An “Appointment” with the Baroque

The word “baroque”, widely used since the nineteenth century, comes from the Portuguese word “barroco” meaning “misshapen pearl”, a negative description of the ornate and heavily embellished music of this period (circa 1600 to 1750). The name has also come to apply to the architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, dance, as well as fashion of the same time period.  The Baroque style is characterized by exaggerated details and sensuous richness used to produce a sense of drama, exuberance, and grandeur. 

There is no better example of this rich style of dressing in our modern fashion than the two designer lines of both Dolce & Gabbana and Versace.  Am I a too much of a rebel to admire both enough equally to combine their distinctive elements into one self-made interpretation of Baroque dressing?  How about adding some Hollywood inspiration to the mix as the base for my creative efforts?  The film industry and designer clothing goes together quite often after all!  In this dress, I will pretend to be a wealthy aristocrat strolling to the music of Bach in my private rose garden for a true Baroque experience.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester scuba knit in a large scale paneled print, with the bodice edges faced in a beige cotton-poly broadcloth (which ends up being interfaced, too); the button placket edges are of a heavyweight cotton sateen (leftover from this blouse)

PATTERN:  Advance #5550, from July of 1950

NOTIONS:  All I practically needed was a lot of thread and some interfacing.  The closures of the dress required one small skirt side zipper (7 inch) and lots of buttons.  Luckily, back in 2011 I had bought two packs of “Dress It Up” buttons, and I used some from both the “Victorian Miniatures” pack as well as the “Nostalgic Treasures” pack.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finally finished on September 9, 2020 after about 30 something hours spent to retrace and grade out the pattern, assemble the dress multiple times to make up for the bad fit, and then all the finishing details.

THE INSIDES:  left raw as scuba does best

TOTAL COST:  This material was sent to me in April 2018 for free.  It was part of my prize from “Minerva Crafts and Fabrics” for winning the 2017 Vintage Pledge sponsored by Marie at “A Stitching Odyssey”.

A recent purchase of a new-to-me vintage pattern had interesting features that I saw as a probable compliment to my paneled, oversized scuba print.  All the scallops along the bodice edges and the basic blocked bodice and skirt pieces were a natural pairing to my prize fabric and worked well with the rolling print and oversized scale of the fabric.  The scuba knit made construction a bit easier (no edge finishing needed, either) and provided the dress some ‘body’ without stiffness.  After all, this was my excuse to get around to using my amazing supplies of both pattern and fabric sooner than later!  Besides, after the previous post, I can still stay on-topic by continuing to explore the possibilities of neoprene material for something that is true vintage, designer inspired, and a movie style all-in-one. 

As is alluded to on the pattern cover, the dress’ design was first worn by the actress Jan Sterling, designed by Mary Kay Dodson, a costume designer who worked under Edith Head at Paramount, under contract between 1944 and 1951.  (If you’re feeling curious, just look at this fantastic chartreuse suit Dodson designed for another movie!

The dress from my pattern is out of an old Noir genre movie which tells the story of a fictional peril to the United States Postal Service, titled “Appointment with Danger” starring Alan Ladd.  The film was lucky to have just be seen by audiences – having gone through several names and stalling for almost 5 years before being released.  (This is why the pattern cover has a different title for the same movie!)  Besides the sultry Jan Sterling, there is no other real female fashion inspiration to “Appointment with Danger” so it’s a good thing her few dresses were fantastic when compared to the only other woman in the film, a religious nun, Sister Augustine as played by Phillis Calvert.   

Dolce & Gabbana have a religious flair to many of their creations, paired with the frequent Sicilian influence (the cultural roots of Domenico Dolce), and so for me the gold scrollwork often calls to mind an old church or Renaissance opulence.  One of the pieces from their fourth collection was labeled “The Sicilian Dress” by the fashion press, and was named by author Hal Rubenstein as one of the 100 most important dresses ever designed.  Rubenstein described the piece in 2012 by writing, “The Sicilian dress is the essence of Dolce & Gabbana, the brand’s sartorial touchstone.”  

