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!

Wearing the Colors of the Wind

Of all the Disney princesses, Pocahontas is perhaps the most underestimated and impressive, in my opinion.  She is the real deal, straight out of American history!  Not that an animated children’s movie did the best possible job at transferring a real life impression of her true story.  However, it is still a visually appealing treat and well-crafted interest point from which to find an incentive for reading up on the factual tale of Pocahontas.  She is portrayed as resilient, compassionate, understanding, beautiful in her selflessness, and remarkable in the way her life had a notable impact.  Yet, she is relatable royalty, and quite down-to-earth for a princess, er…daughter of the Chieftain.  For all of this, Pocahontas is coming sooner than later as part of my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.    

As a girl who has grown up with a deep love for getting out into the local wilderness to enjoy the wonders of nature, the 1995 Disney version of Pocahontas is my sister spirit.  I for one certainly know the ‘river is not steady, but always changing’ after exploring the same waterside haunts all my life.  I never know what surprise will be waiting for me each time I go.  The creek never looks the same for each visit.  There is always different animal activity.  Yet, for as much as I relate to, and enjoy the song “Just Around the Riverbend”, this outfit is more inspired by the theme of the movie, “Colors of the Wind”.  My top has a Pocahontas-worthy magical breeze of leaves sweeping across it, complete with a sneaky silhouette of both Flit the hummingbird and Meeko the raccoon.  My skirt is a rich color akin to the natural ‘gold’ of the earth the Native Americans prized so highly – ‘Indian corn’, also known as maize.  My earrings are vintage turquoise cabochons from my own grandmother, a hint towards the necklace Pocahontas wears which was her mother’s.

Yet, because the sequel in 1998 “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” is my favorite over the original, we took our pictures in a winter setting.  As much as I feel ‘at home’ visiting our local waterways, I especially love the hushed, majestic beauty of a wintertime creek.  This way I could wear cozy boots and also take full advantage of the combo of prevalent snow and mud to do some critter tacking!  Being inspired by the ‘post-John Smith’ part of Pocahontas’ tale prompted me to make some related outerwear to go along with this outfit.  This outerwear will be in a follow up post.  Hint – it will be London inspired!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  top – a custom printed Spoonflower polyester crepe de chine; skirt – a golden mustard color slubbed linen-look polyester

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was Simplicity #3626, year 1961.

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long separating ‘sports’ zipper, a waistband sliding hook n’ eye, a vintage metal 7 inch zipper, bias tapes, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces were quick to make – the blouse took me 4 hours and was finished on January 25, 2021.  The skirt was made in 5 hours and done on November 5, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  Both items have cleanly bias bound edges inside.

TOTAL COST:  The Spoonflower fabric was about $20 for one yard (with a sale discount), and the skirt fabric was a remnant cut from a rummage sale – thus practically free.  The long separating zipper for the blouse was a bit of a pricey buy, so my total for this outfit is about $27.

Just like the last time I sewed this same blouse pattern, my Pocahontas set is an outfit composed up of two different one yard cuts of fabric – so economical!  The skirt was easy-to-make.  These one yard pencil skirt patterns from the 50s and 60s always look nice, are so versatile, and are pretty simple to fit.  Yet, the pocket details alone took up most of the sewing time spent.    The blouse was comparatively fail proof as I knew what to tweak this second time around so it would fit me perfectly.  It’s happily comforting to have standby separates to sew, but they are even better when princess inspired!

I steered away from any ethnic references for this “Pandemic Princess” outfit (out of respect for the Native American culture).  Instead I stuck with pure aesthetic reasons.  To me, Disney’s Pocahontas inspired clothes should be earthy in tones and comfy to wear.  Here I have both needs fulfilled with a dash of vintage class through choosing two favorite styles of mid-century era patterns in my stash.  The added fact I was working with one yard cuts of fabric was also a great restriction.  It forced me to hone down my separate pieces into both a wiggle skirt and a simple, cut-on sleeve blouse.  However, I was not forced to scrimp enough to leave out the fantastic skirt pockets – yay!  I also made the most of the top’s border print, too.  When my arms are open, it seems as though I have a wave of wind going across me to send off as a goodwill blessing, just like in the end of the first Pocahontas movie.

