“Retro Forward” Burda Style – “Fill in the Blanks” Gather and Tuck Dress with Purse

If garments could be reasonably conscious, this dress would definitely be very confused.  My original plan was to make a knock off a Dolce & Gabbana outfit from fall of 2016, but the pattern which I used for the dress is from 2013.  The knit tulip fabric I used is vintage from the 1970.  My husband says the finished dress reminds him of the 1980’s, and here I thought it reminded me of the 1930’s!  Finally my purse was self-drafted off of an existing 1940’s leather purse from my wardrobe but has more of a 1950’s air now that it’s completed. Gosh – almost every decade from the past 80 years has some sort of influence (in our eyes) to this outfit.  Confused much?!  Is your brain alright?  I know my head is swimming.

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Linda of “Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!!” hosted the “Designing December” months back now and personal illness combined with a busy holiday season made for my being unable to even get around to making this dress and purse until recently.  Besides, everything that had to come together for me to even work on this project was slow and time consuming, but don’t get me wrong totally worth every minute.  Thus, my outfit is being blogged late but perfect for those chilly spring season days that hang around right about now.  It might be spring, but it feels like winter some days in our climate…and this subtle but cheery, long sleeve black dress with a season-less hound’s-tooth fashion purse suits those times perfectly.  I know because it was quite brisk and windy the day we took these photos, and I am sensitive to the chill.  Sigh…a warm enough spring is so long in coming sometimes.  That’s why I need to wear some bright tulips!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  for the dress: The tulip fabric is a polyester interlock knit vintage from the 1970s ordered through an Etsy shop, the skirt flounce is a modern, newly bought solid black poly interlock while the lining fabric is the same except in white.  The neckline facing is a cotton broadcloth remnant.  For the purse:  novelty hound’s-tooth felt and polyester imitation snakeskin (leftover from this dress) for the outside, light blue lining on the inside with a big pocket made from a scrap of cotton leftover from this apron.#112 Gather and Tuck dress, line drawing

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s Gather and Tuck Dress, #112, from September 2013; no pattern for the purse, it was self-drafted

NOTIONS:  This dress and purse used up a lot of what was sitting around on hand – such as charms, buttons from my Grandma, elastic, interfacing, and thread.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I have no idea how much time I spent to prep the tulip fabric, but the making of the dress took about 8 to 10 hours.  The purse was started and finished in 4 hours.  Both were done and ready to be worn on March 13, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The vintage tulip knit was about $10, the modern interlock knit (in both black and white) for the bottom flounce and the lining were just under $20, and the cost for all the fabric pen packages was $15.  Everything for the purse was already on hand (bought years back) so I’m counting that and all the notions used from out of my stash as free.  I suppose this outfit is a total of $45.  This is more than I typically spend for many other outfits I like much better than this one, but I had a creative itch I needed to scratch!

As for any Burda Style pattern, printing and/or tracing is necessary to have a usable pattern to lay on your desired fabric.  My pattern was traced off of the downloaded and assembled PDF bought at the online store but if you have a magazine issue, use a roll of medical paper to trace your pieces from the insert sheet.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size and add in your choice of seam allowance width.  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a finished pattern prepped.  Sorry to repeat something you might already know, but this is just an “FYI” for those that don’t know.

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First off, I will say that my first impression of the dress at the pattern stage was one of strong dislike.  The comments on the bottom of the pattern’s page online express “terrible look” and “reminds me of Downton Abbey”, and yes, I agree. However, the line drawing is what kept pulling me in…the style lines are lovely and indeed vintage inspired.  This is why my dress is included in my ongoing “Retro Forward Burda Style” blog series.  As to the vintage inspiration, I listed most of it at the top of this post.  My favorite vintage pattern that I think looks quite similar is a Pictorial Review Pattern from the 1930’s, no 6459 (picture on Pinterest).  It is labelled as a “Duchess de Crussol (d’Uzes)” personal pattern design, and as that is one of the oldest premier dukedom in France, this design must have been a big and rare deal for Pictorial Review to offer.  After all, Dolce & Gabbana’s summary of their collection references “the ’30/’40s shoulder line of the Cinderella-referenced puffed sleeves.”  Modernly, though, I feel like the “Gather and Tuck” dress is a slightly poufier version of another one of their patterns – Burda #7127.  Perhaps I should have chosen this dress design instead…oh well, too late for this thinking.

I had the feeling the “Gather and Tuck” dress design needed something bold and not in the least cutesy or else I could not pull off wearing/liking it.  Enter one of my favorite fashion houses – Dolce & Gabbana to the rescue courtesy of their Fall 2016 ready-to-wear Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2016 Ready-to-Wear -comp,comborunway releases.  I love all the details of that whole entire line (especially this one), an occurrence unique to me, but the tulip dress especially struck me…it was just something I had to have for my own and it would be something unique for my wardrobe.  Luckily, it strongly reminded me of Burda’s “Gather and Tuck” dress.  Now I had a tip as to what fabric print might work for such a quaintly designed pattern!  Then came along Linda’s “Designing December” sewing challenge and I knew what I had to make for it.  Finally, because I love to go all out for an awesome outfit, I even imitated the purse.  The model’s handbag reminded me of a project I had been wanting to make for the last 3 years, with the hound’s-tooth fabric and everything I needed to make a purse luckily (and conveniently) waiting downstairs to be whipped together.  Granted I know my outfit is not an exact copy, but to make a carbon copy would have resulted in something I might not have liked as much as this version which still stays true to my own taste.  I do not know if I fully succeeded in achieving what I’d hoped and envisioned originally in my head for this outfit, but I feel like it’s a successful attempt.  If I can’t buy designer, I’ll have my own designed style!

