Refashioning My Own 60’s Style Babydoll Blouse

When the items I sew for myself no longer fit or work for me in some way, they are not given up on but treated just the same as – if not better – anything else in my wardrobe.  They either get refitted, resized, or mended.  If any of those three actions are not possible for one reason or another, they get refashioned.  This has especially been an important task for me to tackle since 2020.  Ever since that year, the reasons and occasions for which I leave the house has decreased, so I sensibly expend my sewing efforts on the wardrobe I do have versus only adding more new (me-made) pieces.  Just recently I refashioned a project I made almost a decade ago, and this has now turned out to be a much more appealing creation for me than when I completed its first iteration! 

I sewed up the original blouse in 2013, and it was a success, but never as interesting to begin with as I have turned it into today.  As I said in that original post, I struggle to like myself in peter pan collars, and overly sweet styles.  I liked it, to be sure, but never felt ecstatic over how it turned out enough to be ranked as a ‘favorite’.  I wore the blouse for only a few years after it was made since it quickly became too snug to be comfortable.  To be fair, I originally cut it out in a smaller size – I was severely short on fabric.  Long story short, I haven’t worn this for the last 8-something years and now that problem has been amended in the most fantastic way I could have ever hoped for! 

This is the old original top, for comparison.

Measuring the old top as compared to my current body, I realized I needed to add in about 3 inches widthwise to have this fit me comfortably again.  My main focus was on adjusting for my shoulders, and I (correctly) figured that a good fit for the bust of the blouse (which had been snug, too) would then follow, as well.  Aiming for about 3 inches was ideal because I had no scraps of any worth to use and needed to cannibalize from the current blouse itself.  Cutting off that much from the hem meant that the new blouse’s length would be just below my natural waistline…perfect!  The puffed sleeves do give a bit of leeway over the shoulders so I didn’t worry about an exact re-fitting.  If I would have added in much more than 3 inches my refashion would have been too dramatic and obvious of an addition, anyways.     

Most of the original blouse was left untouched, but the little bit I did do made such a bit difference!  My first step for this refashion was to cut 4 inches horizontally off of the bottom hem (the 3 inches I needed plus enough for two ½ inch seam allowances).  The side seams were cut off to make two rectangular panels.  Then I cut vertically down the center front and the center back, separating up the collar.  One of the two panels cut from the bottom hem went right away into the center back.  With this step, I was able to get my first taste of how my refashion would fit and look and I was so excited!  I realized ahead of time that the tiny polka dot print of the back’s added panel would be running oppositely of the main body.  The print is so small, I didn’t really care nor did I have much of a choice with what to work with.  I rather like the interest it adds to have the print contrast itself ever so slightly.  According to my idea, the front was going to have most of the attention so I like how the back is low-key appealing, too.

The front panel required a bit more effort than the back, since I had a grand idea for ramping up the femininity and eclectic detailing to this new version of my old blouse.  Luckily, I am quite organized when it comes to my sewing notions (not to brag, but I am proud of this fact).  Thus, I was happily able to find the little bit of aqua bias tape leftover from what I used to make the elastic casing on my blouse’s puff sleeved hems.  The bias tape was extra wide and double fold, so I found that opening it up fully made it just about 3 inches wide…I suppose you can guess how thrilled I was to discover this!  The solid toned bias tape, which was opened up and ironed out as if it was a cut of fabric, was layered over the remaining blouse fabric panel.  Doubling up here both used up all of my fabric cut off from the hem and kept the front from being see-through (the bias tape was tissue thin), besides lending some wonderful continuity to the overall look of the blouse. 

With the idea that “more is more”, I also sandwiched some vintage cotton lace into the seam when stitching on the front panel.  The lace is a slight ivory tone to complement the yellows and greys in the collar.  Then, I found a half a dozen vintage ivory pearled ball buttons from my paternal grandmother’s notions stash.  The buttons really filled in the big empty front panel and matched with the lace bordering the front.  It seemed to be a popular design element to have a decorative-only contrast chest panel to blouses and dresses of the 1960s.  I suppose I was kind of vaguely inspired by seeing such patterns in my own stash (such as Simplicity #6801) or through perusing online (see Simplicity 7736).  Honestly, though, my refashion was merely the best I could do with what I had available…which wasn’t much to begin with!  I wanted to add pintucks or some other sort of extra details to the front panel but I felt lucky to get by the way it was.  My blouse is immensely more appealing to me than how it first was, so good enough is as good as done for this refashion project.  

