Blue Rose of Unattainability

If there is anything that symbolizes the impossible, it is a natural blue rose.  A true color blue just isn’t genetically possible for the thorny flower.  The closest color naturally or scientifically created ends up as a lavender, or violet, or a sort of mauve-ish pink.  Sure, you can dye or paint a rose whatever color you may want, yet science has been beat so far when it comes to growing a rose in an azure tone. 

This is why a blue rose mural is the perfect backdrop for a finished sewing creation which was so very challenging for me to make.  I seriously had the “what if I can’t figure this out” thought during the construction process to my dress.  I was terrified I had met the project which would beat me.  As you can see, I ended up working through it successfully!  Besides, this dress is also another 1950s Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” motivated outfit as a follow up to my previous post.  I cannot just have one princess inspired garment, when it comes to my favorite Disney film, for my “Pandemic Princess” series!  The blue rose theme also lets my choice of color for Princess Aurora’s gown be quietly known.  As much as I love the color pink, her enchanted sleep was taken and awakened in her blue dress.  With her blonde hair, Aurora needs to leave the pink dress to Ariel, the Little Mermaid, in my opinion. 

White may be thought of as a ‘neutral’ or blank color but the funny thing is, I find it hard to find a pure white fabric that doesn’t have a blue undertone. This is a true rarity from a sewist’s perspective!  Only recently have I found out this occurrence is either due to a fabric treatment called “bluing” or an accumulation of acid in the water from deteriorating pipes.  It is hard to escape the frequency of blue in my wardrobe, even when wearing white apparently.  I went along with the theme and wore my blue tulle 50’s poufy slip underneath for full vintage drama.  With the subtle blue tint to the white, the wild rose flower all-over print of the fabric, and the elegant lines to this full-skirted, pretty frock I have an outfit that makes me feel like a princess in more ways than one.  The fact it is a hard won accomplishment to even be wearing this makes the wearing of it so much sweeter of a treat.  I found a different kind of ‘blue rose’ that is attainable…and I absolutely love it. 

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a super soft but thick Indian cotton bedsheet set

PATTERN:  Burda Style pattern #121 “Jacquard Dress” from February 2020, a ‘re-issue’ of a July 1957 “Burda Moden” design

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread and one zipper

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Not counting the time to trace and assemble the pattern, this dress took about 10 hours to complete.  It was finished on August 7, 2020.

TOTAL COST:  This bedsheet set was picked up at a thrift sale for $1.00…pretty awesome, right?!?

From the get-go, there are a few hurdles that set this dress pattern up to be challenging even before reaching the sewing and construction stage.  Firstly, the pattern pieces for this dress are out-of-control ginormous.  They are rather awkward shapes, too.  This was a big, exhaustive deal for me to trace out the pattern pieces form the small and cluttered magazine inserts.  I spent way too many hours bent over on the floor, tracing lines onto see-through medical paper, and taping pieces together.  The larger the pattern, the more I get confused over the lines, and there were several mistakes along the way.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a Burda Style pattern prepped because I add on the seam allowances as I cut.  An online version of the pattern would be a downloadable PDF that then needs to be printed out and assembled together, and this option sounded like too much paper for me to want to deal with. 

Laying out the pattern pieces on the bedsheets took up ALL of our living room floor.

Of course, all of these facts also mean that this design is a complete fabric hog.  You can only choose a fabric at least 60 inches wide (or more) and need about 4 yards.  A directional print or plaids were discouraged in the Burda info, for good reason.  My use of bedding with an overall print was perfect here.  It offered a lot of fabric in a wider width with a print that doesn’t overwhelm the dress’ design lines and all at a cheap cost.  Opting for a reasonable material rather than using any of the nice fabrics from my stash eliminated any extra stress on me to not mess up on this project.  The fabric was such a dense cotton it does have some structure to it – something very necessary for this dress – yet at the same time it is broken in enough to be so very soft and supple.  Yet, being a bedsheet, I could not tell grain line, just the bias, so I just followed the hem as it seemed the tightest woven direction of the fabric.  For this dress, cutting the bias correctly is almost more important than choosing a fabric with body, as the most interesting panels to this design are on the cross grain.

The Burda Magazine page sums this dress up as “a masterpiece” with its “couture draping at the neckline and waist…shaped in the fashion of a French triangular scarf.”  This is not just bragging on the part of Burda as I have come across a few designer couture dresses that have similar design lines with the ‘wrap-around-to-the-front’ skirt pleats that are part of the back skirt’s fullness.  Here is a 1950s Mingolini Guggenheim Italian couture gown and a golden 50’s cocktail dress from the RISD Museum of Costume and Textiles

The old original Burda Moden summary is a hilarious but still wise call back to 70 years ago in the way it warns “Never wear it in the morning, never combine it with a sporty coat and only wear it with at least mid-heeled pumps!”  To match, I am wearing reproduction “Miss L Fire” leather snakeskin and suede bow pumps and a vintage 50’s era netted hat. The earrings are vintage from my Grandmother and my pearl necklace is the same as the ones I gave to my bridesmaids for our wedding.

Let’s dive into the dress’s details, starting with the trickiest ones first!  There is a full ¾ circle skirt, with two pleated panels on each side that are seamed in with both the right and left back skirt panel.  Those panels wrap around horizontally from the side back, along the side waist, into and around the front draping.  The paneled strips are on the bias and actually one piece (cut-on) with the back skirt…and thus there are no side seams whatsoever from the waist down here.  At the center front, half of the back skirt’s incorporated panels (two on each side, remember) end by joining in with the waist seam.  The other half suddenly opens up to become unrestricted, individual tube-like ties.  These are then wrapped under and through the incorporated neckline drape, which is itself seamed into both the dropped shoulders and center front waistline. 

