I was terrified to use this treasure, but it was in perfect condition, and too very pretty to sit, hidden and forgotten, away in storage.  This had to be enjoyed and seen, it is just too good.  However, just what pattern to choose to make the most of this precious find was the tough question I faced.  I have no regrets and am only absolutely thrilled with the fantastic dress I now have…so I guess I chose the right pattern?!? 

The funny thing is, I really appreciate the fact I chose a relaxed and nonchalant “Hostess gown” rather than something as fancy as the fabric.  This way what I’ve made has the greatest opportunity to be worn and enjoyed, I figured.  “The Vintage Fashion Guild” defines a Hostess Gown as a dressy garment, popular from the 1930s to 1970s, worn by the lady of the house for entertaining at home, full length but not as formal as evening wear, whose lines still followed current street fashion.  Vogue calls it “somewhere between loungewear and partywear”, while Melissa, over on the blog “Well Appointed House”, notes that they were loosely sized with “a forgiving waistline”.  Often, I see them as easy to put on, in either a wrap-style or zipper front closing, with conservative body coverage.  I love this way of thinking towards what is worn at home – practical but elegant, pretty but nonchalant, all so a lady can feel as ravishing as a Hollywood celebrity with all the comforts of wearing pajamas.  It’s the ultimate statement piece showing that the lady of the house is queen of her abode in more ways than one…as this “New York Times” article says, a Hostess gown both commands but respects a domestic occasion.  

The pattern I used has been adapted by me to accommodate both my chosen border print layout and a full front zipper.  Otherwise, it stays true to the original design lines and perfectly checks off all the boxes for a hostess gown – adjustable tie waist, breezy fit, elegance in style…all in an impressive fabric print.  Even still, I do not exactly plan on keeping this just for indoors, or wait until I do home entertaining.  It is almost ‘too nice’ for preparing or serving food and drink, being mostly ivory (which doesn’t bode well for stains or spills) besides being a special vintage silk after all.  I happily wear it out and about!  It’s perfect when I want be dressed in vintage style, especially my go-to 1940s decade, but don’t feel like going all out and be confined into the traditional fitted looks. 

The way the silk is whisper weight and flowing awes me, as does the print which gives me an illusion of delicate lace…hinting (to me) of either lingerie, an arachnid, or something spooky and mysterious.  This is partly why I waited to take this post’s photos until Halloween, when the trees can create a colorful backdrop with their fallen foliage while the somber shadows of the earlier evenings adds a melancholic tone.  Trying some late springtime pictures (where I am standing with a Chinese dogwood) lightened and washed out the beautiful, rich, creamy ivory that is the fabric’s true tone.  Either way is still lovely nonetheless, but I am too much of a perfectionist…and I like realistically showing my creations to their greatest effect!  I will take any excuse in any season to be able to wear this dress – I absolutely love it!

Speaking of things that I really enjoy lately, keep your eyes open for a new kind of outfit accessory – a temporary tattoo from Inkbox.   It stays on my skin for a few weeks before fading away.  I chose a spider and a rose theme because I felt it paired with the mysterious web-like effect the border print has on the solid, light color of the silk.  My other accessories are earrings, a scarf, and a chenille butterfly brooch, all vintage items from my paternal Grandmother.  My snazzy triple buckle shoes are actually all suede and meant for dancing, a 1940 reproduction style coming from Aris Allen Company

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% silk crepe

PATTERN:  Butterick #6485, a year 1944 pattern reprinted in 2017. See more on this down later in my post!

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a bit of interfacing for the collar, and one 22” long vintage invisible zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 6 to 8 hours, and finished on September 16, 2020

THE INSIDES:  all French seamed

TOTAL COST:  3 yards and 14” of this vintage fabric cost me a reasonable $40

How do I know it is truly vintage fabric?  First of all, the width of the selvedge gives it away.  This is a 39” width, which means it either 1930s or 1940s.  This size selvedge did last into the 1950s, but the rest of my clues point to decades earlier before WWII.  The black lace-like design is printed all the way through, too, there is no real “wrong” side.  I often see this bleed-through on 1940s and older fabric prints.  Furthermore, once you have the opportunity to feel (as I have) what a vintage 40’s or earlier cold rayon, polished cotton, or silk material feels like in comparison to modern fabric the difference is clear and beautifully unmistakable.  They just don’t make fabric (that I know of) the same way as they used to. 

I did pre-wash it, which was scary in itself, because I had no idea how it would react or if the black border print would bleed into the ivory background color.  Happily, a gentle hand wash bath made no change to the fabric texture or condition, only brightened up the ivory color and faded a few tiny rust spots which are scattered across the material.  If these minute rust spots are all this fabric shows for its age, than that is fabulous!  It cleaned up beautifully and still seemed quite strong, which gave me further confidence to make a something for myself using it.

