“For the First Time in Forever…”

“…There’ll be actual, real, live people.  It’ll be totally strange, but wow, am I so ready for this change!”

– words of the character Anna from the 2013 Disney Animated movie “Frozen”. Watch the movie’s sing-along song video here!

I’ll be singing her song too (hopefully soon) this year when fully coming out of isolation with my family!  For us, it has been too long of a time away from many “formerly normal” happenings such as vacations, hugs with friends and family, or exciting live but crowded concerts.  Now, I found the perfect dress to sew for a materialization of such feelings – an ‘Anna dress’ from the song sequence “For the First Time in Forever”! 

Now this particular introductory entry in my “Pandemic Princess” collection ended up the most expensive out of all the rest, as well as the most recognizable compared to its film inspiration.  I also just finished sewing it the week before the end of the 2020 year.  For these reasons, and the fact “Frozen” always seems to make strong Christmas appearance yearly, my Anna dress was what I wore for the few safe and social-distanced holiday occasions we had this year.   Wearing my tiara and Anna dress around to all the socially distanced outdoor lights displays was the perfect place to both be ‘Disney-fied’ and over-the-top fancy without turning any other heads besides those of the little girls. 

I tell you one thing – the smiles that lit up and the eye twinkles which appeared in the females 8 years and younger as we passed were the most amazing pay back for my sewn projects EVER!  Those little girls gave me this happy, expressive face letting me know they ‘got’ my dress, and 100% understood its reference.  It was our little instant secret together, no need for a spoken word.  To think – I had just made their moment special, and they made mine in return!  It was the most touching social result of all my outfits, even princess ones.  Sure, I got adult compliments too, but they did not seem to know the Disney reference when we spoke and seemed to appreciate the outfit for itself (which is fine and welcomed just the same).  Leave it to the innocent to give the most direct and truest means of communication – through facial emotions.  Luckily, I could read their faces as the younger set often are not required to wear Covid face masks!

The red-brown headed Princess Anna is a character that’s sweet but quirky, optimistic, impulsive, ever ready to be helpful, and only 18 in age at the time of the original “Frozen” of 2013, Disney’s 53rd animated film.   The story is set in the mid 1800s in the fictitious Scandinavian fjord town of Arendelle.  Anna has a sister three years older (Elsa, who is crowned Queen) with magical abilities and both of them have been locked away in the castle for a decade through their childhood because of those powers.  There are situational and emotional complexities that arise when the lives of the two sisters are changed after their quarantine is lifted.  Rather than the classic Disney pattern of a romantic relationship tale, the film duo has given us a loving sister relationship they have to fight for at the forefront of their story – but that only comes manifest at the end of the first movie. 

The particular dress I chose to interpret for myself focuses on an earlier part of the storyline when Anna is excited and naive while Elsa is uneasy and afraid.  (Read a great critique of the meanings and moods behind each of the verses of “For the First Time in Forever” here.)  Their outfits are very ethnic inspired, with a nod to historical dress, for the special occasion of coronation day.  Anna’s dress is particularly abundant with traditional Norwegian rosemåling in the form of embroidery all over her skirt panels as well as her bodice neckline.  While I love the colors of, details on, and overall effect of the outfit, I felt this was the one I disliked the most out of all the costumes the girls wear in both “Frozen” movies.  That was hands down the one I had to reinvent for myself.  I had to figure out my own way to like that distinctive film dress for it to be redeemed in my mind. 

There was something about the movie version of Anna’s outfit from “For the First Time in Forever” which slightly bothered me.  Either she is missing a blouse as an under layer to it (such as Elsa her sister wears) or Anna’s top mimics a decorated corset.  Also, the fact it was solid black kind of overwhelmed the skirt too much in my mind and took away from her necklace.   Those ‘sleeve’ drapes across her shoulders needed to go away in my mind, as well, but I can still vaguely understand the idea of how Disney drew that detail looking at mid-1800s styles (see picture at right).  Next, the challenge was finding a more familiar historical reference for my own version.  Through all the vintage pattern scrolling I do on a regular basis, I had noticed a very similar style of gored and pleated skirt (according to design lines, I mean) had been on dresses circa 1949 to the late 50’s.  The popularity of the full skirts which needed floofy slips to keep a bell shape was for me a natural channel to begin interpreting Anna’s dress.  Sewing pattern Advance #8551 from the early 1950s is labelled as the ‘Pretty-As-A-Princess Dress’, interestingly enough.

