A Pre-Raphaelite Reverie

My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century.  The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well.  They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail.   It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!

My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan.  The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood.  In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing?  Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one.  The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones.  It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.  

This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries).  Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit.  Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past.  Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony.  Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!

So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown?  I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923.  She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943.  Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum.  They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment.  Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration.  Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.

Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”.  In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year.  This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s. 

Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time.  In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”.  Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown.  Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version.  Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit.  The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch.  More on this further down in the post!   

A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old.  It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all!  I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti.  The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic.  My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark.  However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location.  What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?!  I’m living a dream.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of sheer 100% silk chiffon, digitally printed. Fully lined in 2 yards of all rayon crepe for the dress. The short bolero jacket is an amazing Rifle Paper Company 100% cotton duck (from Spool and Spindle as part of my prize from the 2018 “Designin’ December” challenge) fully lined in a sage green polyester.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern

NOTIONS:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours.  Both were finished in October 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all!  The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business.  The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping.  So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.

Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended.  Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one.  It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too.  It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging.  The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges. 

The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away.  I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch!  I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem.  The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’.  I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train. 

Here’s a close-up of the right side seam bodice gathers.

The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers.  I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable.  This was such close call of a project!

As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice.  It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though.  A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally.  It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone.  At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all.  As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself.  I realize this much.  Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.

The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought.  When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing.  Would a solid color bolero overwhelm?  Would a black one underwhelm?  I was at a loss.  What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress?  Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own).  I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat.  Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table!  Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero.  Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it.  Yay!  I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.

Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket.  A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all.  I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops.  The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath.  As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title!  What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things!  Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.

My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set.  The necklace is the main piece.  It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies.  They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013.  Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call.  The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace.  The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet. 

In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise.  A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!

As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set.  I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves.  I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop.  I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out.  There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha! 

This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog.  Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though.  I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown. 

It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head.  That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped.  It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way.  Not here, though – it’s all that and more!  You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.”  I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream.  Bah.  Anyone who believes that has never sewn.  To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing.  Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!

A Peggy Carter Outfit as Undercover as a Shield Agent

This post is a week later than I intended it to be, but for a girl like myself with a rich Irish heritage on both sides of my family, seven days after St. Patrick’s day isn’t bad for celebrating either.  Any and every day is good for reveling in one’s heritage!  I always find it so perfect that the holiday for wearing green comes around for us just as the season of spring does, as well.  Verdant hues are the newest cloak being worn by nature, as well.  Spring also means school break, however, and as a mom it is always such a challenge to accomplish anything I had previously intended during our son’s time off at home.   

Thus, finally, I’m so excited to be sharing another amazing Agent Carter recreation unlike all the rest I have finished.  It is secretly a one-piece jumpsuit – surprise!  By choosing two different colors and types of material for the top and bottom half I enjoy the appearance of separates.  Yet, my top stays perfectly “tucked in” and my high-waisted, wide-legged 40’s style trousers stay up in place…because it is an easy-to-dress-in, all one garment kind of jumpsuit!  I still faithfully recreated Agent Peggy Carter’s outfit from Season Two, episode 3 ‘Better Angels’, of the 2016 television series.  

It has pockets!!!

I laugh in enjoyment over the sneaky deception of the way I made my version.  As I make mention of in my title, I feel this jumpsuit version is so very suited to Peggy’s smart but sensible personality.  It is also a bit deceptive in plain sight just like so much of her life as an agent of the S.S.R. (or should I just say S.H.I.E.L.D., right).  Also, it is has a bright and cheerful “Leprechaun” green which, between the versatile fabrics I used that are perfect for cooler in-between temperatures, makes this my favorite classy-but-casual vintage inspired outfit for spring (or fall, too, of course).  The best part is the fact I used a modern (therefore relatively easily available) sewing pattern as my verbatim source for this outfit.  Leave it to Peggy Carter to keep inspiring me to sew myself clothes that become such wardrobe winners which I feel great wearing.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  the top blouse half is a Kona brand all-cotton in “Leprechaun” color; the bottom trousers are a heathered grey brushed suiting bought here from Fashion Fabrics Club, in a 63% Rayon 16% Viscose 12% Linen 8% Silk 1% Lycra blend; the lining for the bodice was also used for the side seam pants pockets and that is a basic lightweight polyester in a dark green color.

