Remembrance Day

“We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led.

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

Poem penned by Moina Michael in November 1918

I’m remembering Armistice Day this year with a French inspired outfit that places me in the late 1910s, so I can observe this holiday dressing the way a woman like me might have done back then.  Worn for a visit to the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri to see their exhibits, these clothes helped me place myself in a position of empathy and insight for the experiences of people from those times.  Well done, informative exhibitions always bestow upon me a view through a lens outside of my own.  For me, though, also wearing the corresponding era of clothing is a level up in re-enacting an alternate reality for the purpose of gaining understanding.  I always take our trips wearing my handmade clothes (the greater percent of my wardrobe now), and most often that is in vintage style…well, now I have done my first escapade traveling in historical fashion!  

The blouse I’m wearing is a special teen’s era original “Armistice” style blouse to match the old antique logo pin on my collar lapel which pledges “I will parade – Armistice Day”.  Together, my blouse and pin is a 1918 statement of support for the end of the fighting, and a promise to be there for the enlisted when they come home.   This is worn with my handmade circa 1917 cotton skirt, based off of late WWI catalog images which inspired me.     

For those who wear historical fashions, it is often said that one feels like a time traveler, especially when those clothes are worn in a period appropriate setting.  However, I recently got to thinking – what would I wear if I was actually time traveling?  It struck me, that out of all the pretty, fancy outfits I would like to wear, the most sensible, useful, and, necessary kind of dressing for going back in time would also be the hum-drum, practical, everyday clothing.  I was considering these ideas because our trip to the National WWI Museum included going to the front lines in the trenches of Passchendaele (1917) through the overwhelmingly immersive “War Remains” virtual reality exhibit.  Then, I was also going to see the “Silk and Steel” exhibit as well, and learn about the French fashion for women of WWI…a much lighter topic.  I felt like a nonchalant kind of historical garb – this not the time or place for a flashy outfit.

Both exhibits opened my eyes to a picture that shows the personal trials, heroic acts, and unimaginable sufferings of those who did and did not survive, not just some numbers and dates to remember.  A casualty can be more than just the passing of a life…the veterans who committed suicide in the years following Armistice, the civilians who were collateral damage, or the long term misery of disfigurements from poison gas do not officially get added to the death count of a battle.  Thus, even though Remembrance Day commemorates the armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., the lost lives before that time were not the end of the story.  Their sacrifice lives on.  Their legacy is beautiful, complex, terribly tragic, and of the utmost importance.  This is what makes the poppy such a powerful, simple, silent witness for such an overwhelming bequest.  Wearing one is such a small gesture, and so easy to do, but it means so much!

Also, I would like to recognize the “le bleuet” cornflower badge that is the French equivalent to Canada and Commonwealth nations using the poppy as a symbol of WWI remembrance. After all, one in three French men died between the ages of 18-30 by 1917 alone.  What is so sad to me is the way many soldiers on all sides thought that they would be comfortably settled back home by the Christmas of that year.  The Armistice did not come as soon as expected.  I waited to have my picture taken in these faux poppy fields (on the front lawn of the National WWI Museum) until after our virtual reality “War Remains” experience so as to have the full realization of that symbolic flower hit me… and wow, did it ever!  I let myself be emotional invested into the living exhibit and it left me ready to bawl… but I heartily recommend it, nonetheless.  As the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele’s last living survivor had said, “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”  It was a battle of mud, blood, and futility through Belgian fields, with 500 thousand casualties, making it one of the war’s most costly battles of attrition.  So whether you choose a poppy or a “le bleuet”, the Remembrance Day message is the same – the legacy on the living to honor the sacrifice of the heroes who are gone but not forgotten.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  lightweight 100% cotton plaid, lined in a cling-free polyester, with a hem extension of a cotton knit leftover from this Burda Style dress project

PATTERN:  None!

NOTIONS USED:  four fabric covered button blanks, one metal vintage zipper, and lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This skirt was worked on in 2019 for a few hours and halfway completed, but finally finished up after a few more hours’ time in August of 2021.

Gosh, look how basic the skirt was originally!

TOTAL COST:  My only cost was for one yard of eyelet material – $12 – otherwise all else was free on hand items from out of my stash

Not only is this unusual for being a historical outfit that traveled out-of-town with me, but this was a refashion project of a dated ready-to-wear item from my old wardrobe, as well.  Both factors combined give this skirt a historical appearance, but not when it comes to my manner of making.  This is one of those “what you can’t see won’t hurt” kind of sewing projects that I almost never make.  Not that this is a messily finished refashion – on the contrary, everything is cleanly serged (overlocked) insides…see what I mean?  I usually never use a serger.  It’s just that I was making-do with what I had, using up scraps together with some unwanted garments on hand to create something that gives an authentic late WWI era appearance.  What was underneath to create that look is not something exactly true to the era.  Simplicity (as in straightforwardness) was my key word here.  I wanted to travel without the need to bring the proper era undergarments (such as this slip I made) which I usually wear to create the French ‘tonneau’ barrel skirt shape (widest from mid-thigh to the knee) so classic for the late 1910s.  

