The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

Cranberry Comfort

I feel like I am barely making it through most days lately.  There, I said it.  Why hide it?  I think I speak for many people.  So, all I felt like making most recently was something really useful and unpretentious from my go-to decade of the 1940s.  I have a whole slew of fantastic things to make, all ready to get put together, but they sit there intimidating me at the moment.  Something as basic as my days have been, an item which helps me feel like myself, is all I wanted out of my newest sewing project.  

It has been a long while since I last had a new 1940s shirtdress but I’m back with another one finally!  The way my chosen cotton complements the local fall season foliage cheers me.  The relaxed feel but refined appearance to the thrifty 40’s era design suits any sort of occasion.  Not that I have many formal ‘occasions’ to dress up for anymore, but sometimes that means getting put together for myself because my well-being matters.  My most recent event which called for this post’s dress included taking a stroll through the neighborhood to find this amazing Dogwood tree at the height of its seasonal colors.  I rather wish I could stay hidden in its beauty but the leaves are nearly gone now by the time I write this.  

The color scheme here alone helps me find joy by reminding me of some favorite seasonal homemade comfort food by the rich cranberry color of my dress and the orange hues of the tree.  I love making homemade cranberry sauce with a hint of orange zest (no canned version for us).  Also, there is a fabulous roasted beet and mandarin orange salad I make with a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette poured over a bed of fresh spinach leaves.  Besides, these dishes, there is my yearly “upside down cranberry sour cream cake”, which is a family favorite I try to bake each November.  Mmm – are you hungry yet? 

So excuse me if my palette for this fall is exceptionally inspired by both nature of the moment and what’s cooking in my kitchen, but now you will know why after seeing the dress that started my current color scheme.  Look for more golden, earthy, rustic, rich tones to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print, probably vintage from the 90’s or even 80’s, with the brand of “VIP fabrics inc.“ printed along the selvedge

PATTERN:  McCall #3828, year 1940

NOTIONS:  I used lots of thread, one side seam zipper, and three vintage Bakelite buttons out of the stash of hubby’s Grandmother (There was fourth button to the set which has been sewn down the front of my dress.  It is on an older me-made project – this year 1940 velvet hat, posted here.)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 16, 2020 in about 6 to 8 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was a 3 yard piece out of box of about 50 something different cuts of vintage fabrics, all of which I bought for only $25.  So this was one incredibly cheap dress!

There’s really not much to say about making this dress other than praise.  It was pretty basic to sew but I can brag this is probably my best made collar to date.  The overall dress turned out perfectly without any fitting tweaks needed (although I did grade up in size).  I will get much use out of this because the color, fabric weight, and ¾ sleeves will lend this to being an all-season item so I my 8 hours spent to make it was very worthwhile.  This can be dressed up with pearls and heels or dressed down with tennis shoes or sandals.  The dress is deceptively as comfy as a nightgown but makes me look oh-so-put-together in the blink of popping it over my head.  Altogether, it is nice casual wear that is the golden ticket to versatility – so very hard to find in RTW.  I know I am partial, but my opinion is that the decade of the 40s does this style of dress best!  We are so lucky to be still enjoying the benefits of such smart fashion, born of the trials of the WWII era, in our own times.

The buttons might be the coolest part to this dress, being prized vintage Bakelite notions from the sewing stash inherited from my husband’s side.  They are purely decorative because I was apathetic enough to not even bother to make proper buttonholes.  “As long as it’s wearable…” I felt so very below my normal par.  Honestly, I almost felt bad using them on such an everyday style dress I (nicely) whipped up.  Weird, right?  It’s the kind of the feeling of wanting to save them for something better.  Yet, I really think there is something to letting ourselves enjoy those really special things in seemingly not-so-special settings.  Don’t wait for the ideal tea party to feel the thrill of connectivity when using your Grandmother’s antique china.  Why wait for the right occasion to make yourself up if you think it would make your day nicer?  You are worth it, even if you are just at home.  Enjoying something special in a regular setting is better than never at all.  Yet, as these singular buttons were the perfect complement for this dress, I’m just going to let them be one of the many reasons why I want and need to wear this dress frequently!

My dress’ details are surprisingly low-key given the date on the envelope – year 1940.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are always such wonderful designs but this one is a little different than the norm.  I appreciate the fact that the collar is a lot smaller than the traditional 40’s era overpowering one and the sleeve caps are not as obnoxiously puffed as most from the time.  It slightly bothers my mathematical perfection tendencies that the front overlapping blouse-style bodice leaves the seam off-kilter to the center seam to the skirt.  No matter – I can get over that but I have come to expect a bit more precision from a vintage McCall!  The skirt’s front box pleat and the back skirt’s 3 panel seaming is classic early 40’s feature which keeps the skirt looking slim but gives me plenty of room to move easily. 

