A 1958 Happy Ending Horror in Knit

As pretty as this dress might seem at sight, this beast was a nightmare to make.  Luckily there is at least a happy conclusion!  I do love wearing this – it totally feels like the best of a classic dress (in a vintage design no less) which is comfortable, feminine, handy (with the pockets), and oh-so flattering!  This is a faux asymmetric wrap dress reissue, first released by Burda Style in January 1958, very applicable and wearable for today.

I did have a different plan for how I intended this dress to turn out for this project but I felt it was best to listen to the fabric and leave what’s well enough alone!  I’ll admit that a good part of the problems I encountered here were because of my choice of fabric.  I hate the fickleness and frustrating delicacy of an all-cotton knit!  But that can’t take all the blame.  You see, I find Burda Style’s vintage designs to be quite problematic and almost always an exhausting near disaster that requires much fine tuning and the outlook of possible tragedy acceptance to turn into a success.  It’s not so much the fault of the garment design lines…I find the problem is mostly with the patterns’ ill assembly and poor sizing.  This is why I stupidly keep using Burda’s vintage designs – because in the end they do turn out a wonderful vintage garment with a modern, timeless feel!

A 1950s Dior-style flower, made by me as well from fabric leftovers of the lining, was sewn onto a clip and became both my matching accessory and color contrast.  My prized vintage style leather Miz Mooz heels tie in the retro feel and provide a neutral tan.  However, the blooming rhododendron bushes (behind me) at our towns botanical gardens sure made me realize that blue is more of a neutral color than I thought.  It pairs well with all the colors of spring!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  dusty blue 100% cotton knit for the outside, and polyester interlock to line the inside

PATTERN:  Burda Style #122, “Retro Style Dress” a 1958 design from January 2018

NOTIONS:  All I needed was thread and a zipper, both of which were on hand

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress took me about 30 hours, which is twice the time it takes me for a “normal” dress.  It was finished on April 20, 2018

THE INSIDES:  All raw edges are completely covered by the second skin interlock lining inside!

TOTAL COST:  Taking into account that the fabrics for my dress have been in my stockpile for maybe up to 15 years now, I’m counting this project as a free, no-cost, stash-busting success!

Now, as for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was came from the monthly magazine issue, using a roll of sheer medical paper to trace the pieces out from the insert sheet, but if you buy from the online store, you download, print, and assemble the PDF file you receive first.  It’s at this preliminary step that I pick out my chosen size and add in your choice of seam allowance width (I normally add in 5/8 inch allowance), but others do this directly on the fabric as they are cutting out.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide attached helps immensely for adding on the seam allowance easily.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t.  Now, prepare yourself for unbridled criticism in the form of a sewist’s horror story.

When I was making this dress, there were so many inconsistencies with the balance marks not fitting quite right and little areas everywhere that needed stretching in the ease just to have everything match up.  I do not necessarily think this was due to faults from my tracing out of the pattern either – I am usually so very precise about being ‘perfect’ at the preliminary stages to a project.  These pattern irregularities make me definitively say that this needs to be made with a knit.  I’m not talking about one with a high spandex content or one that is super drapey.  The model garment is I believe made using a wool jersey.  I can see a quality scuba knit even working out well here.  Either way, I would recommend choosing something with a nice body and a stable give to its stretch for this dress to be a success.  A knit will be more forgiving to the inadequacies of the pattern’s assembly, yet it also needs to be a material that will help this lovely dress keep it wonderful 50’s design.

However, the most glaring and sad shortcoming of the pattern was the way the waist length of the un-pleated asymmetric bodice front was several inches too short to connect to the skirt or even match with the bodice back.  I am mystified at what happened here and want to blame the pattern but at the same time I cannot positively rule out that it was an error on my part.  Either way, I was stuck to adding on a panel swatch to lengthen the waist.  There was no more fabric leftover for another bodice piece to be cut, so an awkward add-on was my only bet to save this dress project.  I do not think it is really that noticeable, although I have called it to your attention now!  It kind of looks like a mock belt to me, anyway, and half of that bodice is tucked under the overlapping one after all.  All I can say is watch out for that spot on this pattern if you try it for yourself.

The mock wrap to the bodice is further unconventional in the way that the left is over the right for my dress.  This is the tricky part about asymmetric fashions there is a very precise right side up to the pattern pieces.  In order for them to specifically be for the left or for the right side they have to be cut with a foresight that justifies the puzzle that asymmetric fashions are.  I traced out the patterns as they were on the insert sheet and assumed they were giving them to me with all the right sides up…not so!  The bodice fronts actually are traced out wrong side up.  Do not put too much faith in a pattern but always think things through for yourself.  That said, I myself am not perfect, and have been struggling with some ill heath lately, so I was not at the top of my game going into this.  Only when I was too far along assembling this dress did I realize how my asymmetric front was oppositely convoluted.  At that point, I felt it was more important to have the pleated half as the top layer of the mock wrap bodice.  I reconciled myself with the fact that this would be a uniquely individual garment, and as long as it turned out I would be happy with the right and left side traditional closing being off.

As if these last problems weren’t enough, I had a mishap with the fabric and was forced to turn my dress into short elbow length sleeves.  I originally intended on the full quarter length as shown, but there was an inkling in the back of my mind that I might not like them.  As traced from the pattern, the sleeves were actually quite longer than quarter length – more of a bracelet length, reaching just a few inches above my wrist.  I felt that such sleeves might overwhelm the dress and make it seem more like a winter garment (it was released in January 1958). However I wanted a transitional cool weather spring dress.  Well, the dress made up my mind for me.

You see, I do not get along with all cotton content knit.  Sure I have several success stories with it in the past (here and here for only two examples).  Yet every single time I use it, I hate it.  I think this blue knit is about the last of its kind in my stash (there’s one more), and when it’s finally gone I should celebrate.  I use the right needles that I should be using (ball tip, for jersey knits), and in the past I have tried every other kind of needle just as a test, and I still get the same sad results.  This fabric for me is a no-mistakes allowed fabric because wherever there is a stitch made, there will be a hole leftover if that stitching is taken out.  It says together decently enough when stitched as long as those stitches are left alone, but even too much stress on a seam and things will get ugly because cotton knit gets runs in it just like pantyhose!  Has anyone else run into these problems with all cotton knit?  Surely I am not unique with this.

Anyway, I had particularly bad hole, leftover from an unpicking attempt, start unravelling the fabric in one of the sleeves a few inches down from where the underarm gussets end.  Well, I had to laugh.  I had been struggling with this dress enough, and still had the entire lining to sew at this point.  I wasn’t sold on the full length sleeves in the first place.  The best fix was to go with my gut and make them short sleeves, like I thought!  I love the length of this sleeve and must say I think it does wonders for the overall shape of the dress.  The sloping shoulders and the gussets are a tad confining, anyway, so the short sleeves make this dress much easier to move your arms in, too!