I chose a vintage Burda Style pattern dating to June 1955, reprinted in July 2020 as #121, as my base because I saw the opportunity to make the blouse and the skirt more harmonious together.  The panels to the skirt as well as the neckline binding to the Burda pattern were just the exact width of the faux rosemåling embroidery light green panels.  The bottom half of the Burda design streamlined Anna’s long length, deeply pleated skirt by merely being a configuration of triangular godets and rectangular panels ending at knee length.  I did reduce the number of godets and panels to 10 of each instead of 14 each to end with a smooth, ungathered skirt.  However, beyond this slight adjustment I sewed the design up as it was from Burda, and I couldn’t be happier with both the fit and the final look!

The dress was really not that challenging to make, just very time consuming.  There were sooo very many straight seams to assemble the skirt, and the bodice had underarm gussets.  However, as long as I had every piece and matching point numbered it was all decently clear and not confusing.  The bodice ended up fitting on the slightly snug side while the waist turned out rather too generous when I chose to use my ‘normal’ size which I always use in Burda patterns.  My scarf belt hides and pulls in the loose fitting waist and the stretch in my fabric accommodates to the slightly snug bodice.  Overall, though, this vintage Burda reprint turned out practically the best out of all their reissues.  The greatest trial was sandwiching the zipper in between the left side underarm gusset and the skirt panels.  I love how the gussets give the bodice such a fine shape and ease in movement.  The skirt panels matched perfectly together into the waistline.  This was a joy of a project, if a bit overwhelming.

Now, you are probably bothered with curiosity by now over the fact that my fabric print is just like the movie version.  The answer to that doubles as the reason why my Anna dress was expensive.  I had a movie look-alike design printed on 100% cotton sateen through the Spoonflower site.  It was a color scheme created by an existing account which specializes in Disney cosplay – not of my own making.  Nevertheless, Spoonflower services are not cheap, but when you have a great idea that has turned into more of a mission…well, I figured it was my Christmas treat.  The ‘embroidery’ look is achieved through a feathered sketching that mocks true rosemåling.  I actually used it to my advantage at the neckline to actually embroider over the faux print to keep the overlapping down in place.  This way decorative topstitching hides in plain sight the useful tacking! 

The fabric was printed in panels which alternate both decorative strips and solid green blocks so I could cut the respective pattern pieces I wanted out of each kind of section.  This printing layout was needed to fit the pattern pieces but required me to buy at least 4 yards of material…a pricey amount to need through a custom order.  I chose cotton sateen so my dress would have a crisp structure and a slight shine.  The Spoonflower sateen doesn’t take to ironing very well, and my fabric actually came with a printing flaw, so I regard their services as a necessary evil to be endured in times of particular creativity.  The sateen is soft and pretty, and seemed to be the perfect fabric choice for this dress anyway.  All is well that ends well, especially when it is something which ends up this pretty!

To complete the Anna ensemble, I chose a vintage 90’s cross-on-a-ribbon choker from my childhood, a cotton sateen sash belt, and finally Charlie Stone shoe company’s Hallstatt suede heels.  Charlie Stone came out with a “Frozen” inspired shoe collection last fall, 2020.  I chose the Hallstatt suede flat heels because they match perfectly with the shoes Anna wore in “For the First Time in Forever”.  Besides, they have a subtle nod to Elsa, Anna’s sister, with the cut out designs.  All of these accessories add the right touches of black for my taste, for the perfect remaking of Anna’s movie outfit.  My vintage 1950s earrings are from my Grandmother, laid out in a very Arendelle-style trefoil design which matches both my shoe cut-outs and the dress’ faux rosemåling on the light green panels. 

What princess would be complete without a crown, too?!  I chose the Anna crown from The Disney Store, [SPOILER ALERT] as it is a copy of the one she wore at her own coronation at the end of “Frozen 2”.  It is a very substantial metal enameled piece which is beautiful and surprisingly well made.  It also finalizes my outfit by completing in symbolism Anna’s journey from unnoticed, naïve princess to a capable queen.

For as much as I love this particular princess outfit, I do have a disclaimer.  The two “Frozen” movies are to be included in my blog post series for reasons far less personal or intentional than the rest of my “Pandemic Princess” outfits to come.  After all, Elsa and Anna are part of the Disney princess “club” which has been a popular franchise in the last few decades.  Yes, their movies are a feast for the eyes and ears, besides enjoyable to watch (if rather moody and emotive for kids).  The “Frozen” tales are also the most recent big deal in the Disney princess realm, as can be seen by the heavy marketing still existent in the kid’s section of any store online or in-person.  Yet, what truly wins me over are the fashions the two sisters wear.  If only just animation, I am enamored by the colors, the details, and everything about what is worn by the leading ladies of “Frozen”.   

