Riding on the heels of my last post, a play set inspired by the Disney Polynesian princess Moana, here’s a quick little post on yet another tropical outfit – one that is much more elegant, but simpler, yet just a fun and versatile as the last. I just finished these pieces after being further motivated by my diving into the history of Hawaii, particularly what led up to the year when it became America’s 50th state. That specific history is sadly rife with colonialism, division, greed, and cultural identity issues. Yet, Hawaii finally becoming part of the Union in the year 1959 is something to celebrate that deserves its own fantastic outfit here on my blog, especially when I had some amazing fabric a friend brought back for me her trip to the island! This is my outfit for my pretend getaway while still comfortably staying in my hometown, he he.
My new crop top dates to 1959, but my skirt is my own self-draped design using the Hawaiian fabric from my friend. She has family ties to the island herself and was excited to see what I would make of it after discussing my ideas for the skirt with her. This is not a cultural outfit, nor is it trying to be. This is merely a vintage top infused with a bit of a Hawaiian flair because of the skirt. Yet, it is enough of a cultural nod with the traditional hibiscus print on the skirt that I wanted to clarify myself. For these pictures, the local Botanical Gardens’ greenhouse conservatory, the “Climatron”, was my background setting – it was opened in 1960, the year after my top’s pattern, and houses many tropical vegetation.
I have never been to Hawaii myself, so I don’t know anything to compare to location-wise, but at least my fabric is properly sourced. Even for my last Hawaiian inspired sewing creation (an Ana Jarvis from Agent Carter outfit), I also ordered that fabric direct from a Hawaii barkcloth shop via online. I always try to make sure a cultural fabric I’m using comes directly from the ethnicity which is my inspiration – it helps the artisans, promotes their craft, and gives proper respect to the heritage. This is especially important to recognize in light of the fact that yesterday was “Discoverer’s Day” in Hawaii, celebrated on the second Monday in October since 1971 “to honor all discoverers, including Pacific and Polynesian navigators”. Many experts now believe that the Polynesians ‘discovered’ both North and South America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus, anyway! It is important to remember that Hawaii has been annexed as a U.S. territory since 1898, but America has had an interest in the island since the 1840s, so the native cultures have had a long struggle to keep their own traditions and identity alive. Let’s honor the Polynesian culture as well as Indigenous people!
FABRIC: a 100% rayon for the Hawaiian skirt fabric and a 100% linen (leftover from this 40’s jumper) for the top
NOTIONS NEEDED: two 9 inch zippers and lots of thread
THE INSIDES: The top is all French seamed (even the armscye) and the skirt only has one seam, and that was closely zig-zagged along the edge for a faux serged (overlocked) clean edge
TIME TO COMPLETE: The blouse was finished on October 4, 2021 and took only about 4 hours from start to finish. The skirt took me longer, as I didn’t use a pattern – maybe 6 hours altogether – and was finished a few days after the top.
TOTAL COST: The skirt was reasonably priced for the two yards I had my friend pick up for me (yes, I paid her later) and the linen had been in my stash so long it’s free in my mind!
I am further tying this outfit in with my previous Moana inspired outfit on a basic level because I used the same fabric for part of both sets. Yes, that is correct!! That brown jumper I made was originally bright orange like my top because this is what I sewed out of the one yard (plus scraps) that was leftover before dyeing that project a new color. However, this is much more culturally influenced that that previous set. Even still, as much as Moana has been the starting point of interest to whatever recent historical inquiries or research I have carried out on the Pacific Islands, she is actually the second protagonist of Polynesian descent in a Disney animated feature. The first was Lilo with her older sister Nani from Lilo & Stitch.
These pieces were a refreshing project because I was both going rouge and being inventive. I have been doing this a lot with my sewing lately. It keeps my creative juices flowing to draft something myself, or at least interpret a pattern in an unexpected manner. I went through a bout of no-sewing in July through the end of August, although you wouldn’t have guessed it on my blog. I have such a backlog of good things I’ve made but haven’t posted so my blog’s supply of material seems endless sometimes! Anyways, these creative projects that are just what I want to make at the moment are giving me life. I don’t care if it is October, this is exactly what I wanted to sew and wear. Luckily, the combo of the orange and the purple here gives me an opportunity to still wear this for the last throes of summer warmth that we often have in October. I hope to be wearing this set much more again as soon as it gets warm again next year. For now I plan on wearing the orange top with all my fall season skirts the next month!
Along that vein, I guess I will dive into the details about my little vintage linen crop top. The original pattern calls this an “unlined, sheer, short jacket” actually because it is shown sewn in a lace and meant to be worn as a cover up to the included “sleeveless sheath dress” (the base item to this set). I am surprised the ’59 pattern calls it a jacket. After all, it is sheer and designed to have an open back with no closures, other than hem and neckline bindings which extend into ties. I guess this is not much different from a short cropped, no-closure bolero jacket, however looking at the line drawing alone gave me a different idea. Line drawing are such a basic starting point, devoid of any influence, it always helps me come up with original thoughts. I chose to see this garment reinvented as a wear-alone top, aka blouse.
