Collegiate Style

Of course, our style and our clothes from the college years of our youth are not the same as what we wear in our adult, professional life, right?  If they are the same, you’re probably younger than I am or are at a different place in life, I suppose.  But I was thinking, especially after sewing this knit top and sweater re-fashion, perhaps they can be the same, only in a different way…

Starting from the outside in, I’ll tell you how I took a circa 1996 “Made in the USA” sweater that my husband no longer wanted and re-fashioned it into a fun cardigan for myself.  Luckily, it is from the 90’s when everything tended to fit on the baggy side for men, so I had a good amount of lovely sweater knit to work with!  I do love how cozy, comfy, and unpretentious this re-make turned out to be.  I feel it is not really overly defined by one era, it is not fancy yet it’s still nice, it is fun without being flashy.  It feels like this is me – deep down the real everyday me, someone who likes to be individually stylish yet conscious of the big picture with what I both wear and make, besides the side of me which likes to bring vintage styles into the modern day.  This is one of my best refashions from a very special perspective.  I mean it is my husband’s sweater after all, and I did not use a pattern!

I was inspired by several vintage sweater styles spanning a few decades when I was considering how to go about with my refashion.  I LOVE the open from cardigans that emerged in the early 1920s for women, most of them striped.  Also, I was inspired by the loose and casual 1950s college jacket styles, (yes, the rockabilly logo ones also known as Letterman sweaters or Varsity jackets) many of them with striping as well, especially on the sleeves.  So I went for a sort of combo of both.

First, I started my refashion by cutting off the sleeves and also the neckline (parallel to the chest striping).  Then, as there were no side seams (this was made in one continuous piece) I cut were there would have been side seams to the sweater.  Now the bottom hem could become the vertical center back side seam to my new cardigan.  What striping had been below the neckline would be the vertical front sides of my cardigan.  I used the sleeves unchanged but I did have to cut new armholes for the sleeves to go back in!  The neckline band was the back neckline.  What was left of the back shoulder panel became two strips of navy which were used as the band facing, covering up the raw edges of the left and right fronts to the cardigan.  Nothing but very tiny scraps were leftover, almost all of the original sweater were re-used and re-positioned.

See?!  Just because what you make is “inspired by” something vintage doesn’t mean it has to be a past style.  You can take what you see that gets those creative juices going and translate that into any era or fashion.  This is a lot of what is going on in modern fashion.  It cherry picks vintage features and melds it in with trends of today.  Sometimes even a direct vintage inspiration can be spotted but it is re-made in such a way that it looks so timeless and up-to-date for today.

The 90’s, which are soon enough going to be technically “vintage”, sadly seems to me to be the last era with relatively easy-to-come-by quality and more “made in the USA” garments.  It also was the last decade in which Vogue Pattern Company offered big name designer sewing patterns to the public.  Sorry, Vogue – it’s not that I don’t generally like the designer patterns you do have to offer and the designers themselves are a decently big deal.  It’s just that I wish we could still have access to Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Blass, or Edith Head designs, but a modern Zac Posen, Miu Miu, or Versace design would do nicely, thank you, for only a few examples!  Oh well, I must admit that even though I thought this would not happen, the era of my childhood is something I am now learning to appreciate fashion-wise…although I’ll never like 90’s velour (yuck!) which is unfortunately back in the stores to buy again!

Make your style change with you…there’s a low probability that anyone else will like those awful 80s 90s or 2000 era fashions without a re-vamp (and I’m not talking about bringing them back as a revamp option!).  So why not renovate it yourself?  We can only buy then ditch, buy again then ditch so many times for so long before this dead-end circle finds the true answer to sustainable fashion for the masses.  This even isn’t taking into account so many other issues that need addressing – worker pay and working conditions, clothing quality, environmental impact, sheer unnecessary quantity, and customer satisfaction to name a few.  This week is “Fashion Revolution Week”, now in its 5th year.  This movement is in direct response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, killing over 1,000 and injuring 2,500 more in April 2013.  That year was sadly global fashion’s most profitable year to date.

That being said, my top underneath is a testament to this in the way that I salvaged it and realized how my approach at self-made clothes has changed for the better.  I estimate I began this project about 2002 to 2004 when I was just branching out into making dresses and tops rather than the mostly skirts I had been then sewing.  As this was started at least 14 years back now, this is why I no longer know what pattern I used!  The side seams and shoulder seams had been overlocked (Serging machine) together, as well as the some lovely braided neckline piping.  Luckily the cut out (but not sewn) sleeves were still kept with the top when I re-discovered it.  One side of the neckline as well as half of one of the shoulder seams were unpicked already, because I lamely sewed the piping (which doesn’t stretch) into a top made of a forgiving knit.  Wow…is all I can say to this!

