Peace, Love, and a Jumpsuit

Finally…at long last, I have made my first jumpsuit and I love it like I never thought I could!  Wearing this, I have mostly got over my feeling that I am wearing either a grown-up’s baby onesie or nightwear pajamas, and am loving how comfortable a jumpsuit is…although it does feel weird to have both a top-and-bottom without two separate pieces (besides being even weirder to use the toilet)!  I went for the Disco era as my source and inspiration for this…the era when the jumpsuits were killer and at the height of their perfection, in my opinion.  A jumpsuit of the 70’s was the body-conscious and fuss-free dressing option preferred for superstars like Abba, Cher, Bianca Jagger, and Diana Ross…so many also flaunted their look that decade!

I wanted a slimming, detailed, and utilitarian option classic to the 70’s era which had a slight nod to the military reference in this garment’s history.  The pattern I used had everything I wanted, it was bought for 25 cents locally, and yet it made my first dive into jumpsuits so much more challenging than already was the case!  It was very petite in height as it was for teens, and in a very small size proportions, so it needed dramatic work on my part to even consider it being usable.  I am not only impressed with my re-grading and re-sizing (I can’t help but pat myself on the back here), but what amazes me is how this pattern was a “Learn to Sew” project for teens…complete with a visor-style hat!  This would probably be labelled an intermediate pattern, or even an advanced one, today.  This helped me gain further respect for the sewing skills expected of even the modern 1970s.

My outfit is completed with my mother’s vintage sunglasses bought in 1969, new old-style leather platform sandals, and my husband’s guitar!  This was the era of peacefulness compared to the tumultuous 60’s so here I am hanging out in a city park, on a calm Sunday afternoon.  The 70’s, dubbed the “ME Decade”, were focused on equality, self-expression, personal betterment, and awareness…so I even hugged a tree in its honor!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  A medium weight, raised pin-striped twill, in a soft and forgiving 97% cotton, 3% spandex blend.

PATTERNS:  McCall’s #5421, year 1977

NOTIONS:  I needed very simple notions, everything which was on hand already – thread, some interfacing, bias tape, and a long vintage metal zipper down the front.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 20 hours (not counting time to adjust the pattern) and was completed on May 17, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  Every seam edge is individually bound in pastel yellow ¼ inch bias tape for a neat and clean inside.

TOTAL COST:  A few yards of the twill cost me about $23 (including shipping) from the Etsy shop “Fabric Genie” in California.

I’ll admit, I was ready for a failure here when I started this project and am ecstatic that it is a success.  Not that this was expensive fabric, but it is very nice material that I was terrified to waste both money and time as well on something I could not estimate how it would end up.  I do think that the sizing and design for the pattern are really good (so it wasn’t all my pattern re-sizing work), and some notes that whomever made this before me wrote down were extremely helpful.  The written note to make a 3 inch hem was just what I needed.  Overall, I had to add in 4 inches vertically around the body and two inches horizontally between the chest and the waist.  Usually I re-trace out patterns onto sheer, lightweight medical paper when they need cutting and splicing, but I worked on the original pattern this time.  There was no way I was going to retrace pattern pieces so overwhelmingly one-piece.

You see, for my jumpsuit, the design has not one horizontal seam so the pattern pieces were skinny and just seemed to keep going when laid out.  The neck down to the hem is one long 60 inch length!  There is a front princess seam that runs the length of the side fronts, starting from the armscye seam, over the bust and down through the hips, waist and thigh.  This was a very wavy princess seam on the pattern and I knew that was a good sign for a nice curvy fit.  Otherwise the back was in a basic right and left paneling.

The deep hip pockets and the belt that grazes over the top of them both run into the front princess seam and are attached there so that the middle is left beautifully smooth, lengthening the appearance and focusing on the zipper.  This is why I ‘splurged’ (in my mind) and used a long 20 inch vintage metal zipper from my stash of notions which came with the cabinet for my vintage 1960 Necci sewing machine.  Metal zippers are so sturdy compared to the modern plastic ones, and give a vintage garment an authentic feel when they are added to a sewing project using an old pattern.  Yet the longer the length, the harder to come by…at least in my experience. Thus, I wanted to do things right.  The instructions more or less had you slap it on the seam edge, but I wanted things to look nice so I buried the zipper in between the front and the inner front facing so that the top 6 to 10 inches that I leave unzipped below my neck would be cleanly impeccable.