I did not really make any major or unnecessary changes to the design, except those done to save the dress from ruin.  After all the troubles I had come across, I kept the skirt simple and opted for no back walking vent.  Such a feature would not really work with a knit fabric anyway.  Having a one piece skinny tapered skirt really amps up the curvy silhouette to this dress, after all!  I am not one for popular, stereotypical pin-up styles, but the no-slit skirt is I feel as small nod to those fashions.  I have no trouble walking in it without the leg vent, as the knit is a bit forgiving anyway.  There is a very wide 4 ½ inch hem at the skirt bottom to make as long as you see it on my 5 foot 3 inch frame.

The front skirt details were the most successful and relatively easy part of the whole dress.  Granted the pockets did not fit together very well when I lined up the skirt over the side hip panel.  Big surprise!  But the mismatching pockets actually helped the hip section of the dress to pouf out properly, which in turn disguises how roomy those pockets actually are.  I have already made a dress from the previous decade (one of my Agent Carter 40’s fashions) which had a very similar side front hip pocket style so this must have been a popular feature in the middle 20th century.  I not surprised.  Since when can you have a dressy dress that actually has very useful pockets that are part of the smart design lines?!  Just remember, with this kind of skirt you cannot have a tight fit because not only would that pull open the pockets, but it would ruin the important element of that design feature.  The skirt front is meant to complement the waist by exaggerating the hips (as the 1950s were wont to do) in conjunction with softening the shoulder line by using kimono sleeves and underarm gussets.

One last note that is neither bad nor good – the waist to this dress is quite high.  I didn’t see it on the model until after I realized it on myself.  The high waist on my body is about 2 inches below from the dress’ waist seam, and it looks to be about the same for the model dress from Burda Style, too.  This is kind of odd, and I don’t think that lowering the waistline no more than a few inches would hurt the overall design.  In same breath, I also would like to say that much as I’m not crazy about the higher waist seam, I actually think it does this dress good.  Many 1950s dresses or tops with kimono sleeves have them so deeply cut that they are supposed to taper right into the bodice at a high waist (such as on this dress of mine), thereby shortening and widening the top half of the female body (image wise, granted) and overemphasizing the hips by not just padding, pleats or what not, but also by starting at a high hipline. Even though the 1950s were heavy on the body mage crafting, especially when it came to employing torturous undergarments to achieve that idealized shaping, the general silhouette can still work well today on many body types.  Accepting and embracing our womanly curves and shaping with fashions that delicately, thoughtfully compliment them (such as this dress) is empowerment at its best.  It is the 1950s finding its modern freedom of re-interpretation.

When I was planning out what fabrics to use for this dress I had these grand plans to add cut-out floral designs to the bodice and skirt hem of the dress.  These designs would have been in the style of the amazing Alabama Chanin – see what I mean here.  This is the primary reason why I used my lovely peach remnant of interlock as the lining.  I expected the peach lining to show through when I would cut away the dusty blue top layer.  I do enjoy how the little bit of peach peeks out from the seam edges along the pocket tops and bodice wrap neckline!  It’s like a sneaky peek hint of the time I spent to make the inside just as pretty as the out, besides being a fun and unexpected color combo.

After the dress was done, I sort of like the chic simplicity of the design as it is.  Is has a refreshing appeal that can be made a bit more casual or dressed up with the right accessories, and a clear asymmetric design that would be detracted from with any other added business going on.  Besides – the way the fabric frays and comes apart I was definitely not doing any unnecessary cutting!  My dress was done, it was lovely, it fit me and I saved it from way too many near disasters.  Most importantly my sewing sanity was still intact.  I’m smart enough to know when to stop with the ideas…most of the time!

I do hope I haven’t scared you off from trying this pattern for yourself.  Rather, I would hope this post might be regarded as equipping you to succeed if you try the pattern.  The 1950’s are indeed at decade of lovely fashions, and I think this dress is a really easy way to wear a truly vintage look without appearing to be in a retro style.  It’s like vintage blending in with the modern world, and this is the styles I love to find.  Our fashion of today is often lost and misdirected in the whirl of four seasons a year of new fads, new ideas, and attempts at creativity.  Sometimes we just have to slow down, look around back to where we came from and let those smart fashions been seen right in front of us, where they have been all along…in the past classic styles which have never gone out of season, never needed updating.

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A Pink and Brown Power Peggy Dress

Power dressing is not something invented by 1980s fashion, even though that is the decade with which it’s frequently associated.  No – people have been doing it for as long as clothing has been around.  It’s not just a showing of status or wealth anymore, though.  Somewhere along the line power dressing has become a manifestation of character, confidence, and personal taste.  Power dressing is empowerment that we put on in the form of fabric.  It is a silent but commanding declaration.  The trick is to find a balance between having it being a cutting edge statement yet tasteful enough to last through more than just a passing fad.

I don’t know anything more basic that can empower women than an awesome dress which combines the best of style, design, comfort, and classiness.  If you don’t know what I mean then maybe you haven’t found something like this for yourself yet.  Every decade in fashion history has had its own version of a power dress, but since the turn of the previous century, this is what the 1940’s had down to an art!  There is no other woman I can think of than Marvel’s Agent Peggy Carter to look up to as a vintage inspiration for these kind of dresses.  Peggy Carter of the post-war 1940s had the basic fashion needs of life that we have today (speaking for myself) frequently have – an on-the-go necessity to look put-together in something comfortable that suits more than one occasion.  Some things never change, and a vintage frock that looks as good, and fit as well as this one (if I do say so myself) is every bit just as stylish and practical today!

This dress is my copy of something seen in Agent Carter Season One television show, episode2, “Bridge and Tunnel”.  My shoes are vintage leather originals, but my purse is a 1940s style make of mine, as well (see post on that here) to complete a period ensemble (which I don’t always have).  In my previous post, “Just Call Me Agent”, I had shown my make of the Peggy’s Season One dress from the episode before, “Now Is Not the End”.  Even though it has now been 3 years since Agent Carter first was on television, I have been occupied with remaking the clothes from several of the ladies on Season Two.  Since 2015, I am still busy filling in my now rather extensive Peggy wardrobe with inspired outfits of Season One.  Look for more to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Kona 100% cotton for the dark brown part of the dress, and a poly stretch satin for the pink sections

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8050, a 2016 reprint of a year 1941 Simplicity #3948

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread and interfacing needed on hand already, but I ordered the true vintage buttons from an Etsy seller especially to match with the pink tone in the dress.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This took me about 25 to 30 hours to make, slightly longer than the average dress for me (mostly on account of the bodice stripes), and was complete on November 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  bias bound, which was tricky at some points!

TOTAL COST:  The fabrics for this were both bought at my local Jo Ann’s store, and although the pink satin was expensive I only needed half a yard, and the dress pattern is from the 1940s so it is economical.  This pattern probably only cost me $20 or less.