So – all the basic possibilities were there for assembly, but my quickie, still-learning approach left this difficult to save.  The serged-overlocked seams gave me no room for adjustments.  This top still fits my adult body pretty well, though more snug than I would like.  It was sized for a teenage me when it was cut.  Still, I see how I was just happy with my clothes being finished the same level as the clothes I had bought, made for the moment with no thought for what I had made lasting me any longer than the clothes from a store.  Now, I only finish in French, bias bound or raw and overcast finishings, leaving me a nice cushion of adjustability for tailoring and fitting preferences, thereby promising me many years of enjoyment.  This is one of the ideals of the “Fashion Revolution” – take good care and thought into what you wear and choose things made with quality that appeal to you so they will last you many years.  I get rid of clothes only in small batches, and even then it’s the ones that I did not make, one’s that are still in good condition to not require someone else to do mending.  My sewing is an investment in myself and if I am not happy with my creations I use my talents to change that, thus making what I have work for me for long term.

To finish off the neckline yet keep what I had, my solution was to have a shoulder button closing.  This turned out rather challenging and more bulky than I wanted, but I like it in the end.  It is different and unexpected, adding a little subtle splash of character to the otherwise plain front top.  I just have to remember not to hang my purse from that one shoulder!  Buttons there are not exactly friendly to over-the-shoulder purse straps.

The sleeves were cut wide and bell shaped, but I felt that such sleeves made the top look too retro, like something from the 1970s, and I wanted something more indistinguishably timeless.  Now, the gathered sleeve cuffs that I went for are a bit odd or dated too, in my mind.  They’re just better than what I started with.  I might yet tone the sleeves down in the future and make them skinny…or quarter length.  Whatever rocks my boat!  My style and my wardrobe are a perpetual work-in-progress.

I love the satisfaction that comes from taking such articles of clothing we loved in our high school and college years and re-inventing them for a new time in our lives.  It’s like keeping a part of us and letting it change with us.  Re-fashioning is so smart – besides being one of the best ways to combat today’s “fast fashion” beast and the evils it generates, this type of garment creating is such a fun challenge which is good for one’s sewing skills – even if it doesn’t work out.  Why refuse the perfectly good resources at our availability just because they are already made into something?  Once around doesn’t have to be the end of the line for garments.  Re-imaging what is already there can be difficult, and demands thinking outside the box.  That’s what we need more of in fashion today.  Individuals thinking creatively and seeing a bigger picture, and wanting to do their part towards it.  “Who made your clothes” is one of the rallying slogans for the “Fashion Revolution”.  If we can keep that in mind and feel comfortable about the answer, then we keep the ready-to-wear business accountable (by home sewing, by our purchase choices, or by voicing our opinion directly), we will be doing our part for the “Fashion Revolution”…because it should be something that carries over into more than just one week!

The skirt I am wearing is posted on my blog here…and even my necklace is me-made, too!


FABRIC:  My husband’s sweater was a thick cotton-polyester blend, while the knit top of mine was made from a cotton spandex blend fabric.  Some navy cotton scraps were used for the facing of the sweater’s new neckline.

PATTERNS:  none for the sweater, and for the knit top…I have no idea anymore!

NOTIONS:  Nothing but some thread, buttons, and scraps from on hand were used

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The sweater refashion was made in one afternoon when my hubby was home so he could see his old garment transform!  It was finished November 2017 after 3 hours spent on it.  The top was finished up in the same month after 3 hours.

TOTAL COST:  Nothing!


A Frustrating 40’s Retro Blouse Pattern

Every so often I happen to pick a pattern to make, only to find it makes me want to throw it in a corner out of exasperation.  As long as this occurs “every so often” I can see it as a challenge and make the best of things.  This subject brings me to admit how a new (as of this spring/summer) Simplicity “Vintage 40’s” blouses pattern was trouble hidden by a very enticing envelope drawing.   1692-Simplicity

Don’t get me wrong – I really like my blouse and have worn it plenty of times already.  It’s just every time I wear it, I am a bit self-conscious that it really looks stupid.  For some strange reason, though, I like it enough to want to wear it and even make the pattern again, in the long sleeve version, with my fore-known adjustments in mind.

It’s actually the perfect easy wear, easy care top to take me through the summer…easy to accessorize and pink to make it girly!

