“Dark Academia” of the 1940s

This is just a small sampling of my favorite old books in our home library.

Of all the trends from the last couple years that I have been fully on board with such as Cottage Core (merely a ‘prairie dress’ revival) or the over-the-top decadence of a Princess inspired dress, there has also been Dark Academia.  Granted I am a bit late to have anything to show for this one by now, but the weather is gloomy and I am recovery mode from the last two years – so I am in the mood to share my darker toned, more serious themed sewing projects that have been hiding in the undercurrents. 

I do understand the Dark Academia trend because the aesthetic has been 90% of what I have been since I was a child.  Research always has been my forte, learning is a joy, and studying is the pursuit of my lifetime. More often than not you will often find me thinking inquisitively, reading intensely, writing furiously, or speaking passionately about many varied subjects.  Besides, having a basement that was a literal library of antique books makes Dark Academia not even feel like a trend to me but something natural. 

As it is nevertheless still going strong although no longer ‘new’, I might as well get around to show how I’ve been visibly channeling Dark Academia through my fashion with some of my older makes, such as this 1940s “poet blouse” from the previous post, seen also in my outfit here.  As is the custom for Dark Academia, this set is heavily inspired by the classic menswear of Britain in the 1940s, particularly the plaid suits of the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) and the plaid styles seen on elite university campuses – such as Oxford – in the 1930s. 

I was actually inspired to sew my outfit soon after finishing my mid 1940s Glen plaid suit set (blogged here) back in 2016.  This set is actually made out of the exact same kind of luxuriously soft rayon suiting material as was used for my Glen plaid suit just mentioned.  I knew I was bound to love whatever I sewed of the material anyway but an unabashedly masculine interpretation of the rich plaid really made it interesting!  I delight in the juxtaposition created by choosing a skirt over trousers or plus fours (another campus mode and Edward VIII influence here), but it was really just a shortage of yardage which helped that decision be made.  Sometimes it seems as if the fabric truly speaks in regards to how it should be fashioned.

Being a favorite look of mine for winter that has taken too long to finally appear on my blog, you will see more than one way to work it as we have had a few different locations for our photos.  A black toned pairing of my set in a local book shop gives it the Academia Goth vibes, while a white me-made blouse (which I posted here) underneath when outdoors lightens it up to purely menswear inspired.  You should see what my red Agent Carter blouse (posted here) or even a beige blouse does!  It is truly versatile, so soft, quite comfortable, and fetching to wear I am so glad to have this vest and skirt in my wardrobe. 

THE FACTS:

FABRICS:  a plaid lightweight rayon suiting, complimented on the vest with a solid Kona cotton

PATTERNS:  Burda Style “Franzi vest” pattern #9302 and an old original McCall #6338 pattern from the year 1945  

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and a good amount of interfacing combined with a card of buttons, carved abalone shell buckle, and a metal zipper – the last three items are true vintage from the 1930s or 40s

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The vest came together in about 8 hours on January 16, 2020.  The skirt was sewn much earlier on December 5, 2018, and was also sewn in 8 hours.  Both pieces took longer to make because I did so much hand finishing.

THE INSIDES:  So clean!  The vest is “bag” lined so there are no seams showing but the skirt has bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  I vaguely remember purchasing this fabric many years ago at my local JoAnn store.  It was almost a remnant at a length which was barely over a yard, so I got it at a discount.  The cotton solid which was used on the vest was remnants on hand from making this vintage 50’s coat, so I’m counting it as free.  The notions were bought at a rummage sale for about $1.  My total was about $12 in total.

The book store’s kitty was such a dear to me!

The 1989 film Dead Poets Society as well as Donna Tartt‘s novel The Secret History, published in 1992, both telling a story that takes place within a group of classics students at an elite New England college, have been credited as being the inspiration for the Dark Academia literary genre.  It emerged as a subculture on Tumblr in the mid-2010s, then – during the past 2 years – exploded as a trend on the visual based TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. 

