“Sometimes”…You Just Have to Go a Little “Mad”

I’m not really referring to a mental condition or an emotion with my title…it’s more specifically “Mad Men” the T.V.show, that is, or even more precisely “mad” for a crazy “disco era” color scheme!  Yes!  This “Mad Men” inspired late 60s dress of mine is my ultimate summer party dress for this year.  (Click here to see the blog of my ultimate summer party dress for last year!)  Like last year’s party creation, this “Mad Men” 60s inspired maxi dress was different and out of my comfort level, but, as always, stretching my boundaries gives me a new sewing satisfaction, especially when I end up with a new favorite item to wear.

Betty_Pucci maxi-dressSeason3,Nov30_10_Souvenir_cropped     A very lucky find of an old fabric stash at a vintage fair provided me with the opportunity to make my copycat version of this lovely Pucci designed dress worn by the “Mad Men” character Betty (see left picture).  This scene can be found in Season #3, the “Souvenir” episode, released November 30, 2010.

I can’t help but do a funky dance in my wild retro dress!  We even found an era-appropriate “Mid-century modern” building to have as the backdrop for the picture below (more about this location later).

100_3072THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  I believe it’s a cotton/polyester blend fabric, soft and flowing, in a wild “Pucci style” color tone of swirling, bright (almost neon) colors.  The fabric was vintage, but not that old to be a poly blend, and it was a 3 1/2 yard cut in a 45″ width.  I also used an old, small scrap of fabric in a matching blue to use for the dress’ side pockets.

NOTIONS:  On account of all the colors in the fabric, I had multiple choices when it came to deciding what color thread to sew my dress together.  Therefore, I had thread on hand already – I used a deep turquoise thread which was also used to sew up my “Serpentine Style” 1948 dress. The only notion I needed also happened to be hardest to pick out – something to create the contrast trim along the dress’ neck line edge.  I will talk more about this further down, but, in the end, I ended up with 1 pack each of two different colored bias tapes.Simplicity 2363 cover pictureSimplicity 2363 line drawing

PATTERN:  Simplicity 2363, year, view A, without the ties

TIME TO COMPLETE:  From start to finish, my late 60’s maxi dress took close to 10 hours (maybe a bit more, maybe, or a bit less, perhaps) on May 17, 2014.    It was finished just in time for an upcoming outdoor birthday party for our little one.

THE INSIDES:  My dress’ innards are quite nice but not perfectly clean, which I’m o.k. with anyway.  All the long panels (three in front, three in back) took some time to sew together, so I merely double zig zagged the raw edges and trimmed any fray threads.  The ‘bib’ facing sections of the front and back necklines cover up all the bodice seams and most of the armhole seams, so the top half of my dress is smooth and nice inside.  The bottom hem is finished with matching turquoise single fold bias tape.  See the below picture.

100_3099TOTAL COST:  The vintage crazy colored fabric roll was $7.50, and the bias tapes were just under $2.00 each, so my total cost is about $12.00.

         Just in case you don’t know, “Pucci style” prints are as wild and lively as his life story.  Emilio Pucci’s designs are also unmistakably iconic of a past era – the 1960’s.  The designs of “The Prince of Prints” were worn by everyone who was someone in the 60s, from Jackie Kennedy to Sophia Loren to Marilyn Monroe (who was buried in a Pucci dress).  “As the sixties swirled on, Pucci draped his devotees in increasingly vivid prints, using a kaleidoscope as a guide to color his Op-Art arabesque, filigree, and mosaic motifs in stylized Art Nouveau and geometric patterns”, to quote “Vogue.com”. “The psychedelic profusion that defined the era (of the 60s) would fall out of favor, however, elbowed aside by the disco-casual of the seventies and then the man-tailoring of the power suit eighties. The unmistakable Pucci print, all swirls and whorls, did have a brief moment back in the sun around 1990, when the retro impulses of the nightclub scene collided with a passion for all things bright and colorful.” (Another quote from “Vogue.com”)  However, out of all his trendsetting creations, such as his trademark silk scarf, none would give him a name to fame quite like his featherweight silk jersey dresses.  “A Pucci dress is just about worth its weight in gold,” observed The New York Times in 1967.  The “Mad Men” episode in which Betty wore her Pucci dress took place around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, dating her dress to circa 1968.  My own Pucci knock off creation may not be an authentic print, nor is it a fine silk jersey, but I feel that my “Mad Men” copycat maxi dress captures a definite, exciting moment in the history of the fashion world.