100_1757THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton blend crinkled gauze fabric, which has intermingled stripes of light pink, tan, and coral against a white background.  Not only is this fabric lightweight and cool, but it can never wrinkle (it already is!) and needs no ironing.  I’m considering my fabric free as it has been in my stash as long as I can remember

NOTIONS:  I had the thread, buttons, trim for button loops, and hem tape on hand already; I merely bought a pink zipper  (from Wal-Mart) for the side closure

PATTERN:  Simplicity 1692, originally a year 1944 pattern, re-released 2013, view D (it’s for their 85th Anniversary)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this blouse took only 3 hours or less, and it was finished on May 18, 2013

100_1662THE INSIDES:  there only the two side seams, well 1 1/2 not counting the zipper, and these were done in French seams.  The French seams seemed like the perfect idea because the gauze fabric seemed fragile and frayed a lot.  However, using that kind of seam made it harder for me to get the right curve for the sleeves, which tend to gather together a bit under my armpit.  Tan colored hem tape covers all other seams: the bottom hem, the sleeve bands, and around the zipper.  See picture above.

When cutting out this pattern, I went down a size for the bust and cut my (apparent) correct size for the waist and hips.  I also simplified the pattern by eliminating those crazy shaped facings and doubling up the blouse instead.  Two of each piece, sewn at the shoulder seams, then stitched right sides together all along the neckline and around the button plackets. I did this exact same thing for my 1940 Bed Sheet Swing Dress.  I had just enough fabric to cut all 4 pieces on the fold, with the selvedges meeting at the center of the width.  Here again, I love the smooth, uncomplicated finishing of doing some patterns this way, especially when it comes to the guarantee of not having to have my project ending up see through;)

My main complaints about this blouse are threesome and are easily fixed with some adjustments to the pattern.

100_1672a1.)  The finished blouse turned out…so…BLOUSY.  Next time I will re-draw the pattern.  I know that ‘poufy’ look is more authentic, but I can only tolerate so much with out feeling like I’m making myself seem bigger than I really am.  A few inches were taken in inside along the bust area and down to where the darts end.  Doing this helped with the fit but I can’t take it in any more, otherwise I pull my blouse out when it’s tucked in a skirt.  This problem has do with number…

2.)  I should have lengthened the blouse so I DON’T have to constantly tuck my blouse in when I’m active.

3.)  The waist and the hips turned out quite snug.  Any tighter and I would have had to grudgingly unpick my stitches.  Luckily, I didn’t have to do this step, but the hips are tight enough to make my side zipper open up as I’m wearing this blouse.  Next time I will either add some inches to the side seams or sew the darts smaller width-wise.

I am proud of the button placket of this blouse.  It’s one of the saving features along with the cute and unusual U-shaped neckline.  I used some buttons from my inherited stash – but only had 4 of the color I liked so I only put in two on each side instead of the three on each side as the pattern directs.

100_1661      It’s funny how I think of button shoulder fashions being primarily a 50’s thing.  Maybe it’s merely because of the button-shouldered “Betty’s Style” 1957 Border Print Dress which I made last year.  This Simplicity 1692 has made me rethink my ideas – I guess I have some past decades mixed up in my head. Nevertheless, in my pictures wearing the white linen skirt, I played with a 50’s style (headband and French twist hair)and I think it turned out.  Maybe with the right hat or a scarf/Victory roll I can make it look more authentic for the 40’s, as it properly should.

Oh well! At least I’m enjoying my blouse.  Playing with fashion while learning from it is quite fun.

100_6298a-compAs you can see, I’ve worn my button-shouldered blouse with a tan skirt and a white skirt.  It also matches with a coral colored linen skirt (as above) and a even dark brown skirt.  Even though this might not be my favorite top, it wins me over with its versatility!

“Betty’s Style” Border Print 50’s Dress

My floral border print dress makes me feel a part of the “Mad Men” TV series and Audrey Hepburn era, with all the class and fashion that goes with these connotations.  I am especially proud at how I made the most of what I had with my dress.  Here is a ‘franken-patterned’  creation so as to make the most of a small amount of border print fabric from my stash.  This pattern combo also makes a more manageable design to wear in our modern times while still remaining true to 1957 dresses.  I am very happy with how all my meticulous work paid off these past two years to have this dress turn out just right – finally!

100_1359THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a lightweight rayon (super soft with a slight mesh weave),with a stitched on border print, in only 2 yards…it’s been in my stash for so long I’m considering it free;  lavender cotton batiste for the dress’ lining, bought 1 3/4 yards for about $4 – the handful of scraps leftover of the lining fabric went to my “Heart Apron” here to see how I used them.