Yet, at the same time, the 2018 Met Gala theme of “Heavenly Bodies” solidified the manner by which the house of Versace could also mimic the same vein as Dolce & Gabbana, as seen on the late but great Chadwick Boseman.  Versace is commonly known for its striking use of chains as a print and large scale panels.  However, both do frequently use the primary colors of white, black, a golden yellow as well as interesting textures and feminine styles. 

I heavily referred to Dolce & Gabbana directly by my details – choice of buttons, the red rose hair corsage I made, and my Sam Edelman brand leather platform heels in animal print.  I really don’t have many sets of 12 buttons, and none of them paired well with this dress, so I went with the showy and eclectic answer of using all different buttons on this unconventional dress project. (See the “Notions” section of “The Facts” above.)  All the buttons luckily need the same size button hole and all are fully workable buttons (and button holes) – no fakes just for show. The most interesting ones – a cherub’s head, a Fleur-dis-lis, and a sun – are all along the shoulder while several miss-matching round golden buttons are along the sides under my arms.  I love the subtlety but unusualness of it, but in reality doing so helped clear out my random buttons from my stash and stayed true to the “more is more” spirit of Dolce & Gabbana. 

My Versace tribute is in my fabric’s print and by wearing vintage chain jewelry.  My jewelry is from my Grandmother and by a well-respected small Italian designer who came to America at the end of WWII.  “Jewels by Julio” items are said to be are hard to find today.  Such marked pieces are by Julio J. Marsella, who created high quality jewelry from 1946-1957. He was a perfectionist who sang Italian Opera with the same skill that he created jewelry. His jewelry was considered to be on par with Hobe, Hattie Carnegie, and Dior (by Kramer) pieces for quality and desirability.  It is most likely only plated and has a warm authentic gold color that has aged nicely and pairs well with my dress.  Even though the actual print of my fabric is more Dolce & Gabbana, the colors and the way it is laid out is very Versace.  There are still chains in the borders to the panels, after all.   

My heart will always be tied to Italy, especially Milan, the founding place for both companies.  My first trip out of my country and into Italy was a 3 day visit to that town!  Thus, this outfit takes me back in sentiment to a place I remember so vividly as the experience of a lifetime.  As a 19 year old, I was unfortunately not equipped with the pocketbook to splurge on things I had then admired in the store windows.  Yet, now I can sew whatever I set my mind to.  This outfit is my hometown, homemade version of a replacement!  Thus, my post’s outfit is also my submission for Linda’s “Designin’ December 2020” challenge at the blog “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!”

For the 2 ½ yards of fabric which were gifted to me, there were 3 ½ panels for me to work with for my dress.  Two of the panels immediately went towards the front and the back of the skirt respectively.  The last full panel went toward to the bodice, both front and back.  I added a center front vertical seam to accommodate the way I wanted the print to lay.  With the main border running up either side of the front center seam, the torso is lengthened visually to offset the full, wide skirt.  The angled, radiating front bust darts nip in the waist perfectly – just as I hoped – by creating the image of the sides to the bodice wrapping over the center border.  The back bodice reminds me of a glorious chandelier the way the scrollwork seems to drip down from my shoulders.  I wanted to widen my shoulders from behind with this layout, and thereby complement the waist in a different manner than what I employed for the front.  I had to get inventive as I had limited fabric to work with.  I do love a good sewing challenge…with exceptions.

After all the raving and seeming glowing words I have given my outfit so far, reaching the point where the dress was actually wearable and properly fitting me was a very frustrating journey.  The proportions to the dress pattern were so completely off whack that I was mind blown.  Yes – I love the final result of my dogged determination to see this project perfected.  Yet, what was shown on both the cover drawing and the line art specifics was something so very different than what the actual tissue paper turns out.  All the details shown were still there.  However, where the skirt and bust landed on me were all wrong.  I should have listened to my gut instinct when I noticed such on the tissue…only I’ve never seen a pattern this far off and considered that I must have been the one measuring wrong.  Nope!  This one pattern has both a sizing and proportions problem, the likes of which I have never seen.  If I hadn’t been using the very forgiving and easy-to-work with scuba knit, this dress would have easily become a sewing project straight from hell.  