First of all, I wanted yet another different layout of a border print that I have not yet tried.  I wanted the design element to radiate out from the center front seam, running vertically from the shoulders to the hem.  I have seen this kind of a layout for border print fabrics in other 1930s dresses, zip front robes, and hostess dresses.  The border of my fabric was about 13” wide and ran along the length of only one selvedge edge.  With such a print, I had one strip of the border to work with which was 3 yards and 14 inches long, the length of my cut of material.  Dividing that length in half helped me figure out that my fabric amount would not work for anything longer than a mid-length dress, as long as it would have the front all one panel piece (more on this later).  This meant the dress I chose would need to be shaped primarily by darts or tucks (to keep the border design intact).  Keeping all these ‘needs’ in mind as part of the planning process, all the while wanting a hostess gown, rather overwhelmed me.  I was only searching through my stash of 1930’s and 40’s patterns to make things more challenging!  I ultimately – and happily – found everything I was looking for in Butterick #6465 pattern re-issue from 1944.

Of all the vintage pattern reprints, those from Butterick are always the hardest line from which to track down the original design.  After much online searching, I found a cover image that is highly likely to be the source for the new #6465.  I’m strongly convinced this “reprint” is a tweaked version of what was originally Butterick 9154, from the summer of 1944.  I realize it doesn’t have the front shoulder panels that the new re-issue has, yet I personally have a few original Butterick patterns that have been reissued and their details had been significantly re-worked for their re-release.  During my online browsing, I did see an early 1940s “House Dress with zipper closing at center front” from the “New York Pattern Company” #230 that is also very similar to my Butterick.  Apparently this combination of details/design lines must have been popular enough to span more than one brand of sewing patterns!

I was keeping an eye on my son’s antics as I was also getting my picture taken, so that explains my disinterested face!

My first step before approaching any “vintage” reissued pattern is to read every review and post that is out there to find because I am very wary of the resizing that is done to them.  For this Butterick pattern, I saw a consistent trend of comments saying they adore the style but it runs oversized and offers limited reach room when sewn together with no prior tweaks.  What I did then, at the pattern stage, was ‘slash and spread’ the sleeve piece open for more room in the upper arms and redraft the armscye to come up higher into the armpit for reach room that doesn’t tug at the dress.  I also went a whole size down from what the chart showed I should be choosing.  All of this worked out perfectly!  Even so, the collar still is a bit sloppy around my neck, and I did add some extra front waistline vertical tucks (for both a better fit and to match the old original pattern).  This pattern needs a few tweaks to be good, but, beyond these ‘failings’ in the re-print, I can heartily recommend it!

As I alluded to a few paragraphs above, to accommodate the border design the front of the dress had to be a duo of one-piece panels.  The pattern is designed to have the front princess seamed with four individual pieces.  To amend this, I overlapped both two front panel pieces along the seam lines to ‘create’ one single front piece.  This was not a perfect match up by any means – I only matched up the seam lines from the shoulder down through the bust because the two fronts were so curvy.  Thus my dress’ skirt is a bit fuller than the reprint pattern is designed for, and much more generous in swing than a normal mid-1940s pattern would ever allow for.  It was important to at least match up the shoulders and bust, and (as I said above, as well) the rest of the fitting was accomplished by more tucks across the middle.  In lieu of having the fabric belt be attached in the princess seam, as the reprint called for, I merely added the belt into the front tuck furthest from the waistline, just like what was done on the old pattern which I think was the original. 

The easiest adaptation to the pattern reprint was by far adding in a front zipper.  There was going to be a seam down the front center anyway, so I merely didn’t sew the collar facings together but kept them separate and added my zipper in there instead.  As the fabric is so special, I pulled out a very special zipper for occasion, as well.  I used an old vintage invisible zipper.  It has the metal teeth still that we all know and respect old zippers by for their reliability and sturdiness.  However, this has special twill tape ‘covering’ rolled over the metal teeth so it becomes comparable to an invisible zipper.  It also has a fancy decorative zipper pull that looks almost Art Deco in design (very hard to pick up in pictures).  I am guessing by the packaging that the zipper I used is 1950s, or no later than 1960s era.  I only have a few of these treasured notions in my stash, yet it is the same mindset as what led me to sewing something out of this old fabric in the first place that gave me the guts to use this treasured zipper, too.  I appreciate it better by having it be usable on my wonderful dress creation far better than sitting in my stash.