Fashion ads and catalog images I was inspired by for my skirt refashion

The “Silk and Steel” exhibit made several interesting points about the barrel skirt silhouette.  The woman who wore the ‘new look’ of 1917, started by French couturiers such as Jeanne Paquin, was deemed as a fickle woman, one easily turned by the whims of fashion, by some public opinions.  A steadfast woman was expected to be constant, waiting for the return of her husband, boyfriend, brother, fiancée.  Her clothes were to reflect such qualities.  It was feared that the changed silhouette would be a shock to the soldiers returning home after the war, making it clear they were out of touch with the life back at home.  Thus, out of consideration, many postcards and images for the enlisted show a constancy of style in women’s wartime garb (yes, a small propaganda campaign). 

New and exciting fashion was also considered tasteless when 1917 was the hardest WWI year for the French, with bloody battles, mutinies on the front, economic inflations, increasing food prices, rationing, and widespread shortages.  Fashion was crucial to whether there would be a wedge or a bridge between the sexes at home and on the front.  Barrel (or ‘tonneau’) skirts were, however, pushed as being economical, needing less fabric with its shorter hem and lighter petticoats, thus it was popular with the middle class as well as those who bought from designers.

My skirt, with its hem extension, very well could be seen as a conservative attempt of a woman of modest means in 1917 to keep up with the popular fad.  A plaid like this was not high fashion, after all, even if it was in a very French combo of blue and white.  Truth be told, I really was cobbling this together, trying to make a 1917 style out of a year 1997 casual skirt which had a shot elastic waist and overly basic shape.  I did wear this skirt a lot as a teenager.  Back then, I preferred long cotton skirts for the summer more than shorts…they kept me from getting too much sun, were breezily cool, and made me feel pretty.  However, the passing of time for both me and the skirt rendered it no longer wearable, but that didn’t mean I was done with it by any means!  I’m way too thrifty, practical, and imaginative to just give up on it now.  I had been looking for a good plaid to make an everyday teen’s era skirt anyway, so I might as well use what I already had on hand!

There was no way to save the disintegrated elastic – it was sewn as part of the waistline – so I merely used the skirt as-is…no unpicking, no cutting, no re-sewing needed.  There was still a bit of gathering in no-longer stretchy waistband and I liked the stability its thickness would provide, two reasons for my not cutting it off.  I did not want my skirt to become shorter, anyways.  I merely made two pleats to the front sides at the waist so I could bring it in to fit as well as add more shape and definition to the skirt.  That was all there was to it, and everything else was the details and finishing.    

Here’s a quick run-through of my remaining steps. I cut a 7 inch slit and hid a vintage zipper in the fold of the left waist pleat, which gives me just enough room to put it on.  Two hook and eyes help keep that zippered pleat closed.  As the cotton plaid is whisper thin, it needed a lining.  I keep all my poly lining fabrics in their own drawer in my stash (yay for being organized), and there I found a dark navy skirt lining draft I made from about 20 years back.  It was a basic A-line shape, with an opening slit about 10 inches down from the waistline, and was just the perfect length.  I hand stitched this liner into the waistband of my refashioned skirt.  It was slimmer than the skirt itself so there was no room for historical undergarments, but I wanted an easy travel skirt, after all, as I mentioned above.  Thus, I added a couple rows of ruffled cotton eyelet (made by me, cut from rows of fabric) directly to the lining under the plaid skirt layer to fill the “tonneau” shape out better.  The layers of ruffles weigh down the flimsy lining, happily keeping it from creeping up on my body. 

Finally, I added a bit of contrast (and length extension) with the solid blue cotton knit.  I had one ½ yard remnant of it left, just enough to make a band to wrap around the bottom visible part of the lining.  Little odd shaped scraps left from the hem band went towards making four fabric covered buttons to decorate the waistline pleats.  They unify the solid fabric hem extension, and (I hope) make it appear as it my waist pleats are buttoned down (which they aren’t, though, ha).

The rest of my outfit is put together with (as I mentioned at the beginning of my post) a true antique Armistice blouse and whatever else I had on hand.  My old blouse should be taking the center stage to this outfit, more than my skirt, but that is part of the beauty to it.  Such a maze of intricate details gets lost to all but me, the wearer, because they are best appreciated up close and personal.  It is a wonder it has survived over a hundred years to still be strong and stable enough for me to even wear it (delicately, I must add…I do not want the guilt of being the one to destroy this in any way).  Its details are mind blowing – that complex handmade Irish lace, those impossibly tiny 1/8 inch French seams, and the amazing delicate yet durable traits of the sheer linen are a lesson in themselves to appreciate the lasting, artistic quality that clothes once were.  All else to my outfit is modern – my sash belt is a rayon scarf held in place by a reproduction brooch (also blue).  My earrings are 1950s from my maternal Grandmother, my hair comb is a new re-make, and my suede heels are vintage style from Hotter. 

This 1917 outfit was every bit as easy to wear for the day as anything else I might have worn.  I was so happy to wear such an outfit for my visit back to WWI.  I will be the first to admit many of the housedresses of the 1910s era are almost too quaint or cute for my taste.  They still are much more appealing to me than the sweatpants, t-shirt, yoga leggings, and sports bra of today.  I myself can feel more comfortable in the older type of ‘everyday’ clothes much better, oddly, and can’t help but wonder what place our daily wear is going to have in the regard of history 100 years from now, in comparison.   Stuff to consider!     

Behind me is the National WWI Museum’s exterior “Great Frieze”,
one of the largest sculptures of its kind in the world at 148 x 18 feet.
It represents the progression of humankind from war to peace.

