Sewing A ‘What Do I Call It’?

Currently, more than ever, now that I am staying at home all too much as well as taking care of the tough stuff in life, I need clothes that are either supremely useful or a frothy delight.  My next post will be the latter, but this post is about a garment which is the former – so convenient and multi-purpose, I really can’t distinguish what term to use for identifying the creation I just recently made.

It can be a sundress, a jumper, or a full body apron.  It wraps on for ultimate ease.  It was made out a soft yet stable cotton with a print which so perfectly alludes to what I love to do in life…because I know better than to leave out the element of fun!  It was made on under 2 yards of material, paired with a few scraps.  Of course, it is vintage, as well, from 1976, to be exact.  Yup, it has it all!  Now, what can I call it?!  A sun-apron-jumper? A jumpron? A sunper?  I might just need to make up a new word here.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Simplicity brand sewing themed 100% cotton prints (found here at JoAnn Fabrics)

PATTERN:  Simplicity 7561, year 1976, from my pattern stash

NOTIONS:  Thread was all I really needed!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was a rather quick 6 to 8 hour project from start to finish, and it was ready to wear as of June 2, 2020.

THE INSIDES:  All the raw edges are cleanly covered in my homemade bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  under $20

First off, I am rarely into branded prints but a sewing themed one was too much for me to resist.  It is understated enough to not be tacky, and a casual glance can miss the details of it completely.  I like subtlety.  This is why I used my black fabric marker to darken the “Simplicity” logo all over the print I used on the main body.  The logo was originally much too shiny and bright so my slight coloring lends a tarnished appearance so the text blends in with the rest of the pattern pieces printed all over!

This was just what I needed for the moment.  It was an uncertain combo at first, only an experimental venture born of a cooped up spirit.  I ended up being cheered and entertained by this fun and unusual project.  Secondly, I wear my self-made wardrobe on a daily basis and have literally been unintentionally been beating up my favorite pieces lately.  Just the week before, for example, I was devastated to have somehow punched a hole into my Agent Carter skirt as well as dripped superglue onto my chambray maxi skirt.  (Don’t worry, I successfully made some repairs that are near unnoticeable.)  Ugh, I realize I probably need to wear grubby ‘work’ clothes for some of the things done around here to take care of the house.  Then again, I’m normally not as casualty-prone as I am lately and the amount of clothing in my wardrobe that I don’t care about destroying is quite small.  I picked up this sewing project because I was hoping to have a full coverage apron which would fill in that gap.

There are still more reasons why this was a perfect project for the moment.  It needed no interfacing!  There is a significant amount of bias give to certain parts of the straps, yet the fact that they are double layers of fabric helps keep everything in place, along with some tight top-stitching.  You kind of need just a bit of give to move around in, anyway.  I am wondering if the lack of interfacing, stripped-down-to-the-bare-bones kind of construction to this has anything to do with the fact the pattern is labeled as a “How to Sew” design.  It has a separate page insert, printed on the tissue paper, all about top-stitching and very basic construction details.  The pattern had no facings and, besides a lot of top-stitching and some tricky curved seams around the arms, it was super easy.  I was tempted to go ahead and interface the straps and the waist ties anyway, and I don’t think it would have ruined it, but this garment turned out just fine without it.  I wanted to save what I have for when I do really need it.  With all the facial mask making of today, acquiring interfacing is like finding gold, just like bias tape.

This leads to talk about the life saving tool for the seamstress of today that could use bias tape.  It is only to be found at a premium price in bulk or through vintage suppliers – it seems also due to the worldwide mask making.  Thus, I am so very glad I already had bought my own set of Clover brand bias tape makers so I can cut and iron out my own supply in case of emergency shortage!  Now, I personally do not sew my face masks with bias tape, and only reserve it for some of my garment sewing.  As this is a wrap-on garment which makes the inside finishing easily seen, and the cotton was too thick for French or lapped seams, I reached for the easy solution of bias tape bound edges.

