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? 

A Pre-Raphaelite Reverie

My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century.  The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well.  They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail.   It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!

My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan.  The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood.  In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing?  Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one.  The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones.  It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.  

This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries).  Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit.  Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past.  Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony.  Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!

So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown?  I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923.  She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943.  Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum.  They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment.  Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration.  Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.

Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”.  In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year.  This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s. 

Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time.  In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”.  Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown.  Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version.  Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit.  The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch.  More on this further down in the post!   

A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old.  It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all!  I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti.  The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic.  My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark.  However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location.  What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?!  I’m living a dream.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of sheer 100% silk chiffon, digitally printed. Fully lined in 2 yards of all rayon crepe for the dress. The short bolero jacket is an amazing Rifle Paper Company 100% cotton duck (from Spool and Spindle as part of my prize from the 2018 “Designin’ December” challenge) fully lined in a sage green polyester.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern

NOTIONS:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours.  Both were finished in October 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all!  The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business.  The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping.  So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.

Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended.  Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one.  It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too.  It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging.  The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges. 

The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away.  I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch!  I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem.  The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’.  I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train. 

Here’s a close-up of the right side seam bodice gathers.

The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers.  I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable.  This was such close call of a project!

As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice.  It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though.  A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally.  It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone.  At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all.  As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself.  I realize this much.  Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.

The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought.  When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing.  Would a solid color bolero overwhelm?  Would a black one underwhelm?  I was at a loss.  What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress?  Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own).  I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat.  Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table!  Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero.  Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it.  Yay!  I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.

Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket.  A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all.  I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops.  The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath.  As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title!  What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things!  Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.

My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set.  The necklace is the main piece.  It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies.  They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013.  Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call.  The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace.  The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet. 

In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise.  A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!

As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set.  I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves.  I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop.  I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out.  There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha! 

This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog.  Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though.  I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown. 

It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head.  That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped.  It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way.  Not here, though – it’s all that and more!  You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.”  I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream.  Bah.  Anyone who believes that has never sewn.  To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing.  Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!