The actual size of the pattern was very tiny (a 28 inch bust!!) and so I graded up an inch less than what I assumed I needed due to working with a stretch knit.  Width wise grading was the only adaptations I traced out when prepping this pattern, and my work was not the cause of my issues with the design.  I did notice right off the bat when laying out the pieces and checking measurements on the tissue pattern that the waist length from shoulder to skirt seam was really quite long…and I only trimmed off 2 inches because even that much taken off seemed extreme, right?!  I also lengthened the center-radiating, French-style bust darts to actually come up to where they should on me.  I sewed up most all of the dress, stitching once and tried it on.

Agh!  The ‘waistline’ ended at my high hip, the front bodice was still huge, and the neckline was so small I couldn’t even button it closed.  After lots of unpicking of thread, cutting of new seams, and even some crying, I started fresh again.  I cut off another 2 inches from the bodice length, stitched in the vertical center bodice seam making the front smaller by 2 inches, and cut the V neckline lower by 2 inches as well, then finally sewed the uber-gathered skirt in again and called it good.  Let’s realize I took out a total of 4 inches from the length of the bodice!  The line drawing shows the ‘waistline’ should have where my hips are…so weird!  Something went wrong with this pattern because even a long-torso woman could not be 20 something inches from the shoulder to the waist. 

I lost each one of the bottom side scallops in the process of re-fitting.  See how the movie dress has four on each side and I only have 3 on each side.  That worked for me because I didn’t have any more buttons anyway.  How in the world did the four button arrangement work on the movie dress with actress Jan Sterling still having a naturally placed waistline for the dress?!  Were the scallops drafted smaller, maybe half the width as the Advance pattern’s?  Did Ms. Sterling have an impossibly tiny Barbie sized neck?  Perhaps the Advance pattern wasn’t even directly drafted from the movie dress at all, like I am assuming. I’ll never know.  Nevertheless, all is well that ends well, as the saying goes, and the good thing is no one would ever guess the troubles and frustrations it took to finish my outfit.

There was a nearby companion to my photo shoot who did not have to go through the bother I did to look so striking.  It was a Yellow Garden Spider, waiting it in its web for an evening snack.  This is a larger spider than what I am used to seeing around town – several inches in diameter when you include the long legs – and it was rather creepy to see an arachnid in the garden which would take up the whole palm of my hand.  It was matching me in color and was too dramatic of a creature to not appreciate, though!  This is exactly the kind of thing I could see becoming inspiration for a designer dress.  Let’s talk about the killer print that spider is wearing on its back!!  Its scientific Latin name translates to “gilded silver-face”.  For having a plain term for its English name, this spider could be baroque by the way it has drama, loads of interest to its details, and it still respectfully regal.   

This is a fun and different thing for me to make that is still so very wearable.  Dressed in this, it brightens my day, brings a smile to my face, and makes me swish around feeling imaging myself a princess for the moment.  The fact that I have on some higher-end brand, extreme 5 inch heels feeds my unreasonable enjoyment for tall shoes.  (They not only lengthen my legs but bring me up to my hubby’s stature level, he he).  Being a modern scuba print and not something heavily embroidered or fine silk like a true designer item keeps it more akin to ‘normal’ – albeit fancy – clothes.  Upon arriving at the first place I wore this dress, I immediately received compliment.  Apparently my dress must share with its viewers the same happy feeling I have when wearing it!  This is proof that making my own spoof on something designer I have admired for years ends up doing good all around, much more so than if I had broken my bank account to splurge on a true Versace or Dolce & Gabbana.  Dolce himself has said, “A dress should live the personality of the woman who wears it.”

There is still time to create your own designer inspired ‘copy’ for “Designin’ December” since the challenge runs until the end of the year!  

Dior Animal

If – according to Stacey Londonanimal prints are really a neutral, than what color do I pair best with itI have made a few other animal print garments before, so how do I make yet another stand out from the rest?  Which direction do I go to sew something fantastic with some precious leopard print scraps from my Grandmother?

Christian Dior, Paris, France autumn-winter 1947

By using that old opinionated quote to start things in this post, I am only hinting that I merely went back to the very source of a very long-running ‘trend’.  That was the best way in my theory to find suitable direction.  I happily ended up with the ultimate self-made designer copy of a standout garment which is burned indelibly in fashion history.  I drew direct inspiration from a rich green, leopard contrast, fur-muffed coatdress in the premiere collection of Dior in late 1947.  Now I have my own fabulously warm yet classy home couture garment for “Designin’ December” 2019 challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice Dress! Thanks, I made it!!”.  I totally look forward to the chilly weather just for the opportunity to wear this special yet unusual combo of both coatdress and muff with a strong vintage panache!

