“Spring Green” 1954 Easter Suit Set – a Dress and Reversible Jacket

In a world where amazing vintage designs need upscale occasions in order to be made, what could be a better day than Easter to go all out with pretty pastels and fancy fabrics…complete with an ostentatious hat!

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This suit set pays homage to what I think is the best the 1950’s has to offer in elegant design and interesting details. My hubby’s first spoken adjective for this duo was the term “swanky”. Either way, I so enjoyed the challenge of sewing this dress and jacket, and wearing them is a like an upscale dream. I’m showing off my new best clothes, too, you spring buds and flowers.

This is part one of a two part post set. The jacket, being reversible, can be worn with more than this Easter dress, so part two post will show the other pieces I made to match with the leftover fabrics for a complete four garment ensemble. Sorry if it sounds like overkill, but I really like versatility and using up all the material on hand…besides when an idea strikes, sometimes I have to listen.

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THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% polyester shantung for the dress and jacket and a boucle, in a rayon/acrylic blend, for the jacket, as well. A small amount of scrap lining from on hand went into the skirt panel.DSC_0096a-compDSC_0095a-comp

NOTIONS:  I already had bought most of what I needed (thread and bias tapes) to make this set when I decided on it the year before, but I did have to go back for more thread and a zipper. The buttons were already in my stash as were the shoulder pads.

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4793, year 1954

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took maybe 20 hours (maybe a few more) and I spent about 15 hours on the jacket.

DSC_0176a-compTHE INSIDES:  My dress’ insides are all smoothly bias bound while the jacket is reversible, so…no seams!

TOTAL COST:  Both fabrics were bought on clearance at Hancock Fabrics store. Each fabric was dirt cheap at about $2.00 a yard. So, for 1 ½ yards of boucle, and 2 ½ yards of shantung, I spent maybe $10.00 in fabric and another $5.00 in notions for a total of about $15. Not bad! However, one yard of the boucle went towards another garment to match the jacket.

This is another one of my ‘consecutive decades’ Easter outfit. In 2012, I made a dress from the 1920’s (year 1929 to be exact), and year after that I sewed a dress and slip from the 1930’s (a ‘feed sack print’ silk set from 1935). Last year I realized the “hop” up in decades I was doing and continued it by making a 1940’s dress (in rayon floral from 1944). I’m just keeping this “thing” going by making a 1950’s Easter outfit. I’ve already picked out my 60’s dress suit set for next year, with a special hat to match, too. I know, I know, you might be thinking, “What will you do going up to now when you run out of decades?” I’ve thought of that. My sewing plans might be to go back to the 20’s and start over again or even go fashion-forward or futuristic…that will be figured out when I get there.

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Looking at it you probably won’t believe me, but my 1954 dress set is by far my easiest Easter creation. It involved some tricky sewing parts, which I enjoyed and learned from, but nothing that I couldn’t still zip through. This was one Easter outfit where I was super unsure about whether it would fit, whether it would look weird, or if I would even like it at all. Part of the problem responsible for such doubts, I think, was the shantung fabric.

DSC_0140-compArtificial shantung is a new fabric for me to work with, and I am on the fence about it now, too. I find myself impressed with it only as long as it is nicely ironed, so it was hard to tell how it would turn out as I was sewing with it. Fancy appearance aside, wearing a tightly woven polyester that doesn’t breathe is not a very pleasant thing for me unless the temperature is comfortably just right (otherwise I either freeze or sweat to death). Any raw edge shredded like crazy and there is an ugly shiny side to it, as well. However, the nubby side is nice and classy and comes in a lovely, tempting variety of colors at my local fabric stores. The stiffer “hand” to it is fun because it’s something I don’t usually work with, but a bit to artificial in texture. Surely the real shantung in silk is much, much better and I think it (the fabric) deserves another chance to redeem itself to a higher par in my estimation (hint, future costly fabric purchase, hubby).