The National WWI Museum educator Camille Kulig says “clothing is a barometer of change.”  I hear fashion experts of today also applying the same phrase to what we wear in these times following the craziness of 2020.  The changes that prompted the transition of fashion from the 1910s into the “Roaring 20s” does have its own parallels to what we have so far experienced of our own decade – inflation, widespread illness, rationing, as well as changing roles for men and women, to name a few matches.  Nevertheless, for as much as I love to enjoy studying history, I do realize it is so much easier to look back than forward.  What helps me is to see history as merely the story of people much like you and I, much like your neighbors or your friends, only placed into a different setting. 

I love Remembrance Day for the opportunity to stop and reflect on all of these points.  Today, or any day, remember the humanity of our collective history and give thanks for those who are serving, have served, or those who have passed on from their service for their country.

Free From My Tower

I suspect that many of us can now empathize (or commiserate) to some small degree with the fairy tale girl Rapunzel, who was locked up in a tower for the whole of her young life.  Being kept from social situations, apart from friends and family, as well as seeing the same limited spaces all too frequently during the pandemic has been very trying for me…I can’t dare to imagine a 16 year solitude!  Thus, I am here portraying a Rapunzel liberated from her tower, barefoot and free amongst nature, wearing my interpretation of a Bavarian Edelweiss dirndl to honor the Germanic version of the fairy tale.  My hair may not be blonde, nor is it remotely long enough to be comparable Rapunzel’s tresses, yet I was really feeling the part here nevertheless.  Enjoy the fun vintage spin with cultural heritage that I wove into my dirndl for a Bavarian take on this popular character – yet another installment to my ongoing Disney inspired “Pandemic Princess” blog series

The classic “Rapunzel” is a fairy tale that Friedrich Schulz printed in 1790 in Kleine Romane (Little Novels), followed by the Brothers Grimm publishing it in 1812 as part of Children’s and Household Tales.  Tied to the witch of the story, Rapunzel’s name is given to her because of the German word for a salad vegetable.  Although the Grimm’s recounting of the fairy tale is the most prevalent version of the “Maiden in the Tower” in the western literature, the basic storyline has strong origins to French and Mediterranean tales rather than to Germanic oral folktales, as once believed.

However, the only version that I particularly enjoy is Disney’s “Tangled” from 2010. It’s a 3D animated film loosely based on the Rapunzel fairytale with an added, appealing twist – she’s born a princess with magical hair whose ‘rescue’ is tied to the character redemption of the handsome scoundrel Eugene, aka Flynn Rider. 

Do not be confused though, as I am posting this just before Halloween – it is not meant to be a costume!  I am of German ancestry myself, and esteem and appreciate wearing a garment which is intrinsic to the story of my heritage.  Cultural attire of any kind is NEVER a costume for misinterpretation or joking about.  I made this as a true dirndl, attempting remain authentic to its heritage while also being modern enough to be very wearable for me to enjoy outside of Oktoberfest or ethnic settings.  If you go by past standards, yes, I am channeling someone that I am not – an unmarried girl of the Alpine region – with my choices of color and style inspired by a commercial Disney retelling of an old German fairytale.  Yes, I am sadly missing and apron here, too…I normally do follow a more old-fashioned expression for this kind of clothing.  This is only a ‘costume’ for me in the older, sensible, “uncountable noun” term of the word – a set of clothing, just like anything else in my wardrobe, for expressing who I am in this time and place, not a characterization of another race or culture.

Dirndls of nowadays, however, are not as confined to older traditions that designate them to be a visual statement on your state and condition of life (I will address more on this topic further down in my post).  Today we have to freedom to wear what we want, how we want.  Nevertheless, cultural clothing like a sari, a kimono, a kilt, or a dirndl (for just a few examples), always needs to be worn with proper context, understanding, and respect.   I have sadly seen way too many ‘influencers’ on social media this month wearing a dirndl has a costume, especially for “Lord of the Rings” themed Hobbit parties.  History has many deep tales to tell and perspectives to teach, along with amazing people to hear about, so let’s open up to all those lessons by respecting garments that express cultural identity.  Is there a garment for you that signifies your ancestor’s’ heritage?

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton Alexander Henry fabric dated to 1999 (seen on the selvedge) in the “chloe” floral print, with solid color jacquard woven cotton for the contrast front and sleeves, a sheer matching colored poly chiffon for the ¾ length undersleeves, and fabric leftover from sewing this vintage hat went towards making the tiny tubing which is my front dirndl lacing

PATTERN:  Butterick #6352, a vintage inspired Gertie design

NOTIONS:  Lots of thread, lots of interfacing (for the entire bodice), one zipper, and a set of traditional dirndl hooks

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was sewn in about 20 hours and it was finished on October 7, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound edges

TOTAL COST:  practically nothing – this fabric was picked up at a second-hand thrift sale where fabric is sold for $1 per pound.  The 3 yard cut of this thick, substantial fabric was kind of hefty, so it was probably just a few dollars.  The rest of my supplies was all items on hand for longer than I remember or leftover from another project, so I’m counting that stuff as free!

I loved being able to start off this project with such a high end cotton with starting place tied to that of Disney and a date that reminds me of just how long “Tangled” was in the works before its completion. The concept of an animated film based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Rapunzel” originated from Disney supervising animator Glen Keane in 1996.  Keane pitched the idea in 2001 to then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner who approved it, but requested the film to be computer-animated. 