At some future date I may come back to embroider an arrow point to stabilize the top seam end where the pleat opens up.  Apparently, I’m expecting to wear this out soon enough!  Such a detail might bring this dress up a par, so until it is needed, I will not add it.  This has to stay a stress-free creation that fulfills a need for the moment.  I also realize now after the fact that a good project which grounds me is just what was needed after all the super fancy dresses I have been sewing in secret behind the scenes…subtle hint for a vintage princess themed series to come!   Not that I have any qualms about going out in a strongly vintage outfit or over-the-top frock, but it is always nice to have something to wear which doesn’t scream my presence as loudly as other new items do in my closet of today.  As I said above, this way I’m camouflaged with my favorite fall tree!

I added something old, something new, and items dated in between the two when it came to my accessories.  My leather woven belt and leather Naturalizer brand heels are from my teen to early 20-something years.  My earrings and watch are late 40’s from my Grandmother, when she was a teenager herself.  However, the one add-on that stealthily steals the show is my handbag.

The purse I am using is a true vintage mid-40’s telephone cord treasure, also known as a “plastic cord bag”.  (See this excellent post at the “Dusty Old Thing” blog page for more history to these!)  The ivory and brown version I have creatively has a different design layout for the cord on either side (which you can see if you look close at the details of our pictures)!  I used to always think these kind of purses were too novelty for me and I never intended to buy one.  The bright red, blue, white, and yellow combination versions turned me off by being so garish (in my eyes).  However, I came across a perfect condition one locally for a steal of a price (they tend to be very pricey) and I couldn’t resist.  Owning one for myself now, I have found a true appreciation for their quality, besides the fun and statement-piece like quality a “plastic cord bag” has to perk up an outfit.  A basic outfit needs a bit of a pizzazz, right?

I can’t just finish up this post without giving you something extra.  All this cranberry and orange colored saturated color goodness can’t go wasted.  I know you are curious about some of my favorite cranberry recipes, right?!  As Thanksgiving will be soon upon us, I’ll give you the recipe I use for homemade cranberry orange sauce.  This is a ‘from scratch’ recipe which is super-easy and it calls for healthy ingredients like applesauce and a touch of maple syrup.  Enjoy and please do let me know if you try it and find yourself liking it as much as I do!  Here’s a toast to all the goodness around us, whether we are able to realize it or not, which is upon us this season.

Sewing A ‘What Do I Call It’?

Currently, more than ever, now that I am staying at home all too much as well as taking care of the tough stuff in life, I need clothes that are either supremely useful or a frothy delight.  My next post will be the latter, but this post is about a garment which is the former – so convenient and multi-purpose, I really can’t distinguish what term to use for identifying the creation I just recently made.

It can be a sundress, a jumper, or a full body apron.  It wraps on for ultimate ease.  It was made out a soft yet stable cotton with a print which so perfectly alludes to what I love to do in life…because I know better than to leave out the element of fun!  It was made on under 2 yards of material, paired with a few scraps.  Of course, it is vintage, as well, from 1976, to be exact.  Yup, it has it all!  Now, what can I call it?!  A sun-apron-jumper? A jumpron? A sunper?  I might just need to make up a new word here.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Simplicity brand sewing themed 100% cotton prints (found here at JoAnn Fabrics)

PATTERN:  Simplicity 7561, year 1976, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  Thread was all I really needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a rather quick 6 to 8 hour project from start to finish, and it was ready to wear as of June 2, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All the raw edges are cleanly covered in my homemade bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  under $20

First off, I am rarely into branded prints but a sewing themed one was too much for me to resist.  It is understated enough to not be tacky, and a casual glance can miss the details of it completely.  I like subtlety.  This is why I used my black fabric marker to darken the “Simplicity” logo all over the print I used on the main body.  The logo was originally much too shiny and bright so my slight coloring lends a tarnished appearance so the text blends in with the rest of the pattern pieces printed all over!

This was just what I needed for the moment.  It was an uncertain combo at first, only an experimental venture born of a cooped up spirit.  I ended up being cheered and entertained by this fun and unusual project.  Secondly, I wear my self-made wardrobe on a daily basis and have literally been unintentionally been beating up my favorite pieces lately.  Just the week before, for example, I was devastated to have somehow punched a hole into my Agent Carter skirt as well as dripped superglue onto my chambray maxi skirt.  (Don’t worry, I successfully made some repairs that are near unnoticeable.)  Ugh, I realize I probably need to wear grubby ‘work’ clothes for some of the things done around here to take care of the house.  Then again, I’m normally not as casualty-prone as I am lately and the amount of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t care about destroying is quite small.  I picked up this sewing project because I was hoping to have a full coverage apron which would fill in that gap.