What is the most special and time-consuming part to making this project is the fabric.  It is hand colored!  That’s right – why just leave the current coloring craze to be restricted to paper pages in books?! This was a complicated yet invested choice – a desire to have something incredibly personal, creative, and out-of-the-box, as well as out of necessity. I could not remotely find any tulip print I liked to also have a lovely drape except for a 2 DSC_0882a-comp,wyard remnant piece of old 1970’s era knit in a black and white tone.  So I used fabric pens to color in the yellow tulips and draw in two-tone green leaves to end up with the closest possible match to the original Dolce & Gabbana fabric.  I worked in spurts, setting aside about an hour or two at a time to fill in a portion of the fabric until it was done.  Yet, I didn’t just color – a tried to add texture when drawing the leaves and a hint of yellow to the flowers, not an overpowering brightness, with a random tough of black for the stamens.  Too bad the true-to-life colors do not translate well enough through the pictures as they are in real sight.

Using fabric pens was fun, but also sort of a nightmare.  I actually had to end up buying 5 packages (two different brands) just to finish.  The fabric pens were brush tipped and between the material soaking up the ink and also fuzzing up the tip of the pens, there was a disappointingly short life to them.  The tough part was the specific green colors I was using.  The dark forest green and the lime green were hard to find in the heat-set type of fabric pens I preferred to use.  I found some online but the seller on Ebay that I ordered from was dishonest and sent me something I did not order.  Desperate, I ended up finding what I needed to finish from Wal-Mart, which had these cheap $3 packs which worked well enough.  From this experience, I can say that three things – I think Crayola fabric pens are the best working brand of fabric pens, I definitely prefer heat-set fabric pens, and make sure to have several back-ups of your colors before doing a project.  This is advice from a lesson well learned.

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Now, to get to some info on the actual sewing of the dress!  I found the sleeves to be rather skinny, the top half of the skirt to run small, and the rest of the dress a tad on the generous side.  It sewed up pretty well, but some of the directions were just plain bad and ended up a little silly and bulky.  The “slash-and-gather” darts at the waist and the mid-shoulder line are by far my favorite feature but kind of turned out a little weird looking where they end to meld into the dress.  Two of my 1940’s projects (see here and here) have very similar “slash-and-gather” dart details at the shoulder line, although this Burda pattern has them on the back as well…very nice!  The pattern originally called for only one button at the top of the closure, but I felt the pull from the gathers made me feel that the neckline needed another.  The bottom third button is decoration only.  I did leave out the wrist button closing on the sleeves, as my fabric is a stretchable knit.  Other than the button closures, I made no real changes to the design.  When you see the V-neckline in some of my pictures that is not a permanent thing.  See – it’s merely me folding half of the high neckline inside for an easy and quick change to the look of the dress.

Perhaps you didn’t notice, but there are no closures needed to be dressed in this frock.  The waistband gathers are mostly from an elastic casing made out of the waist seam allowance, and besides the neckline buttons, that is everything it takes to put this dress on.  I’m so used to zippers in a dress that it kind of felt as if I was forgetting something.  This one feature offering both easy dressing and lack of zipper setting was a nice change for me to come across.

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So…after everything I’ve said, I am not all that crazy about my dress.  Pooh pooh!  It is comfy, easy to move in, feminine, and flowing.  Wearing a sweater with it makes the dress better in my opinion, but then you can’t see all the details…meh.  I just am not 100% decided that I love it or even look good in it.  “Is it only weird or obviously dated?” I wonder.  That lack of full confidence is what’s holding me back, but the amount of time and work invested in this project makes me think, “I’d better darn well wear this and be proud of what I made…”  I have to throw some of my indecision to the wind (literally as it was breezy the day of these pictures) and just be content.

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To be definite about one thing, I am absolutely tickled about the purse.  I really could not be happier with it and it should see much use being so roomy, practical, and stylish all at the same time.  I am resigned to not having an awesome buckle (like the original Dolce & Gabbana one) because my purse has a perfectly matched novelty hound’s-tooth printed zipper instead!  This was combined with the opportunity to use some snazzy “Hilary Duff” brand charms from out of my jewelry stash to ‘bling’ up the closing flap.  I do love Fleur-dis-lis anything!

DSC_0302a-comp,wThat hound’s-tooth print of the purse is felt, but is was first strengthened with iron on interfacing then re-enforced, as was the rest of the purse, with stiff sewing interfacing.  This way it keeps its shape well.  The edges were covered and stitched with self-fabric binding but every other seam is self-enclosed by the combo of lining/flap facing.  There are buckles coming out of the side panel pleats, so I can totally change out purse straps into something else if I so please.  The zipper was hand-sewn in last, not to necessarily make things hard for myself, but because there was no seam to connect to on one side and I wanted invisible stitching.  All in all, my one regret is that I did not make a pattern out of what I was doing so I can re-create it or even share it, too.  I just wanted to enjoy making it and get it done so I could use it!  What a one track mind I have at times…

Simplicity 1727, year 2012For the record, I did go the extra mile to make a removable collar out of the black imitation snakeskin that went on my purse.  The original Dolce & Gabbana dress has a black swede collar on it and I intended to imitate that but hated it on me on the dress.  I’m so glad I didn’t sew the collar into the dress!  I used a Simplicity #1727, a pattern of nothing but various removable collars.  My make from it turned out great and I will show it to you, just not with this post.  I seriously don’t know how the model pulls off the whole outfit so well with the collar, though!  I will try to match my collar with something yet and show you then.

Investing so much effort in this outfit might not have given me the best results, but I learned from it, did new things, and followed an idea.  Taking the safe and sure route for a sewing project doesn’t always do all of those things, right?!  It’s all part of what sewing and creating is about, anyways.  “Fashion makes people dream—this is the service fashion gives,” Stefano Gabbana has said.  I agree.

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The “80’s Secretary” Color Pop Dress

Usually when a modern pattern is made, one doesn’t sew it so it can look dated.  In this case, I think doing so does this pattern and my chosen fabric better justice.  Besides, it’s the perfect opportunity to make the most of a frizzy, uber-curly hair day for a total 80’s look!