PATTERN:  Butterick #6320, year 2016

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread, interfacing, one long 22” invisible zipper for the center back closing, and I used one vintage dark green Bakelite buckle for the belt.

THE INSIDES:  all nicely finished in bias tape for the trouser half, otherwise all other raw edges are invisible due to the bodice lining.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This jumpsuit felt time consuming.  After over 30 hours put in, it was finished in March 2020.

TOTAL COST:  The trouser fabric alone cost me $35 for two yards, and the bodice was $7 for one yard.  The lining was on hand leftover from another project years back so I’m counting that and the buckle from my stash as free.  My total cost with the other notions is $50.

Now, one really never gets to see my project’s inspiration outfit on Agent Carter for very long in the “Better Angels” episode, and even then, it is mostly only her green blouse that we see in detail.  That’s okay.  The trousers are basic 40’s era suiting bottoms and the blouse carries the brunt of the meticulous design lines, after all.  Peggy’s green top had these shoulder panels which wrapped from the back to the front where they create a wide, curved sweetheart neckline before they end under the armpit.  The rest of the center front to the blouse has a dipped neckline which gathers into the bottom of the shoulder plackets to create bust fullness. 

All of these details were already there on Butterick #6320 pattern – yay!  The most obvious variance is having a plain, flat front with the lack of a buttoned front opening, such as what Agent Carter’s original blouse had.  I like this pattern’s smooth front better, just the same as I chose puffed sleeves over plain sleeves with a hem notch as Peggy’s original had.  I recreated those sleeves on this other Season Two blouse (posted here).  Also, these trousers are a comfy, pleated front while Peggy’s version had a smooth, fitted front.  I have made several smooth front 40’s pants for myself already anyway (see here and here).  For as much as I try to ‘copy’ Peggy’s outfits, I always make sure to stay true to my personal wearing preferences so I can have my Agent Carter garments be everyday clothes and not just cosplay costumes.  Also, I like to honor the ingenuity of the designer, in this case “Gigi” Ottobre-Melton, by not making an exact copy.

From the soft shine of the original blouse on Agent Carter, I assume it was silk.  I cannot tell what material her trousers were but they seem to be a thick rayon suiting to me.  My chosen fabrics are more basic and casual, albeit very nice.  Kona cotton is synonymous for quality, especially being a Robert Kaufman product.  It is thick but soft, durable with minimal shrinkage, and the colors don’t bleed (important as I am making a dual color, two material jumpsuit).  I always appreciate the fact Kona cotton certifies that no harmful chemicals were used in its production, processing or finishing. 

I felt it was important that my trouser fabric be something a lot more textured than the blouse to imitate the appearance of two separate items.  The material I chose is a blend of most of all my favorite materials (rayon, linen, and silk) in a very unusual way – a twill with a flannel finish.  Nevertheless, it has a wonderful drape, great medium weight, and a finish which has it perfect for a menswear-inspired suiting look. 

The brushed finish makes this a slightly bit itchy (but I wear pants liners underneath to counter that) and the linen in it makes this wrinkle some, too.  However, the blend it is in also has the pants portion to this jumpsuit be much more breathable and multi-seasonal than one would expect by the look and feel of it.  I am happily surprised by the success of this jumpsuit project.  The way I was combining two such opposite fabrics had me worried from the outset, as did the fact I had spent a decent sum of money on the supplies in the first place.  The bodice was a beast to sew (more on this in a minute).  This had to turn out or I would have been devastated. 

I found the ‘bust-waist-hips’ sizing of this pattern to be spot on, yet the fit and proportions were off.  The way this is drafted on paper, the pattern is only made for tall ladies.  I do not consider myself truly petite at about 5’3” in height, and my torso length (from the back of my neck to high waist) is a common 15” (plus some).  As it was, the bodice was far too long, as were the trousers.  The pattern called for a 2-something inch hem…I had 10 inches in excess to hem these trousers on the long side for me (I have to wear heels in this jumpsuit).  I had to bring in the shoulders by about 2” to pick up the bodice so that the underbust seam rests where it should be landing.  