I love how the fashion of the decade of the 1940s doesn’t take women for granted.  Rather, from what I see, it empowers them.  There are the strong shouldered, sharply tailored suits to show they are every bit a confident, formidable strength in the world while being as productive as the other sex.  There are the sweet, feminine styles that are generally the most comfortable and easy-to-move in for all their puff sleeves and gathers.  Then there are the separates – tops, blouses, and bottoms – that can create a flawless yet endless versatility for a casual chic.  Don’t forget the crisp power trousers that society could not frown down into oblivion!  Free of confining body shape wear worn in the previous and following decades (30’s and 50’s, I’m looking at you!), women were instead equipped with bras akin to armor and comfy underthings.  In all, between the these points and the attention to detail, the plethora of tailored looks, the thriftiness, and practical economy of the 1940s, I do believe this decade in fashion had it all going for the ladies…war or no war!

Now, as much as I am for the 1940s, I must say I have normally had a mixed love-hate relationship with reproduction patterns, especially from Simplicity…until the last few years.  Since then, Simplicity has supposedly changed its vintage patterns to be closer to being re-issued old originals than modern re-drafts of old styles (as they had been, hence the funky wearing ease and fitting irregularities I found aggravating).  Now this doesn’t take away from normal sizing frustrations or difficulties of achieving the right fit, but I must say that this Simplicity #8050 pattern is the first from them that actually felt like a true 40’s style pattern.  Ever since 2016, I have had dramatically less issues with as many of their vintage patterns than I used to have.  Simplicity has been impressively standing tall among Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s now, after all, when it comes to offering the best designs, the most variety, and amount of new vintage patterns.

This leads me to say that I am so freaking pleased with this dress pattern, Simplicity #8050, I cannot rave about it enough.  It fit me as-is, after cutting out my size following the size chart (not finished garment measurements), and there was no special tweaking needed to make it comfortable to move in, besides me doing a precautionary “extra reach room” adjustment to the armscye.  I am sort of ready for a fail, when it comes to repro vintage patterns from the “Big Four” companies, so I added in reach room, because that’s what I always used to need with their reprints and it’s easier to take excess fabric out than it is to be stuck without it in later!  Turns out, this finished up great.  I love the details to this dress, especially the cool front bodice points with lovely body seaming, and found the instructions to be very good – speaking from a vintage point of view and not just a modern one.  Either way, someone used to vintage patterns should like this, and someone not used to vintage patterns should have a good, albeit learning, experience, too.  I am impressed, and not just because of the clear reference in the color and styling choices of the model dress on the envelope cover!  Yes, the ubiquitous red Stetson says it all!

The inspiration dress from the “Bridge and Tunnel” episode is very similar to my own (except for the cummerbund difference) but this pattern could not be a better base to make an Agent Carter outfit.  Besides the clear reference in the model dress, as I have mentioned before, Peggy Carter was a woman of the 40s who had the tendency to wear styles from early in the decade, mostly on account of on her struggle to move on after Captain America’s ‘death’ as well as her bother Michael’s passing (from Season Two) early on in the War.  This is a year 1941 style.  It strikes the perfect balance between femininity and functionality, comfort and class, and standout style that does ‘standout’ in any era – so perfectly Agent Carter, but also great for a woman of today!  Granted, from what I have heard about the original inspiration dress, the brown sections were a flowing wool crepe, while mine is a stiffer, more basic cotton.  I was mostly focused on finding the right color brown and making sure my version was practical for more than just winter wear (and it is)!  All it really took was a little extra flourish (speaking of the shoulder striping) and adding cuffs to the original pattern to have my copy of one of Peggy’s most popular Season One dresses.

Before I made my dress, I read several other reviews from bloggers who had already tried this pattern, and they mostly mentioned quirks that needed to be worked out in regards to the front button closing and the neckline.  Having loops on one side of the front in the right seam edge and buttons on the other side of the front opening can naturally end up with the buttons looking off-kilter, or asymmetric down the front.  It’s not that this ruins it in the least – no, one who sews would probably be the only person to notice such a thing.  However, someone who sews is often his or her own worst critic.  If a true center button closing is what you want with this dress, you cannot just whip it up as the instructions tell you.  I did not sew the loops into the seams as instructed, but sewed them to a separate fabric strip, like an anchor piece, and sewed that further in (by hand) under the right edge so the button loops would not hang out so far over the other side of the front opening.  Then, the buttons were sewn quite close the left edge.  Big buttons especially need big loops, and moving the buttons over on the extreme left edge to center the closure, necessitated the loops to be beveled in underneath.  Making the loops wider like the letter “U” also helped not make them as long as a loop which is snug against itself.  This is probably not the best way to fix this ‘quirk’ of the design, but from an engineering standpoint, it was the simplest, most direct way to correct the centering of the front button closing.

After all the work and forethought I invested in the front button closing to this dress, as it ends up, I don’t really use it.  You see the neckline turns out really quite low.  I didn’t like cleavage showing because the top button wasn’t keeping the collar together.  Thus I sewed an extra little strip of the dress’ brown fabric and have that hand tacked vertically in place from underneath to close the bottom point of the neckline collar together for an extra inch above the top button.  I know…this defeats the purpose of the working buttons and loops down the front that took me so much time.  I know I should have probably just re-drafted the collar to close up a little higher to have one more button and loop at the top, and that would have fixed it.  Yeah, I should have done that – but I didn’t, and this works just as well.  Besides, having to get dressed in this was fiddly with the side zipper, too.  I can just slip it on over my head without unbuttoning the front anyway, leaving me with only the side zipper to remember to open and close when dressing – much easier!

The dress itself came together really quickly compared to the time I spent wherever there was pink – the entire front closing, collar, neckline, and sleeve cuffs.  The sleeve cuffs were self-drafted off of the existing sleeve pattern.  I traced out the last 5 inches of the long sleeve, and opened it up to have more of a curve with a wider top edge.  My dress’ cuffs are double thick, self-faced, and were sewn into the side seam of the sleeve so that they stay in place.  The collar facing was a bit of a pain being all in one piece – but I’d like to credit this to the awful slippery and slightly stretchy properties of the contrast pink satin.  The front buttoning took way too much brain power to perfect – but I’m happy with the result and love how it highlights my awesome vintage buttons, even if they’re mostly just for looks at this point.  Then, there was the last step to finish the neckline – the striping.

 I splurged on a ½ inch bias tape making tool to help me finish the dress more easily, but that only went so far.  The tool did make constructing the bias tape fun, and relatively quick. However, adding on the strips to the dress was hard!  I pinned them down to the dress, then would let my garment hang while I walked away from it, only to come back later and look at it again with a fresh view.  I thoroughly measured the heck out of the placement of the strips on the dress to make sure both sides were even and check my eye-balling of the trimming I was adding.  The area that the strips cover has a lot of curves and movement, and mine turned out sort of wavy-looking on the dress at times because the pink satin had a lot of stretch in it and I followed the existing shaping of the dress.  If I had hand stitched it down, I suppose it might have turned out better, but this step was going to be a pain either way, so I finished it by machine.  I did take my time to work out the placement of the stripes – I wanted them to pretty much be parallel to the bottom edge of the collar yet radiating out of the two top buttons.

I LOVE how much the stripes add to this dress.  This is a trim I would never think to add on my own, much less even try if it hadn’t been for Agent Carter looking so killer in it. Color striping, color blocking, and color mixing were all popular ways in the 40s of adding interest, fun, as well as practical use of small scraps of materials into a wardrobe.  This particular Agent Carter dress is one of the best examples of 1940s fun with solid colors in my opinion.  I can tell from the response it gets.