I never knew until recently that there was a term for old-style enjoyments I grew up with, so much so that if there was a checklist for Dark Academia I could fill in so many boxes.  Why, I have used an initialed wax seal kit for sealing special letters since I was a teen!  I excelled at my Latin studies and happily had read a good number of Classic literature in high school.  My proficiency at fancy lettering like calligraphy even eared me money for a time.  I have always had a weak spot for all plaids, but also always have been adding subtle Goth or punk undertones to my ‘modern’ style (I blame this on my teen music preferences for Evanescence and Avril Lavigne).  At the same time, I have also deeply enjoyed classical music since I was 10 and have worn glasses since about that age, as well.  See?  My list could go on.  Jump years forward to me as an adult, when I fully incorporated vintage style into my everyday wardrobe and begin wearing more historical styles, and I have Dark Academia down to a T…then realize there is a name for this kind of thing.  It feels weird to be called out so distinctly.

Depending on what influencer is channeling it, however, the trend can sometimes seem snobbish and exclusive, in my estimation, and some elements are problematic.  By romanticizing a time (Victorian) when the privileged society put an emphasis on liberal education, it can have classist undertones.  Also, it is important to realize that people can have an academic drive purely so they can better their professional or personal life.  To have one’s education be a mere pleasurable luxury is a Romanization longed for as an ideal for many (“beauty for the sake of beauty” as Nathanial Hawthorne believed) but made difficult to attain in a capitalist society.  Furthermore, the trend revolves around the handful of highest premier institutions – how many of us who actually strive to take advantage of higher education actually will be at Oxford or Harvard?  Not that to attend there isn’t indeed something to aim for or be proud of, but for most that is not an option.  I am just as happy at my local University.

Nevertheless, I live for the literary geek, driven studiousness, and fashion aesthetic parts to it but embrace a very modern, diverse interpretation of the term.  While the advantages of a real life book is never to be underestimated, I will be a ‘heretic’ of old-school learning and admit that a good amount of research can be done through a computer’s resources.  This has been especially necessary for me over the past few years in particular when ‘in real life’ was not possible.  A quest for knowledge and yearning to learn should be nourished in whatever form it takes so as to be accessible for all, regardless of one’s income or neighborhood.  As long as you know how to sort out misinformation or at least find what you are searching for, the internet is a library, too, just without a proper moderator.  Thus, I still have a preference.  To actually have the opportunity to experience what an old book can share is something tactile, memorable, and uniquely worthwhile…something I hope every one of you can find a way to enjoy if you so wish!

This outfit is something I wish others could experience for themselves, too, as it was pretty easy to make and incredibly fun to wear.  Sadly, though the patterns are not easy to find.  The vest pattern is a really oldie at least from 2007.  I believe I acquired it in 2012 when Burda advertised the pattern anew.  The fantastic part about it is not just how wonderfully curvy and fitted it is for the female figure but also the fact that the pattern had been a free PDF download.  That’s right – free!  Sadly that is no longer the case…the pattern is not to be seen on their site anymore, free or not.  My skirt pattern is a vintage original, and those are generally a gamble to try and find but an Internet search occasionally yields a couple copies for sale (I see a 32” waisted one on Etsy at the moment).  I heartily recommend both patterns, regardless.  They are came together without a hiccup with a true-to-size fit. 

Surprisingly, both patterns were so very economical, as well.  The skirt – true to 40’s era rationing – only needed just under one yard, which left the vest to be made with a third of a yard plus scraps.  It was perfectly doable, but still a bit of a squeeze.  I had to get inventive to fit in all the pattern pieces while also trying to match the plaid.  This was a very stressful step.  I laid down all the pieces for both patterns on my fabric and thought the layout over for a day, rearranging and adjusting each piece a little here and there during that time, before I felt confident enough to cut. 

Please notice that the skirt’s back kick pleat and the vest’s side panels had to be cut on the bias.  At first this was done out of necessity but I like it so much better than if I had followed proper directions.  So often the little make-do tweaks I throw into my projects become the best part.  Every little challenge that arises in my sewing projects forces my inventiveness, and I love that.  The bias kick pleat insert panel makes the feature more interesting than basic and helps it hang softer.  The bias to the vest breaks up the monotony of the plaid and gave me leeway to not match seams precisely (although I tried to anyway).  All is well that ends well, as the saying goes.

I did have to interface the every individual piece of the vest as well as every dart and seam to the skirt.  This suiting was a bit lighter in weight than its Glen plaid relative and would pull apart too easily.  Luckily the fit was not snug.  I used a medium weight cotton interfacing for both vest and skirt, and it kept the slippery, shifting fabric in its correct shape for the vest construction in particular.  After one wearing of the skirt I soon found out that just ironing down the interfacing over the darts was not enough, so I stitched them down, hiding the stitching within lines of the plaid. 