This military-esque jumpsuit needed a metal zipper.  I possess an authentic WWII flight suit (jumpsuit) and it has a long front metal zipper, even though such a thing was still a novelty at the time.  There was no beating around the bush when it came to making uniform of quality back then – manufacturers made these long metal teeth zippers only for government use so mine is probably post-WWII yet older than the 70’s (with its all-cotton twill tape on the edges).

Besides cleaning up the way the zipper is added on, the only other change I made (not counting re-sizing as a change) was to add binding along the outer edge of the sleeveless armhole.  I needed to bring the top shoulder seam to take out about an inch in the body, and this left the armholes a little more open than I wanted.  In order to not make them any smaller than they would be by facing them and turning the edges in, I made strips of fabric and had these be both the finishing and interest along the edge.  I think that going sleeveless will help this jumpsuit be a real seasonal transition garment, good for spring and fall with a blazer and summer as it is, especially since the fabric color is muted.

I think I owe a good part of my success to my happiness with the fabric I picked out.  This fabric in particular is a novelty pinstripe so it is much more interesting, fun, and ornamental, but nevertheless – I am so sold on a stretch twill for a jumpsuit.  It is stable enough to feel pretty close to a lightweight denim, but stretchy enough to be forgiving in a garment like a jumpsuit that can always benefit from some body-hugging fabric properties.  The whole garment moves along with you when you move, there is no blouse to come untucked!  Of course, this struck me as the style of jumpsuit that was meant for a sensible and durable fabric, after all – not a slinky, fancy, or luxuriant material.  I think either an older vintage form of a jumpsuit or at least an extravagant evening version will be in order in my future projects now that I have made my first one!

In today’s fashion industry, a jumpsuit, playsuit, romper, dungarees and pantsuit are all the same terms used to mean a one piece outfit. This is rather confusing and not true, technically…even though all but the last are all-in-one piece.  A playsuit has short pants legs and is normally only the base part of add-on garments pieces (such as a skirt) to transition between adult play and career time; a romper is a loose-fitting children’s version of a playsuit; dungarees are in heavy material and a coverall for construction work or painting; a pantsuit is generally a trousers with a suit coat (two separate items).  What is a jumpsuit is commonly considered long length pants connected to a one piece body, with or without sleeves or a collar.

Sadly, what is not even considered to be lumped into the ‘all-in-one trousers garment’ inclusion are the wrap-on, easy, breezy and chic beach ‘lounging’ pajamas that were so popular during the 1930s for the warmer seasons while holidaying.  I see them as distant yet distinct relative to jumpsuits.  After all, the first fashionable pyjamas were actually invented for a very somber purpose – for citizens to wear to bed during the First World War in expectation of being roused out of bed (and home) at a moment’s notice in the middle of the night to go find public shelter when there was a zeppelin raid.  WWI air raid pyjamas were an amazing organic item, being created and taken up by the populace as “civilian armour” (before any designer claimed fame for them) and started out as two separate pieces which quickly turned into one for many reasons. They might not have been for jumping out of planes, but they were originally meant for ease in wearing during war…and war is the human tragedy that has claimed a portion the jumpsuit usage ever since.

From there, fashion pyjamas, or the early jumpsuits, became a fashion forward option for relaxing.  From the color-blocked or crazy striped bright and bold versions in cotton, linen, or crepe, to the elevated status of the elegant versions for evening at the hands of Chanel (as early as 1922), Schiaparelli, and Vionnet (see pattern no. 15, year 1937, from the Betty Kirke book), all of whom offered silk satin or jersey options in very full pants legs, the likes of a chic vintage pyjama has not been seen since the emergence of 1970s palazzo style jumpsuits.