You see, this dress is one of the few in my arsenal of me-made clothes that gets compliments every darn time I wear it, from all sorts of people, in all sorts of places.  It really is a discussion starter, too, because most of the time, a compliment is followed up by the query of where did I get my dress and how they can have one too.  One woman was amazed that this dress was cotton, because as a quilter, she associated cotton with crafting and bed covers.  Ah, Agent Carter truly is an inspiration for the world today, and if her influence can spread through her clothes, then all the better.

In the episode Peggy wears this dress, she was inquiring about finding a place to stay at the Griffith Hotel, a single woman-only boarding house with strict rules on their occupant’s moral and personal life.  To match, I visited a place which boards young people as well, and is a place of well-established rules and expected conventions (at least supposed to be) – the local college known as “Harvard of the Midwest”, Washington University.  Both the Griffith Hotel and the University share stately architecture and long dreary halls!  Washington University has some sections that were built many years before he 40’s, but heavy stone work and corner gargoyles make for a slightly mysterious and dark feeling that I think is appropriate for an SSR Agent wanna-be!

Have I convinced you to try out this pattern?  If you have sewn something with it, what do you think?  What is your opinion of the Simplicity pattern’s vintage reprints in the last two years – do you think they are better than they used to be, too?  Is this a Peggy dress that stood out for you, as well, in Season One?

“School Teacher” 1940’s Suit Set

So many times, more than I can tell you, I hear from people who meet me, “…and, you’re a school teacher?”  As if it’s a half statement, that’s still a half question.  I really don’t know why this is – I do like tutoring but maybe it’s the eye glasses, he he!  Nevertheless, I’m embracing the school teacher vibes this time – the vintage 1940’s way!  My teacher’s outfit is authentically completed by a vintage oversized key brooch on my lapel, true 40’s alligator leather heels, and a post-WWII school building as our photo shoot backdrop.

This 40’s suit is achieved from an eclectic mix of vintage and vintage repro, sewing and refashioning.  The jacket is a true vintage piece that had seen better days (sadly), so I refashioned it using the skirt to salvage something wearable.  The skirt is made from a modern re-issued Simplicity pattern and some polyester plaid.  The blouse is made from a true vintage pattern and classic cotton for a basic, versatile wardrobe staple.  All these pieces have differing years in the 1940s as their sources.   Together, I end up with a cohesive 1940’s suit that is warm and classy to wear in the winter, and something I love to wear!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The blouse is cotton broadcloth, the skirt is a poly suiting, and the vintage jacket is a wool-rayon blend twill or gabardine

PATTERNS:  Simplicity #3714, year 1941, for the blouse (the legs on the cover women are intolerably, ridiculously long!); Simplicity #4044, a 2006 reprint of a 40’s pattern, now out of print

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread I needed, I used a modern zipper in the skirt, modern shoulder pads for replacement in the jacket, and new two-tone metal buttons (with an open filigree middle!), with bias tape packs to make all the insides nice and finished.  The only real vintage notion used here was the buttons on my blouse – they were from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The jacket was re-fashioned in about 6 hours and finished on January 8, 2016.  The skirt came together in about 4 hours on October 24, while the brown blouse was made in 8 to 10 hours and finished on November 27, both in 2015.

THE INSIDES:  The blouse and the skirt are all nicely bias bound with lace hem tape.  The jacket’s lining covers up all inner seams.

TOTAL COSTThe vintage suit was bought for $15, the cotton was maybe $10 for 1 ½ yards, and the plaid suiting was on clearance at Jo Ann’s Fabrics at $10 for 2 yards.  A total of $35!

Before my re-fashion, a beat up mess of a suit set was offered to me for a small amount during one visit to a local vintage re-sale shop.  The owner knew I sew.  She gave me one of those “Buy this if you think you can do something with it or else I’ll probably end up throwing it away, but I did spend some good money on this” offer.  The shop owner was thankfully very forthright letting me know the condition history of the suit set.  The suit was originally so dirty when she got it there was ‘no choice’ but to throw it in the wash machine…which ended up shrinking the wool, making the lining’s stitching to fall apart and the metal buttons rust, thus causing brown staining.  She had then spray painted the buttons silver to cover the rust.  Ugh!  That one wash sure got the jacket clean but caused a MESS of problems for me to fix.  The shoulders pads had balled up and fallen apart inside, as well.  The left sleeve to the jacket was chewed up, but not by moths.  It looked like it had been caught in some machinery or run across something sharp that tore it up all the way down the underside from the elbow to the wrist.  Other than the sleeve, though, the body was luckily free of holes or fading.  The matching skinny straight skirt was generally fine, with a few fade spots and random holes.

The suit did fit me and with its lovely design lines and details, and felt I had to save it for all its potential still left.  I guess it’s like going to “just look” at a new puppy – I tried it on, so I was hooked.  The capability to give it the attention I felt it deserved is well in my ballpark, anyway.  The bittersweet fact is that many vintage suits do not have their matching skirt as this one, but that skirt was unfortunately sacrificed for the jacket to save face.  I was hopeful, but slightly doubting my efforts would turn out so well.

As it had been washed once already, I took the old buttons off, added stain remover to take out the rust marks, and washed it once again.  With the lining was loose, I could reach right into the jacket and take out the old shoulder pads and unpick the sleeves.  I unpicked them completely to use the pieces as a guide to trace out a pattern.  The new sleeves have their bias slightly off due to the size restrictions of the skinny skirt, but are overall the exact same.  Then, with the sleeve set in, new shoulder pads, and the lining all stitched up by hand, and the new buttons (pic below) as the icing on the cake, I must say this was an amazing renewal for a formerly desperate vintage item.  Now, with a new separates sewn to match, it really can shine again for years to come in my wardrobe.

The best basic perk is that it is nice to have a new suit jacket without all the effort of starting from scratch.  Besides – they just don’t make them like they used to anyway – in way of styling, fit, and material!  It’s more like the weight of a coat, it’s so lofty!  I am amazed at how sturdy this jacket is to have survived everything it has and still polish up like this.  It’s amazing enough to have something from the 40’s last until today as it is.  I do really think, from the look of the inside seams, the shoulder pads, and the lack of a label, that this could have been private seamstress or tailor-made, but it’s done so well, it’s hard to tell.  As it is now, how unique is a part me-made, yet still vintage garment?!  It’s ‘true-vintage-with-my-personal-touch’, I guess.

There are many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this blouse.  Firstly, it’s in a nice rich earth tone – not ugly or boring and uncomplimentary as some solid browns can be, but it has many undertones that I notice every time I wear it with a different color scheme.  Pictures do not do it justice.  Not your basic dirt shirt here!  Also, it was an easy make, coming together in no time, and it’s perfect for layering with the slimmed down details.  It’s a true 40’s pattern, yet without being as obviously vintage as some others, as this one’s lacking a giant sized collar and gathers in the body.  There still are the gathered sleeve caps, but there is giant darts that shape the chest from the bust up to the shoulder tops.  Looking at the pattern envelope front, this is primarily because it is designed to go under a jumper, but to me it is just as good on its own to change up my vintage style.  The simplified, toned-down details make this versatile to customization.  With a tweak here and a variation here, I can have a different style.  This time, nevertheless, I stuck to the original design and left it unchanged.