To continue stabilizing the fabric at all points of stress, I made a decorative choice for the center point of the skirt’s back kick pleat and chose to embroider an arrowhead as a bar tack anchor.  It is a subtle touch that keeps the fabric together in the loveliest way possible.  I chose to use a satin finish embroidery floss in a deep red for the arrowhead to bring out the color undertones of the plaid.

Nuances to the skirt include a deep 5 inch hem to help weigh down the lightweight material, a center front decorative vertical pleat, and a pointed waistline button placket.  I hand stitched the entire hem, zipper, and waistband because (at first) I couldn’t find a thread color which would blend in.  Then it was because I am a stickler for how going the extra mile elevates a handmade garment from merely made to finely crafted. 

This idealology extended to the vest…completely hand stitched except for the lapel flaps and inner seams.  Nuances to the vest are otherwise much more simplified than the skirt.  There is no real (meaning properly faced and pad stitched) collar lapel – it is merely an extension of the inner full body lining.  The waistline lapels are also for faux pockets, just for decoration purposes, sewn down with a button.  I seriously debated about making welts so I could have real pockets, but my dislike of sewing welts won over the decision.  At least the back waist strap is real and working, with an old buckle cinching in the fit of this curvy vest.  The fitted cut is so impressive on its own, and needs just a bit of help from the back buckled belt.  Such a tailored fit drawn for feminine curves helps this set be so sharp, stronger in impression than just a “wearing my man’s clothes” kind of look.  The practical straight cut of the skirt with its fine detailing is something strongly reminiscent of great vintage suit.  Altogether, it comes together for a tight outfit, no matter how I style it.     

It is said that the general shutdown of in-person learning at schools prompted the resurgence of Dark Academia.  It was supposed to be a push pack from the challenges presented by virtual learning and a nostalgia for how classical schooling used to be, even if that look back extends to the not-so-distant time before the use of the home internet.  Just think back to the effort and restrictions of finding information when books – or people with the knowledge in books – where only available during business hours, by phone, or in-person visits.  It is not that school from home is without great challenges – believe me, it was tougher than I ever imagined it would be for our son – but many complaints of virtual learning seem negligible in hindsight.  Channeling vintage fashion as one of the many ways to connect to that old style of learning is great for me because that completes what I grew up with.  It helps me feel more connected with Generation Z, for sure!  I find it incredibly interesting – and flattering – that the younger generation wants to connect to that.  I’ll join in anew with them on it!

Blue Rose of Unattainability

If there is anything that symbolizes the impossible, it is a natural blue rose.  A true color blue just isn’t genetically possible for the thorny flower.  The closest color naturally or scientifically created ends up as a lavender, or violet, or a sort of mauve-ish pink.  Sure, you can dye or paint a rose whatever color you may want, yet science has been beat so far when it comes to growing a rose in an azure tone. 

This is why a blue rose mural is the perfect backdrop for a finished sewing creation which was so very challenging for me to make.  I seriously had the “what if I can’t figure this out” thought during the construction process to my dress.  I was terrified I had met the project which would beat me.  As you can see, I ended up working through it successfully!  Besides, this dress is also another 1950s Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” motivated outfit as a follow up to my previous post.  I cannot just have one princess inspired garment, when it comes to my favorite Disney film, for my “Pandemic Princess” series!  The blue rose theme also lets my choice of color for Princess Aurora’s gown be quietly known.  As much as I love the color pink, her enchanted sleep was taken and awakened in her blue dress.  With her blonde hair, Aurora needs to leave the pink dress to Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in my opinion. 

