“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

Painted Bunting

Ah, it’s finally spring in the northern hemisphere, at least officially that is.  It’s the time for one of my favorite parts to spring besides the newly awakened flowers – the bird activity!  The snow birds are leaving town and both our ‘normal’ varieties of avian creatures as well as unusual visitors will be showing up through this next month.  Then the sweet but noisy baby birds will be coming!  I am one who admittedly has a “life list” of species I’ve spotted, and although birding is no longer as serious of a deal that it was when I was a teen, I now have a dress for that.

Novelty prints are not really my “thing” but this bird one is winning me over.  It is such a bright and cheerful print of what is probably fantasy songbirds, but they remind me of all my vivid-colored, real-life  favorites – the kestrel, the redstart, orioles, warblers, or my ‘yet-to-be-seen spotter’s life goal’ the painted bunting.  However, this post’s title is appropriate in more than one sense!  With its swishy, full, mullet hemline and peek-a-boo flashes of skin, my dress is fully lined in a hot pink cotton for both unexpected fun in my fashion and to have a non-poly comfort against my skin.  I’m carrying a celebration of cheerfulness with me when I wear this dress!

The fact that this dress has received top rating from my 6 year old is proof of the happiness this dress exudes.  He always laughs, smiles, and is like glue to me just to study the print – if I ever want to make his (and my) day better, I wear this.  Want proof?  My son made me a necklace that matches.  It was totally a surprise project of his.  Someone brought a beading kit to keep the kids busy after church one Sunday and he was busy making something for me in all the colors, but extra beads in especially the ones I love – turquoise, purple, and pink!  Together with earrings from my Grandma which remind me of baby robin eggs, this is a combo that is spring and summer embodied for me.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The bird print is a buff finish polyester satin while the solid bright pink lining is a poly and cotton blend broadcloth

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Cut Out Dress” pattern #116B from August 2014

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a quickie compared to how it looks a bit complex – 6 to 7 hours and finished on April 19, 2017

TOTAL COST:  I didn’t really wait for a sale to buy this – it was too cute to wait and see if there was going to be any left!  However, I did buy it years back at the (now defunct) Hancock Fabrics so sorry if you want some, too!  It was about $7 for each of the 3 yards…and the broadcloth was a few dollars a yard too.  Thus – my total is about $20.

Everything matched up well for this pattern and the instructions were decent (not as great as sometimes).  However I did go up in size and I’m glad I did.  The bust and shoulders seem to run small in my opinion, but then again I did not want a tight fit for a breezy balmy weather dress made out of a non-stretch woven material.  I also brought the shape of the neckline in just a tad – straightening out the dip of the scoop in front and bringing in the sides so as to cover my brassiere straps better.  The neckline now appears to be more of a wide boatneck, but it is still easy to slip over the head as well as complimentary open around the neck, just now compatible with normal lingerie.  Finally, I slightly lengthened the front half of the hem line to the skirt.  All these changes I am so glad I had done at the cutting stage.  I do not think I would like my dress as much as I do if I hadn’t have done such adjustments.

I do love how this dress is a balance of simple and complex depending on how you look at it.  The pattern pieces were rather interesting, too.  From the front it has clean lines – straight, shorter skirt and a basic bodice with cut-on kimono cap sleeves and only a flashing hint of the ‘party in the back’.  From the back, the skirt has a full sweep – like a lovely cape – in midi length and the bodice is separated from the waistline for some skin baring in an uncommon spot.

The cut out ‘window’ at the back waistline more than just a feature, though – is adjustable with a drawstring going through the casing made around the oval opening so you can customize your coverage to your liking.  I love when personal preference is considered in fashion!  This design also makes this dress a pull-on which needs no zipper!  You loosen up the gathers to pop it on, then pull the drawcord ends (one long 1/4 strip made of the dress’ fabric) to close the back as you prefer.  The back opening as you see it on me is almost as small as it will go, so if you like this design, too, keep that in mind.   The half waistband that is in the front of the dress merely basic and comfy elastic kept in a casing made of the seam allowance.