A Florentine artist and designer who went by the name of Thayat has the popular claim to fame for creating the first ever jumpsuit in 1919 as a practical piece of clothing worn by parachuters and sky divers (quite literally a suit for jumping!) as well as race car drivers and aviators.  During WWII of the 1940s, it seems as if the jumpsuit had a sole purpose of being for paratoopers or women in service.  Following conflicts, such as the Korean War and especially the Vietnam War, continued and established the jumpsuit, in a very utilitarian and very literal sense of its term.  A jumpsuit used during war is specific to the needs of those who are jumping into unknown situations and require a garment which will stay on, protect, and cover the body as naturally as a second skin, but better, with pockets and straps and handles to be there for your every need.  After all, when preparing for or fighting a war, clothing is the last thing that should get in the way!

In the same breath, jumpsuits have the amazing adaptability to be for every other human need, fashion or otherwise.  In 1937, while studying at Reed College in Oregon, US, fashion designer Emilio Pucci designed a jumpsuit for the college skiing team and ten years later they were featured in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, afterwards quickly ordered for sale in New York’s Lord and Taylor store.  The famous actress Katharine Hepburn gave the jumpsuit a touch of Hollywood glamour when she wore a monogrammed silk one-piece in the 1937 film Stage Door.  The white jumpsuit, embellished with rhinestones, worn by Elvis in his performances during the 1950’s might just about be the most quintessential and commonly recognized, however!  We are so used to it, most of us might not even think of it as a jumpsuit.  The 1960’s youth trend and rebellious societal undercurrents picked up the jumpsuit for the liberated woman, the hippie peace movement, or the man who wanted to be the stud on the dance floor alike.  The panache the 1970s continued to have for jumpsuits was somewhat lost with the exaggerated silhouette, futuristic versions in the 80’s, and the naughty, sexy versions of Madonna and Britney Spears of the 90’s.  Today it seems as if a jumpsuit encompasses anything under sun.  For being such an unusual garment, it sure is versatile both in history and design!

Perhaps the oddest use of a jumpsuit that encompasses all of the garment’s uses and purposes is to be found in the old original Star Wars film trilogy.  Their costumes were the main inspiration to my choosing this design jumpsuit (with pockets) from the decade of the 70’s and in a military olive green.  Did you know that jumpsuits were used liberally in all the three original films as the base for many of the costumes, from the Empire’s stormtroopers (who had plastic ‘armor’ attached to bodysuit-style stretch jumpsuits) to the fighter pilots (whose flight suits were jazzed-up copies of those won by the astronaut crew of Mercury 7 mission, from 1961), to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and his father Janga (their outfits are fiberglass and aluminum parts added to military surplus jumpsuits), and finally Chewbacca (whose costume was a knitted wool jumpsuit base with 15 pounds of yak and mohair sewn on).  I learned all this upon visiting the exhibit “Star Wars and the Power of Costume”, and it was a real eye-opener in many ways.  One major surprise was realizing the secret yet smartly handy jumpsuit usage that blends in so well as a starting point for costumes that send a message of a future that is not that far removed from our own times.

Have I helped you see jumpsuits in a whole new light or at least a bigger picture?  Are you a jumpsuit lover already (if so, what is your favorite style?).  Are you in the “I hate them” camp, or are you on the fence?  Did you Simplicity just came out with a new pattern this week for Star Wars/military inspired flight suit (#8722)?  Can a jumpsuit be considered a garment utilitarian enough to actually be anti-fashion, which is why they have lasted so long in so many incarnations (read the full article discussion here)?  Let me know your thoughts, and in the meantime I will rock the 70’s in my new and only jumpsuit!

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“Retro Forward” Burda Style – ‘The Starry Night in the Day’ 1957 Casual Set

Picture a breathtaking scene of a pastel colored, dramatic sunrise, eclipsing a lovely clear night sky setting of stellar sparkling in lieu of the light of day.  Such a sight is sadly not to be seen most mornings.  I see such a sight sometimes in our winter season if I suffer through the misery of waking up extra early and bundling up to brave the elements.  Now, I can at least wear a vintage-inspired set that calls such a display to mind for me!  To me, it has all the elements of one of my favorite paintings…”The Starry Night”, painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889.  With a richly cobalt textured “sky” behind me, and colorful, swirling bursts of movement above a creamy pastel palate below, this Burda outfit is a means for me to wear art in my everyday life.  Sewing can be an art form in itself, anyway.