I suppose it is obvious by this point that I did also squeeze out two sleeves and two waist ties out of the border print.  I wanted to incorporate more of the fabric’s detailing into pieces of the garment which would show off the border print from a back view as well…not just for the front.  No ‘party in the front, business in the back’ for me here, please!  I didn’t want the look of a bare ivory dress from behind.  Besides, fancy sleeves highlights the plain front shoulder placket.  For the tie ends and the interior collar facings, I was able to grab half of the border that was leftover from between cutting the dress’ bodice fronts.  Every little bit was used and every detail paid attention to!  There are minimal scraps left, and I am tempted to use them for something luxurious that calls for small pattern pieces – such as a brassiere…he he.   

It should be noted that the dress body is single layered and only the front shoulder panels and the upper neckline were lined (in more of the silk fabric) because they were interfaced.  I suspect the pebbled crepe texture somewhat keeps this ivory silk from being as see-through as would be expected.  I do like to spurge and wear my prettiest vintage silk slips under this dress as a sort of treat to myself – but also an experiment in historical accuracy.  Guess what?  My old silk slips with their muted pink color and beige lace are more invisible under my dress than my more modern all nude-toned ones.  Fashion from way back when never ceases to amaze me with how smart they were engineered.

Time to finish up with some honesty – there is an element of awe that I myself have for this dress.  I felt it was an honor to be working with such a special vintage fabric, and now when I put on my finished dress I have the same special sense which I get when I wear true vintage clothing.  It is as if I forget I made it, and the dress has become its own “new” vintage.  I haven’t really had something I’ve made which has done this for me to such a degree.  (My 1949 pleated peplum dress, sewn with a true vintage rayon gabardine, does seems like true vintage to me, as well, though not to the level of my Hostess gown.)  Thus, I still am surprised I was able to pull off something better than any ideas in my head.  Have you ever made anything that you felt you were struggling to fulfill then end up crushing it after all?  My hostess dress is all of that. 

This is a bit of a mix of 3 decades – 30’s for the fabric, 40’s in design, and 50’s for the zipper – that all comes together into a fashion anomaly called a “Hostess Gown”.   I was working with a vintage reproduction pattern drafted with a tendency to give an ill fit.  There was the stress of feeling I couldn’t mess up, besides a lingering guilt for even ‘destroying’ my amazing vintage material in the first place.  I believed I had everything going against my success.  Yet, working through these issues has given me one of this dress, probably one of the best things I’ve made…and after a lifetime of sewing, saying that is a big deal, quite satisfying.  I hate to brag, so this is all the more about touting an accomplishment for me.  It’s not the flashiest or most obvious testament of a successful project, but an understated one that boosts a personal confidence in my skills more than anything else.  I am my own worst critic, so a project like this dress is a great reminder to be gentler on myself, and temper my drive for perfectionism…although sometimes – like here – it does pay off!

This was my only vintage border print currently in my stash, so I may have found my “lightning in a bottle”.  I do still have some bordered design material on hand, though – two in modern rayon knits and a new Indian sari.  I now realize my next border print project, vintage fabric or not, will be very hard to work with coming off of the heels of this one.  My Hostess gown will be hard to top, but that’s okay – even though I wholeheartedly like each and every thing I create, not all can be on the top list, as this is.  Hopefully it will just as esteemed by my succeeding generations. 

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! 

Effervescence

A dictionary definition says there are two sides to my title word.  It is defined as “bubbles in a liquid; fizz” or “the lively quality of vivacity and enthusiasm”.  Well, the word also happens to be the name for my dress’ fabric print…and it is every bit as lively as its name. 

I am pleased it is also a play on the two Pantone colors for 2021 – “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating” (bright yellow) – in a manner as trippy as a psychedelic Ishihara eye test.  This works perfectly for the decade of the 60’s.  I had to oblige my inspiration by using a vintage pattern to make this dress a reality soon than later.  I need the mood boost this color combo promises!  Pantone explains it thus, “”Illuminating” is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming shade imbued with solar power. “Ultimate Gray” is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”  Such a summary makes my dress sound like a grounded, tangible interpretation of effervescence to me, and I like the sound of that!  Add in a dash of turquoise – just about my favorite color – and I am a happy girl.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton “Effervescence” design print in the “Riviera” color way by Amelia Caruso for Robert Kaufman  

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8591, re-issue of a year 1961 Simplicity #3782

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, one 22” zipper, and some bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress would have been even quicker to sew if I hadn’t had fitting problems…as it was this was a reasonable 5 hours to finish.  It was done on June 18, 2021 and ready to go with me for a weekend getaway!

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  For 1 ½ yards at 45” width my total price was $18.  My fabric was bought from “Bits & Pieces” shop on Main Street in downtown Hannibal, Mo.  I highly recommend their shop – it has high quality offerings at reasonable prices and excellent service!!