This pattern will NEED some adapting for most anyone who tries out this design, from my experience.  It is especially important to learn this from the outset at the pattern stage as the complex and fully lined bodice doesn’t give much room for adapting after it is completed.  Take into account that the curved shoulder panels have to be redrawn at the joining seam if you also need to take this design in to fit if you choose to sew this for yourself, too.  Please do not let my warning dissuade you from trying this pattern – I highly recommend it.  I love the many options it offers with the variety of sleeves and the option of a skirt bottom.

The bodice was extremely fiddly and tricky and takes some slow, meticulous going to sew it right.  I have seen some sewists who have made this pattern for themselves skip some details as well as the lining, but I recommend going all the way for this fabulous design.  Yes, interfacing the entire bodice seems like overkill, but I did it anyway.  Now that my jumpsuit is finished, I think it does help the bodice become a stable ‘anchor’ to the pants below and not be pulled down by that much fabric. Yes, it looks like there are way too many markings needing to be made to the fabric at the cutting out stage.  As a stickler for doing things right from the outset, I sucked it up and copied all of the balance marks, squares, triangles, and circles.  They all end up being extremely necessary and very helpful towards making construction much less confusing.  Even still, the gathering around the curved shoulder placket above the bustline was the trickiest part of all to perfect.  Luckily, the smooth inner lining (completely different pattern pieces from the exterior front top) help to bring the bodice together and right the seam allowances. 

Before I added the lining, I thought the bodice looked messy and was being pulled too much by the attached trousers.  Sure, I ironed the top along the way, clipping where necessary and pushing the seam allowances the right direction.  Once the lining was in, I had matched the lines of both the lining bodice and exterior bodice so I could hand tack them together ‘in the ditch’ of the seams.  My doing this interior seam matching was over and above what the instructions told me to do, but worth it.  After all, it was only then that the bodice was suddenly substantial enough to hold the weight of the 2 something yards of attached pants and therefore not have unreasonable wrinkles.  All the ‘good side’ edges have no visible stitching because I had stitched the seam allowance edges for the neckline to the lining as further hand finishing over and above what was called for.  I love the chic and professional appearance my extra efforts give, even though it is not clearly noticeable until up close…which nowadays, social distancing prevents that!  The lining, though a bother to cut and sew (besides being unseen), completely makes this jumpsuit work out.

My self-fabric belt is the “cherry-on-the-top” to the two-piece deception of this jumpsuit.  This was something not originally part of the pattern but something I added.  However, it is not your normal belt on account of the center back zipper closing.  I slid my vintage belt buckle over the belt strip and centered it between the two ends.  Then the center of the belt with the buckle was lightly hand tacked to the center front of the jumpsuit’s waistline.  I further attached the belt to the side seams of the jumpsuit.  This was done out of convenience for both dressing and bathroom visits.  Nobody wants to pick up something off of a public bathroom floor!  Also, I had no plans on wearing this outfit without the belt at all.  Two oversized snap help the loose belt ends lap closed over one another across the back once the back zipper is closed.  I am always justly wary of having anything Bakelite – normally buttons, but here it’s the buckle – going through a washing machine cycle so I now realize I will either have to clip away the threads that tack down the belt or hand wash this jumpsuit.  Oh well.  The finished project here makes up for any bother needed to take care of it along the way.

Here I’m at my parents’ front yard mailbox, wearing an old 90’s corduroy blazer over my Agent Carter jumpsuit. I love that my mom decorates for every seasonal holiday!

This month’s green outfit of mine not only celebrates the equinox and St. Patrick’s Day, but also has a subtle nod to Women’s History Month.  This outfit honors the strong ladies who have influenced my life.  Agent Carter has inspired my fashion style, my sewing preferences, and my personal confidence.  Yet, no vintage outfit of mine is ever complete without something of my grandmother’s – whether it be her earrings, gloves, scarves, or such accessories I have inherited.  My Grandma is so sorely missed these past four plus years. She was the strongest, bravest, most resourceful, intelligent, caring, compassionate, and beautiful woman I could ever aspire to be.  It is her gold “Lady Elgin” 1940s watch which is the item I am never without for every Agent Carter outfit of mine.  Peggy Carter was never without her Nana’s watch in the first half of Season 1’s show…and I guarantee you my watch will not have the same sad fate as her’s did.  

