Origami Neck Blouse

Just as you fold and manipulate flat, one-dimensional paper to create something magical and 3-D in the practice of origami, so too does the same thing happen with sewing.  You start with flat panels of fabric and fold, tack, and manipulate it into something that forms to envelope the body in the most fantastic way.

I know I’ve mentioned this opinion before, but this blouse’s post deserves to have it stated again – 1950s blouses really do have the most intriguing and unique details.  This top, with its mitered cornered collar that reminds me of origami folds, I saw as having a strong Japanese influence which I stressed by using a print for the placket which has bright and beautiful hand fans.  After all, it already had kimono-style sleeves (as they are called in fashion terms) and pleated bust darts which radiate from the neckline much like the “Rising Sun” flag.  All of that symbolism together into one scrap-busting project and now I have one lovely blouse that is both a wonderfully dressy-casual wardrobe addition as well as being an opportunity to learn more about another culture!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a solid burgundy red Kona cotton together with a fan printed quilting cotton

PATTERN:  Butterick #6567, from the Summer of 1953

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread, some interfacing scraps, bias tape, and buttons (which were leftover from the buttons I used at the neckline of this movie inspired dress from the year before)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The blouse only took maybe 4 or 5 hours to make, and was finished on May 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly bias bound on the side seams with French seams for the shoulders

TOTAL COST:  Well, the solid Kona cotton was leftover from making this dress awhile back now, and the printed placket material was a discounted ½ yard remnant…so I can estimate that this blouse is under $5.  Pretty awesome!

As lovely as this turned out – if I do say so myself – what I am most proud of is the fact that this used up scraps.  Yes…a garment from seemingly worthless remnants can go towards something amazing and wearable!  I save pretty much everything that is leftover from all my projects, yet I do not count myself as a hoarder because I really do use that stuff up, as this proves so clearly!  The solid Kona was only about ¾ of a yard, and the placket was (as I said) a quilter’s fat quarter, but by turning the blouse pieces oppositely to mirror each other, and by piecing the placket strips together (you’d never guess, would you?) I made my idea work.  Blouses and tops with cut-on sleeves are so awesome for fitting in the smallest cuts of fabric.

Now, I can actually back myself up, historically speaking, with using the fan print for this 50’s blouse.  It was originally chosen to make both the most of a scrap and to explore understanding a culture other than mine.  (I have made a few Chinese inspired garments – here and here – so it was time to dive into Japan!)  However, I have found fan prints in some extant vintage 1950s garments, the best example being this dress sold on Etsy.  Interest in the Asian culture through fashion was extremely popular in the 1950s but unfortunately the decade was not differentiating between the nations nor appropriating appropriately.  Hopefully this blouse does a better job at that!

The collar area called for slow, exact sewing and my favorite, under-used technique…mitered corners! I was worried that between piecing the placket and interfacing it, the neckline would be too stiff compared to the soft Kona cotton but I think that is the point.  The stiff, stand-up collar is like a portrait frame for the face…I am fascinated with its unusualness and love the way the look of it changes at every manner it lays – open, buttoned, or folded back.  The envelope back description calls this collar style “…the newest cardigan look” “inspired (by) Paris”.  Hummm, I never heard of this, and sadly have not found any research info about it.  Neither does it exactly look like a sweater cardigan, and I do have a small collection of vintage 50’s ones to compare.  However, there is a more famous designer, or at least famous novelty blouse I should say, that does have the exact same collar with the mitered origami one of this post.  I’m talking about Hollywood designer Edith Head’s “Birds and the Bees” blouse offered through Dial brand soap in 1956.  This is 3 years after my blouse’s pattern date with no name listed for the collar style.  There is a new fashion terminology mystery here yet to explore and understand.

After it was finished, I was worried that my stash busting Japanese-inspired blouse would not match with anything.  However, I just need to wear bottoms with color – like my purple 40’s trousers (posted about here), my pink skinny pants (posted here), or a pink linen short A-line skirt (an old RTW item), or even some dark denims.  Usually I’m very conscious about my ideas for separates, making sure they actually are versatile and will pair with what I already have.  What’s the use of fulfilling an idea if it never is worn and enjoyed?  I disregarded thinking about that this time, and got lucky.

We took our pictures at our local Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Garden.  They have the most peaceful combed rock beds, and artful bonsai.  Bonsai, the artistic cultivation of small trees, is another one of the many wonderful traditions of Japan, but hand fans are much older to the culture.  Did you know that the folding fan was invented in Japan, with the earliest visual depiction date from the 6th century?  The Japanese believe that the top of the handle of the fan symbolizes the beginning of life and the ribs stand for the roads of life going out in all directions to bring good fortune and happiness.  Where would women’s history be without such a beautiful and practically useful invention!?

