“No Chance! No Way! I Won’t Say It…”

…I won’t say – out load – I’m in love…with 1990s fashion, that is!  (Congrats to the person who can already recognize the song reference!)

Such news is a bit awkward to admit for me but it is a wholehearted truth now, especially after making this post’s project.  The dive of renewed interest in the classic Disney princesses last year via sewing my “Pandemic Princess” series of course necessitated acknowledging the fashion of the 90’s.  This ‘confession’ in my fashion taste comes only a few years after I reluctantly acknowledged I had fallen for the 80’s back when I made this Givenchy suit (posted here).  Then, my 1996 Emanuel Ungaro suit anchored my positive views of that era.  Previous to a year ago, I have not sewn anything from the 90’s since I was a teenager.  Ah, what am I turning into!?  This time, I can be completely justified in blaming my change of heart on the intensely independent, highly charismatic, acutely cynical, and generally unrecognized princess Megara of the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  

Meg inspired me to make a flowing, Grecian-inspired maxi dress which highlights her trademark colors of purple and golden yellow, using both a soft polyester print and a sewing pattern from the era of the 90’s.  My dress – like Meg’s – has an empire waist, skinny shoulder straps, long and curving princess seaming, and an ankle skimming length.  Yet, true to the gunge fad of the era from which the movie was released, I am not content with it to be just a sundress.  I’m wearing this as a jumper layered over a slouchy, dated, thrifted turtleneck.  Practically speaking, this dress is too pretty to keep for just the warm weather anyways! 

However, the real inspiration which helped me channel my Meg dress was the character Phoebe (portrayed by actress Lisa Kudrow) from the television show “Friends”.  A sundress over a knit top is 100% Phoebe’s style!  Fashion aside, I believe Phoebe to be Meg’s 90’s twin in traits and personality.  (Seriously, though, I could see them liking the same assorted, haphazard fashion, too).  They both have a sarcastic, dry humor because they see the world free of rosy tinted glasses after having become very street-wise.  They both are admirably, boldly unafraid to speak what is on their quick-witted minds.  Nevertheless, behind the jaded outlook, both women are still soft-hearted, innocent, and sentimental.  Phoebe is my favorite character out of “Friends” and Megara is the Disney ‘anti-princess’ who has more recently earned my high esteem for being “a big tough girl” who can “take care of herself”.  This outfit of mine compliments the strong and soft sides which I share in common with both spunky screen ladies.

Funny enough, the statue behind me in the garden is Juno, the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology.  In the myth and not the Disney version, Hercules was the son of Jupiter, the supreme god of Olympus, and Alcmene, a mortal married woman.  Juno, the wife of Jupiter, hated Hercules because he was the most famous and successful of Jupiter’s numerous illegitimate progeny.  I could only image what a first meeting with Hercules’s family might be like for Megara.  Nevertheless, I imagine Meg could hold her own very well with the militaristic Juno.  Even though my background setting isn’t as classical as I would have liked, I do enjoy the subtle nod to the Hercules by including Juno.  That not all, however!  At the same Botanical Garden, we also found a fountain of Persephone, the wife of Hades and the Queen of the Underworld.  After the foul way Hades used Meg when he had her under a soul bondage, the myths seem to show he had learned how to (somewhat) respect a woman by the time he married Persephone.

I want to give a shout out to the seamstress Eszter (on IG here @em_originals) for encouraging me through the power of a good review to use the dress pattern I did.  Don’t you just love it when someone else has – and makes something of – the same vintage sewing pattern as one you have on hand?  It always feels so remarkably serendipitous.  She thoroughly and kindly answered my questions about what fabric she used and how her version came together.  Go take a look at how lovely her dress looks on her (see it here)!  Good things happen when sewists unite! 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 90’s era polyester leftover from lining my 1996 Ungaro suit; fully lined in a beige polyester cut out of some microfiber bed sheets

PATTERN:  New Look #6306, year 1994

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I needed lots of thread and two zippers (I’ll explain why further down)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress took me about 20 hours’ worth of time and it was finished on November 4, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  The inner raw edges are left raw but there is a full body, floating lining which covers up the mess.