I think it is a fantastic tradition for women to honor the previous generation’s women though continuing to wear (albeit gently) their heirlooms.  I like the keep some familial treasures stored away, yes indeed.  However, there are others which I feel deserve to be enjoyed and thus have a renewed appreciation through the connection they carry.  You know, many people have said I look like my Grandmother when she was young…but I also have people I don’t personally know tell me I look like Agent Carter on many occasions. What a happy connection this is as well as the best compliments I could ever hope to receive!  I know my Grandmother would want me to be as proud of myself as she was of me.  I can only hope and try to be as amazing a woman as she.   If I can sneak in a little Agent Carter reference by just doing my own vintage style along the way, too, well…I am blessed.  It must be the lucky Irish in me. 

Wearing the Colors of the Wind

Of all the Disney princesses, Pocahontas is perhaps the most underestimated and impressive, in my opinion.  She is the real deal, straight out of American history!  Not that an animated children’s movie did the best possible job at transferring a real life impression of her true story.  However, it is still a visually appealing treat and well-crafted interest point from which to find an incentive for reading up on the factual tale of Pocahontas.  She is portrayed as resilient, compassionate, understanding, beautiful in her selflessness, and remarkable in the way her life had a notable impact.  Yet, she is relatable royalty, and quite down-to-earth for a princess, er…daughter of the Chieftain.  For all of this, Pocahontas is coming sooner than later as part of my ongoing “Pandemic Princess” blog series.    

As a girl who has grown up with a deep love for getting out into the local wilderness to enjoy the wonders of nature, the 1995 Disney version of Pocahontas is my sister spirit.  I for one certainly know the ‘river is not steady, but always changing’ after exploring the same waterside haunts all my life.  I never know what surprise will be waiting for me each time I go.  The creek never looks the same for each visit.  There is always different animal activity.  Yet, for as much as I relate to, and enjoy the song “Just Around the Riverbend”, this outfit is more inspired by the theme of the movie, “Colors of the Wind”.  My top has a Pocahontas-worthy magical breeze of leaves sweeping across it, complete with a sneaky silhouette of both Flit the hummingbird and Meeko the raccoon.  My skirt is a rich color akin to the natural ‘gold’ of the earth the Native Americans prized so highly – ‘Indian corn’, also known as maize.  My earrings are vintage turquoise cabochons from my own grandmother, a hint towards the necklace Pocahontas wears which was her mother’s.

Yet, because the sequel in 1998 “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World” is my favorite over the original, we took our pictures in a winter setting.  As much as I feel ‘at home’ visiting our local waterways, I especially love the hushed, majestic beauty of a wintertime creek.  This way I could wear cozy boots and also take full advantage of the combo of prevalent snow and mud to do some critter tacking!  Being inspired by the ‘post-John Smith’ part of Pocahontas’ tale prompted me to make some related outerwear to go along with this outfit.  This outerwear will be in a follow up post.  Hint – it will be London inspired!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  top – a custom printed Spoonflower polyester crepe de chine; skirt – a golden mustard color slubbed linen-look polyester

PATTERN:  The blouse was made using a “Quick and Easy” Butterick #7490, year 1955, and the skirt pattern was Simplicity #3626, year 1961.

NOTIONS NEEDED:  one long separating ‘sports’ zipper, a waistband sliding hook n’ eye, a vintage metal 7 inch zipper, bias tapes, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Both pieces were quick to make – the blouse took me 4 hours and was finished on January 25, 2021.  The skirt was made in 5 hours and done on November 5, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  Both items have cleanly bias bound edges inside.

TOTAL COST:  The Spoonflower fabric was about $20 for one yard (with a sale discount), and the skirt fabric was a remnant cut from a rummage sale – thus practically free.  The long separating zipper for the blouse was a bit of a pricey buy, so my total for this outfit is about $27.

Just like the last time I sewed this same blouse pattern, my Pocahontas set is an outfit composed up of two different one yard cuts of fabric – so economical!  The skirt was easy-to-make.  These one yard pencil skirt patterns from the 50s and 60s always look nice, are so versatile, and are pretty simple to fit.  Yet, the pocket details alone took up most of the sewing time spent.    The blouse was comparatively fail proof as I knew what to tweak this second time around so it would fit me perfectly.  It’s happily comforting to have standby separates to sew, but they are even better when princess inspired!

