Tree Skirt

As much as I love Christmas trees, I am always so drawn by what is under them…and I don’t just mean the presents!  I mean the displays of nativity scenes, tiny winter dioramas, scale train sets, or even just a tree skirt that is made out of a fantastic material.  Every tree is as special and wonderful as each one of us are!  So here I am imitating the tree as well as staying warm “in the bleak mid-winter”, all the while finding a way to be fancy for the big holiday with this ankle-length, uber-full, 3-tiered, velveteen skirt.  It is a plush forest green color accented with delicate gold mesh ribbon trim…to me, a wearable version of all the glitz and glamour I love about a Christmas conifer!  Worn with a metallic yarn sweater (not made by me), poinsettias, and even ornaments, I am the second tree, I suppose.

This over-a-decade old skirt project is something I am quite proud to still be wearing.  This was a something I made for a Christmas circa 2006.  I realize it is often frowned upon to both keep and wear clothes for this long, but my skirt is made so well (not specifically meaning to brag), nicely treated (it gets worn maybe twice a year around Christmas, thus in newly made condition), and is a such a basic design that I feel is perennially elegant.  Besides…it still fits me anyway! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a cotton blend velveteen lined in pastel mint green poly

PATTERN:  McCall’s #5005 pattern for skirts, year 2005

THE INSIDES:  cleanly serged (overlocked)

From what I remember this was an easy make that became challenging due to the copious amount of fabric (3 yards in total) and all the gathering.  How I afforded that many yards of fabric back then I don’t remember so I must have found it at a steal of a price or convinced my mom to pitch in for me.  This is a really nice, heavy, fluffy velvet that makes you want to cuddle up with it.  I was on a velvet “kick” back then (see this wine velveteen skirt I also made way back) and I still have some of my acquisitions from that fabric buying high sitting in current stash, so one winter yet I will go on another spree of sewing more velvet creations.

As usual, I adapted the pattern.  My change only was to make my life easier back then because I was not 100% comfortable with zippers, much less invisible ones.  I went a size up higher for what had been a faced, form-fitting waistline of the top panel so that I could add elastic to make it a pull-on skirt instead.  There is a casing to my skirt with elastic for only the sides and back ¾ of the waistline so that the center front over the belly could be smooth and bulk-free.  In hindsight, I am glad I made a waistline that is adjustable – because of it I’m probably able to wear this for 12-something years.  However, I did not bother to finish off the top edge of the waistline because I really never tucked things in to my skirts or pants at that time (I mostly liked to wear stuff at my hips as a teen, anyway).  Now that I do tuck more tops in and am not as afraid of a defined waist, and wish I had bothered to take the extra time to do that art of my skirt better “just in case” my style changed.  Oh well, the rest of the skirt was done nicely!

My second major change was to make the bottom third panel of the skirt longer.  I did not like the idea of the bottom tier being an obnoxious ruffle, which is the way it would have been had I stuck to the pattern as-is.  By lengthening the third row, it appears to be more like another panel to the skirt rather than a hem ruffle, besides making it the elegant ankle length I wanted.  I am so glad I made this adaptation.  This skirt brings out the inner princess in me the way it swoops, swishes, and covers a staircase when I walk down steps.  When I hold my skirt up to turn or walk sometimes, it reminds me of the way Cinderella or Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” hold their dresses up while dancing.  Twirling is especially great in this skirt…the sweep is tremendous!  I suppose I’ll never grow out of my old childhood dress-up dreams!

As velveteen (just like corduroy) has the tendency to “stick” to other materials worn both over and under it, I fully lined the inside of the skirt with a slimmer two-piece bias skirt out of the mint colored polyester.  The lining’s A-line shape does not match the width of the velvet skirt, I know, but a full underskirt would have only poufed out my velvet skirt in a way that would not have made it as wearable, only more costume-y.  The slim lining skirt underneath lets the gathers hang on their own and actually keeps my body heat in nicely.  I can totally wear some skinny knit pants under this skirt when it is really cold out and no one would know the better.  Between the poly lining and velvet, dressing up doesn’t mean I have to compromise class.

I don’t exactly remember how I cut the velvet out, but I must have cut each of the tiered panels on a different nap.  This is something I would never do today, but I do quite like it on this skirt.  Because the plush of the velvet brushes a different way, each panel has a slightly variable color to it.  The middle panel especially has a frosted overtone to it that I love because it reminds me of the most picturesque part of winter – snow!

