“Milk and Sugar”

It was just Father’s Day weekend here in America…so it’s time for another one my infrequent but recurring posts on vintage menswear!  My husband’s birthday and Father’s Day are practically a month apart and so I annually take some time between the two dates to sew him a shirt.  This years’ gift was something completely new and different – both for me to work with and for him to wear.  It’s a 1960s era shirt made out of that easily recognizable, and cool-as-a-cucumber cotton we call seersucker.  I equate it to my giving him his own personal air-conditioning.

“Seersucker is the quintessential warm-weather fabric known for its crinkled texture and breezy quality. Seersucker’s texture creates a space between the skin and the fabric that helps improve heat dissipation and promotes air circulation” says Fabric.com.  Yet, “It is a low-profit, high-cost item because of its slow weaving speed” says Wikipedia, and so it is produced in much smaller quantities than other textiles.  Seersucker is woven in such a way that some threads bunch together – “slack-tension weave” – giving the fabric a wrinkled appearance in places…which also means ironing is not necessary (yay).  Many seersucker fabrics are striped (much like butchers’ or railroad workers’ “hickory stripes”), but I have had this shirt’s plaid seersucker in my fabric stash for well over a decade, so no wonder it is on the more unusual side!

Now to explain my post’s title.  “Milk and sugar” is the translation of “shīroshakar”, a combo of Persian and Sanskrit, and the derivative to the word seersucker, which came into English from Hindi.  It calls to mind the smooth rippling of milk poured around lumpy sugar.  I love the picturesque richness of some words such as this!  This reminds me of the beauty of baking and how the ingredients take such differing appearances at every step.

Our picture of a WAVES summer uniform, United States Naval Reserve, circa 1942, from the exhibit “Making Mainbocher” exhibit in Chicago back in 2017.

Unfortunately, both the 19th century old Southern America and the British colonial period of India popularized the wearing of seersucker as a means to stay tolerably cool in the hot, humid climate of those regions.  Yet, post Victorian times, seersucker’s use had expanded to become the preferred material for cooling bed linens or preppy student-inspired fashion.  Captain Anne A. Lentz, one of the first female officers selected to run the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during the Second World War chose seersucker for the summer service uniforms of the first female United States Marines.  The designer Mainbocher produced the WAVES summer WWII uniform for the government using blue and white striped seersucker.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ outfit.  As currently as the 2016 Olympics hosted by Brazil, the Australian Olympic team received green and white seersucker blazers as their ‘dress’ uniform.  This unusual material seems to have a quiet staying power.  It can be a fabric you sleep upon, or one that a suit is made from, but either way it’s an easy-care, attractively distinctive material for warm weather comfort!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  pure cotton puckered plaid seersucker, with the inner shoulder panel lining being an all-cotton broadcloth remnant

PATTERN:  a vintage year 1964 original Butterick #2124 (in my personal pattern collection)

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, a bit of interfacing, and a few buttons

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this shirt took me about 10 to 12 hours, and it was made this spring of 2020

THE INSIDES:  The armscyes are French seamed but all else is cleanly bias bound.

TOTAL COST:  As this shirt project makes use of a fabric cut which I have been holding onto for at least a decade, I’m counting this as a free and worthwhile stash-busting project! 

This shirt – as is often the case for the majority of vintage menswear from the 1950s and on – is not easily recognizable as originating from an older design.  Most of the time, I do believe that one would not guess the shirts I make and sew for him are vintage.  Mid-Century menswear often lacks standout features to date it to specific eras and generally stays pretty classic, so I feel it is the choice of fabric, the style of the pants to match, and the slight details which give such garments’ true age away.  This shirt (as is the case for many 50s and 60s men’s styles) has a boxy body and a very skinny shoulder panel which does not extend much into the main body.  I can tell this was a pattern meant to help make a dress shirt with the separate collar stand and separate button placket (which I did not include) but I rather brought it down to a fairly casual level by choosing seersucker.  At this point in my husband’s professional life, casual yet dressy shirts are what he will be the most likely to wear on a regular basis, and so I wanted him to get the most use out of what I had sewn for him with my special fabric!