My first, real, riveting fascination with this piece from Van Gogh was through “The Christmas Wish” episode of the infant videos, “Baby Einstein”.  When our son was one year old in 2013, we were given a handful of “Baby Einstein” DVD’s, and he would be just as relaxed and mesmerized as I was watching them.  They would show details of “The Starry Night” by Van Gogh along to the music of “Für Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven.  This combo of picture and music has henceforth been intertwined in my mind, which associates both with something lovely which puts me in a happy place.  This is partly why it seems so very fitting for me to take an old maternity tunic, and turn it into something which completes this artwork inspired outfit.  My second and strongly passionate reason for saving my old maternity tunic is also the fact it is an old “Made in the U.S.A” garment, besides the wonderful feel and print of the fabric.

Just as Van Gogh conveyed the sky abstractedly in his own personal way, I too probably see the world of clothing differently (I’m sure) than others.  In my opinion this is due in no small part to my ability to sew and my studyies on history.  In a sea of grey, black, browns, and whatever colors are popular with the dye lots for RTW any given year, I enjoy choosing a variety of colors.  The world around us is full of color and beauty, and we all have our own individual beauty and personalities, so why not give that awesomeness it’s just manifestation through what we are wearing?!  I wanted new skinny pants that were not another dark color – and how could such a lovely color not make me happy (especially with matching footwear)!  The shop that my pants’ twill came from as a stunning variety of incredible colors, so why not pick some out for yourself and make something special that’s all “you”, like I did here!   

Funny thing is, it seems as if the Versace line and I were of the same mind (though I made mine first)!  Check out how scarily similar this outfit is from their Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear collection!  Look – it’s the same high-waisted, figure-hugging styled bottoms, in the same orchid-toned purplish pink…with matching shoes, too!  In honor of the 20th anniversary since Versace’s murder, his sister has brought back a style for next year that commemorates both the styles of the 90’s and influential celebrities who were his friends.

However alike, my trousers are actually sewn using a true vintage 1957 release from Burda Style, while my top is only very vintage inspired.  (I do see a slight 50’s air in a number of Versace’s items.)  I’d like to think vintage offerings that come from modern patterns definitely help past eras transcend time to meld perfectly into contemporary wearing.  Burda Style especially does a good job at “updating” the image of vintage re-leases!  Designers’ rehashing the details and trends from the past also creates a whole new appeal, too, whether people recognize it or not.  What goes around comes around is certainly true in fashion.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:   Pants: 100% cotton twill, in 7 oz. weight with a brushed finish on the ‘right’ side, bought from “ebpfabric” on Ebay (here is the listing); Top: a 63% polyester, 32% rayon, 5% spandex jersey knit refashioned from an old maternity tunic of mine.  Some polyester jersey knit scraps leftover from this last Burda make went towards the facing for the neckline

PATTERNS:  Burda Style’s “High Waisted Trousers” #129, from April 2015 with Burda Style’s “Princess Seam Boatneck Top” #104, from February 2014

NOTIONS:  I needed to buy the zipper for the pants, but otherwise the elastic, thread, bias tape, and small finishing notions were all on hand for everything else.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The pants took over 20 hours – I stopped counting after that amount!  They were finished on May 31, 2017.  The top took maybe 3 hours to make after maybe 3 hours of decision making about how and where to cut it out!  It was sewn in one afternoon, on June 13, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Pretty nice!  The pants have every seam edge individually covered in bias tape, while the blouse’s insides still have some of the original serging (overlocking), but the rest are merely double stitched over.

TOTAL COST:  I am counting the top as free because it originally came from a thrift shop, probably for a few dollars, almost 6 years back now.  The pants cost me just under $15 for both material and zipper.  That total is probably just as much as I would pay for the cheapest pair of RTW skinny jeans, so I’m counting that price as an awesome deal for the fit, quality, and fulfillment of personal taste that has went into my pair.

I will say first off before any nitty gritty construction details that I absolutely LOVE both of these pieces.  These two projects might be the most versatile and my favorite Burda Style makes in a while.  The fabrics are first rate quality, and the designs of the patterns something not too readily found in RTW.  That said, they were challenging to make.  The top tested my mind trying to fit in the pattern pieces on the existing garment, while the pants were horribly drafted (for me at least), requiring some pretty tiring fitting.

