“1938 Goes Native” Dress

Hot weather and bright sunshine gives me no excuse to look any less cool and elegant with my year 1938 dress creation.  Now I also have a frock for the upcoming fall weather, as well.  The neutral tones work perfectly with blazers and cardigans for cooler temperatures.  Yay for multi-season sewing!

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As my dress is made of lovely rayon challis, the drapey, loose bodice is actually cooling and the high neck feels like I’m wearing a soft ascot to catch the extra sweat at my neck.  For the cool temperatures, the neck will keep me cozy.  The bias skirt is not at all restricting, moving with me at every step making me aware of the understated elegance of pre-War 30’s styling.

I am writing this post thanks to the help of another blogger, the awesome Emileigh at “Flashback Summer”.  When I had a question about my dress, I couldn’t think of anyone better at addressing cultural influences and its history, especially when it comes to being part of vintage fashion.  Thus, at my sending a query, she helped me recognize the Native American flair to my chosen fabric, seeing the geometric jagged triangle/diamond shapes and color scheme.  She recommended this site to see the similarities.

THE FACTS:100_4454acombo-comp-w

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis

PATTERN:  McCall #3061, stamped December 5, 1938, for the bodice and a mid-30’s (probably 1935) New York #531 for the skirt portion

NOTIONS:  I had all the thread needed, as well as the side closing notions, then I used vintage 100% cotton bias tape which had been given me by my Grandmother.  The single back neck closing button is a wood-looking plastic coming from the stash of my hubby’s Grandmother.

dsc_0585-compTIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 3 or 4 hours and finished on May 10, 2016

THE INSIDES:  All either French or bias bound

TOTAL COST:  The 2 ½ yards I used were bought at Hancock as it was closing, so I got a good deal – maybe a total of $10.

Now, just to clarify, I am not attempting to knock-off something designated as special to this race, like how Pendleton has lately been misusing the Native Americans “trade blankets” and Navajo prints.   I am merely trying to highlight and recognize the beauty and art of another culture through fabric, as well as taking this as an opportunity to learn about the past.

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In 1930’s and the 1940’s, Native Americans were still not represented well at all…even though more than 44,000 saw service on all fronts.  However, by the late 30’s things were taking a good turn.  1938 –the date of my dress – was the year the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) estimated the number of potential registrants for a draft in case of war (Hitler was then occupying Austria and Czechoslovakia).  The Navajos especially answered the call inwearing-navajo-blankets-1930s-estatesaletreasurehunter-blogspot force, with many of those enlisting seeing a big city for the very first time and many being in their early teens posing as older young men.  About 400 Navajos were chosen for a special WWII code unit (in 1942) to develop secret messaging for use on the Pacific front, offering the U.S. a code which could not be broken.  On a more personal level, 1938 was also the beginning of the first established high schools and centers for education on reservations, to bring more progressive and wide spread learning sponsored by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).  Previously, the “Indian New Deal” of the Depression played down schools and learning for this race.  The Indian division of the CCC was building more community buildings, lands were being granted back in 1938 and ’37, natural resources on their lands were protected by the “Mining Act”, and Anglo writers were transcribing oral tradition into written form.  No group that participated in World War II made a greater per capita contribution than Native Americans, and between this fact and changing attitudes, the time period before and after 1938 was one of significance for these people.  I would like to recognize this and let my dress do the extra showing of respect.

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This dress’ design is stunningly complicated in appearance but ridiculously simple to construct.  No kidding – it’s like the magically appearing pattern…only four pieces for my dress and 4 hours later…a dress!  This pattern has one basic body design, but there are three sleeve options and the ¾ sleeve is by far my favorite.  I meant to do the short sleeves but they seemed to overwhelming to the dress so were left off.  The pattern I have was bought at a very reasonable price because it was missing the skirt pattern pieces but no biggie – this basic shape is on a pattern I already have used (not posted yet), New York #531.  All the details are in the bodice and sleeves anyway.dsc_0586a-comp-w

The side closing here is one of its kind in my wardrobe.  It is a combo of both a zipper and a snap closure to not constrict the silhouette of the dress.  From the waist down there is a zipper, sort of a hard thing in a bias skirt, and from the waist up is a snap closure to keep the bodice draping well.  This was kind of tricky to finagle, but it gave me the opportunity to use up two small remnant pieces of snap tape floating around in my “scrap notions” drawer!

