In the quest for more sportswear that is also part of my handmade wardrobe, I have branched out to make something perfect for playing one of my favorite games – tennis! This top had been part of a previous project back from 2016, only to be left unfinished when my ideas changed. However, I detest sewing items lurking on the backburner and am a stickler for needing the projects I start to be fully finished. At last I have conquered this little odd dress bodice to make it a top that does the job of a sports bra but with a fashionable, fun, me-made flair!
This is a totally different side of me that is uniquely lacking in my normal glamour to show here on my blog. Thus I am a bit unsure about sharing it yet too happy with what I’ve made to hold it back. I felt it tied in nicely with my previous post of 1940s sporty, bibbed “short-alls” so I am sharing this now versus waiting until it is officially summer. This is not a vintage piece, coming from a Burda Style pattern from 2016, but it does incorporate one of my favorite things – color blocking. All of my favorite tones are here present – rich purple, bright pink, and a royal blue – all in a way that calls to mind a lovely stained glass window. The black piping becomes likened to the “cames” of grooved lead which hold together the panels of color in a glass window. I love the irony of recalling delicate stained glass for an item used for an activity that is quite the opposite – slamming of balls and full body movements. Tennis is not listed as a high impact sport but it is the way I play it!
NOTIONS NEEDED: I had to buy an extra pack of piping to finish this, as well as the back separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was lots of thread, which I always have on hand
TIME TO COMPLETE: The original piped bodice took me about 5 hours back in 2016, but then for the recent fitting and finishing I spent another 4 hours
THE INSIDES: left raw…the stretch in the cotton keeps the fraying of the fabric in check
TOTAL COST: I no longer remember because the fabrics had been on hand from before 2016!
The sizing definitely ran small and quite wonky for the original Burda dress pattern that my top came from. See a full recap on this post here. Such a sizing discrepancy luckily didn’t extend to the skirt portion of the dress, but the top half was another story. Neither did I have any more fabric to recut anything. All the vertical seams together with the fact I added in piping to them set up any fitting adjustments to be a major headache. I definitely had to come back to adjust such an unfinished object when I was fully ready and equipped with a definite purpose and incentive to complete this.
It was a sewing project I truly wrestled with to just barely make it fit enough to be salvageable. Letting out the 5/8 inch seams to 3/8 inch in some places was barely just enough to have this squeeze on my body as well as get the piping back in again. The piping makes the color gradient panels pop with the definition but definitely restrains the stretch of the fabric in between. It restricts the curvy seams significantly yet I loved the overall effect too much to give up on the idea. Now that it is done, I feel that the piping makes sure the fabric doesn’t over-extend its elasticity and also helps this have such a snug fit, which I normally wouldn’t like but found a purpose for this time.
I took advantage of the fact this top has wonderful stretch and is skin tight to wear this as my sports bra. I have only worn loose tee shirts for tennis before and have never been happy with how I move and feel sloppily clammy while wearing them. This top is like a second skin, and keeps my assets securely in place. The top itself stays in place on my body, is fuss-free, and does not get in the way of my movement at all like my loose tee shirts were doing. Plus, the sateen doesn’t show sweat, keeps me cool while wicking any moisture away, and still looks nice. I never knew what to do with it before now since I formerly saw it only as a failure left behind from an unfinished project. Now that this top is not only finished but also useful with a purpose, I am so taken by it. I have something I always needed but never knew I wanted…and I made it myself, which is even better!
In lieu of the side seam zipper I originally planned for when this top was to be part of a dress, I changed to a center back separating sports zipper. A sports zipper is more heavy duty, with chunkier teeth, and the fact it opened up at both ends makes this top very easy to put on. I left the zipper exposed to not only save every little bit of room I could spare but also because it visually gives a black line in the seam similar to the piping in all the other seams. The black back zipper gave me the ideal combo of functionality and aesthetics in one easy step.
Not that I would highly recommend this pattern, but this is the perfect stash busting project. The pattern pieces for this top could probably even fit on some cotton “fat quarters”. When I was originally making this, I happened upon three colors of the same fabric in my stash, all in a stretch cotton shirting, in colors which complimented each other. They just had to be made into a garment together!