The neckline of the dress was a tricky spot that actually stumped me for a while. My beingDSC_0093a-comp stumped by a technique only comes around every so often in my projects and I like it. I need to find more projects that threaten my ‘comfort zone’ of sewing skills and push me to figure out something new with a great garment waiting ahead as the motivation. I worked on the dress first, then was confused by the neckline, so I put it aside to make the jacket so as to get a breather. Sometimes walking away from a sewing technique refreshes my mind enough to figure something out but sometimes also it only takes my sitting down and working with it, too, which is what happened once I tried. Pinning it this way and that, I realized you make some sort of tuck horizontally slightly parallel to the top end of the center front seam. What a very smart construction…good for expanding one’s sewing ability.

DSC_0164-compThis dress’ neckline does strongly remind me of another pattern, Burda Style’s 1960 “Vintage Boucle Dress”, except here the same detail is softened in its corners and sent to decorate the waist. My neck fold over detail was at first just kept in place by my pin (which I’m not sure if it’s from the right era but it looks good, I think). Then, I went back to tack down the edges in three small places so I don’t specifically need a pin to keep it closed. Tacking the neck detail does unfortunately make it blend into the rest of the dress more than I would like, though.

The dress’ bodice is cut on the bias with the grain mitering into the center front and back seams. When wearing this I can feel how the bias helps the kimono sleeves, and both the bias and sleeve style make it surprisingly easy to move and reach in. I have larger upper arms, so many cap sleeves, shoulder caps and armscyes (without adjustment) do not provide me enough ‘give’ to do things, but this dress’ bodice is wonderful for me. It also hides my upper arms, tapering them by actually making my shoulder line softer and larger (thanks to shoulder pads, too). The decade of the 1940’s also knew the “large shoulder” trick actually makes one’s waist look so much smaller than reality, but the 50’s took things one step further by widening the hips, too, which is where my dress’ pointed extending pocket flaps come in handy. Appearances are everything for me to rock a proper 50’s silhouette as I do not have “traditional” 50’s proportions like Marilyn Monroe and others of a bigger bust and a tiny waist.

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Speaking of a tiny waist, the skirt portion to this dress is very body hugging – it is a total wiggle garment. Somehow, between the way my hips are hugged in the fabric, the slightly confining skirt, and the high heels I’m wearing, I do end up with a swagger from the bottom down when I walk and it feels perfectly natural. I love it! The skirt does have a rectangular insert panel to the back skirt vent, making it modest and looking more like a box pleat. I don’t do long strides in this dress, but the vent still helps with movement. There are the standard 5/8 inch seam allowances in my dress, so I have room to let things loose if I suddenly decide on less of a “wiggle” skirt.

For the jacket, I couldn’t decide which material I wanted to wear with my dress…the matching shantung or a contrast boucle…so I figured, why decide on one when I can have both! I simply cut both fabrics out of the exact same jacket pieces (in lieu of cutting one smaller as lining). The facing pieces for the jacket were cut out of interfacing and ironed on the wrong (shiny) side of the lime shantung for support along the neck and front edges. Then both jackets were sewn together except for a small hole at the back bottom to turn the whole thing right sides out and roll out the edges to top-stitch them down.

Check out those amazing, unique pockets on the jacket! To me, they look like postal DSC_0158-compenvelopes for letters. They were stitched on the jacket before the two fabrics were sewn together into one because I didn’t want the stitching showing on the other jacket side. My pattern shows two make two pockets, one for each side, so I improvised and still made two, just out of both fabrics with one pocket on each opposite side of the jacket fabric. Now, no matter how I wear my jacket there’s one pocket inside and one outside. The side fold ‘envelope flap’ is purely decorative and the entry for both my hand and whatever my pocket will carry goes in from the top.

The jacket is really surprisingly warm, which is exactly what I need for this year’s Easter. This year, Easter is quite chilly still and rather overcast, but the shantung not being breathable together with the plush loftiness of the boucle makes for a jacket that traps in my heat and blocks out any chilly wind. Didn’t see this one good benefit coming but it’s most welcome!