I know I tend to say this every time I post a shirt I’ve made for him, but it is the literal truth – I was so short on needed material for this project.  I had to cut some small ‘corners’ to make this work out successfully.  Yet, I was still somehow able to match the plaid…luckily so, because the analytical and perfectionist side of me would never tolerate anything else, otherwise!  I did not have any extra room for a separate button placket and the layout of the pattern pieces on my under 2 yard cut of fabric was conducive to only the shirt’s bare bones – slightly adapted – and one chest pocket (a must-have because we all love pockets, right?!).  The pattern design already had small turn-under edge down the front closure edges, so I doubled that to be a cut-on, self-fabric facing.  The separate button placket was an extra piece which was easy to sacrifice.  Granted, I did fully interface the newly drafted facing in lieu of stabilizing the add-on button placket, which I was not using.  The switch I made actually avoids breaking up the plaid and gives me less to stress over and match up.  He can’t miss what he should have had on his shirt when it is just as good without it!  Besides, a happy sewing wife is a happy life – don’t I have the phrase correct?

Making this shirt was a nice change of pace in my sewing and totally unique gift, besides.  I just don’t find seersucker in person anywhere anymore – RTW shopping or fabric stores – and I say it should be brought back.  I remember, as a young teen, my mom had bought me a plaid seersucker skirt I liked out of a catalog.  It was in a straight A-line shape, in a middy length, and printed with a plaid which had more blue and brown tones in place of the green and yellow as seen in his shirt (but otherwise a similar sized plaid).  I enjoyed how that skirt always looked good no matter what.  The print and the rough, puffy texture hides stains, and I could stuff it in a backpack to bring it with me as a change of clothes but still not look I was impromptu.  It was so lightweight to wear, it was almost imperceptible to feel it was on (weird to explain, but kind of like the weightlessness of bias cut silk without the cling).  If I did get sweaty, the cotton wicked it away without itself becoming damp.  If I could find that skirt again (I think it might be packed away somewhere downstairs) I would totally wear it or at least re-fashion it so I could!  So I can totally understand why this 60’s shirt is his newest favorite.

I still have not even posted the vintage shirt I made for his birthday-Father’s Day gift from last year!  My blogging proficiency doesn’t always keep up with the speed with which I crank out my sewing projects.  However, I can assure you, it’s another really good shirt which is yet another different and unique make.  So far, though, this post’s shirt is a definite high contender to the previous popularity of that one!  In a world when menswear is generally so very blah, I enjoy seeing him happy and bold enough to wear the singular things I make.  Sewing gifts for others is so amazing – to see someone else get to enjoy my handmade clothes just the same as I makes my gift not just about sharing a present.  It shares a special feeling.

Pulling a ‘Kelly’…

Did you know I have a card game move named after me (in our family circle that is)?  In the card game UNO, when you lay down a card that is the duplicate of the one which is to be matched (the one placed there from the last player to have a turn), we call that “pulling a Kelly”.  That is the way I frequently like to play in that game, so whenever someone else does the same, we all have a name for that move.  I have more than one way to “pull a Kelly”, though…through clothing!  Every so often, I love to dress in imitation of the great fashion icon and actress Grace Kelly, due in no small part to the fact her last name matches my first.  This is my other way of “pulling a Kelly!  My first full scale handmade attempt at copying Ms. Kelly has been fully documented here in this post.  Once again, I will channel Princess Grace of Monaco on my blog, this time recalling her famous outfit from the 1954 Hitchcock movie “Rear Window”.

Admittedly, there is not a whole lot of me-made here (just my skirt), and – for its vintage appearance – the only thing truly from a past decade is my blouse and the underwear that suits it.  But this was a recent special outfit for a nicely joyous and dressy occasion, and it’s combined with pieces all of which are so very meaningful to me, so I might wax sentimental (you have been warned).  Yet, it deserves a feature.  Besides, it is nice to see an outfit which is something other than pink, red, or valentine-themed at this time of the year, isn’t it?!  Let’s dive in.