There is perhaps no other designer of the 20th century who has remained so perennially popular and widely imitated quite like Dior.  Next to Chanel’s “little black dress” stereotype, Dior’s “New Look” of 1947 has become its own icon, a bigger than life story.  Yet, with all popularity and familiarity the Dior silhouette has become, it is not always recognized back to its proper designer source by people.  To highlight the most modern example of this, the popularity of the show “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” is now encroaching on the Dior glory, and many recognize the nipped waist, full-skirted, multi-seamed “princess” silhouette as being linked to the personal style of a fictional character.  The situation is not too different with the ever popular animal print in fashion.  It has been so overused as a movie character’s visual aid and featured in the collections of many prominent designers up until this day, that I wonder just how many people really know the influence Dior had on popularizing such a material design.  The silver screen has a powerful way of influencing fashion like no runway show has!

The democratizing of couture fashion, which started in the 1930s, certainly made a major impact on the Dior New Look post WWII, with many companies (from the “American Dior” Anne Fogarty to home sewing patterns like the one I used here) offering means of achieving a French high end style on any budget no matter where you live.  Although many countries, especially the United States (I’m thinking of you, Claire McCardell), showed their capability to offer creative, trend-setting fashion during WWII privations.  As soon as peace was signed, French clothiers were more than ready to regain their previous place of esteem.

With his premiere collection in the year 1947, Dior has afterwards never been really far from the spotlight of fashion, never not making some reflection into the current clothing trend of the time.  Yet for all the commonness of the princess silhouette of the 50’s, it still has not lost its luster of attractiveness, that aura of beautifully crafted design lines which makes both those lacking in sewing knowledge and those well-versed in it marvel alike at the creation of such structured, wonderful garments.  Here’s what I hope is a worthy tribute to the perfection of the very first vision of Dior’s popularity, wild animal that it is!  Practicing couture techniques, working at a slower pace, trying to primarily use invisible hand-stitching, executing professional finishings, and using high quality materials on this project all were due in part to being inspired after attending the exhibit earlier in the year at Denver, Colorado “Dior: From Paris to the World”.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  COATDRESS: 100% wool felt, 1/8 inch thick, in a forest green and a 100% cotton flannel for the animal print contrast; MUFF: a faux fur and anti-pill fleece

PATTERN:  COATDRESS – Vintage Vogue #9280, a reprint from 2017 of a year 1948 pattern, originally Vogue #491 Couturier Design; MUFF – Simplicity #4851 (also printed as no.8910) a circa 1840s to 1860’s accessories pattern from 2003 by designer Andrea Schewe

NOTIONS:  nothing extraordinary was needed – thread, interfacing, a zipper for the side, and a button (in my case I used a kit to cover my own to match the leopard print), and stuffing with decorator’s cording for the muff

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My version of this dress involved much hand-stitching because I wanted invisibly finished edges and higher-end techniques, but even then, it took a relatively reasonable time for those details – it was made in about 40 hours (maybe more) and finished on March 25, 2019.  The faux fur muff was made in 2004, if I remember correctly, and only took 3 hours or less to make from start to finish!

THE INSIDES:  The dress’ flannel is interfaced along its edges, and the wool felt needs no finishing, so all edges are au natural!  The muff has all enclosed edges.

TOTAL COST:  The wool felt was from my local fabric store, and was originally over $20 a yard, but with my discount on top of a sale, I bought all of the 3 ½ yards I needed for only $30…how’s that for a deal?!  The leopard print is free, coming out of the fabric stash of my Grandmother.  I am also counting the muff as good as free because the materials were bought for me by my mom and I made it so long back…but in reality I used less than half a yard of both materials so this was probably a pretty low cost project…even with me picking out some really nice fake fur!  Altogether, the only real cost was the $35 for the dress!