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No changes were made to the design of the pattern, other than for fitting. I did grade up slightly in the dress for my waist and hips, but did not do the same grading for the jacket. I also switched up the construction method so as to make my dress easier to fit, if needed, by making the entire front and the entire back (meaning both skirt and bodice together) so I could sew up the entire side seams as one continuous seam. Many 1950’s patterns have long back bodice torso lengths for my proportions, so I shortened the back bodice by 5/8 inch. This way I avoid the ‘bubbling out’ of the zipper like I have a hump back all because of too much fabric. After making clothes from every era, it really helps to remember to have some foresight and look out for fitting trends I’ve notice with certain decades’ patterns.

My hair is an attempt at an elegant optional 50’s style of wavy bob. It kind of is similar to a 1930’s style, but the 30’s hair had more waves and curls, especially around the face, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra 1956 in the movie High Societywhereas the 50’s had soft waves with either fluff or smoothness for the rest of the (short) hair. The 50’s wasn’t only all pompadour bangs, obnoxiously large victory rolls, gamine crops, and a bouffant. Marilyn Monroe (in the early 50’s, as seen here) and Grace Kelly wore a similar hairstyle (in the 1956 movie “High Society”). If these two ladies can wear their hair like that, it must be alright for an elegant optional 50’s look, even though I kind of did a bum job at imitating. I really wanted to do some sort of fancy top knot or curly/wavy French twist (like in this book re-printed from 1954), but sometimes I can only go with what my hair can do for the day (it has a mind of its own sometimes). Maybe next time I “do” the 50’s…

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Now, if you’ve made it this far in my post…thank you so much! I am quite proud of my outfit which is probably one of the main reasons for being so long-winded, but this project was also quite interesting for me with many special details to share. I hope you like it as much as I do. Do you also like to treat yourself to a new handmade outfit, whether dressed up or down, which makes you feel special? I can’t wait to hear (or see) what you have all made for Easter or spring, too.

1944, Piped, in Periwinkle…My Easter Dress!

Oh, and I can’t forget, there is another “P” to my dress – a pocket! Oh boy did I wear some rich and vibrant colors for Easter this year to brighten up my spring, although I had the new grass and magnolia trees for competition! Pop goes the Periwinkle…and the orange, and the white, and the fuchsia!

100_4877ab-compThere were a number of sewing “firsts” for me when making my Easter dress. I had fun with adding a “baker’s dozen” worth of vintage shell buttons all the long way down the front. To date in my sewing, this dress has the most buttons used and button holes made on a garment. My Easter dress also is my very first full button front dress. This was even my first try, and a successful one at that, doing piping to “accentuate the positive” to the pattern design, dating to 1944. 100_4895-comp

Three years ago, my Easter outfit was a design from the 20’s (my hankie-hem 1929 dress), and last year I made a dress from a 1935 pattern (posted here). This year I went for the 1940’s, because I wanted a decade succession up each year, and because of my excitement for the 40’s due to my “Agent Carter” sew along. By the way, I already have my 1950’s Easter outfit picked out for next year 🙂

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% rayon challis, bought at Hancock Fabrics as one of their new spring offerings. It reminds me so much of the fabric drawn on the dress of the lady on the left of the pattern front.

NOTIONS:  I bought most of what was needed for this dress – fabric, thread, and the piping. The interfacing and the shoulder pads were on hand already.  The buttons came from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash, which I now have. They are slightly heavy carved shell buttons with a glazed shiny top.  

Easter dress pattern front-comp.jpegPATTERN:  McCall’s 5668, year 1944

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not too long but longer than “normal” for me, maybe 20 hours. It was finished on March 31, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  So nice…I love them this way! On account of an addition which was purely my idea, the waist band is covered smoothly inside with a second waistband cut out made to be an inner “facing” piece. Every other seam, except for the hems of course, is in French seams. The extra time spent on these finishes is so worth it when you see the insides putting it on.