All this being said, however, I really don’t like the movies.  Sorry to the fans who are offended by this, but I’m being honest on my own platform here (so don’t come at me, please).  They aren’t the kind of movies from the “Golden Age” of the 90’s Disney that I adore enough to know every single word to all the songs.  Nor can I relate to the “Frozen” characters enough, even though they are very adult in character and conflicts.  Compared to what the inspiration basis is for the “Frozen” movies, I think the original source provides a far more impressive, memorable, and teaching tale than the washed down, modernized Disney version.  Hans Christian Andersen penned The Snow Queen, or Sneedronningen in its original Danish, in December 1844 and it is almost unrelatable to Disney’s version, even if they did do an excellent job at reinventing the story in a compelling manner.  Here is an outstanding blog post that does a very good side-by-side of the original Anderson Snow Queen tale with the storyline of the first “Frozen” movie.  I suggest you go read it and make your own decision, too.

So – can you guess which princess (I mean Queen, hint, hint) is coming to my “Pandemic Princess” installment next?  My interpretation will be a merged association of several different yet related influences.  After all, the original Anderson Snow Queen tale inspired more than just “Frozen”.  It also most probably shaped another more villainous character with ice powers who is in a well-known and widely loved children’s’ story series written by a 20th century author.  As someone for which ‘the cold has always bothered me anyway’, stepping into this next character was a fun and challenging change of thought for me that turned out successful (if I do say so myself). 

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

Hermes Helmet

Hooray!  This is my 300th post!  To celebrate, I’ve dressed up in the 1950s finest.  This will be a bit of a different post in the way that the only thing me-made is a curious hat.  My dress is the true big deal here, though…it is an “Anne Fogarty” label!  Not only is it currently my most prestigious true vintage garment, but it is such a learning experience to examine, as well as a wondrous treat to put on.  This dress gives me a dream figure, and I hope my little handmade hat is the proper extravagant finishing touch to such a formal outfit!  More about that later.

For those of you that do not know who this dress’ label refers to, Anne Fogarty is summarized as “an American fashion designer, active 1940–80, who was noted for her understated, ladylike designs that were accessible to American women on a limited income.”  She was discovered because someone had the open-mindedness to see her potential, and she learned as she worked her way up…a true American story.  Her designs emphasized femininity especially seen in her “famous paper doll dress”, also the reason I am so excited to have found this dress in my size.

The dress I have on is a great example of the “tight bodice, wasp waist, and full, ballet-length skirt supported by layers of stiffened petticoats” which were the trademarks of an Anne Fogarty “paper doll” dress, seen as an American and inexpensive option to the Dior silhouette popular since the late 40’s.  I remotely dated my dress to the early side of the mid-50’s, and the happenstance of finding a similarly designed frock in an advertisement from 1955 has concreted my assumption.  There had to have been yards upon yards of rayon satin finish taffeta needed to make this dress with such a full skirt that is over and above a circle shape, so a ‘reasonable’ price must still have been expensive.  My Grandmother’s brooch even matches the one in the advertisement!

Fogarty seems to receive harsh flack in any write-up nowadays on account of her book, “Wife-Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife”.  I think this is sadly unfair because it not only overshadows her wonderful, resourceful career but, as a product of her times, it is going to naturally have stereotypes.  However, in my opinion, there is still a lot of good said in her book that can be relevant and followed today, just as her designs have such a lasting beauty and magnificence of craftsmanship that the couture world (or anyone interested in sewing) of today would do good to look and learn from.  We seem to live in a world where the runways have become a place to make a statement, show one’s art, entertain extravagantly, or display an idea, making it less about presenting something truly wearable to any but rich starlets who have somewhere to go in view of the paparazzi.  Goodness, with some of Balmain’s Spring Couture 2019 models going topless and the last few years’ trend of sheer fashions (these have a ridiculous amount of nothing there), even what clothes do come out of high design still make women practically naked!  One cannot put on a dress like this Anne Fogarty creation and – miss in some way – the covered up, but still sexy as all get out, appeal of a body sculpting garment which can craft a tasteful yet enticing figure with superior quality of artistry, yet still be accessible to an everyday fashionista.

Taking pictures of a solid black dress is very challenging, so we didn’t even really try to take many detail shots, but I can tell you about them instead.  The most obvious and perhaps the most confusing is the drop-waist/skirt seam.  The curving is ingenious, especially taking into account the many tiny cartridge pleats that comprise the skirt attaching into that seam.  Yes, it is not plainly gathered…mind blowing!  There is no boning of any kind for this bodice, but from the bust down the inside is double layered of fabric and all the princess seams double stitched and pressed out.  It kind of just molds my body into shape as I zip it on (there is a sturdy metal center back zipper).  Granted, I did follow Anne Fogarty’s advice and wear a petticoat with a vintage, strapless, full body corselet under this for the full and properly 50’s experience, and I actually lose a few inches in my waist!  She seemed to recommend two petticoats under her dresses, but this dress already has one built into it, made from the same material as the dress itself.  The skirt seams are almost all on selvedge seams, while the rest are simply pinked.