TOTAL COST:  practically free!!! Read on…

How I acquired the base materials for my Meg dress is a bit of an odd story.  Firstly, the printed fabric was practically free, being donated to a $1 a pound rummage sale.  The lining was a dirt cheap find of some gently used bed sheets.  Then, the pattern for this was actually picked out of the alley’s dumpster behind our house.  I couldn’t just leave a perfectly fine sewing supply behind when it was just an arm’s reach away…for free!  At first I was overly curious to find out who nearby sews like me (so I could meet them) and then I was struck by the fact that this single pattern was thrown away.  The fashion of the 90’s wasn’t always great but also wasn’t 100% trash.

It’s semi-explainable (especially when it comes to the 1920’s to 40’s) how certain eras of original sewing patterns have expanded in popularity and pricing in just the past 10 years yet it’s also odd how other eras remained static.  The 90’s and 2000 era patterns are clearly still underappreciated, largely disliked, and yes – often very recognizably stereotypical in styling.  Yet, now that my 1993 vehicle can officially register for “antique” license plates, it has made me think past the wry laugh and personal offense that news caused me.  I do see 90’s styles creeping into the RTW offerings and oddly being picked up by the younger generations who know nothing of the era like those of us who lived through it.  1990s logos, shows, and trends are as vintage to my 9 year old son as the 1960s were to me as a child.  My view of what constitutes “vintage” has been slowly changing along with my growing fascination for 1990s fashion.  I am understanding more than what meets the eye, and growing beyond my set prejudices towards how I regard the fashion of a decade within my lifetime.  I am not the only one, though.   

Colleen Hill is curator of costume and accessories at the prestigious Museum at FIT in New York.  Her upcoming, critically acclaimed special exhibition is entitled “Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the Nineties”.  I recently received my order of the companion book to the exhibit and have since poured over the rich content.  It portrays a restless decade where the last 10 years before the turn of the century were “modern to retro, from glitz to glamour, from puritan to pretty, from military to minimal, only to max out at the finale with an opulent flourish of beading and a rash of irony.”  (Quote from Harper’s Bazaar writer Marion Hume’s December 1999 editorial.)  What I found the most interesting was the chapter on “Retro Revivals”. 

“Fashion historians often distinguish between the terms: ‘retro’ is generally used to describe clothing that was worn within living memory, and ‘historical’ encompasses influences from the more distant past” the book says.  Sadly, it doesn’t distinguish where “vintage” falls.  The book goes on to quote art historian Elizabeth Guffey, “Retro considers the recent past with an unsentimental nostalgia.”  So does this make the 90’s vintage to me and not retro, as I am nostalgic about growing up in that era while my son views 30 years ago in a curious but unsentimental way?  The quote continues, “It is unconcerned with the sanctity of tradition; indeed, (Retro) often insinuates a form of subversion while sidestepping historical accuracy.”  Ah, yes I do take a more accurate sewing outlook on my 50’s era and older things I make, but what if I do the same for my 90’s projects?  This post’s dress is sewn with a fabric and pattern truly from the era.  “1990s fashions were at once looking back and planted firmly.  Were creators scared of the future or simply celebrating the past?  It appears to be both” said the 90’s design critic Herbert Muschamp

No wonder I appreciate the 90’s!  It is a decade peppered with the influences of the past 20th century’s fashions, all of which I already sew, wear, and love.  I already frequently find a way to put a vintage spin on the modern clothing I make.  Furthermore, it is relieving to now embrace the styles and the modes of dressing from the 90’s that I admired on others and wanted to sport, but was too awkward or not in the right place to do so.  I also enjoy appreciating the last great era for USA made clothing and a recognizable continuity for long-standing design houses, as well as the beginning of an individualistic approach to fashion.  Thus, to me, based on where I am in life and the way I approach 90’s fashion, I am calling it vintage.  This might not be your view and that is fine.  After reading the FIT museum book, I believe that placing this era is up to each person’s interpretation.  If you haven’t noticed the subtle changes to my site happening in the last few months, I would like to point out there is now a decade page for my 1990’s creations added to the header bar of my blog.  I’m so happy to see it there and might add some of my teen years’ makes (which I still wear) on that page in the future.

That being said, I could not get away from a soft demonstration of one of the decade’s earliest and most memorable trends – grunge.  I never had and have not yet found the courage for a full blown embrace of the trend because I never liked the music scene tied to it, but deep down I’ve always still liked elements of it.  Grunge is about practicality over image, economic sense with second-hand items, and comfort pieces.  I wore a loose fitting, rayon knit turtle neck I picked out at a thrift shop back in early 2000s, so it’s possibly from the 90’s.  My little ballet flats have been with me many years, too, and I love the low-key toughness of the multiple buckles.  I am not above loving what I have on hand for many years.  My earrings (from this local shop) were the only new purchase for this outfit – they have Herc’s dad Zeus’s logo lightning bolt coming out of the cloud of Mount Olympus.

