Rich in Jewel Tones…the 1950’s Way!

This outfit of both skirt and blouse is rich in mid-50’s style, deep color, quality fabric, and especially family memories and friendly connections. Would you believe two one yard cuts were all that I needed here? It’s true.


Nevertheless, with two “Easy-to-Make” patterns I managed to have a hard time and make some “design opportunities” (a fancy phrase for a mistake). Sometimes with the simpler things there’s more room for error. What did go right for me is how the finished outfit turned out. It’s perfect for flaunting my curves through clothes that turn me into a classic retro 50’s hourglass shape!


FABRIC:  For the blouse: a 100% cotton, found in the quilting department in Hancock Fabrics. For the skirt: an extra thick 100% linen100_6054a-comp

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed – thread, a zipper, interfacing, hook-and eyes, and buttons.


PATTERNS:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was a McCall’s #9901, year 1954.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse was not as easy as expected, so it took me about 8 hours to make, and the skirt had maybe 5 hours spent on it. Both projects were completed on September 11, 2015.100_6141a-comp

THE INSIDES:  My blouse’s fabric is such a tight weave cotton and (for a ‘quick’ pattern) I took too much time on it the way it was. Thus, the insides are raw. For the skirt, well…what insides?! This is a pun and rather ironic – I’ll explain lower down in this post.

100_6140-compTOTAL COST:  The linen was on an insanely super discount since it was a one yard remnant, and the blouse fabric was reasonable at one yard, too. In total I suppose my outfit cost me about $7.00.

The blouse’s fabric really looks like something better than just quality cotton. It is such a deep green that, as a one-sided print, the white underside shows bleed through dye marks from the other side. A metallic gold is printed on top of the design to highlight the print and make this fabric appear as a brocade (this isn’t the first imitation brocade I’ve used for a 50’s blouse). However, this cotton is so much softer than any brocade could ever be, yet stiff enough to give a ‘crisp’ appearance, perfect for the pattern. My skirt is a linen, which is already a very nice fabric, but this is a type of linen that I’ve never seen or felt before…very luxurious. Some linens can instantly become wrinkly, feeling very rough to the touch or scratchy and even stiff – not my skirt. As a mundane description, this linen could be a blanket, it’s so plush and pliable but so thick (about 1/8 inch). Having a loose weave helps the linen not seem so overwhelming, though. Together, the two fabrics are in a dressy ensemble making me feel oh-so-put-together. They also are a very comfy set that makes me conscious of some very nice material. It’s like a treat for me to wear.

100_6096-compFor some reason or another, I was a bit off while sewing these two pieces, and so some boo-boos were made. I made the best of the mess-ups, although my mistakes on the skirt could not be recovered. When this happens sometimes, I find it’s best if you just go along with your mistakes, and make the best of them by letting them become part of the design, as if it was something intended.

100_6055a-compAbove in “The Facts”, I mentioned the irony behind trying to explain how the inside of the skirt is finished. Well, there not a straight answer here, which is also directly part of my mistake. Somehow or another what was supposed to be the right side of the skirt became the wrong side, and the wrong side became the right. This might sound like an obvious thing I shouldn’t have missed, and it’s really not like me to do this. Here were some of the sources to my problems. The linen fabric itself has no right or wrong side but has the same finish and appearance on both sides, so the fabric was confusing me. The pattern itself is so simple. It is just like an enormous one yard square, to which you shape by sewing in a quantity of darts along the waistline, so it’s kind of like a wrap skirt. This made it hard to figure out sides, too, not to mention the possibility of my son running around inside with too much energy and my dog stepping on the fabric begging for attention. Cancel any undivided thought process. My mistakes with the fabric and the pattern would not have been a big deal if the vertical button plackets on the right and on the left side were not completely different from one100_6107-comp another – the right side with the buttonholes is half as big as the left side with the buttons. I did not realize my mistakes until all the darts were sewn and the interfacing ironed on – darn! The right still had to close over the left (I knew that much) but now the button placket is off center instead of centered. Oh well, it is now officially an asymmetric button front wrap…this is how I’m satisfying myself with the finished garment.