My 1999 fabric hits right in between those preliminary dates for the film.  Alexander Henry is a premier textile design house, producing original cotton prints for product manufacturers and home sewists alike from their talented artists who hand-paint each design the line produces.  Their business is located in Burbank, California which is also the corporate headquarters for Walt Disney Studios!  We drove through Burbank on our way in to Los Angeles a few years back, and it was so nice, with great shopping opportunities!  I love weaving in little details and cool correlations to my outfits, but especially so when they all come together without even trying, such as for this dress.  It also happened to be the perfect purple-pink orchid tone for a Rapunzel frock!  It was such a soft, thick, and fabulously lovely cotton!  I love how serendipitous this project came together.

Now, knowing that Disney’s story base was the German version of Rapunzel, I looked beyond the artistic license of the animation to see that her dress was intrinsically a dirndl.  It was the laced front, the puffed sleeves, (faux) apron, and the neckline shaping that give it away for me.  This would make total sense, anyways.  Dirndls are an established manner of local dressing, an organic means of freely expressing cultural identity, for Bavaria, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and more.  They are not just for Oktoberfest.  “Fashion With Renée” relates that back in 1626, the Bavarian Prince, Maximilian I created a ‘dress code’ to show people’s rank in society. The law separated people into seven groups and noted that farmers (and the lower class workers) were not allowed to wear imported clothing…and thus the dirndl was adopted for women, just as the lederhosen was for men.  The Bavarian Alps are located in what is now Germany (since 1945) near the southern border of the federal state of Bavaria and continue across the border into Austria.  

“Girl Sewing”, 1869 by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is a great example of the romanticism of the peasant life that brought the dirndl to the consciousness of the aristocratic class. Our picture is of an original oil painting, from a 2019 exhibit at the Memphis, Tennessee Brooks Museum of Art.

Beginning in the early 1800s, aristocrats, upper classes, and even artists romanticized rural living of the Alpine regions.  That eminent Habsburg the Archduke Johann of Styria (briefly Regent of Germany in 1848 to ’49) sported traditional Tyrolean styles in his coats and jackets, and his famous nephew, the Emperor Franz Joseph I, was a great hunter of the Alps who also was an aficionado appreciative of the rustic designs of the region.  In 1900, two Jewish brothers, Julius and Moritz Wallach, opened a clothing store in the Bavarian city of Munich and had the clever and successful idea of marketing dirndls and lederhosen as a kind of urban “rural chic”, transforming them into a fashion trend.  The Wallach name was renowned for their famous custom printed folk textile prints, even offering fashion shows of Bavarian and Austrian wear in their cloth.  (See this excellent blog post here for more info on the Wallach history.)  Thus the dirndl (and lederhosen, too) became both more universally adopted and overall more vibrantly fashionable.  Much of this energy and growth was snuffed around the time WWII began, only for Germanic clothing to find a comeback for the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich.   Today in 2021 they are having a moment in popularity again with an exhibit “’Dirndl – Tradition Goes Fashion” at the Mamorschloessl palace (former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I) in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria.

Vivienne Westwood dirndl on display at the “Tradition Goes Fashion” exhibit in Bad Ischl, Austria, 2021.

On a local level, in the 150 years before the 1940s, many new, organic traditions were evolving around the dirndl to make the wearer’s marital, economic, and regional status be something visibly recognizable by the every detail of one’s manner of dress. For example, an apron knot tied on a woman’s left hip meant she was unmarried, the right meant married, while the center back meant she was either engaged or otherwise working at her job (so leave her alone).  Married women were more restricted in colors to choose from while single girls were permitted the flowered hair crowns and the prettiest variety of tones.  These are just a few of the many, interesting, and beautiful traditions surrounding an old-style wearing of the dirndl.

The rich pastel colors that Rapunzel is wearing properly designates her as a young unmarried woman while the laced bodice with the dirndl hooks ties it to the Alpine region, which would be the perfect place to hide the tower the witch uses to imprison her.  However, I am so excited to have thought out not just her dress but about the main symbol associated to Disney’s Rapunzel – the golden sun of her parents’ Kingdom of Corona.  I see it as reminiscent of an edelweiss flower, also called the “mountain star”.  

The Edelweiss is such a long-standing Alpine symbol – it’s still on everything from Swiss airline planes, beer cans, club logos, coats-of-arms, money, and certain uniforms for army officials and mountain troops in Germany and the Bavarian Alps.  Again, it was the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I who popularized a renewed passion for the edelweiss flower in 1856, when he made a point of gifting the flowers, picked during a hike in the mountains, to his beloved wife the Empress “Sissi”.  As I wanted a simple outfit without jewelry, the most natural (and practical) way to add this Alpine symbol was to order a set of edelweiss flower dirndl hooks, ordered direct from a shop in Bavaria that sells tract supplies (link here).  The pattern called for loops to be sewn in anyway, so decorative hooks for the front tie was a prettier, more interesting, more authentic to have a laced-front dirndl.  The way they show the long and short petals radiating out in a staggered, wavy fashion perfectly embodies Disney’s Rapunzel Corona sun symbol while still being specifically Bavarian.  I love how beautiful the hooks are on my dress. They bring out the color of the golden flowers in the print and shimmered in the sunset glow for this post’s pictures.  