I cut it out with no changes, and sewed it up just the same as I would have if it was sheer lace – French seams inside. Down the center back, though, I installed a 9 inch zipper which opens up only to the middle of the shoulders and closes at the bottom hem. Above that zipper, I sewed the center back together just for a few inches only to open up again into a neckline keyhole opening. This is a top that has a close fitting neckline and the back keyhole vent is just enough for me to slip this over my head. Only then did I finish the neckline as the pattern directs, with the back neck closing in extended ties that are one with the binding (cut from the same fabric as the top). I could finally try on the top at this point…only to discover it was terribly boxy and oversized. It was also much more of a ‘belly top’ than I had realized it would be, only because of the way it was pulled up when I reached up to fix my hair. The only place it fit was in the shoulders. I was glad I had saved the hem binding for the last step.
I started fitting it to myself at the side seams, which had originally been very vertical, by tapering in a large 1 inch chunk which started at the hem and ended in the armpit at my original French seam on each side. Then, I added in under bust darts which come up from the hem and called it done, finishing the edge with similar binding as the neck. I knew a snug fit would not be ideal here with a tight woven linen and after the way the shoulders fit so comfortably as-is. So I have my top tailored with a relaxed fit that does its proper job by not flashing others my lingerie…only some of my midsection skin, which I really don’t mind. As long as my high-waisted bottoms are on, whether a skirt or pants, I am fine! I love this fun little number.
The skirt is definitely my favorite of the two, nevertheless. It is so elegant and, best of all, a custom one-of-a-kind design made by me. This is even better than my self-drafted items because this was draped with myself as the mannequin. This was tricky, as I was draping in an unconventional manner, but well worth it. Draping is different than drafting – patterning is optional if you start with a good fashion fabric and very little goes to waste. Drafting produces a technical design base from which to pattern and cut material to turn it from 2D to something 3D that fits the curves of a human figure. Draping is a very ‘organic’ way of approaching design because there is no pattern needed and one only has to work with the fabric, and pinch, pin, tuck, dart, or otherwise shape the material as inspired to then fit the body form (in my case, myself).
What I love about draping is the way the fabric can dictate the design, as was the case for this Hawaiian skirt. I worked around what would let the print of the pattern shine to its optimum level while still becoming a pleasing and elegant design. When a fabric is really good – and this Hawaiian rayon is absolutely luxurious – it is best to be attuned to its own “personality” and let it dictate of what it wants to be. Sometimes, as is often the case for one-off couture creations for famous people, the occasion they have to attend or even the personality of the wearer (think of the MET gala) can be the driving force behind the crafting of a custom draped design. In this case, a pattern is often made from the designer’s original draping creation, to be patterned up and re-made out of the final fashion fabric by employees. In my case, I had enough confidence to dive right into my good fabric because I had a general idea of what – hopefully – my final result was to be.
I aimed for a design that needed as few as possible seams. I had two yards of a 35 inch width fabric and wanted to leave it as “untouched” and natural as possible. I experimented in front of a mirror wrapping and pinching the fabric on myself to estimate what design might work best and also figure out how much (and where) to take out the excess material. As it turned out, with only four tapered darts, 6 inches wide for a few inches below the waist tapering to nothing for the length of 20 inches, were placed in between the blank spaces left by the upward trailing border print. The two center darts were turned outward away from one another to create a kind of “sack-back gown” effect. The next two were turned to run the same direction, thus creating another layer of the “sack-back gown” effect along each side of my hips. The only other seam, running the full length of the width, was created by stitching the two cut edges together. This became the center front seam. The zipper was installed into the dart that was also put into the center front, just the same depth and length as the other previous four darts. As the final step, I turned both selvedges inside by 2 inches and this was both the finished bottom hem and upper waistband. I was able to fulfill my goal AND fit an aesthetically pleasing layout to my body.
As I clarified above, I was not trying to make this a cultural garment, but as I was experimenting with draping placement there may have been subconscious inspiration from the vintage early 60’s Polynesian line of sewing patterns. Many of their dresses have a slight nod to 18th century garments with their frequency of either a gathered or pleated sack-back to their Hawaiian muu-muu dresses. Check out pattern no. 150, pattern no. 183, or the popular no. 121 (as modeled on the fantastic Tanya Maile) for just a few examples. I will admit, I have the 18th century on my mind…I just finished a 1780s gown and just planned out a pattern for a shorter hip length sack-back gown (called in French a “pet-en-l’air”; see picture below at right). A ‘watteau back’ is formed by wide box pleats hanging from a high shoulder yoke and extending to the hem in an unbroken line. I translated this into a skirt form, unintentional at first then only realizing it as my skirt was coming along.
Wide watteau pleating really makes the fabric print look like it was meant for this design, I think, but the true effect comes to play when I walk in this skirt. It has a controlled flow around me in a way that makes me feel like a queen and silently, happily squeal inside. The visual impression is still slimming because of the straight, tapered, and columnar effect of the front half of the skirt that the side pleats form. There is something so indescribably graceful to authentic hula, and that was the elegance I wanted to translate into my Hawaiian fabric skirt.
I hope you enjoyed this tropical foray for these last two posts, and that whatever the weather you may have where you live, your day was uplifted for a few moments. I will be continuing the rest of October with more posts related to the stereotypical seasonal celebrations of the month – such as fall, Halloween, and princesses with Germanic heritage to their stories. I hate to see summer go, every dang year, though. I always make sure to send out the warm weather with some grand finale outfits, and this year’s creations were especially delightful in more ways than one.
Thanks, as always, for reading and following along!