I steered away from any ethnic references for this “Pandemic Princess” outfit (out of respect for the Native American culture).  Instead I stuck with pure aesthetic reasons.  To me, Disney’s Pocahontas inspired clothes should be earthy in tones and comfy to wear.  Here I have both needs fulfilled with a dash of vintage class through choosing two favorite styles of mid-century era patterns in my stash.  The added fact I was working with one yard cuts of fabric was also a great restriction.  It forced me to hone down my separate pieces into both a wiggle skirt and a simple, cut-on sleeve blouse.  However, I was not forced to scrimp enough to leave out the fantastic skirt pockets – yay!  I also made the most of the top’s border print, too.  When my arms are open, it seems as though I have a wave of wind going across me to send off as a goodwill blessing, just like in the end of the first Pocahontas movie.

There isn’t much I changed, eliminated, or added here – just the almost-unnoticeable small details.  First, I’ll talk about the blouse.  To accommodate the border print for the blouse layout I desired, I had to slash the underarms to make the pattern resemble a “T” shape.  I probably would have done this adaptation anyway, as this pattern needed reach room.  It’s no fun to pull out your tucked-in top just to move your arms up to take care of your hair.  Then, I took out 2 ½ inches vertically across the back to shorten the long waist. 

As I learned the hard way the first time I used this pattern, it has a very generous shoulder room which never works well when there is a center back zipper.  As my last version of this top had a back zipper that reaches only 1/3 of the way down from the neck, I chose to make this top stress-free to be dressed into.  No wiggling and struggling is necessary here because I adapted the back to have a center separating zipper.  Even the neckline finishing was simplified, too, with bias tape used in lieu of proper facings.  The fabric is so sheer that a wide inner facing would’ve been obvious from the right side and distracting from the border print.

The skirt did need some piecing of the pockets for me to keep them in my pencil skirt.  As I was so focused on just trying to squeeze a successful skirt out of leftover material, I half-heartedly ‘forgot’ to make the pockets deeper.  As of now, they are shallow pockets.  I should not complain because pockets of any size are useful and appreciated, but it’s handier to have them to be more akin to mini purses.  Out of a desire to make construction simpler and keep the tapered wiggle line shape to the skirt, I left out the back kick pleat.  The seam is all sewn up.  This doesn’t make the skirt harder to walk or move in – the hips and thighs are roomy enough.  I had to shorten the hem by about 3 inches due to lack of fabric, so the hem is a bit wider than originally intended anyway.  As you can see, it did not prevent me at all from exploring around my favorite creek haunts to capture these pictures.

I must have done this princess outfit right because the wildlife came to me as we were taking some of our pictures.  It’s too bad for picture taking (but good for them) that the wildlife is camouflaged with the environment well enough to not be noticeable behind me.  In the following post, you will more clearly see the one creature which amazingly came up to check me out!  My Pocahontas vibes must have been strong.  “Come roll in all the riches all around you, and for once never wonder what they’re worth”, so she sang in “Colors of the Wind”.  Spending time outside in appreciation of Mother Nature is priceless. 

Fall Back

I would really enjoy the season of fall much better if it wasn’t for Daylight Savings Time.  It has been observed in my country for just over a hundred years by now but I don’t care.  I detest the way just one little tweak to the timing of my day throws everyone in the family off for a while.  What about you?  By the time we are all free from our commitments for the day, we are left in early evening darkness.  So often in years before, we get stuck inside too early going stir crazy so it’s going to be real special here this year with the current limitations.  Time is a precious resource and I hate to waste it, especially not from being needlessly restless.   So – how about joining me in placating the misfortune of the autumn time change with some nice reminiscing to instead fall back in time?  Let’s check out some fall garments I sewed years past to keep me happy, warm, and looking good during such a transitional season. 

Just a forewarning – these are not the most spectacular things to share here on my blog, and being my older projects not up my current par of perfection.  Yet, it’s the basic stuff like this that becomes a tried and true dependable piece which has lasted me so many years.  Honestly, I feel like giving these garments a longevity award and not just a post!  The fact I am still able to wear and enjoy these garments for up to 16 years now has me realize that I am one of a small percentage of folks who could or would even do such a thing, so I hope I don’t seem out of touch here.  Blame it on my willingness to adjust, tailor, mend, and generally take care of these pieces over the years to keep them as something I even want to still enjoy.  This tendency is not a bad habit, though.  Being happy with what you have, being confident enough to be yourself, and being economical to mend and keep up what you already possess before buying new are all great to practice no matter the season or place, no matter your wealth of lack of it.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The plaid skirt is a printed quilter’s cotton, lined in a cling-free poly in a beige color.  The top paired with the skirt is made of a polyester stretch suede, in a deep burgundy-cranberry.  The tweed flared skirt is a lofty, heavyweight acrylic blend, lined in a dark brown cling-free poly. The long half-circle skirt is a polyester micro suede with a ‘burnout’ floral print, lined in a cling-free poly in a tan color.