My true vintage, 1950s era, cotton velveteen blouse is the only garment I have from my late Grandmother, on my father’s side.  I have mostly jewelry, a few hats, lots of sewing notions and written mementos, but most importantly possess plenty of memories from her so this top is by no means the only thing I hold onto of hers.  Yet, it means a lot to have something to wear like this, especially since I am so invested in vintage style.  She was a very fashionable young woman in the 1950’s, as young bride and mother during that decade.  I have no doubt this was something she wore.  She probably saved it for special occasions and probably wore it with pearls – just like I did – if I know her.  She always remembered the story around each item she had…too bad I never got to ask about this fancy blouse while there was still time.

There is a label to the inside which marks it as “A Linda Original”, for which I unfortunately cannot find any information.  It is made very well, with rayon seam binding hand-stitched inside, a metal zipper in the side, and impeccable tailoring.  There is a decorative asymmetric tab which comes out from the center front, tacked down with a velvet covered button.  The wide, shoulder-skimming neckline (which is the same in the back as it is in the front) is so classic 1950s and strongly reminded me of the photoshoot session Grace Kelly had in her Edith Head dress from the movie “Rear Window”.

I am an hourglass figure with strong shoulders so this was perfect for me.  Luckily, too, the top just fits.  Even still, I needed a little help.  After all, my Grandma had bragged to me many times that when she was married she was a 19” waist!  To match the tiny hourglass figure the blouse was made for and let my shoulders be clear of any lingerie straps I chose a late 1940s true vintage, strapless, boned, corset-style bra to wear underneath.

My pearled necklace with the little diamond pendant at the center is yet another special piece to my outfit.  It actually was one of several pearls necklaces I received as a gift from my youngest Aunt (on my mother’s side) as a teenager.  Then, once the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, I always saw this necklace as a form of Arwen’s “Evenstar” (silly, me!).  It is from the well-esteemed Monet line of high-end costume jewelry, in business since the early 1920s and known for its quality.  Now that look at my jewelry drawer, almost all of the jewelry I received as gifts a teen was from the established, vintage-inspired brands such as the 1928 jewelry brand company.  My family had good taste in gifts!  This was one of my early pieces that made me look into and appreciate old-time styles.  Brands such as these made quality, vintage styles of accessories as easy to find as your local department store, and I guess my taste in dressing of today was being formed back then without even realizing it.

The skirt I am wearing to complete my outfit is yet another one of my old favorite makes – a basic four-panel, elastic waist, done-in-two-hours cotton skirt which I made 20 years ago.  Yes, you read correctly, it is really from two decades back!  All the skirts (and there were many) I made around the turn of the last century using McCall’s #8796 (from 1997) are special to me because I am still wearing and enjoying them, still finding new ways to incorporate them into outfits not tried before.  This was the first time I paired this particular skirt with something so dressy – I am ecstatic.  Being a basic printed cotton, it never struck me before that I could fancy it up the way it did here.

It is really a very tiny scale floral which blends into one muted tone that works well for many basic tees, sweaters, blouses, and – now – a fancy vintage top!  Go check out the last post about my very first two-hour skirt, made from a flowing rayon challis, and you will be surprised to see how the choice of material makes all the difference.  Compared to the other body sweeping rayon version, this one has a straighter, ballroom-style appearance although being fully lined in cling-free poly.  Even with a full, tiered, poufy slip, it has room in its hem to spare.  I do enjoy the elegance of an ankle length skirt every so often.

The occasion itself for such an outfit was to celebrate 50 years of our local Symphonic Orchestra having a special Youth branch.  It was wonderful to see the lasting memories and bonds of friendship formed through such an outreach program, and even better to celebrate it with dessert, champagne, and a fabulous performance by the members of the Youth Orchestra from all of the years of its history.  It’s always great to find an occasion to dress up and enjoy oneself, but better yet when our presence can be combined with the first reasons to show support for something good happening in the community.  I’m hoping to have more very delightful reasons to wear many of my favorite pieces – both new and old – yet to come!  Also, let me know if you play the game UNO and have yourself “pulled a Kelly” kind of move!