Grunge was a very anti-establishment movement, and designer Mark Jacobs (for Perry Ellis), actress Winona Ryder, and “Sonic Youth” band bassist Kim Gordon all were prominent influencers in the trend.  Part of Grunge for women was the wearing of pretty floral dresses from decades before in such a way that you pair them over a tank and pants with chunky black boots, a denim jacket, and a chunky sweater.  The Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley dresses of the 80’s were part of this, as well as the floaty vintage frocks of the 30’s, or the printed tees of the 60’s era.   The height of the Grunge aesthetic was short lived, though.  My FIT museum book “Fashion in the Nineties” says that Vogue editor Anna Wintour expressed relief in a 1994 letter to the editor, by saying Grunge was drifting out of fashion.  The way I interpreted my Megara dress hits all the right notes of 1994 fashion.  Granted this is a date 3 years earlier than the “Hercules” film, but as I associated my inspiration with Phoebe from “Friends”, which began in 1994, that year seemed like a good date to go with.  The year 1994 has so very many designs which are so similar to the point of redundancy – empire-waisted maxi dresses with princess seams.

After all of my rambling on about the era and provenance of it, this dress was actually very simple to sew.  It was a bit time consuming because of all the long seams, the full lining (which was merely a second copy of the dress), and the tiny hemming required.  Even still, I can’t believe I made a completely bone-headed mistake in the midst of construction.  I forgot to combine the back bodice pieces with the back skirt before sewing in a near perfect hand-picked zipper. 

Not every day is my best day, and some days I am just lucky to have the family’s basic necessities taken care of…but I was still devastated by my oopsie.  I powered on in the most non-impactful way by merely adding in a 5 inch separating zipper to the back bodice segment of this dress, above the lower 22 inch zipper.  Yes, I do end up with two zippers up the back.  Yes, I feel terrible about this.  There were tears involved.

Nevertheless, I am proud I made the best of it, resisting the urge to throw it across the room and give up, because I love this dress.  I don’t think the dual zippers are even noticeable, after all.  The fit to the pattern was spot on and I think the hem flaring looks spectacular.  My dress makes me feel very tall, elegant, and curvy.  I garner so many compliments when I wear this!  I can’t wait to continue to wear it as a sundress this summer.  Copying Meg’s manner of styling gives me the best excuse to also brush on my favorite purple eye shadow colors and draw my best winged eyeliner, too. 

The 1997 animated film “Hercules” was very much a product of its time – it references the “Buns of Steel” exercise videos as well as Nike’s famous Air Jordan sneakers,  the muses are merely a jazzy version of the group En Vogue, and then – for goodness sakes – Michael Bolton sings the theme song!  There was no way an ancient interpretation was going to be as wearable as a 90’s manner of looking at Megara, the human princess of Mount Olympus.  The fresh new write-up for the film was not remotely mythological accurate, after all, but still a fun kind of different for Disney’s Renaissance period.  This dress (jumper, depending on the weather) similarly has to be one of my most enjoyable and out-of-the-ordinary kind of ‘practical royalty’ make for my “Pandemic Princess” series.  Here’s a toast to the sassiest Disney princess of them all!

Mother’s Day Mandalas

Every mom can fully appreciate the amazing benefits of having her own special ‘space’ and quality ‘down time’ to refresh.  This is why my Mother’s Day post will be an elegant, flowing, treat-of-a-1930s dress in a lovely Indian mandala print.  Mandalas are a concentric symbol for balance, harmony, and focus in the Indian religions…and goodness knows, every mother needs as much of all that in her busy, hectic, and multi-tasking life!  I know I do!  Just the action of sewing is enough to put me in my “happy zone”.  Combining that with a fabric allusive of serenity sewn into a feminine vintage dress which is as comfy as my best nightgown and bingo – my Mother’s day cannot be any better than this.