Such a design detail of an open back above the waistline can be seen on the sporty dresses and versatile playsuits of the vintage world of fashion.  I notice similar styling from the 1940s to the 1970s.  In the case of this Burda dress, the back opening sort of makes it look like the bodice is only connected at the front and side waistline.

In the cases of vintage styles which are similar the bodice and bottoms can be actually disconnected for completely versatile set!  There is a modern (readily available) New Look sewing pattern which offers the same cute and ingenious styling as the 40’s and 50’s counterparts I showed as just a few examples.  However, none of them include a high-low hemline, as well.

If you’ve been following my site for awhile you may have noticed I do enjoy a high-low hem.  This style of skirt does show up here and there in my projects because I like it only in small doses.  This particular variety of a mullet hem is my favorite yet.  It has a fantastic sweep due to the back opening gathers – just the back half of the skirt was such a large pattern piece it practically was one yard in itself.  The lining underside the skirt really makes the most out of the hem shape because if you’re gonna see the ‘wrong side’ make it worth noticing.

Full body lining is the absolute best thing for this dress, I do believe.  The pattern needs to be amended from henceforth to include this step.  I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of a polyester fabric on my skin…man-made fibers aggravate both my body and my mental state in more ways than one.  So – to keep both my sanity and comfort whenever I do succumb to the cuteness of a polyester fabric, I line such garments in good old cotton broadcloth.

No, really, though – full body lining also makes the edge finishing so much cleaner and fuss-free.  No tiny hemming to do, and no raw fraying edges to deal with either.  I love a clean inside as much as I love how nice my garments look on the outside when on myself.  You can see the clean, no-seam hot pink lining side through the open armholes, too, and do so enjoy a garment that has its innards visible when they are done as nicely as this!  It’s not that much extra work – sure it takes twice as much fabric – but it is worth it in the end product.  For me, I guess sewing is not just materializing an idea or feeling, neither is it just crafting something I need or want.  I suppose my habit of finely finished insides say that what I love about sewing is the beauty and the art of it.

Cedar Waxwings I spotted in my parents’ backyard!

The ultimate magnificence is in nature, however, and birds are the cheerful feathered announcers that living is to be celebrated.  I am lucky to have had up-close and personal time with birds – especially the time I took a class on bird banding as a teen and actually held my favorite local feeder visitors.  Then, there is the time I was by a creek painting some flowers and a hummingbird buzzed me, coming up to within inches of me, seemingly thinking I was something which needed checking out.  Yes, the thing I love about birds is the best way to enjoy them – stop the busyness of life, listen with your heart, and soak in the cathartic benefits of realizing their simple but indispensable existence.  Something as insignificant as this post’s home-made piece of clothing, no matter how fabulous, reminds me of the greater beauty of life around me.

…a Bit Beatnik

Rebellion and resistance seems to extremely popular – with movies, with culture, with the arts, and as a word or idea.  From the Rockabilly crowd to Punk fashion, from “Star Wars” to “Mutiny on the Bounty”, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, rising up against the norm never seems to be any less retold and repeated today.  The mid-century of the 1900s seemed to be ripe with unrest, but I’d like to focus on the free-spirited and artistic Beatnik culture with my newest make dated to 1963.  After all, we do have Beatnik to thank for reviving the popularity of wearing vintage styles! More on that later…

This is my November make for my monthly pledge for the “Burda Challenge 2018”.  Next up to match this blouse and give me a full vintage-style Burda outfit is the “Waistcoat Bodice Dress“ for my December project!  The model picture does show the two worn together.