As the hand fan had eventually been universally adopted, many forget to think of the country of its origin.  The tradition of origami is so much more understood to be Japanese.  However, no matter what culture you are, it is still so universally enjoyed.  I think the art of paper folding is so special because it’s great to help people who don’t sew understand the art of creating with fabric and thread.  There is a form of fashion drafting that is called origami for a fantastic crossover, only it is one of the most challenging sewing imaginable (in my opinion).  Check out the origami sleeves on this Badgley Mischka dress!  However, it was Issey Miyake was one of the first designers to explore how origami could influence design.  The Spring 2009 collection by designer André Lima was also directly inspired by origami.  Art and garment design, form and functionality finds Zen through origami.

Mother’s Day Mandalas

Every mom can fully appreciate the amazing benefits of having her own special ‘space’ and quality ‘down time’ to refresh.  This is why my Mother’s Day post will be an elegant, flowing, treat-of-a-1930s dress in a lovely Indian mandala print.  Mandalas are a concentric symbol for balance, harmony, and focus in the Indian religions…and goodness knows, every mother needs as much of all that in her busy, hectic, and multi-tasking life!  I know I do!  Just the action of sewing is enough to put me in my “happy zone”.  Combining that with a fabric allusive of serenity sewn into a feminine vintage dress which is as comfy as my best nightgown and bingo – my Mother’s day cannot be any better than this.

I never have enough reasons or places to wear my fancy 1930’s gowns, and so this dress is my first (and happily successful) attempt at ‘normalizing’ that era’s evening wear.  Just by using rayon challis – a nice yet not-so-upscale yet equally flowing fabric as the satin or crepe the pattern called for – I took a special occasion dress into something which can fit more easily in my daily life.  I am in love with the everyday glamor, slimming silhouette, ease of construction, and interesting neckline of this vintage remake.  I definitely do not want to stop at only one of this design.  However, this version is such a keeper!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 ½ yards of a very soft and drapey printed viscose blend rayon with the bodice partially lined in a poly crepe

PATTERN:  Butterick #6410, a 1999 re-issue (now out-of-print) of a year 1935 pattern

NOTIONS:  nothing but some blue thread was needed…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was whipped up in about 5 hours and finished on April 18, 2019

TOTAL COST:  As the bodice lining was scraps from on hand, the rayon was the only expense and it was only $15. I bought it off of Etsy during a half-price sale at the shop “Fibers To Fabric”.

I cannot say enough good words about the work principles, the ideals put into practice, and the materials offered at Fibers to Fabric.  This is not sponsored – just my honest opinion as a happy customer and a seamstress trying to buy ethically.   They carry authentic, artisan, fair trade fabrics made with honesty and transparency in India.  Their true woven (not printed) Ikat fabric is to die for (I have one slated for an upcoming project)!  This printed rayon is so much silkier and sturdy than any carried by any big box store.  The viscose blended in makes this the perfect substitute for silk charmeuse, in my opinion.  Besides, ordering fabric directly from India is the right way to start off when making a garment with their cultural meaning or influence, no matter how slight, as I did here.

The pattern carries most of its complexity in the bodice along the neckline, but even still, those details were not enough to keep this dress from being a one evening project!  However, to be honest, I did greatly simplify the dress by leaving out the side zipper.  It is very tricky to keep a zipper from visibly restricting a flowing dress anyway, and even still, one that calls for delicate fabrics.  I went up one full size to make sure this would be able to slip over my head.  It is a bit roomy fitting this way, but it just makes this dress feel like some super fancy nightwear I can wear in public – is that wrong to want to stay that comfortable?!

Now what is important to realize with this dress is the skirt pieces are not cut on the bias so this pattern can be made on less yardage than the normal 30’s evening gown.  Here’s yet another reason I love this dress!  The skirt panel’s length is cut along the grainline and only the front bodice pieces are on the bias grain.  In order to make my dress on only 2 ½ yards of fabric, I opened up the fabric from the way it gets folded on the bolt and folded it a different way to still find the same grainline.  It was still a Tetris game, nonetheless, but I squeezed everything in after all (only by shortening the hem, which still ended up really long for my 5’3″ frame)!

The neckline is first rate.  It reminds me of a scarf or shawl that is tucked into a wide neckline.  Sadly the amazing seaming is rather lost in the print.  The bodice is kimono sleeved, but only on the sides because the neckline portion begins halfway out from the neck.  The the center back panels miter down into to a V.  The center front panels seam princess-style through the bust and plunge down to the empire waist.  Fill that wide neckline in with these long panels that reach from the front waistline to the back point between the shoulder blades, and there is one beautiful design to be had.  I love the way it frames the back of the neck and is more than just your usual V-neck or wrap bodice.

The pattern calls for the whole of the bodice to be fully lined, however my casual aesthetic kept only what was needed, which was just the facings to the draped neckline.  They were much skinnier than the neckline pieces of the fashion fabric, therefore only way to make the neckline fall into folds vertically, besides finishing the edges nicely.  I did not interface the neckline lining because you don’t need to add body there, just keep the gathers in.  Lacking the full lining which would’ve also filled in the side bodice panels, simple bright red ¼ inch bias binding finished off the armholes of my version instead.