The skirt panels eventually end under a deep front skirt pleat on each side of the center front.  This way the entire front draping affair is one big interconnected “give-n-take” game, equally pulling on all parts of the dress and keeping everything in place.  My brain is still blown away over all this, and also rather stretched thin trying to explain how magical this Burda retro design is.  Not since I sewed this Jacquard dress using another Burda retro re-issue, which also happens to be from 1957, have I experienced this kind of intricacy in a pattern.

Under all of this complexity, the bodice is a basic dart fit.  A good starting point, a blank canvas, is needed for every masterpiece, right?!  There are several knife pleats in the back shoulders that open up to provide fullness for ease of “reach room” movement.  They also then become a low-key mimic to the more ostentatious origami-like folds to the front drape.  The center back waist has a pointed, lowered, dipped seamline, with an invisible zipper coming from that point up to the neck.  This dress has a slight ‘train’ to it and dips longer in the back by a few inches, nicely countering out the weight of the front and opening the pleats.  

I personally am not a big fan of the slight train.  It almost looks like I merely hemmed the dress wonky.  The train looks really odd when I wear this dress with a poufy petticoat, which I do on occasion when I desire a less of an over-the-top vintage appearance.  However, wearing a fluffy slip underneath is the only way to do this dress justice, otherwise I would suggest horsehair braid or another stiffening method to be added in the hem.  This is a couture dress – there’s no way around it, even though my version is in a fine cotton.  This dress requires plenty of time to perfect its details and master the silhouette.  There is no room for a half-hearted effort here, otherwise the dress will only turn out messy.  This is not a project for the faint of heart!   

It might be complex and fancy but this is also a dress which is comfy and very wearable, making the time and effort invested into sewing it very worthwhile.  It could equally be paraded down a red carpet or worn to a nice outdoor picnic party depending on the fabric chosen or how you accessorize it.  My one and only complaint is that the pattern’s sizing seemed to run smaller than usual.  I had to let out the sides and center back seam allowances to a scant 3/8” for a close fit in the bodice.  Otherwise, I wholeheartedly recommend this pattern in every way possible, even with its difficulties.  It is not for a novice, or even an intermediate skills individual who needs more than a words-only instructional text.  Yes, it may be a project that presents a challenge, yet it is worth it in every way when you end up with a dress like this! 

What is your “blue rose” – metaphorically speaking?  Do have a goal that seems an insurmountable hurdle, but you aim to conquer it?  Good for you – that is a “blue rose” kind of aim.  Do you also get annoyed at how blue all the white clothes end up?  Also, what do you think a blonde girl looks better in – blue of pink?  The funny thing is, these two colors were the choices (out of availability of the chosen dresses) I was down to for my wedding’s theme…and my two bridesmaids were both blonde haired.  They wanted pink to wear over blue.  I happily chose a soft pastel pink as the color scheme.  I will be following up this post with one more (final) “Sleeping Beauty” inspired project…and yes, this time it is in pink!

A Pre-Raphaelite Reverie

My avid, life-long research into medieval studies, especially when it comes to manuscripts, is distinctly tied to my fascination for the revival of its tales and artistry through the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which spanned the 1850s to the late 19th century.  The term “Pre-Raphaelite” is associated with the much wider and long-lived “Brotherhood” of English painters, poets, and art critics that included both men and women in its ranks and influenced architecture, music, and literature, as well.  They developed a particular taste instead for medieval and early Renaissance art made ‘pre’, meaning before, Raphael, focusing on working from direct observation with dazzling, sparkling colors and incredible attention to detail.   It is full of romantic idealism, old-style stories, and classically draped damsels in distress…perfect for a princess at heart!

My particular favorites are the pensive, realistically styled images in the latter half of Pre-Raphaelite art, particularly those of medieval characters or fictional fairytale damsels produced by Brotherhood members such as Rossetti and his followers William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Evelyn De Morgan.  The women in such art always have hair and clothing that are total romantic perfection while the men are yearning, staunch, and heroic…I’ve been entranced since my childhood.  In a recent post, my sewing was inspired by the classical, flowing, Grecian style of Disney’s Meg from the 1997 animated film “Hercules”.  Here I am continuing that idealism with posting the making of a dreamy, draping 1940s era “Goddess gown” with matching bolero and jewelry, all inspired by the medieval inspiration behind the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.

How did I link paleographic manuscript studies to both an art form and fashionable clothing?  Well, just like Pre-Raphaelite art, my outfit has a blend of the medieval with the elements of other eras tied into one.  The floral printed silk of my dress and the canvas print of my bolero are veritable copies of the beautifully scientific style of accurately painting nature as can be seen both on the pages of late medieval illuminated manuscripts as well as a tapestry of Burne-Jones.  It was often in the page margins or borders of illuminations that such texts (primarily early 15th century) used flowers and insects so as to heighten and add depth of meaning by their symbolism.  

This is no less the case with Pre-Raphaelite artistry where such a lush amount of detailed flora and insect fauna was frequently added in abundance (especially on tapestries).  Doing so was not just to add beauty, although that is often the extra benefit.  Both this 19th century art form and medieval manuscripts used the visibility of nature to aid and enhance our understanding of ancient stories and the people of the past.  Every moth, every fruited berry, and every flower had a symbolism, a meaning that added to the message of the art, sometimes even hinting at whether well-intentioned or full of irony.  Our modern times have forgotten much of the rich underlying meanings to such beautiful creations, and I say we need to relearn this knowledge!