100_3075  early 70s Simplicity 8025 boho maxi dress     For the styling of my retro dress, I chose this modern Simplicity 2363 pattern because (to me) it married the best of everything together.  Simplicity 2363 is quite close to Betty’s original “Mad Men” Pucci dress, having the empire waist and split front neck, with a styling which appeals to my personal taste, while still staying true to authentic styling of the era.  I really couldn’t sacrifice keeping exactly similar to the T.V. show dress, because I really didn’t like the full gathered high waist.  Betty had just had a baby a few episodes before she is seen wearing the dress I used as my inspiration, so I can understand the waist styling somewhat, but Simplicity 2363 cut back on a full waist by having gathers at the center front and center back only.  After my dress was finished, I happened to come across the envelope cover of a vintage 1970 Simplicity 8025 pattern (seen at left) which proves the validity of my idea that the “bib” design of the modern Simplicity 2363 is a retro design element.  With my Pucci knock-off dress being a circa 1968 dress, imitating the 1970 look is not far off…merely fashion forward.  This is my fourth 1968 sewing project (numbers 1, 2, and 3 can be seen by clicking here).

After browsing through plenty of reviews of Simplicity 2363 on the blogging-world, I was thoroughly confused as to whether or not this pattern really normal, small or generously sized.  I ended up cutting out according to what saw on the finished garment measurements, grading just a bit to cut out a size smaller than normal for my bust, while keeping my normal sizing for the waist and hips area.  As my dress turned out, the sizing I chose was a perfect fit.  The only minor change that I made to the fit and sizing of my dress was to bring in the side seam (the one in the center of the side panels) 1/2 an inch on each side for a total of an extra inch smaller.  I graded the 1/2 inch down to the normal seam allowance (5/8 in.) by the time I got close to the pockets, and remembered to take in the side panel’s under arm facing, too.  I could have done without taking the side in an inch, but my dress is not bad with it, because there is not any underarm gaping…I just need to do a bit more of a wiggle and stretch trick to get it on!100_3094

The pockets in the side seams are a wonderful dream come true!  I never realized how handy and fun pockets could be or how easily they are to sew in.  I am impressed at how the pockets are absolutely invisible by having them recessed in by 1/4 inch.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but having my dress’ pockets face in towards the center front makes me kind of think of myself as a kangaroo, with space to store stuff over my belly!

The two-tone color trim around the neck and bodice was the most challenging part to recreate to make my dress similar enough to Betty’s original.  I did a good amount of brain crunching to figure out 1.) how to shape something around the neck and bodice, 2.) what matching colors to choose and 3.) where to put the trim.  Like what I did for choosing the pattern for my dress, I found a compromise between following Betty’s dress and staying true to my personal taste when it came to the trim.  The helpful employees at my local Hancock Fabrics store were again an amazing help…they gave me the idea to use packaged bias tape for the trim.  I had been thinking of using ribbon or making my own “facing”, but bias tape, being on the bias, stretched and curved and was easily ironed into place just like they said.  Using packaged bias tape was a good thing also by the way I was restricted to the colors available, because otherwise I had no idea what colors to hone in on in the fabrics print.  I went for the more muted colors of turquoise and lime green to mellow things out.  I used a double fold for the lime green bias tape (so it wouldn’t show the print underneath), with the inner points mitered in for a neat corner.  The turquoise bias tape is a small single fold which I folded in on itself to make it thicker and smaller.  It took some meticulous machine stitching to hover on the very edges of the bias tapes and sew the bias tape down just how I wanted.  I love how it looks!

100_2977b     While sewing my dress together, I wanted to get “in the mood”, so I put on some disco-era and 60’s style music.  I mostly listened into a favorite CD of mine, “The Way I See It” by Raphael Saadiq.  My favorite songs are Love That GirlKeep Marchin’ , Staying in Love, and Sometimes (the last of which I included in my title).  Saadiq’s soundtrack kept me going through my sewing, and his songs are stuck in my head so I can listen to them again (whether I want to or not) every time I wear my “Mad Men” look-alike dress.  It’s no wonder I was dancing in the picture at the top of this blog.
100_3076     Happily, as I mentioned at the beginning of my blog, the backdrop to my dancing picturetriple-a-on-lindell is also very complimentary time-wise to my dress, as well.   It is the  American Automobile Association (AAA) office building, 3915 Lindell Boulevard, completed in 1977 and designed by W.A. Sarmiento (see right picture).  Wenceslao Sarmiento, a Peruvian-born American modernist architect who was the head designer (1951 to 1961) for the Bank Building Corporation of America, designed many amazing financial buildings across America but especially left a powerful example of “Mid-century modern” style in my town with the AAA office.  My town, St. Louis, is extremely rich with “Mid-century modern” buildings of every purpose, with our town’s very best headliner for the style being Lambert International Airport.  In my opinion, few of the “Mid-century modern” buildings are as perfect an example of the style as the AAA office, with its walls made of glass, ‘post and beam’ design, and suburban modernism.  I know this style isn’t for everyone.  However, it is an architectural and historical style of many famous artists (like Frank Lloyd Wright) whose buildings are in dire need of respect.  Our town even has a handful of groups, such as “B.E.L.T. STL”, “ilovebernoudy.com”, and especially “Modern STL, who are actively involved in the preservation and awareness of the modern styles.  “Mid-century modern” buildings are quickly starting to completely disappear before they even have a chance to be recognized.  I’m sorry for the passion here, but it seems as if it is too easy to demolish something that’s one-of-a-kind, unable to be recreated.  Art is as individual and special as the people that make it.