Any time I have wearing this 30’s dress is instantly glamorous in a very unassuming, easy manner…the best of the 30’s for today!  Even though this dress’ pattern is out of print, there seem to be a good number still for sale out on internet sites so I heartily recommend picking up one for yourself.  This design would be great for scrap busting because a one yard cut could go towards a contrast bodice with a slightly bigger cut (no more than 2 yards, though) going towards the skirt portion.  I’m sorry my post did not even take into account how fabulous the little Mandarin collar crop jacket is in the pattern, as well.  I seriously need to come back and make the short jacket to match this dress in the future.

Whatever your state or position in life this Mother’s Day, we can all appreciate some relaxation and a calming moment.  I hope my mandalas for the day, and my quick-to-make but elegant to wear sewing creation, remind you that taking time for yourself is time well spent!

Two 1956 One-Yard Sports Blouses

A sewing project that calls for only one yard is good, but two vintage patterns – from one common year in the past – that are unique designs is even better!  These are casual blouses which I reach for when I need something nice, yet comfy, and sporty.  Their timeless designs possess a sneaky vintage air that is very much ‘me’.  I like to be different yet also blend in.  I appreciate vintage yet want to be fashion forward.  I like fine details yet don’t want them to flag people down, and with all that these two tops help me ride that balance in my me-made style.

The one blouse was specifically chosen firstly to match with my husband.  The other blouse was made because I realized I had so many fancy clothes from the 50’s and not enough casual options!  Both are go-to easy separates that work with a variety of bottoms, both skirts and pants in all sorts of colors, so they are super versatile.  From a sewing standpoint, they were just challenging enough to be good for me yet still easy enough in certain ways to not feel like a project that requires commitment.  They have been seeing some good wear recently, with the plaid even going with me to Florida earlier this year, thus it is long overdue to post about them!

Not content with just making my own clothes, I – more often than not – enjoy making jewelry to match.  Look for my vintage 40s and 50’s style chili pepper necklace!  It was made from little glass handmade charms ordered from Etsy.  Then they were attached at intervals to a slightly oversized brass chain to have a very authentic reproduction of a very popular style of jewelry from back then.  It was so easy to do, and is such a cheerful, bright novelty to spice up an outfit!  The rest of my accessories are true vintage pieces.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The green and ivory plaid is as soft as washed cheesecloth in 100% Madras cotton while the zig-zag print is a Waverly brand thick, textured, decorator’s cotton

PATTERNS:  Butterick #7771 and Simplicity #1782, both from 1956

NOTIONS:  Amazingly, I had everything I needed on hand already…yes even the long separating zipper for the striped blouse’s back closing!  The buttons on the green plaid blouse are true vintage from the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother, while the buttons on the zig-zag striped blouse are new, and one of those cheap multi-pack of half a dozen buttons for only $1.99!

THE INSIDES:  bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The green plaid odd-collar blouse took me about 8 hours and was finished on July 22, 2017.  The zig-zag Waverly blouse took about the same amount of time and was done on May 1, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  Both tops cost less than $3 EACH as they only needed one yard and both fabrics were on clearance as a remnant.

I had practice for the green plaid blouse after doing hubby’s shirt with the same collar.  Again, as I said in the post about his version, I believe this is called an “Italian Front” closing, but I cannot concretely verify that.  So, until then, I will say I could be mistaken.  The back of my pattern’s envelope calls this a “two-button horizontal closing”.  What I find most interesting is that the men’s pattern for a shirt with the same collar came out before the women’s’ version.  I wonder if it was due to popular demand or just plain fairness on Butterick’s part?  Anyway, I do see many more copies of the men’s version pop up on the Internet for sale, but the women’s is much rarer with one showing up here or there.  I wonder if the women’s version was an unsuccessful release, but maybe Butterick merely did not print as many copies.  The ladies version was a dime cheaper than the men’s version (45¢), where you get multiple views….surprising because most of their patterns in the years before and after 1956 were about 50¢.  Butterick #7771 only has one view – this style neckline blouse is the only thing this pattern offers (besides the obvious long or short sleeves), something quite unusual in an era where most patterns had two or three different options to make from them.  Either way, “if you wanna help sell it, reduce the price”, must have been Butterick’s idea.  I love this pattern, between my husband and me we see a lot of interesting options to tweak this wonderful neckline in the future.

I do wish they would have made it the same collar construction as was designed for the men’s version.  This ladies’ version is more complicated and fussy with the collar being a separate piece from the facing – the men’s was all-in-one!  I call for equality!  At least I knew what to expect, because it was much harder than my first time and would’ve lost me completely if I had made this before the one I made for hubby.