So why channel this classical idealism through a 1940s gown?  I wanted to emulate Madame Eta Hentz, a designer born in Budapest and educated in Hungary who immigrated to the United States around 1923.  She presented her distinctive masterpiece collection of Grecian themed gowns in circa 1943.  Please click on over with the provided links to see Ms. Hentz’s “Athena gown”, her black and gold “Clytemnestra gown”, her “Iconica” pleated dress, her “Walls of Troy” butter yellow gown, and her unnamed but strongly classical evening gown, one in ivory and a version in black – all from the same Grecian collection at the MET museum.  They are flowing, draping, asymmetric creations resembling either an ancient chlamys, a Roman palla, a column in the Pantheon, or a pleated Fortuny toga. Such a beautifully simplistic style of dressing has been around since the beginnings of civilization, but I love how the late 40’s and 50’s Hollywood puts its own subtle high-fashion spin on such a garment.  Yes, there have been many other designers from many other eras who have created according to ancient inspiration.  Yet, 1940s gowns are already elegant to begin with, and to combine such a trait with the references to the classical past gives a very winning result I had to try for myself.

Furthermore, the post-WWII (40’s into 50’s) boom of Biblical, early Christianity, and ancient history related films also resulted in the popularity of the sensual, sultry “goddess gown”.  In 1949, the year after the pattern I used for my gown, Cecil B. DeMille released Samson and Delilah, a picture that became the biggest hit of that year.  This was one of the very first big epic films made using the latest technology that ushered in the height of the Biblical silver screen drama so prevalent thereafter in the 1950’s. 

Even before the popular quasi-religious films of the mid-century, however, Grecian style gowns were a go-to choice for either elegant evening wear or a classical themed costume in Hollywood at that time.  In 1947, the year before the pattern I used for my gown, the famous Rita Haworth was seen in a sexy, one shouldered goddess gown for playing the part of a Grecian Muse in the popular musical film “Down to Earth”.  Also in 1947, for a Christmas dinner party, the actress Gale Storm graced the screen during the movie “It Happened on 5th Avenue” with an asymmetric goddess gown.  Next to the works of Eta Hentz, this goddess dress heavily influenced my own version.  Similar to the one shoulder strap which mimics a climbing vine on Gale Storm’s evening dress, I incorporated me-made leaf jewelry as a compliment to my outfit.  The accessories I crafted to match are a further nod to the sneaky Pre-Raphaelite inspiration of my outfit besides being a very classical touch.  More on this further down in the post!   

A goddess gown is usually a one-shoulder dress that is made from a quality fabric that drapes gracefully, simple in lines and inspired by the togas of old.  It is so effortless, so ageless in style, and it’s wonderfully flattering for all!  I went with a sheer floral silk underlined with an opaque rayon for my version to turn my goddess gown dreamily feminine rather than just architectural, after the stylizations of Waterhouse and Rossetti.  The bolero is like a condensed minuscule version of the printed silk, and turns the dress into a refined look, with a bit of added interest, while also not disturbing the aesthetic.  My bright green jewelry and vintage green suede heels freshen up the tone, saving it from being too dark.  However, the black background for both pieces to this outfit keeps it moody and somber, just like a Pre-Raphaelite painting.  We happily tuned into that for the photo shoot location.  What could be more melodramatic than old building ruins around a pond with giant lily pads (just like John William Waterhouse’s painting “Ophelia by the pond” from 1894) or gliding into a weeping willow tree at dusk?!  I’m living a dream.  

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  2 yards of sheer 100% silk chiffon, digitally printed. Fully lined in 2 yards of all rayon crepe for the dress. The short bolero jacket is an amazing Rifle Paper Company 100% cotton duck (from Spool and Spindle as part of my prize from the 2018 “Designin’ December” challenge) fully lined in a sage green polyester.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5136, a year 2007 reprint of an original 1948 pattern

NOTIONS:  lots of thread and one zipper

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress took close to 30 hours to make, while the bolero only took 3 hours.  Both were finished in October 2019.

THE INSIDES:  The bolero is fully lined, so there are no seam allowances showing at all!  The entire dress and its rayon lining (which is separate, free flowing) are both finished in French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The silk on discount and was ordered direct from Hong Kong through a shop no longer in business.  The rayon crepe and the poly lining for the bolero are as good as free as they were leftover from past projects and came out of my stash. The bolero fabric was free, but I had to pay the shipping.  So, between the silk, the jewelry I made, and the shipping cost to the bolero fabric, my total cost was about $40.

Of course (knowing me) I slightly adapted the design (of the dress) to accommodate the border print of the silk, but other than that I made this entire outfit as-is out of the envelope…and it is to be highly recommended.  Some vintage reprints have strange amounts of ease or finish different than the cover image, but not this one.  It was indeed easy to make, as it says, too.  It’s only because working with a silk or a rayon crepe is never easy that my version was more challenging.  The bolero’s most challenging part was being precise with the stitching (and then trimming) the curvy seams around all the edges. 

The one slight change I made to the dress can be seen when I walk away.  I think the contrast panel train I added is a beautiful touch!  I had to add a gored godet to the center back of my dress’ skirt because working with two yards of border print material wasn’t enough to go around the bottom hem.  The one selvedge to the silk had the floral border I used along the hem while its opposite selvedge had a dense line of paisley ‘almonds’.  I used this paisley along the other selvedge for the back skirt godet add-in, and drafted its godet point to start where the center back zipper ends and curve out past the hem to be a train. 