The pink is a whole 2-something bolt, still in my stash meant for a future project, while the other two colors were under ¼ yard scraps. I just gleaned a small amount off of the total cut of pink, not enough to dent my greater plans for it. With some recent re-organizing of my fabric bins I happened to come across this pink fabric again, and so I took the opportunity to shave off a tad more to cut bias strips to finish the armhole openings. At the same time, I also happened to find some scraps of black stretch cotton sateen on hand, leftover from a store bought dress I had re-fashioned years back. I then used this to finish off the neck and bottom hem edges. I was left with the feeling my top was very barely cobbled together but also amazed that such little amounts were all I needed. The stash busting redemption of this top has left me further satisfied with it even though the fit of the design is much lacking.
You see on my blog what kind of styles I stitch together for everything else in my life. Now that I’ve finished making this tennis top you see what I wear for sporting exercise fun! Have you made some athletic wear pieces for yourself? What is your favorite sport?
There is perhaps nothing so expressive, so poignant, so telling of emotion as the human hand. Some of the greatest, most touching pieces of art are of nothing other than hands. Through our hands, we create a tangible version of those abstract thoughts and feelings inside. Hands are instruments to write books or letters, perform music, form sign language, make art, and cook food to name a short list of the many varied ways possible to show the affection, communication, sensuality, and creativity we have within. It never fails to amaze me that one of the most common, utilitarian parts of our body can speak volumes in the strongest yet most beautiful way possible without a uttering a word. The power of a simple – even silent – “show of hands” as a public display of solidarity for change has been proved powerful and relevant with the protests of the last few years for racial equity. All of the things I have listed that hands can do are each so closely untied to the workings of our emotive heart.
Thus, even though I am posting this following on the heels to the holiday for romantic or filial love, I would like the feelings given by this blouse to be expressive of bigger affections. I guess I’m wearing my “heart on my sleeve” through the interpretation of fashion by crafting a blouse which calls to mind the many symbolical meanings connected to combining both heart and hands (with roses, for good measure) in my chosen fabric print. With a motif like I am using, my garment’s design called for a vintage reference in its style so I can go back to the era that understood how to sport an obnoxiously mysterious hand print with unabashed artistic license.
The art form of Surrealism really understood the natural connection between fashion and manual handiwork with the way it persists in having such an obsession with anything hand, glove, or finger-like. The Surrealist movement gravitated to fashion as its most visually stunning means of expression, especially due in part to the famous and talented trio of Elsa Schiaparelli (designer), Salvador Dali (artist), and Man Ray (photographer) in the 1930s decade. There isn’t one, clear message to anything Surrealist – the viewer can feel free to internalize within themselves the dream-like eeriness of its art for individual interpretation. It is better to keep things open to the perspective of the viewer for profound topics in art or fashion. For me, here though, things are a bit more precise because I have my own vision coming from the perspective of the maker and not just a spectator!
At first sight, my print immediately sent me back into my undying fascinated adoration for Schiaparelli’s creations. Hand motifs are the trademark of her brand. This will have been my third project directly inspired by things she made (my first being her “Metamorphosis” 1937 dress and duster coat, then my second her 1951 voluminous sleeved blouse). Here I am using a year 2014 Burda Style pattern which has a subtle, timeless, 1930’s style with its creative paneling, fit-and-flare silhouette, strongly squared off shoulders, and clever use of godet additions. I will explain throughout my post the rest of my specific symbolical ideas. For now, let’s move onto construction details. You’ll want to know how not only this was the most complex pieced blouse pattern I have worked with – ever – but also a one yard project!
My blouse is here paired with a true vintage 1930s beaded necklace, my maternal Grandmother’s old earrings, vintage 1940s original heels, and my 1930s inspired Burda Style “Marlene trousers” (posted here). I was playing up the vintage connotation with this combo yet it looks equally on trend with a modern skinny pencil skirt and stiletto heels. I even added a hand drawn temporary tattoo on my left hand using the Inkbox free hand ink pen. It is a squiggled abstract rose alongside my thumb. I’ll do anything for a thoughtfully intentional, carefully curated outfit! I even succeeded in achieving a full wrap-around French braid crown with my hair – something I have seen on the models in some of the old high fashion photography of the 1930s. My mask is me-made of some dobby striped Indian cotton.
