Cranberry Comfort

I feel like I am barely making it through most days lately.  There, I said it.  Why hide it?  I think I speak for many people.  So, all I felt like making most recently was something really useful and unpretentious from my go-to decade of the 1940s.  I have a whole slew of fantastic things to make, all ready to get put together, but they sit there intimidating me at the moment.  Something as basic as my days have been, an item which helps me feel like myself, is all I wanted out of my newest sewing project.  

It has been a long while since I last had a new 1940s shirtdress but I’m back with another one finally!  The way my chosen cotton complements the local fall season foliage cheers me.  The relaxed feel but refined appearance to the thrifty 40’s era design suits any sort of occasion.  Not that I have many formal ‘occasions’ to dress up for anymore, but sometimes that means getting put together for myself because my well-being matters.  My most recent event which called for this post’s dress included taking a stroll through the neighborhood to find this amazing Dogwood tree at the height of its seasonal colors.  I rather wish I could stay hidden in its beauty but the leaves are nearly gone now by the time I write this.  

The color scheme here alone helps me find joy by reminding me of some favorite seasonal homemade comfort food by the rich cranberry color of my dress and the orange hues of the tree.  I love making homemade cranberry sauce with a hint of orange zest (no canned version for us).  Also, there is a fabulous roasted beet and mandarin orange salad I make with a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette poured over a bed of fresh spinach leaves.  Besides, these dishes, there is my yearly “upside down cranberry sour cream cake”, which is a family favorite I try to bake each November.  Mmm – are you hungry yet? 

So excuse me if my palette for this fall is exceptionally inspired by both nature of the moment and what’s cooking in my kitchen, but now you will know why after seeing the dress that started my current color scheme.  Look for more golden, earthy, rustic, rich tones to come!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton print, probably vintage from the 90’s or even 80’s, with the brand of “VIP fabrics inc.“ printed along the selvedge

PATTERN:  McCall #3828, year 1940

NOTIONS:  I used lots of thread, one side seam zipper, and three vintage Bakelite buttons out of the stash of hubby’s Grandmother (There was fourth button to the set which has been sewn down the front of my dress.  It is on an older me-made project – this year 1940 velvet hat, posted here.)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on October 16, 2020 in about 6 to 8 hours.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TOTAL COST:  This was a 3 yard piece out of box of about 50 something different cuts of vintage fabrics, all of which I bought for only $25.  So this was one incredibly cheap dress!

There’s really not much to say about making this dress other than praise.  It was pretty basic to sew but I can brag this is probably my best made collar to date.  The overall dress turned out perfectly without any fitting tweaks needed (although I did grade up in size).  I will get much use out of this because the color, fabric weight, and ¾ sleeves will lend this to being an all-season item so I my 8 hours spent to make it was very worthwhile.  This can be dressed up with pearls and heels or dressed down with tennis shoes or sandals.  The dress is deceptively as comfy as a nightgown but makes me look oh-so-put-together in the blink of popping it over my head.  Altogether, it is nice casual wear that is the golden ticket to versatility – so very hard to find in RTW.  I know I am partial, but my opinion is that the decade of the 40s does this style of dress best!  We are so lucky to be still enjoying the benefits of such smart fashion, born of the trials of the WWII era, in our own times.

The buttons might be the coolest part to this dress, being prized vintage Bakelite notions from the sewing stash inherited from my husband’s side.  They are purely decorative because I was apathetic enough to not even bother to make proper buttonholes.  “As long as it’s wearable…” I felt so very below my normal par.  Honestly, I almost felt bad using them on such an everyday style dress I (nicely) whipped up.  Weird, right?  It’s the kind of the feeling of wanting to save them for something better.  Yet, I really think there is something to letting ourselves enjoy those really special things in seemingly not-so-special settings.  Don’t wait for the ideal tea party to feel the thrill of connectivity when using your Grandmother’s antique china.  Why wait for the right occasion to make yourself up if you think it would make your day nicer?  You are worth it, even if you are just at home.  Enjoying something special in a regular setting is better than never at all.  Yet, as these singular buttons were the perfect complement for this dress, I’m just going to let them be one of the many reasons why I want and need to wear this dress frequently!