Here’s a close-up of the right side seam bodice gathers.

The bodice was cut out of the material in front of the paisley selvedge where the underlying print is more spread out with only a few random bugs and flowers.  I actually had to seam together several smaller pieces of rayon to make my remnants work for lining this dress, but as it is inside underneath the silk, the odd excess seams are unnoticeable.  This was such close call of a project!

As it turned out, the heavy rayon lining sort of pulls the dress down on the one open-shouldered side, and I half think that adding boning as well an inner grosgrain ribbon waistband would’ve been a worthwhile idea to improve upon the bodice.  It is just fine without such ‘improvements’ too, though.  A structured bodice would bring this dress closer to the silhouette of a 1950s era dress and deviate the dress away from the soft, flowing overall appearance I was aiming for originally.  It’s often good to leave what’s well enough alone.  At least I did made sure to sew seam tape into my stitching along the top neck edge and into the dual skinny shoulder straps so these spots don’t stretch out of shape at all.  As I’m my own garments’ maker, I’m naturally going to be hard on myself.  I realize this much.  Any small ‘faults’ cannot in the least make me love this outfit any less.

The bolero’s fabric was a happy find that just happened to match because, I’ll admit, it was only made as an afterthought.  When first creating the dress, I discounted the hope of finishing a complete set as I had no idea what would be a good pairing.  Would a solid color bolero overwhelm?  Would a black one underwhelm?  I was at a loss.  What would remotely ‘match’ the printed silk enough to seamlessly blend in with the dress?  Upon browsing the “Spool and Spindle” site after receiving my “Designin’ Designer” gift, I was looking through the Rifle Paper Co. fabrics (something nice I would never buy on my own).  I happened to see a fabric print so similar to the silk goddess dress already made and jumped out of my seat.  Serendipity had decided for me a matching bolero was on the table!  Luckily, I only needed half of a yard for the bolero.  Rifle Paper Co. fabrics are pricey and my certificate voucher just covered it.  Yay!  I loved putting my prize fabric towards a very special outfit like this.

Beautiful seams, amazing details, and clever construction are all packed into this little jacket.  A backwards closing bolero comes across as very unusual to me, first of all.  I added two shiny, faceted black buttons to close this behind my back neck with hand-stitched chain loops.  The back opening lets the dress just barely peek from underneath.  As if these features aren’t cool enough, there is that slight cowl neck front neckline fold, the front hem curve notch, and those perfectly curved cut-on cap sleeves which all totally vie for my “favorite garment feature ever” title!  What makes this little jacket even better (if that’s possible) is the fact that it is slightly longer than most boleros, and actually comes down to the waistline, so it pairs with other things in my wardrobe, such as my black Burda pants (posted here)…among other things!  Not that I ever wholly mind a one-way-to-wear-it outfit, but multi-use sewing is such a wonderful payback.

My handmade jewelry includes a full bracelet, earrings, and necklace set.  The necklace is the main piece.  It was two sets of enameled leaf ‘charms’ from the “Gilded Age Timeline by Bead Treasures”, a Hobby Lobby line of vintage and Steampunk inspired jewelry supplies.  They were on deep clearance, probably due to having the date of 2013.  Each pack made a chain of 7 inches, and I knew the base of my neck (measuring around tightly) is 15 inches…this would be a close call.  The lobster clasp and loop closure, as well as the front ring that combines both leaf chains, added another 1 ½ inches so I ended up with a perfect length for a closely fitting necklace.  The two leaf chains fan away from one another yet meet in the middle front and back of my neck, so my necklace ends up looking like a Grecian or Roman coronet. 

In medieval imagery, a laurel leaves symbolize peace, tranquility, and the power of a promise.  A simple internet search has shown me that 15 inch enameled leaf necklaces were not only existent but also popular, primarily in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was onto something era appropriate anyway, it seems!

As there weren’t any more of the necklace leaves to be had, I improvised to make something similar to complete the jewelry set.  I chose green glass teardrop beads in the same deep but bright green color as the enameling on the necklace leaves.  I made the bracelet and earrings reference the necklace by interweaving small metal leaf beads above each glass teardrop.  I rather love the look of how this jewelry set turned out.  There’s nothing quite like an outfit that is all handmade, excepting the shoes (and underwear), of course, ha! 

This is a project into which I put a lot of thought and meaning, since not only have medieval subjects been a lifelong interest but I am also much more artistic on paper than I let on through this blog.  Perhaps that’s what helped my outfit to be just as dreamy and romantic as the inspiration behind it, though.  I could have expounded upon several points in detail but I reigned myself in to keep on topic! I only hope I conveyed some of my thoughts, inspiration, and construction notes in a clear and intriguing manner enough to maybe even interest you in finding a channel for your own goddess gown. 

It really does take a lot of effort to come up with a completely me-made outfit and also make it look just like what was dreamed up in one’s own head.  That is perhaps the hardest part to sewing up something based off an exciting idea…to have what you end up with be just as you had hoped.  It doesn’t always happen that way for me, yet even still, I always make sure to be proud of what I made and even enjoy the surprises along the way.  Not here, though – it’s all that and more!  You know, the definition of a “reverie” – as used in my title – is “a pleasant state of abstracted meditation or fanciful musing; to be lost in a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.”  I see that it is said reveries often never come to fruition, being often negatively labeled as only a daydream.  Bah.  Anyone who believes that has never sewn.  To be able to swish and glide around in this 1940s set the same way as I had hoped to be able to as I saw it in my mind’s eye is a fantastic thing.  Make that reverie work out in real life for you – it’s worth it!