My biggest fear with this dress was being sewn from a print might make the bodice details disappear, but I figured (I think correctly) that a larger, especially geometric pattern would show best what is going on at the shoulders with the triple rows of uber-ruching.  I cannot wait to make another, dressier version of this dress out of a rich, deep colored solid jersey rayon.  For now, I am quite happy to have a vintage dress that is so versatile and comfy, as well as a tribute to the history of America’s “first citizens”.

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Yellow and the “Spring Promise” Top

100_4830-compGenerally, we tend to think of the color green and the unspoken symbol of “Go!”, but I see the color of yellow as the shade which signals “go” – the start of the season of spring. Where I live in the middle of America, the jonquils, daffodils, forsythia bushes, crocuses and other first spring buds which pioneer open almost always wear a shade of yellow. There must be something good there. However, for being such a bright and cheery color worn by the promise of nice weather to come, we as humans seem to often shy away from yellow, leaving it to nature to show it off. Not too many people in my experience seem excited to wear tawny tones, and I would like to change that perception, at least a little bit, with this post of my new 1940’s draped neck knit sweater top. Why just let the flowers show off this spring?! Find your own shade of yellow to like (or at least tolerate), pick an awesome pattern, and you can’t go wrong “showing off” with the blossoms!

100_4823a-compThis post is part of my “Agent Carter” sew along.badge.80

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  The yellow knit is 100% rayon, backed with a 96% rayon/4% spandex white knit. I backed the rayon knit with the white blended knit because the yellow fabric was extremely “tissue” thin (see through) and the small percent of spandex helps the overall drape.

100_4601a-compNOTIONS:  I had all the thread, interfacing, and bias tape needed on hand in my stash already. The buttons are vintage from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash.

PATTERN:  McCall #6690, year 1946

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This top was quicker to make than I originally expected from merely looking at the pattern. However, I did take a bit longer on its construction as I wanted this top to have very fine finishing. From start to finish my blouse took 8 hours or less, and was finished on February 20, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  All seams are in French seams, except for the hems, of course – time consuming but so worth it. The long seam which runs down my shoulder is finished inside by being covered in bias tape so that it doesn’t stretch out of shape.

100_4842-compTOTAL COST:  This is a hard one to figure. I bought a large 3 ½ cut of this yellow rayon knit from Fashion Fabrics Club, but only used about 1 ½ yards to make this 1946 blouse (the rest is going towards two other projects). The white ‘lining’ knit was bought from JoAnn’s store, in the same amount as the yellow knit. Both fabrics were about $9.00 a yard. So, I suppose my blouse has a total cost of about $30. Yikes! This is more than what I normally like for a total cost, but I’d rather spend more to have quality. Oh well.

I’ll admit straight up that I can’t knit and crochet, or at least don’t currently. (Not that I wouldn’t like to re-learn in the future everything my mom taught me about it.) Thus, in lieu of having a classic knitted 40’s sweater top, I went for a loose, ultra drape-worthy rayon knit with all the cozy and fashionable feelings of what I imagine a sweater top to be. Several of the hard working, down to earth, regular female characters in the television series “Agent Carter” wore some amazing sweater knits. All you needed was your skills, some yarn, a pair of needles, and a pattern to guide you…how reasonable could you get?!! The sweater tops I saw in “Agent Carter” had interesting designs as part of their construction, and were in rich, beautiful colors which could match with many basic skirts – neat! (See the character Angie in the pretty sweater top, crying to Agent Sousa.) I have to make my own version of one of these tops yet.