My dress’ details are surprisingly low-key given the date on the envelope – year 1940.  Vintage McCall’s patterns are always such wonderful designs but this one is a little different than the norm.  I appreciate the fact that the collar is a lot smaller than the traditional 40’s era overpowering one and the sleeve caps are not as obnoxiously puffed as most from the time.  It slightly bothers my mathematical perfection tendencies that the front overlapping blouse-style bodice leaves the seam off-kilter to the center seam to the skirt.  No matter – I can get over that but I have come to expect a bit more precision from a vintage McCall!  The skirt’s front box pleat and the back skirt’s 3 panel seaming is classic early 40’s feature which keeps the skirt looking slim but gives me plenty of room to move easily. 

At some future date I may come back to embroider an arrow point to stabilize the top seam end where the pleat opens up.  Apparently, I’m expecting to wear this out soon enough!  Such a detail might bring this dress up a par, so until it is needed, I will not add it.  This has to stay a stress-free creation that fulfills a need for the moment.  I also realize now after the fact that a good project which grounds me is just what was needed after all the super fancy dresses I have been sewing in secret behind the scenes…subtle hint for a vintage princess themed series to come!   Not that I have any qualms about going out in a strongly vintage outfit or over-the-top frock, but it is always nice to have something to wear which doesn’t scream my presence as loudly as other new items do in my closet of today.  As I said above, this way I’m camouflaged with my favorite fall tree!

I added something old, something new, and items dated in between the two when it came to my accessories.  My leather woven belt and leather Naturalizer brand heels are from my teen to early 20-something years.  My earrings and watch are late 40’s from my Grandmother, when she was a teenager herself.  However, the one add-on that stealthily steals the show is my handbag.

The purse I am using is a true vintage mid-40’s telephone cord treasure, also known as a “plastic cord bag”.  (See this excellent post at the “Dusty Old Thing” blog page for more history to these!)  The ivory and brown version I have creatively has a different design layout for the cord on either side (which you can see if you look close at the details of our pictures)!  I used to always think these kind of purses were too novelty for me and I never intended to buy one.  The bright red, blue, white, and yellow combination versions turned me off by being so garish (in my eyes).  However, I came across a perfect condition one locally for a steal of a price (they tend to be very pricey) and I couldn’t resist.  Owning one for myself now, I have found a true appreciation for their quality, besides the fun and statement-piece like quality a “plastic cord bag” has to perk up an outfit.  A basic outfit needs a bit of a pizzazz, right?

I can’t just finish up this post without giving you something extra.  All this cranberry and orange colored saturated color goodness can’t go wasted.  I know you are curious about some of my favorite cranberry recipes, right?!  As Thanksgiving will be soon upon us, I’ll give you the recipe I use for homemade cranberry orange sauce.  This is a ‘from scratch’ recipe which is super-easy and it calls for healthy ingredients like applesauce and a touch of maple syrup.  Enjoy and please do let me know if you try it and find yourself liking it as much as I do!  Here’s a toast to all the goodness around us, whether we are able to realize it or not, which is upon us this season.

Bittersweet

This time of the year always makes me a bit melancholy.  There’s just something about the beauty of gradually realizing summer is fading into fall, and seeing the season gently usher in the upcoming cold I despise.  I am not one to have Halloween in my blood the minute September rolls around.  Instead, I like to let the fall season come in barely perceptible stages, as it does naturally, and enjoy its every transition.  The sun might be just as bright but there is a different smell in the air.  The cricket chirps are louder without the competition from tree frogs and cicadas.  The night settles in a bit earlier.  Fall’s entrance is indeed bittersweet in emotion, which is why I find it so ironic I love the shades of bittersweet, the plant, because it also is the time of the year I can appropriately wear the most gloriously rich earthen tones of that vine – browns, tawny shades, dusty green, a wine red, and hues of gold.  This little vintage number is early fall embodied in a dress!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer printed polyester crepe for the dress and some colored jute ‘ribbon’ with some leather cording scraps for the belt

PATTERN:  Vintage Vogue #9295, reissued in 2018, labeled as a year 1940 design.  The original pattern was Vogue #8241, an “Easy to Make One-Piece Frock”, featured in Vogue Patterns booklet for March 15, 1939.  What is up with the confusion of the original date on the cover of the reprint?  My me-made belt was made with no pattern…just an idea in my head!