100_3091    Speaking of art, hubby couldn’t help but notice how my maxi 60s style dress even turns heads, like on this poster in front of a neighborhood art gallery.

After the poster got its initial look to check me out, I was a bit offended, and had to turn around and ask, “What?  Me?  Really!  Why, thank you!”

100_3082

Thanks for joining me joining me on this trip through the late 60s fashion and architecture.  I hope this post inspires you to explore outside your sewing comfort zone…and enjoy it!  As an idea, get out into your city and find out if there’s some “Mid-century modern” buildings to see for yourself!

Please check my Flickr page, Seam Racer, for more detail shots and fun outtakes.

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Be Ever Green!

What is red without green for the Christmas holiday?  It sounds like a really good duo all broken up.  I made sure the two colors of the holidays were brought together by my current sewing.

My previous post, my 1946 dress, documented a red wool dress for wearing to my holiday functions, but actually I made a deep green knit dress a few weeks beforehand.  This green knit cowl neck dress became my actual Christmas day party dress.  I was the girl in green, with green legs, too, and gold sparkle shoes and necklace.  Making a little bit of a modern look to match my red vintage dress gave me one more good reason to anticipate getting snazzed up!

This dress pattern is a definite winner, with some interesting details and different shaping.  Just pick a solid color that you love and find a fabric that drapes nicely, and you can’t go wrong with Butterick #5523 for wintertime sewing.

B5523THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton double knit fabric in a deep ‘forest’ green jewel tone, having a cut of just over 2 yards (60 inch width);  my lining fabric was a polyester “active” jersey knit, in a deep navy blue, leftover from lining my burnout knit 4th of July dress (link here)

NOTIONS:  none needed; I had the buttons, elastic, and necessary thread

PATTERN:  Butterick 5523, year 2010

TIME TO COMPLETE:  somewhere between 10 to 12 hours is my estimate;  it was finished on December 6, 2013 

THE INSIDES:  as the ends don’t fray and were quite thick with the lining, I merely zig zagged the ends.  Not the best finish, I know, but o.k. enough to make me happy

TOTAL COST: around $12;  the green knit, the lining knit, and the buttons were bought about 3 years ago, with the knit being divided between 2 projects (so far).  It’s hard to estimate price at this point, so let’s consider it almost free.

As I just mentioned,  this dress project is a 3 year UFO that is finally finished, after languishing uncut and in the “idea” stage on my shelf.  Even two different cards of buttons, just to let me make up my mind as it was done, were kept with the pattern and fabrics. Another project off a long list of things I’ve been wanting to make is always very relieving!

This dress was relatively easy to put together, with the many pleats across the waist of the skirt and the pleats on the sleeve caps taking up a fair amount of time and skill.  The sizing was pretty much right on as well.  There is an elastic casing made from sewing down the seam allowance at the empire waist (something I haven’t done before).  As a winter dress, it has an interesting cowl-type neckline, which can be changed to twist up the look, but needs some hand stitching time to be finished.  I will explain more about these design elements later.  Firstly, however, I was on the lookout for B5523’s “personality flaws”, mentioned by many others who have also blogged about making their own version of this dress.  I wanted to make sure to fix several quirks while my dress was still at the pattern stage.

One big tricky feature of this pattern is the bracelet length sleeves (i.e. like a slightly high water long sleeve), which are cleverly hidden by the envelope cover model.  She has her sleeves pushed up, like they are long wrist length originally, and even the pattern envelope back sadly lies and mentions ‘long sleeves’.  If you are making this dress and that sleeve length is o.k. for you, then leave this pattern piece as is.  Otherwise, be forewarned you will have to do what I did – use the pattern piece from a sleeve that you like so you can cut B5523 according to a length that you want: long, short or 3/4th.  I opted for a long sleeve, and sewed it in tighter because I thought the appearance of a skinny sleeve matched well with the rest of the dress.

The combination of my personal taste and large upper arms dictates the fact that I like nicely fitting shoulder seams in garments I wear, whether made by me or not.  Sometimes I fail a bit in reaching this area of fitting perfection, but drooping shoulders are something I (and others as well, I’m sure) cannot stand.  This dress pattern has a very droopy shoulder seam, especially at the top where the shoulder seam joins the sleeve cap. The droopy shoulder can be seen looking very closely at the envelope picture and a few finished dresses seen on Google Images, as well as read about on a few bloggers’ reviews.