Angie crying to SousaEven though my top is not as form fitting, with the classic pouf sleeves and banded bottom of hand knitted 40’s sweater tops, my top does have some the best that the 30’s and 40’s blouses have to offer. It has beautiful features (if I must say so myself), is easy to match with my other separates, has a snuggly comfort, and makes the most out of the features of my chosen pattern. The draping makes me think of elegance, it’s no wonder this design of blouse was used for two decades. Here’s easy proof…1.) the movie “Gold Diggers of Vogue8158 late 30s combo1937” has one of the four major leading ladies, Irene Ware, at left, wearing a 100_4942a-comptop exactly the same as my 40’s yellow one, and 2.) a duo of late 30’s/early 40’s patterns, at right: the same high drape across the front of the neck and slimming silhouette.

Several rows of runching are used to gather the fabric at the front of my yellow blouse’s top shoulder seam, creating the gathers which drape down the top and around the body. The short sleeves of my blouse are a kimono sleeve (very common for the mid-1940’s). However, adding on the quarter length sleeves turns them into a wide, dramatic dolman style, with a button and loop closure bringing in the ends to hug the elbow and taper in the end. There are four of the conventional tucks in the lower body of the top, too, from the waistline down, and one tuck on each side of the neck front to add shaping/draping. With all the interest and details at the blouse’s front half, the back button closure adds a touch of unexpected interest and beauty. I guess you can tell I love 1940’s tops – each one is like an individual, having its own subtle beauty and quiet, underrated personality.

100_4829a-compThis blouse might appear hard or complicated, but it is really simple and easy actually. Glance at the pattern envelope back and you can see that there is one big piece which is mccall_6690-draped neck 40s blouse2the entire front with one piece (cut twice) making up the back. There is really only one facing piece (cut twice) for the back neck because the front neck and the back buttoned edges are self-faced. The optional ¾ sleeve is one big piece, and there are short sleeve hem facings. It actually took more time to do the blouse’s markings than it took to do the cutting and preliminary sewing of the darts.

Just like for a perfect wrap (or fake wrap) knit dress you still need certain parts stable, I used interfacing and bias tape to keep a few spots on my yellow ’46 top from stretching or draping like the rest of the garment. I learned a thing or two about stabilizing knit garments before making my modern water colored knit dress (see post here) from reading a Threads magazine article in their September 2013 issue. I applied these pointers to making this top, as well, by adding interfacing to the length of the back button self-facing. The interfacing is lightweight, and its width goes from the self-facing edge to the fold line. Doing this helped me attain a crisp folded edge to the bouncy fabric and it kind of made the back a bit heavy, which is good, actually, because it keeps the front drape against my neck. The buttonholes on one side and the buttons on the other keep the facing in place, and hand-stitching the facing edge to the white knit lining kept the rest of it down. As I said in “The Facts” above, bias tape runs along the kimono sleeve shoulder seam from the neck to the where the ¾ sleeve comes on. The bias tape is not 100% stable, but it does keep that seam from stretching unless I physically pull it.

100_4824a-compHappily, hubby’s Grandmother’s collection of buttons provided an amazing set to go down the back of my top. There was the exact amount I needed (five for the back, two for the sleeves), and are handmade out of button blanks with a loosely woven dark yellow tapestry. One of the set is missing the backing piece which gets snapped on, but that’s o.k. – the raw edge underneath had already been hand stitched to keep the button covered. There’s a part in the back of my head that tells me these yellow buttons must have come off of a suit coat or even off of a piece of furniture. I’ve already had someone ask me, “Where’d you get those buttons?!” That’s the big, happy advantage to using vintage notions – they quietly standout.

100_4831a-compI’ve never had sleeves end like the ones on this yellow ’46 top and I like it! I used small strips of bias tape to make loops which were sewn into the sleeve seam bottom. Then, I tried on the sleeves for fitting and put a little square of interfacing under the spot where I chose to sew the button. The sleeves actually do stay up just under my elbow without bothering me at all.