I’ll admit to having a decent sized stash of notions to work off of in the first place at the start of quarantine, but even still – that does dwindle with use over the past 3 months and my basic black was the first to go.  I reached for a black lightweight cotton on hand leftover from a past project (thank goodness for saving my scraps) and cut it into the appropriate strips 2 inches wide to end up with ½ inch double fold bias tape.  I also have the tools to enable me to make 1 inch and ¼ inch double fold bias tape.  These are little, simple, hand-held tools that are really very reasonably priced for as handy as they are and the unlimited options they give a seamstress.  I highly recommend them with the warning to watch your fingers.  Using a hot iron with copious amounts of steam make for a well pressed bias tape but – if you’re not careful – also can mean burnt, sore fingers!

The size on my pattern was technically too large for me according to the size chart, but I rightly figured it would be okay as I was planning on wearing this over my existing clothes as an apron/jumper and not just a sundress.  It is a bit roomy when I do wear it by itself as a sundress, but loose clothing is comfortable in the hot weather.  As this was a wrap-on garment there was no real fitting needed, but I did find the bodice to run quite long and the waistline sits a bit lower than it should.  You can’t tell with the busy print and it doesn’t bother me, so I don’t really care about being a perfectionist here.  It was completely sewn together as it was straight out of the envelope.

The pattern called for the crossover back straps to be buttoned down along the back bodice edge.  The idea of that struck me as too fussy and possibly uncomfortable to sit up against.  I just stitched the straps down at a length that worked for me and it’s just fine.  It might be slightly confusing to put on and take off, but I like the security of knowing it won’t come undone on me and the comfort of not having a bulky button under my back shoulder blade.  I realize that so many of my sundresses have the same crossover back (my 1940 blue plaid one, my Halston-inspired 70’s one, and this 1949 brown striped one) but hey – it’s comfy and the positioning keeps the straps on the shoulders.  Maybe I can count this as one last, very tardy installment my late 2018 to mid-2019 series “Indian Summer of the Sundress” (even though this is only one of the wearing options to this garment)?  I was missing the decade of the 70’s out of covering the 1920s to the 60’s in that series.

To match with the 70’s date of this jumper-sundress thing, I layered a dated RTW tunic shirt underneath together with my 1974 stretch jeans (posted here) and some platform studded suede sandals when I was wearing it like an apron.  I do not personally see it as obviously vintage though, besides the fact it might look a bit different when worn over my existing clothes.  I have yet to try it as a jumper over a body-clinging knit top.  I can’t wait to see if this garment also works for the fall season with a turtleneck, leggings and tall boots!  There are so many possibilities!

I just love it when I can make something that will work for so many occasions in my life, for all the seasons, add value to my current closet offerings, and look different each time.  All this only means that it will happily find its maximum life in my wardrobe!  This turned out so cute, I might just have to make another out of some ugly patched-up scraps to really have something to wear for really messy household occasions.  Yet, I normally don’t ‘save’ my makes, but always like to integrate them into my everyday life, no matter the risk for mishap.  If a me-made item (or even my few RTW clothes, for that matter) does find a bit of wear and tear from enjoying what I had made, I’ll just figure out a way to fix any such boo-boos, and be happy my time spent making it has proved its worth.  I sewed it – I can fix it, and “giving a darn to mend” is always important!

If this sewing project is as versatile as it seems, I will be spreading the silent word as to my love of sewing for every wearing – and that might be frequent, after all!  I do think having images of pattern pieces, and the notions we need to accomplish our tasks, be more visible is an important testimony to the wonders that sewing works through paper and fabric.  We seamstresses have worked wonders for centuries, but nowadays it has become an important lifeline brought into the limelight!  It’s about time.

Face Value

Yes, this is a cliché phrase but oh-so-appropriate for this post’s project.  You can’t judge a book by its cover, so the saying goes.  Well, even a line drawing to a garment design, heck – even the finished garment itself – can hide construction secrets…I’m specifically talking about the good and wonderful kind.  This jumper is definitely a case in point!

