“Big Apple Plaid” 1924 Frock

New York might have seen this outfit as the smartest dressing in year 1924, but it sure wouldn’t fly on streets of today.  How things have changed almost 100 years later now!  Nevertheless, I’d like to be up-to-date for 1924 and flaunt about in a more historical style for a change of pace!

For most of the 1920s, the decade did not look like the stereotypical “flapper” that everyone reverts to.  Realistically, they were quite conservative in their long length and loose fit, and almost dowdy to our modern eyes.  To recreate them in a way that makes them appear better than a costume takes a bit of a different mindset (such as understanding the underwear which gave them their weird shape) and attention to the finishing details.  This project was more challenging in the way that I self-drafted all but the three main body panels – which were from a true 20’s design – so I could copy an image from a year 1924 “National Suit and Cloak Co.” catalog which had caught my creative eye.  Having the perfect fabric and trimming on hand certainly helped convince me to make something wearable of the idea.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton

PATTERN:  Butterick #1101, from October 1926 (I know the precise month/year only because of the comprehensive Butterick pattern dating charts provided here by “Witness2Fashion”. This pattern is from when Butterick started a new design style and numbering system so that is easy to track!)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, interfacing remnants, embroidery thread, and extra trimming (soutache and satin grosgrain ribbon) from my stash.  The creamy yellow ball buttons down the front are vintage from my grandmother’s stash of notions.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on April 17, 2020 after about 10 hours put into the dress.

TOTAL COST:  This project is as good as free – the fabric had been in my stash for over a decade before becoming this dress, and the trims were something I got for a dollar each years back…who’s counting after all that time?!?

I will bet that the actual inspiration dress was made just a bit differently, but I did the best I could interpreting a small image into an actual garment using what knowledge I have of the era.  My dress is a comfy cotton which makes it a great dress for a low-budget historical dress, yet I have an inkling the original “fancy checked suiting” might have been a wool or slubbed rayon.  The trim I used is modern but exactly the same as something straight out of the 1920s – soutache and satin grosgrain.  The way I layered them together they create a low-key but very complex detail that garments of the era were so good at inventing.  It can be one thing to like a dress you see in a catalog, but then ending up liking it on yourself can be a whole different thing altogether.  Luckily, I think I personalized my interpretation of the chosen inspiration image just enough for me to enjoy wearing this, no matter how odd of a style this era’s true fashion can be!

The body of the dress fit right out of my vintage pattern.  Now granted when I say “fit”, I mean that in a 1920s way of being very loose, unfitted, and with straight lines.  Since I am an hourglass body type and my hips are ever so slightly my widest body feature, making a 1920’s fashion means I need the entire dress to be a tube which is as wide as my hips plus a generous wearing ease of about 4 or 5 inches.  Yeah, that sounds very unappealing, doesn’t it?!  This is why sizing charts on patterns of this era are not dependable (going by age?) and not easily understood.  Even though the bust was too big for me, I needed it for the hips because you don’t curve in the side seams to find a modern fit for true 1920s dress.  It’s not intuitive to make clothes fitting like this for someone living today.  The only thing I did change up was to cut out the sleeves on the bias grain to accommodate my larger upper arms needing more room for mobility.

I traced a paper copy of the pattern to work with even though the tissue was in fantastic shape and still pliable.  This true vintage pattern copy will be a great starting point for any other early or mid-1920s dresses I have a mind to make!  Ah, the version on the cover with the scalloped, two-tiered skirt portion is calling to me.  Only, I know I would definitely add beading and embroidery along the hems if I did sew up that cover dress…and there is enough going on in my life for quite a while now for me to add in something which would be so time consuming.

Making this little 1920s cotton dress was relatively quick and simple.  It was figuring out the details which took all the thought and bother!  As I have said for most of my historical projects (by which I mean 1920s and earlier), they look like nothing but awful, ugly failures up until adding one little detail which suddenly brings everything you’ve worked on together.  For my 1917 dress, it was adding both the lace on the front piece and rosette ribbon on the sheer hems which made it appear like an actual dress and not just a concoction of fabric.  For my 1912 walking suit, it was the hat that added that extra oomph I was lacking.