The Legacy of Jessica McClintock

Fashion historians can talk about classic styles, definitive outfits, and remarkable designers until they’re blue in the face, but a humble Gunne Sax dress seems to outlast them all with its quaintness, audaciousness, and romanticism.  A Gunne Sax dress is a dressed down and nonchalant kind of finery.  It embodies a longing for a dream world, a sense of nostalgia attached to a sense of ‘what used to be’ that is their great appeal…incidentally also something to be found (in some degree) in every generation.  The persevering passion over this style of dressing, which has seen a renewed comeback over the last year, is made all the more poignant with the recent passing of Jessica McClintock (as of February 16, 2021).  

She was the brains behind crafting a popular American version of the English Laura Ashley style.  She had enough of a thumb on her times (70’s and 80’s) to use ingenuity to propel her both her Gunne and later independent McClintock brand to something anchored in the bedrock of fashion history.  This, my tribute to her long lasting legacy, was already crafted last year, yet only now I have a strong spur in my side to post this very special, pet project.  Much time, attention to detail, and emotional connection was poured into this venture.  Yet, often it’s the exceptional things I sew which are the ones I also am the most reluctant to share…and this project certainly falls in such a category.  By interpreting anew a kind of dressing that permeated my childhood and curated my lifelong taste in clothes, I have come full circle…and I just have to share this benchmark moment!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  All vintage printed 100% cottons from the early 1980s (I can tell by the selvedge stamps)

PATTERN: Vogue #9076, year 2015

NOTIONS:  Except for the thread and interfacing, all other notions are true vintage from the 1930s.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on December 9, 2020 after over 40 hours (lovingly) spent.

THE INSIDES:  From the waist and up is lined, and the skirt seams are cleanly covered in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  I acquired the fabrics for this dress through a vintage shop that was going out of business last year on account of the pandemic.  A whole big box of fabrics was $25, and these were some of the many cuts in there.  This whole dress cost me mere pittance.

I just have to admit it to all of you – I am old enough to just remember the frilly, feminine, prairie dresses when they were the original fad (circa 1969 to 1989).  This was before they became cliché, only to eventually transform into the stylish trend of post-pandemic life.  Hello, “cottage core” and the “Target Dress Challenge” fads of today…what you’re pushing is really not a completely new thing, as many seem to half-acknowledge when they call it “retro”.  The source for this ‘look’ comes from a respectable designer label of less than 50 years ago.  It is not gonna be as attractive as can be when it is reworked through the cheap “fast fashion” means and thought of as costumes from “Little House on the Prairie”.  Hey, I understand we all need some fun and laughter nowadays, but no rehashing can come close to the beauty of a true Gunne Sax…unless I hope you’re talking about my version here. 

I sincerely hope I have given McClintock’s vision true justice here.  Sure, I’ll admit I did use a modern pattern to make my dress.  Nevertheless, it had all the trademarks classic to a Gunne Sax.  I hate to brag but I’ve worn my dress to a vintage shop which primarily sells such an aesthetic and they thought I was wearing a true Gunne.  Cue the internalized glee!  You have no idea how special this dress project is to me, and how successful I was at bringing a perception to life is the cherry on the top.

Her label’s offerings had an admirable excess of materials and perfection of detail not commonly associated with more modern ready-to-wear.  I needed almost 7 yards of material to make my version – 6 ½ yards of the 45” width floral print and ½ yard of the contrast blue!  Nevertheless, Gunne Sax original items were also created with easy-care materials at a modest price point for a universal appeal and accessibility.  As I mentioned in my “Facts” info above, my dress is all cotton, and being a vintage thrift find, too, it was luckily a bargain for all this yardage (which would otherwise generally be expensive).  The print has the classic “cabbage roses” which are quintessential for both Jessica McClintock as well as the decade of the 1980s.

She incorporated qualities of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a bit of Renaissance touches, to her designs – high collars, lace, and loads of buttons.  This was very anti-establishment and a bold experiment for the times.  Just think about how stark of a difference a Gunne Sax is from the proper 50’s styles or the Mod 60’s fashions.  Yet, the early 70’s was also riding off of the liberated ideals of the Flower Child and Ossie Clark explosion of the late 60’s.  Anything goes as far as style today, when leaving the house is an occasion in itself.  I say a Gunne Sax has to be one of the best ways to be ultimately comfy but still pretty in an instant.  One of these kind of dresses is like being in a princess dream while awake.

It all started for Jessica McClintock about 1969 when she invested $5,000 from her savings and became partners with Eleanor Bailey, who was the head of design and production for the Gunne Sax Company.  According to Bailey’s son, the name was a somewhat ‘sexy’ adaptation of the gunny sack – rough, burlap bags used for potatoes and sack races (info from here).  Eleanor soon stepped down, leaving McClintock to head the (then) small local San Francisco dress boutique.  McClintock refined the prairie style of the offerings into something “incorporating romance and beauty, and an elegant sensuality, into every product she designed” (from her obituary).  Very soon after she began selling profitably internationally, even branching out into offering nightwear and perfume. 

The first store under her own label, Jessica McClintock, was opened in San Francisco in 1981, which then fully merged with and took over the Gunne Sax line in 1987.  Many women who were teens and twenty-somethings in the 80’s (or even 90’s) know her line of dresses as the coveted, ideal prom pick or a preferred choice for a casual outdoor wedding event – all more formal wear than her previous line.  In 1997, “Women’s Wear Daily” ranked her brand under the “Top 100 most recognized”, ranked as the 7th behind Cartier and Tiffany.  McClintock once joked that she probably used more lace in her offerings than any other label.  In 2013, after 43 years in fashion, Jessica quietly decided to retire at 83, yet she continued to be a part of the brand under the direction of her son Scott.