White may be thought of as a ‘neutral’ or blank color but the funny thing is, I find it hard to find a pure white fabric that doesn’t have a blue undertone. This is a true rarity from a sewist’s perspective!  Only recently have I found out this occurrence is either due to a fabric treatment called “bluing” or an accumulation of acid in the water from deteriorating pipes.  It is hard to escape the frequency of blue in my wardrobe, even when wearing white apparently.  I went along with the theme and wore my blue tulle 50’s poufy slip underneath for full vintage drama.  With the subtle blue tint to the white, the wild rose flower all-over print of the fabric, and the elegant lines to this full-skirted, pretty frock I have an outfit that makes me feel like a princess in more ways than one.  The fact it is a hard won accomplishment to even be wearing this makes the wearing of it so much sweeter of a treat.  I found a different kind of ‘blue rose’ that is attainable…and I absolutely love it. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft but thick Indian cotton bedsheet set

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern #121 “Jacquard Dress” from February 2020, a ‘re-issue’ of a July 1957 “Burda Moden” design

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the time to trace and assemble the pattern, this dress took about 10 hours to complete.  It was finished on August 7, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  This bedsheet set was picked up at a thrift sale for $1.00…pretty awesome, right?!?

From the get-go, there are a few hurdles that set this dress pattern up to be challenging even before reaching the sewing and construction stage.  Firstly, the pattern pieces for this dress are out-of-control ginormous.  They are rather awkward shapes, too.  This was a big, exhaustive deal for me to trace out the pattern pieces form the small and cluttered magazine inserts.  I spent way too many hours bent over on the floor, tracing lines onto see-through medical paper, and taping pieces together.  The larger the pattern, the more I get confused over the lines, and there were several mistakes along the way.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a Burda Style pattern prepped because I add on the seam allowances as I cut.  An online version of the pattern would be a downloadable PDF that then needs to be printed out and assembled together, and this option sounded like too much paper for me to want to deal with. 

Laying out the pattern pieces on the bedsheets took up ALL of our living room floor.

Of course, all of these facts also mean that this design is a complete fabric hog.  You can only choose a fabric at least 60 inches wide (or more) and need about 4 yards.  A directional print or plaids were discouraged in the Burda info, for good reason.  My use of bedding with an overall print was perfect here.  It offered a lot of fabric in a wider width with a print that doesn’t overwhelm the dress’ design lines and all at a cheap cost.  Opting for a reasonable material rather than using any of the nice fabrics from my stash eliminated any extra stress on me to not mess up on this project.  The fabric was such a dense cotton it does have some structure to it – something very necessary for this dress – yet at the same time it is broken in enough to be so very soft and supple.  Yet, being a bedsheet, I could not tell grain line, just the bias, so I just followed the hem as it seemed the tightest woven direction of the fabric.  For this dress, cutting the bias correctly is almost more important than choosing a fabric with body, as the most interesting panels to this design are on the cross grain.

The Burda Magazine page sums this dress up as “a masterpiece” with its “couture draping at the neckline and waist…shaped in the fashion of a French triangular scarf.”  This is not just bragging on the part of Burda as I have come across a few designer couture dresses that have similar design lines with the ‘wrap-around-to-the-front’ skirt pleats that are part of the back skirt’s fullness.  Here is a 1950s Mingolini Guggenheim Italian couture gown and a golden 50’s cocktail dress from the RISD Museum of Costume and Textiles

The old original Burda Moden summary is a hilarious but still wise call back to 70 years ago in the way it warns “Never wear it in the morning, never combine it with a sporty coat and only wear it with at least mid-heeled pumps!”  To match, I am wearing reproduction “Miss L Fire” leather snakeskin and suede bow pumps and a vintage 50’s era netted hat. The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother and my pearl necklace is the same as the ones I gave to my bridesmaids for our wedding.

Let’s dive into the dress’s details, starting with the trickiest ones first!  There is a full ¾ circle skirt, with two pleated panels on each side that are seamed in with both the right and left back skirt panel.  Those panels wrap around horizontally from the side back, along the side waist, into and around the front draping.  The paneled strips are on the bias and actually one piece (cut-on) with the back skirt…and thus there are no side seams whatsoever from the waist down here.  At the center front, half of the back skirt’s incorporated panels (two on each side, remember) end by joining in with the waist seam.  The other half suddenly opens up to become unrestricted, individual tube-like ties.  These are then wrapped under and through the incorporated neckline drape, which is itself seamed into both the dropped shoulders and center front waistline. 

The skirt panels eventually end under a deep front skirt pleat on each side of the center front.  This way the entire front draping affair is one big interconnected “give-n-take” game, equally pulling on all parts of the dress and keeping everything in place.  My brain is still blown away over all this, and also rather stretched thin trying to explain how magical this Burda retro design is.  Not since I sewed this Jacquard dress using another Burda retro re-issue, which also happens to be from 1957, have I experienced this kind of intricacy in a pattern.