Here with this project, it was at first the arrow points I embroidered at each end of the faux pockets at the hipline that made this idea work, but that wasn’t enough – then the collection of ten front placket buttons made the whole project come together.  Ah, the power of the ‘little things’ is never to be underestimated.

Figuring out what trims and notions to add was more difficult than drafting all the add-ons to that basic 20’s sack which was to be my dress.  At least with drafting patterns, it is all math and technical measurements!  Making up one’s mind about finishing details can be the hard – but fun, too!  Using the main body of the dress as my base line, and my little inspiration image for reference, I self-drafted the giant ‘pilgrim’ collar, the front placket pieces, and sleeve cuffs (which I didn’t end up using).  For the front bias flounce coming out of the placket, I used a Simplicity #Simplicity 4593, year 2005 skirt pattern for reference (such as figuring what grainline to choose) and then proceeded to draft my own according to the size I needed.

It was tricky to discern proportions.  On a 20’s dress that is over the body much like a sack, how do you properly visualize where the natural waistline and hips actually are?!  I had to make my front placket fall lower than the 1924 fashion image might show because it was hard to get the dress on otherwise (as my front placket was a workable closure, not just for show).  Once I figured that out, then I could measure the flounce piece to match, and estimate how to strategically make the most of my just under 3 yards of trim.  I ended up with only a few inches of soutache/ribbon leftover and nothing but small scraps left for the dress’ cotton, which is incredible after starting out with over 3 yards (45” width)!  Whew, I just made this idea work.

I kept the dress’ insides and construction simple – raw seam edges, bias tape in lieu of “proper” neckline facing, and all machine stitched seams.  Because the dress’ fabric was so see through, I skipped out on doing true welt pockets and did the easy ‘fake’ version.  The front placket has just five large hook-n-eyes (also true vintage) underneath because this dress hails from a time when it was still considered improper to have the means of closing one’s dress in plain sight.

You bet I’m wearing my 1920s combination underwear (posted here) underneath!  Believe me, modern underwear only brings attention to the fact that this style of dress is baggy and unfitted, besides the fact it doesn’t give the full historical effect.  Honestly, the early 20’s are super comfy to wear and not confining in the least, like a good nightgown.  If it wasn’t for all the other accessories, I would be ready for bedtime, ha!

I’ll admit, this project has been languishing as an unfinished project for two years before now.  The fact I am staying at home more is for some reason helping me have the fire to finish projects started, cut, and ready-to-sew.  It is so hard to have the gumption to sew something that will not see possible everyday wearing like much of my post-1930’s vintage garments.  Yet, my great impetus for finishing this project finally was recently happening to find the perfect hat to match.

All of my accessories here are vintage – and the hat is the cherry on the top!  It is a true-to-the-era original from around the same period as my dress.  It has a crown of silk velvet, with velvet ribbons around the brim, and was handmade by a talented home milliner by all that I can tell.  Sure there are a few chews to the velvet, but the wool base is untouched and the silk lining is not shattering.  To think this is in such good condition for being a century old blows my mind, and I am tickled to be wearing it with such a complementing outfit.

My shoes are true to the early 20’s with their pointed toe and French heel, yet they are of 1980s era.  The 80’s had a resurgence of many old styles, and besides 100 years ago, from my knowledge they are the only decade that came back with a strong, hourglass-style curving French heel (quite hard to come by otherwise).  Generally, 1980s shoes are unwanted today and can be found in plenty at my local thrift stores – happily they are also great for providing great 20’s style footwear that is in much better condition than their original counterparts.  Mine are a lovely suede leather and bring out the burgundy colors in my set!

Even the building backdrop to my pictures was built in 1924! How cool is that?

I do believe this to be a nice “street dress”, meaning something that would be worn out of the home to do things like shopping downtown or business-related duties.  It is too nice for a housedress, but the fact that my version is of cotton brings it down a level from, say, a ‘Sunday best’ kind of wear.  Sure, all those glitzy evening gowns or luxurious party dresses are so easy to gravitate to, but personally I appreciate the clothing that was more for everyday living.  It is more of a teaching opportunity/learning experience then.  I learn from the research and actual sewing which goes into my making such an outfit.  In exchange, I find that I can wear such an outfit to living history events or for historical presentations and my clothing only helps others both learn from me as well as feel welcome to ask questions.  It’s a win-win!