My mom made most of my nice clothes for me as a child (before my teen years), as I mentioned in my previous post where I said how the color blue frequently appeared in my wardrobe.  Well, this project has several different shades of blue!  I made a few of my casual clothes myself back then, and I overall liked that most of my wardrobe had a general theme of lots of lace, pretty colors, quaint cotton prints…all features common to a Gunne Sax.  I even had ruffled pantaloons to wear under my childhood dresses!  Just because I was too young for a trend that was popular for girl 10 or more years older than me (at that time) doesn’t mean my mother and I were not fashion conscious enough to incorporate it into my younger styles!  As a teen, my sewing skills were not up to the details incorporated into a Gunne Sax, thus making my own back then was out of the question…but then again I did not have an occasion to need something like that anyway.  Now, all these years later, such is no longer the case!

Sadly, I have not yet handled or seen in person a true Gunne Sax dress to have a baseline for my re-interpretation.  They are much too popular and pricey right now for me to be able to do that.  Buying one for myself back when they were out sadly did not happen either.  However, I have studied pictures of many originals offered through Etsy, Instagram, or Pinterest and I have heard that they are often cleanly lined inside.  Being a Vogue, the pattern I used calls for full bodice lining and exhaustive details already, making a lie out of the “easy” rating on the envelope back.  There isn’t any complex technique called for per se, it’s just a lot of tight corners, precise stitching, and intricate piecing required.  This was a pattern worthy of becoming a Gunne Sax!  I chose the view C dress with the puffier sleeves and wider cuffs of view A.  Then I also added a wide ruffle at the skirt hem to make the skirt longer and more like popular Gunne styles of the late 70’s and 80’s.

I feel that I “improved” the slightly poor instructions in certain places to achieve cleaner finish.  Firstly, you are instructed to sew in the bodice lining in such a way that most of the seams, including the waistline, is exposed.  With just a little extra step, and some forethought, I have my bodice lining cover the inner body raw edges.  A clean inside adds so very much to the wonderful experience of this fantastic dress as a whole.  It would be a shame – in my opinion – to go through all the bother of making its exhaustive detailing and leave out one or two little touches which will add nothing visibly impressive yet something so special to see for your own personal pride.  Besides, a cleanly finished inside is so much more comfortable to wear.  A bulky waist seam is always better for comfortable wearing enjoyment when it can be covered if you’re going to add lining anyways.

Secondly, I know how much of a pain making tiny bias loops are in the first place, and how hard it is to have them become small loop closures which both actually stay in place and look nice.  I could see such a closure being bulky along the front and you can’t clip the extra allowance down because (as some blog reviewers sadly experienced) the loops will have a tendency to slip out of the seam.  After noting the details on true Gunne Sax dresses, I opted for something similar and used vintage loop tape. 

I bought this vintage loop tape understanding it to be from the 1930s on account of the decorative cotton twill tape which is the base for the loops.  I do believe the dating to be true after finding the exact same notion on one of my 1930s negligees.  Yay!  This makes the front closing daintier, lends my make to be especially unique, and is considerably more stable of a closing than bias fabric loops.  Practically speaking, nevertheless, there really wasn’t much fabric leftover to turn into button closings.  I hand stitched the trim down just along the underside edge of the finished right front closure.  It was too pretty of a notion to bury in the seam during construction.

However, a Gunne Sax is never overly straightforward, but always has a tasteful amount of unnecessary flourish.  To match with the 30’s era loop tape, I chose a vintage cotton lace trim to add to most of the seams where the contrast panels join the main dress fabric.  This was sold to me as a 1910s to 1930s era vintage notion, and the unusual feel of the cotton, the slight fading of the color, the irregularity of the design, and the intricate detail to the trim all lead me to believe this dating.  Still, I’m not 100% positive this is correct. Either way, I was ecstatic over the way it was the perfect match in color.  I love the way it adds the right amount of detail without also being fussy or distracting.  It nicely blends in the transition between the two fabrics.  It mirrors the way almost every classic Gunne Sax has decorative trimming along the bodice seams.  After seeing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ the trim was added to my dress, I was blown away at how adding the perfect notion can help a project pop.  I had 3 ¾ yards of the lace on hand and I had only 3 inches leftover when I was done.  It was luckily just enough length to work!

A Gunne Sax has an aesthetic of yesteryear, so I added vintage, Depression-era carved pearl buttons from the stash of my Hubby’s Grandmother.  Yes, more 1930s notions!  I sewed them down right alongside the seam where the underlap goes on the left side.  (The underlap covers up any gape along the button closure.)  My sleeve cuffs do feature non-working buttons, however.  I used buttons which were somewhat imperfect (that’s all I had left after finding 9 matching ones for the front) and I didn’t want any more fuss to work with just to get dressed.  I can roll my hands together to make them smaller and just slide the sleeves on but yet they are still snug enough to fit fine during a wearing.  One little bit of a cut corner isn’t going to hurt, right?

After all this, don’t get me wrong, though – I always chose very modern, bold, bright colored things when it came to my fashion modeling for department stores, my choice of a bicycle, or kind of Barbie doll I preferred in my grade school years.  Yet, Jessica McClintock often spoke of her belief that “Romance is a beauty that touches the emotional part of our being.”  The frilly, dreamy garments from my childhood are the ones which remind me of memorable occasions which were part of what makes the ‘me’ of today. 