It’s made of a warm and soft common flannel made to look like a much fancier woolen suiting, with pockets and a front closure that are really not workable, and a back zipper that you can’t tell is really there (that’s why they’re called invisible, duh).  This garment carries a vintage vibe yet is a very modern release.  The pattern itself is called a deceiving “Waistcoat Bodice Dress” to designate that it is a jumper made to look like a dress that has a vest-style top half.  You’d never guess how I finished the inside, either.  Confused much?  All you really need to know is that I love this make!  It came together wonderfully, is freaking cute, and is crazy cozy for chilly weather.  It really brings a jumper to another level, and makes the most of its on-point details.

This was made as my last 2018 “Burda Challenge” make for the month of December.  I know, I’m running late to post it on my blog, but better late than not at all!  I HAD to make this Burda “Jumper Dress” after seeing their version paired up with the vintage 1963 ruffled neck “Beatnik Blouse” which I had made in November.  However, the jumper has such great wardrobe potential for me that it matches up to almost every other winter blouse I have, especially the Burda scrunched neck Turtleneck.  I paired it in these pictures with an older RTW blouse which I felt brings out the 1970s vibes that the jumper has…besides, it is more paisley and it brings out the turquoise in my outfit (one of my favorite colors!).  I am wearing my Grandma’s vintage 70’s drop earrings, and some modern T-strap wedges to match.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton flannel printed with a navy, tweed-like, imitation texture pattern; fully lined in both cotton and polyester…reasons explained down later

PATTERN:  Burda Style #109 “Waistcoat Bodice Dress” from August 2018

NOTIONS:  All I needed to complete this was luckily on hand – thread, a bit of interfacing, cotton and polyester lining remnants, an invisible zipper, and true vintage buttons from the inherited stash of hubby’s Grandmother

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was whipped up in about 8 hours and finished on January 5, 2019

THE INSIDES:  Full lining means smooth insides with nary a seam showing…I love it!

TOTAL COST:  The flannel was found at JoAnn, and it was on sale on top of a coupon, so with the free scraps I had on hand for the lining, this cost about $15 or less.

Now, 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 from the inserts in the magazine issue, but most other patterns are available online as a downloaded PDF that needs to be printed out and assembled together.  What works best for me is to use a roll of thin, see-through medical paper to trace my pieces out.  It’s at this preliminary step that you pick out your proper size.  Some people add in your choice of seam allowance width directly to the pattern while some as they are cutting out the fabric pieces.  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.

When tracing it out and doing the cutting, I realized the individual pattern pieces themselves seemed quite small and easy to work with.  I was almost doubtful that they would turn out a garment which would actually fit a normal human body.  But, yes – it did turn out beautifully without any confusion or problems.  The sizing was right on, and it came together rather quickly…I actually spent just as much (maybe more) time on the finishing touches.  The fabric appears so dressy and I wanted to keep up the sham by taking the extra time to invisibly hand-stitch all the edges together, even on the pocket flaps, as well as the inner linings.

The only tiny thing that I did change to this was the button placement.  I felt that three buttons down the front mock closure is overkill, while free-flapping pocket flaps are weird without buttons.  The buttons that were in my stash on hand which I did like for the jumper were only four in number anyway.  I wasn’t only justifying what I had on hand, though!  If you’re going to make part of the ‘dress’ look real, do it all the way.

Flannel is one of those “sticky” fabrics (like corduroy) that need a lining to hang gracefully or have the proper body, especially if one plans to wear more winter layers under them.  I find that the more flannel gets washed it loosens up and changes shape, and I didn’t want that to happen to this jumper…at least the top half of the body.  This, I lined the waistband and above in an all-cotton broadcloth which also sticks to the flannel, keeping it in its original shape, besides feeling sturdy and warm.  I did iron a 3 inch width of interfacing to the wrong side of the flannel all around the entire neckline before sewing together to also help keep the flannel in check.  However, for the skirt portion I chose a silky buff finish polyester.  The skirt is slim and cut on the bias so it has a lovely body-hugging shape that is slimming.  Choosing a poly to line the skirt keep it flowing and cling free when I wear tights or even pants under this jumper.  As the skirts (lining and flannel) are cut on the bias, I have left the hems unfinished and raw.  The bias keeps them from fraying so they are good as they are with no hem confining the shape there!