Preparing for ‘Ruff’ Weather

It must be miserable for dogs to have to do their potty business outside no matter cold or rain or whatever the weather.  Here where we live, it’s the cusp of when we normally start having all of winter’s most nasty weather, and our little fur baby does not at all like stepping outside in any such clime (not that I blame him!).  Being a dachshund – both long and short – most RTW coats do not fit him correctly and he waddles around in them unable to move naturally.  I’ve made coats for myself, I’ve made a coat for our son (posted previously, see here), and I have everything ready to sew a coat for the husband, but I realized there is one family member that really needed winter wear – our dog!

I had some scraps (literally just a few pieces) of quilted fabric leftover from the previous winter’s sewing.  The scraps were too small to warrant stashing away and an annoyance by keeping out.  Bingo! Our little companion can now go outside in relative comfort and style in a coat I made for just his body type!  Soon, everyone in my family circle will have a custom coat handmade by me.

His breed of dog has a German heritage, and so I put a bit of a Bavarian spin on the coat.  At first, that wasn’t intended – I was merely adapting the pattern to accommodate fitting his body, my shortage of available pieces to use, and easy finishing techniques.  However, I love everything about how it turned out!  In just over an hour, I had a made my pup a new coat.  Since the rest of the quilted fabric was used to make things for me, I personally know that stuff is super warm and cozy so I do hope he is as happy to wear the new coat as pleased as I am to see him in it.

I chose the extra small for the body of the coat and a small for the longer length plus under belly straps.  As it turned out, I only had to use one of the two under belly straps because he is such a little guy!  Also due to his smaller chest, a tissue fitting (tough to do on a wiggly animal!) seemed to show that the neck and tummy straps were at the wrong placement for him so they were the last things I attached at new spots for a custom fit.  He has a box of RTW coats which have been gifted to him and this is the only one that fully covers his back yet has him moving around and doing his outside business like he isn’t even wearing anything.  It’s about time…why hadn’t I thought of this before?!

The bias tape finishing the raw edges used up a color I never need otherwise and was the perfect solution to making this a quickly finished project.  My fur baby certainly doesn’t mind and I like the different combo of colors.  The tape highlights the extra collar that hangs over a half-hidden small pocket.  I will never know why dog coats have pockets – it is one of the world’s great conundrums.  Usually pockets are for the wearer of the garment to use, but I will be the one using it to carry things for his needs (if anything) so…is the pocket really for him?  If anything, it adds some extra interest and was a good way to use up the second chest strap I no longer needed otherwise.

I had a rectangle only big enough to cut out the main body without attached neck/chest strap, but as I mentioned before, they didn’t seem like they were going to fit as they were anyway.  The way to get the neck to fit was to have a separate chest piece…that was all I could manage out of my scraps anyway!  Those buttons are purely decorative because out of convenience the neck/chest piece is sewn down.  It’s one less thing to deal with to get him dressed because when he has to go, he sometimes can’t wait!  The sole side closure of the belly strap closes with Velcro loop tape.

This time every year I have so much more incentive to sew for others, anyway, but this is the first of my sewing going for a pet!  I don’t really expect to do much more sewing in that department, yet it is exciting to find a new use for my scraps.  I mean, dachshunds do show up on so many of the few pet patterns which do get released.  He probably hopes I don’t get carried away with my new discovery because he doesn’t necessarily like to model or be the subject of the camera.  He is so accommodating, though.   Don’t worry little buddy, the coat you were born with is plenty handsome…

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  two-sided, 100% cotton covered quilted batting

PATTERN:   Butterick #4885, year 2006, View C

NOTIONS:  I only used what was in my stash – matching thread, bright orange bias tape, and some 1980s buttons out of the inherited stash of my husband’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  From start to finish, this coat only took me an hour and a half!

TOTAL COST:  Basically nothing – a few dollars or less!  This was made of the scraps leftover from 2 ½ yards of quilted fabric which has already went towards two different outfits.  A third re-iteration of the same fabric is practically free in my opinion!

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!