…in the year 2014, courtesy of a Vintage Vogue pattern and some killer Hollywood style. Not that I’m really gold digging – I have a hubby already. My desire to try my hand at a couture classic/vintage suit set and my love for Busby Berkeley‘s movie “The Gold Diggers of 1937” were the dual impetus towards this lengthy project.
This suit dress and jacket set is special to me like no other garment I’ve made. It sets the record to date among my creations for the most time spent, as well as the longest to get done, but also my first jacket, even if it for a suit. My suit set is truly worth its weight in gold!
FABRIC: The primary fabric that for my suit dress set is a very thick and stable cotton double knit. It has a faint print in a textured sort of brush-stroke blend of gold, bronze, and light blue on the right side. The print is nicely subtle, and looks like it could be part of the fabric, but it does rub off (bummer). This is especially true in places where I did some heavy duty stitching or handling of the fabric, such as the buttonholes. For the lining of the dress and jacket, I used a very sheer, lightweight, and silky polyester interlock knit. It was bought to make a Halloween costume which didn’t happen, so it went to my suit set. The thin poly interlock makes the perfect lining layer – thin enough not to add much bulk, but silky enough to keep my main fabric flowing and effortless.
NOTIONS: Most everything I used for my suit dress set had to be bought, such as extra interfacing, extra thread, the buttons, the dress’ zipper, and more machine needles. One hook and eye set and some bias tape that was needed were the only notions from on hand in my stash.
PATTERN: an out-of-print Vintage Vogue pattern re-issue, #2636, originally a year 1940 design.
TIME TO COMPLETE: There is no way to even count this part. All I know is that I spent at least 30 hours on each of these three steps: the dress, the jacket, and lining the jacket. I’m just figuring this set as my 100 hour “century of time” project which was a sometimes frustrating labor of love. My dress was finished first, on December 28, 2013. Next the jacket was done, sans lining, on April 8, 2014. Finally, the jacket was completely lined and finished on October 18, 2014.
THE INSIDES: The dress’ seams are double stitched, with the edges left raw and merely zig-zagged together. Both the lining and the suiting knit do not fray, so there was no real need for better seam finishes. Besides, the fabric was too thick for my sewing machine to realistically handle, thus the hard fact was that any seam would only be thicker and unable to be sewn. For the jacket, every raw seam inside is covered by a full lining, complete with box pleats at the waist, between the shoulders, and on the chest to give ease of movement. The bodice was sewn to the shoulder seams first, then the sleeves were added in for a complete professional finish (and a bad case of carpel tunnel from so much hand work).
TOTAL COST: My set’s main fabric, the printed double knit, came from JoAnn’s fabric store. It was bought September of 2013 (last year). I needed 3 1/2 yards, and the regular price was a whopping $20 per yard, but, luckily, I got it at half price for $35. The thin lining material came from Hancock Fabrics, and was bought dirt cheap (5 yards for $10) as part of an after Halloween discount. The buttons and all other notions also came from Hancock. So…to make a long explanation short finally, my total cost is just at $50. I don’t think I’ve spent this much on any project yet, but the total cost is still very reasonable considering the quality, fit, and time put into my set. RTW prices would be double for an item much less worthwhile.
I loved the pattern details, seaming, everything…except I knew the dress neckline needed some added interest and (like I said) I had some classic Hollywood inspiration to help me out with an idea. Firstly, there are plenty of pictures of the iconic Veronica Lake in a metallic lamé dress (from the 1942 movie “This Gun for Hire”, see far right) which has a very similar arched torso and V-neckline to the Vintage Vogue dress 2636 pattern. Secondly, the actress Glenda Farrell wears a beautifully styled basic black dress (above) that I loved the first minute I saw it on the “Gold Diggers of 1937” movie. Why? Not only do I greatly enjoy watching the actress Glenda Farrell, but, together with her friend the actress Joan Blondell, some ‘to-die-for’ fashions, catchy Dick Powell sung songs, and a great plot, makes the Busby Berkeley movie “The Gold Digger of 1937” an all-time favorite in my book. The lame metallic gown of Veronica Lake inspired me to use the bushed gold/bronze black knit fabric I chose for my suit set, and Glenda Farrell’s black keyhole-neckline dress was ultimately what I copied onto my own dress. Between the two main inspirations, there is a strong theme connecting everything together of the richness of metal, timeless beauty in design, movie inspiration, and a turn of the decade style.