I wanted to keep the popover simplicity of getting dressed in this blouse, for all its extra elements it now had.  However, it turned so very boxy in shape with the new panels added!  I had to sew in four deep, curved, vertical darts to the bust of the front and shoulder line of the back for shaping the blouse.  I made sure to not take in enough to necessitate a side zipper.  I was trying to ride a fine line of having it fitted yet still staying as a popover-the-head top.  I never mind installing zippers (I half enjoy the process, really) yet if I can avoid doing so, I will in no way turn down the opportunity.

Not only is my refashion an improvement on the overall blouse, but I am thrilled over the way I love the collar so much better by it having a wide open neck.  Most babydoll style blouses (and dresses) have a peter pan collar that closely hugs the neckline.  It takes a very specific interpretation (such as the 1930s; see my “Snow White” dress) in a select few colors (see this 40’s “Candy Stripe” blouse I made) for me to like what a peter pan collar does for my face.   I can afford to be picky when I sew my own wardrobe!  Then again, taking such an approach helps me hone my taste in fashion and cater to my personality unlike a dependency on ready-to-wear could ever offer. 

Re-working something your own hands have already made not only is sensible, eco-friendly, and responsible, but also it requires a greater amount of creativity and determination.  I will not deny, there is a dopamine rush from the amazing process of starting a sewing project from scratch and seeing it go from paper laid out on fabric to a wearable garment.  Sure, it would be much easier to merely donate and move on, but landfills do not need a single more item added to them when a few extra hours of my time can give me back a new and improved version of my own makes.  

I find a more innate sense of personal pride in my every effort to alter, tailor, or otherwise extend the life of the wardrobe I already have.  For me, doing such actions also shows me just how far I have come with my sewing skills to be able to add significance and worth to what I have made in the past.  I am constantly mending, letting seams out and taking them in, darning sweaters, dyeing, patching or doing some other sort of garment care for me and my immediate family (even for my parents, too, on occasion).  This blouse’s refashion is merely the most visually stunning recent example of all the mundane clothing care that I do behind the scenes of my blog!  I hope this post has inspired you to “give a darn and mend”!   

Ceiling Paint Splatter

1986 was an interesting year with many definitive events that I am sure anyone who experienced in some degree will not forget.  There was the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the arrival of Hailey’s comet.  There was the Chernobyl accident and the Iran–Contra affair.  There was the debut of both the Oprah Winfrey show as well as the stage musical “Phantom of the Opera”.  Wow, right?! There are recognizable parallels to 1986 recently, between the popularity of a new Top Gun movie (gosh, Tom Cruise has barely aged) and the current Russian aggression (evocative in some ways of the Cold War’s nuclear brinksmanship).  Reminiscing along this vein, I finally bit the bullet and sewed up a crazy print dress tied to that definitive year, using a pattern from a largely unknown designer.  This is one project I have long wanted to make, and I am thrilled over my resulting dress.  It is so enjoyable, cute, and comfortable!

My dress was inspired by another event of 1986, one that was momentous to the entertainment industry – the music video to Lionel Richie’s song “Dancing on the Ceiling”.  Out of all the music videos out there, this is one that I absolutely wish I could go back in time and be a part of.  I am an absolute Lionel Richie fan the way it is, but I even more so adore the energy and craziness to this specific song and its accompanying video.  It reportedly cost somewhere around $400,000 for only 4 days of shooting, making it the most expensive short form music video production at the time.  

The music video was directed by the great Stanley Donen, whose most celebrated works include Hollywood’s classic films such as Singin’ in the Rain, Royal Wedding, and Funny Face.  The director Donen said that Richie actually adapted easier and quicker to the rotating room used in the video than Astaire did while shooting similar scenes in his 1951 film Royal Wedding.  It is an energy release for me to even just listen (but also dance) to when I indeed feel like I need to crawl the ceiling from being so cooped up inside with nothing of great fun to do. 