Lacing is not necessary to the front of a dirndl, but one of the many decorative elements that are optional yet also traditional.  Because it is not a corset, a dirndl normally has a closure on its own separate from embellishments – here the dress has a center closing zipper.  Lacing is a traditional Bavarian feature, but dirndls often have a front buttoning closure instead, especially ones from Germany (such as a “Black Forest” dirndl, which I have posted more about here).  A dirndl has a stable, substantial bodice, which is why it was fully interfaced just as the Gertie pattern instructs.  Most Gertie patterns call for boning, which I thought would have been overkill here, so I did leave it off for my version.  Dirndls have a close fit with little excess wearing ease, which was how the pattern fit anyway after choosing my matching size according to the given chart.  It is not confining, though, but fits me perfectly because of the pattern’s excellent curving drafted into the princess seams. 

The way a dirndl’s front bodice panels (in between the lacing) are often in a different fabric, or at least highly decorative either by adding embroidery or lace, is reminiscent to their old and hazy origins to a corset.  Either way, for my center panels I used a heavy cotton jacquard that alternates stripes with a tiny floral.  It was just a remnant on hand, and it happily matched the Alexander Henry print I used for the rest of the dress.  Disney’s Rapunzel had striped sleeves so I was originally led to choosing this contrast fabric from my stash so I could have a similar look on my dress, but then carried it over into the front panels to incorporate it into the dress, just as many dirndls do.  The open U-neckline is another classic dirndl feature, and such a pretty one for framing the face.  I see dipped U-necklines pop up a lot in the late 1940s (see this ’49 one I made back when I started blogging) into the 1950s, and Gertie herself says this pattern of hers is strongly 50’s inspired, after all.   

Whether or not the skirt is the easy part depends on how much detail and what level of quality you want to achieve. Some dirndls have tiny, even pleats going completely around the waist, and the high end ones are sometimes smocked, but many are merely gathered into a waistband – the simplest method by far. I chose that last mentioned option, using fabric left (about two yards) from cutting out the rest of dress, making sure to have the selvedge be the hemline to save myself some trouble!

My chiffon undersleeves are a custom addition.  Not only do they bring my dirndl closer to a Rapunzel look alike, but they help my dress look polished.  They add a nice touch of color and a differing texture that helps make it more interesting, in my opinion.  They help my puffed short sleeves stay controlled, most importantly.  I did wear my dress for a short time without the undersleeves, and the puff sleeves crept up my arm and ended up looking weird.  I just used a very basic, skinny fitting, long sleeve pattern piece from another pattern (don’t remember which one), sewed it in under the puffed sleeves, and then shortened to the length I wanted.  The two sleeves are tacked together around the cuff of the outer puff sleeves and the hem kept simple by a bead of Fray-Check liquid.

It was so awesome how this Gertie pattern has so many authentic dirndl details under the guise of being a cute, vintage style dress.  This is a great pattern I highly recommend.  Granted, it is a mark of 20th century modernization for a dirndl to suddenly be a one-piece garment, instead of separates – skirt, dirndl (under) blouse, dirndl (vest) blouse, apron, and an optional collar.  Just like any other culture, traditional clothes tend to evolve along with the changing needs and the present history of the culture they are a part of, yet traditional elements still remain.  In the decades between WWI and WWII, the groundbreaking research of Austrian Jewish anthropologist Eugenie Goldstern showed how the Alpine culture has not been static, or overly set in its ways, but has adapted over the centuries since ancient times when King Charlemange was hunting in the region and was impressed by the sturdy, warm Loden cloth of the region.   

Many of the cultural stereotypes for Germany originate from the Bavarian Alps, yet ironically it only composes less than 10% of Germany’s total area.  All too often stereotypes have the facts warped or screwed up to the point that the actualities are understood in a distorted way.  Popular understanding of history doesn’t automatically equal truth.  I love to uncover facts that get overlooked or forgotten for a clearer picture.  I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the history, lore, and traditions surrounding a dirndl – if you fancy more, read my last post on the other German fairytale princess Snow White, as well as my post on my “Black Forest” dirndl interpretation.  Maybe the next time you hear of Rapunzel, or visit an Oktoberfest, I will have given you a different, deeper outlook!  As you can tell, I became totally invested in taking on this particular fairytale through the lens of my heritage.  I do admire a girl who can grow her hair that long.  I’m pretending I’m the Rapunzel who got her hair cut after being free from her isolation, ha!

Blue Rose of Unattainability

If there is anything that symbolizes the impossible, it is a natural blue rose.  A true color blue just isn’t genetically possible for the thorny flower.  The closest color naturally or scientifically created ends up as a lavender, or violet, or a sort of mauve-ish pink.  Sure, you can dye or paint a rose whatever color you may want, yet science has been beat so far when it comes to growing a rose in an azure tone. 

This is why a blue rose mural is the perfect backdrop for a finished sewing creation which was so very challenging for me to make.  I seriously had the “what if I can’t figure this out” thought during the construction process to my dress.  I was terrified I had met the project which would beat me.  As you can see, I ended up working through it successfully!  Besides, this dress is also another 1950s Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” motivated outfit as a follow up to my previous post.  I cannot just have one princess inspired garment, when it comes to my favorite Disney film, for my “Pandemic Princess” series!  The blue rose theme also lets my choice of color for Princess Aurora’s gown be quietly known.  As much as I love the color pink, her enchanted sleep was taken and awakened in her blue dress.  With her blonde hair, Aurora needs to leave the pink dress to Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in my opinion. 