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced from the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.

I’ll start with the bottoms.  I must say they do run short.  I cut them the given length of the pattern, and I really didn’t have any room for a hem besides a slight bias fold in for them to come to my ankles.  This was the perfect length, but I wouldn’t have liked it any shorter.  I’m about 5 foot 3 inches height so anyone taller than that, figure in to make the hem longer.

As I wanted a perfect body fit and ultimate practicality for the pants, I simplified the design just to the bare bones.  A summary of my changes are no in-seam side pockets, no ankle zippers, no fancy waist facing, and a zipper right where I can see it…in front.  For my next pair of pants from this pattern, I think I will draft a conventional zipper fly, but for this first pink pair they have an invisible zipper up the front to make them easy (versus up the center back as the pattern suggests – how awkward).  To support the top of that zipper, inside at the top there is a small strip of cotton velvet ribbon (for softness!) to act like a tab placket, with a waistband hook-and-eye to close the waist.  The waistband itself was made by stretching a strip of ¾ inch elastic down to the top edge, then folding it in twice and stitching that down for a wonderful body hugging, but stretchably comfortable and smooth-waisted option.

Go ahead and call me “granny pants” because these are wayyyy high up on my torso!  I like them that way.  Come on, ladies, honestly – I’ve heard the truth from many women I’ve talked to in in town who’ve told me they like my pants.  Nobody really likes to spend their entire day picking up their drawers every time they move or bend!  I know I don’t like the feel that my clothes are falling off of me.  With high-waisted pants, there is no awkward bulge in the wrong place (muffin-top, anyone?) just smooth waist and hip complimenting.

Hips are an excellent pivot point in women’s garment design and the decade of the 1950’s used that point to perfection – that wide spot we all love to hate comes in handy when you think of it as an anchor point.  A garment with a central mainstay above hips will stay in place…on ‘em, style has more of ‘sliding’ effect without the right styling.  Now granted, if you want something that sits at the hip, that’s fine too.  I wore everything at my hips as a teenager and still wear hip-hugging pajama bottoms.  I just think store offered RTW generally doesn’t offer much that will be most complimentary to an individual figure when it comes to a variety of pants’ fit, at least not like something made for oneself.  Only you know your body the best, and embrace that in whatever you feel makes you the best.  I like to go with my hourglass shape, and let my hips and high true-waist anchor my pants on my body, whatever the negative connotation for this fashion.

Keep in mind the fabric I used for my pants are non-stretchy – the twill material has little to no give like a knit might.  A really good, sturdy, quality twill that feels and performs like a denim that will hold its shape is what I wanted and used – especially since a material like this is impossible to come by in any in town store.  A non-stretchy woven is what the pattern called for anyway.  I can definitely see this pants pattern being much easier to make in a knit and turning out fabulously, so there’s a lot of versatility here.

The real secret to my fitting technique was to sew the center front (with the zipper) and the center back seams, then turn the pants inside out and have the side seams and inner leg seams pinned to fit around me.  This was a bit more challenging than it had to be because I was working on it by myself, but I really think this is the easiest, quickest, least painful way to get a body fit.  It would definitely be even easier with someone else’s assistance.  Once a good fit is pinned into place I marked the seam lines on both sides with water soluble disappearing ink pen, following that line for my stitching and washing it away afterwards.

As my fabric has no stretchy ‘forgiveness’, just to be on the safe side in the unforeseen chance that my body changes and I need to refit these trousers, I left a wide seam allowance…not a whole lot, but 5/8 to ¾ inches along the sides and inseam.  The thick denim would feel and fit a tad better I believe without the wide seam allowances, but having the possibility to keep what I made (and love as a wardrobe staple) for the long-term is something more important to me.

Speaking of items that endure from one’s wardrobe, I’ll move on to the top re-fashion.  My first step was to cut off the elastic empire waist for the tunic.  The body of the tunic became the bodice for my new top while the bust and sleeve sections managed to also be the new top’s sleeves.  Only because of the skinny princess seamed panels was this able to be fit in on what I had.  I did have to shorten the length of the hemline by two inches, but luckily that was the only way I had to “give in” and make a change for this re-fashion to work.  I like a shortened length anyway!  Too much fabric in the body might distract from the lovely off-shoulder sleeves.