PATTERNS:  Butterick #3654, year 2002, bias flounce hem skirt, paired with a top using McCall’s #3655, year 2002.   Simplicity 4881, from 2003, a “tulip” hem skirt.  Simplicity #4543, from 2005, for a pull-on half circle skirt with the tummy panel.

NOTIONS:  Pretty simple – thread, a 7 inch zipper, and ½ inch elastic

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Each one of these skirts was a 2 hour project – easy peasy!  The stretch suede top took about 3 hours just because I had problems with the fitting and details, as I remember.  The top and skirt set was sewn circa 2004, while both the tweed skirt and the suede floral circle skirt were made circa 2006.

Where do I start?  I suppose I’ll begin with the full set I made – the suede top and the cotton plaid skirt.  This set is from a time when I survived off of versatile separates.  It was such a challenge to find either a top which fit me yet also matched a skirt I had made, or a skirt which suited my taste yet also looked good with a top or blouse I already had.  Back then I was just starting to branch out into more experimental sewing (such as hats) as well as beginning to try creating garments that needed me to figure out better tailoring and patterning skills (such as dresses and jackets).  The project choice for this outfit was therefore both benign and experimental for me.  The skirt was a safe bet.  I was most comfortable sewing them by then and it was simple enough that I chose to make it again in velvet for a Christmas party (posted here).  Stretch suede is a novel material to pick for a top, and I used a pattern designed for much stretchier knits so I needed courage and forethought.  I was pushing boundaries and figuring things out first hand…and I succeeded.   

I wisely went up a whole size and then some as the suede did not have the stretch rate the pattern recommended.  The slight stretchiness to the suede means I have no closures and this is a pullover top.  Yet, the material was dense enough that I was confused what stitch to use and I chose a stable straight stitch, finishing off the inner raw edges with my mom’s serger (overlocking machine).  The smooth satin underside to the suede is what I feel against my skin on the inside and it is fabulous!

I originally made the sleeves extra-long so I could have room to choose some novelty hemming or whatever interesting detail struck my fancy, as I thought.  Turned out, I shirred up the inner wrist area for a bit of a different look while still keeping the hem up and giving me plenty of extra reach room.  A small strip of hem facing keeps those gathers in place.  The sleeve cap did not stretch into the armscye like a normal knit, yet I did not like the appearance of a gathered sleeve cap.  Thus I made small pleats to take in the excess.  This is not the proper way to do such a fix, but it worked and it nicely squared off the sleeve tops for a defined shoulder line.

I originally cut the neckline really close to the throat at first because – like the sleeves – I wanted to experiment.  Turned out, I created a wide, squared off neckline, and finished it by sewing down and turning inside a strip of tiny bias tape.  It was not your run-of-the-mill tee but still simple enough to pair with many different me-made skirts…in other words, just what I wanted! 

The skirt is basically everything the same as the velvet version I posted here.  It has a pull-on elastic waist for ¾ of the waistband, with the front over the tummy being a smooth panel.  There is full lining which ends just above the hem ruffle.  The skirt was lengthened through the body because I thought the bias ruffle would look weird at any other length other than knee length or ankle length – and ankle length would be more elegant, warmer on my legs, and not so sporty.  This is a comfy but not dumpy skirt that has such a subtle plaid.  The orange and burgundy print reminded me of rows of stitching up close! 

The body of the skirt was cut on the bias for a cross-wise plaid but it also gives a better body complimentary fit.  I have a booty in this!  Also, too, a straight and long skirt like this always made me think that I appeared taller – and this was important to a girl who was always the shortest in her class and too often taken for granted growing up.  Now I have high heels which fill in for those silly feelings, he he. 

