In the Military Style

So often we hear that imitation is merely a form of admiration, yet many times one does not feel like such is the case.  One only feels plagiarized, copycatted, or even misappropriated (when it comes to culture).  However, no matter how cliché, it is a very true that imitation is a form of respect when it comes to my own military-inspired style, especially when that involves either camouflage or anything related to WWII.  In this case, my post’s outfit includes both!  In honor of Veterans Day, and to find a way to express through fashion the admiration, appreciation, and respect I have for those who have served and are currently serving to protect all that we hold near and dear, I’m joining in – just a little – on their military style.

I am weirdly very preferential when it comes to camouflage and military greens.  Everything in either department all looks really good to my eyes but I do have favorites.  Wide and blotchy disruptive patterned camouflage in darker earth tones is my failing, hence why this pullover sweatshirt totally makes me giddy!  Along this vein, my true military favorite camouflage preferences are ones that are of a similar pattern – the 1942 WWII United States “Frog Skin” mottling and the 1937 dotted German “Platanenmuster” variations for vintage examples in my highest esteem, and the 1990s era “Central Europe Camouflage” of France, the “Desert Camouflage Uniform” of the USA, and even the “Soldier 2000” of the South African National Defense Force all following in second place.

Part of the reason for my pickiness probably has to do with my dad’s job (referred to here at the end of this blog post) but also I love a camouflage for how it can work for our local environment to make one blend right in and be ‘hidden in plain sight’.  At every WWII reenactment we’ve attended in our home state, the Germans are the ones hardest to sight when they’re sneaking up to ambush and a camo which succeeds that well impresses me.  Perhaps 90’s era camouflage gets to my heart because of memories.  My dad was working so much overtime during that decade to support our military as a government employee with a specialized job and my mom and I were going to events – me in a homemade “Betsy Ross” costume – to give our service men and women the encouragement and civilian support they needed in our own way.  I even was on the nightly news for such an event when I was 10!

My pants are the best of the best – they are true vintage WWII mens’ military bottoms!  My pair have a production date of 1947 stamped on the label, so they are a post-war production of the war-time style.  The label says they are cotton sateen, but I have ever seen such a study version of such a material.  They are super sturdy thanks to being as thick as a heavy wool yet extremely soft, well broken in (by now, they should be), and a joy to wear.  If they were not almost 80 years old I would want to wear them all the time.  The WWII military green colors are my favorite anyway.  Their olive greens are not overly dusty or are too dark.  A soldier would not like to hear this but I dare call the colors ‘pretty’.  Yes, this is one of my more eclectic outfit combinations – a little bit of modern paired with a truer vintage than anything I could make, also indeed a military style in more ways than one, as I said!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Two one-yard cuts of all-cotton knits for both the sleeves and the printed main body, fully lined in a lightweight polyester interlock jersey.  The cuffs and bottom band, as well as the neckline, are a heavyweight poly knit leftover from making this 60’s dress.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1317, a year 2014 pattern

NOTIONS:  As this is a knit no interfacing was needed, just thread.  The decorative add-on studs were something I’ve had on hand for a few years, saving for the right project.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This only took me 3 hours to make and it was finished on November 8, 2018

THE INSIDES:  all cleanly serged (overlocked)

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this sweatshirt had been bought several years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was going out of business so it was really discounted…also part of the reason I had to make this on two small remnant cuts (I could not go back and buy any more).  The poly knit lining was a new purchase from my local JoAnn store.  The studs were from Hobby Lobby for a few bucks.  All supplies counted together, this sweatshirt probably cost me just about $20.  Pretty good deal, huh?!

Making the actual sweatshirt was a breeze.  It is so versatile – the velvet one on the cover compared to the more casual ones and the one with the fringe all show that this top can be anything you want it to be.  Two small remnant cuts were all I needed, don’t forget!  I took a bit more time on my sweatshirt to line it, but this could easily be a one afternoon ‘have it ready in under a few hours’ project.  Even better, all the reviews I saw online when considering this pattern looked so very good.  This is really a no-fail pattern…I would think even if you sew this badly it would still look great, I dare to assume.  A sweatshirt is such a chilly weather staple item, and with everything this pattern has going for it there is no reason to buy a RTW one.  I can’t wait to use this pattern again.