The pants you see with my pictures are my 1974 knit jeans (post here) to amp up the casual and alternative style, but really this blouse goes with so much – jeans, skirts, and especially my purple 40s pants!  A beret hat is essential to the Beatnik style, and mine is me-made from a vintage 1934 pattern (post here).  My shoes are true 1960s vintage beauties as well as my earrings.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton paisley print lined at the cuffs and collar with burgundy satin

PATTERN:  Burda Style “Vintage 1963 Anita Blouse” pattern from “The Sixties Style Kit”

NOTIONS:  I only needed plenty of thread and 10 vintage buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took a lot of hand-stitching and detailed work, so I lost count of time but I’m guessing I spent about 30 plus hours to make this over the course of a week.  The blouse was finished on November 21, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  All French seamed except for the grey bias tape over the bottom hem

TOTAL COST:  I’m counting this project as free since it’ fabric has been in my stash for a good number of years and everything else was on hand!

Beatnik subculture is loosely defined as both a media stereotype and a generational literary movement between the mid-1950s to mid-1960s.  The term “Beatnik” is said to have been coined by Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle on April 2, 1958 and its expansion paved to way for the hippie culture of the later 60s.

What I find the most curious about beatnik is the influence it had on fashion through music.  One of the leading figures of the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg, an American poet/writer, was a close friend of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, two of popular Beatnik musical performers.  The Beatles supposedly even put the “E” in their name because of Beatnik and Beat writer William S. Burroughs was on the cover of their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Their iconic, gaudy vintage-style military uniforms for that album were only a small part of the new awakening to reaching for past styles to standout, be unique, and express oneself that we have today.

Beatnik wanted nothing to do with anything that had to do with the eras of their parents, the 40s, and 50s and had no taste for designer trends.  The styles of the 1860s to 1890s, only 70 to 100 years old back then, were coming back with the ruffled neck shirts (of Edwardian times for women, early 1800s for men) being one major beatnik movement interpreted with my Burda Style make.  When you turn the perspective, this isn’t too different from what the vintage community of today does – garments from the 1910s, 1920s, up to the 60’s are still extant, and bought and sold to both wear and appreciate but the 70’s, 80s, and 90’s are still mostly only being appreciated by those too young to remember them.  When the London “Granny Takes a Trip” store opened in the mid-60s and stocked it with second-hand, outdated clothes, the Beatniks welcomed it and a whole new “thing” had begun.

The late Beatnik trend of the ruffle blouse was not just popular because of the big names that were wearing them, but also because they were seen as a unisex item, pretty much the first of its kind.  It was part of “Granny Takes a Trip” and the artists and writers of the Beatnik trend to focus on inclusiveness and loose sexuality.  However, the limelight did help the ruffled blouse popularity.  For the Rolling Stone’s concert in Hamburg 1965, much of the crowd was said to have been wearing ruffled neck tops, and for their “No Filter” tour just last year (2017), what do you know…Jagger is wearing ruffled neck shirts for a few of the performances.  Jimi Hendrix’s famous scene when he set his guitar on fire at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Music Festival made history in a ruffled neck shirt.  More inspiration can be seen in Burda’s collage photo.  A recent Royal Mail stamp from 2012, commemorating contribution to British fashion by designers, even features a ruffled neck blouse for the 60’s!

The paisley print in my blouse is a trippy sort of psychedelic prefiguring the later 60s, yet it is in the rich, darker, subdued colors that the Beatnik trend preferred.  The busy print calls to mind old textiles and the Kashmiri “cashew print” seen through the later 1800s.  “Granny Takes a Trip” did re-fashion Industrial Era clothes and tailor garments from precious antique items (such as a William Morris tapestry)!  Many times blouses like these are loosely referred to as “Artist” blouse, “Pirate” shirt, or even “Romantic” because of the tendency to think of the covers of a cheesy paperback romance novel or of Jane Austen gentleman.  It sure does have an idealistic, bold, flair with its excess of details, in my experience with wearing one now!  The deep burgundy satin I chose for the underside of the collar and the cuffs adds of luxurious flair that reminds me of the jewel toned velvet suits of the era, or some sort of masculine loungewear of Victorian times.