NOTIONS:  I had the thread I needed; only had to buy a 20 inch zipper ($1.50), 6 matte green squared buttons ($3), and 1/4 a yard of light blue cording (25 cents)

PATTERN:  a combo of Vintage Vogue 8789, year 1957, view B, for the bodice;  and Simplicity 2177, view A,  for the dress’ skirt100_0553

TIME TO COMPLETE:  first finished on July 28, 2012, after more than 10 hours of work;  then several more hours of alterations and final work was put into this dress in April 2013…yep, a two year project!

The reason why I think this project was chosen was twofold: the fabric was so pretty and soft I would rather wear it than fold it and put it away, and also because I wanted an adventuresome project to further test my sewing skills.

I made a mistake – but small enough to recover – when I was cutting.  This is something I rarely do.  I was doing my usual grading between the bust, waist, and hips, while busy talking and thinking when I realized I really only cut the front bodice in my bust size, which is too small for my waist.  Apparently talking and cutting do not intermingle well.  However, hubby thought of cutting the back with the extra width missing from the front piece.  This worked out great, but with only 2 yards to work with, this fix had to work…I didn’t have another fold to cut on!

100_1343     All the darts in the bodice and the tucks in the skirt’s waist were (as usual for me) the most bother, especially since I was actually making two dresses, one for the lining and one as the ‘good’ dress.  Once I got past that part the rest of the dress went together quickly.  I hand sewed the cording loops for the buttons onto the front shoulder seams, then the lining and the ‘good’ dress were sewn together at the neck and shoulders, and the whole thing turned right sides out.  My neck and shoulder seams were all top-stitched down for reinforcement.

Wow!  Once I reached this point I was really impressed with the way the dress laid down nicely and the darts matched up almost perfectly with the waist tucks.

I had planned my dress with the zipper to be installed between the left side seam, differing from the Simplicity 2177 pattern.  This plan makes for a LOT less wiggling and contortions to get into this vintage dress.  When I sewed in the zipper last year, I did a so-so job, since the teeth were showing too much with not enough fabric overlapping.  I wanted to fix it then, but this year I had the perfect excuse to unpick the zip and do it right as I needed to take in both sides several inches due to some weight loss.  Now I can say my dress looks professional.100_1378

The buttons were an unexpected happy match in the frosted mint green.  Hubby found them for me…two heads are better than one!  Nevertheless, this year I ended up sewing the button loops down, making them more or less non-functional.  I also recently added a hook and eye further in along the neckline just so I could get a straight boat neck (horsehair braid might have worked well, too), thus reducing any ‘showing off’ of my bra straps.

In the picture below, you can see the belt loops I added this week, made out of some leftover scraps of the border print.  This fabric’s border design is just so pretty but so subtle it’s almost a shame it so very hard to pick up true reality in our pictures 🙂

100_1380a     The best part about making this dress was the fact that I didn’t have to do ANY hemming.  You heard right, I cut the skirt bottom pieces on the selvedge so the edges were already nicely sealed, plus the border print was optimally left untouched. I don’t think this occurrence will ever happen again in my sewing.  Boohoo!

In my photo shoot, I decided to go for the then fashion forward 60’s sleek French Twist hairstyle, complete with ribbon and vintage 60’s T-strap shoes.  This dress IS from ’57, and besides my hairstyle is merely twisting back in a different direction instead of being piled up into a beehive (‘B-52’ as it was nicknamed) hairstyle.  Just the year before, in 1956, actress Grace Kelly made national headlines with her marriage into Monaco royalty, and the same french twist I did my hair into was popularized by Princess Grace herself right around those same years.

Below are two pictures for the sake of fun and comparison: One is Betty from the TV series ‘Mad Men” and the other is my own ‘brunette Kelly’ imitation.  My dress is her favorite perfect pastel colors, at least!

100_1364Betty-Mad Men pict        The funny thing is how I seem to get more looks from others with this ensemble than some of my modern dresses.  Everyone I have spoken to recently has said how much they love vintage.  It’s so great to know that while being in style according to history, we seamstresses can also be in style via 2013!  The best part is the fact that I saw a button shoulder top at K-Mart about a month later after I finished the dress last year.  Not that I bought it, but when I see styles in the stores after I have made the same thing, it makes me feel ahead of mass market trends.

Keep up the vintage sewing and go proudly wear what you make!