Part of the impetus behind this was of course, as I mentioned, the gushy matchy-matchy factor with my sweetie, but also because I had to give away an old favorite top that didn’t fit anymore which had the exact same color plaid Madras.  Granted, the neckline on my old top was not anywhere this cool, but it’s okay to have things better than keep it the same, make it all my own.  Unlike my old green plaid top, mine is meticulously matched up!  I am not used to the boxy, shorter, untucked blouse shape of this, but it is comfy and easy to move in, but only works with body hugging skirts and pants.

Now, the other blouse is very curve-hugging in a way that forgives the horizontal striping!  I really think I had some strong luck on my side for this blouse because, as the cotton is a woven, there was to be no forgiveness and a perfect body skimming fit was necessary here.  There was no way I was doing a muslin on such a basic project.  A pattern tissue fitting on myself seemed promising, but those are not always accurate as paper doesn’t fit like fabric.  Take note that this is a Junior’s pattern for teens.  I did not re-size the overall top like I probably should have, as I both didn’t have room on my one yard of 45” width fabric and I wanted a close fit.  Beyond a bit of tweaking and resizing as to the dart placement, and lowering the underarm portion of the side seam slightly, this top turned out great as-is, as you can see!  The fit is snug, but the pattern is first-rate for being an “Easy-to-Make” design because it is still easy to move in.  I love the fact I can have the classic 50’s hourglass shape in such a basic tee!

This was ridiculously simple – one front piece, two back pieces, and some fun little details.  No sleeves to even set in!  As you can see in the pattern front for Simplicity #1782 there are lots of options, so I mix-and-matched to make a combo of three views.  That’s what those options are there for, after all.

I definitely kept the cute little “mock-placket” feature up the front chest.  It is really just a glorified strip of fabric that is sewn down in a very interesting way.  There is an open loop in the top of the tab at the neckline, and when my neck is a bit chilly in the evenings, that tab is great for holding one of my vintage silk scarves, just as the pattern front drawing shows.  As bold as the buttons are that I chose, I love the crazy fun they add to my top.

The one little arm pocket felt a bit ridiculous to make and add on, but hey – I love pockets and they are useful no matter where they are placed or what their size.  Granted, I like to wear this top with an old favorite RTW skirt that has giant cargo pockets (in the pictures) – but I digress.  I will not be pocket prejudiced.  It is just enough to fit a few fingers in so it normally holds some spare change or a nose tissue.  My little pocket seems to hilariously bother my husband who likes to check it every so often when I wear this top.

I added the hem band as an afterthought because I needed a few inches extra to use this matching blue separating zipper that I had on hand.  I was determined to use such a special notion on my blouse because there was no way I was doing two separate closures as the pattern called for – a side zip up to the armpit and a small 5 inch neck zip behind.  A basic, sporty, and easy-to-sew garment like this needed some modern simplicity in order to be enjoyed both wearing and making!  This way all the curious details are not solely in front, either!

Our pictures were taken in the middle of doing our living…between errands for the one and at a semi-pro soccer game (football, depending on where you live) for the other.  It’s awesome to wear what I make to everyday events that are the bulk of the memories that stay with you.  Admittedly, I am always a sucker for making a special outfit for a special occasion, but I find myself appreciating the ones that are there for the commonplace events and prove their worth like an old friend.  I like making friends with the ordinary and unpretentious side of the mid-1950s!

Bouclé Mid-Century Shift

Achieving the ideal fit for a garment is by far the most difficult process of sewing, but also the technique that completes it.  Every article of clothing, on every human body, has a unique fit, as individual as people themselves, which will make it best serve its purpose and look its best.  Funny thing is, I have found that styles which ride the boundary between loose and baggy or body skimming (such as many 1920s or even 1960s fashions) are actually the trickiest to find such a “sweet spot” of ideal fit.  Take into account that thick but warm fabrics (like my favorite textured bouclé) can become bulky when you sew something with them, making it challenging to achieve a close fit.  There is such a thing as a chic fit that doesn’t fit the body the way we’re used to, though!  Just look to the best designers and the most famous actresses of the 1950s and 60’s to see inspiration for what I am talking about!  This 1964 semi-fitted shift dress that I’ve sewn is a perfect example.

Certain well-known designers were changing the idea of a stylish silhouette for women earlier on, making oversized and non-body fitting garments attractive and fashionable.  Most of what we think of as the 60’s “look” had its beginnings in the decade before.  By the 50’s, Claire McCardell had already crafted her “monastic dress” and Yves Saint Laurent is credited with beginning the classic “trapeze dress” (in Spring/Summer 1958), both of which are generously unfitted than the ‘normal’ garment at the time.  Jacques Fath began the ever popular swing coat fashion in outwear circa 1950 (here’s one pink example) to accommodate both the post-WWII baby boom and full skirted or structured garments which were being released.  Balenciaga was the heavyweight!  He was using sculptural garments that had a shape of their own apart from a perfect body symmetry.  Their beauty is focused on the shape of the garment itself, only hinting at the body of the wearer underneath.  In 1953 he introduced the “balloon jacket”, while in 1957 came the “babydoll dress”, the gracefully draped “cocoon coat”, and the “sack dress”.  He even worked with fabric houses to develop innovative material, like silk gazar, which would be heavy and stiff to lend itself to such stand-away-from-the-body designs.   Pierre Cardin had his fair share of influence in this matter, too – he introduced the “bubble dress” in 1954, and was known for his preference of geometric shaping and ignoring the female form (see this coat of his for one example).