There isn’t much I changed, eliminated, or added here – just the almost-unnoticeable small details.  First, I’ll talk about the blouse.  To accommodate the border print for the blouse layout I desired, I had to slash the underarms to make the pattern resemble a “T” shape.  I probably would have done this adaptation anyway, as this pattern needed reach room.  It’s no fun to pull out your tucked-in top just to move your arms up to take care of your hair.  Then, I took out 2 ½ inches vertically across the back to shorten the long waist. 

As I learned the hard way the first time I used this pattern, it has a very generous shoulder room which never works well when there is a center back zipper.  As my last version of this top had a back zipper that reaches only 1/3 of the way down from the neck, I chose to make this top stress-free to be dressed into.  No wiggling and struggling is necessary here because I adapted the back to have a center separating zipper.  Even the neckline finishing was simplified, too, with bias tape used in lieu of proper facings.  The fabric is so sheer that a wide inner facing would’ve been obvious from the right side and distracting from the border print.

The skirt did need some piecing of the pockets for me to keep them in my pencil skirt.  As I was so focused on just trying to squeeze a successful skirt out of leftover material, I half-heartedly ‘forgot’ to make the pockets deeper.  As of now, they are shallow pockets.  I should not complain because pockets of any size are useful and appreciated, but it’s handier to have them to be more akin to mini purses.  Out of a desire to make construction simpler and keep the tapered wiggle line shape to the skirt, I left out the back kick pleat.  The seam is all sewn up.  This doesn’t make the skirt harder to walk or move in – the hips and thighs are roomy enough.  I had to shorten the hem by about 3 inches due to lack of fabric, so the hem is a bit wider than originally intended anyway.  As you can see, it did not prevent me at all from exploring around my favorite creek haunts to capture these pictures.

I must have done this princess outfit right because the wildlife came to me as we were taking some of our pictures.  It’s too bad for picture taking (but good for them) that the wildlife is camouflaged with the environment well enough to not be noticeable behind me.  In the following post, you will more clearly see the one creature which amazingly came up to check me out!  My Pocahontas vibes must have been strong.  “Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth”, so she sang in “Colors of the Wind”.  Spending time outside in appreciation of Mother Nature is priceless. 

A Tale of Gujarat

Every August I observe in spirit with India celebrating its Independence on the 15th.  I use the clothing that I make for the day reflect my understanding, respect, and wish to be united with them in pondering on their past, commemorating 1947, and hopeful for their future.  My first Indian influenced garment for August 15th was this dress I made back in 2017.  I unfortunately had to skip repeating that last year, so I am making up for it by sewing a handful more vintage-influenced Indian fashion this year!

The first one I’d like to present this August is a different kind of garment – a Rajput inspired Sherwani-style summer coat – to honor the traditions of India that I know through some close friends. 

One of the reasons why India is my favorite culture not expressly my own is on account of some “adopted family”, long-time friends of my husband that are as close as blood relatives.  Their primary tradition hails from the Gujarat territory of India, with family from and still in Kutch.

The Gujarat region history is intertwined with that of the Rajput dynasty.  The last Hindu ruler of Gujarat was in 1297!  “For the best part of two centuries (at the end of the 14th century until the 16th century) the independent Rajupt, Sultanate of Gujarat, was the center of attention to its neighbors on account of its wealth and prosperity, which had long made the Gujarati merchant a familiar figure in the ports of the Indian ocean.”  Why was it important that the Gujarat trader was proficient at spreading their wares, and what did they have to offer? Among other things, it was mostly textiles…and this is what peaks my interest.  As our adopted family has showed me, Kutch has mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but Gujarat had an empire in cotton and are still India’s largest producer of the fiber.