TOTAL COST:  about $12

As much as I like this dress as a project, I really still am not sure how much I like it actually on myself, but I think this is merely because it is a new style. I’m not accustomed to having my waist so accentuated (with the piping in the waistband), but you know your waist is traditionally regarded as one of your shape’s best assets. After all, there is the famous song “Ac-cen-tchu-ate the Positive” which was published and recorded in the same year as my dress – 1944. So, I might as well follow those words and highlight my shape and the pattern’s style in one move! 100_4885-comp

However much I like the dress on me, one of the major selling points to make this dress so very special is the fact that it is (as far as I know) my only local vintage pattern which has actually stayed in town the past 70 years. Through an old receipt found inside the envelope of pattern, I can see the original place of first purchase in town and narrow down the year of purchase by a note written on the back. Then I happened to find and buy it about 10 miles away from the store on the receipt…talk about localized! I can’t do this exact sourcing with any other pattern in my stock. Dissemination of patterns through online sellers, vendors, and such seem to me to make sure that many patterns do not stay where they came from. After having so much enjoyment finding this 1944 McCall #5668, I now feel that this fact is rather a sad necessity for getting old patterns bought and sold.

100_4879a-b-compHappily my research into the pattern’s history through the receipt helped me discover something new about my own city and about the turnaround of old patterns. At the top of the receipt, it is a little faded, but I can still read “Sears, Roebuck and Co. retail store, Grand Blvd. and Winnebago St.” My scan didn’t pick up as much as I can see on the real receipt. There is a date of “March 2” with no year. The total amount of purchase shown comes to $1.35. At first, I talked to my mom, because she grew up not too far from that area and her mom worked in retail department stores. She remembered going with her mom to this store, where some good memories were made. Then, I looked up on my favorite preservationist and architectural appreciation web sites for our town and found this page showing pictures of the building and telling the sad story of how the Art Deco building had been neglected, unwanted, and torn down years after its closing in 1993. Now that I could place the location and store this pattern came from, I assumed it was bought in the year of the pattern, 1944, until I saw a handwritten note of “McCalls P. no. 5948” on the receipt back.Sears store receipt - back & front-comp Now I have done the best internet searching I can do, and I find no records, no picture, or anything of a McCall pattern by that number. However, I do possess a pattern with a very close number, McCall #5946 (see the post of my “Daily Life Dress”), and this pattern is from the next year after my Easter dress, year 1945. This presents so many questions. Is it possible this 1944 McCall #5668 pattern was bought in 1945? Did patterns stay out for purchase years after release, or was this something that happened just during war-time due to the smaller amounts of available resources for consumers and companies alike? I know I’ve definitely noticed a boom in patterns and styles in the year 1946, so did some of these patterns which had been out to buy for most of the war get shelved at that time? What is this mystery pattern the purchaser wrote on the back of my receipt? I wonder. If anyone wants to join in with me and help me answer some of these questions, you’re most welcome.

100_4889-compNow that I’ve addressed the “travel history” of the pattern, I’ll tell you making the pattern for my Easter dress was really pretty easy, requiring no extremely complicated skills. I merely made things harder (but a lot nicer in the end) for myself by deciding to add in the piping and extra inside waist facing. The most time consuming parts were the ones you would expect – the French seams, the piping, and the buttons and their holes down the front. Also, interfacing was ironed onto the wrong side of the front waistband, the self-facing half of the fronts (bodice halves and skirt halves), and the back facing piece. This type of iron-on interfacing (done for my 1946 Yellow Knit Top) is tricky and time-consuming but it really helps get sharply turned edges on a material as drapey as rayon challis.