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I used my shoes to help the highlight color in my fabric “pop” – is it coral, or is it an orange tone or just something in between?  Whatever it is, it’s fun!  This was a project that was such a totally good surprise, one I didn’t see coming until it was finished.  You see, I was on the fence about this fabric when I bought it, hubby was plain out negative, but the fiber content won me over to buying it because it’s my favorite blend.  The blend of pima and modal in a knit is so soft and luxurious.   I was doubtful about the pattern, too, but somehow the combo of the design and the fabric, or maybe just the way I laid it out, turned out a winning dress in the end.  This is my favorite go-to winter dress…not only do I feel awesome in this but it is also so cozy warm!

THE FACTS:                                                                                             

FABRIC:  A pima cotton and a rayon modal half and half percent knit.  The lining knit is a sheer lightweight polyester leftover from this 1940 suit set meant to add warmth and prevent the fashion fabric from clinging too much.Simplicity #1716, line drawing, year 2012,combo

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed – thread, seam tape, and elastic

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1716, year 2012

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on February 15, 2016, after about 8 hours to make.

THE INSIDES:  Neither the cotton/rayon fashion knit nor the poly lining fray, so the raw edges are left basic and, well, raw.

TOTAL COST:  This cost just under $15

Ever since sewing my first knit top with a twisted neckline detail, my 1935 blouse, I’ve been on a quest to find the right design that I am perfectly pleased with.  Then, I tried Simplicity #1613, but that turned out o.k., not fabulous like I’d hoped.  Now, this Simplicity #1716 rocks my boat and is my perfect twisted neckline detail top, even if I did go and turn it into a dress.  Third times a charm, I guess.

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I am very happy with the pattern.  The design is great and turned out exactly as shown.  The clear, concise instructions made a tricky and semi-complicated detail easy to accomplish.  The neckline was just enough of a challenge to be satisfying, too.  It is so very important to be precise here, I think, for this neckline to turn out well.  All those markings are important in the end, and even though it was hard to find and sew in certain spots, by exercising patience (with some venting of non-child appropriate words) I was able to somehow gather and stitch in certain seemingly non-stitchable spots.  My double layered fabric was the limit of what this neckline design can handle, and I think thinner, non-bulky fabrics are ideal to make this easiest to sew, I think.

For the rest of the dress, I went up a size.  I’m glad I did for I think this pattern runs small and I didn’t want a body suit sort of fit.  To turn a tunic into a dress, I added about 12 inches to the bottom.  I kept that extra foot of skirt rather straight and slim, just how I wanted it.

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The longest sleeves are a weird bracelet length – in between ¾ length and a full long sleeve.  I added on plenty of extra inches to end up with a long, long sleeve, much like the sleeves on this Burda dress.  My sleeves reach down to my knuckles.  This was on purpose because I like how the draping fabric bunches up around my wrist, but the sleeves are skinny so the extra fabric does look bulky.  The fabric is stretchy enough that I can still push them up to ¾ length easily.  My only complaint is that the shoulder seam is very short and doesn’t reach to where it should.  I didn’t think to check this ahead of time because the shoulder seam is a spot that I rarely have issues with for fit.  However, the generous upper sleeves and stretchy fabric makes the shoulder tops still fit and the busy print hides the ‘fault’.  Add on an extra inch or two to the length of the shoulder seam coming from the neck if you make this…just an f.y.i!

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The print, to me, is like a hybrid cross between a hounds tooth and stripes.  It’s like somebody was either scatterbrained, or went psychedelic, or perhaps was just plain inspired when they designed the fabric print.  It changes design slightly every 12 inches or so in a rectangular block.  Something in the back of my head led me to line up those design changes in the print at the main body points – bust, hips, and knees.  I think this is what made this outfit work!  It was my way to make this tube-style dress body be even more complimentary!

Speaking on complimentary, I cut the semi-diagonal chest/neckline panels on the cross-grain direction to highlight this feature, otherwise it would have been lost in the print.  I think this touch makes it look like more of a wrap-and-pulled down sort of neckline.  You sort of make an open cowl neck turtle, and then the diagonal panels coming DSC_0013,p-comp,wout of the front armholes extend out and over the cowl neck, get tucked in, gathered and stitched down.  This neckline keeps my neck and chest warm without being completely covered up.

My post’s title comes from hubby’s summary of the overall “look” that strikes him with this dress.  He said it reminds him of 1980’s era business attire.  I took it to the next level and thought “secretary” in my mind.  There is the traditional winter’s black in the print after all, with enough ‘pop’ to break the ‘boring’ category and keep it on trend.  To match as our background, we chose a late Mid-Century Modern office building that is a landmark in our town (which unfortunately needs rescuing).

This dress is another one of those projects that reminds me why I sew.  I can make exactly what I want to wear as well as something that caters to my needs.  The ultimate perk is DSC_0030a-comp,wthat this dress, and most of what I make, makes me feel like the best kind of me when I wear it.  Not that I need this dress or any specific clothing to be myself, but many people who only have ready-to-wear hate the way the way they look and feel about themselves in what they have on.  It seems to affect how often they go out and what their persona is out in public.  This is why there are “makeover” programs like the newest one I’ve seen, “What Not to Wear”.  A half of an episode was all I could stand to watch…I was yelling at the television.  The people on the show just don’t get it.  There is nothing more empowering than being self-sufficient, capable, and creative enough to sew, choose, and make what you or others wear.  It’s like artwork you can put on, and have others see the real you!  Sewing rocks!

As Heavy as the Weather

Cold temperatures are my nemesis. I hate being chilly and get so very easily – even layers don’t help and only are uncomfortable for me. I know, I sound picky, but I seriously think I was meant for warm weather. Yet, clothes that are a combination of tailored, vintage, fashionable, extremely cozy are nonexistent in ready-to-wear…so I make them! The best thing about sewing is the complete independence it gives. You make reality what you want and/or need.100_6888a-comp

So…recently I opened my big mouth and expressed my excitement with a comment over at Burda Style.com when they recently re-released a “new” vintage 1957-1958 pattern. I don’t have anything like it and I really was struck by the simple slimming design. The comments that followed seemed to challenge me to get right to it and make my own version of the dress pattern sooner rather than later. Here’s that final garment just in time for an extreme cold snap. It was an unexpected project but perfect timing for our forecasted climate. My 1957-1958 wool dress is indeed as heavy as the weather demands, more like a coat dress than anything, yet oh-so-50’s fashionable and complimentary. I really do love it. The dress is cozy, comfy, and classy. Bonus – it has my favorite color purple with a little bit a sparkle!