White may be thought of as a ‘neutral’ or blank color but the funny thing is, I find it hard to find a pure white fabric that doesn’t have a blue undertone. This is a true rarity from a sewist’s perspective!  Only recently have I found out this occurrence is either due to a fabric treatment called “bluing” or an accumulation of acid in the water from deteriorating pipes.  It is hard to escape the frequency of blue in my wardrobe, even when wearing white apparently.  I went along with the theme and wore my blue tulle 50’s poufy slip underneath for full vintage drama.  With the subtle blue tint to the white, the wild rose flower all-over print of the fabric, and the elegant lines to this full-skirted, pretty frock I have an outfit that makes me feel like a princess in more ways than one.  The fact it is a hard won accomplishment to even be wearing this makes the wearing of it so much sweeter of a treat.  I found a different kind of ‘blue rose’ that is attainable…and I absolutely love it. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft but thick Indian cotton bedsheet set

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern #121 “Jacquard Dress” from February 2020, a ‘re-issue’ of a July 1957 “Burda Moden” design

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the time to trace and assemble the pattern, this dress took about 10 hours to complete.  It was finished on August 7, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  This bedsheet set was picked up at a thrift sale for $1.00…pretty awesome, right?!?

From the get-go, there are a few hurdles that set this dress pattern up to be challenging even before reaching the sewing and construction stage.  Firstly, the pattern pieces for this dress are out-of-control ginormous.  They are rather awkward shapes, too.  This was a big, exhaustive deal for me to trace out the pattern pieces form the small and cluttered magazine inserts.  I spent way too many hours bent over on the floor, tracing lines onto see-through medical paper, and taping pieces together.  The larger the pattern, the more I get confused over the lines, and there were several mistakes along the way.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a Burda Style pattern prepped because I add on the seam allowances as I cut.  An online version of the pattern would be a downloadable PDF that then needs to be printed out and assembled together, and this option sounded like too much paper for me to want to deal with. 

Laying out the pattern pieces on the bedsheets took up ALL of our living room floor.

Of course, all of these facts also mean that this design is a complete fabric hog.  You can only choose a fabric at least 60 inches wide (or more) and need about 4 yards.  A directional print or plaids were discouraged in the Burda info, for good reason.  My use of bedding with an overall print was perfect here.  It offered a lot of fabric in a wider width with a print that doesn’t overwhelm the dress’ design lines and all at a cheap cost.  Opting for a reasonable material rather than using any of the nice fabrics from my stash eliminated any extra stress on me to not mess up on this project.  The fabric was such a dense cotton it does have some structure to it – something very necessary for this dress – yet at the same time it is broken in enough to be so very soft and supple.  Yet, being a bedsheet, I could not tell grain line, just the bias, so I just followed the hem as it seemed the tightest woven direction of the fabric.  For this dress, cutting the bias correctly is almost more important than choosing a fabric with body, as the most interesting panels to this design are on the cross grain.

The Burda Magazine page sums this dress up as “a masterpiece” with its “couture draping at the neckline and waist…shaped in the fashion of a French triangular scarf.”  This is not just bragging on the part of Burda as I have come across a few designer couture dresses that have similar design lines with the ‘wrap-around-to-the-front’ skirt pleats that are part of the back skirt’s fullness.  Here is a 1950s Mingolini Guggenheim Italian couture gown and a golden 50’s cocktail dress from the RISD Museum of Costume and Textiles

The old original Burda Moden summary is a hilarious but still wise call back to 70 years ago in the way it warns “Never wear it in the morning, never combine it with a sporty coat and only wear it with at least mid-heeled pumps!”  To match, I am wearing reproduction “Miss L Fire” leather snakeskin and suede bow pumps and a vintage 50’s era netted hat. The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother and my pearl necklace is the same as the ones I gave to my bridesmaids for our wedding.

Let’s dive into the dress’s details, starting with the trickiest ones first!  There is a full ¾ circle skirt, with two pleated panels on each side that are seamed in with both the right and left back skirt panel.  Those panels wrap around horizontally from the side back, along the side waist, into and around the front draping.  The paneled strips are on the bias and actually one piece (cut-on) with the back skirt…and thus there are no side seams whatsoever from the waist down here.  At the center front, half of the back skirt’s incorporated panels (two on each side, remember) end by joining in with the waist seam.  The other half suddenly opens up to become unrestricted, individual tube-like ties.  These are then wrapped under and through the incorporated neckline drape, which is itself seamed into both the dropped shoulders and center front waistline. 

The skirt panels eventually end under a deep front skirt pleat on each side of the center front.  This way the entire front draping affair is one big interconnected “give-n-take” game, equally pulling on all parts of the dress and keeping everything in place.  My brain is still blown away over all this, and also rather stretched thin trying to explain how magical this Burda retro design is.  Not since I sewed this Jacquard dress using another Burda retro re-issue, which also happens to be from 1957, have I experienced this kind of intricacy in a pattern.

Under all of this complexity, the bodice is a basic dart fit.  A good starting point, a blank canvas, is needed for every masterpiece, right?!  There are several knife pleats in the back shoulders that open up to provide fullness for ease of “reach room” movement.  They also then become a low-key mimic to the more ostentatious origami-like folds to the front drape.  The center back waist has a pointed, lowered, dipped seamline, with an invisible zipper coming from that point up to the neck.  This dress has a slight ‘train’ to it and dips longer in the back by a few inches, nicely countering out the weight of the front and opening the pleats.  