These types of fashions were an alternative to the immaculate, overly shaped (wasp waited) feminine form which was popularized by Dior.  It was seen as the newest chic of the time, and a very modern approach to styling, besides the fact that they were more often couture because of the high talent it took to uniquely shape such designs.  They might seem simple at first glance but these revolutionary creations emerging in the early mid-50’s were paving the way for the next decade.

The model woman drawn on the front cover of my Butterick #3296 pattern bears a striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I think!  Hepburn was one of the model women for the youthful, fashion forward aura which was frequently associated with 50’sand 60’s loosely structured garments.  The coat especially reminds me of her clothes from the movie “Charades”, released the year before in 1963, but I think it’s the hat, too.  I stayed close to this with my interpretation.  This was my chance to accessorize with the only 60’s hat in my collection (and a good one, too – just look at its details), vintage wooden bead necklace, old earrings from my Grandmother, and vintage leather driving gloves.  I do want to make the coat half of my pattern at some point, but for now, a vintage 60’s hot pink pea coat matches quite well with the color, styling, and era of my dress!

After all, hot pink coats seemed to be the ‘thing’ for women’s outerwear in the 10 years between 1956 and 1966 if one looks at advertisements, movies, and designer creations for some examples.  Firstly, there is the March 15, 1956 “International Fashions” edition of Vogue magazine, with Evelyn Tripp on the front cover wearing a rose tweed cocoon coat by Zelinka-Matlick (A).  Then there is a year 1960 pink Balenciaga cocoon jacket suit (B) to be found as well as a Burda Style’s March of 1964 tweed bouclé A-line coat (C).  Ah, let’s not forget that swoon-worthy oversized hot pink coat worn by Audrey Hepburn and made by Givenchy from the 1966 movie “How to Steal a Million” (D).  So – among the many colors that are mixed in to make my dress’ bouclé (grey blue, maroon, black, pink, and a touch of orange), having a dress match with my period 60’s coat is partly why I stayed close to the pink undertones with the color of my lining.  It was also because a soft pink sweetens the dress, keeping it being too glaringly modern.  I love how the pink can be seen peeking out if you look closely inside my wide sleeves or just under the hem of my knee length dress.  Dior himself has said (in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion”) “Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe.  It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”  I’m covered because I do have plenty of pink in my closet for every season now!

After all, the pink influence of my dress pays homage to yet another designer which had her own part to play in this kind of fashion, too – Coco Chanel, not mentioned in the above list of influencers.  Pink is one of her signature colors, and is often used with black (both colors are in my bouclé).  Chanel often used bouclé, tweed, and other textured, nubby materials for her suits and shift dresses in the 50’s and 60’s, as well.  However, to be braggingly specific, there is an uncanny resemblance that my own fabric bears to a suit set of hers from the same year of 1964 (see it listed here at the MET museum).  It is claimed that Chanel criticized the boned and uber-cinched waists that Dior was producing, in favor of a looser fitting, but still tailored look that both she and her forward-thinking contemporaries were producing.  Her collection of 1954 (when she re-opened her fashion house) is easily recognizable today – a boxy jacket with an A-line skirt – and still being worn.  Those like her who used more wearing ease with greater structure in their garments of the 50’s had more of an influence on the success of the fashion of the 60’s and beyond.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The visible outside of my dress is a loosely woven, but thick and textural bouclé, in a fiber content of wool, mohair, and acrylic.  The inside is a super soft all cotton in a soft pink color with a pink satin facing.

PATTERN:  Butterick #3296, from the Fall/Winter season of year 1964 (see cover picture above)

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing I needed already, as well as extra bias tape, hem tape, and a large button.  The neckline placket is actually a faux closure permanently sewn into place by this large, vintage, dusty blue, carved shell button, salvaged off of this vintage suit when I refashioned its skirt’s waistband.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 8 hours and finished on December 14, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Since bouclé is a fraying terror of a mess along its raw edges, and I am allergic to mohair, all seams are either covered by the cotton lining or encased in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The fabric was stuff I had bought from Hancock Fabrics when they were going out of business, so it was only about $2 a yard.  With one yard needed of both the bouclé and the cotton (as they were 60” wide), this is a $4 dress, believe it or not!