The only thing I did consistently notice was that the sizing seemed to run between true to size and a little small for most people, and I feel this is true.  I wanted a loose and relaxing fit for my camouflage version and I found just that by going up one whole size, so the fit much be right on.  There are two neckline options and I went for the more closed, rounded neck of the two.  I like that the neckline is close enough the keep me cozy yet open enough to not sense I am confined in it like most RTW sweatshirts.  I like when my collar bone is exposed and I can show off a neckline if I want or wear a turtleneck under this if I really want to layer up…all perfect with this.  Even the width and fit of the cuffs and bottom band are perfect, not too tight but loose enough to be comfortable.  This is an awesome pattern for a modern one, and this is coming from someone who primarily works with vintage designs and half expects to be disappointed by new ones!

I fully lined the sweatshirt for extra warmth, comfort, and a nicer appearance to the outer cotton knit.  I have used a similar all cotton knit for several projects now, and by now know the best way to go beyond my half-hearted hate of that material with the perfect pairing of a secondary fabric.  100% cotton knit is very finicky to sew, doesn’t drape well on its own, and has the tendency to be sticky”, both to itself and other fabrics and lingerie like Velcro fastening tape.  Pairing that knit with its opposite – a slinky poly jersey – is like a match made in heaven.  The two materials stick together, but the poly makes the cotton act and feel better than it is on its own.  Besides, a little extra ‘oomph’ in the seams actually makes the cotton easier to stitch together.  Check out how well such a pairing worked for this dress!  Now you know my hot tip, an insider’s secret.  You’re welcome.

Oh, how I love what I did to jazz up the neckline, if I do say so myself!  I love the look of studs but didn’t want the commitment of the true metal kind that cut through the fabric they sit upon.  A cotton knit like what I used ravels easily and acquires holes effortlessly, even from stitching.  I could not count on my fabric to stay together through washings with regular studs added so I used these plastic sew-on kind that I had been hoarding for the last several years.  They can also be considered as ‘sew-on stones’ or ‘backless buttons’.  They are frequently found in the button section of the fabric stores, after all.  I was tempted to go full bling and use all of them up but I spaced out half of what I had to strategically stitch down in place how you see them in my pictures.  Sadly, in most lighting they blend in a bit too well put they are a low key shine that I wanted to let my top’s camouflage take center stage.  Only in the glowing, golden hour of a late autumn sunset do the studs show off.

It is very important to be yourself yet remember to respect others.  I think forgetting such is where all sorts of problems stem from…be it wars or hurt relationships, sadness or anger, selfish politics or the whole slew of ill events and feelings which can happen in life.  This also applies to my pet peeve and the main enemy of truly original artists out there – plagiarism, copycatting, the stealing of ideas, and especially doing such for profit.  Closely related is the approbation of a culture, a certain way of life, or mode of dressing out of laziness to pursue greater understanding.  Not meaning to get too heavy here on the heels of Remembrance Day in honor of all the beloved veterans who have been taken from us, but I just wanted to clarify my military style is not at all meant to be a knock off of what the best humans our world has to offer wear in their official duties.  Let freedom ring, but also let kindness prevail.  Remember to thank a veteran, today and at any other time.  Let all people know they are respected and appreciated by what you do and say before they can no longer hear you.  So I’ll just post here about my love for camouflage out my awe and respect for the success and ingenuity of the brave military who need to wear a bit of ingeniously patterned cover to save their lives.  More power to them!  I want in a piece of that awesomeness and bravery if I do say so myself.

“Oh, You’re My Favorite Color – Camouflage”

Brad Paisley certainly has something there with his 2011 hit song about “Camouflage”.  The lyrics are ingenious and literally right on – “…You can blend in in the country.  You can stand out in the fashion world. Be invisible to a white tail (deer), irresistible to a redneck girl.”  There is even a verse about a mom that knew how to sew, and did a favor for her daughter’s prom night.  Listen to the song and read its lyrics at the same time by clicking this link.