NOTIONS:  I needed nothing but the basics – thread, some skinny ¼ inch bias tape, and a small 14 inch side seam zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Even with all the fine finishing inside, this dress took me only 5 or 6 hours to complete and the belt was made in 30 minutes.  Both were finished in May of 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All French seams

TOTAL COST:  This dress is practically free as all my supplies came from a local sewing rummage sale where everything was $1 per pound of weight…so my frock may be a dollar at the most!  My belt was made from some sort of multi-colored jute ribbon I bought on clearance many years ago when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  I bought 2 yards of it for about $5.  The leather cording is leftover from a hat I had on hand (free).  This is a $6 outfit!!!

This is quite an interesting dress, full of contradictions.  First of all, it is a very classic dress design for 1939, with a very basic general construction and silhouette yet very interesting, tricky-to-make little details.  It is a sweet and feminine dress and tries to be complimentary with no real body shaping profile to it at all.  It is certainly not your 50’s take on a ladylike style, nor even a 40’s ‘I’m-ready-for business’ style…this is softer and more delicate without being girlish.  Even though the drawing makes one think this pattern might be scaled for a very tall woman with long legs, the proportions seem to be the opposite.  Sewing my dress as-is straight from the tissue, no fitting adjustments, it turned out perfect for my almost petite height (5’3”) and my short (14 ½”) back-of-neck-to-waist ratio.  The envelope’s yardage chart recommends anywhere between 2 ½ yards to 3 yards depending on the fabric width, yet – believe it or not, but I am the queen of optimal pattern placement – I was able to eke this dress out of 1 ¾ yards, with no compromise on grainline.  What gives here?  Overall, this was a quick treat to whip together and is a new dress that I absolutely love to wear, so I will not complain…not a bit.  I’m just warning every reader not to read this dress by its cover.

The full skirt, puff sleeves, and the bloused-out bodice are the obvious, and well-known visual giveaways for its original date.  Yet, somehow, the way Vogue styled their model and sewed up their sample dress made it seem more like a 1980s garment.  Weird, right?  That is an unfortunate reference which I do believe has turned off a number of sewists from potentially picking up this pattern to try it out because anything blatantly 80’s seems to repulse many.  As I said above, do not judge this by how Vogue has marketed it.

The decade of the 80’s does not give me an immediate adverse reaction and neither do puff sleeves, and so I tried to focus instead on the line drawing and give the design a chance.  I’m so glad I gave it a go!  It does have a bloused-out bodice that is something not all women will have a taste for today, yet it is very authentic, if you look at how garments fit women in old photos from the 40’s.  This dress has good lines, but it just cannot make up its mind what decade it wants to be in, and is not as timeless as other vintage designs.

 I dare to say it has a “cottage core” or “Laura Ashley” aesthetic at heart, with everything I still love about the 30’s, 40’s, and 80’s, so I’m there for it!  It is as comfy as a glamorous nightgown, with no need to feel to have a certain body image, yet it is as pretty as a picture perfect picnic and as breezy as a romanticized run through a field of flowers.

The one major change I did do on this dress was to simplify the neckline.  The pattern calls for a short back neck zipper to be put into a slashed and faced opening, and then self-fabric bias facing to be sewn along the neckline and sleeve edges.  As my fabric was a delicate crepe, and sheer too, I disliked the idea of a bulky back neck zipper.  I tested out the opening space of the finished neckline and guess what – you really don’t need that closure!  The dress can easily pop over my head without it, thankfully, because I think the dress is much better lacking the back neckline zipper.  Then, I used vintage cotton solid brown pre-made bias tape in lieu of self-fabric facings.  I love the simplicity and bit of contrast that this little step added.  Granted, I still made sure to cut the pre-made vintage bias tape out according to the patterns measurements for the given facings, just so I knew I was still keeping to the correct neckline.  I love it when some of my sewing work is already done for me with pre-made supplies, yet by using such quality vintage notions, I’m not just taking it easy – only adding a singular touch and putting my stash to good use.