The upper bodice is very classic 50’s – kimono sleeves with a parallelogram underarm gusset so I have full arm movement (amazing for a fancy dress).  The neckline has a rolled edge which ends up looking like a collar.  There is a plunging back which more than accounts for the high covered front.  The bodice also has the very tiniest of flaws in this otherwise amazingly excellent condition vintage piece.  There two are pinhead size holes at the left front chest which I really wonder if they aren’t from a brooch, making me kind of feel badly for adding one myself.  However, I am careful to not poke roughly through the fabric.  The nature of this dress’ fabric is so stiff, tightly woven, and structured it is perfect for a design like Fogarty’s but it keeps frays in check.  I think I’ll leave those little spots be as they are.

Now, to talk about the hat I made since you get to finally see it best from behind!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a thick vinyl faux crocodile skin, ivory with gold foiled accents

PATTERN:  McCall’s #1571, year 1950

NOTIONS:  all I needed was thread, some cotton and interfacing scraps, and some wire for the “headband” that is part of the lining…

TIME TO COMPLETE:  this was made in about 4 or 5 hours

TOTAL COST:  I spent $5 for a half yard of the vinyl, and only used half of what I bought, so I suppose this hat only cost me $2.50!  I should just be able to squeeze in a little fancy purse out of what’s leftover, to be made in the future (but I will probably choose a view from an OOP Vogue #7354).

This hat ended up in a whole different direction than I originally intended, but that’s okay – I love it just how it is better than I had imagined.  The pattern I used actually came from my mom’s pattern stash.  I doubt it came from her mom or has a story behind it or I probably would have heard about it by now, but I’m now thinking I should ask her just in case there is a tale that just hasn’t come out yet.  Even with my small changes to the pattern it still is classic 50’s style of full crown coverage.  Only, here it received what I see as an avant-garde upgrade, too.

At first I sewed the hat up just like the pattern designed (sans lining) and it turned out mimicking something between a religious bonnet and a swimmers cap.  It completely covered my ears and hair.  Bummer!  Although difficult to sew on my machine, I was super excited because the three layers came together quickly.  It did fit my head quite well once I top-stitched the seams down (by hand).  The front needed to be pruned down and given interest to be made fashionable.

My solution was to work with what I already had.  The side curves had “wings” cut out of them.  The “wings” are still attached to the hat at the inner corners at the top of the head, and were left free of the lining when I stitched it around the edge.  The wings are tacked down on the sides of the head further back and decorated as you see them with vintage metal shoe clips.  This way, without adding anything new or doing drastic changes, there is room to show my ears and hair as well as have a sort of interesting underlying theme…my post’s title gives that away.

You see, Petasos is the closest thing that my hat reminds me of.  An ancient petasos was a metal helmet worn by a member of the Athenian cavalry, and it later became associated with the god Hermes (also later known as Mercury to the Romans) when it had the side “wings” on it.  Hermes was the messenger god as well as “moving freely between the worlds of mortal and divine”, and to accommodate his quickness, his petasos became more streamlined to the head, too, besides losing its wide traditional brim.  He was also the god of commerce, his very name under the Romans is related to the Latin word for “merchandise”, so anything of monetary value, especially precious metal and coinage has been associated with him.  My 50’s hat oddly aligns with all of this.  Its construction is plated, in a mock form of those crescent-shaped overlapping pieces which can be found on the back of an armadillo or on a knuckle in medieval armor.  I never really meant for such an association…the wings I added to my hat do add a lot to the original frumpy design and seemed like a natural adaptation.

Sometimes I do believe there is a lot of either subconscious planning going on or projects just make themselves what they are supposed to be.  Whatever the case, and whatever connotation my hat has, I always like what I make best when I don’t try too hard…thinking that is!  I just make beautiful and creative stuff that I do need more often than not and always do enjoy even when it’s made for others.  Makers gotta make, as the popular saying goes.

There are some designers that I can associate myself more easily than many others, and this is so with Anne Fogarty’s story and beautiful creations.  I don’t ever really go out for the purpose of buying vintage (I like to do controlled browsing), and goodness knows I don’t have enough fancy occasions to wear nice stuff to, but this was in my size by an well-known designer and it was too good of a deal to pass up.  As I have said in past posts (here and here) where I addressed the care for, benefits, and details to true vintage, this dress is worthwhile alone by being something I can learn from and aspire to.  Let me know if you have a garment that has a quality or story that has taught you something, or at least inspires you to create!

I am so happy to be writing my 300th post to all of you.  Thank you for all the comments and support you have shared with me along the way.  I pulled out the good stuff for you this time and hope you enjoyed this slight change of pace.  Here’s to many more blog posts yet to come!