Based on the year printed along the selvedge of the main fabric, I am dating this dress to 1982, which is before I even existed.  Nevertheless, the pandemic has helped me embrace my past and appreciate my loved ones in new ways. 

Sewing my own Gunne Sax is one of the many avenues I can tangibly materialize such familial nostalgia…which is why I’m wearing my childhood locket necklace, too.  I received this as a gift from my parents when I was 13.  Inside, it still has the old pictures of my mom and my dad back from when we had an unforgettably fun family vacation the year after.  

For better or for worse, it’s funny how what we wear can be so inexorably tied to the affections and reminiscences of life!  I know I will have many new, wonderful memories in the future while wearing this old-style Gunne Sax recreation of mine!  As the phrase for the modern McClintock brand says – every day is a celebration of life.  There is yet another McClintock dress in the works as I write this…

Peony Blush

Peony buds are so pretty but quite fussy to appreciate in their prime beauty, much like finding the perfect ripeness of an avocado.  The peony bushes are one of my favorite spring blossoms in our backyard except they have a very small time frame before they get musky in smell, with wilted petals and droopy stems.  It’s as if they are either bashful beauties or merely overwhelmed by their own superfluity.  This year though, we not only were able to photograph that ‘sweet spot’ for our peony bushes, but I also matched with their particular color, too!  So – small, urban backyard ugliness be darned – I happily sported my newest vintage-style make for the occasion.

This simple dress has all the qualities to be a chic, versatile, comfortable, yet easy-to-sew wardrobe staple item.  There is no interfacing and closures needed (no zippers, hooks, snaps, or extra notions) so it’s perfect for these Covid times when sewing supplies and mail deliveries are hard to come by.  You pop it over the head and you’re good to go!

Only two yards was enough to work with (no matter what the envelope back says) so it is not good for smaller remnants – unless you use one fabric for the front panel and a different one for the back…just a wild thought!  Crazy prints, large scale florals, and hard-to-match designs are all great fabric choices for this pattern as there are basically two very large cuts with nothing to break them up except for two, small, French-style bust darts in the front panel.  Unlike many of the other “Jiffy” line of patterns in the 60’s and 70’s which I have tried, this one does have the best shaping and fit out of all of them.  As you can tell, I am completely sold on this pattern and wish I had sewn this dress a few years back as I originally intended!  I am so glad I finally got around to whipping it together.

The shoes (60’s era), bracelet (80’s from my childhood), and earrings (from my Grandma) to my outfit are true vintage items, but the flower accessory you see along the waist was made by me.  It is a trio of airy rosettes composed of lime green chiffon leftover from this retro dress project.  It was a quick and relatively easy accent to assemble that I think provides the right contrast to the overwhelming amount of pink in the print.  As I used a duckbill clip on the back, I can also wear this in my hair if I please!  There is a Threads magazine tutorial which I used as my guide – you need no pattern – and a scrap of heavy muslin or interfacing as a base.  It’s all in the article “Coming Up Roses” by Kenneth D. King from the Threads magazine #142.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a sheer polyester crepe print fully lined in a solid light pink sheer cotton batiste

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1356, also sometimes numbered as S0567.  It is reprint from 2014 of an original Simplicity #8125, year 1969

NOTIONS:  All I needed was lots of thread!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Making it from start to finish took me about 6 hours.  It was finished on May 3, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  What insides? All raw edges are encased by the cotton second dress I sewed inside lie a lining.

TOTAL COST:  I really don’t remember.  I bought this on deep clearance when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing.  Two yards of each fabric probably didn’t cost me much!

Sure, this might be a pattern from 1969, but I think it is quite timeless in design, if a bit unusual.  A kind and knowledgeable reader commented on this post on my wrap-on, 70s era, apron-sundress to let me know about Andrea Zittel and her “Smockshop” project of 2006.  Andrea Zittel’s basic smock pattern – with her simplified outlook to the basis for creativity – is really no different than this vintage pattern when you look at the basic outline.  A little tweak here and a tweak there to Zittel’s basic idea and we have this pattern.  I am not saying that either copied off of the other, but I’m just sharing a different way to look at this style of garment.  If you Google all the amazing versions artists and creators came up with using Andrea’s smock pattern (A wrap-on evening gown? Yes, please…), I am envisioning all the different ways this vintage 1969 pattern could be tweaked to make something completely different than where it started.  This pattern has so much hidden potential. Certain slight details to this dress have won me over.  For instance, I am completely enamored by the squared neckline.  It is such a subtle feature yet so different and appealing.  Something I never expected from making this dress is the way the back wrap half opens up when you walk or when the breeze blows and gives the impression of an overskirt.  The front skirt half fully wraps around to the back for full coverage and no fear of a peek-a-boo of thigh, but at the same time this makes the skirt seem more slim fitting than the back half which wraps over it.  Yes, the fact that I used a solid contrast color to fully line the inside of this dress emphasizes the impression of an overskirt.  But either way, this pattern’s neckline and lovely skirt were two surprises I did not see coming when looking at the tissue pieces as I was cutting it out.  Beforehand, I looked at plenty of other reviews on blogs as well as Instagram, with no hint or mention of these features, so perhaps it has to do with the very lightweight fabrics I chose.  Yet, I believe it has more to do with the slight changes I made to the pattern.