The sleeves are really made of interesting pattern pieces of small rectangles curved dramatically on one side…and it turns out just wonderful!  I can completely adjust where I want the sleeves to sit on me for a slight change of look – I can pull them completely off the shoulder, or pull ‘em up like “normal” sleeves, but where they naturally sit on me is right over the angle where my shoulder ends and my arm begins.  Now, the back neckline did turn out a tad generous and it sometimes looks like a draped neck, but I’m okay with that.  The one major caveat is that strapless lingerie or a bandeau bra is needed with this style.

Both of these pieces can be similarly found in vintage patterns and some vintage reproduction garments, which why this is included as part of my ongoing “Retro Forward with Burda Style” post series.  The pants are already vintage from 1957, I know, but I’ve seen several patterns that remind me of their same style (see McCall’s #9221 from 1952 and McCall’s 4024 from 1957) so I just had to share!  In fact here is an interesting article to read, making me think that my pink trousers are technically “cigarette pants” or “stovepipe pants”.  The blouse seems to be a recurring style in the decade of the 50’s except they seem to call it, “a scoop neck, with cap sleeves set into armholes”.  See Vogue 8100 from year 1953, Vogue 9643 year 1958, an unidentified 50’s playsuit pattern, and “Unique Vintage” company’s 1950’s Marilyn top in either plus size or misses size for a few examples.

Ever since the most recent total solar eclipse several months ago (we were in the path of totality), I can actually look at this set’s inspiration in a whole new ‘light’!  That afternoon for us was truly a starry night in the daytime!  On a factual level, did you know Van Gogh actually painted “The Starry Night” from mental picture, as it was done during the day?  So my title is right on!  Do you have any artwork related creations!

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Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, which I sewed myself as well (post for them here).

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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Modernly Vintage 1963 Sheath Dress

An ideal example that vintage fashion is classic and has lasting style is obvious in my newest make, a year 1963 dress.  Really…this is from the 60’s?  Yes, I can truly call this “vintage” no matter how it looks otherwise.  Sometimes those Mid-Century designs will do that deceptive ‘fast forward on time’ appearance.  Would you guess I whipped this baby up in about 5 hours?  Oh, I have found such a winner with the pattern for this dress and I am happy.  I hope you can find a copy of this pattern for yourself and try it, too.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The fabric was a remnant item on deep discount at JoAnn’s Fabric store, a cut of 1 3/4 yard.  It is pretty much all cotton with just a smidge of stretch.McCall 6799, year 1963 envelope cover-comp

PATTERN:  McCall’s #6799, year 1963

NOTIONS:  I had all the bias tape, thread, and the zipper needed on hand already.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Super quick…only 5 or 6 hours from start to finish.  It was completed on June 16, 2016

THE INSIDES:  Cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  just over $10 for my finished dress – the fabric’s original price was $13 per yard!

The fabric is a very nice woven great for a close fitting sheath dress.  I believe it is technically a twill, the way it is textured with small rows of black and white, but it is lightweight, closer to a chambray.  Yet, the stretch in the content fiber keeps the fabric nicely stable and slightly thicker.  The color and weight of the fabric makes this a perfect all-season fabric so I can have a classic all-season dress, wearable alone in the heat (with a blazer indoors) or cozy with tights and a sweater in cooler weather.  Besides the multi-season wearing ability, my ideal here with making this dress was to have something I didn’t yet have – a classic dress with clean lines, not overly fussy, and professional enough to wear when I go to the University or just get dressed up.  Although I did do a number of fitting adjustments, it was still ridiculously simple for what it appears.

DSC_0987-compThe ‘recommended’ fabrics on the envelope back does not mention anything stretchable, but I had a feeling too much here would be bad and a little might be very good.  I believe I was right and found a good match for the pattern.  Combining the stretch in the fabric with the especially soft cotton content keeps this dress very comfy for as dressy as it might look – a winning combo.  I hate those modern all- polyester knit sheath dresses that is the only thing I see ready-to-wear offering nowadays – they don’t breathe!  I originally had a bland, grey, non-stretch, linen blend chambray intended to use with the pattern, and I’m glad now that I didn’t buy it.  The give in my chosen fabric also compliments for a rather smoking shape and lovely feel as I move, if I must say so myself, letting a sheath dress do to the body what it is meant to do (different from a “shift dress”).