Making the keyhole neckline on my dress was actually really easy. It just took some forethought. Basically, I drew my own template to keep things exact and made the front like a regular facing. The dress’ facing is really deep and wide, so that fact worked to my advantage.
I made a paper copy of the front facing, then folded it in half at the center bottom of the V-neck so I could trace out the keyhole shape and have it even on both sides. See my pictures. Instead of sewing down just the V-neckline (facing down, right side to right side), I went in one continuous line all the way around down and around the keyhole too. It was quite tricky on the facing to make the neckline/top keyhole point so close, barely touching, but still apart. I think I held my breath sewing that spot. Taking my time, I carefully turned everything right sides out and top stitched down. There is a tiny hook and eye tucked in the spot where the keyhole point and the neckline V meet and hand stitched down. This way I can undo the hook and eye to make getting the dress on over my head much easier, but also I accomplish a nice, tiny point much more precise than if the corner had been sewn together. Utility and fashion are happily combined in my neckline refashion.
Glenda Farrell’s “Gold Diggers” dress had open, oval, cut-out shoulders as well as the keyhole front neckline, and was racking my brain whether or not to add the open shoulders, too. Had the fabric been less thick, and the dress itself not so heavy, I might have had the open shoulders. However, as you see, it didn’t happen. It’s best not to mess with good thing sometimes 🙂
Other than grading, the entire suit set was made as is according to the pattern. The small amount that I did need to add to the hips and the waist (only 1/4 inch) was added at the “on fold” end of all the waist middle pieces and the dress skirt pieces. This way the curvy side seams retained all of their amazing original shaping possibilities.
I was tempted to bring in the hem of the sleeves into a box pleat to make my dress more of a late 30’s garment. But the sleeves weren’t meant for that. Puff sleeves of the 30’s did last in the early 40’s (no later than WWII), but the type of sleeves that are on my dress were “the new thing” for years 1940/1939, as a transition into a new decade with differing styles.
The hardest part of the entire suit set was hands down the gathered slashed above-and-below bust gathers on the jacket. Not only were they hard, but small, tricky work, too. To top it off, I was obsessing just a bit to make sure that all four of the slashed gathers looked even on both sides of the jacket. The instructions for the slashed gathers are a bit strange and different, but works in the end. You cut the slash spot, sew a gathering stitch on the one side, and pin on this ‘sword blade’ shaped facing to help support and match everything. Somehow you have to sew each side of the slash separately, so you can then cut an opening in the facing to turn the whole thing inside. Both facings get pulled together (either above or below the gathers), to be sewn together by top stitching down with the edges meeting so as to cover up the facing. At this seam, there is literally so much fabric, and to add the gathers was more than even my sewing machine could handle (and my Singer is a workhorse). To top it all off, the ‘below bust’ slashed gathers also have the bodice panel ending there so it had drop down vertically along the button placket. For the reason of ‘too much fabric’ alone, the jacket bust gathers are (in my opinion) a difficult, almost faulty design, but that’s no one’s fault, especially Vogue’s. It just makes for more experience…that’s how I explain a frustrating sewing experience to myself. If you want to make this pattern, too, I hope I haven’t discouraged you – this spot is not impossible (as you can see on my suit). I just hope to help or prepare others.
As my very first suit coat, this is also the first time I have done bound “window pane” buttonholes. I am happy at how well everything turned out and I don’t feel that I really could have done better. I found Gertie’s blog tutorial to be very helpful before I went and did the buttonholes. Several trial runs were done first to make sure of the correct size for my buttons. I even made a template rectangle to make sure all of the five buttons down the front had uniformed sized holes. It was really fun to do (surprisingly). The buttons are an antiqued gold, open worked filigree design, bought new, so they’re not authentically old looking. More metal! There are basic black buttons sewn on the under ‘wrong’ side as a backer support.