Our downtown art museum was the location for our photos. The sepia toned hand prints behind me are an exhibit called “All Hands On Deck”, a series of photos from Damon Davis printed and published as lithographs by Wildwood Press in 2015. These images originated in the protests that arose after Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer in August 2014. Davis photographed protestors’ hands held up in the “don’t shoot” gesture, now transformed into a gesture of solidarity, community, and a call for change. These large scale photographs were originally pasted onto boarded up storefronts around town which were damaged by rioting. The secondary background we used (seen further down in this post) is modern architectural blue Plexiglas boxes by Donald Judd, year 1969, and made for a good Surrealist inspired setting. Nevertheless, I absolutely adore the connection created by me wearing my blouse to the exhibit of hand prints. Symbolism like this is what I made my blouse for. I couldn’t be happier with my new sewing creation!
FABRIC: 1 yard of 100% silk crepe for each the exterior print and the white lining; sheer contrast godet panels of navy polyester chiffon
NOTIONS NEEDED: one invisible zipper and lots of thread
TIME TO COMPLETE: This project was a time hog! This took me over 20 hours to sew (not counting the time spent agonizing over the pattern and its layout on my material). It was finished on October 22, 2021.
THE INSIDES: My edges inside are raw but cleaned up nicely and stitched over to reduce fraying
TOTAL COST: The novelty printed silk was a discounted remnant that I bought back in 2017 from a shop on Etsy which is no longer in business. I spent $20 for the one yard, while the solid white silk was found at a different shop online for $15 a yard. The poly chiffon was bought from JoAnn Fabrics for about $10. Altogether, I spent about $50 including the zipper.
Honestly, for as much as I had a very certain vision of what to do with my printed silk and how I intended to interpret my vision, this project was one of the most challenging to achieve. At the project stage, I could find a handful of patterns or design ideas which felt like what I wanted. Yet, each time I found they would not work on one measly yard. My lack of fabric was the major controlling/limiting factor here, actually. I would have bought more from the shop but one yard was all they had left. This was a skinny 35” width material, too, so it was basically the size of a large scarf square. I knew a fill-in fabric would be necessary, which I wanted become a natural part of the design and not something due to my shortage of yardage. A print like this seemed to me to call for a classy design with sleeves and full coverage with a touch of something unexpected. Doesn’t that sound like quite a challenge to fulfill?! Now you can see why I stashed this fantastic silk print for the last 5 years!
I suppose I was unintentionally ‘waiting’ for the right pattern to fall into my radar. My final chosen Burda pattern was a happy, if unintentional, find I came across one night browsing through my magazine while looking for another design I wanted. It suddenly struck me, as I saw it in my magazine, that my hand print fabric would be a probable match for the design. I especially liked how the sleeves as well as the main body, particularly through the waist, are primarily the print so as to give a cohesive appearance to the design. This way, the contrast godets refrain from clearly advertising that I ran out of fabric (which I practically did). Together with the modern-vintage flair to it, everything else I was hoping to find for my project ideal was fulfilled better than I imagined. Some things in life are just meant to be.
The instructions by no means call for one yard, but it seems to my special talent – dare I say trademark – for squeezing the most unexpected patterns out of small cuts. This was the most extreme version of that which I have yet done. Every cutting line was the neighboring pattern piece’s cutting line. The top and bottom hems were at the fabric edge. There was a one-way directional print that needed every pattern to be lined up and running the same direction, though, too. If I would have needed even one size up from the one which was my size (36 graded up to 40 for the hips) the pattern would not have fit on the fabric.
However, the fact that the main body pieces were quite rectangular and relatively straight cut (thanks to the additional shaping the contrast godets add) was the saving grace. The sleeve pieces (two-part raglan style for the loveliest shaping over the shoulder point) just barely fit in between the convex curves of the main body patterns. “Silver linings” outlook aside, this tight layout did work me up to being a stressed, freaked out, sweating mess. Using a special material always makes me pause for extra figuring to weed out any mistakes, but squashing in the layout so very impossibly was the “icing to the cake”. I don’t want to be in this circumstance ever again but I am so thrilled it worked out I can literally tear up slightly just thinking about it sometimes.