Such a subject brings me to unashamedly brag about the total splurge of my really good vintage supplies on a finish that no one but me will ever see in real life – old rayon hem tape.  This stuff is so wonderful, and if you’ve never tried it, please find yourself some, use it, and you’ll thank me.  The wide and full skirt of this dress needed a deep hem to hang properly and have the proper weight, yet doing so is normally a slightly tricky technique.  It requires the cut raw edge to be gathered softly in to fit.  A regular folded-under edge is harder to do with this kind of a hem and, even on a soft material like this crepe, can turn out bulky and noticeable.

To get the nicest hem that is also invisible when worn, soft rayon hem tape is an incomparable wonder which does the job perfectly.  One long edge is sewn onto the cut edge of the skirt and then the other edge of the hem tape is sewn down to the body of the skirt.  The fabric merely ‘hangs’ from the hem tape instead of being firmly sewn together to the body of the skirt.  A light steaming sets the hem and controls the gathers.  Being out of the silkiest rayon, it gathers in so nicely and its lovely variety of colors that can be found make for a cheerful little splash of added beauty.  I chose a sky blue pack from on hand, and it contained a 3 yard length which was just enough for the skirt width with an inch or two to spare.  I do get a little concerned every time I use one of these vintage rayon hem tape packs because I know they are a limited resource and are not made anymore.  When they are gone, they will not be coming back.  Yet, what good will such items do me stashed in my notions drawers when they can be used and both bring me joy on my handmade garments as well as teach me a better way to do a sewing technique?  I rest my case.

Keep in mind the tiny, 1/8 inch pintucks are oppositely directional. They fold towards the center for both the front and the sleeves.  This was quite a challenge to accomplish when also sewing the edges into the skinny bias tape along the edges, but a little hand stitching finished off what I could not do using my machine.  Since the neckline and sleeve pintucking is practically the only major detail to this dress, it is well worth the extra time it demands.  There were so many thread ends to tie off though!  I can imagine how wonderful the pintucks would look on this dress if it was made of a solid color fabric.  They do stand out on my version by difference in texture alone, but are a bit lost in the print overall sadly.  Who knew making so many tiny stitched pleats could make such a difference in shaping when you do about a dozen of them!?

I paired my dress with a simple handmade belt, too.  I had two yards on hand of this novelty ‘ribbon’ made out of different colored jute.  I figured it would brighten the dress up a bit to add in more color -the late 1930s frequently combined unexpected tones to great success, anyway.  So I cut the two yards into half (for two one yard portions) and sewed them together lengthwise using a zig-zag stitch to end up with double the width.  I instantly had one wide belt.  Next, bias tape was sewed over the two raw edges for a clean finish, and then the edges were turned under and stitched down to form a loop on either end for the leather lacing to go through.  My belt kind of has the same idea as the one that came with the pattern, but was more fun to construct because it was my own idea.  I somehow like the belt better when the lacing is at my back and not the front.

The rest of my accessories are mostly vintage originals.  My earrings are from my Grandmother, while my straw hat is a 1930s mint condition original and a lucky find, as well as my kidskin leather driving gloves.  My velvet vintage purse is the only item that is from the 1940s and not the decade before.  Since the dress is sheer, under it I wore this deep purple, full-skirted, opaque 1950’s slip that I sewed awhile back now.  The two-tone heels are reproduction Miz Mooz brand.  I highly recommend anything from this vintage inspired shoe company…it’s like walking on air, they’re so comfy, especially their heels, and crafted with high quality (I have several pairs from this brand now, he he).  Altogether jazzed up, I went for a visit to our neighborhood “five and dime” candy shop to sweeten the melancholy I get from early fall.