Under these sentiments, I made a fashionably creative yet still deceptively disguising modern camouflage dress.  This was a tricky and challenging project on account of the fabric’s design and fiber content.  However, camouflage has something of a personal connection to an interest I share with my dad because of his job, so I am very glad to have succeeded in making this unusual and fun fabric into a garment I love to wear.  As Brad Paisely refers to in his song, camouflage was certainly designed “by Mother Nature and by God”, but mankind also has altered camo into something to be used for our own needs, as well, especially since the 20th century.  The many nations involved in WWI probably helped define the word itself.  A Google search of the word camouflage reveals that the word’s meaning is a loose mix of French (thieves slang) meaning ‘whiff of smoke in the face’ and an Italian word for ‘to disguise or deceive’.

100_0448     I hope that my modern camouflage dress presents a wonderful mix of purposes: a fashionable, not-so-conventional use while still being totally useful at attempting a disguise, a la military or animal style.  See?  In the picture above, you see me in my dress posing normally.  Later on, you’ll see me attempting some backyard disguising and orienteering!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 1/4 yards of camouflage in a brushed finish rayon knit – it’s super soft, drapes well, and stretches easily on account of the small percent of spandex in the fiber content;  1 yard of light pink cotton jersey knit which has slight shimmer/sparkle to it because of tiny minute sliver dots all over the right side.

NOTIONS:  none were bought; I had all the thread and interfacing which was needed on hand.McCalls 5704

PATTERN:  McCall’s ‘Create it!’ #5704, year 2008 (currently out-of-print)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  my dress was finished September 30, 2012 (yes, two years ago), and I don’t exactly remember anymore how much time went into completing it.  My closest guess is 15 hours.

FIRST WORN:  to an event held at our town’s Botanical Garden for the weekend of Labor Day.  In the picture above, notice behind me is the elaborate mausoleum of Henry Shaw.  My dress was finished in the early morning hours on September 30 (2012) and, after sleeping in and getting ready, worn later in the afternoon of that same day to the event.  I received my first compliment that same day also, from one of the booth vendors.  Wow…my first compliment in less than 24 hours after being finished with my dress is a pretty good turnaround for myself!  This is also my go-to dress for any military type of events, such as air shows.

100_3006THE INSIDES:  fairly decent but not perfect.  As my fabrics were non-ravel knits, I merely zig-zag stitched the raw edges together while the seams are double stitched in a rather loose ‘lightening stitch’ to give the fabric room to drape and stretch.  Last year, meaning 2013, I had lost some extra “baby-weight”, and needed to take in the sides a good amount, so the side seams are slightly more bulky and in my way now more than what I intended.  There is a small bump in the sides where the waistband, with the pink piping, was brought in, while under my arm there is a large seam allowance now after I had unpicked the sleeve and re-sewed everything in smaller.  I just didn’t have the heart to cut the excess fabric…at least not yet.

TOTAL COST:  I don’t remember anymore.  The camo knit fabric was bought in 2010 or 2011, and the matching pink sparkle knit fabric was bought at a Hancock Fabrics store in 2012 for around $7 (more or less).  Thanks to a wonderful employee, whom I’ve known for years, I was given some wonderful ideas and advise to help me with my project and find the beautiful pink fabric we both chose to go with my camo print. 

Camouflage prints to me are on par with peacock items (see this post) or dachshund dog stuff or French fleur-di-lis things (see this post) – all of these always trigger something in my head that says, “I love it! I want it! What is something creative I can do with it?”  This explains why I bought the camo fabric, but I no longer remember where it was purchased.  I only remember just two yards of the fabric was bought because I knew the print was too busy to stand on its own without a fill-in matching/contrast.  However, I slightly disagree with one point in Brad Paisely’s song, the one where he says “ain’t nothing that doesn’t go with camouflage”, because I had the hardest time of any project (yet) finding a fabric to go with my camo.  I also had a tough time picking a pattern to make with my fabric, as well.  I know I went through several picks, such as McCall’s 6200, but they all ended up eventually getting pushed out of the way for the pattern I did use, #5704.  My final choice of everything is something I’m very happy with – the pink contrast brightens and feminizes the camo, while my pattern chosen helps define my waist and slim down a print which could’ve made me look bigger.