This pattern was quite exhaustive in complexity, and you certainly can’t rush making this design, but I revel in succeeding with the fine points of sewing.  I took time to make sure the chest ruffles laid flat and stayed in place otherwise I knew this blouse would end up feeling like it had a fussy, built-in bib!  Each ruffle had its own draft, cut on the bias and folded in half with its own length in different measurements from the others, so everything had to stay clearly labelled until being stitched down…which happened to be the very first step.  I serged (overlocked) the raw edges of each of the neck ruffles to keep things clean and simple, with as little extra bulk as possible.  Then, I stitched down each ruffle edge in three rows ¼ inch apart, and lightly steamed the gathers down.

As if that is not time consuming enough, the invisible button placket also has to be finished before the real body of the blouse is assembled.  These are tricky, fiddly, things but this is the third one I’ve done through Burda (first here and second here) so there it was much less of a guessing game this time.  More or less the left side is a very basic shirt placket while the other (right side) gets accordion pleated four ways.  The right placket is two individual plackets cut as one.  The middle line is folded in on itself to cover the seam allowance and be stitched down “in the (seam) ditch” before you fold the inner (second) placket half (which gets the buttonholes) and also stitch that down through all layers.  As the final touch, whether it’s mentioned or not in the instructions, I find the two placket layers become one to sight if you tack (by hand) the two together along the edges for only one inch between each of the buttonholes.

Besides the preliminary machine stitching to attach the plackets to both shirt fronts, everything else where the shirt closes I did by hand.  This way I can be more precise with catching all the different seams and layers, in addition to making the thread invisible.  Finally, only then were the darts made and shoulder seams brought together so that the collar and sleeves can be put on.  I figured if I’m putting this much effort into this blouse, it deserves the extra effort to be done very well.  This is why I also top-stitched the collar and cuff edges by hand, too.  The finished look is so professional!

These sleeve cuffs are so over the top…and I thought the 30’s and 40’s had dramatic arm features!  Including the ruffles, the cuffs are 1/3 of the length shoulder to wrist.  Keep this into account when you’re making it or if you need more length, because I was thrown off before the cuff was added.  I thought I cut too short!  The most challenging part of the cuffs was to make sure the ruffles stay out of the way of the seams when you are stitching down the underside (before you turn it inside out).

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, and this set of 60s patterns is a special edition publication not available through the monthly subscription, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

Overall, I am so impressed with the quality of this pattern.  This is probably the best Burda Style pattern I have used yet.  Some Burda patterns are quirky in fit and the instructions can frequently be either lacking or confusing.  Not here!  The sizing was right on too, and it comfy to wear.  The body shape for this blouse is very straight, and the darts are only ½ inch (or less).  I did grade up a size (as I normally do) for my hips and it looks great tucked in or left out.  I kept exactly to the pattern for everything except the button placement.  The cuffs are so wide and frilly only one button is not enough to close the sleeve ends – I have two per cuff.  I also added one extra button at the very bottom of the blouse front just above the hem.  It makes the blouse look more put together when it’s untucked.  I have a whole jar of the vintage grey buttons I used so I was favoring excess, but more buttons do help this design – a small complaint!

It’s not that I’ve made this blouse because I really love the music of Beatnik or the culture…I don’t really.  However, I do love to explore different styles, and I love a sewing challenge, especially one that gives me an in-person reason to wrap my head around a curious aspect of history.  This is an era that my and my husband’s parents lived through as late teens/early 20 somethings after all!  My mom has even said she had a ruffle blouse very similar to mine when she was growing up…I believe she said it was something she bought at Macy’s in New York City on a high school class trip.  So – maybe I’m just a fashion rebel at heart to go for what tickles my fancy and create this unusual blouse which relives my parents’ times, but maybe that’s just why I like it.  Sewing does convey a certain independence, a personal freedom, and an appreciation of details that is in the face of the powerful, overwhelming, ‘buy it on a whim to immediately toss it’ ready-to-wear culture of today.  This is my favorite kind of rebellion, one that we need to encourage and nurture today between each other and in the upcoming generation.

