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, they have mind-blowingly beautiful, region-specific ways of dying silk sarees, but they 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.  Danani’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!

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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!

My First Colette to Celebrate the Fourth!

Colette patterns seem to be the biggest deal in the indie pattern world, and so I feel a bit out of touch to admit this is my first – and very happily successful – foray into a new branch of the sewing community.  Courtesy of a Seamwork magazine subscription which I won from the “Sewing the Scene” Challenge last year, I have had the availability to now try out independent pattern companies and see what they are all about.  This year’s Independence Day celebrating gave me the reason to whip up a dress from a Colette pattern and finally dive right in!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a soft 100% cotton twill in blue and white stripes, remotely similar to ticking, with a chain stitched red border design along one selvedge.  This fabric was a JoAnn exclusive release.

PATTERN:  Colette “Hazel” sundress, no. 1021

NOTIONS:  One zipper, lots of thread, and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was made in about 8 to 10 hours and finished on July 4, 2019.

THE INSIDES:  No seams save the center back skirt seam are showing and its raw edge is bias bound.  All other seams are covered by the full bodice lining.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was rather pricey, even with a discount – which I why I made things work on only two yards.  The dress cost me just under $30.

Sarai Mitnick, the founder and Creative Director of Colette Media, started Colette Patterns in 2009 because she liked vintage patterns but found them difficult for beginners to work with.  This particular pattern has a lovely modern hint of mid-century vintage, which I played up through the fabric I used.  I was inspired by the occasional extant piece of 1950s clothing which has Scandinavian-style folk embroidery.  Also known as Swedish weaving or “Huck”, the distinctive red and blue heavy embroidery – in patterns of the well-known eight pointed star or the more floral motifs of the more Germanic people – was extremely popular in the 30’s, tapering off through the 40’s.  Due to the thickness of the huck material, this embroidery style was primarily done on kitchen towels and linens, but it is a weaving style in which the thread never appears on the back, making it perfect for garments too, once decorative dish cloths began to be replaced by the mechanical dishwasher.

I realized after my dress was done that in my efforts to make a patriotically red, white, and blue American dress, I channeled a vintage Scandinavian-inspired style.  But, hey – we are a country of immigrants, a nation merged by our diversity and desire for independence, so I don’t think the irony is out of place.  After all, I was appropriately sewing with an indie pattern for an Independence Day celebration, but I was wearing a vintage “West Germany” necklace and vintage-inspired flats from the Australian “Charlie Stone” shoes.  Freedom is universal.

I keep seeing the phrase “patterns that teach” associated with Colette patterns, and so I saw this as a nice base pattern – something to add to and customize to one’s own level of skill or preference.  Along that line, I tweaked the details slightly to add in a fully lined the bodice and also try out a new method of pleating.   Overall, though, I found the pattern to have great shaping and curving not seen in the “Big 4” patterns, clear directions, and sizing that runs on the small side.  It was just enough of a challenge yet not impossible to make for as amazing as it looks.  I think it was nicer than the “Big 4” patterns and yet not as good as Burda Style, in my opinion.  I’m glad I didn’t have to pay full price and yet I don’t think I would have felt that I overpaid if I had.  I’m not used to Colette patterns but I do like them enough to start picking out my next one!

The big things this pattern has going for it is the front bodice, the dramatic way it makes the most of a border print or a striped fabric (or both combined, in my case!), and the way I can still wear a normal bra under it.  So many sundresses need some special lingerie or something sewn in to support a woman’s assets, and this one is such an appreciated, effortless piece the way its wide straps and their placement worked out perfectly for me right where the pattern markings were.  When you can follow a sundress pattern’s strap markings to the letter and it works out well, I’m impressed.

I went up a size in this pattern (because it’s better to be safe than sorry) and tailored it in slightly for a perfect fit.  As I mentioned above, I also added a full bodice lining to keep the fabric from being see-through and cover up most all the seams.  The facing pieces for the neckline were cut instead as the interfacing ironed down to the inner edges.  About 5 inches were added to the original length of the pattern, and I also cut the skirt as one whole seamless piece, eliminating the side seams.  I know this left out the opportunity for side pockets (unless I do a welt or patch style) but that’s okay – I decided to make this the day before the 4th of July, so I just wanted simplicity.  I widened the straps by ¼ inch and used an exposed zipper rather than an invisible one as called for.  Finally, I made the whole dress come together using only 2 yards.  For my first time trying out a new pattern company, I sure wasn’t afraid to go rogue on many details!