100_6106-compOfficially, there are no inside seams to the skirt and it is a very nice skirt, so mistake or not, I love it. The color and the weight of the fabric should make this an all-season piece. Happily, I looked at several other 1950’s era blouse projects I have lined up “yet-to-make” and they will all match with my royal blue skirt.

I did line the waistband and the front placket with a heavier weight interfacing than what I conventionally use. This makes the soft linen of the skirt adhere to the stiffer and straight lined look of the 50’s, at least in certain spots. The interfacing also makes my skirt extremely hard to button as do the backer buttons I added for stability. I found this out after the fact. Oh well – the skirt sure feels secure when it’s on me! To top off the whole project, the bottom edge was extremely wonky. Two inch hem here, three-100_6143-compsomething inch hem there – the line was all over the place! To have a straight hem I had to measure down from the waist all the way around and hang the skirt up while I sat the bottom of it hand hemming with a ruler at my side. Sorry if I sound like a ninny, but usually hems are much easier than this. That’s o.k., I was forced to give this skirt a nicely finished invisibly stitched hem finish like it deserved.

100_6105-compNow, the blouse has a wide bateau neckline, classic ‘50’s kimono sleeves, with what the pattern back calls a “pie-cut neckline with modified wing collar.” I’ve never seen a blouse with open lapels called a “pie-cut neckline” but it’s a cute term and I sort of like it because it reminds me of yummy food. The back design made me highly doubtful it would work with a closed end zipper ¾ of the way down the center. Below the hips the fabric is together. I wondered why there is this strange layout. Separating bottom zippers (like on a coat or jacket) were invented already, but maybe they weren’t readily available to the home seamstress or perhaps just too expensive or bulky to be practical. Anyway, the closed bottom to the top isn’t a problem – it just makes it more of a ‘step-in’ garment than something which goes over the head.

100_6109a-compMy main problem with the “easy” blouse was mostly because of a slight fault in my work of down grading the pattern to my smaller size. I figured out how much to take out and where to hack it out, but I didn’t re-slope the shoulders and take off some of the length. Thus, after my blouse was quickly done I realized there was too much room between the shoulders and the waist, creating a bubble sticking out of my back with the zipper. Yuck! So I went to work doing my least favorite thing to do in the sewing sphere…unpicking. I took apart almost all of the tricky facings and all of the zipper, then cut off about 1 ½ inches from the top edge to bring the neckline down. Now I could re-sew those tricky, sharp cornered facings and the zipper back down again for a no longer easy basic blouse. That extra time and effort sadly was really necessary or I wouldn’t like my new top and therefore not wear it – so is life with sewing! Tailoring takes effort but has its reward, too.

100_6116-compThe sources and history to both patterns is part of the “family and friends” goodness to this ensemble. The skirt’s pattern was found at a nearby vintage/antique store, and picked out by me on my birthday as my own present. On the front there is a stamp of “Goldie’s Department Store, Maplewood, Missouri”. Hey, hey, Maplewood isn’t too far from us. So I spoke to some family and did some Google searching about the town to find out a rich, local history to Goldie’s owner and it’s multiple stores in the area. The Maplewood location, burned down in 1966, was at a part of town that I already know and love to visit. My Hubby even remembers going to get his boy scouts uniform at one of the last surviving locations. Neat! This makes it a local pattern which actually stayed in town, and came from a store family members have memories of, just like the one I used for my 1944 dress (post here). The blouse’s pattern was given to me from a close friend of mine who shares many similar interests as myself, among which is sewing.


Yup, this is me at 3 1/2 years, playing dress-up!

My blue wool hat is the most special part of my outfit. I’m so proud! It is from my Grandmother. This is the same hat I remember when I would go over her house as a little girl and play dress up with my cousins. She would let me put on this very hat, among others too, and now that she has given it to me, I can again wear it for some grown up serious dress up time. Unfortunately, my parents can’t find, but do remember a picture of a mini-me in this wool hat. However, I do have a picture of myself from one of those dress up parties (see at right). I suppose my love of having fun with fashion and enjoying making my own look hasn’t died back one bit since then. Thank you Grandma for those times…and the hat!100_6111a-comp

Our photo location was at a gloriously stern but bright early “Mid-Century Modern” building built during the boom our neighborhood experienced in the 1950’s. I think it lends my outfit a business-like, professional aura. Besides, I love architecture appreciation!