Savoring the Harvest Sun

Not too many years do we have the chance this year is giving to shop for pumpkins and Thanksgiving items with a balmy feel in the air.  Despite the fact we did receive about 5 inches of snow less than a week ago, little more than a week before that I was wearing a sundress just to stay cool.  Not only are we having one weird fall season here, but it is also a wonderful extended summer.  I love this because I can wear more of my favorite bare shouldered garments…but I am a warm weather girl at heart, after all!  Thus, for this second part to my ongoing blog series called the “Indian Summer of the Sundress”, here is a rich harvest-toned vintage 1950 sundress and sheer redingote set.  It has all the colors that the falling leaves and cornucopia fruits of the earth both sport for fall so I can feel ready for Thanksgiving no matter what the weather outside us is saying!

Now, just to clarify right off the bat, I only made the sheer redingote (also the hair flower and jewelry) for this ensemble, so this post will mostly be about the portion I crafted.  I did not make the sundress.  It is handmade by someone else.  I know – what an oddity here on my blog!  It is a display “inspiration” garment from the “Cloud 9 Fabrics” company, and was made by a certain Catherine Zebrowski using their “Sow & Sew” organic cotton collection from designs of Eloise Renouf.  (Follow the link and you can see they made this same dress in a blue, grey, and black colorway, as well!)  For this dress, the “Sprouts” print is the contrast along the bodice edge and waistline while the “Herb Garden” is used for the rest of the dress.  I love the take they took on this pattern – it’s a complimentary boldness that is cheerful and intriguing, besides being a different, unique take on understanding the pattern.  I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to acquire this dress, give it a happy home, and let it shine by completing the vintage pattern set with my redingote!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Redingote – a brown-toned Goldenrod colored poly chiffon from a big-box fabric store chain

PATTERN:  Simplicity #8252, a reprint of a year 1950 Simplicity designer pattern #8270

NOTIONS:  I needed thread, a large hook-n-eye, and some stiff, sheer organza

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The redingote came together more quickly than I expected.  It was made in about 6 hours and finished on September 19, 2018

THE FINISHINGS:  A sheer dress deserves only the prettiest (and the strongest) seams that you could see on a see-through chiffon!  French.  The bottom hemline was yards and yards long (being so full skirted) so I used an overlocker (serger) to make tiny rolled hem edges.

TOTAL COST:  about $25 for the whole set!

Cloud 9’s vintage dress gave me a much appreciated boost for making this Simplicity re-print.  I have been wanting to make it, but my mental caveat was saying “there is a lot of fabric needed (a couple yards) for each piece”, and I knew each one would take a good amount of time to finish.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not against spending whatever time is necessary to make the outfit I set my mind to making!  I just didn’t relish the idea of spending the time it would take to sew a completely indulgent and unnecessary item like the sheer redingote after making the sundress, too.  The sundress was what I primarily wanted and will wear the most out of the pattern but knowing it has a matching cover-up that goes with it sort of ‘guilted’ me into feeling like the redingote had to be made as well.  I am hoping that I might wear the redingote over something else in my closet so I that it, too, sees more wearings than if it only is paired with its matching sundress. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed making something based off an idea I love from another creative maker out there!

There were some minor changes I made to the pattern.  My adaptations only made the redingote easier to make!  Firstly, the skirt portion is insanely full…a total fabric hog (nice to twirl in though).  The tissue pieces are almost out of hand, especially the skirt fronts.  They are quarter circles that make the front twice as full as the back.  Thinking about the skirt of sundress underneath, I realized that it has all of its gathered fullness in the front while the back is smooth and paneled.  This would mean that the redingote for over it would practically be the same way – most all of its fullness in front.  I didn’t like the idea of doubling up on poufiness in the front, so the redingote’s skirt was changed to be the opposite of the sundress.  I added an extra half-width panel into the skirt back and I folded the patterns skirt fronts in half to cut them out smaller.  This way there is partial fullness in front and more in back to even out the poufiness when the set is worn together.  My adaptation not only evens out the layers of the skirts but it also makes cutting out the skirt portion a little more manageable.

Secondly, I did not cuff the sleeves but chose a wide hem instead.  I ended up rather liking the way the longer sleeve ends looked.  I felt they widened my shoulders illusionally, thus complementing the waist.  Not cuffing the sleeves really made things easier anyway.  No really, I did like to look better…I just wasn’t being lazy.

Finally, there just a few last cosmetic changes to list!  I eliminated the center seam to the bodice back and cut it on the fold instead.  In lieu of using interfacing in the sheer collar and taking the risk of either having it be obviously in sight or changing the chiffon color, I used transparent organza to shape and stiffen it.   The organza is wonderfully invisible sandwiched in between the golden chiffon and it adds enough body to keep its shape but still be flexible.  Lastly, I ditched the fussy front ties shown to close up the front bodice – they’re too distracting if you ask me.  I merely put one big hook-and-eye at the waistline, tucking it inside the seams.  An open bodice to the redingote shows off the neckline to the sundress underneath.