Ideally, I wanted the contrast to be jagged panels to contrast off the delicate trio of items on the print. The heart is a well of emotions which can be crushed, betrayed, and injured all too easily. Hands can be an instrument in protecting or harming the matters of the heart and are the instrument through which we can feel sensory pain. Roses may be the flower of love, but they have tiny, thorny daggers which grow along with their beauty. To have the added godets pointing in towards my chest like daggers is the kind of unsettling message that I feel Surrealism – particularly Schiaparelli – would prefer and only strengthens the symbolism of my chosen print.
These godet stilettos are merciful, though, being in a gentle chiffon, adding the softly shaping curves that the straight cut body panels need to contour and form over my body. They hide a sensual little secret, too, as they are sheer. The opacity of the dark blue together with the fact that I double layered every godet (so as to have a clean finished hem with the raw edge tucked inside) makes their translucent quality subtle. I originally wanted a striking sheer blood red chiffon for the godets. Going for a navy chiffon blended in with the background to let the red and white print stand out better.
This was a project listed on the higher than average end of Burda’s difficulty level scale, and I agree. However, it’s not on account of requiring advanced skills. Yet it is tricky and complicated, needing precision sewing and the patience to stitch many three point corners. There are 9 pattern pieces in total that look terribly similar to one another. These 9 pieces cut out to 18 fabric pieces. Don’t forget that I doubled everything to 36 pieces because everything for my version is lined!! This was such an ordeal to assemble and such a confusing jumble of pieces to keep track of!
I did change up one small part of the construction assembly along the way for a smoother finish and finer detailing befitting my deluxe material. I wanted something nicer than just conventional turned under hems. Thus, before assembling anything, I sewed each piece’s hem wrong side-to-wrong-side. Then, I sandwiched the seam, trimmed to ¼”, between the doubled up fabric (as there is a white lining to the silk and two layers to the chiffon godets) and did a tight top stitching at a scant distance from the clean edge. Only then did I put the main body pieces together, followed by adding in the godets, setting in the side zipper, and tidying up my seams. Achieving perfect corners every time was so laborious and challenging!
Luckily, this was one of the very few Burda designs which fit me precisely with no tweaks to the fit. I measured the heck out of the pattern pieces before I did any cutting of my fabric, so I figured such…even still, it was a pleasant surprise. I recommend this – out of any pattern ever – as the one which needs to be perfect at the pattern stage because tweaking the fit after being fully constructed is very nearly impossible. The sizing is extraordinarily good here for curvy bodies so trust the size chart and try this for yourself, as well. A very supple and softly draping material (nothing too stiff) is important to choose here, though, to get the full effect of how the godets fall into themselves, or open up, depending upon your body movements. Even without the unique print I chose I think this blouse would still be garnering compliments literally everywhere it is worn – which is the case already! This is a standout, extraordinary design worth every minute and penny I put into it and couldn’t be happier. I have plenty of lace scraps from my Grandmother which I am tempted to save towards another version of this blouse. I would also like to try out the dress version of this blouse design at some point the future.
I find it ironic and confusing that among professional academic circles fashion is the most frequently discredited and underestimated means through which to express oneself. Clothing is a basic need, just the same as being both the viewer and the spectator is a natural part of the communal human existence. We use our hands to make and acquire our basic needs, and craft them (if we have that luxury) to our own liking. Even the cheapest ready-to-wear clothing is made by human hands (in some degree), which so many people forget when they pay $5 for their favorite retail store leggings or t-shirt. Garments necessarily intertwine both human expression as well as some sort of manual effort, so turning that into elevated, intentional art is only one step away. Expressing ourselves without a sound and by sight only is a shared characteristic of both our hands and what we wear…both are influenced by the workings of our heart.
As beautiful and meaningful everything else our heart through our hands can do, it is charity – love for our fellow beings – that is surely the loftiest act. With parents of both sides of my family dealing with the disfiguring effects of rheumatoid arthritis, I realize all too well that something as simple assisting with doing a button is one small but mighty act of kindness with our hands which can make a world of difference. I realize, too, that both heart and hands of humanity can sadly also do damaging, evil, scheming deeds of mischief at an individual level as well and create terror and sadness in this world. What have your hands done today? How is your heart? I hope this post finds you happy, healthy, and feeling safe. I also hope this blouse project of mine has cheered your day, made you consider, and inspired you!