According to Dr. Ruth Barnes (“Indian Cotton for Cairo”, 2017), fragments of printed cotton made in Gujarat, India were discovered in Egypt, which provides evidence for medieval trade in the western Indian Ocean. These fragments represent the Indian cotton traded to Egypt during the Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk periods from the tenth to the sixteenth centuries.  Similar types of Gujarati cotton was traded as far East as Indonesia.  Their local art has been in high demand over the centuries, and all you have to do is see the real thing (watch out for modern imposters or look-alikes from other regions!) to understand why.

I must confess though – the block printed border print cotton I used is hand-stamped from a company in Mumbai (old Bombay).  Gujarat was under the authority of the Bombay Presidency since the 1800s and later, after India’s Independence in ’47, the Bombay State was enlarged to include Kutch.  The mother of our adopted family knows how to speak the official language of Mumbai.  It wasn’t until May of 1960 that there was a split in the Bombay State along the Gujarat-speaking north.  So my fabric is a sort of a hybrid, a close relative by association.  It was the closest thing I could find in both colors and print pattern to my original inspiration as well as something that would set the occasion for this coat.  More on this further down!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  all-cotton, with the print from “Fibers to Fabric” on Etsy and the lining a bleached muslin

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern A526, designed by Dalani, with its envelope stamped with the date of January 1976.

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – lots of thread, heavy canvas sew-in interfacing, and true vintage wooden toggles from the stash of Hubby’s Grandmother’s notions box.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jacket was whipped up in the matter of two afternoons just before a trip to visit our Indian friends out of town.  It was finished on June 17, 2019, in about 10 to 15 hours.

THE INSIDES:  What inside edges? This coat is fully lined.

TOTAL COST:  I ordered 4 yards of the Indian cotton (you need to always be on the generous side with a border print) at a sale price of $5 a yard – so $20.  The plain cotton lining was from JoAnn on sale at about $1.50 a yard. As everything else was on hand my total cost is just under $30.

A Sherwani is a knee-length coat buttoning at the neck worn by primarily men of the Indian subcontinent, for the shortest and most basic definition.  “Originally associated with Muslim aristocracy during the period of British rule, it is worn over a kurta (tunic)” and several other combinations of clothing (from Wikipedia).  There are other coats and jackets in the Indian tradition, such as the Achkan or Nehru, and both are related to the Sherwani in style details and history.  However, the qualities of a Sherwani are a flared shape from the waist down (where it opens up to reveal the layers underneath), a straight cut (not as fitted), a longer length, stiffer (heavier weight), more formal in special fabrics, and fully lined.  Yup – I’ve got all those boxes checked off!

Thus, even though I am using a vintage pattern as my starting point, I hope that my coat has a timeless, cultural aura about it.  Nevertheless, let’s not ignore I am wearing here a customary men’s garment!  Together with the fact this Sherwani is asymmetric, this is a much updated type of twist on a custom yet still reflecting the modern India of today without losing its past traditions.  In modern India, women are wearing Sherwanis and there is more variety of expression in materials and decorations used.  (For more info and visual candy on this subject, see this page here.)  My husband has tried my coat on, and with a man’s propensity to stronger shoulders and lack of hip curves, this coat actually looks better on a guy than on myself, in my opinion.  It is a truly unisex garment here the way either of us can wear this in a culturally sensitive manner and also fit in its forgiving cut.  What a rare bird my Sherwani is in so many ways among all the sewing I have done.  A summer coat in the strongest Indian tradition I have channeled yet that can be worn by men or women alike?  Yes, please.  I’m more than happy to welcome it into my wardrobe.

My preliminary inspiration was this 1970 woman’s wedding coat from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  It was designed by Richard Cawley under Bellville Sassoon, hand-painted by Andrew Whittle and named “Rajputana” for the marriage of an Englishwoman (see her full outfit here).  The “Rajputana” coat even had its own feature in the November 1970 issue of Vogue magazine! Wedding garments in India are normally inclusive of gold and red, but as the Rajput princes followed the religion of Mohammed, they did not necessarily follow the region’s traditions.  White and lighter colored garments to the rest of India (especially saris) are reserved for formal wear, ritual occasion, and upper castes, and even for mourning in the Hindu religion.  The Jain sect of Gujarat wear more white than elsewhere in India, as far as I can tell.  Thus, my coat further reflects Gujarat, Rajput and the thriving textile trade the region was excelled at.  My interpretation also stays true to the 70’s, coming only six years later than my inspiration.  The top I wore under my jacket was a past 70s make of mine as well (see it here) and rather than trousers to match (which I don’t have) I went for a basic A-line rust linen skirt.