For a woman in 1946, I’m guessing that this pattern would probably have been made out of a satin, some sort of silk, or even a rayon crepe or challis. Knit jersey fabrics had been around since the late 20’s or 30’s, so my using it isn’t far off historically, except for the artificial spandex in the white lining. I think using a knit is a nice twist – it clings in a very complimentary way without being too racy. I don’t think I could have attained this with a chiffon or other light weight fabric, although I would like to try one of these fabrics to make this blouse again in the short sleeve version for warm weather wear.

100_4832a-compThe decade of 1940’s used all sorts of unexpected materials, colors, and patterns in the things they wore. How about trying to experiment with some for yourself. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a new favorite. For myself, I know like yellow more than I would have imagined previously. (Here are my first, second, and third yellow creations.) Now I just need to work on liking pink, another color of spring!

Putting a Vintage Wiggle into a “New Look”

New Look 6045 cover photo     I have owned the New Look #6045 pattern since it came out three years ago, and I have always adored it, waiting for the right circumstances and fabric to come along.  This past year’s Fall season provided me with the time and opportunity to finally whip up my fun and versatile version of the pattern.

We chose a modern outdoor sculpture in front of The Marianist Art Gallery as the photo shoot location.  I enjoy seeing how the modern art brings out the fashion forward vintage appeal which I intended to combine in my draped neck dress.

My dress has already seen much wear, and that is always a good sign!  The luxurious feel of the fabrics used, the ease of care, and the perfect weight of my dress make this my go to frock when I want to look nice and get dressed up easily during the transition weather of Spring and Fall.  I’ll add a nice sweater if it’s chilly out and I’m ready to go!  Another big bonus with this dress is all the color matching opportunities…they provide endless possibilities.  Every time I wear my dress, I seem to find some more items (shoes, tights, jewelry, sweaters) to co-ordinate together with my dress.  Please notice the necklace I’m wearing…I made it myself of sterling silver findings and Garnet gemstone chips.

100_2078aTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My dress’ fabric is a super-soft brushed 100% polyester, which has the look and feel of being a rayon challis (that tricky imitation poly!).  I or my hubby found it in the “Spot the Dot” super clearance section of Hancock Fabrics store.  It has a beautiful blend of colors: a mustard golden yellow, peacock turquoise, burgundy red, light aqua, dark brown, and a grey taupe.  For the lining, I chose a fine 100% Bemberg rayon, in a dark dusty blue color.  The Bemberg rayon was something I happened to find when searching for a matching lining at Hancock, too.

6045line drawingPATTERN:  New Look #6045, year 2011, View B dress except with the longer elbow length sleeves of View A

NOTIONS:  I needed the normal notion, a long 20-something inch zipper for the center back, but this time I also bought matching thread and a washer from the hardware store (I’ll explain later in my post).  I had just enough bias tape on hand, as well.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 8, 2013, after 10 to 12 hours of work (enjoyment) time.

THE INSIDES:  Every seam, except the armhole/shoulder seams, are covered in either matching bias tape or nice seams.  The armhole/shoulder seam was left raw with only zig zag stitching along the edges, to keep this area pliable and willing to give a little…making it more comfy.  I did this same thing to the shoulder /armhole seams of my 1940’s Bow-Neck Satin Dance dress (link here); raw edges, stabilized with some stitching, make for a more comfy seam when I can’t do French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember any more;  I do think the total was under $15.

    For this pattern, aside from adding length to the hem, I actually did everything as is without any personal touches or changes to the design. Quite unusual for me, but I figured, why mess with a good thing?  That was reason number one for making no personal changes.Besides, reason number two was a pretty strong reason as well.  My sewing machine, a wonderful Singer older than me, went into “intensive care surgery” at the repair shop right after I started putting my New Look dress together.  I really wanted to finish my dress project and not be stuck with no sewing to do (a seamstress’ nightmare!) so used my backup sewing machine.  I wasn’t sure of what it was capable of and it seems rather picky, needing a more delicate treatment than what my Singer receives.  Thus, having a nice straightforward pattern was perfect for my needs at that time.  I made lemonade out of lemons, though, by focusing on what things my backup machine could do differently from my normal machine.  I always try to use every sewing project as an opportunity to try and learn something new.