This is yet another experiment with a border print fabric.  This time I had the border run up starting from along the bodice waistline.  With this layout the border ends with its vertical stripes across the bust line.  The remaining overall print is used for the skirt as the border runs along just one selvedge.  I have seen this layout in mostly 1950s era dresses, and I feel that a pattern from the very early 60’s wouldn’t be too far of a stretch.  The perks to such a use of a border print is that it visually slims down the hips by overly emphasizing the bust and shoulders.  Granted, this dress has a full skirt that sort of negates that benefit, yet I did greatly pare down the gathers from the original design in my own version.  This was equally due to being short of fabric as it was because I wanted the skirt more manageable.  I only bought 1 ½ yards of material because I originally planned on making a blouse.  Soon however, a better idea presented itself, as you can see.  I’m glad I chose to sew this up as a fun, simple frock. 

I think the crazy print and the fact this is above my knee in length, as well as sleeveless, helps this dress has a slight 60’s air.  Yet, the classic bodice and the gathered skirt, even if it isn’t very full, helps this dress be a call-back to the 50’s decade.  I wanted this to be an example of what the fashion of the early 60’s was…a thorough mix of both decades.  Styles didn’t change overnight.  What we think of being the stereotype fashion for a decade in the 19-something era is often a fad that came later on at the end of those 10 years.  The mod youth fashion of the 60’s wasn’t a widely adopted style until after ‘65.  Before then, there were a lot of deceptively 50’s looks.

Let the ‘vintage’ labelling be darned here, nevertheless, because the bodice is pretty close to having design lines of a basic two dart bodice block, also called a sloper, and the skirt is self-drafted by me to accommodate my lack of yardage.  Thus, I truly don’t know how 1962 it is on paper at this point.  It’s all about the styling here I suppose.  I almost always have a vintage influence in my choice of accessories and the way I fix my hair, so there’s that.  I do love how versatile this dress is – it can be vintage looking or not as I choose.  Either way, it’s a comfortable, sensible dress that will work for several seasons, too.  Adding a grey blazer, fun tights, and booties might creatively make this dress work into the cooler temperatures of fall or spring.

For being so basic, though, the bodice of this retro re-issue fits horribly.  For me, the torso length was very tall (long), the bust points were high on the chest, the shoulders were generously tall, and the armscye openings were very tight and restrictive.  I needed to do lots of tweaking and try-ons, including cutting several inches off of the waistline length, which only made me crabby such a “simple-to-make” dress wasn’t living up to its promise.  Yet, if you do the work at the pattern stage to perfect this bodice to your measurements this would be good shortcut to having your own sloper bodice block to use to future self-drafting.

This is a fussy pattern, but once I found the original to the reprint, I feel comfortable surmising the reason why.  Simplicity #3782 was originally a teenage and junior’s proportioned design.  I’m wondering if in re-sizing it up to adult woman proportions, they drafted it badly and threw the fit completely off.  How Simplicity allowed this to be printed this way is disappointing and beyond me.  What about standard sizing and quality control?  In whatever way it happened, something is wrong with the new #8591, and I might not be coming back to use this re-print again.  If you do try it, make sure to be prepared for some fitting frustrations along the way to completion.  

In all else, though, I love how this turned out.  I achieved a very good zipper insertion despite doing it by machine, bias bindings were much simpler than facings, and self-drafting skirts is such a joy for me.  The circumference of my skirt hem is the whole of the 1 ½ yard stretch of material and I took advantage of the other selvedge to avoid having to sew a hem.  From the waist down, my skirt is about 22” because the border at the other selvedge edge went towards the bodice.  As I my fabric was originally 45” width and I had to use extra inches along the border to match the stripes, this shorter-for-the-50’s-style skirt was all I could eke out…but I like it, after all as I said. 

A fully gathered skirt would not work I knew, yet at first I gathered only the sides over the hips.  This did not look right – it was much too poufy.  I unpicked the gathers and made a few 3” long half inch wide tapered darts on each side to ease out the total at the waist without taking any out of the hips.  This way I get a lovely bell shape to the skirt and an appearance of fullness to the small yard plus bonus length around.  Ah, isn’t the best part of sewing the way you can make the most out of what little material you may have?!?

Ready to walk down the famous Beale Street in Memphis!

I keep surprising myself at the amount of dresses I can make out of just over a yard.  This one has a full skirt to boot, though!  It was a happy last minute creation that was whipped together so it could have its grand promenade on a trip out of town.  Memphis, Tennessee was hot as blazes that day, but I was staying cool and looking good.  What is there not to be ecstatic over here?  I would say the print is very aptly an energetic word of life and activity the way my dress finally turned out, but then again most all of my handmade wardrobe gives be that happy confidence as well as this one. 

Have you specifically tried to wear the two Pantone colors for 2021, separately or together?  What do you see in my dress’ print – bubbles in a fizzy drink or a color test for your eyes?  Do you believe along with me that there is a special “effervescence” which exudes from someone who wears something handmade?