I did make sure that the waistline on this sheer over-dress was nice and strong so that a hook closing wouldn’t rip anything.  As I mentioned in “THE FACTS” I did all French seams, even for the waistline.  To make the waistline stronger, I turned bodice over the French waistline seam and stitched it down on both sides.  It ends up looking rather like a belt, in my opinion, because of the thickness from all the layers of fabric.  Besides, anytime there is gathering into a French seam things can feel a bit bulky, so stitching it down made it more comfortable to wear, after all.

My accessories add a rust tone to the browns, ochre, and dusty grey and pink flecks by being a deep, burgundy red.  My bracelet matches with my earrings – both I made using Czech glass teardrop beads ordered from Etsy.  Since clip-on or screw-back earrings are vintage, I used some old-style blanks that I ordered from a jewelry supply shop in China and tied a handful of the beads so they look like a cluster of berries hanging down.  In lieu of a hat, the hair flower is made by me with just two, oversized fake chrysanthemums attached to a hair comb with floral wire and floral tape.  Happily, practically the same tone red, described as “sunny terra-cotta”, can be found in my lipstick, “Happy“ from the Besame cosmetics “1937 Anniversary Snow White 7 Dwarfs Collection”.  My necklace and gloves are true vintage.

Finding, wearing, and buying someone else’s me-made has helped me appreciate others’ sewing.  It has also made me realize just how spoiled I am by doing my own sewing…this handmade dress was the only way I felt comfortable and happy buying something new and ready-to-wear!  But really – the fact that it was a vintage design fits perfectly into my style.  Vintage styles are the best way for me to express my style and feel at ease in what I am wearing.  I want to say I don’t think I could have done better, though.  It was luckily sewn in my size!  I’m impressed by the details and lovely construction to this pattern – they even sewed in an invisible zipper up the side!  Besides, I haven’t yet splurged on organic cotton for myself.

So – on top of all the other benefits I’ve already listed, this dress is a real treat.  People don’t know what they are missing.  If you can’t make it yourself, the feeling of having something made for you can’t be beat.  Make what you wear, handmade or store bought, “yours” in some way, even if that something is as little as a family jewelry piece or a full out sewing project like I did.

Extending heartfelt wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend!  Don’t forget to be thankful in both word and deed because “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur Ward

Ms. Kelly’s Dress

Copying the fashion of famous people becomes interesting when you do it for one of the most iconic beauties – Grace Kelly.  To top it off, I’ve chosen to try and recreate one of her iconic dresses, as well.  Both she and I are called “Kelly”, after all – her maiden last name is my first.

I’ve copied a dress that was worn for the occasion that changed her life – the first meeting of Prince Rainier of Monaco in spring of 1955 (full story here).  Just a few months before, she modeled this same dress on the cover of the pattern book for McCall’s – it was pattern number 3100 from 1954.  She kept that dress from the McCall’s cover, and when there was no electricity in her hotel the day she was to meet Prince Rainier, this flowered silk taffeta dress was the only thing she had which didn’t need ironing.  She couldn’t fix her hair without power either, so she put it in a basic bun and added an ivy covered fascinator.  I’ve read reports that she hated the McCall’s dress, really, but she thought no one would ever remember her in this frock.  She never though so much would come from her visit with the prince!  I have a whole Pinterest board here full of more pictures of her and the prince from that occasion, if you’re interested.

Ever since I first saw an Instagram post on this, I realized I had in my stash a McCall’s pattern that’s 32 numbers more than Grace Kelly’s dress, yet (except for the neckline) it’s more or less the exact same dress design.  Now this was a temptation that I couldn’t resist!  Yet I knew I had to make my version of Grace Kelly’s dress quite nice in quality or not at all.  My cousin’s fall wedding gave me the reason and opportunity to make and wear something so fancy!  So several yards of the finest mulberry silk were bought on a fabric splurge, together with everything needed for fully finished insides, and I’ve now made what I think is one of my fanciest dresses yet!

I brought a little bit of my dear departed Grandmother to attend the wedding – the pink pearl leaf earrings are from her as well as the gloves.  My bracelet is made by me of Swarovski crystals and sterling spacers.  My shoes are the divinely comfy and yet fancy “Lola” heels from Chelsea Crew.  I was adding in muted pink pastels to soften up the otherwise dark greys and black in my dress’ print, and bring out its magnolia tree petals!  A real life English ivy vine is my headband, ‘cause why settle for fake when you can have the real thing?!