I realize that readers on the other side of the world from me are just now easing into spring.  That is the other season of transition, kind of like fall, but with much more of a cheerful flourish.  I understand – which is why a dress like this could also be very appropriately a spring dress, too!  A little multi-season sewing is the most bang for my time spent, and hopefully a good inspiration for my readers no matter where you live.  Have I convinced you to pick up this pattern and give that 2 yards of material which is floating in your stash a chance to shine with this pattern?  What are your favorite tones of the fall season?

“Wilderness Stripes” – A 1944 Day Dress and a Hat Re-fashion

The varied colors of the forest are layered like a sedimentary rock in this year 1944 dress I made. Earth tones, leaf tones, and a basic white found on mushrooms or in the sky can be found on my casual and comfy vintage dress. For a complete outfit, there is even a special hat re-fashion I made to match…one with an open brim which now lets the sunlight in! Hint, hint, there is something also very forest related in plain view on my dress – look at my close-ups and if you’re not a pro at seek-and-find I’ll reveal it down later 😉

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This dress is such an effortless piece, more like a past make, my 1945 “Daily Life” dress.  Having a dress (and hat) that looks nice while making me relaxed enough to play in the outdoors (where I enjoy myself the most) is indispensable to one like me that adores vintage fashion.

The soft rayon is a dream to wear and the pockets are so fun and utilitarian. Style features on the pattern I used are rather unique to one made from “Hollywood” or “Du Barry” pattern brands. No classic ‘40’s blousy waist with gathered shoulders’ or ‘slim lean shape’ here – only tailored darts, unfussy seams, and basic simplicity (many other “Hollywood” and “Du Barry” patterns I see are princess-style fitted and traditional convertible collars). The Rayon print I chose is bright, and makes the most of my pattern and my sewing capabilities with its stripes.

100_6322-cut-compMy dress, hat re-fashion, and shoes are all late war, mid- 1940’s. It is also more of a youthful, almost “junior” look, especially with the hat (more down later). That youthful aura is ‘saved’ by the totally edgy and adult wedge sandals with studs. Footwear with platform soles, with studs, and in sandal form were a fashion forward trend in the 1940’s (see Lauren‘s blog post here for more) in some part brought on by rationing (see this ad here or this Time Life picture of alternative material shoes from 1943).  Although accurate, my shoes are new re-makes (“Cherub” by “White Mountain” brand – most comfy and soft and in real suede).

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a 100% rayon challis for the dress; a 100% paper hat for my re-fashion, bought ready-to-wear100_6213a-comp

NOTIONS: The thread, bias tapes, and shoulder pads sewn into this dress were from on hand already. The side zipper was newly bought to match, and the buttons are a vintage find purchased a few months back. The hat’s ribbon was from my stash on hand

PATTERN: Du Barry #5840, year 1944. (DuBarry were a branch of Simplicity patterns, printed for about 15 years and sold only at Woolworth ‘five and dime’ stores, info from here.)

TIME TO COMPLETE: Total sewing time was probably 10 hours, but contemplating the layout before cutting must have taken 2 hours in itself. The dress was finished on October 1, 2015.

THE INSIDES: Inside is a combo of some French seams with mostly bias bound seams.

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TOTAL COST: Not counting the buttons (since they were bought a while back, and just to have on hand), my dress cost me a total of about $12 or less for about 2 ½ yards of clearance fabric, the bought notions, and hat.Aug. 21, 1943 ad for General Tire in the Saturday Evening Post

As neat as my dress turned out, I originally intended on the stripes in the fabric to go vertically up and down on my dress rather than how they are horizontally. It was an embarrassingly brainless mistake…I was so completely wrapped up in making sure the stripes all lined up and adding on the slight grading needed, I forgot to change the direction of the stripes. Duh! Oh well, I still totally like it, I’m just frustrated I didn’t see what was in my face. It’s hard for me to admit, but clueless moments do happen and at least I didn’t make a mistake that rendered my dress unwearable…finding those ”silver linings”, you know!  Now my dress’ stripes are more like the one seen in the 1943 General Tire ad at right.