I really don’t frown upon my older and earlier makes even though I shake my head to see how far I’ve come and smile at the same time to see how I appreciate my work at any level.  I like them nonetheless for not being up to my current sewing standards.  I’ll admit, I had a “thing” in the 2000s for skirts that were flowing and feminine due to bias cut panels, ruffles, gathers (like this one), and all in longer lengths, more so than today.  However, three rectangles of fabric can’t be that old-fashioned (can they?) and the 90’s and 2000 look is coming back today in conjunction with the 70’s hippie style, anyway.  So here’s to rocking your own personal style in handmade fashion from whatever skill level you are!  You made it…be proud of that and own the fact you created something wonderful.  Respect those older sewing makes.  Christmas is a time (besides many other things) for me to celebrate family and memories, and wearing this skirt lets me dress up in comfort while remembering my past and ruminating over the present.

I hope all of you had a wonderful, joyous Christmas that filled your heart and your mind with good memories, peace, and happiness.  From my family, to you and yours – warm Holiday wishes!

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Hubby’s Holiday Ration

Every year when December comes around is the time for me to figure out what I will make as a gift to give my husband for St. Nicholas Day/Christmas.  This has pretty much been our tradition for the last several years – he gets some article of clothing handmade by me for the holidays and then one other garment for his birthday/Father’s Day.  So, his “ration” of articles from my hands is about two a year.  I love to see his tickled and happy reaction every time I make something for him…it makes it so worth it!

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Anyway, this year’s gift for him is more than just his ‘allowance’.  It really is a garment from a time of real, restrictive, and penny-pinching rationing due to then current world history – a “Manufactured in England” year 1945 McCall’s pattern for a men’s dress shirt.  This is his ration on the ration but you’d never guess, would you?!  This is the dressiest shirt I’ve made to date, the first English pattern I’ve used, as well as the first long sleeve nice shirt that I’ve made for my man.  Come to think of it, up until now I’ve always made him short sleeve and/or sports shirts.  To make it even easier for him to wear his new shirt immediately (which he wanted to anyway), this new shirt a Christmas appropriate color!  It turned out so well and he does look quite spiffy in it, if I must say so myself.

THE FACTS:                                                                                                                 

FABRIC:  100% linen mccall-5864-year-1945-cover-compw

PATTERN:  McCall #5864, Printed and manufactured in England, circa year 1944 or 1945.  I’ve seen colorized envelope American versions of this pattern dated 1944 and also 1945, so I’m guessing this design was printed throughout both years.  However, the way my pattern’s insert mentions McCall #6044, from 1945, (more about that below) my version of #5864 is probably also 1945.  By the way, is it just me or does the top left guy’s face look like the actor Robert Young?!

NOTIONS:  I used everything from on hand in true 40’s outlook, but I only needed thread and some interfacing.  The buttons are probably close to authentic 40’s vintage as well, as they are a set from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash with obvious cut marks on the back (meaning she saved them off of an existing worn garment).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  His shirt was finished on December 9, 2016, after just over 20 hours.

dsc_0875a-compwTHE INSIDES:  I feel like because the insides are so nice in French seams, with the shoulder panel lining covering the rest, Hubby thinks I played a trick on him (…not me).  He literally has a hard time telling right from wrong side with this shirt!  Score!

TOTAL COST:  This linen was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing earlier this year.  I spent probably only $6 on this shirt for him.  When hubby reads this I’ll sound cheap for his gift, but it’s the thought, fit, and quality that counts!

The pattern sadly manifests the effects of WWII compared to all the other USA sourced McCall patterns I have used before.  First of all, the cover of the envelope drawing is in black and white, the same as Australian patterns of WWII times.  Secondly, the pattern is unprinted, reverting instead to the hole-punched code system on plain paper like other companies.  This is a major step in rationing because being the very first to offer printed patterns continuously was always (and still is) part of the bragging rights of McCall’s, and I have never read that they departed from that.