However, the best perk is that this pattern fits me like it was designed for my body in mind, and I can use it without needing to adjust anything.  Finding such a pattern in the world of sewing is a real treat.  They’re a true gem to hold onto (and copy!) when you have one, especially when it comes to vintage patterns, as sizing and fit standards have changed throughout the decades, and yet even for today as modern wearing ease can be unpredictable.  For this blouse pattern, I can just lay the tissue pieces out, cut it out, and whip it together, almost like I don’t really have to think much at all to do it.  I suppose the greatest demonstration for how much I treasure this pattern is the fact I have made three different versions of blouses using it, as you will see in the next few posts.  I really have been meaning to make the jumper, too, as I like the rest of the pattern so much!

The skirt was another quickie project, thankfully.  When making your own suit set, even though I didn’t start from scratch for the suit coat, sewing more than one garment to have an outfit can become wearisome by the time you come to the second or third item!  This is partly why I made sure that the skirt was so easy-to-make!  I kind of knew how this skirt would generally run a bit roomy, as I have made the trousers from the same pattern, so I had the assurance of what size to choose to fit as well as really liking the front curving detailing to the waistband!  I also love this skirt – it is a go-to item that matches with lot of other items that I have and has a nice dressed-up look without being too formal.

To make up for my limited fabric amount and to match up the plaid in a more pleasing manner, I went rogue against the grain line recommendations.  Don’t judge me here, please!  I rarely do this and then it’s only when I have thought things through.  The fabric was a tight, rather stiff man-made polyester so it was not going to have much of a grain line from the fabric, so I merely stuck with matching the plaid up well.  In order to fit the two skirt pattern pieces on my yard and s half, I stuck with the same tact as some of my other 40’s plaid skirts.  The A-line shape is emphasized by having the plaid line up horizontally on the side seams, while the plaid miters together at an angle in the middle front and back seams.  For a fabric more drapey, this layout probably would not work as well, but I like making the most of the little of what I had to make an idea work.

The finely detailed and openly-spaced plaid lends an interesting visual texture to the suit set, I think.  At first I wasn’t sure that such strong colors on my top half would overwhelm the muted but busy skirt fabric.  However, the plaid does have the tendency to look weird from a distance in the full shot pictures for some reason!  There is a sneaky bit of turquoise in the plaid actually, if you look up close.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, this is the first time I feel I have been able to assemble a cohesive outfit from garments across the entire decade of the 1940s.  The blouse is from the beginning of the era – year 1941 – when many styles were still very 30’s inspired, fully feminine and dramatically distinctive in the decade.  The suit is I suppose from circa 1946, when extra fabric was again allowed, as it has a longer length, flared peplum, and decorative pocket lapels.  The skirt is (again, from my estimation) a little later than the suit, circa 1947 or 1948, especially with the slightly longer length.  It was common for a woman from back then of the 1940s to have worn garments many years old already, but with all the inventiveness, the refashioning, and desire to not publicly show that rationing was putting a cinch in their fashion life, I imagine an outfit that spans 7 years might have been a stretch.

To me, I see set differences every two years at a time in the styles of the 1940s (such as hem lengths, sleeve styles, body emphasis), but I will leave a discussion of this for another time.  I will say that, for some reason, it seems the conventional stereotype for the 1940’s seems to be circa 1945, when skirts were quite slim and under the knee, as if the wartime fashion was the benchmark for the era.  In reality, there was so much variety in the decade that a dress for 1940 compared to one from 1949 would and could totally confuse someone as to how to “do” 40’s fashion.  There was as much going on in history at the time as there was in the garment realm, and so 40’s style can be all over the place!  There is no “one way”, and that’s the beauty of how the 1940’s can appeal to so many people with so many individual style tastes and body shapes.

I always like to respect the style differences I notice in each year of the 40’s because I see it as important to realize the rhyme and reason behind them.  However, my sewing is about personalizing fashion for me – after all I am the one making things – and learning and feeling fulfilled are the greatest perks I enjoy about it along the way.  Thus, I enjoy the fact that I am able to a slightly less predictable style of a blouse from pre-war, and incorporate it with a skirt from post-war, and a suit blazer from the very end of the time of the fighting and rationing.  I certainly did take a very “made do and mend” 1940’s attitude to the pitiful condition of the jacket as I found it!  I hope the original owner of this blue suit would be proud at how I saved it to reinvent a new suit set 70 years later.  1940’s year differences, modern fabrics, vintage tailoring, self-made fashion, and a refashioning mentality have all made peace together with my outfit!

Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part One, Teens Era

For the last few years on my blog, it seems as if I use the holiday of Valentine’s Day as an excuse to post about ‘underthings’ in February.  As much as I like sewing intimates, I really don’t like showing them off in public, even if it’s not myself modeling them!  However, they are so pretty, a bit challenging to make, something I am proud of, and very informative to learn from.  So, I’ll continue the trend for yet another year by sharing some of the historical and vintage base layer underclothes which have made some of the outfits from the past year before so successful! 

So – just to show how far history progressed towards “modern” underthings, and how quickly it happened in a short period of time (30 years), I will share lingerie that I have made of the 19-teens, 1920s, and 1930s into a ‘revealing’, two-part post series.  Sometimes you can recognize progress and differences better when we take an overall look behind!  This post will be about the finishing piece to my pre-World War I set – a princess seamed slip.  This slip is the in-between to the first layer of underclothes (posted about here) which are covered by the corset, and the true fashion garments such as a blouse, skirt, and/or dress (such as this 1914 outfit of mine).

A good outfit starts from the inside out, and this is especially true the further back in historical dressing you get.  Fashion affected the style of underclothes, but at the same time the underclothes also influenced the fashion.  It was a tug of war, a give and take, with one influencing the other and being influenced in return.  The silhouette that we know a year or decade in past fashion to have had that shape because of what came underneath.  At the same time, throughout the most recent centuries the shape of women has been controlled and dictated by the underclothes that are made and expected to be worn.  Thus, the clothes and what is under them both worked to craft a certain image.  When the mode of dressing changed, underclothes necessarily had to go adapt with it.  Sometimes, as in the case of closed crouch knickers or panties that appeared in the late teens or 20’s, the underwear – not the outerwear – was the first step towards a desire for change, a new, public demanded, progressive thinking for women.  This co-jointed history between the under and outer layers was especially true up until the 1960s primarily.

But even if your reasons are not at all for history’s sake, making vintage undies is awesome!  I find that the teens to 30’s variety are so much more comfortable to wear than modern underwear, and much more fun and easy to sew…yes, really!  Especially when you use the kinds of materials that they would have had (such as cotton or silk), do you really get the full effect of how luxurious and lovely such items can feel.  With all the wires, padding, and image crafting features that add to the difficulty in finding that perfect fit for modern (at least American) lingerie, vintage forms (circa late teens through the 30’s) let your body have its own natural glory, and merely cover in a beautiful fashion and (if anything) only lightly support compared to previous eras.  How can that not sound enticing?!