I had been saving this projects flannel for a vintage winter shirtdress, complete with faux leather accents as I had imagined.  However, a jumper is a more versatile in between the choice of wearing either separates or a dress, and – as I said at the top of this post – this Burda one is so smart!  It really lets the blouse underneath still shine (most jumpers don’t do that) by having an open front bodice that is shaped so well by panels and darts it actually stays in place nicely over one’s curves while being so open in styling.  I’m such a sucker for clothes that are chic enough you forget to realize they are both cozy and comfy at the same time.  Things are not what they seem at first view when you sew…especially when you’re talking about something off of my machine tables!  Tell me about a sewing project of yours that has some great surprises to it!

Channeling Crawford’s Adrian

I realize the strong shoulders of the 1940s decade is an intimidating turnoff for many, but I embrace them in all their forms.  For whether they are obnoxious or poufy as they can be or just plain sharply tailored, I see the 40’s strong shoulder line as not only a crucial part of the fashion in, before, and after the WWII decade, but also a very interesting garment point often neglected.   Such can be as fun to perfect as they are even more entertaining to see and construct in all its differing varieties.

A strong, exaggerated shoulder line can do wonders for certain body shapes, as I think it does for mine.  Although I am border line petite (just over 5 feet tall), I do not feel that my waist and hips are small enough in proportion to the rest of me, so the appearance of wider shoulders creates an illusion of the ideal body lines (tiny hips and waist).  This is nothing new…I am just copying off of what worked for the famous actress Joan Crawford, when the equally famous Adrian used this same “trick” as what had been done in the 1830s and 1890s to distract the public eye away from conceived body faults about the midsection and create a certain image.  As famous as well-known as both those names are, they had figured out something spot on that we who are in no manner Hollywood sweethearts can still imitate to our advantage.  From a fascination of Crawford’s high, dramatic hairstyles to my amazement for Adrian’s penchant of precise pin striped garments, from the basic need for warm winter wear to the desire for an unusual item to try and sew, I have combined it all to end up with something that is an unexpected way to power through the cold!

This jumper dress was made for a recent trip to visit the historic garment district in Kansas City, Missouri for the exhibit “Suited Up: Tailored Menswear, 1900 to 2017”.  This section of town is claimed to have been (at one time), second only to New York in breadth of territory!  This cozy outfit let me be a wintertime tourist in handmade, menswear-inspired style!  My shoes were very comfy for all day walking – they are Chelsea Crew brand “Gala” heels, reproduction vintage spectators.  My blouse underneath is a resale store item, but my jewelry is true vintage from my Grandmother.  I realize that all put together like I am, this is a more obviously vintage outfit than most other dated fashions that I make and wear, but I’d like to think that it is a statement enough to be attractive in its own way.  I believe the general public that only relies on RTW is so ready for fashion to be something more appealing to them personally other than what is out there.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a heathered brown pure wool with an ivory pin striping

PATTERN:  Simplicity #1238, year 1944, a jumper-dress

NOTIONS:  The main notion used – the numerous buttons down the front – are a prized vintage card authentic to the 1940’s which had been found at our favorite local antique store.  The rest of what I needed – the thread, interfacing, bias and hem tapes, as well as shoulder pads – are modern notions and were already in my stash of supplies.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This was made in about 25 to 30 hours…I took my time to get details done just the way I wanted them!  It was finished on February 9, 2018.

THE INSIDES:  As this was pure wool, it was therefore rather a rather itchy fabric which would fray a lot at every raw edge.  Thus every seam was finished off with bias tape, with the hem covered in a lace tape for a fun and feminine finish!