The combination of colors and crazy prints that the party-goers in the music video are wearing inspired me to gravitate to a multicolored cotton that is a riot of color.  Lionel Richie is the bold color focus while the band and extras are black and white (or silver) tones, so my dress is the general scheme in one package.  To me it is a print inspiring energy and absolute elation, exuding a feeling which seemed so appropriate for a dress inspired by the music video to “Dancing on the Ceiling”.  If you paint on the ceiling, it is bound to splatter, right?  And if you had a party on the ceiling, it would definitely need to be repainted, right?  So goes my fanciful way of thinking. 

Sewing my own garments may be more like creating a dream or interpreting my own art, I suppose, when I realize how imaginative I approach some of my projects, such as this one.  I hope you enjoy this wild throwback dress, and it’s even crazier photo backdrop location – the Museum of Illusions in Chicago, Illinois.  This place had an exhibition which gave me the opportunity to actually live out my dream of dancing on a ceiling, even if it is just an illusion!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton lawn in a Lady McElroy “Artistic Vibrance” multicolored print lined with a bleached cotton muslin

PATTERN:  Butterick #3854, year 1986, a Kathryn Conover pattern from my personal stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  two 7/8” black ball buttons, lots of thread, and two packs of ¼” wide double fold bias tape

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was a 10 hour project and was finished on May 24, 2022

THE INSIDES:  the waistline is bias covered but side seams are left raw

TOTAL COST:  The Lady McElroy fabric alone cost me about $25 and the muslin lining was $5

This 1985 sports set is in a print very similar to my dress’ fabric!

This dress immediately helps me remember that the trippy color craze of the early 90’s was really a result of the late 1980s.  Coming before the age of the internet, it used to take a while for trends to catch up and turn mainstream!  Think of the titular intro screens to the television series Rugrats, which came out in 1991, and you can see the similarities with my dress’ 80’s inspired print.  The cotton lawn was slightly sheer, and being in a white, it needed a lining, for sure.  The bright white bleached muslin I used as lining seems to help the colors in the print pop by brightening the white background.  

I actually toned down some of the bold contrast and overall busyness to this design by switching up a few design details.  I also simplified the already easy-to-made dress.  There is no facing needed or complicated finishing here but only binding along all the entire neckline, which continues into the waistline seam.  For this purpose, I chose a thinner bias edge binding rather than ½” wide as the pattern wanted, as well as using pre-made packaged notions rather than cutting the needed strips myself.  Smaller edging makes the dress more delicate than clunky so that it is like controlled chaos.  I wanted this to be a wildly fun 80’s dress, but didn’t need it to turn into an immediate eyesore. 

This sediment is only another reason I switched to a clean and tailored pleated skirt rather than a mere overall gathered seam.  Especially as I was fully lining the skirt, pleats were necessary anyway to tame any bulk.  I enjoy the kind of math that sewing calls, for and rather enjoyed figuring out the depth and amount of pleats much more than if I would have set in gathers.  I always like to customize at least something from every pattern’s design!  I suppose I’m merely flattering myself to feel as though I improve upon patterns with some of my changes.  Yet, I think such is definitely the case with this design…sorry, Ms. Conover!

Kathryn Conover is the designer listed on this pattern, and she released a good number of dresses through Butterick for several years in the 1980s.  As she has a history of offering her fashionable designs for the last 50 years, it is a shame her name is not more widely recognized.   I can totally relate to her Midwestern practicality and upbringing, being a Midwesterner myself!  Her designing focus was centered on dresses that should “withstand the seasonal vicissitudes of fashion, in fabrics that endure and retain their luster.  However her primary aim,” she insisted in the interview, “is for a woman to put on one of my dresses and feel better about herself.”   Read her full interview in April 1983 with the New York Times (link here, from which comes the previous quotes) to understand the price points, ideology, and status of her brand in the early 1980s. 

She was a dressmaker in a literal sense of the word – no suits, separates, or anything else!  Her love of sewing began as a hobby, but she then worked her way through the University of Minneapolis by collecting clothes from thrift shops, restyling them and selling them. (I have a soft spot for refashions, so she seems like my kind of gal.)  Her own line of clothing was founded sometime in late 70’s, with her first collection immediately gaining the attention of specialty stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Niemen Marcus, and Lord & Taylor.  She sold her ready-to-wear through these stores and others until her line was ended in 1992.  Conover served as design director for the Liz Claiborne dress division from 1991 to 1993, where she introduced some of her collections through Perry Ellis.  She cited overly trendy fads and the liberal use of denim through the decade of the 90’s for a lack of popularity for the kind of dresses that she wanted to offer, what Conover refers to as having ”a strong classic undertone.” 