The Chinese Spring Festival celebrates the beginning of a new year according to the traditional Chinese calendar. This year became the Year of the Tiger on February 1st, and my son was ready for it with an outfit made by me! He thoroughly enjoys the fabric store as much as I do (I’m so lucky) so on one such visit he picked out this tiger striped micro-suede fabric from the remnant section asking me to make something of it. I obliged him by choosing to sew the tiger print into crazy pants. That wasn’t going to be enough to keep him cozy since he is easily cold in winter, so I turned a knit remnant from on hand into a turtleneck. Now he has a full mom-made outfit! I love enabling his personal style. He is as intrepid as a tiger here, ready to make his presence known with some admirable confidence in a roaring bold look
PATTERNS: both are Burda Style patterns – “Rollneck Top for Boys” #132 from October 2020 and then “Trousers for Boys” #129 from August 2019
NOTIONS NEEDED: lots of thread and just enough elastic for my son’s waist
TIME TO COMPLETE: not long at all – it took me 3 hours to sew each piece and they were both finished February 2, 2021
THE INSIDES: left raw, as neither fabric really frays much, but I did zig-zag stitch over the micro-suede “just in case”
TOTAL COST: The microsuede was a discount remnant for about $7 and the knit and elastic piece were remnants on hand so I’m counting them as free
It is a convenient fact that my son’s school ‘family group’ color is orange for when they have school wide events and divide up into ‘teams’ to compete in a trivia match or athletic race. Now, for such events, these wild and obnoxious but totally individualistic trousers are just the thing he can appropriately wear! In fact, I took it a step further and dyed one of his surplus plain white school polo shirts to be a matching toned, solid, bright orange. Of all things, I actually happened to have a bottle of tangerine liquid RIT dye on hand, so it was too easy of a fun ‘refashion’ to pass up. Most importantly, though, my son was totally ecstatic over the crazy idea, so much so that we even threw in a pair of plain white socks into the dye bath pot on the stove! Yes, we were literally ‘cooking’ up some fun that night. I’m proud to see he takes after me, it seems – my son is also assertive in being himself and letting his fashion choices reflect that, even if it means not being “the norm”. After all, he is not far off to think that the best stuff to wear is handmade by mom, anyways!
I simplified the pants and streamlined their construction since this was just a crazy fabric that was going to be for him to wear for fun and play…nothing nice to be worn at church. The waist was given full elastic waist around rather than the called-for partial elastic with mostly drawstring fitting. He is too skinny for drawstring waists, I have found out from some ready-to-wear items. Taking it a step further, the front fly is here just for show too, a faux detail and non-working. These are just pull-on pants, pretty similar to the waists of pajamas. I was not in the mood to do a full fly with a fiddly, tiny, 5 inch zipper – especially not for play pants, as I have said. Besides, my son was watching the entire pattern tracing and construction process, as well as helping me along the way, so I wanted to make this project appear easy to him. It would be intimidating (no doubt) from his perspective to see how a zipper fly goes in, but I know it also would have made him think I can work miracles at my sewing machine. More on this topic later down in my post!
Nice pockets are a must for me, but especially so for my son. This is why this Burda pants pattern was fantastic…four roomy pockets! I love how the front inset pocket flows right into the back booty’s applied patch pocket, connecting together at the side seams (see picture at right). It is little well thought out touches like this that I appreciate in menswear (whether for big or small boys). There is not much exciting that can be done with the overall general seam lines for most masculine clothing, so it all comes down to how the small stuff is refined. All he cares about is if he has room for lots of nose tissues, rocks, food snacks, pencils, and all the other oddities that he loves to stash in his pockets. It was a win-win for both of us.
I lengthened all the hems of both items by several inches to accommodate his fast rate of growing. This is why you see the pants roll cuffed and the top’s sleeves pushed up his arms. In sewing, catering what is made to the body it is intended for is presented with an extra challenge when it comes to kids. My son grows so darn fast! At least I know he always only gets longer in the limbs and taller in his height, but never really fills out. Thus I can fit his waist and torso as it is, but only have to add an extra 2 something inches in length so as to give him an extra 9 to 12 months of wear. Custom garment sewing really pays off when I sew for him, because what I make gets worn for a longer period of time than my son’s store bought items. This vintage jacket I made for him (posted here) was able to be worn for three years because I thought ahead and added length. Yay for my mom brain, which thinks ahead!