Leopard print and a saturated green seem to be the quintessential combo (next to leopard and bright red) when looking through past fashion inspiration beside Dior’s 1947 coat.  I’ve noticed an explosion of green paired with animal prints starting in the 1920s and most frequently used on such items as nice suits and detailed coats.  Such a pairing was featured through respected sources – fashion illustrations, style magazines, pattern book covers, and Hollywood starlets.  I in fact have a 1930s French fashion print of a green coat, with leopard accents and a muff (see it here), framed on the wall of my sewing space!  You can browse through my related Pinterest board “Animal Prints“ for further sources and inspiration.

Rather than creating a line-for-line recreation of the Dior coat, I preferred to mix the influence of other pieces that inspired me and use a Vogue Couturier reissue for my means of interpretation.  No matter what designer I am inspired by, I love to stay true to my own tastes and respect the original creation I have my eye on by varying my version.  This Vintage Vogue reissue was supposedly directly inspired by Dior’s coats and dresses of his first big year, but the pattern itself is dated to the year after – 1948.  That is enough of a provenance for me to be happy, but also not feel like I am taking anything away from the designer except a good lesson in sewing.

I kept closely to the pattern, except for switching up the contrast box pleat in the skirt from the back to the front, making the added collar and cuffs not removable but permanent, as well as simplifying the means of bodice button closing.  I personally hate skirt back box pleats – they never stay looking perfectly creased and I always see them as progressively becoming more messy and out-of-place with every sit.  When you smash a complex fabric fold like a box pleat under your bum, things cannot bode well.  Thus, I switched that detail to the front, using the exact same pattern piece as was given for the back.  I love the fact that the front box pleat makes my version of the pattern appear to be even more of a coat-and-dress combo piece than the original design intended.

The pattern called for cufflink-style button closing in the bodice, and as much as I like the idea of it and how unusual it would be, thinking about that detail actually enacted brings to mind something bulky and fussy in the wrong place.  I wanted to make my own buttons out of the contrast leopard as well as continue the aura of this being a coat, and so one simple button in the front does more, in my opinion, with less.  My sole button also keeps the tummy area nicely flat and the bodice flaps out of the way!  I had to add a small leopard print square panel underneath the front closing just to fill in for when it does gape slightly (because there is only one button there), but as I mostly wear a lightweight knit top underneath my dress, I don’t really need that extra piece anyway.

As intimidating as this might look, this design was not hard to sew – it’s just tricky and needs precise execution.  I love every item that I sew (otherwise I would re-work it ‘til I was!), but not too often am I left in absolute wonderment and find myself humbled and respectful of what I just made.  I am not meaning this in a bragging way, only meaning that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to use such an ingenious pattern and successfully made something of it, this is really that good.  The front is practically one long piece with dizzying curves and odd bust darting.  The back is one piece brought in by darts which meet together to form a V above the waistline (quite tricky).  The back of the collar joins to the bodice in a lovely point (weirdly not in the line drawing).  The sleeves form the perfect fit for elbow room the way they subtly flare out, just right for showing off the cuff lining if you don’t always want to fold up the hem.  Everything altogether feels very fine indeed, and is so complimentary in all the best ways.  I found the fit to be pretty spot on – I graded between sizes according to the chart and I didn’t need to do any additional tailoring.  The bust and the sleeves tend be on the smaller side, just a bit, than I would like but all’s well that ends well!

The wool felt that I used for my dress was important for me to use on several levels.  However, first of all, it is such a beautiful material – so lofty for winter wear that keeps you warm yet breathes, easy-to-sew, easy to iron, and not itchy at all!  That being said, it had the perfect structure for this dress, as well.  The thick wool felt is stiff enough to make this coatdress keep a very stable shape without the need to add interfacing, horsehair trim at the hem, a crinoline slip, or boning along the insides like many tailored 50’s garments (and all Dior one’s!).  At the same time, it is soft enough to work with the curving seams perfectly, and be comfy to wear as well as simple to use.  Now that is a big win!