100_2086     The draped neck is no doubt the highlight of this dress – it was my favorite part to sew as well.  The upper front bodice pattern has the drape as being one piece with the neckline, so it made for an interesting shaped piece.  Looking at many dresses from the 1930’s, when the draped neck styles were a big thing, it seems like the drape has always been the same design: an extension of the neckline so it is a sort of self-facing by falling inside.   Some other patterns have a very big drape with an inner cowl facing sewn on as a separate piece.  With further research I discovered that there are several different shapes that can create a draped neckline, and there are even a few Threads magazine articles (such as in the January 2014 issue, page 22) which shows you how to transform any pattern into a draped neck design.  The pattern of this New Look 6045 dress is designed to involve pleats at the sides (where the shoulder seams are – see picture above) to manipulate the fabric at the neck.  This way it does not solely rely on the “true” drape of one solid piece of fabric or a certain bias of the fabric.  No matter how the draped look is achieved, regardless, that name still applies.  I hope to create more draped neck fashions now that I know how much I enjoyed sewing and wearing such a style.

100_2154     There was a trick of the trade, so to speak, which helped immensely to create a wonderfully successful draped neckline – an inner weight!  (See the picture at right of my dress turned inside out.)  I first saw this method used on a 1930’s evening gown which was highlighted on the back cover as the “Up Close” feature of the March 2013, issue #165, Threads magazine.  Page 28 and 29 inside show the details of the dress, highlighting the different bias cuts of the dress and showing pictures of a small weight, covered in matching fabric, to keep to cowl drape hanging well and in place.  Have you seen Vogue 1374?  It is a 1930’s style gown, designed by Badgley Mischka, with a giant draped cowl on the back of the dress.  Anyway, this pattern calls for a nickel (yes, money) to be sewn into a tiny tab at the inner center on the back drape, so it gets gently weighted 100_2156down in place.  For my dress, I went to the hardware store an picked out a washer, cut out a circle of the flowered fabric twice the size of the washer, did a running stitch around it, then pulled it in to gather it around the washer.  I tucked the raw edges in and stitched the center closed through the center of the washer.  However, as the washer would no doubt rust if it went through the wash with my dress, I merely used a safety pin to keep the washer in place at the center inside of my draped neck.  (see the left picture)  I am so very happy with this technique!  Every time I see a draped neck item in a store, I always check and say, “I thought so!  No drape weight.  People don’t know what they’re missing.”

The fit of the sizes given for the dress seem to me to be pretty much right on.  You wouldn’t want this dress to be too baggy or roomy at all, anyway, because then the neckline wouldn’t look like a drape as much and the overall effect of the style would not be achieved.  The model on the cover of the envelope has her dress with a little more ease than the way my version fits, and I intended on making mine with a bit more extra room.  I’m o.k. with how mine fits…it makes it more appealing to my husband…but I can’t eat a very large filling meal when I’m wearing this wiggle-style dress.

100_2087     The sleeves are the one thing that I knew for sure would fit me exactly since I already used them (in a shortened length) on a creation I made a while back, my Green Plaid Cotton Dress.  New Look 6045 is one of the rare patterns which doesn’t have restricted reach room or skimpy sizing when it comes to making a sleeve which is actually easy to move in while wearing.  The sleeve pattern is actually very nicely roomy and well shaped (I think), especially for someone like me that has thicker upper arms.  Has anyone noticed any other additional New Look patterns having roomier sleeves than what “The Big 4” patterns seem to offer? 100_2159