Peplum on the Backside

I love it when modern patterns imitate vintage styles.  It’s always so interesting and offers the best of both worlds.  I have a handful of favorite designers from today, but precious few actually come out with patterns of their lovely ideas.  Luckily, the wonderful Rachel Comey offers her designs through Vogue, and I adore her slightly vintage style aesthetic.

This dress is one straight out of the 1940s!  It totally feeds my obsession with peplums, my late summer penchant for the color blue, and my love of fine details.  It is such a cottony soft, pastel treat on the senses combined with a swirl-worthy dress which is so comfy I really don’t sense that I am as dressed up as I appear.   What a win-win…vintage made modern – all the ease of casual attire paired with the appearance of being classy.  This is me-made clothing at its best!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a printed, sheer, batiste all-cotton lined in a combo of cotton blend broadcloth for the main body and a poly remnant for the peplum

PATTERN:  Vogue #1209, a Rachel Comey pattern from 2010

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread, and a zipper with a bit of interfacing.  There was nothing but the basics needed for this beauty!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Sewing this dress actually only took me about 6 hours to sew after spending several hours to adjust the pattern before cutting it out.  It was finished on July 25, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are covered up by the full lining

TOTAL COST:  This dress cost me less than $10

Making this dress had been something I wanted to do ever since the pattern first came out.  Yes, sometimes my favorite projects in my sewing queue keep being pushed back again and again sadly, but that just makes them such a relief and enjoyment to wear when they are finally finished!

I had to do a bunch of extra figuring to do any adjustments on this complex design.  I changed up the bottom half of the dress the most drastically.  Firstly, I wanted the dress knee length, but that included re-configuring the peplum to match.  Yet, I also wanted the back peplum to be more 1940s waterfall style (similar to this vintage original featured in Threads magazine) and trickle down to meet the side seam at a much lower point.  I eliminated the center seam to the peplum, as well, for a better drape on the bias.  All of this wasn’t too tricky but it did take a clear head, much forethought, and make for a much bigger pattern piece which required a lot more fabric than the back numbers called for.  Luckily, I had about 5 or 6 yards of my chosen fabric (only because it was on deep clearance…so cheap yet super soft I couldn’t leave any behind) so I felt comfortable doing any alterations.  This doesn’t always happen so well.  Usually I have pre-bought a very specific amount and expect to layout the pattern pieces economically so there is not always room for such license with a design.  This was a fun change!

Going further with the top half of the dress, I also slightly raised the back dip of the V neckline, which meant tweaking the gathers and extending the tab that covers them.  Also, because my body size had changed since I bought the pattern (2010 was before I gave birth to our son), I had a size that was too small and I had to grade up a bit.  Oh, not to forget, everything I changed to the fit and the styling of the skirt and peplum had to be likewise translated over to the full body lining as well.  Ugh.  With all these adjustments, though, I really don’t think the dress looks obviously that much different that the cover original and that is just what I wanted.  I was aiming for a slightly more vintage tweak, yet still adhering to Rachel Comey’s design that attracted me to the pattern in the first place.  As I said, above, it’s the best of both worlds, and all in a soft cotton.  Who knew cotton could be so elegant and fluttery?  I didn’t.  This dress is a winner.

Part of what helps my version of this dress work, I believe, is an interesting situation I concocted with the lining.  Cotton on cotton tends to be ‘sticky’ as I call it, clinging together like Velcro because of the soft, brushed touch to it.  So, I chose the full body lining to be in a half cotton-half polyester blend broadcloth.  The little bit of man-made in the broadcloth really keeps the two layers apart quite nicely.  The nude, skin-toned tan color of the lining keeps the outer printed fashion fabric from both obviously appearing lined as well as being as sheer as a tissue, which it was on its own.  The full body lining really gives the dress its shape because it is a very basic design that counters the gathers and details going on with the outside, good side of the garment (besides nicely covering up all the inner seams).  Both layers to my dress being cotton makes for a breathable dress even though it is not the lightest weight.  What I discovered is that the lining is the first to absorb my sweat on a hot day and generally keeps the outer fashion fabric to the dress appearing so cool and pristine in any heat.  What a sneaky little way to pull off being chic in any weather!  Ladies just ‘glisten’ and not sweat anyway, right?!