Under all of this complexity, the bodice is a basic dart fit.  A good starting point, a blank canvas, is needed for every masterpiece, right?!  There are several knife pleats in the back shoulders that open up to provide fullness for ease of “reach room” movement.  They also then become a low-key mimic to the more ostentatious origami-like folds to the front drape.  The center back waist has a pointed, lowered, dipped seamline, with an invisible zipper coming from that point up to the neck.  This dress has a slight ‘train’ to it and dips longer in the back by a few inches, nicely countering out the weight of the front and opening the pleats.  

I personally am not a big fan of the slight train.  It almost looks like I merely hemmed the dress wonky.  The train looks really odd when I wear this dress with a poufy petticoat, which I do on occasion when I desire a less of an over-the-top vintage appearance.  However, wearing a fluffy slip underneath is the only way to do this dress justice, otherwise I would suggest horsehair braid or another stiffening method to be added in the hem.  This is a couture dress – there’s no way around it, even though my version is in a fine cotton.  This dress requires plenty of time to perfect its details and master the silhouette.  There is no room for a half-hearted effort here, otherwise the dress will only turn out messy.  This is not a project for the faint of heart!   

It might be complex and fancy but this is also a dress which is comfy and very wearable, making the time and effort invested into sewing it very worthwhile.  It could equally be paraded down a red carpet or worn to a nice outdoor picnic party depending on the fabric chosen or how you accessorize it.  My one and only complaint is that the pattern’s sizing seemed to run smaller than usual.  I had to let out the sides and center back seam allowances to a scant 3/8” for a close fit in the bodice.  Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this pattern in every way possible, even with its difficulties.  It is not for a novice, or even an intermediate skills individual who needs more than a words-only instructional text.  Yes, it may be a project that presents a challenge, yet it is worth it in every way when you end up with a dress like this! 

What is your “blue rose” – metaphorically speaking?  Do have a goal that seems an insurmountable hurdle, but you aim to conquer it?  Good for you – that is a “blue rose” kind of aim.  Do you also get annoyed at how blue all the white clothes end up?  Also, what do you think a blonde girl looks better in – blue of pink?  The funny thing is, these two colors were the choices (out of availability of the chosen dresses) I was down to for my wedding’s theme…and my two bridesmaids were both blonde haired.  They wanted pink to wear over blue.  I happily chose a soft pastel pink as the color scheme.  I will be following up this post with one more (final) “Sleeping Beauty” inspired project…and yes, this time it is in pink!

Bar Code

One of the most interesting and unexpected observations from a child about my sewing was that I don’t have company labels, care instructions, or check out tags on my handmade clothes.  No, I don’t.  Yet, this time, I do have a bar code to label me…well, kind of.  This top may have a bar code, yet it is not for sale and there will not be another quite like it in the world.  I did not go to a store to get what I needed when I came up with the idea for it…I shopped downstairs in my stash.  I have no bars holding me back, and no code to dominate what I wear.  This top is me silently laughing at fast fashion – I don’t need you, cheap ready-to-wear.  I can do better.

This scrap-busting little summer top project blatantly speaks for my lack of conventionality when it comes to what it is that I wear, while my background mural of St. Louis, Missouri speaks for my hometown pride!  Together, this outfit is the modern “me”, the side of my life which occasionally does not wear vintage, that is.  It is the late 90’s punky-style teen still inside me that still loves to sing loudly to Avril Lavigne while driving around town.  Besides, I needed an edgy monotone black-and-white outfit to see the new Disney live-action “Cruella” movie, after all!   

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  one printed cotton quilting “fat quarter”, picked up many years back from a JoAnn Fabrics store, and satin scraps leftover from this Burda skirt project, made years back now (posted here).

PATTERN:  an adapted version of the Burda Style “Cropped T-Shirt” pattern #103, from the March 2016 magazine

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in the matter of 2 hours on March 30, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound on all edges and facings

TOTAL COST:  The satin and rings were leftovers on hand, which I’m counting as free, and the quilting square was bought on sale so many years ago I no longer remember.  My total here is probably almost nothing!!!