Mermaid Out of Water

Following up on the heels of my last post, a 1954 qipao, here’s another Mandarin dress inspired by the 1930s era from the modern designer Andrew Gn.  “From the Paris catwalk directly to my wardrobe” thanks to Burda Style, this is home sewing at par with the designer world.

This is much more elegant than my first qipao, definitely meant for evening wear with its train.  The fabrics are much nicer and higher quality, too, than the printed cotton of the last qipao.  It’s also much more sensual and body-conscious, just like the original mine was inspired by – Nicole Kidman’s “Charity Ball” gown from the 2008 movie “Australia”.  It was the year 1939, and Lady Sarah Ashley was auctioning off herself (to dance with, I must clarify) to benefit the Missions for children, the “Forgotten Australians” as they are known, so she definitely dressed the part for that evening to win a large bid.  This is my third (and probably my last for this year) submission to the Unfinished Seamstress’ “Sewing the Scene” Challenge.

This evening dress is my very first mermaid shaped garment, and I am head over heels for what this does to my curves.  Why have I not worn something like this before?  Where has a mermaid gown been all my life?  Whatever – I have one now that I am very happy with…in fact I hate having to take it off once it’s on, especially as the first layer against my skin is lovely silk!

For more about the culture, history, and meaning to a qipao dress, please visit my previous post.  This one is admittedly designer, so it is linked more to the fashion scene than a pure culture garment.  In fact, the designer Tony Ward now appears to be knocking off Andrew Gn’s Burda release with some of the neckline on the gowns in his Spring/Summer 2018 collection (see Look #33 of his Couture garments, and see this look from his ready-to-wear)!  However, the Singapore-born Andrew Gn does have the privilege right to make a fashion qipao more than Tony Ward, and besides Gn did it first with his Fall 2017 Ready-To-Wear collection.  The designer Andrew Gn, as described in the Burda magazine, is a cosmopolitan designer who is heavily influenced by art and antiques.  He respects the worth of a good vintage item and finds creative expression universal.  Personally, he is ¼ Japanese and ¾ Chinese, but studied at London, New York, and Milan before opening under his own label in 1996 after being an assistant in Emanuel Ungaro’s atelier in Paris for just a year.  Ungaro is one of my modern designer icons, so it comes as no surprise to me that I like the work of his pupil Gn!  Traditional meets modern, and East merges with the West under Andrew Gn.

The pattern for this dress is only to be found in the monthly magazine issue and unfortunately not online to buy and download at all.   This edition of the magazine (February 2018) is totally worth buying, though – this is the best Burda month I have seen in a long time, there are so many patterns that are unique, lovely, and attractive.  Besides, nowadays how often do we get a copy to make for ourselves of what is seen is the catwalk?  This outfit counts as my August make to the “Burda Challenge 2018” for which I pledged a garment a month.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a combo of both polyester crinkle chiffon and rayon challis for the dress and true vintage all silk crepe for the under slip

PATTERN:  Burda Style #123 Gown, from the February 2018 magazine for the dress (see it on the runway here) and a vintage year 1942 pattern, Simplicity #4352, used once before, for the slip

NOTIONS:  All I really needed to make this set was really thread – lots of it – and some little scraps of interfacing for the Mandarin collar.  The neckline buttons are modern and were also on hand along with the scrap 6 inches of thread elastic.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress itself took about 15 hours while the slip took maybe 6 hours.  Both were completed on August 20, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Clean due to the serged (overlocked) seams on both pieces – there were too many very long princess seams between the slip and the dress to do the insides as a French finish!

TOTAL COST:  The vintage silk was part of a trade at a local shop, and the dress’ fabrics came from my local JoAnn’s fabric store, maybe about $60 for 6 yards. 