Part two of the lining trickery has to do with the back peplum.  I sensed that a tiny hem along the bottom edge of the peplum just wasn’t going to work.  Besides, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, the paisley fabric was sheer and being a lightweight cotton would not drape properly on its own.  It needed to be fully lined.  More of the cotton-poly broadcloth I used to line the body would weigh the peplum down and make the dress too heavy.  So I reached for a scrap I had on hand of a nude-tan color, all-poly, cling-free lining which was luckily in the exact same nude tan color as my broadcloth.  Hooray for saving remnants and knowing what you have (thanks to organizational drawers)!  This lightweight and silky poly was the perfect solution for a soft peplum that hangs softly, becomes a weightless addition to its dress, and has a pretty – yet not flashy and distracting – underside.  I kind of did feel badly (silly, really, I know) for adding a bit of man-made to this lovely cotton frock, but I figure that’s the beauty and attraction striving towards the will-o’-the-wisp ‘perfect’ garment.  One piece of clothing that is engineered to be well thought out, like a finely crafted machine, yet soft enough to recognize and reflect the lovely human being inside of it is worth pounds of store offered, low quality, fast fashion.

The finishing touches I added included little ribbon lingerie straps on the inside of the shoulders.  With such a wide neckline, the snap-closing straps connect the shoulders of the dress to my bra straps for a dress that stays put on my body.  Of course, with the center front and center back having practically the most detailing on the dress, that meant there is a side seam zipper, very much like the traditional 1940s garment.  It is only slightly awkward because of all the material to the skirt, but with the wide neckline this dress is still easier to put on than those WWII ones.

So, I’ll ask for you…am I done with peplums yet? Not at all.  (See my other peplum projects here – a long post WWII one, a shorter 40’s blouse version, a front peplum dress, a pleated hip peplum 50’s style dress, and one on a modern asymmetric top)  Ever since there was one amazing vintage peplum dress that got away from me, this ‘bug’ in my system will take a while to work its way out.  Am I done with blue tones this year’s late summer sewing?  Nope.  Sorry, I’m not sorry.  Maybe it’s the way blue is cool to my eyes and mind, or perhaps it’s the way I feel blue is a versatile transitional color, matching with tan, grey, and other fall tones.  Either way, I now finally have yet a long awaited project to enjoy wearing for years to come, and yet another interpretation of how blue is one of my ways to get ready – mentally and tactility – for cooler weather.  Of course, my opposite hemisphere is looking forward to warmer weather, at this point, so hopefully my wistfulness at our fading season is your inspiration!

Easter Backup – An Easy Sew, Late 40’s Peplum Blouse

Do you ever listen to that “just in case” voice reasoning inside your head?  Well, maybe I was just needing an excuse to whip up another pretty outfit.  You see, I had started this late 40’s peplum project last year’s end of summer and realized (after I cut this blouse pattern out) that I was running out of warm weather time to make it worth my while to sew. Sigh – each season never lasts long enough for all the plans I have.  Nevertheless, I had a project ready to go, just waiting for a few hours’ commitment and nice weather.  What if I didn’t really need another, second Easter outfit?  Whatever…don’t mind if I do.

Now, as my title alludes to, the peplum blouse is the only item I am featuring in this post.  The skirt is something I did make myself, but it has already been blogged about here as it was the bottom half of my 1946 Agent Carter suit set.  It was basically the same pattern as the skirt in with my peplum blouse pattern and this brown one was a great fill-in because it happily matches!  My wide platter hat (definitively bringing this into the late 40’s Dior era), my purse, and gloves are all true vintage items, with my earrings in particular from my Grandma’s old jewelry box.  My fabulous shoes (if I do say so myself) are Miz Mooz brand.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  an all-cotton pink printed floral, lined partially in a polyester anti-cling lining

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8463, a year 2017 reprint of a 1947 pattern (originally Simplicity #1928)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  basic stuff here – a little interfacing, a zipper, and thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This came together in the blink of an eye.  It took about 6 hours and was finished on March 30, 2019.