I never have enough reasons or places to wear my fancy 1930’s gowns, and so this dress is my first (and happily successful) attempt at ‘normalizing’ that era’s evening wear.  Just by using rayon challis – a nice yet not-so-upscale yet equally flowing fabric as the satin or crepe the pattern called for – I took a special occasion dress into something which can fit more easily in my daily life.  I am in love with the everyday glamor, slimming silhouette, ease of construction, and interesting neckline of this vintage remake.  I definitely do not want to stop at only one of this design.  However, this version is such a keeper!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 ½ yards of a very soft and drapey printed viscose blend rayon with the bodice partially lined in a poly crepe

PATTERN:  Butterick #6410, a 1999 re-issue (now out-of-print) of a year 1935 pattern

NOTIONS:  nothing but some blue thread was needed…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was whipped up in about 5 hours and finished on April 18, 2019

TOTAL COST:  As the bodice lining was scraps from on hand, the rayon was the only expense and it was only $15. I bought it off of Etsy during a half-price sale at the shop “Fibers To Fabric”.

I cannot say enough good words about the work principles, the ideals put into practice, and the materials offered at Fibers to Fabric.  This is not sponsored – just my honest opinion as a happy customer and a seamstress trying to buy ethically.   They carry authentic, artisan, fair trade fabrics made with honesty and transparency in India.  Their true woven (not printed) Ikat fabric is to die for (I have one slated for an upcoming project)!  This printed rayon is so much silkier and sturdy than any carried by any big box store.  The viscose blended in makes this the perfect substitute for silk charmeuse, in my opinion.  Besides, ordering fabric directly from India is the right way to start off when making a garment with their cultural meaning or influence, no matter how slight, as I did here.

The pattern carries most of its complexity in the bodice along the neckline, but even still, those details were not enough to keep this dress from being a one evening project!  However, to be honest, I did greatly simplify the dress by leaving out the side zipper.  It is very tricky to keep a zipper from visibly restricting a flowing dress anyway, and even still, one that calls for delicate fabrics.  I went up one full size to make sure this would be able to slip over my head.  It is a bit roomy fitting this way, but it just makes this dress feel like some super fancy nightwear I can wear in public – is that wrong to want to stay that comfortable?!

Now what is important to realize with this dress is the skirt pieces are not cut on the bias so this pattern can be made on less yardage than the normal 30’s evening gown.  Here’s yet another reason I love this dress!  The skirt panel’s length is cut along the grainline and only the front bodice pieces are on the bias grain.  In order to make my dress on only 2 ½ yards of fabric, I opened up the fabric from the way it gets folded on the bolt and folded it a different way to still find the same grainline.  It was still a Tetris game, nonetheless, but I squeezed everything in after all (only by shortening the hem, which still ended up really long for my 5’3″ frame)!

The neckline is first rate.  It reminds me of a scarf or shawl that is tucked into a wide neckline.  Sadly the amazing seaming is rather lost in the print.  The bodice is kimono sleeved, but only on the sides because the neckline portion begins halfway out from the neck.  The the center back panels miter down into to a V.  The center front panels seam princess-style through the bust and plunge down to the empire waist.  Fill that wide neckline in with these long panels that reach from the front waistline to the back point between the shoulder blades, and there is one beautiful design to be had.  I love the way it frames the back of the neck and is more than just your usual V-neck or wrap bodice.

The pattern calls for the whole of the bodice to be fully lined, however my casual aesthetic kept only what was needed, which was just the facings to the draped neckline.  They were much skinnier than the neckline pieces of the fashion fabric, therefore only way to make the neckline fall into folds vertically, besides finishing the edges nicely.  I did not interface the neckline lining because you don’t need to add body there, just keep the gathers in.  Lacking the full lining which would’ve also filled in the side bodice panels, simple bright red ¼ inch bias binding finished off the armholes of my version instead.

Any time I have wearing this 30’s dress is instantly glamorous in a very unassuming, easy manner…the best of the 30’s for today!  Even though this dress’ pattern is out of print, there seem to be a good number still for sale out on internet sites so I heartily recommend picking up one for yourself.  This design would be great for scrap busting because a one yard cut could go towards a contrast bodice with a slightly bigger cut (no more than 2 yards, though) going towards the skirt portion.  I’m sorry my post did not even take into account how fabulous the little Mandarin collar crop jacket is in the pattern, as well.  I seriously need to come back and make the short jacket to match this dress in the future.

Whatever your state or position in life this Mother’s Day, we can all appreciate some relaxation and a calming moment.  I hope my mandalas for the day, and my quick-to-make but elegant to wear sewing creation, remind you that taking time for yourself is time well spent!

“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.

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.