My biggest source of pride in this dress is actually the waist pleats.  The pattern called for a simple overall gathered waist, but why go conventional when there are other more complex possibilities yet to be attempted?!  I kept the center front and center back of the skirt flat because I think that is nicer over the tummy and bootie, but the rest of the skirt was knife pleated at every large stripe.  Each large stripe was folded over about ¼ inch deep to meet the nearest small stripe.  This process took me just over an hour in itself, mostly because I did one side wrong at first, but the finished look makes every minute worth it.  It is detailing like this that makes me and others so love vintage styles besides keeping past fashion highly sought after enough to be going up in value.  If I can bring a taste of that into my own sewing than my time is well spent.

I have seen several examples in their mailer leaflets (at right is one) of how JoAnn Fabrics thought of using this fabric and they were throwing me off at first.  I didn’t like their examples enough to try but I also had the hardest time deciding on using this Colette pattern for it…and I’m so glad went for it!  This dress really made me feel comfy yet festive, bright without being flashy, and proud of the quick work I put into it.  I do have a good chunk of the dress’ fabric leftover and I’m debating now between a purse or a little bolero to make out of it.  Decisions are the most fun, inventive, yet stressful part of home sewing.  Whatever I make, it’ll probably be much like the dress, though, in the way it was a happy experiment and a sudden ‘go-for-it’ type of decision.  Here’s to fun in the sun and more creative sewing!

Mystery Mail Order Split Skirt Jumpsuit

This is my attempt at a compromise between skirts and pants, technically ‘culottes’…with a vintage interpretation.  I’m not exactly sure if this is the best look on me, especially with the mid-length wide bottoms, but I love it despite such misgivings because it is so comfy, different, and a creative use of a border design (if I do say so myself).  This is by no means my first jumpsuit (see my others here and here), only my first faux-dress one!

My title alludes to the mystery vintage pattern I used to make my culottes jumpsuit.  It was one of those many mail order patterns of the modern mid-century, but what was particularly bothering me was I could not date the design.  I estimated that the design was early 60’s (or even late 50’s for a stretch) based on the hairstyle alone.  Then, I shared the pattern on Instagram, and someone apparently knew enough based on the pattern number to date this to circa 1962.  I still don’t know what company or newspaper this particular one came from, and if anyone can tip me off, please, do share!  For now, though at least I know what decade to understand this…but whatever past time it is from, I like my new and unusual jumpsuit!

This is my submission for the “Sew Together for Summer” challenge of 2019, co-hosted by the blogger at “Sew Sarah Smith” with the Instagrammers Suzy at “sewing_in_spain” and Monika at “rocco.sienna”.  This year’s theme is jumpsuits, dungarees, overalls, playsuits, and rompers…something one piece that has bifurcated bottoms.  This garment certainly falls in this category!  However, one is never enough of a good thing so this is just my first part for the challenge…part two will be a full 50’s playsuit, coming soon since the closing date is June 21!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a lightweight chambray cotton denim with a border embroidery stitched along the selvedge; facing in a lightweight plain cotton

PATTERN:  a Mail Order pattern no.1495, ca. 1962

NOTIONS:  I needed lots of thread and bias tape to finish the edges (chambray frays like crazy otherwise), with some interfacing and four waistband style hook-n-eyes

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 10 to 12 hours to make and was finished on May 18, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  just under $30

Whatever company this pattern was from, I am impressed.  For such a simple, unassuming line drawing and such a basic looking pattern (unprinted tissue, simple instruction sheet) it was sneakily complex.  The entire neckline and shoulder strap was one large and unusual shaped continuous piece that took copious amounts of pins, patience, and expertise to make correctly.  The pleating needed precise marking at the cutting out stage and lots of ironing afterwards.  Happily, I didn’t have to deal with much fitting issues – according to my tissue fit and preliminary measurements, this mystery mail order pattern ran one size smaller than what was listed, and I was correct.  Other than having to adjust this jumpsuit’s slightly long torso, it turned out pretty much perfect for me as it was straight out of the envelope.

Split skirts have interesting construction, especially when they are pleated like this one.  They also make for very large pattern pieces!  The deep pleats that meet at both the center front and back hide the crotch seam and make it look like a skirt.  I figured correctly that it made a better box pleat to sew the center fold-line together from the inside rather than just top-stitching the creases down next to one another, as the pattern instructed.  Depending on how much wear this jumpsuit sees, I might come back later and embroider on some “arrow heads”, the proper (and beautiful) way to stabilize the ending point of a pleat to prevent or stop a hole from forming in the fabric.

I normally hate box pleats in skirt backs because they rarely stay looking nice between sitting and everything life calls for, but a good hot steam of the iron keeps them pretty good.  The box pleating in the back was a lot more challenging than the front, needing much hand stitching, because of the center zipper running through the middle.  You are basically trying to have a fold line end right where the edge of the zipper teeth are!  I made sure to have a bit extra ease in the fit because if something like this fit snugly the back pleats over the zipper would not come together at all and only pull apart.