I chose the 3/4 length sleeve length for the suit coat to make it more of a transitional weather piece. The lining inside and the heavy weight of the knit fabric makes the suit coat more of a jacket for me. If you hadn’t noticed, the collar stays open, flap style, and doesn’t button up any farther than you see. And just because you haven’t seen it yet, look at how the back of both the dress and the suit coat mimic one another with the drop arch of the middle bodice panels.
Sewing this suit set ended up costing even more than first realized because it literally broke my machine. The fabric was too heavy, the knit was too very tight, and I ran over too many pins, breaking too many needles. Bad me! The sequencing was knocked off kilter on my sewing machine, plus a gear was slipped out of place. The needle bar was off center, too. At only 8 inches away from the last stitch that would have completely finished my machine stitching for my suit…the machine gave out. “I can’t, just can’t do this anymore!!!” I could hear my old standby machine screaming. It was needing a visit to the repair shop anyway, poor thing. I just didn’t mean to torture it. I suppose that you can tell one does a lot of sewing, and loves it, too, when one begins to speak of their machine(s) as you would a pet. So it goes!
This whole suit is a very worthwhile satisfying project that demands some dedicated time and effort to finish. Don’t expect to whiz through it or get by without a good amount of hand stitching time, as well. Nevertheless, the final piece is a very classic, figure-flattering garment which has top notch style features that seem current in any decade. If a garment can possess those qualities, then that is the true proof of quality fashion. I am very happy with VV2636.
I accessorized my suit set with the most era-appropriate shoes and hat and purse of any outfit yet. Everything you see on (well, not my glasses, sorry) and behind me is historically correct, plus, in this case, also has a personal story.
Let’s start with the story related to my shoes, which is about my backdrop: the International Shoe Company building. It is an absolute, humongous, Art Deco gem (as you can see) built in 1910, remodeled in 1930, and has many references to the cobbler’s trade in some of its hard-edged designs. In fact, if you look above me in the very first picture of this post, there is a cobbler sewing a shoe in a very dramatic pose. In 1911, International Shoe Company was created by a merger of the Sam Peters Shoe Company with the Roberts, Johnson, and Rand Company (taken from here). Washington Avenue, the street these are on, became known as “Shoe Street U.S.A.” because it “claimed more shoe trade than any other street in the world“. My shoes that are worn with my suit set are old leather originals that have a stamp inside marking them as “Peter’s brand” ‘Smart Maid’ shoes. With a bit of research, I was able to find out that the ‘Smart Maid’ line of shoes were a short-lived line produced by the International Shoe’s Sam Peters through the 30’s and ending about 1940, pre-WWII. Thus, I can date my shoes to a very specific time. Cool! More or less, I’m taking these shoes back to the place that made them over 70 years ago…and they’re still good enough to wear! Wearing an old shoe made by the International Shoe Company is a small honor in its own way because my maternal Grandmother had a job here helping to make their shoes when she was young. In fact, she likes to relate the story of how the great Major League baseball player Joe Garagiola happen to fall into a large vat of shoe glue at the factory. It sounds humorous!
Now, for my hat’s story. It came from the collection of an acquaintance of ours who also has an appreciation of all things vintage. When I brought my hat home, I did some research to find out the era of a hat with such a special and unusual shape. Looking at my old fashion catalogs (reprinted by Dover publications), it seems that slanted top pillbox hats and other unusual shaped millinery was worn in the late 30’s to early 40’s. See at far left a 40’s picture with Gene Tierney, or look at the fashion picture from page 101 of this Dover book for two examples. Though you can’t see it, my hat is a fine beige wool crepe with yellow gold embroidered flowers and intricate gold seed beads over the flowers. The inside of my hat makes me think it just might have been handmade by a very talented milliner. I feel as if I have properly matched up this interesting hat with a proper outfit appropriate for its era and formality.
Hopefully, this suit set is the first of more to come…which I anticipate will not take as long to finish as this first one. Oh well, taking the time to make sure to make something with quality is always worthwhile.
More pictures can be found at my Flickr Seam Racer page.