mccall-5864-year-1945-instructions-compwThere are a few small “reminder” sheets inside with a half size instruction sheet…seeing how to make the shirt was like reading ant-size print, no kidding!  The one other “reminder” sheet states (in all red letters) that now the 5/8 inch seam is the baseline for their patterns, and the other sheet gives a guide of how to read their non-printed hole-punch system.  At the top of the guide for reading the hole-punch method is an interesting apology for it, “As a result of the present conditions…”  Everyone knew what those were, I guess not clearly saying “W-A-R” helped make those circumstances slightly better.  Below the apology is the confusing “notice” that their patterns have a ½ inch seam allowance up until number #6044.  What?  Didn’t McCall go out of their way to print a small added notice of 5/8 inch seam allowance, only to also say it’s ½ inch too?  I see all of this pointing to the company awkwardly, hurriedly adjusting and adapting to the (then) “present conditions”, trying to do their part in the ration effort the longer the war went on while still offering home sewers no less awesome designs.  One last thing – notice the envelope was stamped “TAX FREE”!

The quality of the pattern did not seem all that affected beyond the fact that it is an unprinted pattern.  As I every so often find with the punched hole patterns, there were some slight inconsistencies or mismatching with its making – something only I woulddsc_0832a-compw notice.  The front hem of one side to the front was about ½ longer than the other (which I trimmed), the left shoulder panel was a bit wider than the other (again trimmed), and the two collars were not shaped exactly equal.  Most of the times this doesn’t even happen because most patterns have pieces such as these cut on a fold, so both side are guaranteed equal.  However, this pattern is unusual in that it only had the back bodice of the shirt cut on the fold while all else was a full piece, with both right and left sides, and cut out on a single layer of fabric.  This together with the fact that most all the pieces were skinny and small, made for a very efficient pattern that left with plenty leftover to go for another project.  Yay for fabric thrifty 40’s patterns!

I really love all the finely classy and subtle vintage features.  All the 40’s shirts I see for men have gathers in some form or fashion, so the light, barely-there gathers at the cuffs and back panel are a nice departure from the norm.  Making/sewing the collar stand was quite challenging, small work, but compared to the turnover style (where the collar merely folds on itself) or the all-in-one style (where the stand is the same piece as the collar) this style is the best for dress shirts, in my opinion.  I already had practice with making button sleeve plackets when I did my own 1946 flannel shirt, so I really feel that I did the ones on hubby’s shirt very well this time.  The front left button overlap was fun and so easy to make as well as another classy touch.  Sewing something for my man has given me the opportunity to try new techniques I wouldn’t do otherwise.

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Once again, because he is skinny I choose a pattern that has his collar size (14 ½ inch).  Unlike women, neck size is priority, too, together with the chest when making a pattern for a guy…not so much hips or waist! However, just like the last 40’s shirt pattern in this size the sleeves ran really short, as if for a teenager.  I’m not talking about adding a little – I had to add 1 ¾ to the sleeve length for my man!  Granted, in modern shirts he does look for the longer length sleeves.  I don’t know how many of my readers use vintage men’s patterns but if you do and you also notice super short long sleeves as a trend for the small sizes, let me know if you see what I see!

The linen for this shirt was an absolute dream to work with – so soft and easy to sew!  People who only work with polyester need to try this kind of fabric, and they should be amazed at what they’ve been missing. To keep the linen in the right shape, the interfacing weights were switched up with the mid weight stuff in the collar cuffs while the lightweight was in the collar stand and button overlap.  Hubby’s linen shirt is the same cross-dyed, semi-sheer linen used for my 1933 skirt, just a different color tone.  Cross-dyed colors do make for such a lovely option to plain solids.

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Christmas is a time to sing, hope, and pray for “peace on earth” and “goodwill towards all”, so I find it rather funny in an ironic way how my shirt for hubby brings the Allies of World War II together.  I made this living in my country of America, the pattern I used is from the United Kingdom, the inside seaming to the shirt is French, and the material for it is similar to a fine Irish linen.  (Ireland was officially nonpartisan during WWII, but they had many contraventions helping the Allies and being aided by them in exchange.)  Perhaps a shirt for the peaceful time of Christmas can assuage the facts of the circumstances around this war time pattern, and provide a nice way to “wrap up” memories brought up by the recent celebration of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Green is symbolic of many things, but also of balance…perhaps I should have called my post title “Holiday Harmony”.  We all need a taste of that!

I’m hoping everyone had a restfully happy and beautiful holiday season of Christmastide!  I also hope you were told compliments on all your handmade garments and received some lovely sewing related and creative-inspiring gifts!

