Warning! Sharp Angles Ahead…

When I don me-made modern wear, I really prefer it to be every bit as interesting with the details and design as the vintage pieces I normally choose.  Even though my vintage outfits can be styled in a very appealingly modern way, I do find that my current designs do come in handy within professional spheres such as University conferences and research visits, for nights out with hubby at the ‘hip’ spots in town, or just to stay in touch with the sewing world of today.  This post is presenting what might be one of my favorite pieces of modern sewing – a Melissa Watson wrap-on dress tweaked with my own custom-drafted sleeves added, contrast hemline fronts, and a cool, contrast, full body lining.

This dress is for the outgoing personality in me, the side that is not at all afraid to stand out.  It is bright enough to stop traffic and classy yet smoldering all in one awesome, easy-on dress.  I do not really mind the bit of leg flash this dress displays, even though it was unexpected coming into the pattern!  Now, I know wrap dresses are generally asymmetric by nature – and I do positively love asymmetric styles – but this is even more so due to the one curved and one angled front arching hemline.  Combining those gradients with the geometric print and the 90-degree points on my sleeves and I am in a seamstresses’ mathematical, creative heaven!  I hope that by pairing it with some black boots and a cardigan, I can enjoy this dress for more than one season.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a polyester peach-skin print lined in a poly-cotton broadcloth

PATTERN:  McCall’s #7246, a Melissa Watson design from 2015

NOTIONS:  just some thread and a little interfacing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was made in about 10 hours and was finished on May 2, 2019

THE INSIDES:  What inside raw edges?  They are completely covered by the lining.

TOTAL COST:  The geometric poly has been in my stash for about 7 years now. It was bought from Fashion Fabrics Club along with a bunch of other fabrics when I started to get back into sewing after my son was born in 2012.  I had 3 yards of this, bought for about $7 a yard, I believe.  The broadcloth was a few dollars cheaper a yard, so my total cost was about $35, spread out over many years!

For being a general quick-sew and de-stashing project, this turned out fantastic.  I kind of suddenly jumped into this project idea at the last minute before a Kentucky Derby Day watch party and wasn’t sure what to expect of the finished look.  That day, I received so many compliments and curious questions as to where I got my dress.  Sadly, too many ladies only bemoaned the fact they don’t sew or – for the funnier reaction – they were surprised my dress wasn’t actually a vintage design!  Using this Melissa Watson pattern has been on my “must-sew” projects backburner since it came out, and I am so glad the perfect fabric combo for it finally struck me.

Melissa Watson is the daughter of the renowned fit expert Pati Palmer, so of course there are very thorough and exhaustive fitting guides in with the instructions to the pattern.  This is all well and good, and a nice change versus the normal McCall’s issues.  However, all clumped together on one or two sheets and printed busily over every pattern piece seemed just overwhelming and confusing for me (and not to brag, but I feel like I know more about fitting adjustments than any average home sewer).  I think all the info just made it hard to figure out what actually needed to be done for a good fitting finished dress, and just made the ‘work’ of it seem harder than it really is to do.  How does a beginner really know exactly which fitting tweak to enact with all the info laid out on how to do them?  ‘Reading’ the signs of a bad fit is a difficult and not instantly acquired talent that no ‘quick cheat sheet’ can teach.  As the dress turned out for me, I wish it had slightly better reach room in the back and lower half of the armscye (sleeve).  I was literally too exhausted by the complications added to the generally simple design to remember to check that spot before cutting.  So – the bad drawback from a great pattern is actually too much good information.  Trying too hard does not necessarily make anything better.

That off my chest, I liked (and kept) the slight blousiness of the tucked darts to the waist of the bodice, but I couldn’t just make your normal, classic plain-Jane sleeves here.  There were too many angles going on and not enough playing with them!  Specialty sleeves are so unrated.  With all the over-information on fitting in the pattern itself, I would like to say that sleeves – in my opinion – are an excellent place to start with tweaking, experimenting, and understanding patterns.  They elevate a garment to the next level when they are outside the norm, and drafting unusual sleeves is such a relatively simple, low-risk, and easy-to-understand tweak.