I made the necklace myself, as well!

I was literally just making this idea work.  That’s okay, though, because I felt like being inventive for that day and just went along with all the setbacks I faced.  For example, I didn’t have a piece of satin wide enough to have a conventional center back seam, much less a pleat, so I figured the rear of the top would have to be open…”but make it a stylistic element” I thought.  I added metal rings, found off of my husband’s work table downstairs, to connect the two edges.  The fat quarter wasn’t big enough for a whole front piece either, so I added little satin shoulder extensions (drafted off of the pattern) to end up with a complete panel.  This way the print is primarily front and center to my top and the satin is visible from more than just a back view.  I like my top better for all the changes I was forced into because of my fabric choices.  If you have an oopsie appear purposeful, it becomes an artistic pattern adaption! 

Crop tops are fun for me to wear anyway, but this one is more so the way you can tie the longer back extensions up or leave them down like tuxedo tails.  I am surprised the pattern never showed or even suggested this wearing option!  Either way, tying the back tails helps keep this crop top down in place on me.  As I found out after its first time being worn, the lightweight fabrics I used are too insubstantial for a loose fitting pullover crop top, like this.  It has the tendency to not stay down in place.  Luckily the heavy metal rings weigh it down somewhat from behind.  Otherwise, I could see this top creeping up on me.  Lesson learned – do not make a crop top in the lightest fabrics on the market unless you don’t mind if it flies up to arm level.  Luckily, the combo of both the rings in the open back and tying up the back tails helps this project to be wearable in the end.

I can actually wear this over a long sleeved black tee in the winter, so this is more than just a one season piece happily.  Inside during the summer, when places have their air conditioning on “deep freeze” setting I like to have my faux leather moto jacket as a fun, modern cover-up.  To wear this to see the “Cruella” movie, I actually paired it with an oversized 1930s red beaded necklace, nice red flats, and a black skirt, and the top almost looked dressy!  In these pictures I am wearing it with another Burda Style pattern, the pants portion to a designer jumpsuit (posted here).  This little crop top has become more versatile than I imagined when I was originally sewing it together.  What I make for myself always gets worn to some degree, I make sure of that.  Anything that usefully whittles down my scrap pile is good in my book, anyway.  Yet, I love surprises where something that seemed fun and useful to plan at the moment ends up a wardrobe favorite.   

At this point, I almost need a whole section of my blog highlighting my scrap-busting projects…I have so many!  This one was one of those projects that has been slipping under the radar of my blog, being worn frequently but seemingly insignificant enough to post.  This summer has been so busy, I feel badly for not posting here as much as I would like, and certainly not frequently enough to keep up with what I am sewing in real time, but it gives me the opportunity to easily share simple little creations like this one.  I hope, like me, your sewing creativity is still going just as fervent and fulfilling, and this season is also finding you happy and healthy! 

P.S. If you want to discuss the new live-action Disney “Cruella” movie, share what you thought of it, or just find out more of my opinion, leave me a comment and let’s get talking!!  I found it really good, and well done, but with reservations over some confusing technicalities that do not match up.  I’d be happy to chat about it! 

Ballerina Girl

Stop the presses!  News flash here!  I have now made shoes!  Well, technically I have sewn my own house slippers, but they are worn on the feet so that is close enough to make me feel like adding the term “cobbler” to my long list of capabilities.  I cannot express how elated I am over this creation and just how incredibly comfy they are to wear.  I was very doubtful I could pull such an idea off, but my slippers turned out fantastic.  Plus, they were so quick and relatively easy to make…and all I used is scraps leftover from past projects!  This post is aptly named after a sweet song by the same name by a favorite singer of mine, Lionel Richie.

A big ‘thank you’ is in order to Quinn (who blogs here at “The Quintessential Clothes Pen”) for her encouragement and support over this idea in the first place.  Over in this post of mine about the making of this fuzzy winter jacket by the designer Ungaro, I casually threw out the question of ‘what can be done with the scraps of the waist peplum I did not use’.  Happily, Quinn voted for the house slippers idea, and it sounded like she started making some for herself in turn.  All I needed was a bit of outside inspiration to spur me on, and just look at the wonderful slippers I finished now!  I am always so overwhelmed and supported by my blog’s readers and followers.  You are all truly the best!   