Decked Out In Red, 1946 Style

This Christmas, I celebrated the season in style – handmade vintage style to be exact.  My finished dress in one of my #1 best made project so far, taking into account the high quality fabric and details which are involved.

My best 1940’s hat, complete with pristine condition feathers, rhinestones, and netting, was worn to suit posing in my new fancy dress.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The dress is made using a 100% wool medium weight gabardine, with an excellent soft drape.  It is in a deep, royal red color.  I believe I bought it at a JoAnn’s store, back in 2011.  Wool gabardine is a very rare find in the stores of this town, so when I saw this fabric (the only bolt of its kind, all sad and lonely) I picked up over 3 yards of such a prized find.  After my dress, I still had a nice 3/4 yard chunk of this fabric leftover to go towards cutting some better fitting sleeves.  The lining for my dress is a basic red cling-free poly lining, bought just before making the dress.

NOTIONS:  I had to buy most all of the notions for this dress because I wanted to be very specific with the finished look.  I bought matching thread (Mettler Metrosheen and a Dual duty), a side zipper, and buttons for the wrist closures which matched the big buttons I already had for the bodice closure.B5281

PATTERN:  “Retro” Butterick #5281, a reprint of an original year 1946 no. 3935 pattern.  Even though Butterick released this pattern back in 2008, I believe it’s still in circulation. 

 TIME TO COMPLETE:  Oh my!  Too long for my taste.  I probably spent more than 30 hours to make this dress over the course of 2 weeks.  It was finally finished on December 19, 2013.  Later, In December of 2017 I came back and gave this dress the better fitting and detailing it deserved.

 FIRST WORN:  to my maternal side of the family get-together, the Sunday before Christmas.  It is held at a historic German building, now a restaurant, and I think my bright red dress matched the festive, old-world style decorations inside.  Boo hoo, it was too dark inside for any pictures of the place.

TOTAL COST:  I’m not that sure, but it probably is a bit over $30.  That is more than my normal cost, but worth it in the end.  Don’t forget, the total cost was mostly spent 3 years ago anyway.

B5281-drawing      As I usually do, I checked plenty of reviews from other seamstresses who have made this same reprint, and I ended up just getting all around confused.  So many others have made this dress and none of them were really consistent with any one B5281 modelproblem, but more than one mention of tight sleeves, generous bust ease, and difficult neckline pleats perked my attention.  Looking ahead for these traits, I covered my behind (ahem…) by adapting some of the construction while slightly changing just a few of this dress’ details.  I wanted my dress to be quite close to the original, and similar to the model on the Butterick web page (at left).  I’m hoping my small variations to B5281 make it so much more elegant and practical.

I tried to fit this dress better when it was still at the cutting stage by doing my now normal wild grading technique. My front bodice is an 8 graded at waist to a 10, my back bodice is a 10 graded to a 12 at waist, the skirt half is a solid 12, while the sleeves are a 10.  Crazy isn’t it…but, hey, it has always worked great so far.  However this dress still doesn’t fit quite right, even after coming back and re-adjusting it, so I’m chalking my problems to a very poor reprint of a vintage original.

The first big change to the construction process was to sew the lining and the dress together as one.  This way if any fitting adjustments are needed, such as to the shoulders or sleeves or darts, I can fix issues without a headache of unpicking.  The bodice front, with its lining having a separate fit with darts, and the skirt portion, which is hanging free from the waist down, are the only exceptions.  To have the lining fit over the inside of this dress like a separate 2nd glove sounds nice, but I’ve done dresses like that before, and had my share of grief from that design, so I wasn’t ready for that with this dress.  Besides, I have my own favorite way of making my handmade clothes look professional – French seams!  Every seam is French seams, except for the bottom hem and flat felled seams inside the sleeves.  See ‘inside out’ picture at right.

I didn’t have any problems with the side neckline pleats, but I completely understand how easy it could be to totally mess up. Those three little neckline details are awfully close to some seams and are a bit slanted, too.  The neckline shape of my dress happily turned into an inverted rectangular shape according to the pattern – a few bloggers complained their versions of B5281 became an exact square neckline, for some reason.  Just make sure not to let the gathers at the end of the pleats get bunched into or pull at the neckline seam.  I even added seam tape into the whole neckline and shoulders to make sure everything keeps a perfect shape.  My very best, red letter recommendation is to PLEASE do all the markings, transfer them precisely, and sew directly on them without any cutting of ANY corners until you’ve made sure it’s alright.  Taking your time and being as precise as you can be will basically assure those details turn out the same as the pattern.  Be warned, though, the bodice alone did take up about half of my whole working time on this dress.  Also, the fullness to side shoulder pleats really don’t blend in that well with the rest of the dress as the cover drawing led me to believe.