See? Money isn’t necessary to look like a million – just a little talent, a sewing machine, some ideas and creativity…viola! It is so much easier than many realize to personalize one’s style be the master of your own fashion and do it all on the cheap. Look what two one yard cuts of fabric did for me in this post. Do you also love the freedom and enjoyment which comes from sewing your own clothes? Better yet, do you also have a family memory attached to a particular outfit you’ve made?


My ‘3 hours to Elegance’ 1950 Blouse – and a 100th Post Giveaway

Can something so incredibly easy to sew it takes 3 hours or less be also amazingly elegant to wear?  Before I made Vogue #7180, a 1950 ‘easy-to-make’ pattern, I might have said, “Sure.”  Now I can definitively say, jumping up and down “Oh, yes, yes!”  I found a “magic ticket” with this top.

Clean simple lines and posh fabric made all the difference with this beautiful 50’s era wrap.

100_3901-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A thick, double sided, 100% polyester fabric bought from Hancock Fabrics store. 

NOTIONS:  I had on hand all the notions needed – just bias tape and thread.

Vogue 7180 yr 1950PATTERN:  Vogue #7180, year 1950

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Three hours or less!  It was started and finished on September 22, 2014.

THE INSIDES:  All seams are either hidden by facing or bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  About $14 was spent to buy 2 yards of my fabric on clearance but the pattern actually only used a yard and a half.  Thus in total, I spent just over $10.  How many people would believe this total to look at the finished product?!

Vogue 7180 yr 1950 - back     The Vogue pattern used for my blouse has a copyright under the Conde Nast Company, and is an unprinted, “easy-to-make” pattern.  That might sound like an oxymoron because unprinted pattern tissue unfairly has the stamp of being difficult while it has only a few major pattern pieces to make it really easy.  This pattern would be an excellent one to use for someone who is trying to understand/use unprinted tissue or for someone just learning to sew.  There are no zippers or closures called for (just a few darts), and it is a quality design with good shaping and fit for a pretty much fail-proof project.  The design makes for a versatile pattern, too, as you can pretty much use any kind of fabric and embellishments or personalization to change the top up and make it your own.  I’m imagining versions with a tie at the side, maybe a zipper for a modern “moto” look, even using two different solid colors for a color blocked top, or eliminating the facings and making the whole thing reversible with lapped seams!

100_3904-comp     My fabric is a deceptive combo.  The manner in which the fabric is together makes it more like a woven textile together with the way it is a double-sided reversible print makes it technically a damask according to the wikipedia definition. However, the print or design of the fabric indicates it is a brocade.  I’ve heard the word “brocade” means “embossed cloth” and (I believe) my choice of fabric is a “cloud brocade” to be exact.  Cloud brocades were used mostly for imperial clothing and were from the Yuan to Ming Dynasties (1271-1644), during which gold was often wefted into the designs (info from here).  From further research, it seems that the cloud brocade is part of a greater division of three celebrated “Song” brocades.  Song brocades commonly have an overall geometric pattern, but include natural items such as peony flowers and clouds, like my 1950 top’s fabric.  Clouds are a symbol of good fortune, so maybe I had hidden help with my wrap blouse project 🙂

100_3914-comp     Brocade, damask, and jacquard really does get its best fashion treatment from vintage.  Asian/Indian influence was especially popular and glamorous, in my opinion, during the 1950’s, but it also was used in evening dresses in the 1960’s (see this page for examples).   Doing an internet search showed a vintage brocade jacket for sale on Etsy, with a wrap front similar to my own blouse, and a brocade/damask that is the same as mine, just in a different color scheme.  I don’t mean to be advertising, I merely thought it was interesting to share info and fashion similarities I’ve found.

At the outset of making this blouse, I intended to make it with the pink side out and gold side in.  However, I was so intent on the construction, the blouse ended up being made oppositely, with the pink side in and gold side out.  You know what?  I’m happier with the way it turned out in primarily gold…I’m working my way up to enjoying the color pink.