Mostly, though, aside from aesthetics, I wanted to use felt for the historical significance.  As I talked about in the beginning of my post, the Dior look was so popular that fashionistas on a budget immediately found ways to acquire the same thing through a different means.  Perhaps no other attempt at this is as well-known as the stereotypical “poodle skirts”.  The performer/singer Juli Lynne Charlot is credited for inventing the felt circle skirt in 1947.  Today they are loosely called “poodle skirt” because of the popularity of one of her many (frequently dog inspired) novelty pictures above the hem.  They had a humble beginning as her response to both finding a cheap and practical way to wear the newest Dior look as well as find a means of making money.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it, and as felt is made with a wide width, it’s perfect for a seamless circle skirt…just a hole in middle for the waist and you’re done!  By 1952, Juli Lynne had her own factory and was producing patterns.  You can read an excellent interview with Juli Lynne on this blog page from “The Vintage Traveler” where you can see images of her life and career, and more recently (August 22, 2019) “Dressed” had a podcast on this subject.

According to the blog interview at “The Vintage Traveler”, Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  I like that idea, too.  My clothes frequently get people talking, asking, me questions, or sharing the memories my style conjures!  This Dior inspired coatdress of mine so far has garnered many compliments, a few “oh, I sew too!” shares (this is the best), and even a few of the older generation telling me I remind them of classic Christmas movies or something a dear relative wore in their younger years.  It is all very sweet!  I am secretly a very social and people-loving person at heart, anyway, but experiences like that connect what I do (sewing) and the vintage styles I wear in a very meaningful manner both to me and the world around me.

The ‘Dior-ness’ of my outfit is fully continued with my accessories.  I am quite proud to sport a true Dior belt buckle.  I realize it is of a newer vintage (probably 80’s), but it has the name across the middle and carries the same idealism of the 1947 original that I was imitating.  Not too often do I get to go ‘all out’ and both find and buy a pricey designer brand item to complete one of my outfits, so doing it this time was a real treat!  I my garment is not instantly recognized for its Dior influence, my low-key but still obvious belt buckle will spell it out.  My earrings are French Dior-style studs, with a ball in front and one behind the lobe to cover the stud.  I couldn’t find a true Dior pair of earrings I could rationally afford after splurging on buckle, so I ordered the bronze ball/crystal back ones you see here from the Etsy shop “ArtandFact“.  My hat is a true vintage post WWII piece, and my shoes are Miz Mooz brand vintage reproduction heels.

Last but not least, my faux fur muffler needs a few words to be said for it!  It was made by me about 15 years in the past now when I wanted to get into Civil War reenacting and start with something fun which might be worn for other occasions.  I don’t remember much about it other than it was super fail-proof and ridiculously easy for a newbie like me (back then) to sewing with fur, and I used a bag of fiberfill polyester.  I rather wish I would have used something nicer than fleece for the inside but it does keep my hands so very warm!  I added the cording to make it less fussy and wearable over the shoulder or around the neck.  Without its cord, the muff would always need to be held, and I am the type who would grow weary of that and set it down to mistakenly forget it somewhere…never to be seen again.  Can’t you tell I’ve done such a thing before?!  A furry muffler is such a practical luxury item (it’s both glamorous yet good at keeping your hands from freezing) that happily came back as a trend in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  One day, I want to tweak this pattern and make another version in a faux astrakhan that is secretly a wallet inside, just as they did in the 40’s!

If you’ve made it this far down reading through my thorough post, thank you!  Well, this about wraps it up here for this decade.  I’ve been blogging for 8 out of the last 10 years, and am so grateful to each and every one of you for following, liking, and commenting!  I’ve been putting pressure on myself to decide what would be perfect to share in a post before a new decade.  Nevertheless, I realized it is just yet another year, and I have plenty more good stuff to share here and to do in the background just like this past one!  Life goes on and I’m looking forward to many more years of sewing and writing about it here!  This Dior coatdress was my chosen holiday outfit for this year.  It was the one I wore for our Christmas card pictures, after all, so I felt my end of year outfit to share was rather a natural choice.  Taking part in the “Designin’ December” challenge always ensures that I have a really amazing project to reveal and wear at the end of the year, anyway!

I Got Big Sleeves, and Don’t Care!

Last years’ “Designin’ December” challenge hosted by Linda at “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” gave me the gumption to step up and make my own personal version of a 1937 Schiaparelli outfit I had long admired.  Well, this for this year’s 2018 Challenge I’ve chosen another Schiaparelli design to sew up in my own interpretation!