My easy fix to remedy such a problem, was to first put the bodice front pattern piece up against myself and estimate how much needs to be taken off (considering in seam allowances, of course) so the sleeve ends up fitting naturally around my arm/shoulder joint.  I folded in the top shoulder corner facing the sleeve on the bodice front pattern piece, smoothing it into a straight line down to the triangular tab (see my picture).  The shoulder area of the sleeve was left alone since several bloggers complained of too much poufiness around the sleeve top below the box pleat.  Sure enough, my configurations worked out great – the shoulder seam ends at the right spot around my arm.  The sleeve cap pleat also is looking great from being pulled in farther across the point of my shoulder so the fullness opens up right at my biceps’ width.  Knits make fitting so much easier, but I regard this dress as one of my project that reached a sleeve/shoulder fitting perfection.

Check out my picture above closely and you should be able to see how I raised the neckline at the center so it doesn’t dip quite so low to be revealing.  My neckline became more of a U, instead of a curved V, and just this new shape, raising the center up 1 1/2 inches, made a BIG (but good) difference.

I wished I had bought a bit more fabric than the pattern calls for to accommodate all my changes listed so far.  As I didn’t have this advantage, some changes I wanted to make had to get “cut short”, literally.  The overall length (neck down to hem) of this dress was a bit short for my preference and for many others, from what I have read by other bloggers.  My dress’ hem could only be extended 1 extra inch, on account of my fabric amount.  Other ladies lengthened their versions 3 or so inches, and I almost wish I could have done that, too.  I sewed on 1/2 inch bias tape, in a matching green, along the bottom raw edge, then turned this inside so I would not loose much length as compared to a regular 2 times sewn under hem.  Anyway, a shorter hem on this cowl neck dress seems to go well with the flare of all the darts in the skirt portion – I think this dress’ design can look a bit frumpy with the wrong fabric drape or length.

Speaking of length, the bodice portion of this B5523 doesn’t seem to give much room for women who are, let’s say, ‘well endowed’.  So, if that phrase includes you, or if you simply do not like empire waists, remember to add length to the bottom of the front bodice and extend the top half down lower.

I don’t know how much of a difference it makes, but some ladies recommended doing box pleats (link here) for all the pleats.  The pattern only calls for box pleats for the two center front and two center back pleats, along with the one at the top of the sleeve cap.  It seems this dress pattern has been used to make some very nice looking maternity wear, and I was afraid the pleats were indeed a possible root cause to this appearance.  However, I did follow the pattern’s instructions, and, apart from being a bit paranoid this dress makes me look fat, I really don’t think the pleats are all that bad.

Doing the cowl neck was fun and interesting.  Several others who also made this dress had some really good ideas of how to customize the cowl neck.  What I basically understood is that if one wants the large, oversized funnel-neck type of style that can be folded down, than hand sew the inside of the cowl neck evenly matched up with all neckline darts.  Otherwise, if you want your cowl neck to look more like a scarf, fashionably draped around the neckline of this dress, then slightly twist the inside seam so that the darts and center back seam do not match and are off in one direction or the other.  My finished dress is done in the first “oversized funnel-neck” method I mentioned, with all the seams matched up.  I always fuss with the neckline too much, and am not completely happy with how it lays, making me wish I had done the “twisted up” method instead.  However, I think the problem is really me…I don’t have and don’t wear cowl neck clothes and this design is just something new to me.  In the end, I really do like the neckline of my dress because it not only presents a nice frame for the face, but it also keeps my neck warm!

If you noticed a darker green color at the darts, back tab, and cowl neck, I can explain.  (If you didn’t notice before, I guess you do now.)  My dress had gone to a trip through the wash, and dryer as well, but the opportunity for a photo shoot arose before the fabric was completely dry.  So the dark spots are the damp parts, and with the several inches of snow that were on the ground outside, I was feeling the cold breeze, to be sure.  You’d never guess it, though, right? 

The part of this dress that really makes it all the more green is something other than the color.  My buttons chosen to be sewn down to the back tab are actually 100% recycled plastic.  Yes – great isn’t it!?!  Who knew!  The buttons look like a sort of stone or marble, and are a beautiful, creamy, off-white color.

By the way, is it just me or is the mention of cutting interfacing for the back tab completely missing until you get to the middle of the assembly instruction?  I think it is missing, at least early enough to help.  I didn’t bother with interfacing…I do all my cutting at one time and that’s that, except for special reasons.  The tab is fine without interfacing, and I very much like what it adds to the back of the dress as far as style and interest.  About half of other peoples’ finished versions of this dress were lacking the back tab, and also the waistband elastic.  “To each his own” as the phrase goes; they can make their clothes how they like.  For myself, I found the waistband elastic gathering complimentary, while the back tab gave me the opportunity to show of my love for buttons and all things green.

See – being green is not just for the holiday season.  It’s always in season!  Be ever green.