I merely started by finding an inspiration picture on Instagram together with a simple deconstruction layout.  I thought backwards from there to fill in the blanks of how to do that myself.  You have to think in 3D, and reverse engineer that into a flat lay or simply start from the basic paper pattern and slash and spread where you will be adding new folds and fabric depth.  I’m equating my new drafts to being a version of an upside-down, folded petal-style sleeves.  They call them “envelope sleeves”.  I personally love the 90 degree angles it creates and the lovely sleeve cap it forms.  It made for a very thick hem that needed lots of clipping and hand stitching to look nice and turn out smoothly.

Talk about having things turn out smoothly, I just freaking love full body lining, especially when the inside is made visible by the design!  The pattern does not call for lining, but mullet or hi-low hems (like on this past make of mine) make the underside of the fabric particularly visible, even more so when it is a wrap dress like the one here.  Why not go for the fully fashionable play with the opportunity?!  Not only does lining the underside in a contrast look so pretty and make the garment pop, but the added wrap dress factor is just screaming for the opportunity to make the entire insides so very nice.  No way was I going to make a tiny hem all the continuous way around the wrap’s edges, anyway…enclosing it and all the raw seams inside the lining puts my mind at ease knowing I can beautifully cover-up any messiness.

Sure, it was like making two dresses, after all.  Yet, there is nothing equal to a personal happiness that comes from lovely insides meant for only you to see as you get dressed in your handmade clothes.  I, however, did have further ulterior motives for the full body lining.  I hate the feeling of polyester on my skin and the pretty print was far too lightweight and unsubstantial on its own to be a dress.  So – all these many reasons, it absolutely needed lining here.  I chose a solid cool mint green/aqua underneath to tame down the bright colors on the dress’ outside.

Beside the new sleeves and the added lining, the front hem is something subtle I changed, too, as mentioned at the posts beginning.  The right side has the angled hem while the left slides under along the 115 degree point with its curved hem.  It is subtle, which I wanted, but it adds to the whole play on the geometrics here and makes this so much more of an individual creation for me.  I sort of feel a silly guilt when I go line-for-line or fabric-imitation copy of a pattern with no personal changes.  Look – I even tie the ties around my waist like a belt to end in a cute little bow in front rather than a traditional wrap dress back knot or bow with streamers.  Oh my goodness, do I dare tell you I used my fabric pens to color in the top stitching along the edges so it blended in with print and becomes invisible?!  Yes, I do love to spare no detail to satisfy the perfectionist in me sometimes.

A big reason for my sewing is of course the creative outlet of it but also the opportunity to personalize my wardrobe and do that in better quality than can be found in most RTW.  Making sure to think about what is really coming from my creativity versus just going with what I see isn’t always easy but makes me own what I sew and feel more like me in the handmade wardrobe I wear.  That is the key to home sewing patterns and patterns available for the public to buy – they are tools that can be built upon to make your wildest clothing dreams come true.  This dress pattern might not have been the best tool – it was rather confusing in an unexpected way – but it helped me make a modern dress that even my vintage inspired heart loves!

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“Not My Own Crochet” Year 1936 Ensemble

I do not yet know how to crochet.  At some point in my life I fully intend to figure that amazing skill out.  Until then, I find sneaky yet creative ways to get around not knowing, which means that I wear crochet that is not really my own.  Saying this means I try to sew with tricky, delicate fabric that is the closest thing to crochet that can be found – like an open-work sweater knit.  To me, as someone who sews on an almost daily basis, this offers yet another “new and different” thing to try out.  Speaking of something unconventional, these aren’t just your normal open-seam sleeves…they are part of the entire bodice design in a way that blew my mind when I made it.