I respect the way that Conover was unlike many designers who adapted with the changing times.  She stayed true to her own tastes and desires to the point that she was not afraid to stop what she was doing to try something new in her career.  Conover brought back a line of dresses through the company Ronni Nicole for a short period of time in 2007 and the year after.  She began her own bridal consulting in 2003, which morphed into her working as a couture wedding gown creator for “The Knot”.  She is 74 years old this year!

I can’t help but wonder if my interpretation of her pattern is enough on brand to be true to Ms. Conover’s idealology.  I do have a Pinterest board created (see link here) for you to see a sample variety of her work from the 1970s through 90’s.  My dress’s print is no less full of 80’s obnoxiousness than any other Kathryn Conover dresses from that era, as can be seen in my Pinterest board.  The dropped waist is classic style point of the 1980s, when the era bought back modern versions of French heeled shoes and straight-lined flapper dresses, both inspired by the 1920s.  Many of her designs of the mid 80s seemed to integrate a dropped waistline, with or without some curve emphasis.  I think she would be pleased with my replacing the gathers with pleats as she did this for similar designs such as Butterick #3019 (those bows across that open back bodice are simply fantastic).  To complete my outfit, I’m wearing true vintage 80s heels, crafted with real snakeskin toes which have the primary colors plus green on them.  I then paired the dress with my grandmother’s 80s clip-on earrings.  The funny thing is, since I was going full 80s, even the fact I had an unexpectedly crazy curly hair day became a styling point to match.

There are a handful of copies of my dress’ pattern, Butterick #3854, out to be found for sale, and I definitely recommend it if you find yourself remotely interested in this design.  It is so easy to make, with no facings or zipper needed, and is a step-in dress, for ease in dressing.  Two buttons in the front are the simple closure in this double breasted style!  One word of warning – this dress is proportioned for very tall body.  Even if you are of average height, you will need to do the petite alteration as shown on the pattern pieces.  The bodice was the correct length for my 5’ 3” frame.  Even still, the skirt was really long.  I did the petite alteration to the dress and the skirt still came to my ankles, so I had to do a deep hem.  This ended up in my favor because a thick hem nicely, but gently weighed down the skirt (so I didn’t have a Marilyn Monroe moment walking along Downtown Chicago) and keeps the fabric opaque.  The arm opening is comfortably generous and adds to the general loose and breezy classy air of the dress. 

Do not be dismayed if you try this dress out for yourself and discover that it has a roomy ease amount.  If you look at the model image on the cover and the version I made for myself, it is fitted but not snug, tailored but still generous – and that is the beauty of a good design, the trademark of a designer creation.  Not everything has to be skin-tight to look good…that is a modern mentality and inaccurate.  Slip into all the good points about the 1980s.  You may just find, like I did, that a tailored fit on the higher end of wearing ease can be a gloriously exhilarating experience which doesn’t have to mean frumpy.  Rocking the 80’s doesn’t have to mean something gaudy to wear when it is coming from the hands of lesser-known, but no less talented, United States designer Kathryn Conover.     

Conover’s self-named line of clothing might not have lasted all that long yet I am very glad I tried out a taste of it for myself through the hands-on means of a sewing pattern.

Tennis Top

In the quest for more sportswear that is also part of my handmade wardrobe, I have branched out to make something perfect for playing one of my favorite games – tennis!  This top had been part of a previous project back from 2016, only to be left unfinished when my ideas changed.  However, I detest sewing items lurking on the backburner and am a stickler for needing the projects I start to be fully finished.  At last I have conquered this little odd dress bodice to make it a top that does the job of a sports bra but with a fashionable, fun, me-made flair! 