100_3903-comp     It was really basic enough in construction that I didn’t need the instructions.  There are two small, maybe 5 or 6 inch long princess seams in the back bodice to shape the waist, and long French-style bust darts in the front bodice panels.  The sleeves are kimono style, 100_3929-compcut in one with the bodice.  There is a wide front facing piece which connects to a skinny back facing, to finish off the entire outer edge and make the front lapel opening have the ability to look like a contrast (I used the other side of the damask).  I added ribbon and snap lingerie loops to keep it in place on my shoulders.  The optional snap closure to the blouse was left out because I plan on using my collection of pins and brooches to close the blouse and get an adjustable fit this way. 100_3926-comp

There is also a fabric weight hanging from the back neckline facing to keep the front from drooping down and the back from creeping up.  I had that problem the first time I wore the top and it’s no fun to wear something you have to adjust constantly.  To make the weight, I made a simple rectangular pocket and slipped in a small money coin.  Nickels and quarters are completely washable and readily available!

100_3927-comp    The basic construction hides the small, subtle, but beautiful tailoring and shaping that is part of this blouse.  These fine details and great fit set the 1950’s “easy-to-make” patterns a whole grade above the easy “Jiffy” patterns which came in the 1960’s and need plenty of tailoring to fix their normally unpredictable fit (I should know, I’ve done my fair share of them).  The side seams have an amazing undulating line for optimum shaping…I rarely see this outside of the 1950’s patterns and it is the best thing ever for shapely women with real hips – like me!  The shoulders, too, were interesting to see.  The shoulder seams look like a wide ‘U’, and, together with the fact that the bias of the fabric is across them, provide wonderful shaping and a very comfortable feel.  My favorite part about the top is how the bottom flares out gently to complete the classic 1950’s silhouette.

With my top are a retro faux-suede pencil skirt, bought years back at a re-sale store, and a pink lace tank top underneath to cover my décolletage, as the pattern instructions recommended.  I do have a picture with the wrap front neckline of my blouse closed, but leaving it open makes it seem more elegant to me.   As our pictures were taken on a still warm, but slightly chilly, early fall day – hence the suede skirt – and later in the day before the early evening – hence the brown stockings, not nude toned hose “proper” for day wear.

100_3918-comp100_3920a-comp     Our photo shoot location is at the lush Chinese Garden, (modeled on the “scholar’s gardens” of the southern provinces of China, near Nanjing) at our town’s Botanical Gardens.  Nanjing is our town’s sister city.  This garden’s plants, rocks, and architecture design originated from Nanjing.  It is a “scholar’s garden” since it was built with the theme of flowing, powerful, creative contemplation.  Since my top is a cloud brocade “used for imperial clothing”, I posed with the only animals to this garden, two guard lion statues at the entrance walkway, but couldn’t help acting up at bit, he he!

In honor of this post being my number 100 on my blog, I would like to share with you my readers a free giveaway of something I found within the pattern I used for my 1950 wrap blouse.  I remember when receiving Vogue #7180 from a friend of mine, I thought it was a bit thick for a simple pattern, and – lo and behold – I now have my first seasonal advertising leaflet.  It has a date of August 1, 1951, and it has eight pages.  We scanned it into a PDF format and you should be able to get it by clicking on the photo below.  This is my first time offering something like this on my blog, so if you have any problems viewing or downloading it, contact me and can email it to you.  If you like the leaflet, a comment letting me know would be very much appreciated!  Enjoy.

VogueLeafletAug1951-cover photo

Click on me for the full downloadable PDF booklet!

Silver Bells, Silver Brocade – It’s Christmastime in the City

Holiday parties, I’m ready for you!

Now that I have made myself the perfect go-to fancy event dress, I am all decked out in sparkle and silver and geared up for fun.  My dress is vintage to boot, with a very surprising, sexy but demure design.  I look all unadventurous and streamlined from the front, but there is a bit ‘va-va-voom’ from behind…just wait, read on and see.  It’s the time of year for surprises!