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  My fashion fabric is a thick wool blend (70% wool, 25% acrylic, 5% poly and other). It’s a purple and grey hound’s-tooth with some gold metallic strands woven through. The lining is a grey poly cotton blend broadcloth.Retro Wool Dress #128, 01-2016, dress pic with line drawing

NOTIONS:  Everything I needed was on hand already – bias and lace tapes, thread, and zipper.

PATTERN:  Burda Style’s “Retro Wool Dress” #128, from 01/2016

TIME TO COMPLETE:  Gosh, this dress took quite a while for me – maybe 30 to 40 or more hours spent over the course of two weeks. It was finished on January 20, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  All the inner seams are bound by either bias tape or lace tape, except for the armscye which is left raw on account of the complexity with the underarm gusset.

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought at Hancock Fabrics on a super clearance for $3.25 a yard. I bought 2 ½ yards but only used about 2 of them for the dress, so I suppose I spent about $6.50 on this dress. I’m counting the notions and lining as free because they were on hand.

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When I saw the pattern it immediately struck me as a coat-style dress. This is why I went with such a heavy wool. There were other ideas in my head that someone else might want to try. I was tempted at first to actually turn it into a coat, but now I’m glad I didn’t because I love it how it is. Then, I also had the idea to make the top half and the bottom half in two different colors out of a lighter weight chiffon type fabric, in brown tones, and add pockets to the chest for a kind of “safari” look. The solid color that the Burda model is wearing would look fabulous with some beautiful embroidery down the length of the vertical pleat. So many ideas and so little time. Let me know if you make any of my other ideas for a variation on this pattern!

Burda patterns (for those readers who don’t know) need some assembly and tracing before being ready for layout on your chosen fabric. They can be bought as a downloadable PDF file, to print out, or traced from the leaflet included in a magazine issue (the “Retro Wool Dress” is in the January 2016 edition).  A scissor with a magnetic ruler guide helps immensely to quicken along the step to getting a pattern prepped. This is the stage where I pick out my size, tracing out only the size I need to use, including any grading and adding on chosen seam allowances.

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I don’t mind a challenging project, but during the sewing part, this dress was something I felt like I wrestled with and was confounded and frustrated by it instead. Part of my ‘frustration and wrestling’ was on account of the thick and heavy combination of the fabrics I used. However, the instructions to the pattern did not help make this dress a success at all. They are convoluted and not very clear. Since when do you sew together the side seams and the rest of the general dress and then add in the in-seam pockets?! Talk about making things hard, if not nearly impossible. The pattern piece doesn’t even seem made for this method. If only the paragraph for the pockets had been added in several lines earlier, it is effortless to sew in pockets as part of the side seams like all my sewing books show and as I’ve always done in my sewing. The skirt back pleated flap instructions were basically non-existent too, as it didn’t seem to recognize that the skirt is cut differently (on the fold) so it is unlike the bodice back’s pleated flap. I figured it out on my own and am happy with how it looks, I just wish I hadn’t created some smoking of my mental gears to get it how it is as you see it. As I end up saying with most all reprints of vintage patterns, I would absolutely love to see the original as a comparison. Vintage patterns almost always impress me in some way or another so I wonder if some change was made to the original before this pattern was released.

100_6828a-compSpeaking of change, I made no more than a few slight changes to the design of the pattern, and all of these were on account of a better look and fit. The only exception to this might be the sleeve pattern piece, where I combined to two separate front and back into a combined one piece sleeve merely for the sake of simplicity.

This pattern seems to run quite small, especially in the sleeves and the skirt bottom, and I don’t think it’s solely because of the thickness of my material. I went with my normal sizes, grading up as normal for my waist and hips, but I technically could have went up a whole size up more than that. I even cut the sleeves on the bias, but they still restricted my arms to the point that I couldn’t reach up to my hair. When I would reach back to put my hands in my pocket I would smash my bust due to lack of room too. I have a feeling that there is too sharp of a curve to the bottom of the sleeve. If this was a ready-to wear item, and fit this restrictively, I would not buy it. So time consuming work and all, I unpicked liberally to get the fit right (as you can read more about later down). For every two steps I made in progress, it truly felt like I made two steps back in unpicking. For most of the evenings spent sewing I would get one spot right only to have to unpick another spot which needed re-sewing and fixing, but after so many nights of this balancing act I eventually worked out all the ill-fitting spots. To me, the garments I make should fit right or the time spent in sewing is worth no more than time roaming a mall for clothes to my liking. A pattern needs to turn out well, too, so others can enjoy it, thus I’m giving an open confession of the problems I ran across.

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So many extra little touches were made, that for my benefit (and maybe yours), I’ll quickly list them. Firstly the pockets were sewn into the skirt pieces before doing the side seams for real “in-seam” pockets. I remembered to do the hem (a wide 1 inch hem) before doing the skirts’ pleats and side seams to make things easy and less bulky. The same early pre-hemming was done to the sleeve hems. In order to fit my derrière, I took out the back skirt darts, cutting their length in half. The vertical back pleat was let out for a smaller fold to give my rump and legs slightly more room. I picked out the 5/8 inch seam allowance of the bottom half of the sleeves to a scant 3/8 inch. The self-facing edges for the front were turned under for a clean edge (not mentioned in the instructions but a very good idea I think). A tiny hook and eye is sewn at the top outer edge of the zipper end to hide it under the pleat (works great). Shoulder pads are tacked in as well to nicely fill in and shape the bodice. Finally, to appease my preference, I tacked down the top corners of the front top opening so that it seems as if there are lapels at the neck. 100_6862a-comp

Under the most of the center front pleated lapel is the zipper. It has an interesting lapped sort of insertion which reminds me of a pants zipper fly. It was confusing at first especially sewing it wrong side down (see picture), but it works. When my mom saw the dress on me, she was voicing, “How do you put it on? Oh, there’s a zipper under the flap!” Surprise.