I personally am not a big fan of the slight train.  It almost looks like I merely hemmed the dress wonky.  The train looks really odd when I wear this dress with a poufy petticoat, which I do on occasion when I desire a less of an over-the-top vintage appearance.  However, wearing a fluffy slip underneath is the only way to do this dress justice, otherwise I would suggest horsehair braid or another stiffening method to be added in the hem.  This is a couture dress – there’s no way around it, even though my version is in a fine cotton.  This dress requires plenty of time to perfect its details and master the silhouette.  There is no room for a half-hearted effort here, otherwise the dress will only turn out messy.  This is not a project for the faint of heart!   

It might be complex and fancy but this is also a dress which is comfy and very wearable, making the time and effort invested into sewing it very worthwhile.  It could equally be paraded down a red carpet or worn to a nice outdoor picnic party depending on the fabric chosen or how you accessorize it.  My one and only complaint is that the pattern’s sizing seemed to run smaller than usual.  I had to let out the sides and center back seam allowances to a scant 3/8” for a close fit in the bodice.  Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this pattern in every way possible, even with its difficulties.  It is not for a novice, or even an intermediate skills individual who needs more than a words-only instructional text.  Yes, it may be a project that presents a challenge, yet it is worth it in every way when you end up with a dress like this! 

What is your “blue rose” – metaphorically speaking?  Do have a goal that seems an insurmountable hurdle, but you aim to conquer it?  Good for you – that is a “blue rose” kind of aim.  Do you also get annoyed at how blue all the white clothes end up?  Also, what do you think a blonde girl looks better in – blue of pink?  The funny thing is, these two colors were the choices (out of availability of the chosen dresses) I was down to for my wedding’s theme…and my two bridesmaids were both blonde haired.  They wanted pink to wear over blue.  I happily chose a soft pastel pink as the color scheme.  I will be following up this post with one more (final) “Sleeping Beauty” inspired project…and yes, this time it is in pink!

Make It Blue! Make It Pink! Make it Both, I Say!

Out of all the princesses in the Disney franchise, one of the most divisive topics seems to be the personal color preference for the gown of Aurora, also known as Briar Rose, aka Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  It doesn’t help the matter that the fairies who magically whipped up her gown couldn’t decide on blue or pink, either.  If only the third fairy had been the tie breaker in the matter, this would not be a controversy!  I have my own opinion on the “blue or pink” subject which I will explain in another post.  Since Aurora is practically my favorite princess (mostly on account of the movie’s songs, artistry, and overall aesthetics), there will be some follow-up, further ‘inspired-by’ outfit…or two!  Nevertheless, I took a neutral stance with this, my main Sleeping Beauty inspired dress, as it was made as part of my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Thus, I chose a fabric that includes both pastel tones of blue and pink.  This is much more of a fashionable combo between those two colors than the magically splashed version as seen in fairies’ quarrel during the film!

As I mentioned in my flagship post (here) announcing my series, I took the route of interpreting most of these princess outfits through a pattern related to the year the animated film was released.  Disney’s animated interpretations are very much a product of their times, and here the year 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” has the most enchanting medieval spin on a mid-century outlook (explained in further detail in this “Frock Flicks” post).  Looking at design lines, common color preferences, as well as fabric choices of circa 1959 women’s clothing, I easily saw a natural way of interpreting Aurora’s dresses in a way that would be just as dreamy and feminine yet also wearable on an everyday basis.  My finished inspiration dress is perfect for twirling, light enough in weight for summer, comfortable, and in such pretty colors.  It is perhaps my most subtle princess referenced outfit from my “Pandemic Princess” series, but I definitely love the way it is such a practical luxury and a comfortable, useful wardrobe staple.  Its reference is like a little personal secret that makes me a very happy girl when wearing it!  I’ll admit it makes me break off in random spurts of swishing and twirling around while humming the tune “Once Upon a Dream” or “I Wonder”

Pages from my old original Disney children’s book, dated 1959!

Next to Disney’s animated “Cinderella” film from nine years earlier in 1950, “Sleeping Beauty” is also heavy with sewing referenced scenes…and I absolutely love it!  Please follow my link here and watch the whole thing for yourself.  It is a hilarious representation of the trials and challenges of people new to the craft.  “It’s simple – all you do is follow the book!” exclaims Fauna to Flora, who has never sewn before.  She starts with cutting a hole in the middle of the fabric (why yes, do start with the hem) because “…that’s for the feet!”  At least they had proper enthusiasm, if improper approach.  The fairies are so snarky with one another the whole time, I am in awe every time I watch.  When Merryweather, who was told to “be the dummy”, comments that the finished dress looks horrible (and I agree) Flora tells her, “Well that because it’s on you, dear.”  Ouch!  Sewing difficulties can bring out one’s ill-tempered side, that’s for sure.  Sadly, however, the rest of us do not have wands to magically, quickly remedy our troubled projects – which is why I am blogging about my princess creation, sharing its progress steps and related inspiration.  Enjoy!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a Madras semi-sheer 100% cotton imported from India from “Fibers to Fabric” shop on Etsy

PATTERN:  Simplicity #3039, year 1959, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, interfacing, bias and hem tape, six large snaps, and one hook n’ eye

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me at least 25 hours’ of time, and it was finished by July 1, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The only cost was the fabric, which cost about $15 for 3 ½ yards on a clearance sale…all else that I needed was on hand already in my stash