I was determined to be inspired by a Schiaparelli creation that has always amazed and mystified me – a Spring year 1951 voluminous sleeve blouse made of organdy, worn with a slim satin skirt, modeled in the original photo by Della Oake (click on “Show More” to read about her).  How was this garment to wear and move about in?  What is the symbolic inspiration Schiaparelli was thinking when designing it?  As a seamstress’ point of view, how were those sleeves made?  What did their pattern look like?  All these questions in my head could only be answered if I made my own version, I felt.  This is what I love about the “Designin’ December” challenge…I use it to push my boundaries and learn new things.  This project definitely has done that for me again.

I tried my best and, although my sleeves are not anywhere as dramatic as the original which inspired me, I am happy to say I think I succeeded in making a comparably impressive and recognizably similar blouse.  This doesn’t just meet look-alike appearances…it also has a generous movement for any pose or movement.  Yay!  I can officially say I am ending my 2018 year of sewing with a big bang!

My outfit is completed worn with a true vintage silk faille black pencil skirt and my Grandmother’s vintage earrings.  The vintage skirt is the bottom half of an old local “Martha Manning” brand suit set that I have dated with near certainty to 1952.  So my skirt is also very age appropriate to the date of my inspiration blouse!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a “burnout” velvet, also called “devoré” fabric

PATTERN:  self-drafted sleeves, but the cuffs and main body are from a vintage year 1951 McCall’s #1651

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread and a fabric covered button kit (¾ inch)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was finished on December 20, 2018 after 30 something hours spent to make it.

THE INSIDES:  All fancy and clean in French seams.  As this is a sheer blouse and the material is very delicate and fine, French seams were the only way to go!

TOTAL COST:  On sale, with an end of the bolt discount since I took everything that was left, I bought almost 3 yards for the price of one regular price yard – $30.

People say that high fashion/designer style doesn’t make much practical sense.  This particular Schiaparelli blouse, when shared on social media, seems to frequently receive comments that compare it to having wings for flying, or picture the mess those sleeves would cause during serving or preparing a meal.  In reality, yes – that would be a problem and no, we can’t fly with some full sleeves.  As I have quoted before, though, Stefano Gabbana (of Dolce & Gabbana) has said, “Fashion makes people dream -this is the service it gives.”  Regular everyday clothes are boring and practical enough, in my opinion.  We need gloriously inventive and fantastically impractical clothes to realize something different and amazing is out there, and perhaps find a wonderful middle ground between the two by doing what I and all the participants of “Designin’ December” are doing.

Personally, I think a good percent of what is paraded down runways today is completely unwearable for many except the rich and famous, but that doesn’t keep me from still finding it all interesting and fun to follow because good and bad ideas alike are still creativity and inspirational.  Vintage designer fashion (also, my opinion) had a closer connection to and influence on everyday fashion, and the 1950s especially had a flair for the fantastic silhouettes and elegant fashions, so I love the way making and wearing this pared-down Schiaparelli-inspired blouse is so very wearable.  How often is a blouse exciting nowadays, much less sleeves?  But, hey…why shouldn’t it be so?!  Our desire for what is new and different can bring out the romantic dreamer in any of us, and fashion is a readily seen and popular medium for such inventiveness because we can literally and visibly wear our taste and personality!

The phrase “something up your sleeve” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this blouse.  I have room for it!  I actually started from scratch and drafted these sleeves myself from a basic block.  As far as I know there is nothing close to what I wanted and I didn’t feel like looking.  Anyway, I wanted to totally own this pattern and comprehend a new level of pattern drafting – another reason to start from a basic beginning.

These sleeves not just have extra volume.  Notice they still have a normal armscye (shoulder/armhole sleeve) with a hint of the vintage puff tops and the sleeve length down my arm is a basic ‘normal’ span for the top half.  I knew the design was more complex than what might be first thought.  The extra fabric is concentrated to under my arm on each side of the sleeve seam and all the drape and interest culminates at the front bottom.  This might not be how Schiaparelli’s version was constructed because there isn’t a whole lot to see in the one picture that is out there of that blouse, but I’m ‘reading’ it from the knowledge I currently have of both fabric draping and pattern making.  To ‘read’ backwards through a finished garment to reach the flat patterning stage is perhaps one of the hardest parts of trying to re-make something you see.