Time is not wasted either on making vintage underwear because generally they can still work for today’s living.  My teen’s era underlayers (sans corset) might look interestingly odd by standards of today, but are ridiculously comfy.  Granted, they won’t work well under modern clothes, but still would make great night wear.  Most historical base layers were meant to be interchangeably left on at the end of the day as night wear anyway!  My simple 1920s Kestos style bra is hands down the best ever for comfort and ease in– no wonder it was the one of the first commercially produced bra with separate cups!  And 1930’s tap pants and bandeau bras are indulgent little slices of the Hollywood finery which was a part of everyday day life back then – whether seen or unseen!  Both the Kestos bra and the 1930’s tap pants will be in the next post, but can definitely work into modern clothes, perhaps not the knit ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of fashions (with no zipper or tailoring), but definitely a nice, well-fitting skirt and blouse combo or dress.

Every little detail counts in sewing, but particularly so with vintage and historical underclothes.  Every ruffle has a reason and something as small as buttons over hook-and-eyes point to the state of events and conditions of living.  You can read old clothes, past sewing patterns, and out-of-print fashion images like a small history book if you look at them with the right eyes and inquiring mindset, and that is more than even true of underclothes.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton broadcloth – both bleached and unbleached.  The beige colored unbleached cotton is left over from my year 1920 blouse, posted here.  

PATTERN:  Past Pattern’s reprint of a Ladies’ Home Journal Pattern #9206, circa 1912 to 1916

NOTIONS:  I needed wide eyelet for the hem as a shortcut to making ruffles myself.  So, I bought some poly/cotton blend border-stitched eyelet, about 5 or 6 inches wide, at my local Jo Ann’s store.  The cotton, two-tone string that was used for the neckline also came from Jo Ann’s store, but had been bought on clearance the year before for another project.  All the rest of what I needed came from my Grandmother’s stash of vintage notions.   

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The slip was finished on March 10, 2017, after about 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The inner edges are basically overcast, for a simple but relatively clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  All cottons were on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting them as free, like the notions from my Grandma, so my only cost was the eyelet, which was rather pricey (so I think), about $15.

This was such an easy, fun, well-fitting, and pretty make, I’m tempted to make another one out of a fashion fabric, something other than basic cotton, so I can wear it as a nightgown!  As this is a veritable reprint of true original pattern, the instructions are one paragraph of text, crude and overly brief to the modern eye used to clear, pictorial, and long-winded explanations.  If you can be confident in yourself, and see the design lines, you will see that this is really simple requiring nothing really too out-of-the-ordinary or complicated.  I think of old sewing patterns’ basic instructions as not being simple so as to leave you hanging…just so you can prove to yourself you really know more than you think and can do well on your own!

When it comes to 1920’s and earlier, pattern sizing can be randomly ill-fitting or unexpected.  Not so with this pattern!  It says it’s for a bust 34”, which is technically too big of a size wearing the era appropriate corset, close enough to be just my size in modern ‘natural’ sizing.  I cut out the pattern “as-is”, with no changes to the sizing or anything whatsoever, and it turned out great!  You don’t really want this to be on the smaller fit, you want it to be loose and slightly blousey.  But at the same time, the lovely princess seamed shaping darts keep this slip skimming the body, and make it easy to tuck into the skinny, high-waited skirts of the era.  I love this pattern.

The neckline is nothing but a simple, skinny casing with a tie to bring it in a fit it around the neck.  I considered sewing on a separate bias band to do the job, but instead I turned under the neckline twice and had the string run through the hem that I made.  I used the silly, contrast two-tone string not only because it was on hand and it was cotton, but honestly – it’s a fun little touch.  You can’t tell me that just because those ladies back then were wearing corsets and looking all decent and lady-like that they didn’t have a little fun with their underlayers.  Besides, look at the hem…something this frilly is definitely fun!

I went for the shorter length and it ends on my 5’ 3” figure somewhere between mid-calf and my knee.  It only looks a lot longer in our pictures because of the fullness at the hem and also on account of the angle my cameraman (aka, husband) was using to take the pictures.  This length and version of the pattern is perfect for those early to mid-teens era fashions, with their long and skinny, tapered hems.  Hem ruffles and gathered fabric below the knee create the silhouette of the legs that marked this part of the decade.  Skirts and frocks at this time skinny high waists (slightly higher in the back), with long hiplines that flared out into the widest part – just above and/or below the knees – to taper back in at the hemlines.  As soon as I made this slip and had it on, it struck me…of course!  How else would a skirt or dress get such a pouf out in just the right place with a slip or petticoat with ruffles right there to do the job?  Poufy drawers help with that, too.  Here again, the underwear makes the styles, and the styles are made possible by the underwear.  On a practical basis, I would think that a shorter slip would also be good for being unencumbering to footwear of the times.  Women were often wearing high-lacing boots, or at least fancy, fine stockings with the then-new ankle baring heels.  Besides the hem of my historical fashions have very wide hems – this is the case of my 1914 hobble skirt that I have worn over my slip so far.  A shorter length slip would not be absolutely necessary until the fuller, easier-to-move-in fashions of the WWI era (1914 to 1918) arrived.

This slip does button down the back – a tell-tale sign that women at this time had assistants helping them in and out of their clothes.  The time of female independence had definitely not come yet and class gentrification was strong.  For my own slip, I made the back placket, and proper button holes with old teens era carved horn buttons to match…only to realize that it was generously sized enough that I didn’t need to unbutton it to get it on.  So, I just to stabilize the back, make sure it stays closed, and make things simpler in the long run, I hand tacked each button and button hole closed (for now, at least).

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s up with the weird paneling and funky colors to the back half?”  If you didn’t see it before, I guess you see it now.  I wanted to “make-do” with what I had so I went all experimental.  A few scraps of basic, white, cotton rectangles in weight matching the beige fabric were pieced together to form a solid back piece then hand-dyed the white scraps to match as best I could with what was on hand.  As much as I would like a “perfect” looking garment, I am much happier using up and making the most of what’s on hand.  Besides, doing something resourceful like this is much more satisfying in the long run, as well as giving me a much more interesting story to share!  After all, I feel that if I’m going to experiment on something, might as well do it on underwear.

This was my very first tea dye, and I am very pleased!  We happened to have cold brew instant tea bags on hand already, and I own the book “Making Vintage Accessories” by Emma Brennan (great book, btw) to show me how to do it.  I was so excited to see how the dye turned out that I now wish I had left it in the tub longer than 2 hours, but the color is closer than I imagined I would get at all, so I’m happy.  I did add salt so that the color would “set” so I don’t know if I could do It again for a darker color.  The color did not change much at all on the eyelet has it was a cotton and polyester blend.  Man-made materials are no fun – they do not have all the possibilities that a basic, traditional woven like cotton has!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the lingerie of the next two decades.