This is a totally different side of me that is uniquely lacking in my normal glamour to show here on my blog.  Thus I am a bit unsure about sharing it yet too happy with what I’ve made to hold it back.  I felt it tied in nicely with my previous post of 1940s sporty, bibbed “short-alls” so I am sharing this now versus waiting until it is officially summer.  This is not a vintage piece, coming from a Burda Style pattern from 2016, but it does incorporate one of my favorite things – color blocking.  All of my favorite tones are here present – rich purple, bright pink, and a royal blue – all in a way that calls to mind a lovely stained glass window.  The black piping becomes likened to the “cames” of grooved lead which hold together the panels of color in a glass window.  I love the irony of recalling delicate stained glass for an item used for an activity that is quite the opposite – slamming of balls and full body movements.  Tennis is not listed as a high impact sport but it is the way I play it!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a shirting basics stretch cotton sateen

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s ‘A-Line Cocktail Dress’ #122, from 03/2016 (see the German Burda Style page for actual pictures of the pattern, though)

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I had to buy an extra pack of piping to finish this, as well as the back separating zipper, but other than that all I needed was lots of thread, which I always have on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The original piped bodice took me about 5 hours back in 2016, but then for the recent fitting and finishing I spent another 4 hours

THE INSIDES:  left raw…the stretch in the cotton keeps the fraying of the fabric in check

TOTAL COST:  I no longer remember because the fabrics had been on hand from before 2016!

The sizing definitely ran small and quite wonky for the original Burda dress pattern that my top came from.  See a full recap on this post here. Such a sizing discrepancy luckily didn’t extend to the skirt portion of the dress, but the top half was another story.  Neither did I have any more fabric to recut anything.  All the vertical seams together with the fact I added in piping to them set up any fitting adjustments to be a major headache.  I definitely had to come back to adjust such an unfinished object when I was fully ready and equipped with a definite purpose and incentive to complete this.

It was a sewing project I truly wrestled with to just barely make it fit enough to be salvageable.  Letting out the 5/8 inch seams to 3/8 inch in some places was barely just enough to have this squeeze on my body as well as get the piping back in again.  The piping makes the color gradient panels pop with the definition but definitely restrains the stretch of the fabric in between.  It restricts the curvy seams significantly yet I loved the overall effect too much to give up on the idea.  Now that it is done, I feel that the piping makes sure the fabric doesn’t over-extend its elasticity and also helps this have such a snug fit, which I normally wouldn’t like but found a purpose for this time.   

I took advantage of the fact this top has wonderful stretch and is skin tight to wear this as my sports bra.  I have only worn loose tee shirts for tennis before and have never been happy with how I move and feel sloppily clammy while wearing them.  This top is like a second skin, and keeps my assets securely in place.  The top itself stays in place on my body, is fuss-free, and does not get in the way of my movement at all like my loose tee shirts were doing.  Plus, the sateen doesn’t show sweat, keeps me cool while wicking any moisture away, and still looks nice.  I never knew what to do with it before now since I formerly saw it only as a failure left behind from an unfinished project.  Now that this top is not only finished but also useful with a purpose, I am so taken by it.  I have something I always needed but never knew I wanted…and I made it myself, which is even better! 

In lieu of the side seam zipper I originally planned for when this top was to be part of a dress, I changed to a center back separating sports zipper.  A sports zipper is more heavy duty, with chunkier teeth, and the fact it opened up at both ends makes this top very easy to put on.  I left the zipper exposed to not only save every little bit of room I could spare but also because it visually gives a black line in the seam similar to the piping in all the other seams.  The black back zipper gave me the ideal combo of functionality and aesthetics in one easy step.

Not that I would highly recommend this pattern, but this is the perfect stash busting project.  The pattern pieces for this top could probably even fit on some cotton “fat quarters”.  When I was originally making this, I happened upon three colors of the same fabric in my stash, all in a stretch cotton shirting, in colors which complimented each other.  They just had to be made into a garment together! 

The pink is a whole 2-something bolt, still in my stash meant for a future project, while the other two colors were under ¼ yard scraps.  I just gleaned a small amount off of the total cut of pink, not enough to dent my greater plans for it.  With some recent re-organizing of my fabric bins I happened to come across this pink fabric again, and so I took the opportunity to shave off a tad more to cut bias strips to finish the armhole openings.  At the same time, I also happened to find some scraps of black stretch cotton sateen on hand, leftover from a store bought dress I had re-fashioned years back.  I then used this to finish off the neck and bottom hem edges.  I was left with the feeling my top was very barely cobbled together but also amazed that such little amounts were all I needed.  The stash busting redemption of this top has left me further satisfied with it even though the fit of the design is much lacking.

You see on my blog what kind of styles I stitch together for everything else in my life.  Now that I’ve finished making this tennis top you see what I wear for sporting exercise fun!  Have you made some athletic wear pieces for yourself?  What is your favorite sport?