The funny this is that in the process of trying to figure out how to make these Schiaparelli sleeves I was helped by a finding a designer copy.  The great courtier herself, the mysterious (also French) Madame Grès had included very similar sleeves on a 1969 taffeta gown that was popular enough to be made in several solid colors over the course of almost 10 years.  As there were plenty more pictures of this designer copycat in many more poses, I could understand the workings of such a sleeve.  Yes – granted the Madame Grès dresses are in a much stiffer material (hence the full-bodied shaping compared to my Schiaparelli look-alike), but the fact that I had two designers to be inspired by for this one style makes me laugh a little at the trials of staying original and bittersweet taste of the ‘flattery’ of imitation.  Navigating the big fashion scene must be tough.

Engineering these sleeves was only possible by realizing the basic principle that you slash and spread directly where you want to add in extra interest.  I used my old pattern drafting manuals to change the sleeve block into a basic full bishop sleeve then adapted it to be as you see it from there.  My finished sleeve pattern was 60 inches wide by about 1 ¼ yards long, so both sleeves took a total of 2 ½ yards of material.  This is significant in the light that the main body of the blouse only needed ½ yard.

I religiously stuck to the vintage pattern for the main body as well as the sleeve cuffs.  The Schiaparelli blouse is a 1951 design and as this McCall pattern has fantastic details worthy of a designer besides being from the exact same year.  Besides – it is shown is a sheer fabric just like I was going to use to copy what Schiaparelli did!  Out of all the sheer chiffons and printed organzas I was contemplating, went with my personal preference and chose a French fabric (“devoré”) to copy a French design.

It has my favorite color purple, an enticing sheerness enough to fulfill both vintage trends and the modern one, and an interesting fabric pattern that I think is so much more appealing than the Schiaparelli polka dots!  It is so much better to ‘own’ a ‘look-alike’ by staying true to your own personal taste when it varies from the inspiration.  Especially when it comes to designer garments, not copying them line for line, fabric exactness and all, is actually more respectful to the individual talent of both you and the couturier in my opinion.

The scalloped, curved cuffs and collar were so challenging!  They don’t even show up very well compared to the rest of the blouse but that’s okay…the little details are always stand-out fantastic in designer garments, too.  As I was working with a mostly transparent material, I went with sheer and clear, slightly stiff organza in lieu of interfacing for inside the cuffs and collar.  This always works well for my sheer creations, but with the detail to the cuffs and collar, I had to snip seam allowances within ¼ inch or less and take my time with the edge top-stitching.

I wanted standout buttons to close up this blouse because figured the more detail the better, right?  I originally had big ideas of hand beaded buttons but I reckoned that would be too hard to push through a button hole.  No – there was enough going on and enough time spent already, I self-argued, so covered buttons made out of the velvet portion of the fabric are plenty ‘specialty’ for me.  I chose a larger size button kit because the Schiaparelli blouse’s buttons were oversized, too.

Buttonholes in such a sheer, delicate material as the velvet could have been a problem that I avoided with a little mesh seam tape under the stitching.  I totally avoided letting wide buttonholes messing with the fancy scallops in the cuffs by having them close by lapping over with tiny hook-n-eyes.  This is how I noticed the Madame Grès sleeves closed!

It’s amazing what a sleeve can do.  So often arms are regarded as too functional.  These giant sleeves do not really get in the way of life as much as you’d think, and my blouse happily seemed to attract many admirers like flies to raw meat.  To see mere functionality of the body as a barrier to limitless creative expression is sad to me – our arms are a means of expression, love, passion, and all the best activities of life.  Why not provide them with all the feelings that suit them?!  To make one’s arms beautiful and elegant at every angle through the use of clothes is a wonderful achievement.  I haven’t yet had an inner sense for the inspired perception that Schiaparelli might have had for dreaming up these sleeves besides the recurring life theme of a butterfly.  Just as the wings of a butterfly give it a new life and a certain sense of liberty in its fragile beauty, so a romantic and impractical sleeve blouse such as this is freeing in its unusualness of silent communication.