The most obvious change is the fact I added sleeves.  Sleeves to a wrap-on dress are not the norm, and you all know I like a challenge!  I traced out the little cap sleeves which are part of this mid-1940s dress because I liked how the ‘hem’ is really a fold so that there is two layers, i.e. self-faced sleeves for a pretty underside.  For a wrap dress, pretty undersides are important because fabrics’ wrong sides and any raw edges are easily seen unless the garment is fully lined or has French or bound finishing.  I slightly altered the sleeve pattern to have a longer armscye to work with the wrap under the arm and I also added more curving to the shoulder portion so as to match with the dress’ non-40’s style of a sleeve which is set further into the main body.  It was really much easier to add on than I expected and completely upgrades the overall appearance to the dress from saying “summer fun” to also “chic” in a really subtle way.

As a side note for clarification, I keep calling the solid light pink cotton side of my dress ‘a lining’ because I do not like polyester against my skin.  Because of that, I only intend on wearing this with the floral side out.  Technically, this dress is completely reversible, and the pattern intends it to be that way but I just do not really like this solid color when worn on the outside.  I look too washed out and think the dress seems more like nightwear that way.  I have a few reversible dresses already (here and here) and so I felt I did not really need this particular one to be yet another.  The blush pink is pretty enough as a sweet flash of a contrast.

The second major change I made to the dress is how I redrafted the tie closures of the front to be just above my waistline.  The pattern design has the front ties end at an empire level, just below the bust.  I am not a big fan of the empire waist on myself unless I am wearing a historical Regency clothing, or a style with similar proportions.  So I lowered the arching of the front overwrap, which is on the back panel, by just over 2 inches and redrew the curve.  I am so glad I did this adjustment but – as I said above – I do think it changed how the overskirt lays.  Even if some small intricacies to finished dress’ features came out as a very good surprise to me, I did engineer the rest of the features to be just how I wanted them.  Those turned out just as nice as I expected.  Every little tweak you do to a pattern has an effect on other parts to the overall design you might not expect.  Sewing is so interesting, exciting, and complex, isn’t it?!

The appearance of the dress can be slightly changed up just depending on what you do with the long closure ties.  If I want more of a loose and straight A-lined dress I merely tie the front ends in a bow or leave them hang.  If I want more of a defined waistline I wrap the long ties around my waist twice and knot in back.  I did choose to make my ties half the width as the original pattern.  To be clear, one tie cut out according to the original pattern gave me two ties because I cut the width in half.  They are just as long still, but I personally like the delicateness of skinnier ties.  They are much easier to tie anyway than wide ones, even though skinny ties are miserable things to turn inside out when making them.

The back closures you don’t see and the dress length were the last things to mention that I also changed.  I added a whopping 8 inches to the hem.  Yes, it might have been overkill, but I am all about midi length dresses at the moment and I like the elegance of it on this dress compared to the very 60s style shorter length of the original.  After making this 40’s era wrap top, I knew I didn’t want a repeat of the fussy way it closed behind my back.  This 60s pattern called for the same deal – two sets of ties.  The ties on that 40’s top tend to come undone on me after some time of wearing and if I make a sloppy bow they are a tad bulky.

Thus, for this dress I made small loops across from oversized buttons for a secure and simplified closing that is super easy to execute blindly behind my back.  The top closure to my dress felt better on me with an extra extension so I added a second loop for more than one option of comfort.  I was also able to make useful two random, mismatching, oversized buttons, too!  I know I said this dress was wonderful because it needed no closures, but then I go and add some so I can sound like a hypocrite.  Ah, anyone who has sewn long enough can sympathize with how sometimes a project can take an unexpected turn.  However, I suspect I secretly love to overthink things sometimes.  That is life.  I forget I tend to be a perfectionist.

To talk about trying to think about everything, not only did I come up with a clip-on flower, but I even made a face mask to match my dress!  This mask and all the ones I make have several layers for protection (one is polyester, two are cotton, with one extra interfacing layer).  I only had enough of my dress’ floral print scraps to make a second copy of this exact mask for my husband’s mother.  The pattern I use for all my masks is a free download from here (youtube.com/anjurisa), and I highly recommend it.  I slightly altered the pattern to give more room in the nose (many members in my and my husband’s family have a more endowed schnozzle than I) and figured out how to save on elastic by having most of the strap be a fabric tube, except for a little 2 inch stretchy section in the side of the mask.  Yes, here I go overthinking again.  Yet, my efforts do yield a very good, full coverage, highly filtering mask I do believe!

They are a necessity of the times, and all the other colors besides pink in this particular floral print – the green and purple – help the mask co-ordinate with plenty more outfits besides this one.  I personally don’t completely mind matching my mask so exactly to my outfit of the day, yet it brings up my self-consciousness that I am making it way too obvious to viewers I am wearing a self-made outfit.  Not that this is a bad thing, because I am proud of what I sew and am personally confident in my creations, it’s just I have been careful not to be overwhelmed by mask making efforts.  If you highlight the fact you make masks, there is the chance you can get inundated by peoples’ orders.  My stress levels have been high over these last few months and that is causing all sorts of unpleasant side effects to show up on my body by now.  Mask making stresses me out further, but I do realize over the past months, it is one of the most important efforts one can perform using a sewing machine.  Self-care is also very important in our world today, too, so I limit my mask making and keep up my sewing projects in between everything.

This is so far off from where I started talking about how peony flowers are like avocados, isn’t it?!  I’ve covered everything between my inspiration leading up to this outfit, making a flower brooch and a mask, to Andrea Zittel and her ‘Smockshop’.  It just goes to show that things are not always what they seem, nor do my ‘simple’ projects always end up so straightforward.  It is often the more basic sewing which leaves room for extra creativity, anyway.  After all of this, I hope you pick up this 1969 dress pattern and find your own way to personalize it the way I did so you can enjoy this easy but cute wrap frock the way I am!