The original pattern shows this as a wrap dress, and sadly I have not been able to find anything about its designer, “Dalani”.  Besides finding a few more mail order patterns (from the 70’s and 80’s) and a few dresses credited to a “Dalani II”, I feel like digging into the source for this design is a sad dead end.  Dalani’s trend seems to be for loose and simple cut dresses and wrap-on robes.  Yet to me, there was no way such an overwhelming amount of fabric was going to look good as anything other than a coat, in my opinion.  It was so easy to adapt this to becoming a Sherwani.

Wooden buttons are traditional to India, and the fabric company generously sent a baker’s dozen along with my fabric, but a Sherwani only closes at the neck.  So, to avoid disrupting the lovely border with buttonholes, I used two wooden toggles on the asymmetric flap and orange loops on the left shoulder.  This method closes the jacket yet leaves it loose to flare open below the waist like a proper Sherwani.  Following grainlines, I laid the jacket out so that the border just ran along the bottom hem.  A separately cut border strip had to be mitered, redirected around the bottom corner and up the front, for it to be as you see it.  I blended my adaptation so seamlessly you’d think it was printed like that, right!?  Happily I found the exact color thread to match the orange along the border and I hid my tiny top-stitching in the stripes.   My sleeve hems also had a pared down version of the border applied in the same manner.  This border print was only on one selvedge edge and luckily I only had literally 5 inches to spare by time I was done…my ‘overbuying’ of 4 yards was apparently just enough to squeeze by

As I mentioned in “The Facts” above, actual construction was easy and the main body of the jacket came together in only two afternoons.  The sleeves are cut on with the main body so there were only 3 pattern pieces here.  One gi-normous back piece is laid on the fold and ends up looking like the capitol T, and two front pieces like an upside down L – a properly squared off body for a Sherwani except for the flared sleeve cuffs which give it a subtle nod to its 1970s origin.  It was all the attention to detail that took at least half of the total time spent to finish.

The highlight of the details to me is the most understated one – the quilted border to the lining.  This is what makes this all-cotton coat closer to a real Sherwani.  Such soft cottons could make this feel like a housecoat without some body.  Neither did I want to entirely stiffen the silhouette – it is boxy enough!  Thus, one layer of lightweight cotton canvas sew-in interfacing is “quilted”, in rows ½ inch parallel, to the muslin lining’s underside.  The quilted interfacing was stitched before sewing the lining inside.  It is as wide as the border is on both sides of the asymmetric front edges and also was cut to form a stable “collar” that extends out from the neck to the shoulder.  This way the main body of the jacket is loose enough but it still keeps its shape and feels so much more substantial, besides having an understated detail that I have come to expect of Indian clothing.

I have seen similar interfaced line stitching on Anarkali dresses but, goodness, it is a lot harder to do than it looks.  My machine heated up enough from the rows of long stitching that I needed to turn it off and give it a break halfway though.  It was one of the most exhausting things I have done in a while.  But can I remotely find a way to have my effort show up well in a picture?  No – it’s white stitching on white cloth.  Oh well, art is sometimes made for the sake of art…and this Gujarati tribute was worth it when I saw our adopted family appreciate the details I included in this Sherwani.

India has such a beautiful richness of culture and tradition.  There is so much, in so many varying facets, to learn about.  The way what people wear in that country speaks for their state and caste in life, their region of the land, the occasion of the moment, their religion…is something so admirable, besides being any fashion historian’s dream.  Quality that we expect out of couture garments is a normal part of Indian fashion and their strong ethnic pride is what I admire the more I get to know of the country and its citizens, both ones who live in my country now and those who still live there.  The trip to see our ‘adopted family’ included a stay at their home and my first visit to see her parents, so my coat was appropriate for an important few days of meeting people for the first time and catching up with others.  It was also quite comfy in the southern heat outside and absolutely perfect for cold indoor air conditioned inside!  My sewing feels so worthwhile when I can use it as a means of respect to our friends and their culture.  Look for more India inspired fashion to come here on my blog!