TOTAL COST:  The blouse only took just over 2 yards and I used a remnant of lining (free in my stash) so with the zipper (the cotton being about $5 a yard) my total is only $15.

If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed I have had a renewed fascination with the late post-war 40’s since about 8 months ago.  Anything between 1946 and 1949 has frequently been blogged about here lately.  What has also been going on in the background for me since then, is a new fascination for peplums, as well.  I mean I’ve had an interest in peplums so bad it has been almost like an addiction.  Don’t worry – it’s under control now, after a couple vintage dress purchases later, ha!  However, when it came to sewing something that would relieve my ‘fix’ this 1947 Simplicity re-issue was one that of course had to pop up as it ticks both post-war and peplum boxes.

Now, what makes a peplum?  According to the basic google dictionary definition, it is a “a short flared, gathered, or pleated strip of fabric attached at the waist of a woman’s jacket, dress, or blouse to create a hanging frill or flounce“.  However, I find the technical use of it much broader than that.  Especially in vintage fashion – particularly in the post-war 40’s when fashion styles were easing out of rationing into the full-skirted, sumptuous 50’s silhouette – a peplum was frequently only a small detail that emphasizes the hips by evocation (much like this 1949 dress I have made).  It doesn’t always have to be as obvious as the blouse in this post.  What matters is the prominence a peplum places on the hip line.  A peplum achieves that through excess fabric artfully added in the area between the waist and the upper thigh.  That – pure and simple – is a peplum.

I did change the pattern slightly.  I wanted to taper the back half of the peplum into a slightly lower hem with a point at the center because I don’t have anything like that.  Possessing so many different peplums now, I guess I’m starting to become picky!  I also took or just two inches out of the peplum gathers coming into the waistband.  Other than these two customizations, I made the rest of the pattern as designed and didn’t even need to adjust the sizing, which I found spot on.

Yet, there was something I added to help the peplum hang better.  Ideally, this blouse should be made out of something draping or flowing, and that wasn’t this cotton…but that wasn’t going to stop me!  I cut and extra double of the peplum out of my lining to go underneath.  This way it slides over whatever skirt I wear under this top (because it does also match with about two other skirts, anyway).  Another layer, no matter how lightweight, adds a little more heftiness to the peplum helping it hang straight, also making the formerly ugly wrong side so pretty and cleanly hemmed now.  Lining a peplum is definitely the way to go when sewing such a style.

Most of the times I ditch fiddly facings in lieu of bias edging or full lining but I kept them here.  This blouse has cut-on sleeves – kimono shoulders with a cap (as it’s called) look – which dip very low.  This style is very comfy for me with my larger upper arms and give a soft shoulder widening emphasis.  Such an arm opening also makes however you finish the sleeve edges visible…why I stuck with the self-fabric facings.

I love the bust shaping on this top.  This is not the first time I have experienced such drafting.  It is also on my 1951 dark purple slip (posted here).  For this 40’s blouse, though, there is more dramatic shaping, not for any flat chested or very small busted woman.  I didn’t change the neckline depth, and find it a nice in between – not showing cleavage yet prettily open enough for showcasing a necklace.  My little simple single diamond is something I am happy to show off, anyway.  It is quite special to me.  I received it as gift for a special occasion when I was about eight.  So much of my outfits are tied up with memories…

Before Easter is yet another distant memory for this year and summer is upon us, I just wanted to share my other very spring photos of my latest make.  I realize I have been posting so many 1940s creations here as of late and I will share more variety soon, I promise!  If you are on Instagram, I hope to be posting on that platform more of my true vintage original peplum dresses that I have acquired.

Do you have a particular style of peplum that especially appeals to you?  Have you not tried peplums yet?  Is it just me or does my 40’s purse somehow look like an Easter basket?  Let me know – I love comments!