100_4890-compThe dress was made exactly according to the pattern, except for one fun personal change – the chest tucks at each side of the neckline are facing out, where you can notice them, rather than the conventional inward facing. This makes them more like pin tucks, and much more decorative, than regular tucks. I figured they would also complement the angles of the square neckline I chose. Wearing a square neckline is real pleasure, too – and a nice oddity in my wardrobe. It nicely frames the face, I think, making this dress, together with the bold, bright floral fabric, not a frock for the wallflower side of me.

The top half of the dress turned out more blouse-y and generous than I anticipated. Oh well, this gives me room to move my arms easily and wear some vintage figure enhancing lingerie. I did also sew in rounded, softened silhouette shoulder pads which fill in the dress’ top and nicely shapes the droopy fabric. At least, the bottom half of my dress turned out fitting snugly comfortable. I was afraid that the skirt section would be a close fit which would end up pulling at the buttons. Whenever I see this, I imagine a button popping out at me.

100_4919a-compNot too often do I have a larger lot of vintage buttons, and I was excited to be able to use 100_4917-compup a “baker’s dozen” of 13 shell buttons. They all are a little different in character, but that’s what makes them special. Button number 13 wasn’t actually needed by time I hemmed the dress, so it is sewn in to the bottom side seam as an extra “just-in-case” one. The waistband middle was way too thick for me to even remotely consider making a workable buttonhole there – it might break my precious special vintage “buttonholer” machine. So I just did a once around to make what looks like a buttonhole there and sewed the button directly down. There are double heavy-duty snaps to keep the waist band securely closed. When the dress is on me, no but you will know the difference.

100_4847-compThe piping really is the small addition to this dress’ design that makes the whole thing go up a notch in style. Why have a separate waistband designed in the dress and let it get lost in appearance?!? This was my first time sewing with piping, and I am relatively happy at how I did wedging it in the seams. I wasn’t sure how to even make it work, until I had the idea to use my invisible zipper foot on my 1970’s Brother sewing machine. I suppose using a zipper presser foot is a simple cheater’s way of doing something without an expensive specialty part, but, hey – it worked great! It took lots of pinning, measuring, and slow stitching to reach the point where I was happy with the piping…and I am my own worst100_4918-comp critic. I must admit I wasn’t 100% happy with the “Wrights brand” piping tape, but I don’t really know if there is any other option out there to buy. I’m not meaning to complain, for after all, all’s well that ends well, especially when the addition of piping helped my dress turn out better than I had hoped. As a last minute “after-everything-else-is-done” decision, there is also piping added along the top opening of the pocket. Otherwise the pocket would have been lost in the rest of the dress. Never underestimate the beauty and utility of having a pocket.

100_4892-compFor Easter, I totally splurged and chose my own gift to wear with my outfit – new shoes! I did not know until a few days before Easter if my dress would be done in time, and so I decided at the last moment to order my shoes from ModCloth. They are the “Say It with Sophistication Heel in Ivory”. The employee I spoke to on the phone was extremely kind and helpful, even giving me a free “rush” 2 day delivery upgrade on my order. I was so tickled! My shoes look so high heeled, but they are really the most comfortable heels I’ve worn in a long time. I love all of Chelsea Crew’s brand shoes and have several, but this pair is lovely – nice details and oh-so-very 1940’s. They are the perfect complement to my dress even though in reality they are a darker ivory color than I expected. I’ve seen old originals which look just like these…Chelsea Crew did a good job imitating those old beauties. By the way, the grass in our pictures really isn’t fake, just the first new grass of spring.1940's green snakeskin leather strap heels100_4900a-comp

Spring rains are necessary for such lovely grass but it made the ground mushy where I was posing. My heel sunk right into the ground and I totally felt stuck and frustrated. Pulling my heels out left me with a yucky plug of mud, ruining my “perfect Easter outfit” look. Nothing mars the prettiest Easter outfit like an ugly scowl as hubby caught in this picture. A passing man that was jogging on the trail behind me (which you can see his feet if you look by the tree) filled in the words for me, yelling out an exaggerated, “Eww, yuck!” It was quite embarrassing, funny, and totally memorable.

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