Sweatin’ to the 80’s

My fascination with validating the 80’s is only just beginning after sewing my Givenchy Easter suit…and what better way to continue than with some fun and practical separates!

I absolutely love the feminine pinks to this outfit, the strategically straightforward details, and the casual chic aesthetic of it.  Each piece is comfortable and roomy yet well-designed enough to not be baggy.  Each has niceties enough to save them from being too practical yet they are so versatile and definitely made for easy living.  The top should work well dressed up, when paired with a skirt (thinking of this late 70’s one) in particular.  The shorts look good ‘fancied up’ as you see for this post but I want to also pair them with a tube top, tank, printed tee, or denim shirt for more casual options.

Does my new set scream 80’s to you?  I don’t think so, but that’s exactly what it is according to the patterns and even the fabric I used (for the shorts).  I even brought out my childhood hair scrunchies and ‘jelly’ shoes for a big time rewind.  I really do think the 80’s has more appealing styles to it than many people realize.  Let’s give it another chance – you just have to get past the stereotypes!  After all, I suppose we do need to welcome it into the sphere of “vintage” technically, now!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  shorts – a semi-sheer cotton/poly border print vintage 70’/80’s fabric lined in a solid blue cotton broadcloth; blouse- a cotton/poly blend linen look fabric in a pinkish purple orchid color (leftover from making this suit set)

PATTERNS:  McCall’s Easy pattern #9525, year 1985 for the bottoms together with a Mail Order Printed Pattern no.9251, from the very late 70s or early 80s, for the blouse

NOTIONS NEEDED:  Lots of thread, some interfacing, a hook-n-eye for the waistband, and two covered buttons to make to match the top.  The side zipper for the shorts was leftover from taking out one of the two zippers I had put into these past-made 1940s shorts.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The shorts came first and were finished on July 1 after about 10 to 12 hours, while the top took only 5 hours and was done on July 8 (both 2019)

THE INSIDES:  So clean, just the way I like them.  The shorts are fully lined for hidden seam allowances while the top has bias bound edges.

TOTAL COST:  The vintage fabric for the shorts was bought from Kirsten at “Verity Vintage Studio” through an Instagram de-stashing sale and cost me only $5 for the one yard.  The lining cotton for the shorts was about $6.  The material for the blouse was leftover from a past project (mentioned in the fabric section of ‘The Facts’) and before that had been in my stash too long to remember, so I’m counting it as free, along with the zipper.  My set only cost $11!

Pleated waist, roomy fit pants and shorts are back in force this 2019.  Whether those who influence and those who follow the trends know it or not, many current forms of this fad are just a rehash of the 40’s and – yes – the 80’s.  All you gotta do is compare design lines for proof.  (Check out the newest “French Poetry Patterns” Orion shorts or the Burda Style #107A “Pleated Bermuda Shorts” for two examples to sew!)

Many in the vintage making and/or wearing community have already been sporting the old style roomy trousers, but it is always nice to see a past style so many have been enjoying for years become mainstream, if only for a year.  The same applies to many modern summer crop tops and roomy pull-overs – they’re only sneaky vintage integrated into 2019 fashion.  Put both things together in 80’s style with my means of interpretation – and voila!  You have an outfit such as this!

With my newest 80’s outfit, I am mostly proud of yet another interesting and unexpected way to use a border print fabric along with what I think are my best scallops yet (despite the fact there are only two of them).  This is proudly a duo of one yard projects, as well!!  I am racking in all the good points I can here!  My wardrobe is sorely lacking in shorts anyway and a top that can both be casual or dressy is much appreciated.  I try not to get stuck in a rut with what I sew.  Making what I actually can use in my life and don’t yet have in my closet is always good to sew.  Doing so in a way that it is both a refresher amongst my sewing projects and also an opportunity for a new learning curve is a little creative niche that I love to find.