I feel so flawlessly chic and powerfully feminine in this outfit.  Even though I do not think this is the best design for my body type, the way the full skirt swishes around as I move (due to my added self-attached slip) and the softness and shine of the silk is unparalleled.  This is comfortable finery, the likes of which cannot be found to buy RTW without a hefty price tag.  I bought this dress pattern because it was different, cheaply priced, and appealing, but somehow I’ve always been mystified at how to make it work for myself.  If ever I’m gonna like this pattern, my Grace Kelly look-alike version of the dress is the best shot at that.  Even though I sense that my waist gets lost, and my hips feel as big as a house, once I think past my self-conscious insecurities while wearing this dress, it’s then that I love it.  Who couldn’t love being able to slip into a small taste of the charisma of Grace Kelly?!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% mulberry silk printed floral called “Spring Garden at Night”, lined in all cotton broadcloth, with a pleated polyester satin for the attached petticoat, and netted tulle for the crinoline

PATTERN:  McCall’s #3123, year 1954

NOTIONS:  I bought the invisible zipper for the back, but besides thread that was all the notions I needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 18 to 20 hours hours and finished on August 29, 2017.

THE INSIDES:  Covered up by all the lining/petticoat, raw edges are not to be seen inside!

TOTAL COST:  The silk cost about $60 for 3 ½ yards, ordered from “The Hue Kiosk” on Etsy, with the lining cotton, petticoat skirt materials and zipper costing an extra $20 bought from Jo Ann’s Fabrics.  A total of about $80 makes this just about if not the most expensive dress I’ve made, but that still isn’t a bad price for a dress like this…it was totally worth it!

This dress pattern is labelled as “Easy-to-Sew” and it truly was incredibly easy.  Sure, I made the dress a bit harder to make by fully lining the body, and drafting my own petticoat, but even with all this, it was still way too easy for how it looks.  This McCall’s dress pattern also had remarkable fit that was spot on.  I was worried about fitting the hips correctly, so that they were almost snug but still loose.  The hips are pretty much the important part of this dress design because fitted wrongly they won’t hold the bodice and the skirt in place on the body correctly.  The area from the waist, through the hips down, to the skirt seam is really the only part of this dress that is fitted to the body anyway.  Grading up to my size according to the chart on the pattern back was right on, needing no extra adjustments.  My main caveat to this pattern is it had a very long torso.  I do not call myself petite, although I am on the shorter side, about 5 feet 3 inches high, yet I had to take out 2 inches horizontally from above the waist to bring the proportions up higher.  I also cut the top of the back neckline 1 ½ inches lower to also raise up the still long back bodice.  I never make toiles, or muslins, but I do frequently check pattern pieces by fitting them on myself first before cutting out.  I’m more glad than usual that I did discover the adjustments needed here before cutting on my good silk.

I made two small changes to the actual design.  Firstly, the most obvious one is that I made the short arm-baring sleeves on the pattern into deep kimono ¾ length.  I used another 50’s pattern from my stash as my guide for cutting because as simple as extending the sleeves might seem, I wanted to leave nothing to chance, no opportunities for mistakes if I could help it.  The elbows have small darts for shaping and are not cumbersome.  The bottom of the sleeves arch gently from my elbows down to my high waist on the dress, something you can see when my arms are out.  I realize that the longer sleeves add so much more volume to the overall appearance of the dress, yet I think the super short sleeves on the pattern strike me as jarring with the dressy air of the rest of the design.  I think my having a bit more modest sleeves not only makes my dress closer to the original Grace Kelly dress, but I think it brings out the dramatic plunge of the V-neckline.  Overall, as this is somewhat of a cooler weather dress, made especially for a fall wedding, I did not want to have to wear a sweater (with this? Yuk.), so the longer sleeves keep me more comfortable.  When trying to imitate other people’s style, I never like to compromise my own taste and personality either…after all, knock-off or not, I’m still the one wearing it!

The second change was to take out about 12 inches out of the amount of gathers to the skirt – and it’s still so full!  Many times a vintage 1950’s full skirt is really full, I mean so full your machine might not even want to sew through it, and I almost always take out 8 to 12 inches out of them and they are still quite poufy.  Also the length to the skirt of my dress would have come down to the floor had I not taken out more than 5 inches.  Even still, my skirt has a very wide hem, which actually kind of weighs it down and help the bottom round out nicely.  In all there was probably enough for a whole nuther dress in the skirt alone.  Once the skirt was sewn on to the bodice, working on finishing the dress felt overwhelming.  Have you ever felt like a garment project that has a lot of fabric “fights” with you to get under the sewing machine needle?  This was like that.  Thank goodness it was relatively easy to make.