Of course, I go all out with my dress – a vintage sweater knit dress with awesomely elegant features deserves its own fancy, fashion colored under-slip (since it will be somewhat seen anyway) and a custom-made, Grecian-inspired rope-and-tassel belt to keep up the mid-1930s glamour!  Of course, as is our wont, we also found a historically appropriate and color matching Art Deco shop for the photo background so I could feel like I stepped back in time.

This outfit is rather a vintage way to interpret several modern (2018) trends – rope belts, sheer dresses, and statement sleeves.  For myself, I like to be informed as to the source of a modern trend and realize the when, why, and how of it from years back.  Nowadays, there is not a whole lot going on in fashion that is 100% “new”, it’s mostly just a re-inventions and all it takes is a peek into history to have a broader perspective of a fad.

Befitting my idealized mix of both old and new, this outfit is accessorized with modern 1930s D’Orsay style strap sandals by Aerosoles and true vintage pearl dress clips.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The sweater dress is made from a poly blended, almost shell-like stitched open knit in a cranberry color.  The under slip is made from an all poly crepe in a royal blue color.

PATTERN:  Butterick #6706, year 1936, for the dress and the “Slinky Bias Slip” came from Sew Vera Venus blog, on her free pattern page (link here).  (I know the year for the dress pattern Butterick #6706 because it was featured in “Butterick’s Fashion News” magazine for April 1936)

NOTIONS:  To make the dress and slip, I only used what was on hand already – thread, a vintage metal zipper, scraps of bias tape, and two buttons.  The rope belt and its tassels required very specific supplies, so these bought to match after the dress outfit was finished.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This set took me about 15 hours to make the dress and 3 hours to sew the slip.  Making the belt took me maybe 2 hours.  The entire outfit was finished and ready to be worn by October 7, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  The sweater knit doesn’t ravel (the wonders of a man-made poly), so the edges are left raw to let the dress be flowing.  The slip is bias bound inside.

TOTAL COST:  The sweater knit, slip material, and subsequent belting were bought at our local Jo Ann’s fabric store for a rough estimate total (it’s been awhile since the fabric was purchased) of about $30 to $40 dollars.

First off, I need to give full credit to my hubby for finding the sweater knit among all the bolts in the store and knowing my creative brain’s predictability enough to recommend something 1930’s to pair with it!  I guess I’m training him well without even knowing it.  Now, it wasn’t just about following his idea – the project plan rang true for me, too, and both him and old fashion images together helped me decide what contrast color for the underneath slip and what kind of belt would complement well.

The pattern I used to make my dress was also one of the very first 1930’s vintage patterns I bought back in 2011 (when they were so much more reasonably priced)!  It’s so good, I had been “sitting on it” all these years waiting for just the right project plan for it.  I felt like it was high time to take it up – hubby picked out a special fabric for me so I would go use my special pattern.  No really, I feel like the fabric is a solid enough color to show off the design lines well yet curious enough to add depth and interest to an already luxurious design.  The knit makes it practical while the sheerness of it makes it, well, oh-la-la!  Yes, not only do I love what the 1930s has to offer for fashion, I also love how hubby and I can work together on my sewing projects to make something so interesting and creative that I can wear.

It was amazing how a few, large pattern pieces – only 4 to be exact (together with two incredibly tiny pieces) – can come together to make a dress like this.  Vintage generally does smart designing impeccably, whether in fashion or architecture, and this is only another example to prove it to me.  The sleeves of my dress are part of the bodice and only joined together at the front seam that runs from the neckline detail down the length of my arm.  There is no shoulder seam whatsoever.  It’s like an adapted kimono sleeve on steroids.  There are two small darts at the shoulder tops, coming out from the neckline, but that’s it – I do believe the weight of the sleeve volume is enough to shape the fabric, pulling it down over the shoulders.  The bodice front piece includes the sleeve front-bottom and the neckline “flap” detail, as well. From behind, there is the center seam so that a placket can be made for a neck opening (otherwise this dress wouldn’t go over the head), but besides that, the back bodice wraps around to the front bodice at the chest and front of the arms.