Making the dress itself was ridiculously simple, and just a tad difficult due to the challenges of working with such a thick and full-bodied material.  I made sure to trim most of my seams allowances and even pulled a secret sewing trick I rarely use – I hammered the seams once they were stitched to make them flat, especially the front fake neck placket.  The tricky part about trimming seam allowances with bouclé is that the fabric unravels easily.  Thus, I kept the small seams together and finished them cleanly by using the bias tape over the edges.  The bias tape finish was especially tricky on the inside curve of the kimono sleeves, but I stretched It has I stitched it down as I kept the seam curved.

The back has the basic “fish-eye” darts to shape the waist, but the front holds the creative options.  There are lovely sun-ray darts coming out of the neckline to shape the chest and upper bust.  These were quite tricky to sew across the grain!  In conjunction with the long French darts to shape the dress below the bust, this dress has elegance down to an understated art.  It’s too bad the few details are not that noticeable with the blended business of my bouclé!  This was (amazingly) a 65 cent pattern.  For having both a coat and dress in one envelope, this still sounds kind of cheaply priced, even for 1964, when Simplicity patterns for one dress design were the same price and Vogue pattern were about $1.00.  Was this an unmarked designer knock-off, I wonder, because it sure does look like something out of the movie “Charades” anyway?

The pattern I had was a size too big for me – but no problem.  To have an easy fix to that, I merely left off the given seam allowance at the sides and shoulders when I cut out the dress.  Kimono sleeves can sometimes hang far too low on my almost petite frame, anyway.  Then I sewed in slightly wider seam allowances in this because it still seemed to fit too generously.  I ended up with a wonderfully loose, comfy, and ‘slightly fitted’ dress (as the envelope says) that is a perfect fit for this design.  I feel this unorthodox but simple way at approaching a pattern merely a few inches too big for me worked very well for this dress, but it probably would not be the best for a body-conscious tailored garment.  Nevertheless, I do love finding shortcuts that don’t compromise quality or fit.  Anything that puts my sewing projects from out of my fabric pile onto my back is most welcome!

My Australian and other southern hemisphere readers should appreciate the fact that this is a cold weather outfit!  (Bouclé lined in cotton is just as warm as wearing a blanket, for your information!) Even though it is finally spring here for where I live, only recently was the anniversary of Audrey Hepburn’s birthday (well it was May 4), and so I felt that this was appropriate to share.

Besides, I like to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut of only one decade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with staying in one era for what vintage one recreates.  It’s just that I know I do enjoy all of them.  Sewing from all the decades of the 21st century also helps give me a good overview of the big picture.  Everything is connected in history – it’s not just static dates and names to remember – and this carries over into the accounting of what people have worn through those same times.  As I presented in this post, the 1950’s set things up for what defined the 60’s.  The minds of today inspire those of tomorrow.

“Not My Own Crochet” Year 1936 Ensemble

I do not yet know how to crochet.  At some point in my life I fully intend to figure that amazing skill out.  Until then, I find sneaky yet creative ways to get around not knowing, which means that I wear crochet that is not really my own.  Saying this means I try to sew with tricky, delicate fabric that is the closest thing to crochet that can be found – like an open-work sweater knit.  To me, as someone who sews on an almost daily basis, this offers yet another “new and different” thing to try out.  Speaking of something unconventional, these aren’t just your normal open-seam sleeves…they are part of the entire bodice design in a way that blew my mind when I made it.

Of course, I go all out with my dress – a vintage sweater knit dress with awesomely elegant features deserves its own fancy, fashion colored under-slip (since it will be somewhat seen anyway) and a custom-made, Grecian-inspired rope-and-tassel belt to keep up the mid-1930s glamour!  Of course, as is our wont, we also found a historically appropriate and color matching Art Deco shop for the photo background so I could feel like I stepped back in time.

This outfit is rather a vintage way to interpret several modern (2018) trends – rope belts, sheer dresses, and statement sleeves.  For myself, I like to be informed as to the source of a modern trend and realize the when, why, and how of it from years back.  Nowadays, there is not a whole lot going on in fashion that is 100% “new”, it’s mostly just a re-inventions and all it takes is a peek into history to have a broader perspective of a fad.

Befitting my idealized mix of both old and new, this outfit is accessorized with modern 1930s D’Orsay style strap sandals by Aerosoles and true vintage pearl dress clips.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The sweater dress is made from a poly blended, almost shell-like stitched open knit in a cranberry color.  The under slip is made from an all poly crepe in a royal blue color.

PATTERN:  Butterick #6706, year 1936, for the dress and the “Slinky Bias Slip” came from Sew Vera Venus blog, on her free pattern page (link here).  (I know the year for the dress pattern Butterick #6706 because it was featured in “Butterick’s Fashion News” magazine for April 1936)

NOTIONS:  To make the dress and slip, I only used what was on hand already – thread, a vintage metal zipper, scraps of bias tape, and two buttons.  The rope belt and its tassels required very specific supplies, so these bought to match after the dress outfit was finished.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This set took me about 15 hours to make the dress and 3 hours to sew the slip.  Making the belt took me maybe 2 hours.  The entire outfit was finished and ready to be worn by October 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The sweater knit doesn’t ravel (the wonders of a man-made poly), so the edges are left raw to let the dress be flowing.  The slip is bias bound inside.