TOTAL COST:  This wool was a gem of a fabric I found in my local Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  I don’t remember what the cost was purely because this kind of fabric is so lovely and hard to come by in brick-and-mortar stores here, so I had to have it regardless of cost.  Nevertheless, I had a discount coupon and 40’s patterns do not need a whole lot of fabric, so – for just over 2 yards I think I spent under $30.

Ah – Adrian and Crawford…one would not be as famous without the other, but I suggest Adrian owed more to Crawford than the other way around.  Crawford had been in movies since the 1920’s, but her broad shoulders served her well in the boyish and hip hugging fashions of the era – she was the right body for the mode of dressing then.  When the 1930’s came along and Crawford was starring in movies where she played as a softer, sexier and wildly talented woman, she needed a signature style to match in Hollywood.  In 1932, Crawford wore a dress designed by Gilbert Adrian know as the famous “Letty Lynton Dress”, a white organdie dress with big puffed sleeves which were covered in ruffles, to make her look feminine and demure.  It is often credited with being the first movie fashion to be widely copied and sold for the public.  Crawford’s wide shouldered dress gave the impression of a tiny waist and slim hips, and the illusion created by Adrian was suddenly in steady demand with popular fashion whether that garment was in a store, from a sewing pattern, created by a tailor, or from other designers.  This would last strongly through the 1940’s, recurring again in the 1980s, when heavily padded and extreme shoulders were common.  Crawford’s movie roles in the 40’s became harder, stronger, and frequently troubled, and so her large shoulder signature style stayed with her but changed to match until after Dior’s “New Look” styles became the craze.

In Adrian’s own story from the book, Creating the Illusion, he said that Crawford insisted on full freedom of movement with her arms, so much so that he had to leave excess fabric which was then padded to not appear sloppy.  I do notice that many 1940’s era vintage patterns leave extra room in the shoulders, and I regard that as room you need for shoulder pads!  But whether the use of padding came from Crawford’s fit preferences or Adrian’s direct styling for her body, between the two of them it is a silhouette and a technique that was influential and unmistakable.  Crawford was Adrian’s perfect outlet to manifest the genius of his talent.  It took the perfect actress in the perfect outfit to make the world notice her clothes to a point that the world how the copy that fashion for themselves.  Unlike today, the designers were something to think about afterwards, as the Academy Awards for Best Costume Design wasn’t started until 1948.  Adrian designed the costumes for Joan Crawford in more than twenty-eight movies.  Granted, he did wonders designing spectacular, mind blowing outfits for other actresses, but it is how Joan Crawford wore what he made that had a outreaching effect that is still being discussed and understood today.

Now, the original design for this jumper-dress on the envelope cover is much more understated than how mine turned out and I wanted it this way!  Since I was wearing this to see an exhibit on menswear, I wanted something strong and broad as the famous London-cut padded suit for guys of the early 40’s with a hint of the outspoken Zoot Suits.  Adrian himself was a perfectionist at suits and loved to show the height of his ability by having stripes show off the seam lines (see this 1948 suit at the New York MET museum for only one example).  Following these trains of thought, I also was tempted to add a welt pocket on the chest like a true suit, but as you can see I thought otherwise in the end.  I do love how my jumper dress ends up having a double collar, as I wear the shirt underneath on top of the jumper lapels to cover the wool and keep it from itching my neck.  This is better than a man’s vintage suit which doesn’t have this double collar benefit!  Sewing it was much easier than making a complete suit but has all the same feel as one in a dress version.

I have seen such a unique kind of clothing as a jumper-dress before in a few other 1940s and 1970s patterns and I really like the whole idea of it – a one-piece garment that can be worn with a blouse underneath like a jumper or still work being worn alone as a dress.  The famous actress Gene Tierney wears a very similarly styled jumper-dress, in a lovely light blue sans blouse underneath, in the 1945 movie “Leave Her to Heaven”.  The banded armscye (as this kind of shoulder extension that looks like a sleeve is called) was stiff and sticking out on its own on Gene Tierney, and I used heavy interfacing to copy that appearance.  However I have found an extant jumper-dress in rayon crepe that has a limp, unstructured banded armscye and it is amazing how one small detail as the weight of interfacing can change the whole “look”.  I have even seen a banded armscye which is highly decorated on this fancy 1940’s blouse, or one used upside down in this 1930’s evening gown.  The more you look at fashion from the past, the more you see the variety our modern RTW fashions are missing. 