100_4269THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric is a rather thick poly/metallic brocade, double sided in a ‘reverse negative’ sort of way.  The fabric’s floral, swirling, lace-like print is woven (part of the make-up), not printed.  It was bought at Jo Ann’s fabric store last year (2013) when their Holiday collection came out. Simplicity 6434 yr 1966

NOTIONS:  I already had everything on hand: black thread, interfacing, hem tape, zipper, and large sized hooks and eyes

PATTERN:  a year 1966 Simplicity #6434

TIME TO COMPLETE:   This dress was finished on November 29, 2014 after spending 15 to 20 hours to complete.

THE INSIDES:  Half of the long seams, such as the side seams and front princess seams, are finished in a French seam, while the bottom half is covered in bias tape to make the dress’ skirt stiffer and stick out like in the envelope picture.  My sleeves/armholes are covered in bias tape, too.  See the ‘inside-out’ picture below.  The only spot left raw is the inner top of the back pleat, but this spot doesn’t need any more of a bulky finish.  Anyway, I was just following directions!

100_4319TOTAL COST:  I remember that I was reluctant at first to buy this silver brocade because it was expensive by my standards.  Besides, I’d already dropped a good amount of dough on the fabric for my 1940 suit dress set about a month before.  Anyway, with a discount coupon, I believe the total for the fabric (my only expense) comes to maybe $30.  That total is still not bad at all for a dress like this.

          Do you see something interesting in picture of the inside front to my dress?  Pockets!  Yes, hidden in between the front princess seams are two handy-dandy pockets.  They fall at such an easy height – more or less hip height just over my lower tummy.  Now, anytime my hands are cold at a party or I need access to a tissue for my nose, I have my pockets to assist me.

Installing the pockets was one one the very first steps to complete before diving into any construction of the rest of the dress.  This way they could be sewn in one as part of the seam later on.  There are strips of stabilizer (I used black hem tape) sewn on the wrong side of the pocket openings to keep the fabric from stretching out of shape.  My silver brocade dress’ pockets remind me of another 60’s garment, one which has the same hip/tummy front “kangaroo” pockets – my 1968 ‘Pucci print’ Maxi Sundress.  Pockets seem to be my current obsession.  Pockets are so much easier to sew in than they seem, and well make up for any extra effort by their incredible utility.  Another reason I love sewing in pockets is because these vintage patterns really know how to cleverly place them…and besides, pockets are so hard to find in store RTW clothes.  The hidden convenient pockets are only one of the number of surprises to my silver brocade dress’ design.

100_4282     The side panels have three amazing specialties to add my unique holiday dress.  Firstly, there is no real side seam – the panels wrap around from off center side to off center back.  They more or less go from princess seam to princess seam.  I know I have seen patterns with this feature before, but they seem few and far in between.  The thing which completely “makes” the side panels do wonders for the dress are the fact that they are directed to be cut on the bias (cross selvedge).  Having the cross-grain in the pieces which complete the princess seaming give this dress’ fit an amazing beauty.  The bias side panels hug the body at every move, stretching and forming the princess seams to hug the body for a complimentary, yet forgiving fit.  Having the bias side panels being so ‘forgiving’ especially comes in handy after a big meal 🙂  I knew I liked the pattern (enough to order it!), but these two features of the side panels were only realized once I got into the ‘laying-out-and-cutting’ stage.  I had a “wow” moment.  Thirdly and finally, I cut the side panels to my dress on the opposite side of the fabric as was used for the rest of the dress.  Since the brocade is pretty and double sided (negative image, actually) I wanted to be able to both show each side of the fabric and also subtly highlight the side panels.