TOTAL COST:  The sweater knit, slip material, and subsequent belting were bought at our local Jo Ann’s fabric store for a rough estimate total (it’s been awhile since the fabric was purchased) of about $30 to $40 dollars.

First off, I need to give full credit to my hubby for finding the sweater knit among all the bolts in the store and knowing my creative brain’s predictability enough to recommend something 1930’s to pair with it!  I guess I’m training him well without even knowing it.  Now, it wasn’t just about following his idea – the project plan rang true for me, too, and both him and old fashion images together helped me decide what contrast color for the underneath slip and what kind of belt would complement well.

The pattern I used to make my dress was also one of the very first 1930’s vintage patterns I bought back in 2011 (when they were so much more reasonably priced)!  It’s so good, I had been “sitting on it” all these years waiting for just the right project plan for it.  I felt like it was high time to take it up – hubby picked out a special fabric for me so I would go use my special pattern.  No really, I feel like the fabric is a solid enough color to show off the design lines well yet curious enough to add depth and interest to an already luxurious design.  The knit makes it practical while the sheerness of it makes it, well, oh-la-la!  Yes, not only do I love what the 1930s has to offer for fashion, I also love how hubby and I can work together on my sewing projects to make something so interesting and creative that I can wear.

It was amazing how a few, large pattern pieces – only 4 to be exact (together with two incredibly tiny pieces) – can come together to make a dress like this.  Vintage generally does smart designing impeccably, whether in fashion or architecture, and this is only another example to prove it to me.  The sleeves of my dress are part of the bodice and only joined together at the front seam that runs from the neckline detail down the length of my arm.  There is no shoulder seam whatsoever.  It’s like an adapted kimono sleeve on steroids.  There are two small darts at the shoulder tops, coming out from the neckline, but that’s it – I do believe the weight of the sleeve volume is enough to shape the fabric, pulling it down over the shoulders.  The bodice front piece includes the sleeve front-bottom and the neckline “flap” detail, as well. From behind, there is the center seam so that a placket can be made for a neck opening (otherwise this dress wouldn’t go over the head), but besides that, the back bodice wraps around to the front bodice at the chest and front of the arms.

This design is not only amazing, it is also crazy easy to whip together with minimal seams (a big yay because with a delicate knit like this, the less seams the better).  It also made for some overwhelmingly large pattern pieces that just barely fit onto my 60” width fabric.  How these bodice pieces fit onto the old side fabric widths is something I don’t really want to figure out.  As it was, with 60” wide fabric, I still used over 3 yards…in 35” width this dress would definitely take way over 4 yards.  There’s Depression-era luxury for you!  Even still, making a dress like this in the 1930s probably would have been much more monetarily affordable than buying something RTW which would be similar.

Now, the style of sleeve I chose to make on my dress is a combo of both views offered in the pattern.  I wanted the slashed open style of the ¾ sleeve option, but something long, wrist length at the same time, so mine are a mix of both.  Not that this is the first incarnation of such sleeves – this slashed open look that was popular in the 1930s is one of the many fashion details the era of 80 years back which were borrowed from Tudor styles of the 15 and 1600s.  (See the artist William Larkin’s famous 1614 painting of Diana Cecil next to another 1936 pattern for comparison, check out the “Lady with a Fan” by Alonzo Sanchez Coello circa 1570, or see this “Fashion-era.com” post on coat sleeve styles of the time of Henry VII for just three examples.)  Such sleeves also made a comeback for a short stint in 2014/2015.  Today, the dramatic sleeves and balloon sleeves of all styles and volume are trending for this coming Spring 2018 season (see Carlos Vogue Patterns and Glamour.com to read more).  Some things never change…what is forgotten, is doomed to be repeated.

All of that sleeve volume on my dress is pleated into skinny wristbands.  The pattern directed for a dizzying amount of pleats that I wasn’t willing to chalk or thread mark because there was no way I was going to get them straight.  So I did my own mathematical, segmented method of pleats, and it worked out just as fine (so I think).  However, whether I did the wrists my way or the way of the instructions I do believe either end would be just as bulky as the other.  All the pleating made the little “cuffs” more like binding or bracelets, but I like it, however they turned out.

For sporting such statement sleeves, I realize the 2017 “Year of the Sleeve” is over with now, but as I don’t see impressive sleeves disappearing from modern fashion anytime soon either, I am hoping that we are now in the ‘era of the sleeve’ because this is the best excuse to bring out and highlight more 1930s designs!  Either way, fantastic sleeves should never be “out-of-style”…they need to be more appreciated and enjoyed because they sure are fabulous.