In Sporting Fashion

It’s not every day I go full on casual with what I am wearing, but doing so in vintage style is my preferred interpretation for having fun exercising in the great outdoors.  Spring marks the beginning of baseball season in the United States, and so what better way to test out my newest sewing make than during practice pitching and catching with my family in the local park’s field!  I now have the most chic but playful, bold yet practical pair of shorts I could ever imagine for summertime fun!  

They are pleated, bibbed, suspender style “short-alls” from the mid-1940s in the most luxurious cotton I could find locally.  This kind of casual dressing was the preferred choice of teenagers in WWII times, but I am more than happy to rock it as an adult on the 21st century.  Here’s to having sporting fun in just as much style as when I have a fancy affair…because handmade fashion is for me something I can wear at any and all occasion at this point!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Chartreuse lime colored Supima cotton in a sateen finish (same as what I used as the contrast facing on this 1960s sun set)

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1322, year 1944 (reprinted again under the same number in the year 1946) from my personal pattern stash

NOTIONS NEEDED:  everything I used came from the accumulated stash I have on hand – thread, buttons, interfacing scraps, rayon hem tape, and a 6 inch zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 12 hours and finished in August 2020

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound for all the seams with vintage rayon tape finishing the hem

TOTAL COST:  1 ½ yards cost me $16 with a coupon

As mentioned when I first used small scraps of this fabric on my 60’s sun set (posted here), I have never really been a fan of chartreuse.  Nevertheless, I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts, so I have been wanting to cautiously try this color out for myself for far too long.  The fabric’s shade listed on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellow in undertone, I see it as a true chartreuse in person.  Considering my skin tone, I do not believe I’d like myself in chartreuse if worn alone as a solo tone. 

Nevertheless, made up in a separate piece as I have done here, whatever top is chosen to pair with the shorts is my chance to play with finding complimentary colors that I do prefer.  The suspenders holding up my bib extension integrate the chartreuse into my entire outfit and keep it from being distinct blocks of color separated at the waistline.  The only reason I went with a dusty blue tee here was because I had a baseball cap to match, but it was a hard choice.  I love the look of my shorts with tops on hand in all sorts of colors, and even with my printed, tight 90’s era tees (still in my wardrobe from when I was much younger) for a modern feel. 

I was so happy to find a Sears department store advertisement from Kansas City, Missouri of the same year as my pattern (year 1944) for some “short-alls” exactly like my own.  In this old ad, they were offered in a cotton twill and listed as “bib style buttoned panel, pleats front…a Hollywood favorite!”  Unlike my last pair of 1940s era shorts (which look like a mini skirt), these are a bit more structured and obviously shorts with their shallow pleats, higher rise, and slimmer circumference of hems, making them perfect for very active activities like baseball, tennis, or volleyball.  Under the same circumstances, my blue 40’s dupe-skirt shorts have me afraid of flashing someone with a peek of my undies and leave the fabric looking stained or limp when it gets wet.  These chartreuse suspender shorts do none of that.  Don’t get me wrong, though – each pair is appropriate for different occasions, obviously.  I equally wear and love both of my 40’s shorts, but the chartreuse pair avoids all the pitfalls I discovered with my blue pair.  Here, the suspenders and front bib even keep my top tucked in place!  

I thought ahead to choose something equally soft as the rayon of my blue 40’s shorts but more stable and sweat resistant – all of which qualities I found in the Supima cotton sateen.  The beautiful, slight shine to the fabric dresses them up, but they are still just a very easy-care cotton, besides being lightweight and cool to wear, too.  My next choice after the Supima sateen was a light to mid-weight denim, and I do currently have some such material set aside (from my Grandmother’s fabric stash) for a future project of another early 1940s play set.  I successfully tried a rayon and silk blend twill for my personal version of the 1940’s “Harp” shorts offered by Tori at “Potion 23”, a local designer for whom I was the pattern drafter and sample maker.  My 80s shorts were a (border print) cotton shirting and for the 50s I did a short romper in pique as well as shorts in heavy hopsack linen.  I now have a good arsenal of knowledge when it comes to what works best for different kinds of shorts.  Fabric choice has so much to do with the success of every sewing project but I find this fact especially true for shorts.  Such a simple little garment of summer has given me so much bother trying to perfect!