100_1437a     This project was the closest cut I have done, or will ever hope to do, with my sewing in regards to laying and cutting out a pattern.  The way the envelope back goes for McCall’s 5704, is that you pick out exactly what features you want, and each piece has its own measurements to go along.  I chose almost all of the features on the cover model’s dress, with the exception of a plain skirt and un-gathered bottom band, and added up all the 3/8 and 1/4 and such measurements to come up my total for fabric needed.  The fabric on hand was close to my total amount needed, but still shockingly short.  Nevertheless, I figured with such small pattern pieces, no nap (one way print), and pure luck, I could…A100_3004ND DID…make things work.  Actually, I had to fudge in one spot at the top left corner of the bodice where it joins to the shoulder (see picture at right).  I didn’t realize there was no fabric underneath at that spot; but, no fuss!  I cut two small 2 inch squares to fill in for the shoulders on the bodice front and it actually looks cool with those patches there.

There were only a few personal preference changes I made besides the ones100_3005 mentioned above, which were made out of necessity because of my fabric shortage.  The rectangular inset of the neckline was cut out at about 2 inches higher than the pattern so that it wouldn’t be so revealing.  Also, the pink piping in the seams above and below the midriff panel was my idea.  My dress needed something to define the waist and highlight the panel pieces which went into making the design.  I didn’t add any rope or piping into the piping when I made it from the leftover pink knit because I just wanted to keep things simple and not hinder the stretch of the knit.  The K.I.S.S principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) wins again!   See this post for another of my examples of the K.I.S.S. principle in action.  Now, if only I could remember a simplistic way to keep everything I learned about orienteering straight in my head, my map skills would be better, too.

100_3009     The loose, flowing sleeves of my dress are a feature I especially love, mostly because they’re so very comfy and feminine.  Maybe the ‘feminine’ part of my dress is caused by the slightly sparkly pink fabric.  I’m not a very ‘pink’ type of girl, but in the case of my camo knit dress, it is quite enjoyable to make a new color work for me.

100_3017     As for doing more projects in camouflage, the answer is “Yes, Yes, and Yes!”  I already have 1 yard of the large splotched deep browns, tans, and olive colored “Desert Storm” US Army Desert Storm Camo ShirtEra camo in a lightweight knit, and this will hopefully be made into an interesting top.  (See picture of US Army shirt for a “Desert Storm” camo.) I also have a soft cotton twill in a smaller print, lighter toned camouflage, which is paired up with a pattern for a casual cargo pocket skirt.  However, both these fabrics (the knit and the twill) have been in my stash for at the most 10 years, so at this rate, I might not get to make something from them anytime soon.  It took me a few years to just get around to posting about this dress…Vintage takes up a good part of my sewing projects.

Historically speaking, camouflage came to be recognized and named around and about the same eras of which I sew, specifically the 20s to 40s.  In the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s several artists, zoologists, and scientists brought greater attention to the verb part of camouflage in its natural and animal world.  Once we fought through World War I, troops suddenly realized that marching (or riding) into battle in full decorated and obnoxious glory might not be the best of ideas if conquest means survival is necessary.  The 2011 movie War Horse presents a good example of undisguised battle fronts.  The emergence of aerial history furthered the awareness and need (when it came to WWII) to gain experience in the art of hiding things in plain view.  There is a very excellent blog, in five parts, that expounds on the history of camouflage; it can be found here at “The Believer Logger”.  Please take some time out and check it out because I can guarantee you it’s well written interesting, and not too long.

100_3020     I will conclude with my favorite lines from the history of camouflage blog at “The Believer Logger”.  “Camouflage wasn’t only, or even primarily, concerned with hiding. It was also about being seen: confusing the eye, subverting reality, asserting both individuality and group identities. Camouflage is a pattern, a collection of conflicting verbs, and a surprisingly multivalent worldview.”  Indeed.  I also know there would be a hole in the history of the military, of hunters, of fashionistas, and many others without a pattern that is as adaptable and mufti-faceted as an amoeba. 100_1425

As a teaser, my dad and I actually have the idea to personalize our camouflage in the future.  My dad’s workplace nickname is “The Camo Man”, and, after all, he is a mapmaker.  How great would it be to combine a few of my interests into making our own dachshund silhouette camo…just for one idea.  For another idea, I already made a Traditional Hawaiian Lei for my hair to match with the colors and earth theme of my dress.  Stay tuned – I always have something up my sleeve!