There are still more reasons why this was a perfect project for the moment.  It needed no interfacing!  There is a significant amount of bias give to certain parts of the straps, yet the fact that they are double layers of fabric helps keep everything in place, along with some tight top-stitching.  You kind of need just a bit of give to move around in, anyway.  I am wondering if the lack of interfacing, stripped-down-to-the-bare-bones kind of construction to this has anything to do with the fact the pattern is labeled as a “How to Sew” design.  It has a separate page insert, printed on the tissue paper, all about top-stitching and very basic construction details.  The pattern had no facings and, besides a lot of top-stitching and some tricky curved seams around the arms, it was super easy.  I was tempted to go ahead and interface the straps and the waist ties anyway, and I don’t think it would have ruined it, but this garment turned out just fine without it.  I wanted to save what I have for when I do really need it.  With all the facial mask making of today, acquiring interfacing is like finding gold, just like bias tape.

This leads to talk about the life saving tool for the seamstress of today that could use bias tape.  It is only to be found at a premium price in bulk or through vintage suppliers – it seems also due to the worldwide mask making.  Thus, I am so very glad I already had bought my own set of Clover brand bias tape makers so I can cut and iron out my own supply in case of emergency shortage!  Now, I personally do not sew my face masks with bias tape, and only reserve it for some of my garment sewing.  As this is a wrap-on garment which makes the inside finishing easily seen, and the cotton was too thick for French or lapped seams, I reached for the easy solution of bias tape bound edges.

I’ll admit to having a decent sized stash of notions to work off of in the first place at the start of quarantine, but even still – that does dwindle with use over the past 3 months and my basic black was the first to go.  I reached for a black lightweight cotton on hand leftover from a past project (thank goodness for saving my scraps) and cut it into the appropriate strips 2 inches wide to end up with ½ inch double fold bias tape.  I also have the tools to enable me to make 1 inch and ¼ inch double fold bias tape.  These are little, simple, hand-held tools that are really very reasonably priced for as handy as they are and the unlimited options they give a seamstress.  I highly recommend them with the warning to watch your fingers.  Using a hot iron with copious amounts of steam make for a well pressed bias tape but – if you’re not careful – also can mean burnt, sore fingers!

The size on my pattern was technically too large for me according to the size chart, but I rightly figured it would be okay as I was planning on wearing this over my existing clothes as an apron/jumper and not just a sundress.  It is a bit roomy when I do wear it by itself as a sundress, but loose clothing is comfortable in the hot weather.  As this was a wrap-on garment there was no real fitting needed, but I did find the bodice to run quite long and the waistline sits a bit lower than it should.  You can’t tell with the busy print and it doesn’t bother me, so I don’t really care about being a perfectionist here.  It was completely sewn together as it was straight out of the envelope.

The pattern called for the crossover back straps to be buttoned down along the back bodice edge.  The idea of that struck me as too fussy and possibly uncomfortable to sit up against.  I just stitched the straps down at a length that worked for me and it’s just fine.  It might be slightly confusing to put on and take off, but I like the security of knowing it won’t come undone on me and the comfort of not having a bulky button under my back shoulder blade.  I realize that so many of my sundresses have the same crossover back (my 1940 blue plaid one, my Halston-inspired 70’s one, and this 1949 brown striped one) but hey – it’s comfy and the positioning keeps the straps on the shoulders.  Maybe I can count this as one last, very tardy installment my late 2018 to mid-2019 series “Indian Summer of the Sundress” (even though this is only one of the wearing options to this garment)?  I was missing the decade of the 70’s out of covering the 1920s to the 60’s in that series.

To match with the 70’s date of this jumper-sundress thing, I layered a dated RTW tunic shirt underneath together with my 1974 stretch jeans (posted here) and some platform studded suede sandals when I was wearing it like an apron.  I do not personally see it as obviously vintage though, besides the fact it might look a bit different when worn over my existing clothes.  I have yet to try it as a jumper over a body-clinging knit top.  I can’t wait to see if this garment also works for the fall season with a turtleneck, leggings and tall boots!  There are so many possibilities!

I just love it when I can make something that will work for so many occasions in my life, for all the seasons, add value to my current closet offerings, and look different each time.  All this only means that it will happily find its maximum life in my wardrobe!  This turned out so cute, I might just have to make another out of some ugly patched-up scraps to really have something to wear for really messy household occasions.  Yet, I normally don’t ‘save’ my makes, but always like to integrate them into my everyday life, no matter the risk for mishap.  If a me-made item (or even my few RTW clothes, for that matter) does find a bit of wear and tear from enjoying what I had made, I’ll just figure out a way to fix any such boo-boos, and be happy my time spent making it has proved its worth.  I sewed it – I can fix it, and “giving a darn to mend” is always important!

If this sewing project is as versatile as it seems, I will be spreading the silent word as to my love of sewing for every wearing – and that might be frequent, after all!  I do think having images of pattern pieces, and the notions we need to accomplish our tasks, be more visible is an important testimony to the wonders that sewing works through paper and fabric.  We seamstresses have worked wonders for centuries, but nowadays it has become an important lifeline brought into the limelight!  It’s about time.