A classic shirtdress pattern with fine details from 1959 gets the royal treatment here!  Yet, for being ‘just’ a shirtdress, this was quite a long haul of a project to make.  Collars and plackets are not a challenge for me any longer, but they still take time.  Mostly though, there was a lot of fabric to wrangle into a tailored dress.  The bodice, sleeves, collar and front placket pieces together took just under ¾ yard which left me with a full 3 yards plus for the skirt alone.  Even still, I was short on material enough that I had to adapt the pattern for the skirt to be pared down and thereby somewhat matched up.  Buying 5 yards for a shirtdress seems over-the-top to me…somehow I feel better splurging on something fancy.  Also, pleats are time-consuming for me to achieve, since I am the exacting type that wants to mark, fold, sew, and iron them perfectly.  Here are multiple clusters of four tiny pleats around the waist for further details that are amazing once finished but a headache to do.  Finally, hand sewing over half a dozen closures was a whole chunk of time and patience in itself.  Whew!  This princess dress may appear unassuming but it was just as much ‘work’ as any nicer piece.  That’s okay!  A finely made basic is much appreciated and most appropriate for my ideal princess collection.

I chose my pattern because not only was it from my stash but it had the similar design lines in the skirt as Aurora’s.  The quadruple pleats are grouped up into sections between blank, flat spaces so that the skirt has a controlled fullness combined with a detail that fine tunes the look.  It ends up being very elegant and certainly hides the fact there are several yards of material in the skirt alone!  Aurora’s skirt to both her woodland outfit and her princess gown have been drawn so that something similar seems to be the case.  When she twirls with her prince, her skirts open up to an amazing fullness. When at rest, her skirts fall into what looks like concentrated sections of multiple pleats which give the appearance of a slimming bell shape. 

Animation back then was not as literal and uber-realistic as the digitized films Disney releases today (such as “Tangled” or “Frozen”) and so I am filling in with my imagination for the drawn stylized elements.  Although, in the same breath, Disney animators for “Sleeping Beauty” did draw from live models in full costume (see this article for more info), and actress and dancer Helene Stanley in her woodland Briar Rose outfit (see video here) does have pleat clustering to her skirt just as I was supposing.

A plaid is great to pair with any garment which is pleated.  I knew that 50’s decade had a lot of plaid dresses, and such a print is a great way to combine colors which normally do not go together, such as a soft pink and blue.  Then – without looking for it – I just so happened to run across an Indian Madras plaid cotton which was exactly what I had hoped to find.  Don’t you just love when a project idea starts to come to life before your eyes?!  It’s always so exciting.  The best part about going with a plaid is the mathematical aid it provides when you are pleating.  For the quadruple clusters, I could depend on the first pleat being folded on the beginning of the grey vertical stripe, the second folded through the middle, and the third on the other end of that color strip.  The fourth pleat was folded at ¾ inch into the pink tone.  Plaids help pleats be precise and predictable and this way can give a very sharp look.

This leads me to explain how I adapted the skirt.  As I mentioned above, this dress’ skirt was supposed to be almost a yard fuller and I pared it down to keep this garment manageable for me to wear and make.  Making the skirt smaller in width messed with the pattern’s pleating layout so I reconfigured it myself.  This step literally hurt my head, but I knew it was just a matter of mathematics.  I knew what finished waist size was needed because I had sewn the bodice first, and I chose how many clusters of pleats I wanted.  Then I chose how deep I wanted the pleats.  I mostly worked with the plaid to help me make some of these decisions, because (as I mentioned in the previous paragraph) that I wanted the pleating to be aided by the predictability of the lines to the geometric plaid.  If you notice, I have the pleats fanning in towards each center for some slight visual drama!

The simple, more deeply folded center back box pleat was my favorite part to my personal choice in drafting this skirt.  I hate the way complex pleats which are at the back end of a garment become so messy in a hot minute.  By the first time they are sat on, especially in a soft cotton garment like this dress, pleats over the booty become frazzled and wrinkled.  Here, I simplified the center back pleat to the point that doing something necessary like sitting doesn’t ruin the overall look of the dress.  The folds are deep enough to reach over to the next pleat cluster so that everything back there stays in place.  I tend to either floof my skirt up around me when I sit, which takes up half of our couch or all of a seat and makes me totally feel like a princess, or I do the old fashioned, prim and proper thing where you use your hands to smooth out the back of your skirt as you sit down. 

After all that thinking which went towards figuring out the skirt, my use of snaps rather than buttons down the front was a matter of indecisiveness.  I could not find buttons that I liked enough to commit to, nor did I want to break up the crazy plaid.  I merely couldn’t make up my mind anymore regarding anything for this dress.  I was tired but excited it was almost done, and so snaps were chosen.  At least I find oversized snaps so much easier to sew and match up than tiny ones.  If I were to consider a technical take on my chosen closures, this would no longer be a shirtdress because of its lack of both buttons and belt. If I ever find my ideal buttons for this dress – ones that are clear with inlaid roses in their plastic or acrylic – then I’ll make buttonholes.   

For my accessories, I am wearing some ceramic rose earrings, Charlie Stone brand  sandals, and the Bésame Cosmetics “Sleeping Beauty” pendant locket that they released back in 2019.  I love the novelty of wearing my makeup’s case as part of my accessories for the day – it makes something pretty and handy out of something which would clutter my purse.  It is also a useful combo of either crème rouge or lip tint in a whisper pink color, contained in a rose gold mini book that imitates the one seen in the intro of the film for a further reference to my inspiration.  I am wearing the crème on both my lips and my cheeks so I can take my slumber in royal fashion.  Hopefully my prince will wake me from this rose garden!  Oh wait, he’s busy taking my picture at the moment…