I claim home base!

The only reason these shorts ended up being closer to fitting like modern clothes in the first place was really due to a re-drafting ‘mistake’.  I only realized after assembling my shorts enough for my first try-on that the pattern was sized for teenagers.  This explains why the crouch depth sits so much higher than what I expected of a true 1940s pattern.  WWII era trousers for women had roomy bottoms for a fit that did not reveal a body form shape as do pants of today.  Using a true 1940s pattern is the only reason such a ‘mistake’ worked out okay after all.  As a teenager’s design, the distance between the hip line and waist line is really 2 inches too short for me.  My hips are about 7 inches down from my waist and not 5 inches, as given.  

I should have at least suspected that this was a junior’s design since the high school teenage crowd of the 1940s were the ones most commonly rocking the sporty, fun-in-the-sun clothes of WWII times.  The envelope back said this was either for women or junior misses and recommended Simplicity #1315 (reissued in 1946 as #2062) to complete it as a “mother-and-daughter set” of matching designs.  At least I was thinking ahead enough at the pattern stage so as to grade in some extra space at the seams of the centers and sides to bring it up to my waist and hip circumference.  I had to add in a total of 4 inches because a size 12 from back then is for a small 24 inch waistline, which is a modern size 0…definitely not me.

I am no less happy with my finished item even with the little unexpected – but no less welcome – hiccup in its making.  Now I have a decision waiting for me the next time I pick up this pattern (and I definitely will be coming back to it).  Do I keep the modern fit of reduced wearing ease (aka, current juniors’ sizing) or draft in the proportions of an adult size for a proper 1940s appearance?  Either way, I may just wear the heck out of these shorts and sew another copy in the exact same color and material.  I may just pick another one of the other styles given as an option in the pattern to try.  Nevertheless, I like these bibbed suspender shorts too much to not just end up making them again in some manner.  I kind of want to revisit this same design anyway so as to redeem the crazy and confusing way of closures that I opted for in my version.

The pattern for these shorts calls for workable buttoning front bib.  I did not do that on mine.  To get a snug fit on a pair of shorts meant for athletic activity does not seem compatible with a handful of buttons.  The Supima cotton is a fairly thin, loose weave that snags, ravels, and puckers easily.  Even if properly interfaced, I did not want to compromise the material with buttonholes.  Also, I could envision the front buttons being a hazard and getting caught during activity and ripped off…this worst-case scenario would not end well. 

To end up with a stable, secure closure that keeps the look of the bib front simple, I went for the tried-and-true, good, old reliable vintage metal zipper closing, albeit hidden under the front flap.  Over the tummy and under the bib, a short zipper connects the center front seam to an extension piece I added to left side of the shorts’ main body (since the pleat is only stitched part of the way).  Then, I have an inner button and elastic loop to fully connect the waistband, as well.  The entire right side of the shorts’ pleat and bib front is stitched down in place and all of the closures are accessed from the left side only.  This was all my own idea and it works pretty darn well.  I do not know whether or not this method of closing is something which would have been used back then or not, but it just made sense from an engineering outlook.  Yes, sewing is engineering sometimes.  I do happen to be married to an engineer so I suppose he rubs off on me. 

At least I have the suspenders with real working buttonholes!  There would be no easy way in or out of these shorts otherwise, from a practical perspective, though.  The straps are stitched down to the front bib, but come detached at the back waistline where there are the cutest imaginable flower buttons in a bright lime green.  The crossing point of the suspenders across the back of my shoulders is lightly tacked together so that no matter how I move, the X shape stays in perfect position.  It’s not that I really need suspenders to actually hold up my shorts.  This is why I have them as laying somewhat loosely over my shoulders.  Yet, I just love how there is just as much interest to the design of these shorts as seen from behind with the suspenders and the cute buttons. 

I enjoy the fact that I have such me-made vintage pieces to help me look forward to getting my exercise now that warmer weather is here.  I never was a big fan of shorts until I discovered how cute and appealing the vintage-style kind could be.  No matter how simple, any garment can be elevated by good design and tailoring.  I certainly put this particular shorts model to the test run right away for the sake of my post’s pictures, too!  I hope you enjoyed the change of pace by having photos of me in the action shots.  Don’t you think I am able to pull off chartreuse after all?