A border running above a hemline is rather conventional, so my favorite part of this jumpsuit is the way I have the embroidery border wrap around the neckline, too.  It really balances out all the interest at the hemline, in my opinion, and brings just enough attention to what might be lost otherwise – the fabulous strap design which is the closing method.  This jumpsuit has wrap-over-from-the-back straps, pretty much like overalls, that end as wide, cornered tab closings on the front of the bodice.

The pattern called for buttons to close the shoulder tabs, but they are the only thing holding up the 2 something yards of fabric in the skirt.  Thus I opted for two strong sliding hook-and-eyes to close each strap…but with the back zipper I really could have just sewn the front tabs down permanently and not had them workable.  Oh well!  It’s always way cooler to have the tab closings actually work, and at least I know what garment to raid if I ever need some last minute notions for another project.

The open, eyelet-style embroidered border presented several creative challenges.   First off, the dress’ neckline and straps needed a facing to complete the eyelet without making it obvious the openings in the embroidery designs were being filled in.  The only answer to that was to make the facing a similar weight plain white cotton, and interface it in likewise cotton interfacing, as well.  Secondly, after completely hand stitching the entire neckline and shoulder straps and tab closings, I was bracing myself to do more of that to the hem.  However, the hemming was easy once I just figured on following along with what was already there.  Then I was able to use a close zig-zag stitch (much like a loose button hole stitch) on my sewing machine and just follow along with the scalloping of the bottom to the border.  I’m tricky like that!  Hubby shook his head at me like I was cheating out of doing the hem right – but hey…I’ll save myself both time and bodily misery where I legitimately can.

Speaking of misery, in order to give my culotte jumpsuit a ‘test run’, I wore them over to frolic and play in my parents’ backyard (the backdrop for our pictures).  Yup, my new jumpsuit is certainly great for jungle gym climbing, puppy dog chasing, and general child level play!  However, my ‘test run’ (watch it here) sure caused me so much achy arms and tired legs for the next several days afterwards!  I suppose I need more play clothes like this if only to have a reason to exercise while having fun like I did that day.

…At The River’s Edge

There is something so relaxing to me about being near where I can hear the movement of water.  Of course, as a city dweller I am never really that close to much water.  Maybe that why I appreciate it so much whether it’s a local rambling creek, a man-made fountain jumping enticingly in the summertime, the beaches of Florida (of which I’m a big fan), or the one man-made ‘river’ we have traveling through the heart of south city.  This ‘river’ was the perfect place to go relax, cool down, enjoy myself, and take a few pictures of my most recent sewing treat – a year 1951 dress with interesting seam lines, sewn using a true vintage rayon border print.

The flowers in the border print remind of some sort of tropical, lush beauties.  I like what the color of pink does for my complexion so I wanted this to be on the bodice, which wraps around me in a U-shaped fashion due to the cross-diagonal seaming.  Yet, the directional lines to the rest of the print first struck me as very animal-referenced, but maybe it is more like leaves on plant stems when I think differently.  The animal/stems lend a very proper post-WWII preferred-silhouette of a slenderizing, long and skinny skirt.

Whatever it is printed there, this slightly tropical dress is my new perfect summer dress, which is very ironic.  Usually rayon challis does not hold up well in our hot and steamy summers here – it sucks up too much moisture both from the air and off of me to become limp, wrinkly, and clingy.  Thus, my splurging on myself to use a true vintage fabric was one of my best, yet very wary, idea for trying something new for summer.  I don’t know what era this is from but it doesn’t wrinkle!  It is also a denser weave, and quite tightly stable yet so cool to the touch.  This is unlike any other modern rayon challis I have ever found.  I prefer past styles over newer ones generally already, but now you mean to tell me that old fabrics are much better too?!  I am glad to have this dress in my wardrobe and finally find out the benefits of old-style rayon.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, with a remnant of a modern poly lining for the bodice facing

PATTERN:  McCall #8376, year 1951

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed to make this on hand already – interfacing scraps, thread, bias tapes, buttons, and a vintage zipper from my Grandma’s stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making this took me about 15 hours and it was finished on May 11, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  This dress has a clean and complimentary interior in pink and blue tiny ¼ inch bias tape along all the raw edges.

TOTAL COST:  Two yards cost me only $7…pretty awesome!

I felt extra pressure to be “perfect” with this make because of the vintage fabric I was using.  I found it at a reasonable price, and it is in very good shape so I don’t feel as if I have to be more careful wearing my dress. No – the pressure came from my respect for vintage and my knowledge that I had no back-up fabric to buy more of if I messed up.  Border prints are a specialty not to be found everywhere as it is, so finding a vintage fabric border print gave me even more of an expectation to find the right match of a pattern, too.  I had plenty of inspiration to go on which you can see for yourself as well here at my “Border Prints” Pinterest board.  The bodice of this earlier vintage year 1943 McCall’s pattern was my main inspiration, what I was going for with this year 1951 make.  Here, as my dress turned out, the floral border was too loose, oversized and not directional enough to make the U-shaped bodice all that obvious, as I wanted.  Oh well, it’s still just as pretty either way.  On the back, the border print runs along the bottom of the bottom of the bodice where it joins to the skirt.