This design is not only amazing, it is also crazy easy to whip together with minimal seams (a big yay because with a delicate knit like this, the less seams the better).  It also made for some overwhelmingly large pattern pieces that just barely fit onto my 60” width fabric.  How these bodice pieces fit onto the old side fabric widths is something I don’t really want to figure out.  As it was, with 60” wide fabric, I still used over 3 yards…in 35” width this dress would definitely take way over 4 yards.  There’s Depression-era luxury for you!  Even still, making a dress like this in the 1930s probably would have been much more monetarily affordable than buying something RTW which would be similar.

Now, the style of sleeve I chose to make on my dress is a combo of both views offered in the pattern.  I wanted the slashed open style of the ¾ sleeve option, but something long, wrist length at the same time, so mine are a mix of both.  Not that this is the first incarnation of such sleeves – this slashed open look that was popular in the 1930s is one of the many fashion details the era of 80 years back which were borrowed from Tudor styles of the 15 and 1600s.  (See the artist William Larkin’s famous 1614 painting of Diana Cecil next to another 1936 pattern for comparison, check out the “Lady with a Fan” by Alonzo Sanchez Coello circa 1570, or see this “Fashion-era.com” post on coat sleeve styles of the time of Henry VII for just three examples.)  Such sleeves also made a comeback for a short stint in 2014/2015.  Today, the dramatic sleeves and balloon sleeves of all styles and volume are trending for this coming Spring 2018 season (see Carlos Vogue Patterns and Glamour.com to read more).  Some things never change…what is forgotten, is doomed to be repeated.

All of that sleeve volume on my dress is pleated into skinny wristbands.  The pattern directed for a dizzying amount of pleats that I wasn’t willing to chalk or thread mark because there was no way I was going to get them straight.  So I did my own mathematical, segmented method of pleats, and it worked out just as fine (so I think).  However, whether I did the wrists my way or the way of the instructions I do believe either end would be just as bulky as the other.  All the pleating made the little “cuffs” more like binding or bracelets, but I like it, however they turned out.

For sporting such statement sleeves, I realize the 2017 “Year of the Sleeve” is over with now, but as I don’t see impressive sleeves disappearing from modern fashion anytime soon either, I am hoping that we are now in the ‘era of the sleeve’ because this is the best excuse to bring out and highlight more 1930s designs!  Either way, fantastic sleeves should never be “out-of-style”…they need to be more appreciated and enjoyed because they sure are fabulous.

To balance out the fabric heavy and detail oriented top half, the waist and below is slim and basic.  The skirt is just a really simple, two-piece 30’s bias skirt, plain in front and two waist darts in back.  The waist of the bodice is ever so slightly pleated into the slim skirt.  It is only for the skinny skirt’s sake that there needs to be a closure in the side of this dress, otherwise I would have preferred it to be left out.  The delicate sweater knit wasn’t easily willing to be restrained into a zipper, but using a small 5 inch vintage metal one minimized the difficulty, and, at least when it’s seen, will hopefully make my dress seem like a real piece from the 30’s.

Sheer and see-through dresses are nothing new – they have been around in some form or fashion for about a century since the late Edwardian times had the lace bodices and the early teens came out with the “lingerie dresses” (so called, as they were lace and sheer linens or cottons).  The 20’s and 30’s began to be more experimental with what was used for sheer effect – crochet, netting, devoré (burnout velvet), chiffon, metallic mesh, and other open-work or tissue weight material for both blouses and dresses.  Don’t forget, however, past sheer fashions seem to have always understood that just because the garment is see-through doesn’t mean one should bare-all underneath nor use it as an opportunity to show off one’s lingerie.  Modern trends seem to be taking sheer garments a whole new “nothing there” kind of direction on the runways for all the designer’s collections.  Seeing legs, panties, or a ladies’ “headlights” is only distracting and does not do justice to an amazing, but sheer, dress as the garment is certainly not the first impression.  I’ve sewn a fair share of sheer dresses already from the 20’s (here and here) and the 30’s (here and here), and one from 1961 already so this will be my 6th now.