The very best alteration to the fit and look of the “Retro Wool Dress” is my addition of underarm gussets. I don’t mean to pat myself on the back, but the gussets make it more 50’s than it already is and fix my fitting problems. Underarm gussets were a frequent sight on 1950’s era garments. They are also the perfect solution for problems with sleeves which offer limited movement without having to start from scratch again. I drafted my own gusset this time – a pointy oval “cat eye” shape with a 2 inch center width by 4 inch center length, without seam allowances. Two and ¼ inches down the side seams was unpicked open in the bodice and in the sleeve so could insert the one piece gusset. See Gertie’s blog for a great tutorial.  Adding the gussets wasn’t really all that hard for me to sew, just awkward and fiddly, but I made it work…and boy does it improve things! Room glorious room!

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“Do I really have to highlight something at my armpit? There’s the gusset. Awkward!”

100_6880-compPockets flaps are vying for first place with the underarm gussets when it comes to helping the look and fit. As they were, the side pocket openings were slightly puffing out, changing the silhouette, as well as being a little too obvious for my taste. So I made them more “fashionably” obvious by closing them with a self-drafted flap closure. I drafted a 3 inch by 2 inch triangle (before seam allowances) to be sewn on the skirt back pocket edge and closing with a decorative button with a snap closing underneath. I love the little bit of extra class the pocket flaps add. They so clearly remind me of those little fine details that I see with designs (especially on suits) from the 1940’s and 1950’s when class and style and attention to subtlety was a matter of course. Both the gussets and pocket flaps (I think) show how a little extra effort goes a long way.

Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” has a timeless appeal which is modern yet entirely vintage. It has the hourglass silhouette with the slightly exaggerated blousy hips of a classic 1950’s dress. Yet, its features also remind me of other garments I have Chanel Tan and Blue Cotton Tweed Sleeveless Zip Front Sheath Dress, spring of 2009seen, such as a spring 2009 Chanel cotton suiting dress which has a simiButterick #1192, year 1941 pattern cover-complar zip front under a vertical placket. Burda’s “Retro Wool Dress” also makes me think of another vintage pattern from another decade, Butterick’s new re-release #6282 and (what I think) is its original, Butterick #1192 from my collection, both from the year 1941. These two also have a vertical placket down the front, with a pleat hiding underneath and closures down part of it, and the small flap collar lapels (on the old Butterick #1192) like what I did to my version of Burda’s dress.

Thanks Burda Style for another interesting re-release of a vintage pattern. It is a good dress for me and a wonderful addition to my wardrobe, as well as an enjoyable make.  Another step forward in my effort towards combating the cold!

 

My “Gracie Allen” Ensemble – a Casual Yet Classy Blouse and Skirt

Gracie Allen, wife of George Burns and comedic star of the Burns and Allen Show on radio and TV, is my top style icon for the 50’s.  In every TV episode, Gracie always had such a interesting, beautiful, and classy outfits which fit her perfectly and displayed the very best of the 50’s styling.  Of course, in my opinion she always wore great fashion styles, no matter what the era.  I would love to see all her fashions in color!  It was therefore only a matter of time before I got around to making this post’s featured outfit – my “Gracie” inspired 1952 skirt and a 40’s blouse. Burns and Allen show

Her wardrobe providers were primarily two very interesting (and sadly rather unknown) designers: Marjorie Michael (1951 to 1954) and later  De De Johnson of California (1955 to 1957).  Ms. Michael had one quirk which I admire in her designs – she used only natural fibers, like silk and cotton, with never so much as a synthetic even blended in.  The fabric for her dresses were primarily imports from either France or Italy, to reflect on the high quality of her work, because she liked to use “cotton that doesn’t look like cotton” (quote from here).  As for Ms. Johnson, she was a Los Angeles designer which in 1944 created the “pedal pusher” pants, “shorter than a Capri and with a slightly wider leg”. She wanted to create a garment that—unlike a lady’s skirt—won’t get caught in a bicycle chain. Teen idols Sandra Dee and Annette Funicello, as well as Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, soon adopted De De Johnson’s look and made it into a 1950s fashion craze.  (Info from here)  Ms. Johnson also designed for other TV programs besides Burns and Allen, such as for Leave it to Beaver in 1960, and briefly for The Dick Van Dyke Show (hint, hint, Mary Tyler Moore’s “pedal pusher” look).  There is one more tidbit of info from a 1946 newspaper article regarding an unusual fashion show put on at a Grand Canyon ledge, and an ensuing accident to Ms. Johnson.  See the article photo here.

With my “Gracie” ensemble, I have completed an empty niche in my vintage/retro wardrobe fashions!  Previously I only had a handful of 50’s fashions which were all only for the warmer weather and only dresses, besides my jumper.  Now, I have two very useful separates, which are great spring/fall chilly weather transitional pieces, as well as providing a wonderful vintage look of the transitional 40s and 50s.

100_2617THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  FOR THE SKIRT:  a rayon/poly blend suiting, that is thick like a gabardine but very soft, flowing and wrinkle free at the same time.  It has a tiny hounds tooth design with the colors of white, black (or dark brown…I can’t tell), and an orange/rust brown.  FOR THE BLOUSE:  a Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton fabric in a slightly off-white “snow” color.  I love the softness of the Kona cotton – it feels so very premium and was wonderful to sew on.

NOTIONS:  I had all the interfacing and thread needed for both the skirt and the blouse.  I did have to buy a small rust orange 7 inch zipper for the side closure of the skirt.  The three flower shaped buttons for my blouse came from the familial stash of vintage buttons.  There is a story behind the buttons; I’ll share it with you further down.

