I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.

Vintage-Style Red Velvet

Yes, red velvet is definitely lovely, and it’s a sweet treat whether it’s a cake for consumption or a fabric for wearing. In this post, it’s a 1927 blouse!

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Shirts and blouses are a staple to the human wardrobe for ages, so there’s much to change while still staying the same through the past decades of the 20th century. Totally un-like a red velvet cake, this blouse is no-calorie and very appropriate for a party. It’s also made from a lovely, basic, vintage pattern which lets the fabric shine! In this case, I chose a fancy, deep burgundy burnout velvet to make an outfit for a St. Valentine’s weekend wedding we were attending.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: A 97% polyester lycra stretch panne velvet, with a floral burnout design in deep burgundy red showing a black netting underneath. This fabric was bought from Fashion Fabrics Club.McCall's 7250, year 1927 re-release-comp

NOTIONS: Everything I needed for the blouse was on hand already – the interfacing, the thread, the hem tape, and the buttons. I did buy the beaded ribbon for the belt from a Hancock Fabrics store just a few days before wearing it, but what I used to finish that was also on hand.

PATTERN: McCall’s #7250, a circa 1927 modern re-issue

TIME TO COMPLETE: This blouse took me about 8 hours to make and it was finished on February 11, 2016.

THE INSIDES: All the inner seams are in French seams, except for the armscye which is left loose and raw. Oh, and the drop shoulder seam is covered in hem tape.

TOTAL COST: The ribbon belt cost about $5.00, and the burnout velvet cost about $19.00 for just over 2 yards, so $24 in total cost.

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I am very pleased with this blouse and its pattern. The pattern is some modern re-print or re-issue from based on the McCall archive drawings from 1927, and I found it is easy to sew, simple to understand, and fitting true to size. I was technically in between sizes, so, looking at the generous finished garment measurements, I decided to go down to the sizeSears 1927 catalog broadcloth shirt smaller. Perfect! The blouse is loose enough to have the proper 20’s style bagginess, but yet somehow it seems to me to be just fitting enough to also be my size. There is a slight curving shaping in the side seams, which further impresses me as well as the lovely gathering at the dropped shoulder seams in the front. My fabric is a non-authentic polyester, I know, but rather proper-looking, and much easier to sew as a ‘burnout’ than as a regular panne velvet. My velvet also has a wonderful weight and droopiness which makes the sleeves so very elegant. However, I can also see this blouse being wonderful sewn up out of a soft handkerchief-weight cotton or linen (see the 1927 Sears ad at right from here) as basic starting point for an ‘everyday’ 1920’s wardrobe piece, going with a suit set, a jumper, or a skirt.

Even though I was working with a burnout stretchy velvet panne, I still sewed it like it was a woven in the way I did not let any of the seams stretch. The seams are stabilized with hem tape and/or multi-layers of tight straight stitching. The velvet blouse is slightly heavy because – of course – it’s a long sleeved tunic with a lot of fabric and it needed to hold its shape. Everywhere else there is room for the fabric to give, just not at the seams and I believe it really works best this way when using a fabric with stretch for this pattern.100_7058-comp

A special interfacing went into my blouse. Being a burnout and slightly see-through, I used a black interfacing. However, the interfacing was also a lightweight, 100% cotton fiber content, iron-on style. I thought this was an odd combination and picked up just enough for the sleeve cuffs, the collar, and neckline facings of my blouse. I really liked how this cotton interfacing stuck nicely to the back of the velvet as well as being especially stable (being a cotton) to keep things in their proper shape. Yet, it doesn’t seem to turn out as stiff as other interfacings. I wish so much I’d bought more because I haven’t seen it again in my local fabric stores, but I know now that it is nice stuff to work with, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled…or just break down and order some online.