The sizing on this pattern was weird.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are normally always so dependable, well instructed, with fine designs, and can be counted on to turn out great for me, but this one was one of the very few which I have found to run quite small.  I even sized up just to have a safety cushion “in case”.  Luckily, there were 5/8 inch seam allowances which I let out.

My dress’ pattern overall length also ran long, which I left as-is.  I think the longer length is most elegant and very befitting to the transitional 1948 to 1952 period when hemlines were a length they had not been since the early to mid-1930s.  A “several inches above the ankles” mid-calf length hemline like this now seems to be labelled as a “midi” dress nowadays.  It can be awkward on some garment designs, and it seems especially weird from a wearer’s perspective looking down, but generally I think this length is very flattering.  The triple pleats flaring out on each side of the center front skirt give a very gentle hip emphasis to keep the longer skirt from seeming like a straight pencil shape.

I’m guessing the major change I made to the dress pattern is pretty obvious already.  I eliminated the full button-up front closing to instead have a bodice only half-button front (with a zipper in the side, as well).  It wasn’t just because I was a tad lazy and didn’t want to do all those buttonholes and buttons.  I really didn’t want extra busyness to the print and besides – I actually didn’t have enough fabric for a button front!  Two yards was cutting it so close for this pattern…most of the tissue pieces were touching one another laid out on the fabric.  As much as I LOVE pockets, I also had to leave them out for the same reasons as for adapting the skirt.  Luckily I didn’t have to compromise anything else major (especially grainline!).

Eliminating a button placket is pretty easy for being such a visually evident modification to a design.  Most patterns have a vertical line that marks out the center front, the ‘middle ground’ where the two sides lap over and under one another.  It’s normally where the buttons would line up with the buttonholes.  The center front line is the line I placed on the fold, so that I would have one, large continuous front piece.  If you would ever like a seam line in place of a button placket instead, the center front would be the stitching line and a seam allowance would have to be added on.  Many pattern adapting techniques are a lot easier than they look once they are done, and this change-up is no exception.

The minor alteration I made to the overall dress was to add some slight “sleeves”.  Well, technically they’re not full sleeves, the shoulder line was merely extended slightly and the armscye adapted into a rectangle so that my arms would feel a bit more covered.  My upper arms are on the larger side and this seemed to be a feminine dress, so since I had the little bit of extra fabric I would need to make the change, I made easy half-cap-sleeves onto the garment.  This way I also used up every spare square inch of my lovely fabric, too, he he.

With the nice fabric I was using, I took my time with this dress to do only invisible hand work when top-stitching was needed.  This was worth it!  Finding the perfect color thread was not working out, and having a harsh, obvious stitching line was I felt not at all proper for this dress.  I had stitched all along the neckline and buttoning fronts to tack down the facing underneath.  This was the true test of how invisible yet regular I could make my needle do its job!  Also, I hand stitched under to the wrong side the skinny bias tape edge finishing along the armholes.  This was really quite challenging because there were sharp corners and right angles to the opening for the arms very much like another year 1951 dress I made before.

After all the attention I spent hand working on the bodice, I felt I would have been terribly remiss not to spend the same care on the rest – the bottom hem and the side zipper.   I am so ‘sold’ on stitching on hand picked zippers (except when it comes to the ‘invisible’ kind).  I discovered this ever since doing all the “labor of love” intensive work put into this 50’s dress. Such zipper installations turn out so much cleaner, and less bumpy than machine finished ones.  They are less noticeable so that they blend in with the garment as much as possible (unless it’s an exposed zipper!).  One can be so precise with getting a hand-picked zipper to turn out looking every bit as good as it’s intended, it’s worth the extra time every time I finish sewing one.  A bonus on the side is that it gives my machine a break, anyways!

This dress is a continuance of a segment of vintage fashion I suddenly feel I don’t have enough of to wear.  The early 1950s and late 40’s are my current fashion fascination in my sewing.  I love the in-between periods when styles where trying to find the right balance of details and not quite looking like the stereotypical silhouette.  One of my favorite ways of understanding history is to sew.  As I do have a plethora of killer patterns from this time, look out for more of circa 1951 here on the blog (although I must say this is one of the best I think I have yet made from this time period!).  How could I go wrong anyway with a wonderful vintage fabric…in a border print, to boot…sewn with my favorite vintage McCall’s patterns?!