PATTERN:  Simplicity 4012, year 1952, for the skirt;  and Simplicity 4602, year 1943, for the blouse.

Simplicity 4012 skirts from 1952Simplicity 4602 cover drawing

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was a fast, easy and fun project; it only took around 6 hours from start to finish.  It was done on February 21, 2014.  My blouse was finished on February 7, 2014, and I spent at least 10 hours to make this.100_2633

THE INSIDES:  The fabric edges of the skirt are either bias bound or covered nicely by another seam.  All the inner seams of my blouse are done in solely French seams.  Only the blouse hem is covered in single fold bias tape and the sleeve seams are opened up clean finished seams.  See picture.

TOTAL COST:  The suiting fabric for my skirt was bought while on the “Spot the Bolt” clearance at Hancock Fabrics.  I spent about 60 cents a yard, and I bought 3 1/2 yards in total, but I only used a little over 2 yards for the skirt itself.  The blouse fabric was a good, reasonable price (with the sale) for such quality.  I spent around $5 a yard for the Kona cotton, and I think I bought just under 3 yards.  I did buy extra yardage which went towards lining the blouse’s body.  Not meaning to ramble on, but the skirt total was under $3, while the blouse was under $20.  Not bad prices for an outfit like this one! 

First, I will address the details of my ’52 skirt.  It was really a joy to put together, and just challenging enough to be good for my sewing skills.  My favorite part actually came at the beginning of assembly – shaping the pockets.  In order to do the point of the pocket (the one closest to the center front of the skirt; not the point in the side seams) the instruction100_2597as showed to do a mitered corner at this spot.  Yahoo!  I jumped for joy while smiling.  I haven’t sewed mitered corners in a number of years and (as you might guess) it is something I enjoy doing,  not just because I can do them well (if I must pat myself on the back).  The picture at right shows both my seam point and the corresponding instructions.  I’ll have to do more fine mitered corners to more projects…this sewing technique seems to be sadly neglected.100_2631

After finishing up the edge of the pocket openings, both pockets get sewn onto the skirt front, and then comes a tricky part.  As you can see on the bottom right of the instructions in the photo above, the pockets get sewn, raw edge under, to the skirt, except for the top and the lower half of the sides.  The bottom half of the pocket side opening gets cleverly tucked into the side seam while the top half (the finished edge where the hand goes in) runs parallel right over the side seam (see left picture).  You stitch the bottom corner of the pocket opening to stabilize that spot before clipping it, and I am proud at how well I did that tricky corner.  However, doing the pockets parallel over the side seams was almost trickier – I had to be very precise, careful, and take it slowly…especially the side that had the zipper.  It took some hand stitching to get the pocket opening edge, the zipper, and pocket details just right and perfectly invisible!  There is also seam tape added into the pocket opening area and zipper too.  It keeps those areas from stretching.

100_2629     The waistband finished up wonderfully!  No messed up bias or mismatching tabs here.  I actually surprised myself – I think the pattern must be printed and designed very well, but also think I cut the pieces out well (because the hounds tooth helped me line everything up).  There is a slight overlap of the waistband end tabs so as to sew in a sturdy, slide-style waistband hook.  See the left picture.

I hadn’t even planned on bothering to match up the hounds tooth plaid.  The plaid is so tiny I felt it didn’t need matching, and I probably would’ve gone a bit batty even trying too hard to match things up.  As it turned out, the plaid on the pockets aligns perfectly with the plaid on the skirt.  I couldn’t be more pleased!

100_2628     The skirt’s hem was finished with a tiny 1/8 inch seam.  Now, for an almost complete half-circle skirt like this one, a hem like this would normally take me about 2 hours to do with my regular straight stitch foot, step by step, fold by fold.  However, I had splurged on an 1/8 inch hemmer foot and I was astonished at the amount of work and time it saved me 100_2630on this project.  All in one step I had achieved an amazingly tiny hem in only 30 minutes.  The two side seams, with the bias tape, wouldn’t run through the 1/8 inch hemmer foot, so I merely covered the bottom sections with a small rectangle of more bias tape ( see right picture).  I don’t know of a better way to finish off the thick side seams in an 1/8 inch hem, and I don’t really care, because I’m happy with my skirt just how it is.

My blouse has all the details to make it on the more couture side with all the comfort to keep it on the “casual favorite” side of my wardrobe.  This blouse was also my very first sewing creation using an unprinted pattern, which solely uses perforated dots to direct what needs to be done.  It has the collar all-in-one with the blouse (there’s only facing to shape the collar).  It is also my only, but hopefully first of yet another, blouse which employs cuff links at the wrists.  All these points make me so proud of my finished classic blouse!

100_2624      I had to adapt the pattern just a bit as it was a size or two too small for me.  Other than fitting adjustments made to the pattern before cutting, no other design changes were made.  The bodice front and bodice back were doubled up to prevent any see through and also to allow me to invisibly hand stitch the neck facings down to the inside layer.

100_2625     Can you see the buttons down the blouse front in the picture at right?  Look closely in 100_2850 floral buttonthe picture at right and you will see they are slightly off-white, four petal flower shapes.  I picked out these buttons out soon after I started on the blouse, and I was so excited to use them as the highlight.  They are from hubby’s grandmother and date around the era of the 40’s/50’s.  Three buttons are all that was left from off of a red and white “Sunday best” dress which my mother-in law remembers her mom wearing as she was growing up, except the original dress seemed to have plenty more buttons that are missing.  I am just glad to give a small family heirloom another life and a new chance to shine.