As I was spending enough time and money to make this a very nice dress, I chose to have a modern invisible zipper down the back.  As much as I do like my vintage dresses to be vintage, there is nothing that beats a perfectly installed invisible zipper in a spot where a regular zip would be so very obvious.  The pattern called for the back zipper to extend all the way past the drop skirt seam, into the skirt itself.  I considered it, but ultimately didn’t want to try to take an invisible zip through that much fabric, so my zipper only goes down to just above the skirt seam.

The zipper was just one of several things I had to decide on for my finished dress.  Grace Kelly’s original dress has a belt at the drop skirt seam, and the pattern has a true waist belt, so I made an ultra-long belt that could’ve worked for either my hips or waist, but didn’t like how it distracted from the rest of the dress and brought the eyes to the wrong spots.  I was briefly even considering adding in light boning in the side seams to keep the bodice in shape over my hips, but I waited until my dress was finished to decide (thank goodness) and the heavy petticoat weighs down the skirt just enough to keep the dress from creeping up on me.  It is one thing to figure out how to properly shape and make a garment…it’s another to overthink problems (real or imagined) and over-engineer details.  I’m guilty of doing both.  So often the difference between those two situations is a very fine line that I struggle to find in many projects.

The extra finishing I did add to the insides really made a difference to this dress.  I tried it on at each step, without the bodice lining, and without the petticoat.  I did not like it until I had fully lined the bodice – it had more “body” and shape with it in, besides making it easy to finish the neckline, and a single layer of silk felt too sheer and delicate anyway.  The neckline pleats to the cotton bodice lining were stitched down – other than that it was cut and sewn the same as the silk bodice.  The skirt was too droopy without the petticoat I drafted – a nicely full skirt that holds its own really defines the rest of this dress design, besides preventing static cling.  I really thought about making the new Simplicity #8456 to go underneath, but having the petticoat attached with the bodice lined made wearing and getting dressed in this so effortless.  With just over 3 yards of fabric in this dress I needed to be able to wear the dress…not the dress wearing me.

My dresses petticoat was made from a mechanically pleated/crinkled satin that had a relatively heavy drape to hold its own against the light-as-air silk.  Long, 10 inch wide strips was tulle netting were cut and gathered above the hem of the crinkled petticoat satin.  Then the skirt was gathered and sewn on the other side of the waist seam, so that when the dress hangs or gets worn the petticoat falls down over the raw edge, covering it and in a sense pulling the seam allowance down for me at the same time.  I love engineering my dresses so I can be just as proud of the inside as I am of the out.  I am important enough to warrant seeing a finely finished inside.

I cannot say enough good words about the mulberry silk I ordered as well as the shop I ordered from – “The Hue Kiosk”.  They have my full recommendation!  First of all, I love what they have to offer, with reasonable prices, and great customer interaction.  A sheet of touch-and-feel samples they sent along with my order was really enjoyable, and helps me know what I want to order next from them once I catch up on my sewing allowance!  Mostly though, this mulberry silk is the best silk I have sewn, felt, and worked with.  Out of all the kinds of silks I’ve worked with so far (over half a dozen now) this is so impeccably wrinkle free –even straight out of the wash – it’s a miracle.  The best part is the lack of smell!  I know I have a sensitive nose, and as much as I love silk, both silk and wool have this smell, especially when wet, that is sort of repugnant to me.  Mulberry silk is the first that is smell-free!  I have read that it is considered hypo-allergenic because the worms have one sole diet of mulberry leaves.  Never mind the insect details, I am so sold on mulberry silk.  My only caveat is that a new, sharp needle is a must when sewing on mulberry silk.  A semi-new “sharps” needle was enough to create a few catches or runs in the silk as I was working – it has very fine threads and has a semi-tight texture.

When I thought about the history behind my dress after my cousin’s wedding, I realized an irony I hadn’t thought of before.  A dress that Grace Kelly wore to an occasion which led to a wedding, had be copied by me to wear to a wedding.  Maybe this dress when made of silk inherently wants to be a wedding dress?  Silly me!  Seriously though, I’ve noticed many drop-waisted dresses in the few years after 1954 (check out the McCall’s #7625 1955 Archive pattern or Vintage Vogue #1094 of year 1955 for two readily available examples, and see my Pinterest board “Drop That 50’s Waist”) so I realize this dress of mine as well as Grace Kelly’s dress were part of a mid-50’s trend for juniors and women alike.  It is not the most likeable style but it is memorable – especially when it has the name of Grace Kelly behind it!  I hope the modern Ms. Kelly – me! – has also been able to put a new and lovely twist on an old style.  Deep down I must be a princess at heart.

Please visit this Instagram post on my account to see my attempt at reproducing the old original McCall’s pattern book cover for the “Vintage Cover Challenge”!  Close enough to be convincing?

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