Now, not that I am against pure decorative purposed items, but why add buttons across the side bodice closure and have them do nothing?!  I couldn’t do that.  So I cut some bias strips to sew my own tiny tubing to use as loop closure, and added them into the front seam at exactly 1 1/2 inches away from the side seams.  Voila!  Only one heavy duty snap was needed to be hand sewn to the inside near the neckline to help hold up its shape.  Utility and decoration are now married with this configuration, showcasing my prized “La Mode” Vintage line of buttons.  I had been keeping these two buttons with my B5281 pattern, since the button card says they’re circa 1920 to 1940.  They’re quite the statement pieces which were needed here, I think.

On that “purely decorative” vein, I took the next step and made loop plackets at the wrist of my sleeves to match the neckline.  The pattern called for two small zippers and I want to do this feature to a dress or top at some point, but not on this project.  Matching my neckline buttons made finding some smaller wrist closure buttons a slight challenge which hubby and I conquered together.  My wrist closure was sewn in a manner I learned from doing the sleeves of this project, and its something I’m quite proud of how it looks and turned out.  You simply do a small hem along the sleeve end and turn the hem up, right sides together, so it’s aligned with the opening.  Then, I slipped my loops in the seam of one side and sewed both corners together.  Trim seams and turn them right sides out and just like magic I had a perfectly finished hem cuff.  I hope my picture reveals some light on my technique.

The sleeves had been on the edge of needing some extra ease to allow for some “reach room”.  After a few wearings, I was tired of being restricted to merely sitting pretty and having trouble even so much as adjusting my hair, so I gained the gumption to add a professional sleeve gusset and adapt the fit.  First, I slashed and spread open the sleeve caps, doing the traditional large arm adjustment.  Then I cut the sleeves out on the bias of the fabric, as this gives them much more ‘give’ merely from the shifting adjustability of cross-grain cuts.  I also made a simple extended triangular gusset to give me some extra added room to move.  These changes made my sleeve look like a 1940s era sleeve I am used to rather than the skinny sleeves on the reprint.  Finally, I made a very simple hem to the wrists of the sleeves. I know, I know…I spent all that time to make the button wrist closures on the original sleeves.  However, I just wanted a sleeve that fit well more than I wanted a fancy sleeve for the second time around.

The zipper here is probably one of my best installations, even with the tricky gathers along the side.  This is probably because I came back to unpick the machine stitching and sew a hand stitched zipper installation.  Hand sewing this tricky area is really the best way for a tight and precise zipper.  Those side gathers are such a small detail to add in there, but they perfectly compliment the rest of the dress.

To be honest, at first I really didn’t like the dress on myself that much.  I thought it looks more obviously vintage than many of my other past era patterns and the bright red is like a punch in the eyes.  However, in this deep red color and expensive fabric, it does have a very classic, professional, suit-type of aura unlike anything in my closet.  Once I wore my new dress, I absolutely loved it.  The skirt portion hangs beautifully and the L-panel which goes across the tummy and hangs down is the best compliment ever for a woman’s waistline.  I am going to enjoy wearing my 3rd dress from 1946 ( #1 dress here, and #2 dress here).  Hmmm…maybe 1946 is a good year to pick patterns from for more upcoming vintage projects.

When I tell people about this 1946 dress, everyone replies that they can’t wear wool because its too itchy of a fabric.  Goodness!  It’s a shame the general populace has NO idea what quality wool, or wool blends really feel like – otherwise I suppose I would not get those sort of replies.  I do have sensitive skin and this fine wool gabardine used for my dress is not obviously itchy, just soft and smooth.  A recent purchase of a wool/silk blend fabric from Mood N.Y. has further impressed me with the softness that quality wool fabrics can present.  My hope is to convince people, when I wear my 1946 red wool dress, to see what they are missing as a consumer by realizing the nice quality fabrics that RTW store clothes are cheating them from enjoying.

By the way (because I can), here’s a parting gratuitous snowball…