Coming directly from a designer, I sort of find it oddly ironic that I became my own designer for this dress and slightly adapted the armscye to mirror my inspiration dress from the “Australia” movie.  Of course, looking at the original dress and its line drawing, you can see I left out the sleeves.  I do love them, and would love to make a winter velvet version of this dress just so I can see this design with those sleeves, but they did not fit in with my ideal of a visually obvious “Australia” movie copy, or even just a Mandarin dress for the summer.  It was a very easy adaptation.  I redrew the pattern tissue so that the center front and the center back panels’ curving seam kept going up to graze the outer end of the shoulder line.  The effect is like a pared down cap sleeve all-in-one with the dress. I also dipped the bottom of the armscye under the arm to be lower and more open, ending in a V-shape for both beauty and full movement.  Besides, the sleeve change, I shortened the front third of the hem to the dress so that the hem would graze the top of my feet with heels on.  I left the back and side hem original length.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the inserts in the magazine issue, and most Burda Style Designer patterns are only in the magazines, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I did find the sizing for this dress to be spot on, very exact.  I made my ‘normal’ size that I choose with Burda patterns, based off of their measurement chart and this finished out perfect for my body.  Granted there is a good amount of shifty give in the dress between the fine crinkled chiffon and random bias.  This is part of the reason I get by with leaving out any closures (except for the neckline, of course).  Yes – there are no zippers, hooks, or anything to the waist of both the dress and slip.  This is a pop-over the head outfit.  I didn’t want a zipper to awkwardly pucker or bubble the fabric out, and with lowering the cut of the neckline by a few extra inches, the dress goes on me just fine with all seams sewn up.  An all silk slip is smooth and slippery, like a weightless second skin, and it has similar seaming so it slides on easily as well with no closure either.

As wonderful as this turned out, it was almost the project that was never made due to the unexpected amount of material needed. Be prepared to have lots and lots of yardage on hand in order to make this dress because I soon realized this is a total fabric hog of a project.  I rather disregarded the instructions in disbelief when they called for 6 whopping yards of fabric, in 60” selvedge width. Really?!  The pattern pieces were very skinny (and very curvy, I must add, for a proper mermaid fit).  The bottom flared out very wide though.  The pattern segments were also unmanageably long as they are all one-piece princess seams from neckline to hem.  I felt that ‘surely if the pieces are staggered, and laid out oppositely I can make the dress work’ out of the 4 yards of chiffon I had on hand.  Four yards is really the most of any fabric I have on hand or generally buy.  There is only one other fabric in my stash that is a cut of 6 yards, and it is a winter brocade saved for a fabric hog 1950s dress pattern.

I really wanted to use this butterfly print as there was something about it that I felt needed to be an Asian influenced, 1930s inspired garment for evening elegance.  I don’t know how that approbation works in my head but some fabrics just naturally get designated to certain patterns without much of a though, like the two are meant to be together.  This time, there was no seeming way to make things work.  Four yards of fabric is only enough for three pattern pieces.  The dress has four pattern pieces in total, so I needed more for one last piece.

My husband is the one that saved this project by finding the exact same print, at the exact same JoAnn’s store where the first fabric was bought, only this time it was in an all rayon challis.  As long as it was the same print I had something to work with…thank goodness for JoAnn’s repeating a print design!  As the rayon would be heavier and also opaque compared to the chiffon. The most obvious pattern piece to designate this for was the two center back panels.

This way the train is weighted down nicely and the sheer effect is tamed by having the front the primary focus while the back is only simple lines without the slip being seen there to distract.  Also the back panels are the longest piece out of the four with the train – the biggest fabric hog.  The hemline is a full almost 10 inches longer than floor length on my 5’ 3” frame.  Two yards was just enough of a cut from the rayon for the center back panel, that’s how long it is!  As it turned out, I am glad to have used two fabrics for this dress.  How often does something like this happen, though – the same print in two different materials?  I love the feeling of how the train floats and flows behind me as I walk if I let it down (see a short video here on my Instagram).  If I hold it up it looks like I have wings, like a butterfly myself, or like a mermaid tail.  However, I wouldn’t have a mermaid tail out of water now would I?!