100_2632     The collar was a bit challenging, and even somewhat of a pain to accomplish. However, I love the finished result to a degree that I definitely want to do more collars like this one.  The points, angles and curves were what made the collar difficult, not to sew, but to turn right sides out.  It just took some time and patience and detailed clipping to make the collar turn out o.k.  I even tried a Threads magazine tip to attempt at getting a precise point for the collar.  Before turning right sides out, I pulled a needle with thread through the point and double knotted the tail ends.  This way, with the right sides out, I should have been able to pull the thread to a perfect point.  The double knot is inside the wrong sides, to (supposedly) be a gentler resistance than a hard, plastic ‘point turner’ tool.  Well, the knotted thread tip didn’t work…it just ended up tearing a hole right through my collar points.  It wasn’t for any apparent reason I tore a hole – my seams were double stitched and I was not pulling THAT hard on the point.  I turned the collars wrong sides out again out and had to sew them over, making the points slightly smaller than the pattern (or myself) intended.  Nevertheless, I am just glad the collar turned out in the end, none the worse for my mess up.  I did iron on interfacing to the inside (wrong) side of the collar facing to make it more sturdy, even though the instructions mysteriously left out any mention of doing such a thing.  As the finishing touch, the entire edge of the collar facing was hand stitched down to only the inside lining layer of cotton so as to be invisible.  Trying a time saving tip taught me that sometimes nothing is as good as my own way of doing things.

100_2634     Since I just explained the collar, now I will briefly point out some interesting details of the off-set “shoulder”.  You can see in the pictures above and at left how the back bodice wraps over the top of my shoulder to meet the front, which gets gathered under the collar on my upper chest.  There is an L-shaped piece so the collar can be formed (the vertical bar of the L wraps around to join at the back neck center).  The inner corner of the L made for a spot where my sewing had to be exact and precise.  Bias tape covers the inside of the “shoulder” seam with the rest of the raw edges covered by the facing.  After seeing so many old movie costumes and other past patterns, it appears a good number of vintage blouses and jumpers have a very similar and very ingenious shoulder/collar placket design.

100_2619     Even the darts, which shaped the blouse from the waist down, were also a bit different.  The darts curve to end and come to a point right where the bottom end gets turned up.  Having the darts end at the hem makes the bottom of my blouse curve out nicely over the hips.  The bottom half fans out over my hips anyway because, remember, the buttons only go from the waist up (maybe wartime women saved on buttons, too).  My blouse almost seems like a sort of a jacket with the way the hips flare with the bodice thick and stable.

I know both these separate pieces will help me build a very casual but dressy workable wardrobe for the transitional time between the wartime 40’s and the early/mid 50’s.  A handmade 50’s era velvet top from my Grandmother matches beautifully with my big pocket ’52 skirt, while I already have a mid 40’s skirt which looks good with my white blouse as well.  Wearing my 1943 blouse and ’52 skirt together isn’t all that out of place – I have noticed that most popular and powerful style features last about a decade.  For just one example of this fact, just look at two modern reprints to see how a sailor collar dress style lasted at least a decade: Vintage Vogue 1171, year 1950 and Butterick 5747, year 1960, which are both quite similar.  Then, for grins and giggles,  look at this YouTube clip from the 1939 movie Honolulu, and you can also see a collared sailor dress on a quite young Gracie Allen.

There have been a few people who have unintentionally ‘corrected’ me for calling my skirt after Gracie Allen, telling me it’s a June Cleaver style.  However, I am Gracie’s biggest fan, and, believe me, I have watched plenty of Burns and Allen on TV.  I’ve been paying attention to her styles and mannerisms, and Gracie almost always had pockets, which she loved to keep her hands in when not using them to express herself as she and George did their vaudeville act at their show’s end.  I love how Gracie’s large charm bracelet would show outside her pockets, and so often she would pull out letters from her pockets, too, providing hilarious updates about her mom or her sisters or her Aunt Clara.

100_2614      I’m titling the full picture above “Gracie (a.k.a. Kelly) ready to go shopping”.  Unlike me, Gracie was a frequent shopper (at least for TV), and she never went anywhere without wearing a glamorous fur coat or fur stole.  In fact, she once said she and other women only go shopping to give their man a reason to earn money – so their wife can spend it!  Now there’s what I call a ‘Gracie-ism’ saying for you!        

A Space Age Fashion Classic for 1968

The year is 1968 – our eyes were aimed towards the sky with an impending trip to the moon, and everything that was formerly deemed out of the question was suddenly a reality.  I have already briefly addressed the history of 1968 that had its impact on fashion styles in a previous post, my tapestry corduroy dress.

I have made a dress that combines two classic styles of the space age: hounds tooth fabric and sleeveless color-blocked shift dresses.  Every woman was expected to look like Twiggy  in the late 60’s and A-line dresses promoted the current ideal – a streamlined, androgynous fashion forward image.  Hounds tooth check has been around since the 1880’s, but had a surge in popularity during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s for women’s business and suit wear.

100_2682      My dress has a front crossover bodice yoke, with gentle notching at the neckline, a basic A-line shape, and a back zipper.  Simple and classy, this retro dress promises a great style that should make it a wardrobe staple this summer!  I like doing my best modern poses wearing this and pairing it with my favorite knock-off beehive hairstyles.

Our town’s Science Center provided the perfect backdrop to do the photo shoot pictures of my dress.  The giant building behind me is the called the Planetarium, displaying the history of space travel and showing the night sky on the ceiling inside on certain nights.  It is lit up in different colors at night and presents quite a landmark on the south city skyline.  The Planetarium just celebrated its 50th anniversary; it was built in 1963.

100_2672THE FACTS:

F100_2433ABRIC:  My hounds tooth fabric was found around the time of last year’s summer at a Goodwill resale store, bought for only $2.00.  The fabric is a polyester knit (I think) with it’s original ‘Woolsworth’ label on a corner.  It was a 2 yard cut, as the label says, and the price was listed as $2.00 as well.  I am estimating the age of this find to be anywhere between the 60’s to the 80’s.  The brown contrast fabric was also used to line parts of the dress’ inside and is also a polyester double knit.