Ah yes, I saved the best for almost last!  This dress has on it my first, and so far my only, blind hem.  Since I was using my backup machine, it only meant reading the manual and adjusting the dials for me to have access to doing a blind hem.  Now that I am sewing on my standby Singer, I get…’lazy’, as I call it…and never feel like dragging out my backup machine and setting it up just for that reason even though I have thought of adding a blind hem to more garments than this one dress.  As beautiful as the blind hem turned out at the bottom of my New Look wiggle dress I should get the gumption to do this sewing method again.  With this dress, I figured it would be easy (and it was) to try out the blind hem mostly because the bottom hem is not full, thus the length of what I sewed was not over-much.  The majority of the work was the measuring and pinning of the hem differently than the normal ways to which I’ve become accustomed.  Whoever thought of this type of stitch and hem was a genius – or maybe just an engineer.  Either way, I found it so cool how the stitches just disappear discreetly into the fabric when the hem gets pulled into place.  I love to add special touches to everything I make.

100_2089a     Just a few more details on the dress deserve mentioning.  The back zip was done in a different, more conventional, industry-type of style.  I usually install my zippers in my very own distinct personal style, which is more tight, sturdy, and invisible.  Again, however, as I am sewing with a different machine, I went ahead and used the zipper foot that was available and made the zipper with a large, more open fold just like you see in store bought clothes.  I like the finished look of the zipper placket, and it certainly is different among my creations, but I don’t expect to do a zipper like this again. (I might, but I’m just sayin’…)  The bottom hem of the sleeves also have some special, but tiny, detail – a tiny notch at the inside seam point.  I don’t see a strong utilitarian need for this tiny vent, and i was slightly miffed at the extra time and trouble it took to finish.  Doing those notches did indeed teach me an excellent method for clean finished cuff ends with a slit; I used my knowledge learned to do the sleeve ends of my 1946 Red Wool Suit Dress in a better way.  Finally, notice the kick pleat slit at the back.  If the pattern hadn’t had this type of slit in the design I probably would’ve added it myself because kick pleat slits are so much more decent while providing no less ease of movement.  This dress is hot enough (he, he), I don’t need it to have a racy view all the way up my thighs.

My strong suspicion that the New Look pattern had a definite vintage flair was finally verified just a week after I completed my dress.  I was so surprised to see an almost exactly designed dress worn on a young girl friend of the handsome Ronnie Burns during a Burns and Allen T.V. show.  It can be seen on “The June Wedding” episode, aired on June 16, 1958.  Again, as always, the Burns and Allen T.V. Show has given me Jane & Roger cropsome inspiring fashion ideas and style validations for the decade of the 50’s.  It says something about the dress design for it to be good enough to be worn on screen to one of the top rated T.V. shows of the 50’s, and worn by a pretty and “modern” University of California young woman.

Interestingly enough, after some further Google image browsing for 50’s/60’s draped neck dresses, I noticed yet another similar outfit worn by the character of Jane in the T.V. series Mad Men.  I love how her dress (see picture below) has a similar groovy, swirling type of modern floral as the fabric’s pattern.  Her dress, though, has a draped cowl neck going on in the front and the back – so cool!

Butterick 8307 50s draped cowl back cocktail dress          Just prior to this post I found a pattern for sale that also reminded me of my dress, as well as the two other dresses referred to in Mad Men and The Burns and Allen T.V. show.  The pattern I saw (the  picture at right) is a vintage 1957 Butterick 8307 with a wiggle cocktail shape and a draped cowl neck along the back.  (See this pattern’s wiki page here)  There are so many more versions of this style of neckline than I had realized before!

I wonder how original the dress can be for 2011, as is supposed to be a “Project Runway” creation.  Hmmm.  Whether or not the design idea was borrowed from sources such as what I’ve pointed out, I love the finished result.  I see it as an overlooked vintage style dress that makes me feel so fashionable and good looking, if I must say so myself!

Find more hidden vintage-inspired details in modern fashion for yourself and help bring back those classic styles with your own sewing!

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