Nevertheless, I still appreciate this skirt, although the elastic waist limits how I can wear this according to my preferences of today and what tops I now have that go with it.  This is why I sewed a top for it back then, one that did not need to be tucked in.  The top has such a rich texture and color and it was completely personalized according to my own inventions!  The skirt’s bottom flounce floofs up when I walk in a way that tickles the little girl inside me which still appreciates ruffles and such frills.  Together, these two items are like the best of the colors on trees’ fading leaves in fall. 

Next, I’ll talk about the tweed skirt.  Out of all the things I had made before I started blogging, this particular skirt is by far my favorite item.  It is probably also my most frequently worn self-made skirt, even over my vintage skirts.  It is something that I reach for again and again even today.  The variety of colors in the tweed pair with so much in way of tops, blouses, and suit blazers while the lovely silhouette is the only one of its kind in my wardrobe.  To my knowledge this shape of a skirt is called a “tulip hem” because it looks like an upside down opening flower bud.  It is slimming yet also easy to move in. 

The original way I had this skirt go on was with a simple elastic waist, much like the skirt above.  This tweed is rather heavy weight, especially with almost 3 yards of fabric needed for it, and I remember the elastic waist was always slinking down on me when I would wear it.  Several years ago now, I completely reworked that waist to turn this into a smooth fitting, side zipper closure skirt.  It is much more of a professional skirt his way, and better for tucking tops in, as well as stable on my body.  No more drooping skirt! 

Otherwise, I kept everything the way I had made it originally from before I reworked the waist.  This is fully lined, but even still, tweed ravels like crazy as does poly lining.  Thus, all seams had been cleanly serged (overlocked) and top stitched down.  I kept the pattern’s intended proportions and length of view D, where the flare begins above the knee in the lower part of the upper thigh.  I did not do any adjustments and made an exact copy of the pattern. 

My fabric is heavy so the skirt has a slightly different fall at the panels than what is seen on the model images on the cover (their skirts are a crepe or lightweight silky print).  I personally like the structure of my version to this pattern better.  It reminds me more of a suiting skirt rather than one with a romantic flair.  This is what has lent it to be such a go-to piece.  It is feminine yet serious, fancy yet not pretentious, versatile but not overly simple.  I definitely recommend you to find this pattern and try it for yourself.  Early 2000 era patterns are super cheap right now!

Finally, the last item in this post is another suede creation – a pull-on half circle skirt.  It has a smooth tummy panel which extends down to the hipline, where the circle portion joins in along a straight, un-gathered seam.  I lined the skirt from the hipline seam down, and finished the suede in a skinny 1/8 inch hem.  This was such a tricky, frustrating material to work with!  The weave was so tight, even with a sharp point needle my sewing machine didn’t want to poke stitches through.  The suede stuck to itself at every turn yet was as soft as butter so I couldn’t always be sure I wasn’t sewing over a wrinkle.  Luckily there were very few seams to the design.

This was total whim project from what I vaguely remember.  I saw this fabric in the store, it tickled my fancy and I immediately knew what I wanted to sew with it.  I whipped it together pretty much as soon as it was bought home, even before washing it (I always wash my fabrics before sewing with them).  No matter how much I do like the final skirt that might not have been the best idea.  The suede sticks like Velcro to most any top I wear with it and I made my easy-but-ubiquitous elastic waist – again.  Sigh.  Thus, I feel restricted to only sweater tops or blazers over this skirt.  The basic colors in the skirt lend it to only match with similar browns or ivory tones – not very versatile.  Oh well.  I do love how swishy and romantic it is – so perfect for twirling!  It is a subtle kind of floral, too.  Also, it is in the on-trend copper tone which is one of the “it” colors of this year and midi length dresses and skirts are coming back.  See?  I am now on trend wearing something I made for myself 14 years ago.  Weird, right?!

As much as these items are something I probably would not make today, I can’t help but give my younger self some credit for my sewing choices.  I think the fact I could make items which I can enjoy for such an extended period of my life must have laid the ground work for how and what I sew today.  Granted, these are ‘modern’ pieces from before a time when vintage fashion was something I wanted to be in for more than just for going “in costume” to living history events.  In a time when day-to-day reality feels weird and living in 2020 is like an apocalyptic movie, I find some comfort in connecting with my past by wearing my older creations.  Not forgetting where you came from can help you move ahead in the present, even if the channel for that happens to be through clothing.  Sometimes you have to fall back to move forward.

My tweed skirt matches well with my handmade 80’s Givenchy blazer, sewn two years back now.