The pattern for a banded armscye has the general shape of an almond because it is folded in half to be a double layer self-facing piece.  However, this “mock sleeve’’ needs to have a much lower dip, meaning the side seam is closed at a much lower point than regular garments with a true set-in sleeve.  There is a triangular insert piece that can be added to the bottom point of the armscye where it ends at the side seam, meant for when this is worn alone as a dress.  Of course, for this to be that versatile it would not be made from a wool but out of a gabardine, linen, or rayon of some sort, or something else multi-season with some body because I don’t like the ‘limp’ look of that extant dress I mentioned above.  You have to just go all the way for some styles like this – to carry off powerful fashion is obviously being committed to a style that is every bit as strong as you are…or want to be!  Crawford often said that she never went out anywhere unless she looked like “Joan Crawford the movie star”, so I’m supposing that this powerful fashion of hers was like being vested in more than clothing.  Clothing has been described as armor that makes us feel whole or keeps us safe from what brings us down.

The design was deceptively simple, really.  It wasn’t much harder than a shirt with a skirt attached, but it was the tailoring and details that I spend most of my time on to make this.  The layout required a large amount of brain power to have the stripes match as impeccably as an Adrian inspired garment could become.  I must say I was impressed at how well this pattern fit on me and came together, as some 1940s Simplicity patterns can be not that great, so the design deserves credit for my success – and I am quite pleased with this!  I love how the pin striping miters in at the seams, and even ended up matching so well where the darts meet the skirt at the waist.  I even somehow got the collar to match!  To highlight the design and lay around with the striping, I had the banded armscye be horizontal while the rest of the dress was generally vertical.  Adrian was a fan of a geometric approach to clothing.

Making all those buttonholes down the front and matching the buttons in place is and will always be such an exhausting thing to do for me, but every time I see such a garment finished it becomes so worth it in the end.  This garment is especially the case because I used an intact card of vintage buttons, which I was so excited yet reluctant to use.  It’s not that I want to just stash such treasures, or just hold onto them because they do not serve their intended purpose or get to shine just sitting in my collection!  It’s just somehow harder to incorporate an old notion into my modern vintage when I feel that I have to separate it from its lovely, dramatic, pristine display placement on a perfect condition button card.  Such notions like this remind me of how upscale and respected home sewing used to be, besides the fact that the quality of our modern notions have dramatically gone downhill!  The buttons match so well with the wool in color, but it seems to me that their complex face makes them a subtle but still noticeable detail.

I am quite proud of the statement 40’s hairstyle I pulled off with this outfit!  Joan Crawford seemed to wear her hair high up above her forehead on top her head frequently circa 1944 (see here and here), as did her fellow actresses Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard to name a few.  Their hair is similar but seems to be more of a comb over than an under roll like mine, making it closer to a Dorothy Gray style.  Realistically, I am not an actress and I needed a hairstyle to stay in place all day!  With a lot of hairspray and pins, it did stay!  Beseme brand “Red Velvet” lipstick completes the vintage look.

So – do you think you will try the over-emphasized shoulder look for yourself?  Do you love it the way I do?  Say yes to the shoulder pad!  Knit fabrics nowadays have people so used to a close body fit, but extra fabric and shoulder pads to structure the body can and does have its benefits if your body shape is something waist and below you’re self-conscious about.  1950s hip exaggeration works the other way around, making your waist and above seem smaller.  I’ll stop there.  All I’ll say is that’s the not-so-advertised benefit of vintage – you can choose an era or styles that work well to compliment your body!  What do you like yourself most wearing?  Are you on the camp of Bette Davis or on Joan Crawford when it comes to the subject of their long-lasting feud? (I’m neutral on that feud, BTW!)