The slip underneath my 1936 dress needed to be simple yet elegant, slimming and interesting yet with coverage.  Who could ask for anything better than a free pattern?!  Besides the ‘free’ part, this really is a great pattern.  It was easy, came together beautifully, and fits well.  The pattern itself is assembled much like a downloaded Burda Style pattern, where you print out all the pages then tape them together like a fashion puzzle before you can have something to place on your fabric.  I do think the sizing runs a bit small, and although this slip fits, next time I will go up a size bigger.  For using a polyester crepe, my slip has decent drape and bias yet it’s still a bit stiff (as you can see), but with a true rayon or silk crepe this slip would have some drop-dead slinkiness that I need to try.  Other than these points, I couldn’t be happier.  There is plenty of room for adaptations and individuality with this pattern, but the only personal touches I added were two strips of leftover bias tape to decorate my lower décolleté.  My slip’s shoulder straps are stitched down to fit, but if they were made skinny, they could easily be made adjustable with a modern lingerie slide buckle.  The best part is that I was able to make this slip with only one yard of fabric!

With the garments done, I initially thought a normal belt would complete the outfit, but no – every one I tried on looked awful with the dress.  I knew what I saw in my inspiration pictures needed to be followed…go with the whole Grecian idealism of a rope belt.  My dress outfit needed a hanging belt to lengthen the silhouette, I felt, and a rope belt with tassels at the ends would not overwhelm like a traditional, buckle belt, only slightly define my middle yet draw interest away from the waist.  This is a much more feminine and delicate option to a boldly defining buckle belt.  Rope belts are the new ‘thing’ this year, anyway.  It’s listed as one of the top 5 trends of 2018’s Spring/Summer fashionBurda Style has also talked about it and provided a “how-to” make your own roped belt.  I might as well find a vintage way to love a current trend!

I took this as an opportunity to use my beginner’s knowledge of sailor’s knots to finish off the rope belt ends where the tassels are added.  I put the loop that’s atop the tassel through the end of the roping, then made my sailor’s knot, and ended it by stitching the raw end to the rope for a little over an inch’s worth.  Then, the end was finished by taking satin finish Mettler Metrosheen thread to wind tightly around and around until it’s nice and sturdy, and tie off the thread through the winding.  Suddenly, I have a very fancy rope belt end!

You know, I have experience with doing this already because of a church we used to attend.  Churches always have tassels on something, and for some reason all of theirs were coming off.  I have a suspicion that the cause was our deeply ingrained human instinct to pull at a tassel (really, you don’t have to think to do it).  Anyway, once I fixed only one for them, I ended up fixed them all.  Let me tell you, I made sure those tassels did not come apart at all the way I finished them…I also have method to it after fixing more than a dozen.  So, it was kind of nice to do tassel attaching again, sort of like bringing back something I know how to do like the back of my hand.  Yet this time it brought that up a notch because it was so much fancier this time and also for myself!  It was high time for some selfish tassel sewing.

It doesn’t really make sense to me – I can make and sew tassels, yet I do not crochet.  Oh well, I have finally tackled another challenging fabric and a perplexing pattern I’ve been holding out on.  I’m not out for the great instant “boom-and-pow” of doing everything big at once and burning out early.  I’m looking forward to many years ahead of enjoying all the differing ways to make something to wear.  Crochet is a whole new world yet to come for me and I really admire every and any one of you that I see who can do it.  Even my niece has started doing it!  I guess I’d better catch up, but until then I’m happy with this open work 1930’s dress set being in my closet as a substitute.