To balance out the fabric heavy and detail oriented top half, the waist and below is slim and basic.  The skirt is just a really simple, two-piece 30’s bias skirt, plain in front and two waist darts in back.  The waist of the bodice is ever so slightly pleated into the slim skirt.  It is only for the skinny skirt’s sake that there needs to be a closure in the side of this dress, otherwise I would have preferred it to be left out.  The delicate sweater knit wasn’t easily willing to be restrained into a zipper, but using a small 5 inch vintage metal one minimized the difficulty, and, at least when it’s seen, will hopefully make my dress seem like a real piece from the 30’s.

Sheer and see-through dresses are nothing new – they have been around in some form or fashion for about a century since the late Edwardian times had the lace bodices and the early teens came out with the “lingerie dresses” (so called, as they were lace and sheer linens or cottons).  The 20’s and 30’s began to be more experimental with what was used for sheer effect – crochet, netting, devoré (burnout velvet), chiffon, metallic mesh, and other open-work or tissue weight material for both blouses and dresses.  Don’t forget, however, past sheer fashions seem to have always understood that just because the garment is see-through doesn’t mean one should bare-all underneath nor use it as an opportunity to show off one’s lingerie.  Modern trends seem to be taking sheer garments a whole new “nothing there” kind of direction on the runways for all the designer’s collections.  Seeing legs, panties, or a ladies’ “headlights” is only distracting and does not do justice to an amazing, but sheer, dress as the garment is certainly not the first impression.  I’ve sewn a fair share of sheer dresses already from the 20’s (here and here) and the 30’s (here and here), and one from 1961 already so this will be my 6th now.

The slip underneath my 1936 dress needed to be simple yet elegant, slimming and interesting yet with coverage.  Who could ask for anything better than a free pattern?!  Besides the ‘free’ part, this really is a great pattern.  It was easy, came together beautifully, and fits well.  The pattern itself is assembled much like a downloaded Burda Style pattern, where you print out all the pages then tape them together like a fashion puzzle before you can have something to place on your fabric.  I do think the sizing runs a bit small, and although this slip fits, next time I will go up a size bigger.  For using a polyester crepe, my slip has decent drape and bias yet it’s still a bit stiff (as you can see), but with a true rayon or silk crepe this slip would have some drop-dead slinkiness that I need to try.  Other than these points, I couldn’t be happier.  There is plenty of room for adaptations and individuality with this pattern, but the only personal touches I added were two strips of leftover bias tape to decorate my lower décolleté.  My slip’s shoulder straps are stitched down to fit, but if they were made skinny, they could easily be made adjustable with a modern lingerie slide buckle.  The best part is that I was able to make this slip with only one yard of fabric!

With the garments done, I initially thought a normal belt would complete the outfit, but no – every one I tried on looked awful with the dress.  I knew what I saw in my inspiration pictures needed to be followed…go with the whole Grecian idealism of a rope belt.  My dress outfit needed a hanging belt to lengthen the silhouette, I felt, and a rope belt with tassels at the ends would not overwhelm like a traditional, buckle belt, only slightly define my middle yet draw interest away from the waist.  This is a much more feminine and delicate option to a boldly defining buckle belt.  Rope belts are the new ‘thing’ this year, anyway.  It’s listed as one of the top 5 trends of 2018’s Spring/Summer fashionBurda Style has also talked about it and provided a “how-to” make your own roped belt.  I might as well find a vintage way to love a current trend!

I took this as an opportunity to use my beginner’s knowledge of sailor’s knots to finish off the rope belt ends where the tassels are added.  I put the loop that’s atop the tassel through the end of the roping, then made my sailor’s knot, and ended it by stitching the raw end to the rope for a little over an inch’s worth.  Then, the end was finished by taking satin finish Mettler Metrosheen thread to wind tightly around and around until it’s nice and sturdy, and tie off the thread through the winding.  Suddenly, I have a very fancy rope belt end!

You know, I have experience with doing this already because of a church we used to attend.  Churches always have tassels on something, and for some reason all of theirs were coming off.  I have a suspicion that the cause was our deeply ingrained human instinct to pull at a tassel (really, you don’t have to think to do it).  Anyway, once I fixed only one for them, I ended up fixed them all.  Let me tell you, I made sure those tassels did not come apart at all the way I finished them…I also have method to it after fixing more than a dozen.  So, it was kind of nice to do tassel attaching again, sort of like bringing back something I know how to do like the back of my hand.  Yet this time it brought that up a notch because it was so much fancier this time and also for myself!  It was high time for some selfish tassel sewing.

It doesn’t really make sense to me – I can make and sew tassels, yet I do not crochet.  Oh well, I have finally tackled another challenging fabric and a perplexing pattern I’ve been holding out on.  I’m not out for the great instant “boom-and-pow” of doing everything big at once and burning out early.  I’m looking forward to many years ahead of enjoying all the differing ways to make something to wear.  Crochet is a whole new world yet to come for me and I really admire every and any one of you that I see who can do it.  Even my niece has started doing it!  I guess I’d better catch up, but until then I’m happy with this open work 1930’s dress set being in my closet as a substitute.