100_4280     Now, I suppose you’ve already seen the back design by looking at the pattern envelope picture above.  The back view of my dress reveals a wide open, deep V-back which opens up at the small of the back into a wide, gently flaring box pleat.  Sewing the back details was a very fun challenge – not too hard to accomplish, but just interesting enough to learn from doing it.  The back center zipper runs all the way down past the flare of the back box pleat.  This only involved an extra two step treatment of the zipper installation for the box pleat to properly flare freely.  You have to lift out the box pleat out of the way on each side of the zip and sew it in below the pleat.  Next I sewed up the rest (top half) of the zipper into the dress above the pleat opening.100_4322

When my dress was finished, of course I immediately tried it on and became a bit worried about the wide open back.  The dress seemed to have the tendency to slip off my shoulders from behind and slide forward.  However, once I added two large hook-and-eyes to close up an extra 2 inches above the zipper, as the instructions direct, the ‘slipping shoulders’ problem happily disappeared completely and the dress stays on effortlessly with no extra ‘lingerie catch straps’ or the like.  The back V-neckline even stays admirably flat against my back, with no gaping.  I credit this in part to the hook-and-eyes, another part to the great design, and a final part to the great fitting facings.  There is seam tape sewn into the facings (and the shoulder seams) to make sure those spots keep in perfect shape.  If you look at the picture at right, you can see it all – the hook-and eyes, the zipper between the pleat, my French seam innards, and the nice large, stable facings along the edges.

My one minor gripe about the design of my dress is the great excess of ease added into the sleeve caps.  It makes for some uber-gathered poufy sleeve caps which I think the dress could have looked better without.  Nevertheless, the poufy sleeve tops are not really that bad – they do provide plenty of reach room to move around in, and that’s rarely a bad thing 🙂

100_4276a     The funny factor about making this dress is the extra time and effort I made for myself by allowing room for unnecessary creativity.  Looking at the pattern, and comparing it to my brocade fabric, I thought perhaps the dress would look better with a longer hem and different sleeves.  Thus, at the cutting step, I added 3 inches extra to the bottom hem, as well as 3 inches to the hem length of the sleeves.  Hubby and I had these fantastic plans for some really pretty arched hem sleeves which could be turned up as cuffs with a button to show off the underside of the fabric.  After my dress was finished and I had tried it on, hubby and I both agreed that the original pattern had the design for the dress right after all, and our “changes” needed to go.  So, I had to go through some unpicking, and plenty of measuring and marking to get the dress back to the original length for the both the sleeves and bottom hem.  Three inches were added, and three inches taken off…oh, well!  We live and learn.

1966-soft-updo     Hubby and I were to attend a holiday party hosted by his workplace, and this was the first occasion (of many, I hope) for wearing my new party dress.  I wanted an authentic 1966 hair-do to match with my dress and found some great ideas amongst the blogging sphere.  My personal favorite page for 1966 party hair-do’s can be found here and my favorite page for 1965 evening wear hair is here.  As it turned out, I made a few valiant attempts at some of the more complicated up-do’s.  I ran out of 1966 David n' David wig adverttime when they weren’t working out, and so settled with a classic style, with thick side swept ‘bang’, a pony tail wrapped with a cone of hair at the base, and lightly curled tail.  I can’t help but think of this as a retro “Barbie doll” coiffed style.  It’s close to authentic, but still modern.  I would have liked something more spectacular (like my 1966 ad pictures below)…but I think I’ll have to spend some practice time first to reach the level of such hair art.

This project is my second 1960’s era ‘party dress’.  My first one can be seen here, and it is from 1961 for summertime glamor.  Both of them still have a strong 50’s influence in their lines.  I find it interesting that the 50’s still had such a strong influence on the 60’s fashion so late into the decade, with patterns such as the one used for my brocade dress still emphasizing the nipped waist, flared skirts, and open back.  I notice that what we traditionally think of the 60’s – ‘A-line’ silhouettes, easy dressing, “mod” prints, and the frequent unusual waist placement (such as empire or hip length) – does not seem to be in full force on pattern covers until 1967 and after.

100_4270     Wearing silver at Christmastime brings to my mind other places I see silver at this time of year, in pretty present wrappings, tinsel strands, and mirror-like shiny vintage glass ornaments.  Silver seems to reflect the beauty of the lights and colors of the holidays more perfectly than any other color…except for some white snow!  Thus, I feel my silver brocade ’66 dress to be a neat appropriate alternative to the traditional trio of black, red, or green worn for Christmas get-together occasions.  Silver is definitely good for more than just money!