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Making my first “Du Barry” pattern was a happy experience. The dress construction was super easy (yes, even though it’s an unprinted pattern) and I liked the instruction sheet. Nevertheless, I found the sizing to be very large, as in a whole size too large, at least. I had to bring in the side seams about 1 inch on each side and the dress is still generous on the top potion. The hem too was very long – I had to make a 6 inch hem to get my dress the length you see. A hem this large would never have been war-time ration acceptable, I know. As my first “Du Barry” creation, I can’t say anything definitively but I wonder if this is a tendency of this line of patterns. Does anyone else know…what do you think about “Du Barry” sizing?

Here’s another question – have you figured out the forest item which is on my dress? It’s100_6320a-comp my vintage buttons! They’re like giant acorns. The way they are grooved reminds me of the stripes in my dress. They also match with the era, as well as matching theme-wise. On a practical scale, there were three of these acorn buttons (just what I needed) and the only remotely matching color on hand. They are not really “working buttons”, as my dress is loose enough with such an open neck that I sewed down the front by merely stitching them down through all layers. Nevertheless, these acorn buttons are a special find, very pretty, and a nice statement piece.

I could not for the life of me decide what to do when it came to choosing what bias tape to use to enclose the raw edge of the neckline (as the instructions recommend doing). Do I want the possibility of the bulk and further stripe craziness with self-fabric bias taping? Maybe. Do I want a contrast? No, I didn’t want to highlight just one color from the print and limit the sweaters, belts, shoes and accessories which I could wear with it. Thus, in the end, I abandoned all of my ideas, stitching bias tape down and turned it under like facing. It sort of makes a blunt finished edge which I’m not sure if I like, but I didn’t decide what exactly to do. The neckline is nicely simple and dramatically open with a nice finish inside, so it good enough for me for now. There might be changes to the neckline in the future.100_6319-comp

Check out those pockets! Could something so useful be so neat? Yeah, only in the 1940’s. My dress’ skirt stripes are matched across under the pockets (quite hard to get right). Harder sewing techniques are only seen as a challenge to me, one which hopefully improves my skills and learning with each attempt.

100_4868-compMy hat was such an easy and cheap re-fashion. It was bought for one freaking cheap dollar anyway! Luckily it was actually paper to make it a bit more authentic, since straw imported from Italy ceased in 1940. Luckier still, the hat was assembled of woven strips stitched together so my refashion was simply a matter of unpicking thread from the crown to a certain point. The thread used for the stitching on the hat was thick cotton thread, and what I unpicked has been saved for use at a subsequent time.

100_6323-compBrowsing through the info and pictures on “Vintage Dancer” blog (page here), I decided I wanted a sort of cross between a “Roller Hat” and a “Bonnet Hat”, with an open crown. Once I unpicked the hat to make the new open-crown, I had several ideas of how to accessorize the hat but liked them all so I went non-committal and simply have the ribbon as you see it pinned into place inside. You’re probably thinking, “There she goes again with more indecision.” I figured it was a matter of which outfit I wanted it to go with or which “look” I wanted. The simplicity of the wrap-around ribbon style you see goes well with my bold, busy dress print. However, I also had planned on having the ribbon end pinned at the center front crown, then going across the top of my head to separate and tie in a bow at the back crown, but this only made me appear as a 1940’s school girl junior (cute, but not exactly what I wanted). I was also tempted to further the forest theme by adding on a corsage decoration of leaves and such to my hat, but no – I’ll make a floral corsage at some point, I think, but pair it with another outfit. There are so many styles and options with 40’s hats, I’m envisioning more effortless hat re-fashions such as this one for me to make in the future.100_6312-comp

There is a literal wilderness out there of ideas, inspiration, pictures, patterns, fabrics, and techniques when it comes to the realm of sewing. It can be hard to swim through it and find what fits for you and your particular project, like me trying to decide how exactly to refashion my hat or make my dress. Enjoying the process and just going for what seems best works for me…but it is intimidating that there is so much fun and creative things to do with so little time! What do you like to conquer in that ‘sewing wilderness’ – challenging techniques, tricky fabric prints, detailed designs, or novel ideas? I enjoy making anything, but specifically relish in sewing projects with a relaxed lived-in, easy comfort and fine details. What makes you happy to sew?