Now, let me start with the shorts.  I am not that big of a fan of pleated waist bifurcated bottoms admittedly, but hey – these looked really cute on the pattern and I figured the border print being vertical would help.  Only one selvedge edge having the border and only one yard at my disposal made me have to choose sides for the geometric, mock-embroidery print.  The back is plain and the front has both borders.  I had to fold the fabric in an unusual fashion for this to work out.  Most fabrics are folded selvedge to selvedge, the width in half (this is how I buy them off of a cardboard bolt in my local stores).  The shorts’ fabric had to be folded oppositely so my preferred border layout could work.  Even though this fabric was sheer, it was really a tight woven so if was going against the grainline it wouldn’t have mattered.  Luckily, it lined up anyways.

The pattern called for an elastic gathered back half of the waist, but really…that would be too obviously 80’s and is not my ‘cup of tea’.  So I catered the shorts to have a flat waist all around with darts above the booty, and a side zipper.  Of course, the full lining was also not part of the pattern and my idea, as well.  The fabric was super sheer…so I went with an opaque royal blue lining as it was a color already in the print, so lovely as a contrast, and definitely opaque.  Full lining sure makes for a smooth feel inside and deluxe look, though!  Finally, I left out the in seam pockets.  As sad as I am to not have pockets, I didn’t want them to puff out the pleated front more than necessary.  I just might come back to these shorts at a future date and add in a back welt pocket or two.  We’ll see!

My top – or is it really a blouse? – was just as easy to sew as the shorts.  Only a handful of hours to commit at a time is the most I’m really capable of this busy summer anyway, and that is all I needed to whip this sweet little number together.  I made this even easier by not having truly workable button closings at the neck.  It isn’t constricting to the dressing situation just to keep those lovely fabric covered buttons just for looking pretty and perfect, so I’m all in for a little sewing cheat.

The line drawing lies about the smart simplicity of its design and true finished shape.  The bust dart shaping on the left side is sneakily hidden within the seam which leads to the neckline detail – very nice touch – and the back shoulders have some darts that only appear on the pattern pieces themselves.  Also, as you can see, my top turned out so much boxier than the drawing would make you think.  At the same time, however, I am not at all surprised because this is a pullover top.  No zipper, no closures with a woven material means it has to be a slightly generous fit, right?  Overall, I think the actual garment is much nicer than the line drawing, but disappointingly not the same.  At least it’s better to have good surprises in store with a sewing pattern than be let down at the end of working with it, I suppose.

Never mind the difference, I freaking love this blouse anyway.  It ends up appearing so very 1950s to me.  I think it is the kimono seamed, cut-on sleeves and the feminine detailing.  This is only one of a handful of recent instances where I have seen the 80’s refresh a 1950s look, and the fact is insanely curious to me.  The 1980’s is well known for more exaggerated versions of WWII 40’s fashions.  If my shorts were long length they very well would look 40’s, much like these “Marlene” trousers I’ve made, no doubt.  Yet, the closer you look for variety in 80’s women’s clothing, you can see the occasional 1890s look (quaint puff sleeve dresses with full skirts, such as Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding) or the 1920’s drop-waisted flapper style dress and even some draped, soft 30’s inspired garments.  Yes, I’ll admit there are some just plain terrible ideas, too, that I can’t imagine looking good on any body type.  Check out my Pinterest board on the “Power 80’s” to see more inspiration.  However, it all makes me think that perhaps the 1980s was a decade that offered more options of dressing than we realize, rehashing all sorts of things from the 90 years before so that maybe the only think that quintessentially sticks to label it are the worst experiments (neon bomber jackets, “Hammer” pants, etc.).

Whatever – I love this post’s outfit combo.  It might not be the most body complimentary outfit but each are comfortable and useful handmades that are a successful experiment of a foray into a newly vintage decade.  I find my happy sewing place in the most unexpected ways sometimes!