Metamorphosis

There can be no other garments to the home seamstress that feel unattainable, mysterious, and awe-inspiring than couture garments created by history’s greatest designers.  As beautiful as they are and after sighing over many for so many years, I recently was also thinking – why just gaze on such garments as a museum artifact?  Surely they are not being preserved, archived, and presented just to be admired a hands breath away or be a picture of what you read about in a book on fashion.  Could they be there not just to learn from but also to motivate one’s personal creativity?  Could they also be seen as a challenge to be understood?  How else to recognize or appreciate such stupendous, unrivaled garments unless their mysteries are deconstructed?

With these thoughts, I am now set on admiring such garments in a very tactile way, such as attempting the recreate one-off couture garments according to my own personal taste.  I am by no means claiming I’m in the same position of skill as history’s famous designers, nor do I see this as detracting from the uniqueness of the original garments of such designers when done with the proper respect and credit to the individuality of the existing garment.  An original piece from its maker is and will always be unique and unrivalled in matchless worth.  However, by trying to think like a designer towards both the sewing craft and the personality of fabric offers many opportunities to learn and advance personal ability.  But most importantly, there is the pure fact that by doing so, only increases the value of couture items in the eyes of one who tries to truly “copy” them, helping a sewist to realize the pure genius of designers and couture creators…details that others who know nothing of fabric are completely unaware of.  I have already successfully made a Vionnet design.  That was an amazing eye-opener.  Now, I’ve made my own version of Schiaparelli’s summer of 1937 butterfly dress and mesh duster coat.  Metamorphosis from the oppressive ‘shell’ of conventional home sewing habits like the insects on the garment I attempted to recreate is so redeeming and exhilarating.

I do feel as if I ‘broke free’ with this post’s make.  I did a whole lot of self-drafting and re-designing of existing patterns from the same time period which I loosely used as my base starting point.  I started with looking at a garment, understanding it from Schiaparelli’s perspective, then constructing from there. This method is a departure from the “normal” …”what pattern do I pick for this fabric” or “what fabric would go with this pattern” and following directions.  As I mentioned above, it was a very great learning process, but it also helped me see proportions and details of garments in a revealing way – this is the most important lesson I’m taking away from this, besides ending up with something so very close to my ultimate dream outfit!  Yet, for as wonderful as I feel wearing this, my face might not show because I was trying to imitate the emotionless stoicism of the classical-style 1930s designer photo shoots.  Believe me, I’m elated inside!

As this is my own knock-off interpretation of a designer garment, this is part of Linda’s “Designing December Challenge” at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” blog.  In this case however, from what I have discovered in my research on this particular set from Schiaparelli, my inspiration piece was not actually “designer” in the garment production sense of the word, not even made for commission.  It was a couture creation, a one-off, no-duplicates outfit made for her own enjoyment, herself to wear, and for fashion statement purposes, expressing the inner artist that she was.  If you would like to more pictures of her original outfit, visit my Pinterest board for that here.

For all that the butterfly print stands for on its own (more on that just below), I personally see this set as symbolizing a lovely elegance half confined, half complimented by the mesh duster coat, like a beautiful creature caught in a net.  The hood adds further restraint with an air of shy mystery, as beauty does not always like to be put on display, merely only respected for what is inherently is.

Fabric is here both full, flowing, and unrestricted yet also structured at the same time.  Fashion can be restricting or freeing, depending on how you wear it, choose to clothe yourself, or follow society’s expectations.  We tell others about ourselves by what we wear without ever needing to make a sound…let that message be a beautiful one that’s exactly what you want to say.  This outfit says a lot about how I feel in my current sewing skills and where I’m going.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress is in a thick yet soft premium 100% cotton, a M’Liss brand print from the now defunct Hancock Fabrics.  The mesh duster coat is made of a Kathy Davis brand knit, bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.

PATTERN:  Patterns I loosely based my own re-drafted designs on were – Simplicity #3508, year 1940 (made already – see the blog post); Butterick #8078, circa 1939; Simplicity #8447, a modern reprint of a 1940 pattern; and Hollywood #1391, a Glenda Farrell year 1937 pattern.

NOTIONS:  All I really needed was pretty basic – thread, interfacing, hook-and-eyes, and some ribbon from my stash.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 20 hours (not even counting the many hours drafting and tracing out patterns) and finished on August 1, 2017.  The mesh coat was made in another 20 plus hours and finished on August 19, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ insides are left raw to keep the bias free flowing, while the coat’s seams are finished by being covered in grosgrain ribbon to keep it clean, interesting, and stabilized with a hint of contrast.

TOTAL COST:  The mesh knit for my duster coat was bought over this past summer for about $30 on sale for the 3 ½ yards I bought…it was expensive but so worth it!!!  The butterfly cotton for my dress was bought at least 5 years back when I first had the idea to somehow make my own version of a Schiaparelli outfit.  After that many years back, I don’t remember cost, but knowing the price of M’Liss cottons I’m supposing about $12 for 3 ½ yards.  The rest of the notions I needed only cost a few extra dollars so I suppose my total is about $45, spread out over the course of several years.  This outfit has been so long in coming!!!

Butterflies were one Schiaparelli’s trademark symbols that she used on many occasions, along with her penchant for postal stamp prints.  Butterfly prints were one of the many custom printed fabrics made exclusively for her to create with and 1937 was a big year for it.  All in butterfly prints, she also made a simple dark crepe evening gown, another dress in a less formal “waltz-length”, a butterfly parasol (which you can see in some pictures we recreated in our own way), scarves (of course, she loved scarves!), and a suit jacket.  Wow!  That’s at least half a dozen butterfly creations in one year, counting my own outfit’s inspiration piece.  The next year, in 1938, she created an insect necklace and in 1940 she created an evening dress with a dramatic butterfly bodice.

Butterfly prints and embellishments have been and are still quietly but perennially popular even today, all thanks to Schiaparelli I would like to say.  See this beach set from Versace’s Spring 2018 RTW, or Moschino’s Silk tie-neck blouse for just two examples of butterfly prints for the year ahead, and this Burda Style magazine page from July of last year (2016) for a look behind.  Alexander McQueen is another well-known modern muse for the butterfly trend.  There can be found random examples of butterfly prints from most of all past decades since her (my favorite is this one from the Harper’s Bazaar in 1942).  Although insects were added on many ladies gowns in the earlier Regency period (roughly 1810 to 1820) as well, up until the last 70 years insects were seen as something oddly repulsive and unusual to have on women’s wear.  So, technically she wasn’t starting anything completely “new”, just finding a whole new way to express it to a receptive audience at the perfect moment in time.  People seem to have moved on from a fabric print or clothing decoration reminding them of creepy crawlies on their body.  I’m assuming that the popularity of butterflies in fashion has been lost in the muddle of frequent use and is not manifested for the same lovely reasons as the ones Schiaparelli for which was entranced by the transforming creatures.