The turtleneck was super simple and much appreciated by both of us. I love the fact there is a pattern for this because I rarely see kid’s turtlenecks for sale – he loves them because he is so easily cold but having something snuggled around his neck keeps him happily cozy. There were only 4 pattern pieces for the win, too. I triple stitched everything in a tighter zig-zag stitch than I normally use because this is for him…and if you’ve ever seen the way he plays, moves, and can be rough on his clothes, you’d understand. Cotton knit does not have as much of a rebound or return in its stretch as a polyester nit does. Yet, it is lofty, thicker, and more breathable than a poly…thus perfect for a turtleneck. It was the perfect way to use up something long hoarded. Hubby can’t believe the remnants I save, but no matter how small, they really do always become worthwhile. My son’s top was made from what was left of a project of mine back from 2013, but at least it was a full yard!
My son was totally invested in curating this outfit and I was so happy he wanted to be included in the making of it, even if he was not the one sewing. He is determined in the desire to learn to sew and make things for himself, yet even with something simple I make he is blown away with “how cool” (as he says) it all is. My one time comparison of working the machine foot pedal to a car’s gas pedal is something incredibly appealing enough alone for him. I don’t think he has a bigger view of the whole process yet, or sees exactly how what gets done at the pattern stage relates to what the finished piece will look like, but that will come. Crafting clothes really is much easier to achieve than it looks in the end, I tell him, and I think how quickly the pants came together really made an impression. From a fabric roll he picked out at the store to something he can wear, the whole thing took one afternoon and he was ecstatic. To him, this is much more complex than the pillowcase bags or hair scrunchies the girls in his school classroom show off to him from their sewing classes. It’s weird that after teaching sewing for hire to a bunch of stranger’s kids over years, I suppose I will now have to share my sewing class lessons with my own son in the future!
This project was incredibly easy and fun. A good part is due to the fact that it is really satisfying to make something special for my boy but I also enjoy working with Burda Style kid’s patterns. Burda patterns also seem to not be as wide and short proportioned as other kid’s patterns, even vintage ones, which is good for my tall and lanky son. They turn out well for him and are much more available (and appealing) than any of the paltry offerings “the Big 4” pattern companies offer for kids. I love the details and the accurate sizing to Burda’s children’s patterns, as well as the fact they fairly cater to both boys and girls with what offerings are in most magazine editions.
Why can’t a home seamstress have the tools needed to make interesting boys’ clothes, too? Why is it assumed that boys are not either recipients or participants in home sewing realm? All the kids patterns offered from most companies are primarily for girls, it seems, and little men only get patterns so basic (i.e. pajama pants) that buying anything better than loungewear from a store is a more attractive option. I want to make my son fashion apparel, something that has a good cut as well as something that is unique enough to warrant its making, and I do not want to pay for a design that looks so basic and unimaginative I might as well draft it myself. Offer something better or more unique than ready-to-wear, and a pattern company would have an appealing edge that would attract me and others in my position, I am sure.
Men desperately need to bring a sense of style back into mode, and what better way to do that than to start ‘em off on the right foot than when they are young. Sewing pattern companies need to realize this and start offering interesting boys patterns, too, because sewing is not just women’s work and cute dresses are not the only thing worth sewing for all moms out there. Maybe boys will even want to sew their own clothes if there are better pattern designs? Home Economics is generally catered to girls, but I say that needs to change. If they learn how to sew, maybe those boys will be capable of taking care of their own wardrobe as they grow into adulthood, and (if anything) be able to darn their own socks, patch tears, and attach buttons just the same as any woman. After all, sustainability is for everyone, and taking take of what you have is the responsible thing to do, not restricted to ladies only because it is sewing related. Just the fact sewing is very math oriented is enough to appeal to my son, besides the fact he wants to be like mom. My rant is not done, but over for now. Nevertheless, I truly think my son’s outfit is a good opportunity to recognize the gaps in the tools available to the home sewing community and see the progress in introducing boys (or men) to sewing that needs to happen. Let men and boys be as creative and assertive in the sewing realm as women. I’d love to see it!
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.
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.
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 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!