Personally I think my change to the front waist of the skirt was the best thing for this pattern, a touch that makes it much more uniform in style than how it was originally intended.  The pattern has all these darts everywhere for tailored dress, yet it calls for a gathered front waist?  Really?  Who wants extra bulk and pouf over the belly – I don’t!  So I merely changed the front skirt to have slanted pleats instead.  The skirt’s pattern piece was necessarily left unchanged and cut as per the pattern.  I merely made a pleat to align with the darts in the bodice, slanting them slightly horizontal out towards my hips.

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I’m loving how this touch accentuates the hips, and visually slims the waist.  Making darts in the waist was my original idea, but this pattern from my stash (McCall’s #4680, year 1958) gave me the better idea of pleats.  The wide ‘sleeves’ of the dress’ V-neckline actually sit on the far outer curve of the shoulders to create a total hourglass figure.  I’m impressed at how well the armholes are cut.  A sleeve like this could be confining but this dress is comfy and easy to move in.

Now, there is a McCall pattern that I made from the year before (a 1962 sundress) that had the same cover style, same look of the pattern pieces, and same sizing guide as this one from ’63.  My pattern used for this post’s dress should have technically been my size, and it pretty much was just how it was expected to be.  My hunch of this pattern was spot on – longer hem and slightly generous fit with great curving and a generous bust.  I now feel like I have this line of patterns from the early/mid 60’s pegged, and this is always a nice thing to figure out as vintage patterns change a lot over the decades.  The oversized bust probably comes from the lingerie commonly worn at the times.  For life practicality and a more modern fit, I merely took in the shoulder seams as well as both horizontal and vertical bust darts, making them longer and deeper.  This ended up bringing the darts together to meet, making them look like some side panel.  Oh well, nothing can make me dislike this dress.

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The one last slight change was to raise the front V neckline by about one inch.  The back neckline was left ‘as-is’ because I feel my best in a top or dress which is open enough to show off some of my back and shoulders.  There is a deep lapped zipper placket which I made for this dress.  I was hoping that it would completely cover the zipper and connect the top of the zipper at the dip of the neckline, and it does, thank goodness.  I really cannot put a hook-and-eye at the top because of where it ends…my arms and hands are not able to “blindly” work an extra closure at that level behind myself.

All the jewelry worn with my dress was also made by me as well.  There are many different colors which can be coordinated with my dress but I really like pairing it with light pastel blues.  The necklace and the bracelet are both blue lace agate beads, strung on filament and finished with sterling silver parts.  The drop earrings are sterling and Swarovski crystals.  A complete handmade outfit…except for the shoes, of course.

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I have a fabric exactly the same as the green floral on the full skirt version of the envelope and I was really tempted to make a copy but now I am so glad to have gone more creative.  I frequently find myself in a rut of following inspiration (not something remotely bad, don’t get me wrong), but I feel good going on my own ideas, too.  Do you follow the covers or go rogue?  Maybe both, like me?

Vintage fashion cannot be ignored – it is the base for the styles we wear nowadays.  This 1963 sheath dress is a perfect example of this, especially to find a past style which looks straight out of today’s fashion.  What is old is now new all over again.  I have a strong inkling that if this pattern had a modern cover with a 2016 model re-make I might not like it as much as I do looking at it from 1963.

This brings me to a question – do like envelope covers better when they’re sketched, or when they have a model photograph?  For me (for some reason), I think drawing covers are more appealing when they are vintage but I know they are probably not realistically proportioned.  Old pictures are hard to see and you never know what ladies were wearing underneath to look the way they do (meaning girdles and such).  Modern drawn pattern covers and pictures often turn me off and I have to rely on line designs more to judge a style.  I have a feeling this same sheath dress in a modern drawing might look quite plain to me.  What do you think?  Do you have a greater liking towards certain covers or an opinion on the way patterns are presented to you?  Do you also find vintage covers as appealing as they are for me?  Do you have a hard time seeing past the old style to re-invent it for yourself?