A little bit of the rayon form of my dress’ butterfly print also went to the Mandarin collar.  I was planning on laying cotton between the sheer to make the collar opaque and not see-through before I realized I had to use the rayon.  This made my work easier.  I doubled up on the interfacing and ironed it to the wrong side of both the outer and inner collars.  This way at least something holds the dress together because the rest of it certainly isn’t going the help.

I realize that most the dresses with this wide open, almond shaped neckline which dips down to Timbuktu do not have anything but skin (and cleavage) showing.  I do not care for how blatantly this sensualizes such a style of dress too much for my taste.  This is an opportunity to make a superior quality slip in a contrast color to fill in that void in the front.  The sweetheart neckline is one of the most universally popular and flattering, and a visible slip is a more discreet yet still tantalizing detail, so I prefer such a gown worn this way, not just because it is like the movie original.  It is really much more wearable this way anyway.

My basic everyday vintage slip pattern got the deluxe makeover here!  The way I made it first using basic rayon challis has it my go-to wardrobe basic.  There was no guesswork sewing this up as I had done it once before and made notes of my grading add-ons, but I took more time on the small details.  First, I added 12 more inches to the hem of last time to end up with an ankle length slip. Then, I hand stitched the self-fabric bias facing down by hand.  Skinny self-fabric bias spaghetti straps are over my shoulders.  I don’t have many long gowns to match but I’m hoping to get good use out of this slip.  After all, I did splurge and use true vintage fabric.  I am not one to use that fact as a reason to completely save this garment – no, I want to totally enjoy it, so maybe this would make a good nightgown too, if I want to wear it but have nowhere to go.

My accessories were carefully curated to make sure this was an outfit all about me – my take on a runway trend, my personal skills to make what else I needed, and some old favorites from on hand to compliment.  Following the trend of Andrew Gn’s Fall 2017 collection where the models mostly wore tassel earrings, I found mine at a local shop, handmade in three layers of gradient colors from out of my butterfly print.  My hair decoration is made by me, with three plastic flower heads attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  My florist’s training came in handy here and I am so happy and proud at how this turned out.  My shoes are “Lola” peep toe strap heels from Chelsea Crew, the same as what I wore her for my Grace Kelly dress copy.  My bracelet is actually a hair scrunchie from when I was little, but it always used to pull my hair out so it’s always served me better as a bracelet.

This was a bit of a hard project to handle, as dreamy as it is to wear.  Between the struggle to find enough fabric for the dress, the “sacrifice” of multiple yards of vintage fabric, and all the large scraps which were leftover from the making of this outfit, it was almost painful.  I am very thrifty (as much as can be expected) with my sewing, making use of every scrap, getting only fabric that I have an idea for, and squeezing patterns on cuts too small for an easy layout.  Not too often am I liberal with my sewing, but extravagance is just that – an indulgence, a surrendering of practicality for the ideal of beauty, the effort towards a creative reality.  This is closer to how couture works, or at least designer productions, as well.

The outlook, the artistic vision is priority along the creative process, and then the special someone who gets to wear the finished product, and the resulting feelings upon wearing, are then the pride and crowning glory after the last of the finishing touches have been made.  This is a designer dress, after all, and I’m using my best vintage fabric to complete it as a ‘copy’ of something from Hollywood, inspired by the decadence of the era of elegance itself – the 1930s.  Why was I expecting something sensible here?!  Sometimes making (and wearing) the extravagance of what exactly you want, what you feel great in is intoxicatingly enjoyable.  I am sensible enough to not do this all that often, but with this dress it is so nice deep down.  Can I use the excuse that my birthday is in August?  I may just have to find as many excuses to wear this as I possibly can, too.