PATTERN:  McCall’s 9230, year 1968McCall's_9230 envelope cover

NOTIONS:  A zipper, another spool of matching thread, and a pack of sewing machine needles.  For some strange reason, I went through 4 sewing needles to finish this dress.  Some needles broke at the thicker seams while others bent for no apparent reason…quite strange.  It’s not like the fabric was that tight and I’ve sewed with thicker stuff before.  My new tool, a “Jean-a-ma-jig”, was used to stitch the thick seams, and I really can’t praise it enough – I love this notion!  I could do beautifully even stitches up and down the fabric ditches.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This dress was finished on March 6, 2014 after only a handful of days’ sewing.  It probably took 8 to 10 hours from start to finish.

THE INSIDES:  They are neatly zig zag stitched…for now.  Read on to hear about what I hope to do to the inside seams in the future. 

FIRST WORN:  My dress was first worn on a busy Sunday, just a day after I was done.  First to Church, then out for lunch, then to a family member’s birthday party for dessert.  Later that evening we went out to take the pictures for this blog post.   

TOTAL COST: $10 or less

This project was easy-peasy to sew up.  I only glanced at the instructions and otherwise did not need to use them as the dress construction is pretty straightforward.  Using the back pattern piece, I drafted my own upper bodice panels to create a matching color-blocked look for the back, so my dress wouldn’t have everything going for it in the front only.  Other than adding the back upper bodice blocking, my only other personalized changes were to eliminate the facings and downsize the dress, as my pattern’s bust was 2 sizes too big for me.  Fitting an A-line dress is easy, though, because it’s just shaping the side seams.

100_2435   It was so weird but funny to see a very big, bold lettered ‘CAUTION!’ across the pattern tissue when I was laying it out on my fabric.  I have never yet seen this before.  The caution advises, “BEFORE YOU CUT, read about your new McCall’s pattern sizing”.  Goodness, is such an alarming tone and bold letters really necessary for a new sizing chart?!  Has anyone seen something like this on a pattern before?

There is a 22 inch center back zipper to make this dress a cinch to get in and out of.  I was tempted to eliminate the zipper completely because my fabrics are knits.  As the fabrics of my dress are stable knits and since I enjoy doing zippers, I opted for the boon of easy dressing and kept the back zipper.

100_2676a    This dress is secretly a fun pun.  Everywhere you see hounds tooth, the inside is lined in brown, and everywhere you see brown, the inside is lined in hounds tooth.  My original reason for doing this was merely a fun one – so I can fold down the crossover front bodice if I want and have the hounds tooth showing.  You can see this in the picture above.  While I was almost halfway into sewing my dress together, my hubby asked if I was making it reversible.  What a good idea!  If I hadn’t been so far along in construction, I would have taken the extra time to make my dress able to be worn inside and right side out.  I still can make the reversible idea work, but I think I will get around to touching up and cleaning up the seams at a future date.  I am considering using self-fabric binding or contrast bias tape to cover and add interest to the inside seams to make this dress reversible.  You can see the inside at the right picture. 100_2686

Taking in the sides of my dress threw off the shaping of the armholes and I’m proud at how well my free-handed cutting is shaped.  I actually trimmed the front armholes only and did it while the dress was on me so I could make sure I was cutting the right shape!  A total of about 1 1/2 inches was taken off the front armholes and curved into the back.

I decided against bulky armhole facings which would then need to be hand-sewn to the lining.  I wanted to keep in things simple.  So, using the brown knit, I made my own skinny bias facing to finish off the raw edges of the armholes.  The look and feel of this finish much better than facings – it was quicker, and more comfortable.  Plus, it’s better if I want my dress to be reversible, and, besides, it was my own personal touch.  As a side note, I was actually considering adding short sleeves to my dress and had even cut out two from both fabrics just to make them reversible, too.  After slipping the sleeves in place under the armhole when my dress was on me I really thought it took a lot away from the rest of the dress.  Besides, I never could decide which side – the hounds tooth or the brown – to have showing.

100_2644a     The back facings were the only real facings that I did on the inside of the dress.  I sewed them in a special way so that when I turned them right side out, they covered the shoulder seams.  When you sew the shoulder seams (the front and back together, with wrong sides out), sew the back facing to the shoulder seam and the neck from the side of the dress front.  I hope you can see what I mean in the picture at left where everything is pinned together.  Just be careful to not catch the inner neck corner, but stay close to the corner, because a little point or bump will result next to the shoulder seam otherwise when the facing gets turned inside.   megans-white-shift-dress1 combo

A Google search of the pattern I used and also ’60’s hounds tooth dresses’ showed me a plethora of vintage items proving to me the era-appropriateness of my new creation.  Among the images I found was this lovely hounds tooth suit MAD-MEN-CHRISTMAS-COMES-BUT-ONCE-A-YEAR-08dress (at far right) worn by the character of Megan Draper from the T.V. show Mad Men.  With my dress, I hope to channel the look and feel of her outfit, but amp it up a bit by making closer to the fresh and bold attitude of a white/orange/green color-blocked dress she wore in another episode (at right).  There is also another hounds tooth dressy suit worn by a blond haired Mad Men secretary in a 2008 episode.

Doin it 60s style pic for McCalls 9230    My Google searching also revealed a another seamstress’ wonderful version of the same dress pattern I used, McCall’s 9230.  She (see her Flickr pics here) seemed to be the first to recognize the fun color blocking potential of McCall’s 9230 as well as it’s similarity to Mad Men styles.  I was also happy to run across an old original ad/flyer for the McCall’s 9230.  Perhaps this picture (below left) came from out of the pattern books we look through inside fabric stores, I can’t seem to find out for sure.  Either way, this dress pattern and fabric design sure have more potential than I first realized.

Technically, this dress isn’t really much, but I sense that it hits a great balance of fabric, styling, historical correctness, and economical cost. It’s easy wearing and easy dressing, and I really enjoy it.  We had a lot of fun taking the pictures, too, and I hope that’s apparent.

Nothin’ like some lunar illumination to link the last 50 years together!

I will post more pictures soon on my Flickr page, Seam Racer.100_2667