Elsa Schiaparelli felt that she herself and many of her friends and clients did not have the expected societal norms of beauty in face and/or figure.  The manner in which one has to wait and see through the unsightly caterpillar stage to see the final gloriousness of the flying butterfly stage gave a message of internal beauty and hope for redemption.  Also, a butterfly was also seen to mirror the work she could do with her garments – the way a well-designed and expertly constructed piece of clothing can transform any body into something only imagined is indeed magical!  Besides, there was the Surrealist movement’s influential touch, of which she was a major participant in as she was friends of artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and Man Ray, often collaborating with them on sewing projects.  The Surrealist movement wanted in itself to challenge accepted notions and ways of thinking, and find new outlooks of seeing everyday objects and situations in a new light.  Using butterflies showed their desire for change, offering the unexpected in a background others can generally relate with in a way that dares our set conceptions.

My own fabric is admittedly not entirely butterflies – it also includes dragonflies.  However, I see this as very appropriate and only adding to the message.  Dragonflies also undergo a sort of metamorphosis – they live a good part of their lives as ugly, mud-colored slightly monstrous looking nymphs or naiads in the water.  Then they come out of the water to break from their shell complete with beautiful, sun reflecting wings to enchant us with their color and agile movements.  Sadly, the stage that we know them by out of the water is the end of their lives, only lasting a few weeks or so of bittersweet beauty.  My fabric is also only a basic cotton, while Schiaparelli’s original sundress was a fine silk satin.  If these facts don’t further embody the whole “transformation of understanding loveliness” ideal, I don’t know what will.

From what I have seen on juniors and teens patterns of the late 1930s, Schiaparelli butterflies were popular in print and style suggestion with young fashion.  I have seen several patterns with giant poufy sleeves which are gathered down the middle to resemble butterfly wings at the top of the arms.  This McCall #9335 pattern from July 1937 is the best example of young ladies’ Schiaparelli inspired style!  In fact Schiaparelli’s style in general was popular with the youth and it makes sense that the younger people (besides her rich socialite clients) would be happy and willing to accept her idealism. Thus, I found it appropriate to use another junior misses’ design, a Butterick #8078 pattern from my stash, as the base to adapt and redraft my pattern for this sundress’ bodice.  Butterick is a year 1939 juniors ensemble which reminds of the style of Schiaparelli (in the late 30’s Butterick came out with a few “designer inspired” patterns).  It is very similar to her fascination for playful yet structural interest around the neck, face, and shoulder line that would reoccur every so often (see this 1948 winter set with even more exaggerated features than my sundress).

It was the neckline that takes the main interest and was the greatest challenge to making this dress.  I had to put myself in the mentality of working with the nature and drape of the fabric to figure out how part of it can be so structured yet supple, with the rest flowing on the bias.  In the end, I interfaced the edge about 5 inches down from the neckline edge, and faced it.  Then a self-fabric, interfaced strip was attached underneath to invisibly hand tack down the neckline rolls.  Interfacing the straight necklines worked out well to keep them crisply linear and support the rest of the long dress.  I have no idea if this method is anything close to how Schiaparelli engineered her neckline, but this was the way that seemed the most simple and made the most sense to me.  She probably made her neckline in some way that would blow the mind.

I realize the original dress had some sort of soft pleats at the front ends of the neckline, where the shoulder straps join.  But as my dress did not seem to like that in the front, I let the fabric do its own thing and keep the pleats in the neckline ends at the back only for a smoother front.  I do love how the wide neckline over-exaggerates the shoulders how have a strong T-silhouette to lengthen the body line in this bias dress.  The original dress had deep armholes and I followed that on my copy to have the free and breezy free arm look of this sundress.  Luckily, though, my placement of the sleeve straps and the armpit dip was adjusted so that I can still wear my regular lingerie!

Schiaparelli’s original dress also had an inverted-V bodice which comes to just above the hip bones at the side seams.  The bodice also has a slight poufy fullness to it at the seam, with a two piece bias skirt below.  I was able to get all of this by redrawing the bodice and skirt of my nightgown Simplicity #3508.  However, to further shape my dress, there are tiny tucks in the skirt where it meets the points of the bodice at the side seams.  This is where I realized proportions are very important to get a specific fit and drape on the body for the desired effect.  I also realized there is no closure needed, amazingly…this is one of the most elegant slip-on dresses I could have imagined!

For the mesh over-jacket, I realize that Schiaparelli’s original was more of an open netting over a tighter, smaller netting.  Mine is similar in styling and ideal, and every bit of luxurious practicality.  I mostly stuck to the original basics of Hollywood #1391 from 1937 (the right year!) to cut it out.  I over-laid the pieces together so that there would be none of the original princess seams and therefore minimal design lines.  The main seams were going to be clearly obvious and showing – that is part of the intended appeal – so I was paring unnecessary ones down.  Where the princess seams had been, I changed the amount of difference to simple darts above and below the waist instead.  As I was working with a knit, and it was only a jacket, this was also a very good fail proof way to sort of muslin this Hollywood pattern since I intend to make another version into a dress at some point!  It was really the easiest part of the whole set to make, just tricky due to the open fabric.

The pointed collar to the jacket needed to be interfaced and have structure like the neckline of the sundress underneath, so I used navy blue mesh tulle netting.  This worked like a charm and indistinguishable!  I also added inner sleeve cap supports of more tulle at inside at the shoulder tops so that I would have uber-poufy sleeves that would obnoxiously stand out on their own just like on the original!

I could not find what the hood on the Schiaparelli original looked like in shape so I allowed myself whatever was available.  The new Simplicity vintage winter and fall 1940 separates was an opportunity to again test out (at least, in part) a pattern I want to make again, and stick to the same time frame of years with the patterns I am using.  I had no trouble making the hood, although I needed to add in an extra pleat to make the neckline smaller.  Only, I liked the way the jacket looked both with and without the hood!  I didn’t exactly want to commit to one or the other, so I made the hood removable!  How?  I added half a dozen snaps along the bottom of the hood to match with other side of the snaps in the inside of the neckline to the jacket.  I will definitely make the next hooded dress, jacket, or whatever I make with it removable in this same way!

The front of the jacket has the option to close with sliding hook-and-eyes.  Most of the time I like it open, or just the one at the waist closed.  When I wear the dress’ matching neck ascot scarf with my jacket on, it really has the summer ideal of winter bundling!  Surrealist contrasts in action!

To complete my outfit, I adapted a long rectangle scrap of my dress’ fabric to have flared ends and interfaced inside with organza for an easy ascot.  My wood and fabric parasol is something I acquired about 12 years back at a re-enactment.  It has a simple floral design hand-painted on a small section of it.  What I did in the blank section to simulate idea of the original matching parasol was to add a handful of my Grandmother’s many butterfly pins and brooches.  Butterflies had been a source of joy and interest in her life, especially as she had a thriving flower garden for many years.  She loved nature and appreciated it in a way I can only wish to emulate.

Butterflies have a way of entrancing us.  Their fragility yet endurance and strength lends a mix that is their privilege.  Their freedom to come and go across our path as they please, to randomly and unexpectedly light up a moment in our life, is no doubt a big part of their charm.  A favorite author of mine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, once said that “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  I’ll leave you with that.