I half-heartedly wonder if it might be old fashioned (according to younger generations) to be wearing house slippers.  Thus, just in case a definition is needed here, I will provide a brief one.  “A house shoe is a general term for any footwear that is intended to be worn indoors, particularly at home,  while a slipper is a type of indoor or outdoor footwear that you can easily slip-on your feet.  Remember that house shoes can be slippers, but not all slippers can be house shoes.”  (Definition from this site.)

I have a few vintage slippers, of the famous Daniel Green brand, which are closer to shoes, for sure, the way they are so fancy, with molded soles and wedge heels.  While they are comfortable and luxurious, at the end of the day all I want is to feel barefoot…but with the benefits of a little extra warmth and cushioning.  This is one of the many reasons why I personally prefer soft, ballerina-style, enclosed foot house shoes to both slip-ons (with an open back or exposed toes) and modern molded foam bed support slippers.  Yet, a good version of a ballerina house slipper is hard to find, never as comfy as I would like, and also quite pricey.  Besides, they never last me very long before they wear out to the point that they need to be thrown away.  Cue the quest to craft my own.  Sewing can be so enjoyable AND useful.

Unlike the fuzzy house shoes commonly referred to as “slippers”, ballet shoes are made of soft leather, canvas, or satin, for dancers to appear weightless and graceful when performing.  “These shoes are lightweight and have thin soles to offer maximum flexibility. What’s more, the shoes feature an elastic band that’s meant to secure the shoe tightly to the foot during the entire performance. A proper ballet slipper should also offer a snug fit, like a glove.” (Info from this site.)  Often these shoes are in a skin toned color for an invisible appearance.  Modern ballerina house slippers, however, are in all sorts of fashion colors and prints and often cheaper materials.

How about a casual “about me” moment related to that topic?  I had the hard-toed ballet pointe shoes when I was growing up.  They were merely a cheap but neat second-hand purchase that I played around with and casually practiced in at home…nothing too earnest.  They are torture devices though (in my opinion) for all the beauty they offer dancers on stage.  Nevertheless, I grew to appreciate and admire both the charm of ballet and the hard work of its performers.  (Being taken to a Nutcracker performance when I was about 10 years old helped along those feelings, too!) 

What I especially loved about ballet was the soft leather dancing slippers after also acquiring a set secondhand at a resale store.  I loved wearing them around the house to the point that my mom went to a ballet store and bought me a few more new pairs.  The woman at the store quickly ended that obsession by throwing out very judgmental, inquiring, and intrusive questions to both me and my mom…as if her customers could only be professionals and nothing else.  Oh well.  No doubt this past history of mine is a contributing factor to my preference for ballet style slippers.  Now I can make my own and this is the most exciting and inspiring thing to happen in my sewing sphere in a while!

Speaking of something exciting, my slippers had their first time being enjoyed in conjunction with a very special occasion for us.  We went for a short (and Covid safe) weekend getaway to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.  I brought a special true vintage 1930s era nightgown and matching robe for my evening lounging, and my new slippers paired perfectly with the ice blue color of the peignoir set.  The aesthetic of the room was 18th century which went so well with my fancy loungewear, besides being a dream-come-true kind of glamorous setting, the likes of which I have never seen.  It was a great backdrop to take some pictures of my sippers.  If you would like to see the whole vintage lounge set, go check out these two Instagram posts of mine (here and here).  If you would like to see a short video of me in my slippers in action, see this post!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Poly fleece (leftover from this 80’s coat), poly interlock, quilted cotton batting, and faux suede (leftover from my hubby’s smoking jacket)

PATTERN:  a Burda Style extra project template in the back pages of the December 2014 magazine (cover page at right)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  All I needed was thread and wide cord elastic.  The front decorative bows are ribbons that were saved from off of the packaging of a present I received.  Re-use and recycle, right?!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Each slipper took me 1 ½ hours, so I spent a total of 3 hours to make these on the afternoon of April 7, 2021.

THE INSIDES:  raw edges are enclosed within the lining

TOTAL COST:  FREE!

So long as I approached this footwear project with the mindset that it is still sewing, just like anything else I make, it was easy to make these house shoes.  The Burda Style pattern I had to go on was even more bare bones than their regular patterns so I am floored these turned out so well.  There were challenging to make because of all the curves, small spaces, and tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances.  However, as I said above they were not hard to make, though, and a very fun, different thing to attempt.  It’s so refreshing, besides good for my brain, to change up what I am working on making! 