The sole fault which I have noticed to this blouse has to do with another one of its best features…double-cuffed sleeves. They are very nice but somehow travel around my wrists as I am wearing my blouse, strangling the sleeve around the rest of my arm. This uncomfortable situation is especially apparent when I wear a coat, for some reason. I have a suspicion that this twisting habit of the sleeve cuffs is mostly due in part to the fabric, but not all blame goes to this factor. The sleeve cuffs are nice, I will admit, but sort of a bottom-heavy weight compared to the rest of the blouse. When it’s hanging up, I have to pick up the sleeves and drape the cuffs on the cross-bar of the hangar so the blouse doesn’t get its shoulders pulled down. Once being worn, the heavy cuffs aren’t noticeable but I still think not closing them tight enough around my wrists, combined with their weight, makes the sleeves twist around my arm. This isn’t something that makes me like this lovely blouse any less, it’s just a tendency that I thought it might be good to mention in case others who make this pattern find the same issue.

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I did slightly alter a few minor points from how the pattern instructions show to do things. My changes have to do with finishing, not design and fitting. Firstly, I left out stitching in buttonholes through the cuffs. Stitching through four layers of fabric (with interfacing sandwiched in, too) did not sound like anything other than a headache, possibly ruining my fabric or machine and therefore making my project seem less than classy. Besides, I wasn’t totally convinced on the given method of folding the cuffs. As my hubby pointed out, why go to the effort of making double cuffs only to fold each cuff out in half (even with the edge where it comes into the sleeve)? Doing so creates the look of a single cuff, albeit one that is very thick, and your effort and the design seems wasted. Thus, I staggered the double-fold of the cuff at about ½ inch down (out towards one’s hand) from the edge of the cuff meeting the sleeve for a more obviously layered appearance. Then I merely took my chosen buttons and sewed them through all the layers where cuff-links would normally go. Now I am not irrevocably committed to the cuffs being one way or another. I know this method might sound cheap or sort of like cheating but the cuffs don’t feel 100% right just yet and my being happy with my own garment is one of the highest priorities in my personal sewing. The cuffs look no less elegant, so I think, for their lacking buttonholes and a little change in cuff folding. They are actually quite nicely fuss-free this way.

100_7069-compSelf-fabric belt loops are the only other item I left out in the original design. I wasn’t entirely sure I always wanted to wear a belt, or even that I wanted to always wear a belt at that same one exact spot every time. So they were left off of the side seams. I figure I can always sew in thread loops, which I think I would like better anyway as they are more low-key compared to self-fabric loops. For now, I merely use and existing belt in my collection or, as with the fancy beaded ribbon I used as belt in our pictures, use a safety pin inside to tack the belt in place at the side seams. This is another non-committal answer, I know, but one that makes me happier with the versatility and non-complexity of the blouse in the end.

My beaded belt was a last minute improvisation a few days before the wedding event we were to attend. I felt the blouse need a little extra oomph to snazz up the look while still being subtle. A matching belt in the same burnout velvet seemed like overkill and would not be seen, but a basic belt or even a modern one didn’t feel right – this beaded sheer ribbon did! I used basic black satin scraps leftover from making my Christmas Burda Style draped front skirt to make fabric “caps” to cover and support the ends of the ribbon. Between the beads and the fineness of the ribbon I sewed the satin caps in place by hand. One end cap in twice as long as the other so as to close in the center with a loop and button. The button is something I picked up a while back at an antique store, and even though I do not think it is authentically vintage is darn sure looks the part of a 1920’s piece. It has the words “Costume Makers” imprinted on the back.

I feel McCall’s 7250 is an excellent pattern in my opinion all around, but especially for100_7064a-comp those who are just getting started into vintage or even those who are acclimating themselves to the styles of the 1920 era. It can pass as completely modern, or completely vintage, and even somewhere in between depending on how the blouse gets worn and styled with hair, fabric, accessories, and bottoms. I stayed as true to the late 1920’s as I could, with my long strand of black trumpet beads, my two-tone t-strap shoes, and my high-low hemmed, double layered under dress (a high-low hem was something which was a transition fashion easing the 1920’s into the 1930’s). However, I was also nodding to the popular Spanish-influenced or Tango fashions of the late 1920’s with my authentic 20’s era large jeweled hair comb.

My outfit was just enough to be authentically vintage but not too much to look like a costume. This says, to me, that I found a winning piece with McCall’s 1927 blouse. Almost everyone likes a tunic top, and with this pattern there’s no more of that common “I can’t do the 1920’s” excuse anymore. You can rock the 20’s!