On the back page of the Burda magazine, you start with just two small pattern pieces for the slippers, both only about 3 inches long, next to a few short paragraphs of construction details.  The same page also has a sleep mask pattern and a quilted travel jewelry organizer to make!  All of the patterns on page need to be photocopied and custom sized up to be usable.  I aimed at the length of the sole being just a quarter inch bigger than the actual size of my foot (9 inches) since I wanted a snug, ballerina shoe style fit.  Thus, I had to enlarge the pattern pieces 305% and add on the 3/8 inch seam allowances, as directed, before I cut the pattern out.  

There are four different kinds of material I used because I wanted to only use scraps and also to keep the slippers comfortable.  The soles are triple layered with a brown faux suede bottom (a tip from Quinn) and a fleece inner foot bed, all sandwiched with a cotton, padded, quilted panel in between.  This way the soles are lightly padded with the quilting, soft on my feet with the fleece, and not slippery to walk in with the suede-like exterior.  The outside of the slippers’ uppers are more of the blue fleece, lined in a lightweight poly interlock to absorb moisture and keep my feet from overheating in just fleece alone. 

I did slightly adapt the pattern to add some improvements.  Firstly, it doesn’t necessarily call for an upper foot lining, but it was a not only a choice for comfort but also a convenient way to end up with clean inners to my slippers.  Furthermore, the instructions do not call for the padding that I added into the soles, but it elevates these slippers from being merely homemade and makes them so much cushier.  Then, I also hid the raw edges by stitching all of the shoe pieces together onto sole before finishing off the upper elastic edge.  Stitching 5 bulky layers together along a very curvy seam in a 3/8 inch seam allowance was something I took my time on so the slippers’ construction was right from the very beginning.  There are literally 3 seams to stitch on each slipper, yet if ever I needed to get a seam correct and be precise with stitching, this was the time for that. 

Stitching the casing was even trickier than sewing the sole.  I was somehow able to mostly machine stitch the seam, luckily.  I finished the raw edge of both the interlock and the fleece together with a double row of tight zig-zag stitching that imitates a serger (overlocker) finish.  Then, the edge was tuned under 3/8 inch and stitched down with a small gap so the elastic cording could be run through the casing along the upper foot bed edge.   It is interesting that the elastic has to be so very much shorter of a length than the actual casing around the foot.  The slippers should curl in on themselves when they are off of one’s foot or else they will not stay on.  Avoid having the knot of tied elastic end in the casing at the back of your heel for a smooth fit. 

I slightly obsessed over trying to have the elastic tightness of both slippers to be equal.  I think I came so close to perfection, I’m happy.  You know, most store bought ballerina slippers all have one shoe which fits tighter than the other and I have always hated that with a passion.  I know how hard it is to make RTW to suit everyone’s individual sizing – but that hadn’t fully sunk into my head how much more challenging that is when it comes to our feet.  Most people have a body that is not symmetric on both sides.  On top of that, many people also have health issues or results of an injury which can render one foot to be different from the other.  A bad ankle of mine, leftover from a severe sprain, makes my one foot swell up at times.  Cutting two elastic strips the same length made for unequally fitting slippers for me.  I can understand the gripes I have had with RTW ballerina slippers much better now.  Nevertheless, that problem still is annoying and uncomfortable, I will admit, so I am happy to have avoided it for my own handmade slippers.   

For the last step, I took a fabric marker to designate the left from the right…because let’s face it.  More often than not my brain doesn’t need one more thing to figure out at the end of a day.  I wanted my slippers to be effortlessly enjoyed, besides being something fantastic to present on my blog, as well!  Next time I make shoes, I’ll have to try an amazing 1940s pattern for some summer sandals that you make by braiding scraps – much like a rag rug!  (See the pattern here.) 

The first time trying something new is always the hardest.  With my first pair of shoes successfully done, I can feel a bit more confident branching out.  Now, I am rather interested in some kits I have seen online, for assembling your own espadrilles or sneakers.  Anyone got any suggestions for more shoes to make?  This is fun!  Just think of the possibilities to end up with shoes that perfectly match your outfit this way…